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DPAO founder looks back at acts


Joseph L. Rich has greeted dozens of musical acts over the years as part of the Disabled Persons Action Organization’s annual concert series. He was given the names of some of the acts, and asked his thoughts.

Harry Chapin

This singer/songwriter was the first musical act Mr. Rich brought to the north country for a benefit concert. He performed twice in Watertown in the 1970s.

Mr. Chapin died in a 1981 car crash.

“He was a consummate writer. Every time I turned around he was writing something. But still, he was very personable. He signed his albums and signed autographs for everyone.”

His song, “A Better Place to Be,” about a midnight watchman at Miller’s Tool and Die and a “rotund waitress” he meets in an “early morning barroom,” is about Watertown.

Tony Bennett

As a child, Mr. Bennett had lived for a time in the St. Lawrence County hamlet of Pyrites with his uncle Dominick Benedetto. Mr. Rich picked Mr. Bennett up at the Syracuse airport and told him that some of his north country relatives were eager to see him.

“He was so gracious. On the way in, he stopped at the Ramada, and Sandy Spatola (Ramada Inn’s manager) had a group of friends and he spent time with them.”

At the concert, he met some of the Benedettos.

“An aunt came down and smothered (hugged) him,” Mr. Rich said. “She was a big woman.”

“Even at the reception after the show, he met everybody and took the time to get hugged by everybody. He was just a real gentleman and did a tremendous show.”

Mr. Bennett later went to Giovanni’s Restaurant on LeRay Street “on his own.”

“He used to sketch pictures. He drew one of a waitress and gave it to her,” Mr. Rich said.

Johnny Cash

“He and June Carter were terrific. They had a wonderful time. He even did a commercial for the DPAO. But I don’t know where it is.”

Huey Lewis

“He spent time with soldiers on his own. So did Jennifer Nettles” (lead vocalist for Sugarland).

“They just wanted to spend time with the soldiers at Fort Drum, especially the Wounded Warriors. Other entertainers were not as ready to do that.”

Victor Borge

Mr. Rich preceded his recollection of the Danish pianist, comedian and conductor with a comment: “I was so skinny back then!”

“On the day of the show, he purposely bumps into the microphone stand on stage and says, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Rich!’”

Randy Travis

“They couldn’t get into their bus. It was a great big thing. I saw him and his wife going through a window in the back. She was the last one I saw. She had a dress on — or something, and he was trying to get her through.”

Brad Paisley

“He borrowed my wife’s car. She had a little sports car. He says, ‘Can I take it for a ride?’ I said, ‘Sure.’

“That’s when he was charging $50,000. Now, you can’t get him for anything less than $400,000. He took the car for a spin and when he came back I was glad to see it was in one piece. He had a great time here.”

Loretta Lynn

“She’s the only one who did a free show for us.”

In 1986, the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” waived her usual performance fee of $40,000 for a concert at Bonnie Castle at Collins Landing.

She was booked a total of five times by the DPAO for concerts, with her last appearance in 2003.

Charlie Daniels

“We had him at Westcott’s Beach. It was thunder and lightning. I said, ‘Charlie, get off the stage!’ There was a thousand people there. And he’s up there playing ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’ And lightning was in the background. God, it was scary. But he did a great show.”

Steve Martin

“He said, ‘You know Joe, this is not a total comedy show.’ I had known that. He said he took playing the banjo very seriously. But he was still funny and did a nice show. People enjoyed it. I still get comments.”

Bill Cosby

“When he flew in here, he told the pilot to do these wing waves. I thought, ‘What the hell is he doing?’ They land and he says, ‘What do you give me? Up to 10.’

“I said, ‘You mean with the wings?’” Mr. Cosby told him yes. Mr. Rich gave him “about a 5.”

“He said, ‘The next time, we’ll come in upside down. How’s that!?’”

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