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Members of ’70s musical group trumpeted performances in city

Recently, I joined the Dunkirk Historical Society board of directors and donated to their museum a souvenir vinyl record album by a group called The Turning Point.

The album features a dozen popular songs including: “Aquarius — Let the Sunshine In”, “Beatle Medley”, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”, and “We Can Fly — Up, Up and Away.” The songs were recorded in the early 1970s at Rusch’s Restaurant, 296 Lake Shore Drive West, now home to the Dunkirk Moose Lodge.

The album’s back cover features a review by a music critic for Variety magazine as well as the autographs of all six members of the group: Phil DiStefano, George Genna, Gwendy Miles, Tony “Pat” Patricks, Jack Siegel, and Frank Warren. I was curious how this talented lounge-style band came together almost 50 years ago and was able to contact singer Gwendy Miles, who put me in touch with Jack Siegel, both of whom agreed to be interviewed. Here are their memories of their careers and experiences at Rusch’s, which was one of the premier live-music supper clubs in upstate New York.

When was The Turning Point formed, who put it together, and how 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 were signed by New York manager Herb Paloff around 1970. He added three more people and I think he also thought up The Turning Point name. Keep in mind, we’re going back a lot of years…

GWENDY: I joined the group 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 showcase in New York City to hear me sing.

What dates did the group play at Rusch’s, and did you perform anywhere else?

JACK: We played Rusch’s many times between 1970 and 1972. We performed 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 still miss the all-you-can-eat lobster on Friday nights and like to tell people about it as they stare at me in disbelief!

The Rusch’s album has 12 tracks — were there any other recordings made?

JACK: Yes, there were many recordings made with personal cassette recorders but, to my knowledge, none of it was ever released. We also did a recording in New York City at a top professional studio, but this was also never released.

GWENDY: Not when I was with the group. They actually continued for two to three months after we supposedly broke up. Frank Warren hired some backup singers and dancers in the hopes that a bigger show group would be a bigger success. They only performed at one place — Rusch’s — and then split up. Evidently, the bigger show groups were going out of fashion and smaller groups were more economically feasible for clubs.

What are some of your memories from the group and performing at Rusch’s?

JACK: I loved the revolving stage — very cool! The crowd was always very warm and receptive and seemed to really enjoy the band. I liked the Friday night lobster special.

GWENDY: The lobster special! Also, I loved how kind the Rusch family was to all of us. The audiences were wonderful. I had fans that drove up in groups to Rusch’s from Akron, Ohio, and they also filled up on lobster. George Genna and I once went to New York City so I could audition for a potential Broadway show produced or directed by one of the Rusch brothers’ friends, and George was kind enough to be my accompanist, so that was all very exciting and memorable. I think Rusch’s was as close to being our home on the road as anywhere we ever played.

How did you start your careers and what other groups have you performed with?

JACK: I started playing professionally when I was 14, performing with local bands through high school and college. After The Turning Point, Pat and Frank put together a 14-piece group called Kaleidoscope. I arranged for and performed with them, but the band was too big to keep working, so we broke up. Kaleidoscope also performed at Rusch’s.

GWENDY: I sang before I could walk, and majored in theater at Otterbein College in Ohio, then moved to New York City after doing the musical Summer Stock in 1968. I worked as an NBC Guidette. I then worked with the National Theater Company performing in “The World of Musical Theater” and was then cast as “Maria” in West Side Story at the Millbrook Playhouse in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania. Herb continued as my manager and booked me with a few other groups before I started my own band, “Gwendy Miles and the Milestones.” We played Disney World, did a USO Navy tour of the Caribbean, and I also sang in Hong Kong. We were together for almost three years, and then I got married and discovered that pregnant singers were not employable!

Where are you today and have you kept in touch with other members of the group over the years?

JACK: I live in North Miami Beach and stay in touch with George and I run into Pat once in a while. Phil DiStefano passed away and I haven’t heard from Frank Warren since The Turning Point disbanded, but maybe he’s still out there and will see this story.

GWENDY: From my home in West Virginia, I reconnected with George when I found him online. He became the accompanist for Sammy Davis, Jr. until Sammy passed away in 1990. George then worked as one of the most sought-after accompanists in Atlantic City — a very talented guy. He gave me Jack’s number, so Jack and I spoke on the phone and got caught up with each other’s lives, and 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 music students who aspire to be performers?

JACK: If you don’t plan on going into teaching, have a backup plan.

GWENDY: Jack’s right about having a backup plan. I had a teaching certificate that I didn’t use until many years later. Be sure to enjoy your time performing, however long it lasts. I ended up supporting my family working as a legal assistant in Dallas for 22 years.

Do you have anything else from Rusch’s and your career to share with readers?

JACK: I know Pat has a lot of photos and I’m still trying to get those from him. Also, perhaps the OBSERVER has some news photos in their archives of us performing. I’m hoping a few readers — maybe couples who met and fell in love to our music and who remember those great times at Rusch’s — might have pictures in their scrapbooks they could share online. The songs and images of the Rusch’s album are on Youtube where readers can check out the stylish matching striped outfits we wore back in those days!

GWENDY: I don’t have any photos from Rusch’s and don’t know where other photos of mine might be, maybe in a box somewhere. My home in Dallas (where I lived for 31 years raising my family) burned down and I lost a lot of memorabilia from my career. I recorded “Corner of the Sky” from the Broadway show Pippen on a 45rpm single for my fans to purchase. I now sing in local churches occasionally. God has been kind enough to allow me to still sing at my age. Musicians have their instruments, but the voice is part of the human body and, as we age, our voices age right along with us. For some reason, my voice hasn’t given out yet, and I’m still waiting for my big break!

Comments can be sent to editorial@observertoday.com

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