Our Friend, The Rebel
The tears have not stopped flowing. I am trying to be strong, but with every sentence I type I find it hard to even breathe. Warren is gone. I am trying to face it but I can’t. As the founder of the Roustabouts, I am expected to say something. The task is next to impossible. Normally, I would turn to him to help me through something like this, but he is not here. Our drummer Bill, said that he feels very strongly that Warren will be guiding us from upstairs. I can only hope so because right now we are lost. Bill’s words are “Warren will steer us”. Steer us Warren, please. Because to me, Frankie A, Cowboy Bob, Bill, Bob Grady, Dan, Hans, Don, Dave, Gerry, Scott, Steve, Jim and even Frankie J, who is in his same age group, Warren was not just a band mate and a friend, he was our big brother. With all that being said, with all the love that all of us felt for him, how can we even begin to imagine the suffering in the heart of his high school sweetheart and life partner, Bonnie and their sons?
When Warren first contacted me about joining the band, he invited me to watch and listen to him at a one-man concert he was performing at a park here in the Jersey Shore area. I took my daughter Victoria along and as we walked in, he started playing the Elvis Presley song, “Treat Me Nice”. Right there that told me something. He knew at the time, the band was focusing on performing tunes from Elvis’ movies. “Treat Me Nice” is a song from the movie “Jailhouse Rock”. And the title of the song exposed his sneaky sense of humor since in effect, that was his audition. But more important than anything else, the man could rock! He was a Roustabout! Later, after he had become a member, we would see him riding off in a black, leather jacket on a motorcycle and I thought to myself, this is the coolest man alive! He’s a rebel! He’s an original rock ‘n’ roll rebel!
Our admittedly unusual concept was difficult for a lot of musicians to understand. Songs from Elvis movies that nobody remembers? “Kissing Cousins”? “Rockalula Baby”? No impersonator? No Vegas jumpsuit? Believe me, I’ve been questioned and second-guessed a lot, but never by Warren. He understood. He saw the humor in it. He got it. This was not a bar band, this was a show. And Warren was a showman. He wore propeller beanies, brought in stage lights and wore “Lindsay’s” purple garters over the sleeve of his shirt. And on stage, he rocked that piano and played the keys with his elbows like Jerry Lee Lewis.
He said more than once that these were the happiest days of his life as a musician. He loved the Roustabouts. He embraced the Roustabouts. And as a fellow musician, he gave me the creative freedom I needed to experiment with our concept and build it to what it is today.
Frankie A is also someone who “got it” and supported a concept that Elvis’ guitarist Scotty Moore called “kooky but fun”. And that made it doubly hard to call him from the hospital yesterday to tell him that Warren had passed away from a ruptured aneurysm. He couldn’t accept it. He made me repeat myself over and over. Frankie A is the stoic member of the group that helps organize our sound and solve problems as they came up, but I could hear in his voice that he was heartbroken. This was a problem he could not solve.
It was just after 7:00 p.m. when the doctors and nurses came out of surgery, with much sympathy and regret and told us that they couldn’t save Warren. Bonnie was stunned. Maria and I and Warren’s neighbors were there to support her but we were shaken as well. There is no easy way to handle the loss of someone so close.
The rest of the Jersey Shore Roustabouts, as we are now known, were already on their way. Bill came in with my son, Christopher, who played many shows with us and respected Warren’s musicianship. My daughter, Victoria, had also played alongside Warren. If Warren was like a brother to me, then to my children, Warren was like the “cool uncle”. Frankie A and his wife, Nancy, then arrived along with Cowboy Bob. Later on we all got together at my house with Frankie J and shared memories of our friend.
The love of Warren’s life was Bonnie and their boys. And we all stood by his side after her health scare a year and a half ago. Warren, a war veteran, also had a strong love for his country. He had firm values and he was not afraid to express his opinion about them. He also loved his dogs. We comforted him when he lost Chester, and enjoyed playing with Toby and Shatzie. His next big love was The Roustabouts. Years ago, I would tell him that my intention was to only do this for a couple of years, that it was taking too much of my time. I’d say we’d do one more summer concert series and end it with a farewell show. He wouldn’t have it. He’d snap at me saying, “Don’t you even think about it!” He left me no choice. The show must go on.
At the hospital, his friends and family were telling me how the band was all he talked about. On Thursday, he was celebrating his birthday with Bonnie and friends while listening to me being interviewed on the Doc South show. It is such an honor to know what an important part the Jersey Shore Roustabouts played in his life.
When we started writing original material, knowing that my guitar playing leaves something to be desired, I would take my songs to Warren and have him accompany me on the piano. We would then take the song to the band and work out the arrangements. Then Warren started writing songs. First he wrote “Rockabilly Hideaway”, which for my money, is the most heartfelt song about Elvis ever written. He didn’t write about the King. He wrote about where he was and how he felt when he first heard the sound of Elvis’ voice. Then he wrote “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel”! He actually wrote a song called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel”! And it rocks! Everyone that follows the Jersey Shore Roustabouts knows of my relentless teasing about an imaginary night life of Warren’s, filled with bar fights and wild women. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, but he embraced the character, strapped “Lindsay’s” garter on his sleeve and wrote a song about it—a wonderful display of his sense of humor that will live on in the recording.
We actually have two shows that we are supposed to play this weekend. Hundreds of people that have planned all year for their events will be waiting to see and hear us. Some of them will have known what happened, some of them won’t. Do we cancel? Do we go on? Will I actually be able to sing a song without breaking down when I look to my right and he’s not there? Frank, Bill, Bob and Frankie J and I would always exchange smiles and laughs on stage with Warren, whether it be because of an inside joke, a mistake one of us made, or just the fun of us all playing together. But now he won't be there smiling back. After we left the hospital, we briefly discussed our future and decided that the best way we can keep Warren alive in our hearts is to continue playing. Warren loved making people happy, and he was especially proud that we were able to entertain listeners from nine to ninety-nine years of age. One example is when last year at one of our summer concerts, fifteen and sixteen year olds were stage-diving and dancing next to us shouting out, "You rock!"
Our hearts are broken that he will not be able to see and hear the reactions to his performance on the album that was just released this past week. When he went into the studio and he sang lead on the two songs he wrote, it was the first time he had ever done so. And with that, he left us a gift that we will always have, the gift of his music. I take comfort that our band brought him so much happiness and that he passed on doing what he loves to do. The last thing Warren was doing was looking with Bonnie through old photographs of his younger years for the videos I was putting together for “Rockabilly Hideaway” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel”.
Being a Roustabout means being forever young in your heart, and I will always cherish the memories of the fun we shared, and great music that we made together. He touched many people’s hearts with his warmth and friendliness. And he brought many people joy with his great music. He was our friend. He was our rebel. He was our brother. And he was our Warren, the youngest man I’ve ever known.