The year was 1973 when a small group college students heard their first Eugene album.
It was both entertaining and fun and more than a little quirky (and corney) - It was pure gold.
Almost instantly Eugene DeLuca became a local hit - a very localized local hit - it was 1973 and nothing went viral but viruses,
so Eugene's songs stayed within a very small group.
In 1977 Eugene DeLuca was shot and killed during an armed robbery of the men's clothes store that he owned and operated.
Those of us that had been so entertained by Eugene's songs did not want this tragedy to mean that he would be forgotten, and his songs never heard again.
Eugene's musical legacy includes 4 albums and one single, plus he was covered once.
Our hope is that others will enjoy his songs and the message from the past from this urban everyman from the Madmen era.
Who was Eugene DeLuca?
Eugene DeLuca was born on March 14th, 1923 in PHiladelphia. He was the son of Italian immigrants.
His father owned a men's clothing store on Point Breeze Avenue, in the Point Breeze section of the city and for most of his childhood, his family lived in an apartment above the store.
Eugene was a graduate of South Philadelphia High School (South Philly High as it is known).
As it was for most of the young men in his generation, he served in World War II. He enlisted in the Air Force and beame a radio operator and a tail gunner.
After the war, Eugene took over his father's business.
Unlike most of his peers, Eugene was late getting married, tying the knot with his bride-to-be, Dolores Billings in 1954 at the age of 31, the following year Dolores gave birth to their only child, a boy, Joseph.
Eugene continued to operate the men's clothing store, and eventually moving his family to the Juniata Park section of Philadelphia.
This is where Eugene DeLuca launched his songwriting career.
Armed with his piano, a pencil, blank music sheets, and a rhyming dictionary he wrote song after song with the dream of one day being covered by Frank Sinatra.
Eugene was proud enough and dedicated enough to his dream to get his songs recorded at his expense, something that was not especially cheap in the 1960s and 70s.
At that time there were services advertised in the back of magazines claiming that they could 'turn your sheet music into records', these, of course, were not major studios, and the musicians and singers were not major artists.
Eugene used one of these services for his first album. The results were mixed.
To begin with each song had a different set of musicians and singers. The arrangements often seemed to be purposely counter to the lyrics of the song. Although the musicians were competent, they certainly did not put much emotion into their playing, and what few musical leads there were, were terrible. The singers' performances ranged from 'doing their best' to 'just phoning it in'. But in fairness to them, some of Eugene's lyrics may have been difficult at times to sing with straight face, after all, Boink I'm a Lover is from that album.
To those of us introduced to Eugene Deluca music through this album, we appreciated it as a novelty record that was in the category of 'so bad it's good'.
This was not what Eugene wanted, he was not satisfied with the results and decided to produce his next album himself.
He hired a band named the Art Foster Quintet, a good club/wedding band the type of which were common at the time that had a big band sound coming from a small (affordable) band.
To sing his songs Eugene hired a young aspiring singer named Jack McDade. A south philly boy who sung in the style of Frank Sinatra. Prior to this Jack had a little bit of experience in the studio recording demos of other original songs.
The results were an album that was quite impressive, a bit goofy, musically out of date, and of course there were Eugene's lyrics, which seemed like a mix between the sensibilities of Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners, with lines that reminded one of Yogi Berra statements thrown in.
Plus the work of the Art Foster Quintet and Jack McDade were just perfect in combination with Eugene's writing, - this may have been some terrible songwriting - but it was a good album for the right reasons - it was very entertaining and great fun to listen to.
After that Eugene produced two more albums and a single he wrote for the U.S. bicentenial - Happy Birthday to The U.S.A. which is a story all it's own and covered in the exhibit - Nixon, Ford, and Eugene.
The third album also used Jack McDade on vocals and had a mix of musicians, with several songs having just a piano for backup. Although the results are not as consistent and strong as his second album, it is not without it's gems such as Psychedelic Psychiatrist, and Transplanted Heart.
His final album was the first one that was produced to be a commercial release, it had cover art and a name - Discover Each Other. Mostly due to his experiment with a state-of-the-art electronic keyboard, the music is unexciting and because the lyrics focus on more standard subjects for songwriting such as relationships and love, this album does not achieve the level of fun as with his prior work.
Which brings me to most significant year in Eugene DeLuca's life, 1977, a year of tremendous joy for Eugene and devastating tragedy for the DeLuca family.
Eugene and Dolores's son, Joseph, was their pride and joy. He was a smart, high-energy kid drawn to sports, all sports, and had an impressive list that he participated in and several he excelled in.
But Eugene insisted on a couple of things for his son - that Joe would learn to play piano, and that he would go to college.
As a kid Joe was forced to practice for hours on the piano, and although he really would have preferred to be out throwing a football, shooting hoops, or swinging a baseball bat, he stuck with it and became a rather good piano player, developing an energetic and athletic style of playing.
As for college, Joe did start, where he majored in math, cafeteria, and multiple sports.
He was not the most dedicated student and had another interest in his life grabbing all his attention, because while still in high school Joe had met the girl who would later become his wife, Marie Henry, the next door neighbor of his best friend. They were somewhat inseparable, and the reason Joe spent all his weekends back in Juniata Park.
Joe hung in there until his second year and finally came home to help Eugene open up a second store.
Eugene was very proud of his son, he loved Marie, and was very supportive of the couple, and when, to noone's surprise, they got engaged, Eugene went all in on the wedding plans.
Joe and Marie were married on May 21, 1977. The wedding may have been the biggest event of Eugene DeLuca's life, his proudest moment, and his happiest day.
The wedding was also one of those events that can happen to couples such as the parents of the groom, where they find themselves seeing each other again as proud parents and the loving couple that they once were. This was that kind of an event for Eugene and Dolores.
Eugene was so inspired by this moment in which they rediscovered one another that he dedicated his final album to his wife and himself and called it Discover Each Other.
Two months later on August 5th, 1977, a teenager with a gun came into Eugene's store to rob it and shot and killed Eugene inside the store he owned and operated.