Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Lamenting the Loss of a Dear Friend I’d Never Met—Ana M. Lord (1948–2020)

In these days of working from home, powered by social media especially if you’re in the entertainment world, it’s easy to begin friendships over the Internet. Two people begin to correspond for business and learn from one another about a common interest. With time, you start to address one another as friends. Later, you’re good friends. And for some, you are eventually dear friends.

Ana M. Lord

On Tuesday, August 25th, I received an e-mail from a dear friend that our mutual Facebook friend via music, Ana Lord, had passed away. No cause of death was known nor any details. He’d actually learned from another member of his band about her passing. Grief washed over me inexplicably. She was gone…before I ever got to meet her. The friendship didn’t vanish just because we’d never met. It was just delayed and postponed until “some other time” in the future.

For a few minutes I sat in silence at my keyboard, blinking back some tears that wouldn’t come. Logic was too busy overriding my grief. Wait, there had been no storm in the Bahamas that few days prior—there were the days when our large music community began to reach out to her to make sure she updated us on the storm surges through the Bahamas that could ravage cities in the blink of an eye. She was gone. I really respected and admired her for so many reasons. And yet, I’d never met her in person.

Our friendship began nine years ago, in 2011, the year when the beloved famous horn band, The MOB, was to be inducted in the South Dakota Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The MOB, to anyone from Chicago, is a beloved iconic band, precursor to the bands “youngsters” think of today as Chicago, Chase, and a few others. The MOB was horn driven, heavy into R&B, their own soul sounds, and some pretty damn snappy dance moves on stage for 11 or so guys to perform in unison while doing their thing. This genuine soul band had heart, soul, and a whole lotta love for music. Here's a brief video of the induction ceremony:

The MOB was led by consensus, better than most do today. Famous members of the band depended on what they were famous for. James Holvay and Gary Beisbier were famous for cowriting the earliest hits of The Buckinghams (Kind of a Drag–James; Don’t You Care, Hey Baby, They’re Playing our Song, and Susan—James and Gary). They had a way of writing and arranging songs for The MOB that created a singular sound dimension of joy when you heard them.

Jimmy Ford, trumpeter and band leader in his own right had been a major part of early Dick Clark “Caravan of Stars” players who toured with the music stars of the day. Larry McCabe’s trombone was unforgettable. Singing sensations “Big Al” Herrera and his brother Artie, originally from Waco, Texas, eventually affiliated with the band. Almost as soon as they’d joined, Artie entered the service, and Big Al took over lead song duties. Drummer Bobby Ruffino, keyboardist Tony Nedza, guitarist and singer Mike Sistak, and eventual bassist Albert Maligmat were all-stars in their own right on stage.

From 1966 until 1980, The MOB evolved, got better and better, released singles, signed recording contracts for albums and other standard band fare, and yet they were more famous long after they had disbanded than while they were together. Why? Because they were an unforgettable SHOW BAND that you could best appreciate by seeing in person to get that cool R&B vibe they were dishing out.

Ana Lord heard the group live in 1967 in Jacksonville, Florida for the first time. It would begin an entirely new chapter in her life that gave her great joy just to hear their music. I originally shared her story in 2011.

Make no mistake. Ana was no groupie or devotee who went everywhere the band did. At the time she was in San Antonio, she was an integral part of promotion in an advertising and marketing for a firm she helped start, Total Marketing Concepts. When there was a special event on the horizon, she tried to locate the group (before the Internet), all she found were dead ends. That would not be the end of the story though. Armed with one goal, trying to create a “one last time” reunion for The MOB would be a musical coup and something people would absolutely love. She was determined to make it happen and found a few ultra-talented music lovers who were like minded and a small group effort began to take flight. Music lovers all know that there are groups of people on the Internet who find ways to communicate mutual interests about music with each other.

In the early days of dial-up modems, there was a message board called Spectropop. Other Internet services had their own boards, plus the creation of Yahoo groups, and other collaborations, long before Facebook.

There are numerous chapters in the story of how Ana Lord, Alan Schrank, and Joseph Pytel researched and found their way to locate various band members. The ultimate product of all their hard work was the occasion of the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame preparing to name a new class of honorees. Lord and Schrank wrote the proposal and in April 2011, James Holvay “got the band back together” or most of it, and there was an amazing night at the Ramkota Hotel Exhibit Hall that it rocked the living daylights out of South Dakota, powered by the brilliance of the newly rehearsed MOB, with a few new guest inductees playing instruments for those originals who couldn’t make it.

Here's "Who's Making Love (to Your Old Lady)" performed by James Holvay and Al Herrera.

The most ironic and sad thing is that Ana never got to attend that reunion. She had long relocated to Nassau, the Bahamas, where she proudly worked in ad sales for The Nassau Guardian, whose staff remembered her with great regard recently on her Facebook page, posting the first notice of her passing.

I never asked why she couldn’t go, but one can imagine travel and lodging costs—Bahamas to Sioux Falls, SD—for the weekend of unforgettable reunion music was prohibitive. She never let on how she felt, but at the time, I remember it crushed my heart not to have the extra funds to send her myself. Plus, you never know when someone simply cannot afford the time off from work due to deadlines, so you don’t say anything to anyone else. There are times you feel comfortable in offering to help. Other times, you sit quietly and just pray. The reunion event was spectacular, and yet Ana’s role in it was established among all who knew the behind-the-scenes machinations to make it happen. In her heart, though, she was content to know that she had played a vital role in bringing the group back together after 40 years.

