Sammys Hall of Fame class proves to be a hard act to follow

The Seven, a magical and mystical band that scored several national radio hits from 1969 to 1972.

The Seven, a magical and mystical band that scored several national radio hits from 1968 to 1971.

Today we enter the department of ask-and-ye-shall-receive.

After reading yesterday’s post about the upcoming Syracuse Area Music Awards event, Chuck commented that he liked the idea and all, but wished there had been more about the Hall of Fame induction Thursday night at Upstairs at the Dinosaur.

My intention for the piece was to provide a quick history of the Sammys and tell the world that it needs to appreciate the talent of the musicians we can call our own.

Chuck was onto something. Honoring the history of Syracuse music and great musicians past surely is part of the Sammys mission and mystique, too.

So here goes. If we’re lucky, history will repeat itself and the community will continue to be graced with people with this much talent.

Thursday night’s dinner-and-speech Sammys event will include the induction into the Sammys Hall of Fame of The Seven, Willie “Taters” Mavins, John Dancks, Scott Sterling and Skip Murphy.

The Lifetime Achievement Award will go to the late Jimmy Van Heusen.

James Spadafore will receive the Educator of the Year Award.

The Seven ruled the Syracuse airwaves from 1969 to 1972. The band started in 1966 as The Upsetters. In 1967 it became The Magnificent Seven. A year later, that was shortened to The Seven. The core seven included Chuck Wheeler, Chuck Mellone, Chuck Sgroi, Frank Sgroi, Al Ruscito, Nick Russo and Tony Licameli. (The earlier two versions had John Latocha and then Bob Canastraro on guitar instead of Wheeler; in 1971 Tommy Forest replaced Russo as lead vocalist.) The Seven played local school assemblies as well as local clubs. The band got a national recording contract for 1970 release “The Song Is Song, The Album Is Album.” Singles from the album, “Song” and a cover of The Zombies’ “Tell Her No,” got airplay on big stations in Rochester, Buffalo, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit. They rocked The Bitter End in New York City, too, and became known for a hopping, hour-long medley of music from The Rascals.

Mavins is a native of South Carolina who’s lived in Syracuse since 1959. The singer and guitarist was known as host of the popular open mike night at The Orange Grove on Westcott Street. His friends in Syracuse roots band Los Blancos honored his talent by including Mavins on their record “Cookin’ with the Cats.” Last year, Mayor Stephanie Miner proclaimed March 1 as Willie “Taters” Mavins Day in Syracuse.

Dancks is a native of The Bronx who moved to Cazenovia at the age of 6. He learned to play guitar and established a friendship and a band, The Caz Cats, with fellow Sammys Hall of Famer Dave Novak. As a student at Syracuse University, Dancks was assigned fellow musician Tom Hosmer as a roommate. That led to his role as bassist in legendary Syracuse bluegrass band The Down City Ramblers with banjo great Tony Trischka, Hosmer and Lou Martin. Dancks can play bass on any and every style. His resume includes stints with Cross Creek, Country Granola, Texas Hots, The Rockets, Lush Life, Full Swing, J.T. Hall Jazz Consort, Dana “Short Order” Cooke, The Party Nuts (with Novak), John Cadley and the Lost Boys, and Joanne Perry and the Unstoppables.

Sterling is known these days as the music manager of The Dinosaur Bar-B-Que’s Syracuse and Rochester restaurants and manager/producer for rockers Turnip Stampede. But the Pennsylvania native first earned his chops in Syracuse as a guitarist with Natives, Penny Jo Pullus, ETV and Rockin’ Bones. Then he managed and did production work with Dracula Jones and Penny Jo’s Trailer Trash, as well as working the sound board and more at The Lost Horizon and the Syracuse Dinosaur.

Murphy is the harmonica player who managed music in legendary Syracuse club The Firebarn and then started popular 1970s swing-rockers Out of the Blue. They toured Europe in 1978, and Europe was never the same. To this day, it seems like he always keeps a harmonica in his pocket, better to sit in with Syracuse bands of all styles. His son, Spencer Murphy, followed in his footsteps, playing jazz bass and writing music while living in New York City.

Jimmy Van Heusen was born in Syracuse as Edward Chester Babcock. He went on to become of of the most successful popular music composers in the golden age of the Great American Songbook. Van Heusen won four Oscars and an Emmy for his work, and is good friend Frank Sinatra sang more Van Heusen-written songs than that of other songwriter. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Van Heusen’s birth.

Spadafore was a music teacher and band instructor in the Liverpool school district from from 1978 and band director at Liverpool High School from 1992 until retiring in 2012. During his tenure at the high school, Spadafore started the popular Jumpin’ Jazz Jam, annually bringing national stars to LHS to work and perform with student musicians. The Count Basie Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and John Pizzarelli were among the prominent musicians to share their knowledge and talents with Spadafore’s students and the community.

The induction night runs from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday at Upstairs at the Dinosaur. Tickets are $20, and can be purchased by calling Debbie Foley at 315-247-1718 or emailing her at

4 thoughts on “Sammys Hall of Fame class proves to be a hard act to follow

  1. I blog often and I seriously thank you for your information. The article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to book mark your website and keep checking for new details about once per week. I subscribed to your Feed as well.


  2. What a wealth of talent there is in central NY.
    Thanks for providing a vehicle to recognize and celebrate it!


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