Gates Open at 6:00PM
7:00 PM : Marti Jones and Don Dixon
8:30 PM : Donnie Iris
(Reserved) $35 and (General) $20
Donnie Iris and the Cruisers Bio
Pittsburgh icon Donnie Iris learned how to sing from his Mother and then from Tony Bennett and Marvin Gaye. In 1970, as a member of the Jaggerz, Donnie earned a gold record for writing and singing the No. 1 song “The Rapper.”
In or around 1978, Donnie was asked to join “Wild Cherry” (“Play That Funky Music, White Boy”) in the group’s waning days. Donnie met Mark Avsec, his future collaborator and partner, in “Wild Cherry” and the two of them began discussing plans for a recording project.
Mark and Donnie began writing some songs in Donnie’s basement. Eventually, they wanted to lay down some tracks at Jeree’s Recording Studio. Donnie knew of a terrific bass player named Albritton McClain; he also heard about Marty Lee Hoenes, a hot young guitar player who was playing in a band called “The Pulse.” Donnie went to go see both Albritton and Marty and, after hearing them, invited both to come down to Jeree’s Recording Studio to record some tracks for an unknown project; Mark invited drummer Kevin Valentine to the same session (Kevin and Mark were then currently in the band “Breathless”). Mark brought some songs and sketches of songs, a couple of keyboards, and was eager to produce his first record. Pleasantries all around, within a couple of hours the boys were cutting the tracks for “Agnes,” “Ah! Leah!” and the other recordings that would comprise the “Back On The Streets” album.
The project revolved around Donnie’s voice and Mark’s song and production ideas – as well as the ferocious playing of Marty, Al, and Kevin. Mark and Donnie decided the record would be Donnie’s solo album, though they wanted the band to have an identity as well, e.g., Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. But what to call the band? At the time, Mark lived in Cleveland, Ohio and Donnie lived in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania (that is still the case). All of the boys were constantly on the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes (particularly Mark) going to and from Jeree’s Recording Studio in New Brighton, Pennsylvania. Donnie suggested that the group could be called “The Turnpike Cruisers,” based on the 1958 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser. The “Turnpike Cruisers” was promptly shortened to “Cruisers” and “Donnie Iris and the Cruisers” was born.
The song “Ah! Leah!” was passed by every major label. However, in 1980 you could still break new music on the radio. WMMS in Cleveland added the record. WDVE in Pittsburgh added the record. WBCN in Boston added the record. The phones exploded. The single and album were issued by Midwest Records, out of Cleveland, Ohio, and both began to chart on the Cashbox and Billboard charts. Eventually, Chrysalis and MCA/Universal made overtures to pick up the music – MCA/Universal prevailed. “Ah! Leah!” peaked at or around #29 in Billboard’s Singles Chart, achieved much critical acclaim, and was one of the most played songs in the Album Oriented Radio format in 1980. Donnie was christened by a Toronto reviewer after a blazing show at “The El Mocambo” in Toronto as the “new king of cool.” Hence, the follow-up album was called “King Cool.”
The “King Cool” album was recorded in the “stacked vocals” style that Mark and Donnie pioneered on the first album. It yielded the songs “Love Is Like A Rock” and “That’s The Way Love Ought To Be.” It also yielded the song “My Girl,” which reached at or near #20 on Billboard’s Singles Chart. Beginning in 1980, the band began touring relentlessly, pausing only for bouts of recording. During a three year stretch, the band headlined shows all over the country and toured with dozens of artists, including Journey, Loverboy, Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, The Romantics, Eddie Money, UFO, Nazareth, Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, Hall & Oates, and the Michael Stanley Band, to name a few. Two other MCA albums followed (“The High and the Mighty” and “Fortune 410.” yielding songs like “Tough World” and “Do You Compute?”)
When litigation ensued in the mid-eighties, slowing the band’s ability to release a new recording, Mark put out a record (recorded in his basement) under the pseudonym “Cellarful Of Noise” (which was released by CBS Associated). Donnie joined Mark for the second album (called “Magnificent Obsession”), which featured the song “Samantha.”
