EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — For more than a decade, the Scranton-based band “Ralph” entertained fans along the East Coast.
47 years ago, they played to an estimated crowd of 20,000 at Nay Aug Park. WBRE/WYOU photojournalist Joseph Butash, who was there in 1974, has the story of ‘Ralph’ and this memorable concert in this week’s Eyewitness to History.
“I came down Moosic Street and I remember, I mean, it was backed up off the exit. So I was going like what’s happening?” Ralph founding member and guitarist/lead vocalist Billy Lombardi said.
“I didn’t know there was going to be that many people there. No. No one did,” Ralph founding member and bass player Billy Cianfichi said.
They credit their early musical success to their education at South Scranton Junior High School. The group included the late Buddy Mecca on drums and Jeff Mitchell on keyboards.
“Many of us were products of South Scranton Junior High School. And the music teacher at the time was Pat O’Hearn, he was a great teacher,” Lombardi said.
“It was a group of guys who had a lot of passion for music. That what the key is. I don’t find that much nowadays. But back then that’s what it was because it came from their heart,” Cianfichi said.
“10 guys in the band, four roadies. I used to drive the truck, I did the sound, we were family,” roadie Peter Panko said .
They were a ‘rock orchestra’ influenced by the music of that generation.
“The early blood, sweat, and tears came out and we kind of liked that sound and then Chicago, Santana, and all that stuff. And we just kind of took to that,” Lombardi said.
A roadie suggested adding “Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture” to the band’s playlist.
“We figured why not let’s try. And we rehearsed and rehearsed and memorized and did everything, and it worked out,” Cianfichi said.
The band recorded at historic Trident Studios in London, had great regional success, but found it difficult to make it nationally.
“The music business is a very cliquish kind of thing. Almost like real-estate is location, location, location. You got to kind of be where the action is. We had representation in New York. I can go through a story, a laundry list of things that almost happened and then at the last minute something changed or somebody else took over the record company. Some of it is luck and who you know. Just being in the right place at the right time,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi continues to perform with his very successful party band “Group Du Jour”. While Ralph fans everywhere, more than 20,000-plus, have great memories of August 1974.
“It was pretty amazing, it was,” Cianfichi said.
The Monday, August 12, 1974 “Ralph” concert at Nay Aug Park is considered the largest one day outdoor concert in Northeastern Pennsylvania.