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4/4/2006
Norman Nardini

In the early days of rock 'n' roll, it was strictly kids' stuff. The people who played it, listened to it, danced to it - give 'em till they're 19, maybe 20, and they'll wise up and move on to "good music."

Then a funny thing happened. Folks kept rockin' into their 30s, then 40s, then ... well, you saw the Rolling Stones at the Super Bowl.

At 55, Norman Nardini isn't too far behind Mick, Keith and Charlie. But as he'll tell you, "I'm having more fun than I ever did ... and I've had a whole lot of fun."

You might recognize Norman's name from his tenure as frontman for the Pittsburgh-based Norm Nardini & the Tigers, which landed a major-label deal with CBS in the '80s. He's still going strong in the music-making medium two decades later (just as he had been almost two decades before).

"It's still my full-time job. I still work at it constantly," he says. Then he adds, honestly, in a statement that's backed up by colleagues in the music business: "I've never met anyone who worked as hard at making music as I do."

A look at his schedule of shows, for example, shows a full slate in the next few weeks. This Saturday, April 8, he's at Trinity's on West High Street in Waynesburg. (Bob Moore, who's promoting the show, wants his friends to know he's recovered from his stroke and will be attending.)

Norman also has a regular acoustic jam gig Thursday nights at Excuses on East Carson Street in the South Side, "jammers welcome." This is something new for the club, which hosted a blues night for many years.

Another gig of note is May 12 at Moondog's in Blawnox. Opening will be Tom Breiding & American Son (the Peters Township musician is releasing a new album).

Along with his performance schedule, Norman continues to produce other artists' recordings, working recently with teenage blues guitarist Zach Weisinger and drummer/vocalist Mark Stutso, a longtime collaborator with former Nighthawks guitarist Jimmy Thackery.

"Now I'm starting to think about a Norman record," he says.

In the meantime, he's released "Redemption (1977-88)," an anthology with a twist: The songs are mostly updates of material that appeared on albums during that period.

"I wanted to cut that stuff right," he explains. "I never felt they were good recordings of that material. Before I went ahead with my future, I had to shore up my past."

Part of that is attributable to his opinion that he's a stronger vocalist and guitarist compared with the past. Plus, he cut the album in his own studio with equipment that allows for improved sonic quality.

Longtime fans might appreciate the differences, but one thing that remains constant is the quality of the songs. Norman knows how to put together a tune: killer hooks, catchy lyrics, soul-searching harmonies, smoking guitar solos. As he says, that comes from 40 or so years of doing it!

Joining him on "Redemption" are the regular members of his trio, drummer Whitey Clyde Cooper (with him since 1980) and bassist Harry Bottoms (since the late '80s), along with keyboardist Herman Granati (of the Granati Brothers) and saxophonist Phil Brontz (8th Street Rox/Bill Toms & Hard Rain).

The album opens with a "ready, set, go, man, go!" to kick off "Ready Freddy," a rousing number that's a favorite on the 1981 album "Eat 'n' Alive." With lyrics like "outta sight, out of control," the song evokes a simpler time, when rock 'n' roll was all about cutting loose and having a good time.

Other songs are familiar to listeners who know his CBS albums: "That Girl," "Heat of the Night," "High Times" and "Love Dog," which served as the title track for one of them. Also in that group is the intense "Can't Kill Love With a Gun," a garage-rock number propelled by Herman's organ playing and climaxed by Norman's driving solo.

A tune particularly worth hearing is "Nothin' to Lose," a minor-key tale from the musician's viewpoint that evolves into a simmering jam featuring some innovative guitar work. And songs like "Gorilla" (featuring Herman's barrelhouse piano) show he and his bandmates still like to have a lot of fun: "Gonna shake the nuts in the coconut tree/Drive that monkey crazy till he don't know where he be."

When it comes to rock 'n' roll, you're never too old to enjoy a line like that!

SOUND FILES: Check out clips of Norman's music.

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