In 1997, after a fairly long hiatus, the original band re-congregated at Jeree’s Recording Studio to record the “Poletown” album, which many consider to be the finest Donnie Iris and the Cruisers album. This album departed in a major way from Mark’s stacked production style, but the playing is typically ferocious (Albritton, Kevin, and Marty are absolutely brilliant), and the songs are lyrically and musically dark and brooding. This album was also the last time that the band recorded with Jerry Reed doing the engineering. Jerry Reed, a lovely and patient man, passed away in 1999.
In the late 1990s, with Tommy Rich behind the skins and Paul Goll installed on bass, the band recorded one of the many shows that they then regularly played at the “Nick’s Fat City” club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The live album culled from this show is a snapshot of the band during the late 1990s.
In August 2004, “Donnie Iris and the Cruisers” celebrated their 25th anniversary before 4,000 screaming fans at the Chevy Amphitheater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mark’s daughter, Danna, who began sitting in with the band as guest drummer when she turned 16 years old, joined Kevin and Tommy Rich on the stage. Danna Avsec still sits in with the band from time to time, and the fans enjoy her unbridled energy.
The “Ellwood City” album was released in May 2006. On May 22, 2009, a new live recording was released called “Ah! Live!”
Donnie Iris is generally considered to be the best screamer in rock and roll. At the age of 66, he is now an elder statesman of rock and roll. No young singer has yet upstaged him; no one ever will. Donnie is the real deal, both as a man and as a singer. He is a simple guy, comfortable in his own skin, who wears a smile and loves old cars, classic guitars, good cigars, Pittsburgh sports teams, and his family and friends. Life is better when Donnie is around. Here’s hoping that he’s around for a long time to come. He has deservedly attained “legendary” status in Western Pennsylvania – and is now a treasured Pittsburgh icon.
Keyboardist, songwriter, and producer Mark Avsec formed the idea for Donnie Iris & The Cruisers with Donnie in or around 1979. Mark, a native Clevelander, had been in the band Wild Cherry (“Play That Funky Music, White Boy”), which Donnie joined in its waning days. Mark and Donnie roomed together and they became friends. Mark desired to write songs and produce records but found he could not do that in Wild Cherry. Mark recognized in Donnie a great, but largely undiscovered, voice. The two became fast friends.
While in the band Breathless, Mark booked time in Jeree’s Studio for a project nominally to be fronted by Donnie’s voice and to be written and produced by him. Mark brought in Kevin Valentine from Breathless to play drums. Donnie brought in Marty Lee Hoenes to play guitar (who was in a band called The Pulse) and Donnie also invited Albritton McClain to play bass; Albritton was a monster bass player. Mark brought some songs and produced; he also played keyboards. The rest is history.
The guys got sued for copyright infringement for “Ah! Leah!” Mark overreacted and went to law school after he and Donnie won a jury verdict completely exonerating them. Now, in addition to serving as Donnie’s Chief Operating Officer and Musical Director, Mark is a partner in, and Vice-Chair of, the Intellectual Property Practice Group of Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP.
Mark has earned a living as a studio musician, producer and songwriter, writing about 400 songs for, among other artists, Bon Jovi (“She Don’t Know Me”), and producing more than 30 sound recordings. He is an American Music Award winner and has been nominated for two Grammy Awards. Mark serves as an Adjunct Law Professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he teaches “Law of the Music Industry.” From time to time, Mark also plays with The James Gang, featuring Joe Walsh, Jimmy Fox, and Dale Peters.
Marty Lee Hoenes
Marty, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, is the lead guitarist of Donnie Iris and the Cruisers, a professional freelance designer, and an Art Director for a successful midwest U.S. advertising agency. Marty creates or oversees all of the band’s graphics including CD and DVD package designs, web graphics, wearables, and posters.
