In Memoriam

In Memoriam

Love is a strong feeling, but to family it's never ending. No matter what, your family will always love you. They will go above and beyond to be there for you.  Our band is like that.  While many bands last only a few years and crumble from within due to internal squabbles and power struggles, our band has endured for 35 years and with most of the original members.  Even members who have moved on frequently return to sit in because it’s a bit like coming home.

Losing precious members of our family has brought sadness.  We will always miss our Big Daddy, our Mr. Clean, and our Divine Ms. Z.  But at the same time, the best way to honor these beloved brothers and sister is to maintain their legacy.  So we continue because we know they would have wanted us to do so, and we will hold them in our hearts and thoughts each time we perform.

Sal “Tudi” Bruno or "The Big Daddy"

July 31, 1952 -- September 4, 2017

Sal played sax and piano, and sang as a Boogie Man for nearly 30 years.  He was really the genesis for Vocal-ease and The Boogie Men even though he was not among the original Boogie Men. 

Sal was the Director of the Good Shepherd Choir for more than 45 years and regularly heard Julie, Betsy, and Carol sing together at church.  It was Sal, who in 1988 was tasked with organizing a USO-type for the 40-year reunion of Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg, and who asked Julie, Betsy and Carol to learn a few Andrews Sisters songs as an act in the variety show.  Were it not for Sal, our band probably would never have begun.

How difficult it is to sum up all the ways in which a person affects you.  Sal would have been only 20 or so when he began directing the Good Shepherd Choir, yet he seemed much older at the time, as he was in full command when at the helm of the Choir.  His hands that conducted were powerful, and he employed a variety of colorful facial expressions and gestures to communicate what he was hearing or wanting to hear.

Sal mentored many choir and band members over the years on music theory.  He possessed that ideal combination of technical musical knowledge and innate musicality that enabled him to feel music, perform music, and also teach others about music.  He could transpose keys instantly.  He was always willing to practice separately to help Vocal-ease work out chords and song arrangements. 

Sal loved to gig and his family supported him in his desire to perform as part of an ensemble.  It was not uncommon to see his wife Phyllis and his four kids – Carille, Salvatore, Melanie and Angelica -- carrying his equipment to each job and cheering him on as part of the audience.  Sal was probably best known for his sax playing, but he also sang very well and was accomplished at playing several additional instruments including piano, guitar and flute.  It was always fascinating to watch how his chubby fingers mastered the piano keys.  In addition to our band, Sal played with the Pittsburg Community Band, for community theater productions, and as a guest musician with many local bands.

Sal covered a lot of ground as one of The Boogie Men.  He regularly switched from singing or playing piano to strapping on his sax to take a sax solo.  We used to tease him, saying, “Strap on, strap off!”, as he probably repeated this activity 30-40 times during each gig.  That versatility was a huge asset to our band and earned him the nickname “Big Daddy”.  Like Jim, Sal was devoted to the band and played through his illness, literally from a wheelchair.  That kind of passion, commitment, and dedication to our family was extraordinary and elevated the quality of our performance.

Jim “Mr. Clean” Matejcek

May 6, 1954 - Aug. 13, 2009

Jim played as the band’s guitarist for 14 years.  One of the finest of Jimmy’s traits was how he really engaged in the things that interested him.  He wasn’t just in the Good Shepherd Church Choir; he was actively in the Choir.  He wrote and sang songs for the Choir.  When you played guitar for the Choir, you had to play loudly.  We often joked that Jimmy held the speed record for changing a guitar string because he broke so many! 

Jimmy was just as devoted to our band.  He always gave everything he could and played with his whole heart.  He had a lot of humility; you would never say that there was any disagreement in the group because of Jim’s ego.  He loved being part of us and it was impossible not to love Jim.  He talked a lot about his jam sessions with his buddy Del.  When he would play with us after jamming with Del, he would always have a few new rifs in his solos.  He was always working to improve his playing, the tip of his tongue sinched between his lips in concentration as he played.

Jim was very committed to our group.  He never missed a job because of the cancer.  He played through his pain and discomfort and perhaps playing helped him get through his ordeal in some small way.  The only reason Jim would miss a job was because of family events.  We have a tacit agreement in the band that we need to schedule our personal lives around the gigs or else, with eight of us, we’d never be able to play.  So it is a balancing act for all of us because the band is important to us, but not more important than our families. Jim was a family man at heart and he was very proud of Laura, Paul, and Sarah.

The thought of Jimmy can bring a both a smile and a tear.  We never had a harsh word between us, even after knowing each other so many years.  He was always supportive, caring, warm and often very funny.   We hope and pray that he and Sal are playing some heavenly gig.

Carol Zbacnik "the Divine Ms. Z"

November 26, 1956 -- February 22, 2020

Carol was our singing compatriot for more than 40 years beginning with church choir, and then singing at weddings and with various bands over the years.  She has been a friend, mentor and a colleague.  Together, we girls spent countless hours practicing, arranging music, and performing, traveling all around the Bay Area and sometimes beyond to sing for people.

It’s hard in retrospect to give proper homage to so many moments and such a long history, but what stands out for us more than the more obvious performances were the practicing and the auditioning – the hours spent in exploration trying to get the harmonies and phrasing just right or sitting in our living rooms singing love songs for prospective brides and bridegrooms, Carol with her guitar sitting on the left.  And it wasn’t always easy -- we had frequent disagreements not unusual with artists.  Yet, more often we reveled in the sound we could make together, which eclipsed any artistic differences.  And we’ve shared too many laughs to recount.

Julie:  Carol was my first serious music mentor.  I was just 13 when I joined the Good Shepherd Folk Choir, so Carol would have been about 18.  Right away, she seemed to sense a kindred spirit in me and so took me under her wing.  Back then, we didn’t use charted music but relied solely on our ears.  We’d spend time after choir practice each week to learn new music and construct harmonies and countermelodies, leads and backgrounds.  In retrospect, I realize how generous she was to have spent so much of her teen time working with a youngster like me, and that was, indeed, the beginning of a lifelong sisterhood in music.

Betsy: We called Carol "The Divine Ms. Z" when introducing her at gigs and it was a fitting title. That voice, the blend, the sisterhood that has lasted decades--very special and rare. She was a perfectionist in music and was very patient with me in making sure every note, every song, was "just right." If she was under the weather and said she didn't feel she could hit the notes, I would always tell her she sounded better on her worst day than most people sounded on their best. Truth!  Our favorite times were the three of us with Carol on her guitar--unplugged. Heavenly.

We were so stunned and saddened by her sudden passing.  Carol had only recently retired after a lifelong career with the Pittsburg Unified School District.  She should have had many years of travel, leisure, and musical performance ahead of her.  To say that she will be missed isn’t enough.  Over the course of 40+ years, we have had times of closeness and also distance, but the music was always there. Her magnificent voice – rich, warm and smooth – that tremendous vibrato, was integral to the Vocal-ease sound, a once-in-a-lifetime combination.  Yes, we will miss her terribly.  And now, the recordings that we made with her are all the more precious.

Carol, fly to perfection, where there is no sickness or tears.  We will treasure the time we had singing with you and hold you always in our hearts.