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INTERVIEW: Hometown Favorite Gene Casey On Playing On The East End, Giving Back To The Community, His Musical Beginning, And More

T.J. Clemente

Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks are back at WHBPAC. (Photo: Randee Daddona)

Interviewing Gene Casey is an opportunity to talk to a Long Island music legend who also happens to be a wonderful gentleman. I, like so many on Long Island, have had the pleasure of watching and hearing Eugene John Casey play his music. He and his band, the Lone Sharks, have been playing for 31 years. On Saturday, March 30, 2019 they will be performing their 3rd annual show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC).

Gene's story is very Long Island. Although he was born in Queens, Gene and his family moved to Malverne, Long Island when he was 3-years-old. It was when 10th grader Gene Casey performed in the Valley Stream North High School Talent Show that he first sang for an audience or as he says, "When I knew I wanted to do this, play music in front of people." His first guitar? "It was a Sam Goody Strat knockoff hand me down from my older brother!" So, I asked Gene how did he end up looking like a dude from Nashville, Tennessee? He explained he liked The Beatles but he actually liked the bands that inspired The Beatles - the 1950's Elvis/Chuck Berry/Roy Orbison sound of real rock n roll music. He said, "In the beginning I was the drummer for my older brother's band. I guess the hat makes me look like a country singer." At 6' 5" with a western hat Gene does tower over his audience. You always look up to Mr. Gene Casey.

To truly understand Gene, I will tell you story: years back I asked him about his charity work, and his answer surprised me. "I've lost count of the fund-raisers, benefits, and charity gigs we've been part of," he said. "Bay Street in Sag Harbor hosted a Japan relief show after the earthquake and tsunami, of 2011, and a Haitian benefit a year earlier. Those come to mind because the folks at Bay Street are such pros and make donating services effortless." I had to ask which ones really stick out? Gene Casey said, "For the last five winters, the Lone Sharks and I have performed at the "Rockin' for the Homeless" event in Riverhead. It's January, it's cold, the holidays have passed, and the thought of being homeless is particularly haunting. But, actually, the most memorable benefit performance I have done is something on a much smaller scale. On the North Fork, Maureen's Haven hosts a weekly dinner in a church basement in Southold wherein a bus of homeless folks are fed, assisted, and entertained. This is all because of a lady named Shirley Darling, who asks a bunch of us to come down and perform for a couple of hours. Instead of performing for a crowd of people paying money to be part of a good cause, on such nights I am playing FOR the recipients of such efforts. It's been humbling, eye opening and has taken what I do as a musician to a level that is very real and immediate."

Gene praised his wonderful wife Heather Lanza for being there for him. Most musicians lead hard lives of long weekend gigs, a good woman makes it a touch easier.

This year's Lone Shark line-up for the WHBPAC show will consist of Gene on guitar and singing, Pete Crugnale on stand-up bass, Chris Ripley on drums, Paul Scher on sax, Andy Burton on keyboards, Brian Sears also on sax, and Tricia Scotti on acoustic guitar.

Gene promises to play perhaps his favorite original song that took him only 30 minutes to write, It Should Rain, along with many of the 60 original songs he has wrote and recorded and has out on his six CDs available on iTunes.

Gene's sense of humor is displayed in his stock answer on why he likes to play at the WHBPAC. "Because they have two big dressing rooms, we don't have to change in our cars!" he joked. He also mentioned what a great audience they are, and said he'd like to thank all of Long Island for the wonderful way they have appreciated his music these last 31 years. His mom's name was Gertrude Breen Casey and she was born in 1926 in Queens. I salute her she raised one fine man.

Tickets are $30 and the concert starts at 8 p.m.

Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. For more information, call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org. For other upcoming Gene Casey and the Lone Sharks gigs, visit genecasey.com.

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