Gallo keeps making music at age 89

Frank Gallo played his first paying gig when he was 15 years old.

That means he’s been in the action for about 75 years. Gallo, 89, described himself as the oldest working musician in the Mahoning Valley, although today his primary instrument is his voice. He had to give up the trumpet — he got his first one at age 10 — about four years ago due to palsy.

“You have to have a firm armature to play the trumpet,” he said. “But all through the years, I was a singer, putting some kind of action in, doing comedy, getting people involved.”

From his perch on the stage, Gallo sang Italian favorites, directed his bandmates to play solos and worked the crowd Sunday at the Greater Youngstown Italian Festival. He greeted many of the folks in the beer tent by name as they made their way to the dance floor.

He’ll do the same thing this Sunday on Courthouse Square when the Frank Gallo Band entertains in the beer tent at the Warren Italian-American Heritage Festival, which opens today. He also will be the grand marshal for the the festival parade at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Gallo was supposed to lead last year’s parade but it was rained out.

“Instead of canceling Frank, I wanted to give him another chance to do it this year,” said Phil Sidoti, vice president of the festival and head of the entertainment committee. “We’re honored he’s doing this for us.”

Gallo’s recording career spans multiple formats, from LPs to cassette to CDs. And while he didn’t sell millions, he sold enough to make double his money back and then some. He hosted Italian radio programs on WRRO-AM and WKTL-AM and still sits in for “The Italian Radio Hour with Joe and Butch” on WPIC-AM. He’s played more weddings than he can count and worked several dance halls in the region back in the days when there was no shortage of places for a good dance band to play.

“You’ve got to remember, the days I’m talking about, we were getting all kinds of weddings and clubs,” Gallo said. “You didn’t have to research to get a job. Today you have to get out there and hustle. Back then you could stay home and three times a week you’d get a call, ‘Do you want to play here?’ The band was the thing and had all the action you need.”

These days Gallo plays about 20 shows a year, still an enviable number to many local bands. Along with his annual appearance at Dean Martin Day in Steubenville, Italian festivals like the one in Warren are among his favorite places to play.

“I’ve had a lot of joy through the years playing festivals, weddings dance halls, clubs,” Gallo said.

He doesn’t have any big plans yet for when he turns 90, but there’s a good chance it will involve performing. And he’ll probably be singing “Amore Mio,” his traditional set-closing song, which was written by his friends The Gaylords. He may sing it differently today, but he still loves to sing it.

“My voice was very pure before, maybe 25 years ago,” he said. “It’s changed in character. But it doesn’t make any difference. You sing it anyway … You run into something (health-wise) everyday. You make the best of it and you keep on going. You keep on playing.”