Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff and Music Museum Celebrates Rock-n-Roll Icons
Jul 31, 2018 02:21PM
By Vanessa Orr
At the age of 15, most kids can only dream about what they want to become. Johnny Angel, lead singer of Johnny Angel & the Halos, was already performing on stage and meeting his idols even before graduating high school.
“My first record came out at age 15,” said Angel, who performed with The Cordells and recorded on the Steel Town Sound record label in the early 1960s. “I got to perform with my heroes growing up while singing background and playing drums. I was so lucky that I got to meet and work with everyone that I idolized.”
This A-list of performers reads like a who’s who of rock-n-roll history. Angel, who named himself after the slang term for a juvenile delinquent who was nice to adults, shared the stage with everyone from James Brown to Lou Rawls to Ben E. King, The Supremes and The Marvelettes. Along the way, he began collecting keepsakes of his time with these greats, which are now on display in his North Side rock-n-roll shrine, Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff and Music Museum.
“I’ve been collecting stuff for years; anything I could get, I’d take, including the shirt right off of someone’s back,” he laughed. “From the time I was 15, I starting putting things away, and now I have something from everyone who made an impact on my career.”
Angel isn’t kidding about the shirt—when Jimmy Merchant, a member of The Teenagers (the band that sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”) ate dinner at his house, Angel asked him for a keepsake, and Merchant gave him the shirt he was wearing and signed it. It is now on display—still unwashed—in a frame at the museum.
Angel opened his museum and collectibles store on Preble Avenue in 2016, after the owner of Bicycle Heaven, Craig Morrow, suggested that he create his own museum. The two stores/museums are now situated beside each other, and people are welcome to stop by and see Angel’s collection for free.
“It really brings back my childhood,” said Angel, who loves to talk to customers about all of the famous musicians that he’s met as the lead singer of Johnny Angel & the Halos for the past 50 years and as an independent artist.
Angel’s collection is massive, with only about one-third of it on display. “After I got married, I had to move my stuff to the attic and the basement, and then I filled the second floor,” he explained. “Then I filled my mother’s attic and my sister’s attic, as well as another basement, storage unit and warehouse. And the collection is still growing.”
Angel named his museum Ginchy Stuff and Music Museum after the 1950s word meaning “cool.” Surprisingly, about 70 percent of the museum and store’s traffic comes from outside the state or the country; 28 percent of visitors are from Pittsburgh.
“I hope to see that build, because the collection represents a lot of entertainers living in Pittsburgh,” said Angel.
His two favorite pieces include James Brown’s autograph, and one of the original scripts from The Temptations movie. “James Brown is one of my heroes, and I’m a Temptations nut,” he said, adding that he helped Otis Williams scout locations for the movie when it filmed in Pittsburgh.
While best known as a musician, Angel also loves to cook, which has resulted in all sorts of rock-n-roll royalty seated at his dinner table. He is a partner in a number of local restaurants including Atria’s, Juniper Grill and Ditka’s.
He is also still performing, despite the fact that he’s currently undergoing radiation treatment for prostate cancer. “The Halos have cut back and now perform about 30 weeks a year, but I still perform 50 weeks a year with other groups including Johnny Angel’s All Star Jam Band, the Paul Martino Jam Band, Jessica Lee, and Mary Ann Mangini,” he said. “I don’t want to slow down.
“I’m also still collecting,” he continued, adding that he hopes to meet even more of his rhythm and blues idols. “I would love to eventually have the whole downstairs of this building, like a mall. I could fill it two times with the stuff that’s not out yet.”
Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff and Music Museum, located at 1800 Preble Avenue, is open Wednesday-Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Angel is often on hand to share his stories.
“This is my fun place; I come here to reminisce,” he said. “I love sharing this stuff because I don’t really own it; it’s owned by the people who created it.
“I want to give people the same pleasure I have remembering my idols,” he added. “It’s like a Little Leaguer meeting Babe Ruth. I had so much pleasure being in the business with the thrills of performing onstage—I want to share as much as I can.”