Tales From A Hungry Life

July 29, 2014

End of an Era

by Maria Schulz

The last two weeks have been tough for my childhood idols. First off, my favorite movie star, James Garner, died at the age of 86. As a result, for a few short days, some of my posts had an international audience. Thank You, James Garner, My Fan Letter to James Garner, James Garner and Fruit Pie, Perfect Together, and Pin Up Material got several thousand hits. That was amazing…and another reason for me to really love that man.

Now that the shock has passed, I realized that I didn’t get a chance to write about another childhood idol whose passing was sudden and sad: Johnny Winter.

The late great Johnny Winter

The late great Johnny Winter

The first people I called about JW’s passing were my brothers, Jude and Chris. Jude was the person who introduced Chris and me to the legendary blues musician who was dubbed one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” by Rolling Stone magazine.

I can still picture Jude’s bedroom in our old house. Besides the lava lamps, fringe and odd mood lighting, there were pictures and memorabilia in every nook and cranny. Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, and other rock-n-roll legends like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Lynrd Skynrd, The Grateful Dead and more graced every square inch of wall space.

Wall worthy

Wall worthy

When I was very little, I remember Jude running through the front door of our old house, telling Chris and me to go “get on the couch and really feel the music.” Then, he’d put his newest prized possession on our turntable: the latest album from The Beatles, The Allman Brothers, and of course, Johnny Winter.

Years later, Jude was still staging music marathons on nights when our parents weren’t home. Like the guitarist from Spinal Tap, Jude would spin the volume dial “up to 11.” That way, the entire neighborhood could hear us playing Still Alive and Well, Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo, and Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein.

Johnny and Edgar as kids

Johnny and Edgar as kids

We bounced, swayed and sang on those couches while one of the lights from Jude’s band gigs bounced off the walls and lit up the room in rays of blue, green, and red. Between the ear-deafening music and the colorful light show, I’ll bet that our neighbors found even more reasons to hate us.

Jude so idolized Johnny Winter that when he brought home a pet albino rat from the lab where he worked, he dubbed him “JW.” JW went on to live a very happy, experiment-free life in a cage in Jude’s room, possibly staring at his albino namesake on the wall.

Chris went on to perform some of those same songs in his own band called Pee Wee Sweet. I can still see him, my cousin Tommy, and our friend Mike playing “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and even “Frankenstein” at gigs all over Queens and Long Island.

Always a great performer

Always a great performer

Some years later, I had the chance to see Johnny Winter in concert at the Jones Beach theater. It can be hard to see your favorite stars mulling through an opening act sometimes. Not so with Johnny Winter. He stood there, wearing his black cowboy hat and strumming away, singing in that growly voice, and the crowd was transfixed. He was tremendously talented and I’m so glad I got to seem him perform.

When I told Jude about Johnny Winter’s passing, he said that JW was “one of his all time favorite musicians” and one of his “greatest” idols. I know how he feels, since James Garner passed just a few days later.

But you know, they say these things come in threes….

I learned last week that my brother Louie’s old friend, Boots, passed away.

“WHAT????” I texted to Chris.

Since Boots was sick for some time, it shouldn’t have been a shock. But isn’t it always when a friend from the old days passes away?

Boots

Boots

Peter Bozza, a.k.a. “Boots,” had the kind of laugh that made you want to laugh too, and a wicked sense of humor. I first met Boots when I was in high school, when Louie and Boots worked together at bars in Bayside, The Hamptons and Hunter Mountain.

When I think of Boots, I remember all the times he came to our house and shared some pizza, White Castle, or Jack-in-the-Box. One of our favorite stories was about how Boots set an all-time record at White Castle, consuming 125 cheeseburgers in one sitting. I don’t know if that story was true, but I’ll bet if it wasn’t 125 cheeseburgers, it was close.

Worth the trip.

Worth the trip.

Back in my Sizzler days, Boots would come to the restaurant, order every “all you can eat” item off the menu, and chow down. When his weight topped 600 pounds, he entered a medically supervised fast. He would crack us up with stories of how his support group was next door to a pizzeria, and on more than one occasion, the other members would catch him enjoying an entire pizza right after the weigh in.

