Excerpted from Images of Modern America: The Decade by Gabby Means

    Images of  Modern America: The Decade

    No one knew that Sennott and Atwood [streets, in Oakland] would later be the birthplace of Pittsburgh Rock ’n’ Roll. It was a fluke timed perfectly…. Iron City Houserockers’ roadie Jay Flory encapsulates the serendipitous nature of it all: “It was a Greek tragedy, everything about the human condition was at The Decade. Everyone was entranced by youth and it was a microcosmic moment in time that can’t be repeated. If you weren’t there you’ll never understand it fully. It was home. It was personal. It was irreplaceable.”

    Without a stage upon which to practice their original music, many local bands found themselves in a rut. Creativity was at a stalemate, as Pittsburgh musicians were generally expected to churn out top-40 covers during their live performances to placate blue-collar audiences.

    One of the earliest bands that broke out of this mold was Diamond Reo. The Diamonds were originally comprised of Frank Czuri, Bubs McKeg, Norman Nardini, and Robbie Johns—Pittsburgh guitar legend Warren King was added later. In 1974, the trio (King, Nardini, and Czuri) began writing original music for the band but had difficulty finding a venue that condoned this display of creativity. As soon as he could, Dom [DiSilvio, Decade owner] began booking live acts at his neighborhood bar, but he generally stuck to local bands and only on the weekends. He and [his wife] Jan advertised in the Pitt News and made phone calls to bands they found through the newspapers.

    It was primarily a grassroots operation, slowly gaining speed through word of mouth until bands began to come in on their own. Two of these initial acts were The Neighborhood and Corbin Hanner. Things seemed to be gelling for the gig-thirsty musicians and the performer-hungry bar owners.

    Unfortunately, life seemed to have other plans for Dom and Jan. Just as live music started to take shape at The Decade, Dom would spend a year-long hiatus in the slammer and in doing so would leave Jan in charge of running both their household and their bar. Considering the unnecessary pressure that booking bands would cause Jan, Dom figured he would put his live music aspirations on hold for just one more year. Jan, however, stepped up to the plate and began booking acts on her own—as it turns out, several of the bands she booked without Dom would end up being some of Dom and The Decade’s most favored bands.

    An important, unique component of the Pittsburgh music scene was the intermingling of band members between all of the local bands. The scene was comprised of many established musicians who rotated through the various bands. During The Decade’s peak years, Pittsburgh had the great fortune of being home to four bands with record deals as well as a plethora of other great bands. Some of these groups would reach great heights and others would spend their days playing locally—but regardless of their fame, they all helped to create the music phenomenon that occurred in Pittsburgh for a short time.

    Decade regular Dewey Gurall [in his memoir of the club, describes scenes of] “feverishly moving glasses out of the way so they wouldn’t get crushed by a table-walking Warren King, while he played another jaw-dropping extended guitar solo on “Peter Gunn” during a hot Silencers gig. Or Norman Nardini railing against everything from ex-girlfriends to politicians to Freddie Mercury while The Tigers—the thumping bass of Ray Gunn, Whitey Cooper’s drums and exceptional backing vocals, and most of all, the outstanding guitar of Paul Shook—rocked hard behind him.”

    By 1978, after five years of business Dom had single-handedly made a name for The Decade in Oakland. He had just fallen into a groove with the local acts when he received a call from California-bred music promoter Danny Kresky.

    After finding luck with a Rod Stewart show at the Syria Mosque, Kresky’s company, Pacific Presentations, sent their new hire—Kresky—to scope out the scene of a little blue-collar town called Pittsburgh. Relocating, Danny found the city to have a monopoly-ridden promotion arena, so he staged a coup on the industry and instantly created a name for himself by bringing Elton John to the Civic Arena. Yet, he shifted his efforts from focusing solely on superstars after realizing how advantageous working from the ground up could be—and this is where Dom enters the story. Kresky asked Dom if he was interested in bringing a few national acts to the puny five-by-seven-foot Decade stage. Ending the phone call with a curt “No thank you,” Dom expected to never hear from Kresky again; he had yet to comprehend the incredible opportunity he just flatly rejected. Meanwhile, in the year that passed before their next interaction, Danny Kresky Enterprises continued to promote huge acts in the city of Pittsburgh … so eventually Dom returned Kresky’s call.

    The California promoter’s expertise in the realm of celebrity, combined with the Pittsburgh bar owner’s business tactics, allowed The Decade to become a prosperous music venue despite its size. Together they built the stage a little bit bigger, they brought in smaller, round tables, and claimed a room upstairs for the band—but more importantly, in doing this they gave an underdog Pittsburgh bar the capability to host live music and appeal to national acts. Kresky claims that during his entire tenure as the Decade’s promoter—1978 to 1984—no musician ever lamented the rather tight, generally cramped circumstances of the venue or even protested the weight-bearing pole that stood obtrusively off to stage right. Some acts came through The Decade’s door without even booking the joint, just to see what the hype was about. As Ed Townsend from the local band Eddie and the Otters explains, “You left your ego at the door when you played The Decade.”

    Gabrielle Means attended Oakland Catholic High School and recently graduated from New York University. She now lives and works in New York City.