Recently I joined the board of the Dunkirk Historical Society and donated a souvenir vinyl record from a band called The Turning Point to their museum.
The album contains a dozen popular songs including: “Aquarius – Let the sun in”, “World of the Beatles”, “The raindrops keep falling on my head”, and “We can fly – high, high and far. “ The songs were recorded in the early 1970s at Rusch’s Restaurant, 296 Lake Shore Drive West, which today houses the Dunkirk Moose Lodge.
The back cover of the album features a music review from Variety magazine as well as the autographs of the six band members: Phil DiStefano, George Genna, Gwendy Miles, Tony “Tap” Patricks, Jack Siegel and Frank Warren. I was curious as to how this talented lounge-style band formed almost 50 years ago and was able to contact singer Gwendy Miles, who put me in touch with Jack Siegel, who both agreed to ‘to be interviewed. Here are their memories of their careers and experiences at Rusch’s, which was one of the best live music dinners in upstate New York.
When was The Turning Point formed, who set it up and what was it named?
JACK: The band was originally a trio formed in 1969 with George Genna, Phil DiStefano and me. We were called The Arrangement and we were signed by New York manager Herb Paloff around 1970. He added three more people and I think he coined the name of The Turning Point as well. Remember that we go back several years …
GWENDY: I joined the band in 1970 or early 1971 and was on the road with them for two years. I was “discovered” by Tony Patricks, Frank Warren and Herb Paloff (our manager), who came to a storefront in New York to hear me sing.
On what dates did the band play at Rusch’s, and have you played elsewhere?
JACK: We played Rusch several times between 1970 and 1972. We played 50 weeks a year, along the east coast, from Miami to Cleveland and upstate New York.
GWENDY: Rusch’s was one of our most visited clubs. I always miss the all-you-can-eat lobster on Friday nights and love telling people about it as they stare at me in disbelief!
The Rusch album has 12 tracks – were there any other recordings?
JACK: Yes, there have been a lot of recordings made with personal tape recorders, but to my knowledge none of them have ever been released. We also did a recording in New York at a top professional studio, but this one also never came out.
GWENDY: Not when I was with the band. In fact, they continued for two to three months after our so-called breakup. Frank Warren hired backing vocals and dancers in the hopes that a larger performing group would be more successful. They only played in one place – Rusch’s – and then went their separate ways. Obviously, the bigger groups of shows were old fashioned and the smaller groups were more profitable for the clubs.
What are some of your memories of the band and your performances at Rusch’s?
JACK: I loved the rotating scene – very cool! The crowd was always very warm and receptive and seemed to really enjoy the group. I liked the Friday night lobster special.
GWENDY: The lobster special! Plus, I loved the kindness of the Rusch family to all of us. The audience was wonderful. I had fans who came in groups to Rusch’s from Akron, Ohio, and they also stocked up on lobster. George Genna and I went to New York once to be able to audition for a possible Broadway show produced or directed by one of the Rusch brothers’ friends, and George was kind enough to be my accompanist, so it was all very exciting. and memorable. I think Rusch’s was as close to being our home on the road as it was anywhere we played.
How did you start your career and with what other bands have you played?
JACK: I started playing professionally when I was 14, playing with local bands in high school and college. After The Turning Point, Pat and Frank formed a 14-piece band called Kaleidoscope. I arranged and played with them, but the band was too big to continue working, so we broke up. Kaleidoscope has also performed at Rusch.
GWENDY: I sang before I could walk and majored in acting at Otterbein College in Ohio, then moved to New York after playing the musical Summer Stock in 1968. I worked. as an NBC guide. I then worked with the National Theater Company playing “The world of musical theater” and was then cast as “Married” in West Side Story at the Millbrook Playhouse in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania. Herb continued as a manager and booked me with a few other bands before starting my own band, “Gwendy Miles and the Milestones.” We played at Disney World, did a USO Navy tour of the Caribbean, and I sang in Hong Kong as well. We were together for almost three years, then I got married and found out that pregnant singers weren’t employable!
Where are you today and have you stayed in touch with other band members over the years?
JACK: I live in North Miami Beach and I keep in touch with George and I meet Pat from time to time. Phil DiStefano has passed away and I haven’t heard from Frank Warren since The Turning Point broke up, but maybe he’s still around and will see this story.
GWENDY: From my home in West Virginia, I reconnected with George when I found him online. He became Sammy Davis, Jr.’s accompanist until Sammy’s death in 1990. George then worked as one of Atlantic City’s most sought-after accompanists – a very talented guy. He gave me Jack’s number, so Jack and I talked on the phone and we caught up on each other’s lives, then Jack gave me Pat’s number and we talked too – he worked on cruise ships for several years and finally got married just a few years ago for the first time – truly the nicest person in our group.
What advice would you give to music students who aspire to be a performer?
JACK: If you’re not planning on teaching, have a back-up plan.
GWENDY: Jack is right to have a back-up plan. I had a teaching certificate which I did not use until several years later. Make sure you enjoy your playing time, as long as it lasts. I ended up supporting my family by working as a legal assistant in Dallas for 22 years.
Do you have anything else from Rusch and your career to share with the readers?
JACK: I know Pat has a lot of pictures and I always try to ask him for them. Also, maybe the OBSERVER has some topical photos in their archive of us playing. I hope that a few readers – maybe couples who have met and fallen in love with our music and remember those good times at Rusch – might have photos in their albums that they can share online. Songs and images from Rusch’s album are on Youtube where readers can check out the stylish matching striped outfits we wore back then!
GWENDY: I don’t have any photos of Rusch and I don’t know where other photos of mine are, maybe in a box somewhere. My home in Dallas (where I lived for 31 years to raise my family) burned down and I lost many memories of my career. I saved “The corner of the sky” of the Broadway show Pippen on a single for my fans to buy. I now sing occasionally in local churches. God was kind enough to allow me to sing again at my age. Musicians have their instruments, but the voice is part of the human body, and as we age our voices grow old with us. For some reason my voice hasn’t given way yet, and I’m still waiting for my big break!
Comments can be sent to email@example.com