Ana may have easily been overlooked if anyone in the crowd was looking for someone who might one day be a reason this band found a reason to come together after 40 years apart. The MOB had a legion of fans, from primary home base of Chicago, to Los Angeles, CA, where they had regular house band status at Barnaby’s and PJ’s, or to various casinos in Vegas where their late night shows just might have Elvis or Frank Sinatra in the crowd, after they’d finished their own shows and they were winding down.

South Dakota, meanwhile, boasted its own claim to being at least one more home base for The MOB, thanks to the iconic venue, The Mocamba Club. Famous for booking the best of the best before they were discovered nationally, this club was a frequent favorite for The MOB to play, and Sioux Falls rocked hard whenever they were in town.

What Ana didn’t really get to know or hear about was how each individual band member, original and guest for the evening, felt about that single event in their lives, the reunion, meant for them. Finally, at long last, they received more than a footnote, or a modicum of stingy recognition for their true role in taking their own original horn band sound out of Chicago and into the world. Recordings could not capture the crowd dynamics when they played as live albums were not all that common then.

On the plus side, Alan Schrank is a master photographer and graphic artist who took videos and still photographs enough to make you feel like you were there, even when you weren’t—the next best thing. He created a one-of-a-kind group of memories that are still fun to look through today and he readily shared his photos with me to publish in my online stories and blog. In the nine years that have passed since the April 2011 reunion and honor for The MOB, much has happened in all of our lives. James Holvay wrote new songs and was a major powerhouse part of a hit Los Angeles musical production, “Eastside Heartbeats,” and Gary Beisbier released a new album after many years away from the studios.

Other band members did interesting things as well, but for at least that one weekend in South Dakota, those band members were all 20 years old again, in matching suits, with carnations in their lapels and a genuine new lease on life in their hearts one more time when that first downbeat began. It was 1967 all over again, for all of us.

The MOB didn’t make any more public appearances together, but the guys stayed in better touch with each other and that alone was worth the outcome of a reunion. Finding your ”teenage” friends once again at a point in your life where you can take the time for one another is a rich blessing.

Meeting new friends was something that also resulted from the catalyst that Ana provided to reigniting the interest in the band and their music, all the way since the 1980s. She never gave up. She didn’t quit. She had many years of waiting in the interim. And, in the end, she never got to see the product of all her good works (together with the works of others) in person.

Many of my “friends through music” became Facebook friends with Ana—our neighborhood online music community had a subdivision of our very own, held together by those first music beginnings. It was just so easy to drop a note on Facebook and check in to one another’s lives, which felt as valid as having coffee with your next-door neighbor in person. Ana was blessed with two children, a daughter and a son, both of whom live in Florida. She was very proud of them. She was also devoted to her various wonderful doggies who had good lives with her for as long as they did.

Her life of late was simple. The Bahamas utility company didn’t seem to have their acts together. The Nassau Guardian paper where she worked in advertising was filled with many colleagues she enjoyed being associated with. She loved her dogs.

Ana was also a fan of The Buckinghams, another Chicago-based horn band that brought a more pop rock sound to fans who loved horn. On one of their previous years Concerts at Sea, the tour stopped at Nassau, The Bahamas, and Ana gave the band a lovely tour of the paper on their day off, hoping to introduce them to some entertainment producers in hopes of booking a Bahamas gig for them at some future point. Though the concert date never happened, it was a lovely day for friendships old and new to be renewed.

This journey of music, whether you’re the artist or the music lover, is a seemingly never-ending journey of joy…people appreciating the gifts and talents of musicians means a lot to the band members. Similarly, when you have time to spend a few moments in genuine conversation with those whose works you’ve admired a long time, it’s often a once-in-a-lifetime experience that stays with fans all of your life.

So many people at the beginning and end of their lives have only memories to remind them of where they’ve been, who they’ve seen, and how they’ve felt. Few have photos or albums left to leave to others as people are forever downsizing to relocate and reposition their lives. Sometimes the only pictures are in our heads, waiting to be summoned at the times that present themselves.

Sometimes, you get lucky and someone finds some lost tapes (that could mean reel-to-real, cassette, or maybe even 8-tracks), and shares them as in this case:

Hearing a familiar strain of music on a radio station or one you call for on Alexa, or one you hear playing on an old turntable in a seaside store brings back childhood, brings back love and joy, and brings back the best days of your lives, before adulthood came along and pushed everything else into the closet and locked the door.

Ana Lord came into the lives of many less than a decade ago. She brought with her an avid memory of the music of The MOB, shared her excitement and enthusiasm for their music, recruited many supporters and friends to join her in trying to “get the band back together just one more time,” and she did what she set out to do. And then, at the end, after she’d worked her magic kindness and spirit into many lives, she transitioned into the next life, most likely to continue her goodness and good works.

Although I didn’t get to say goodbye, to a good friend I had not yet met, I take consolation in knowing that time and distance separate many of us, but it’s the things that bring us together that remain most important. Ana Lord’s life and work live on beyond her days here on Earth. And as records and historical writings of the music of The MOB will go on, down the line, she will always be remembered with fondness for her contributions.

Her published obituary is here, if you wish to leave a message or note in her online guestbook.

So, I ask you to join me in raising your glass or coffee cup at whatever day and time you wish, and say a little prayer of thanks for Ana’s life. And let the great music play on…and on. Amen.