Marty has been producing award-winning marketing support material for the music industry for almost 20 years, and it’s his experience as a successful songwriter and musician that gives him a unique perspective as a graphic designer.
Marty’s playing is distinctive – nobody sounds like Marty. He is a highly creative person who is always at the epicenter of the evolution of the band. Besides Mark and Donnie, Marty is the only other Cruiser who has been with the band from its inception without interruption. He is especially proud of joining Joe Grushecky, Rusted Root, B.E. Taylor, Povertyneck Hillbillies, and The Clarks to raise over $100,000 for the American Red Cross and Hurricane Katrina victims at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, PA.
Kevin is the Cruisers’ original drummer and played on all of the band’s best known tracks, including “Love Is Like A Rock,” “That’s The Way Love Ought To Be,” “Ah! Leah!” (of course), and “Little Black Dress.” No one bangs them like Kevin. Happily, Kevin has made somewhat of a comeback with the band and often plays at “special” Donnie shows or whenever it works for everyone.
Kevin now resides in Los Angeles, California, where he moved with his wife, Denise, to start a family and careers in the late eighties. Over the years, as a re-recording mixer for Laser Pacific Sound Services, Kevin has mixed sound for a variety of major television shows and feature films, including “Charmed,” “7th Heaven,” “State Of Grace,” “South Of Nowhere,” “Big Shot,” and Bruce Lee’s “A Warrior’s Journey.” Among other accomplishments, Kevin currently mixes sound for the mega-hit show, “Gossip Girl.”
Kevin is also still deeply involved in the music side of the business, having produced, recorded, and/or mixed tracks for Graham Bonnet, Neverland, and Gene Simmons of “Kiss.” Kevin has also mixed the front of the house for Kiss’s “Un-plugged” tour and supervised aspects of live recordings for Westwood One’s mobile unit.
Most of all, Kevin Valentine is one of the music industry’s finest drummers. Besides Donnie & the Cruisers records, Kevin has played drums in the studio for Paul Stanley, Kiss (“Psycho Circus”), and Cinderella (“Still Climbing”). He even played on one Bob Dylan cut in the recording studio and has toured extensively with Donnie Iris & the Cruisers, of course, as well as Mason Ruffner, Harlow, and the late Sam Kinison (to name just a few).
Paul is also a native of Erie, Pennsylvania and has been playing bass guitar professionally since age 15. Paul’s playing is heavily influenced by the major rock bands of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, as well as major artists and composers from jazz and classical music. The bass players that have been the template for Paul’s bass style are Paul McCartney, John Paul Jones, James Jamerson, and Jaco Pastorius.
Early in Paul’s musical career, he met Marty Lee Hoenes and they played in several Erie bands together. Paul eventually joined a rock band named Powerglide, which made Boston its home. Powerglide enjoyed regional success and proved to offer a great learning experience in writing, recording, showcasing, and touring, Paul left the band in 1991 and returned to Erie to reunite with his family and pursue other interests.
The return to Erie made it possible for Paul to take advantage of an opportunity to join “The Cruisers” and reunite with Marty Lee. This was also a chance for Paul to join the band that left a lasting impression on him when he saw them live during the “High and the Mighty” tour at the Paradise Club in Boston in the early 80s. After a short time with “The Cruisers,” Paul realized that this band was a close-knit group of friends and families that was a perfect fit for him.
The return to Erie also caused Paul to reflect on his need to find a way to serve society. In 2001, Paul moved to Pittsburgh to attend the School Of Social Work at Pitt. His education and internship experiences prepared him for work with children and families. In 2005, Paul received a master’s degree in social work and began working for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) as a therapeutic support staff member for children with Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorders, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Currently, Paul works as a family therapist for WPIC family based services programs. Paul derives a great deal of satisfaction from helping children and families, but when he sometimes gets stressed out by his job or life in general, he relies on Donnie Iris therapy to help him cope.
Donnie Iris & the Cruisers has been managed by Belkin Personal Management (Mike Belkin 440.247.3988) for 30 over years.