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North Hills Monthly

Still Rockin’ (after all these years)

Jul 31, 2018 02:18PM ● By Vanessa Orr

Totally 80s band members

People who love playing music often find themselves jamming with friends, and in some cases, may even put a band together. For the lucky few, this pastime might actually become a successful second career, as two local bands—The Grid and Totally 80s—have shown. 

“You get the bug; you realize that you like entertaining and being in front of people,” explained Don Rusczynski, lead singer of The Grid. “I’ve been playing on and off since I graduated from high school in 1969, and even though I’ve been in and out of bands over the years, I always come back to it.

“It’s a great way to meet people and get out, and get away from the everyday grind of going to work, feeding the dog and doing the dishes,” he laughed. “It’s a good change of pace.”

The Grid, a “power trio with a singer,” has been playing together since 2008 and includes Rusczynski, George Marcinko on guitar, Jack Mrozowski on drums and John Mittner on bass guitar. 

“I have a day job and the drummer has a day job, and our two guitar players are retired,” said Rusczynski. “George also plays guitar with the disco band, Dancing Queen, so we work around his time commitments, playing maybe four times a month to keep things fresh and so that we can remember everything.

“Sometimes it’s kind of tough when you don’t play as often because you get up there, and you’re trying to remember, ‘How did we end that song?’” he laughed.

Because The Grid has been playing together for so long, they have a repertoire of songs from which they can pull, and they also occasionally add new songs to their 1960-1980s rock-n-roll playlist. “It usually comes together pretty quickly,” said Rusczynski, “because we focus on the songs we grew up with, like music from The Who and Led Zeppelin.”

The Grid plays throughout Pittsburgh, including at Jergel’s in the North Hills and at Kendrew’s in Hopewell Township, as well as at street parties and festivals and private affairs. “We like to keep it local, though every once in a while, we’ll travel a little further,” said Rusczynski, adding that the band just returned from a Seven Springs performance and will be going back in October to play at the resort’s Oktoberfest. “It’s kind of tough to drive a couple of hours, load and unload all of the equipment, play the whole night, and then drive all the way back, but we do it.”

While there are drawbacks of being in a band, Rusczynski says that it’s worth the effort. 

“Sometimes you play to a semi-empty house, or you bump into a club owner who wants you to play the whole night for $100, and you wonder why you’re doing this,” he said. “But then when you’re up on stage and everyone in the crowd is having fun, and smiling and dancing, it gives you a lot of satisfaction. It’s hard to beat that kind of crowd admiration.

“I think that the fact that all of the guys in the band like each other really helps—that’s half the battle,” he added. “If this turned into a real job, I’d think I’d get out.”

Chris Murphy is the business manager and lead singer of Totally 80s, which has been playing together since 2010. “At the time the band was put together, a lot of Pittsburgh groups were playing country and oldies, and we decided to take the niche route because we believed that there were a lot of diehard ‘80s fans who would come out, and that’s exactly what happened,” he explained.

Totally 80s is made up of Murphy (Chris d’Fershurr), Art Boehm (Art O’Graff), Justin Page (J Rokk), Liz Agey (Lizzy Lizz), Brian Heywood (B. Dawgg) and Pete Moran (F. Exx). The band plays 80s dance music in clubs including Jergel’s, the Rivers Casino, Crafthouse Stage & Grill, Baja Bar & Grill, and the casino circuit in West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland.

“We have a couple of slow songs in our repertoire that we play on request, but we try to do mostly dance to keep people on the floor all night long,” said Murphy of their mix of pop, hair band, soul, R&B and funk. “This high-energy music creates a good audience for the band, and makes people hungry and thirsty, which is good for the club.”

Five of the musicians in the six-piece band also sing, enabling them to do three- and four-part harmony. “This keeps it interesting for the audience,” said Murphy. “And we trade the leads through all five vocalists to keep it fresh.”

All of the band members have full-time jobs, which range from healthcare consultant to electrical engineer, to a master’s-prepared social worker to a general manager of a South Hills bakery. This is in addition to being in the band, which requires a pretty big time commitment.

“It depends on who you ask,” said Murphy. “If you ask my wife, she’ll say it’s too much. I have a really supportive family, but it does take a lot of time.”

Totally 80s plays up to 65 shows a year and practices every Wednesday night. In August alone, they will be playing nine shows, including performing at the Lake Arthur Regatta, Jergel’s, the Seven Springs Wine Festival and more.

“We always change it up, because we like to keep sharp and keep the audience engaged,” said Murphy. “People want to be entertained and if we put on a great show, they’ll keep coming back. We get a lot of satisfaction out of making people happy.

“We really appreciate that our fan base continues to support us, and continues to support live music in Pittsburgh,” he added. “This allows us to continue doing what we love.”

To see upcoming performances, visit www.welcometothegrid.com and www.totes80s.com.