Sharing music has always been an ideal way of bringing attention to a cause. Like the Pied Piper of storybook fame, it can draw people together with both passion and purpose.
That’s what John Smaldone has in mind when he presents the second of what he hopes will be a monthly music series on Thursday nights at Barley’s Maryville. Dubbed “Rocking the Night Away,” it will offer an opportunity to revisit classic rock and roll of a distinctly ’60s vintage, played from a miniature jukebox while Smaldone himself assumes the role of deejay.
Smaldone has two reasons in particular why he’s especially interested in making this event an ongoing success. For starters, he was once the founder of a production company called Yesteryears Music Palace, a trademark he still owns. After moving to Maryville with his wife, Pat, in the late ’80s, he initiated the idea of creating a theater in Pigeon Forge that would house an ongoing series of live concerts under the Yesteryears umbrella.
The idea never gelled, but Smaldone pressed on by presenting a series of concerts featuring oldies acts from a previous era — the Turtles and the Platters, among them — staging them at various venues in Knoxville, Thompson-Boling Arena and the Civic Auditorium among them. Most of the events were staged as benefits for charitable causes such as Muscular Dystrophy Association, The Children’s Home, Children’s Hospital, the Red Cross, Lions Club International and Knoxville College.
In 2004, Smaldone presented a concert by Elvis Presley impersonator Travis LeDoyt that he still speaks of even now. The concert was filmed and, with the assistance of former Congressman Jimmy Duncan, sent by congressional courier to the American troops serving in Iraq and shared with the soldiers. Smaldone got several letters of thanks by various field commanders, an honor he particularly enjoyed.
Using music as a means of supporting the military remains a key part of Smaldone’s mission these days. Half of the $5 admission fee to “Rocking the Night Away” will benefit the Blount County chapter of AMVETS, an organization that represents Blount County veterans of all branches of military service.
As a member of the organization, Smaldone has a personal interest in sharing his support. A former logistics officer who served with the Air Force in Vietnam during the mid-1960s, he was severely injured while disembarking from a cargo plane after a Marine’s rifle butt accidentally hit him on the side of the head, causing him to become deaf in one ear.
Military service is a part of his family tradition. His father-in-law served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and his nephew was severely wounded in the Middle East when the humvee in which he was riding was blown up and he was the sole survivor.
“This event was initiated to help the vets,” said Smaldone, a lifetime member of AMVETS who spends much of his time volunteering for their events. “I’m excited to do this because it not only benefits the group, but it may also help bring it some well-deserved exposure. If all goes well and we have a good turnout, we can continue to present these shows on an ongoing basis.”
While concert promotion has been on his agenda for the better part of the past 30 years, Smaldone’s main occupation has revolved around the mortgage lending business for more than five decades. He owned three mortgage companies that serviced all facets of the industry, with reverse mortgages being his primary focus for the past 22 years. Prior to moving to Maryville, Smaldone served in county government in South Florida, where he was elected as a county commissioner and a state representative. He said that at one point he was considered as a candidate for Florida’s lieutenant governor, but his wife vetoed the idea.
“She gave me an ultimatum,” he said. “She told me, ‘It’s either me or politics.’ I chose her.”
Happily then, Smaldone was able to sway his passion from running for office to revisiting the oldies, and he said that he hopes that his diligence as a deejay brings back some fond musical memories. In addition to playing the oldies, Smaldone will include raffles featuring prizes donated by local businesses, and some special surprise guests. It’s that nostalgia factor that could prove to be one of the primary draws.
“For a lot of people, the music of the ‘60s brings back a lot of memories of what it was like in the good old days,” Smaldone said. “The country had its problems, but overall life was a lot different than it is today. It was the era of JFK, landing a man on the moon, Johnny Carson ruling late-night TV. There seemed to be so many possibilities that were still ahead of us.”
Smaldone is hoping he can help recreate some of that optimism.
“Being able to revive Yesteryear’s Music Palace for this particular purpose gives me a great deal of enthusiasm,” he said. “I love the music, I love to see people happy and I love seeing what it can do for our veterans here in Blount County.”