By Janie Southard
Those who know "Tuxedo Junction" is not a black-tie intersection and "Killer Joe" is not on death row are bound to enjoy the music of West Ohio Big Band (WOBB), the kick-off group for the new Celina Concert Series on Sunday evenings at North Shore Park.
West Ohio Big Band includes 16 area musicians who've come together especially for this Sunday's performance and will offer jazz and classic big band tunes from the era of Duke Ellington, Harry James, Count Basie, Woody Herman as well as newer offerings.
Mercer County native and now Alabama resident Bob Loughrige, former band director at Celina High School (1970-1994) and talented saxophone player, started West Ohio Big Band years ago when the Don Hurliss band (West Ohio Gas Band) in Lima broke up.
Originally a rehearsal band rather than a performing band, the WOBB attracted serious area musicians who played their hearts out on Wednesday evenings and generally had a good time. However, the group hasn't played regularly in the last four years.
"When the Sunday night concert idea came up, I got on the phone to see who all I could round up and in no time at all I had the whole group raring to go," said Boyd Loughrige, former Celina High School band director (1980-1999) who assisted brother Bob for several years and then took over at Celina in 1994. Recently Boyd Loughrige and Jerry Amato, both of Celina and longtime members of WOBB as well as the jazz group The Pastels, talked with The Daily Standard about the good old days of big bands.
Loughrige, who began with guitar and later added the bass, said he chose guitar because "drums were too expensive."
"I came from a musical family so there were all kinds of instruments at home. Dad played guitar, violin and banjo and Mom played piano. But there just wasn't money for drums, so I picked up the guitar," Loughrige said as a Pastels demo CD played in the background.
Amato has been playing piano for more than four decades professionally and for pleasure, but he can't read music.
"He hears a tune and plays it. And he's fabulous," Loughrige said of his friend.
As for Amato, he can't explain how he does it, but he's always been able to play songs he's heard.
"It's just a gift and I'm grateful for it," he said casting his eyes Heavenward.
Celina has a music tradition that includes the old Edgewater Park (where the Eagles Lodge is now). Years ago large crowds gathered at the park to hear big name big bands, such as Louis Armstrong, Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw and Ralph Flanagan.
One evening when Flanagan was in town, Amato, Bob Loughrige and their dates were out at Edgewater.
"Flanagan made an announcement that he needed a saxophone player. Well, Bob played sax and played it real well (and still does), so he sat in with the band. Afterward Flanagan told Bob, 'We're going to Chicago. Pack your suitcase.' He toured with them for about a year," Amato recalled.
Boyd's reaction: "I just waved good-bye to my big brother," he said.
Amato, Boyd Loughrige, Randy Maurer (drums) from Botkins and newcomer Roger Klofta (alto sax) make up the present-day Pastels, who will perform at North Shore Park on Aug. 1.
"The (original) Pastels played many a wedding years ago and we always told the bride and groom we'd play for free at their 50th anniversary. Those anniversaries are getting real close now," Boyd Loughrige said.
What if the happy couple from 50 years ago gives the guys a call -- will they furnish the music for the party?
"Sure we will, if humanly possible to arrange," Loughrige said.