A tribute to and scrapbook of Joe Amato, world-class drummer and respected teacher header image 2

A Few First and Second Hand Tidbits About Joe

April 15th, 2008 by Pierce · No Comments

As with many things, you’ve got to start somewhere. If you’re building a house you start with a strong, well footed foundation. If your starting a business, you want to do something you like and get a good location. If you want to play the drums, get a good instructor, teacher, mentor so you get it right the first time. This article is more like starting an algebra problem, we start with what we know and hope that others will add it. If we never complete the equation, thats alright. There is always more to know. What’s important is that we get started and add to it.

Joe told me one of his first regular gigs was playing a movie theater in Portland, in the 1920’s I think. Those were the days of silent films, but they weren’t really silent because each theater had an orchestra to play the musical soundtrack or score that accompanied each film. Important to the music score, a percussionist like our young Joe would supply a wide array of sound effects from his bag of tricks. The clip clop of a horse or horses, the tolling of a bell, a siren thunder from the timpani and so forth. He said he was making $50 a week on that gig. Great money in those days and a splendid opportunity to play every night and really get the old chops together. Of course he had to play every percussion instrument under the sun. Marimba, claves, trap set, timpani, bells, chimes, gongs, temple blocks ect. He would go down to the theater in mornings and rehearse, beginning with the rudiments and then on to his parts for the evenings performance. One day (Joe told me) a reviewer or reporter stopped by the theater and heard Joe warming up on his Swiss triplet, starting slow, closing it vigorously then gradually opening it up again as he had been taught. The critique was impressed enough to write a favorable review about Joe’s abilities in the newspaper saying something to the effect that Joe could play a Swiss triplet so smooth and fast you’d almost think it was a long roll.

There was a nice big professional publicity photograph of the “Hoot Owl Orchestra”
featuring Mel Blanc which performed on radio station KOIN and
KGW  in his basement studio which showed a youthful, smiling Joe Amato at the timpani. That photo looked to be from the 1940’s.

Joe had relatives in Portland that figured prominently in the produce business, supplying restaurants and so forth.

Joe’s brother owned the Amato Supper Club (see photo at in Astoria where JP Plumbing is today. The large band shell and evidence of the balcony booths remain. The club operated primarily during the WWII years when it was called “The Pearl of the Pacific” During the war years there were shortages of many items and rationing of things like food and gasoline. Even beer was hard to come by from time to time. I’ve heard old timers say that was never an issue at Amatos. Many big names played Amato’s. They would typically come down on the train after a Portland show, play one night in Astoria and the next in Seaside.

I have no idea how often Joe played at the Supper Club but some singers will travel around with just a few key players picking up sidemen and handing them the charts with the parts to play. Occasionally you might not even get much of a chart. Joe said if that ever happened to him he would make a quick copy of the lead trumpet part to clue him in on what to play on the ride cymbal.

Joe had a very nice home with a huge lot, tucked away off the north side of Niagara. Wonderfully secluded location at the top of the ridge over looking downtown Astoria and the mighty Columbia river. On top of the hill, he got nice sunlight and grew lots of vegetables in a large well kept garden.

Joe & Co. On the Trail of the Wild Porcini
There were some big spruce trees across the road from our house, one day in the early 1960’s us kids noticed a group of men park their truck, get out and begin searching the ground through the salal brush under those spruce. We ran up to the house to tell mom about the “treepassers”. She went down and inquired what they were doing It turns out it was Joe Amato with his Dad and brother and they showed her a paper bag full of nice big King Boletus or as the Italians call them Porcini mushrooms and told her they were a delicacy in various soups and sauces and if you sliced and dried them they will keep a long time. (Years later when I was taking lessons from Joe we got a look at his drying trays. They were massive.} He said he had been picking them for years and this was just one of several favorite spots to pick around Walluski Loop. Well next thing you know my mom who cannot resit free food, after all she grew up during the depression, decides to become a mushroom expert.  She’s checking books out of the library,  even purchasing her own copies, taking a college class and long walks in the surrounding forest in search of her elusive prey. Boleets, chantrells, cauliflower mushrooms, man on horseback ect. We started calling her Mushroom Meg. She still includes some dried King Boletus as part of an annual Christmas care package.  I thank Joe  for that too.

Tags: general · history

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