William Lavorgna, also known as Bill, Blaze, and "Pappy" passed away this morning from a massive coronary which occurred on Saturday. My sister called me last night to tell me he was on life support and they would be turning it off today. His family were acquired relatives, tied to my family by the friendships of the respective two youngest sons as well as Bill's and my father's recovery from first heart attacks back around 1976-1977.
"Uncle Bill" was a famous studio drummer and Liza Minnelli's musical director for many, many years. She's the one who called him Pappy. He was on about a third of the 1965 top 100 hits. I know for certain he played on most of the Lovin' Spoonful hits (from a conversation about Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Castile Soap--John Sebastian introduced him to it) and before he worked for Liza, he worked for Judy Garland.
I haven't seen Uncle Bill or Aunt Joan or the boys since I moved from the East Coast, but I'd exchange Christmas cards and, until Bill retired (or, at least, I thought he retired), hoped that I would see him on the Los Angeles leg of a Liza tour. The last time he was scheduled to be out here, she had to cancel because of her throat or her hip, so I hadn't even talked to him in quite a while.
But just a few months ago, I learned that the head of the English Department here and her husband had both been musicians who worked with Uncle Bill when Liza, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis performed together at Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas. I had wanted to get in touch with Uncle Bill to convey greetings, but my last address for them was no longer correct and I hadn't gotten around to asking my mother if she had it. Now I'm kicking myself.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Joan moved to my home town sometime after I went to college. They had a beautiful home on a lot of land a few miles outside of town. My middle brother Tom was best friends with their middle son Blaze and my baby brother Michael John was best friends with their youngest son David. Michael John went to Canada with the Lavorgnas on one vacation, coming back quite the world traveler. My parents knew them because of the boys, but when Uncle Bill had a major heart attack back around 1976, they became extremely good friends which was cemented by my father's first heart attack in August 1977. That's when I remember they became Uncle Bill and Aunt Joan.
When my father passed away of a second heart attack in 1978, it was on the Lavorgna property, the day after Dad and Mom had been to see Uncle Bill perform with Liza Minnelli. Dad was out walking with my brother Tom who was bow hunting. Tom went to retrieve an arrow, and when he got back, Dad was on the ground, smiled at him, and passed away. Ironically, Dad had been hiking with Michael John on the same land at some earlier time and told my mother that he was looking around and thought it would be a fine place to die. I think Uncle Bill would have chosen that way to go over the machine hook-up. I sure would.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Joan sold the farm and moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland for the milder winters after David went off to study music. They moved to Florida after Uncle Bill retired from touring with Liza. I won't be able to go to Florida for the funeral, but my thoughts are with Aunt Joan, Mark, Blaze, David and their families. I'm going to pull out a "Best of the Lovin' Spoonful" to listen to when I get home.
Lunch with the Barefoot Contessa
10 months ago