But Boots stuck with it and lost 150 pounds. He stopped by our house one day and my Dad greeted him.

“Hey, Boots! You look good. Did you get a hair cut?” Dad said.

“No, Mr. Lagalante,” Boots replied. “I lost 150 pounds.”

“Oh,” Dad said. “Well, keep up the good work!”

I remember him as someone who had a big appetite for everything: food, dancing, pretty girls, laughter, movies, take-out, and alcohol. But I also remember the devoted son who asked me to spend time with his Mom, who had Alzheimers.

On days when Boots was away, I would check in on her. I’d make sure she had someone to talk to, that she took her medication, and that the stove was turned off. I quickly understood why Boots had a weight problem, since his mother wanted to feed me about 75 times a day. As an old Italian momma, food was love. That was something I understood very well.

Always ready for some fun

Always ready for some fun

Seeing Boots walk through the door meant we were all in for big laughs. I will always remember Boots dancing the night away at my brother’s wedding, chugging mini-champagne bottles and laughing.

Boots may not have been an international celebrity, but he sure was a celebrity in our little corner of the world.

Cheers, Boots. I hope they have White Castles wherever you are.

Recipes:

Photo by Taste of Home

Photo by Taste of Home

In honor of Johnny Winter: here’s a Texas Toast Steak Sandwich recipe that’s gotten rave reviews.

And in honor of Boots, here’s a recipe for Mini Meatball Heroes:

Photo from Food Network

Photo from Food Network

So…who was your childhood hero? Did you rock out to Johnny Winter or know someone as full of life like Boots? Please leave a comment below. Thanks!

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7 Comments »

  1. I never got to know the Winter Bros. music so I can’t say I will miss Johnny but I can imagine how you all feel about his passing since my idol Louis Prima passed away quite tragically many years ago and when he went it was as though part of my childhood left with him. He was the inspiration for my trumpet playing and believe it or not my acting in my later years. He was so natural on stage as a musician and a guy who could make you laugh. I do feel Boots passing has taken a part of my days when all my children were children, experiencing the magic of growing up and tasting the freedom and joys this world has to offer. But their ending is the ending for us all so we shall join them some much sooner than others. Se la vie!

    Comment by Bglou — July 29, 2014 @ 9:33 am | Reply

    • Well said! I especially like the part about your children being children. Yes, Boots was a big part of that magic and he always will be!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — July 29, 2014 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  2. Big Lou, Johnny Winter was born on your 10th birthday, February 23, 1944. I can remember the first time I heard his music. We were in the old, old house on 48th Ave. & 211th street and Mom was bringing me to bed. As we passed older brother Jude’s room he was listening to the Johnny Winter AND, Live album. I can remember feeling like my entire body was charged up and I was never the same. I was only 4 years old and had been exposed to the Beatles, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Jimi Hendrix and I had never heard anything that had gone thru me quite like this. Johnny’s albums from 1970 till 1992 were sound tracts to my growing up. As I got older I started to feel less interested in his work because his guitar playing had declined due to drug & alcohol abuse. It is now when he is gone that I am listening to him like I haven’t done since I was a child. What is lost on most people is that he really was a tremendous singer. In recent years he cleaned up his act and it was said that he was sober. He didn’t have the magic that he once had but he had his moments in his last years that caught lightning in a bottle.

    With youtube at everyone’s finger tips it is possible to explore this great icon of blues & rock. I urge everyone to do so. His Brother Edgar is a genius as well. I remember feeling a bit disloyal to Johnny at the tender age of 6 when at 11:30 on Channel 7, ABC, a show called “In Concert” was coming on and his brother Edgar was going to perform. I watched him with my big brother Jude and couldn’t choose which brother was my favorite. In later years when teachers at St. Roberts would allow students to bring in records for snack time, I was always frustrated with my fellow students choice in records. They would bring in either KISS or some disco. I would bring in Johnny & Edgar Winter and 10 year olds just didn’t seem to understand that music. I HATED KISS when I was 10. The teachers always asked me to take off my records. Then I would have to listen to some dopy kid with big teeth & bad breath tell me how Ace Freely blew Johnny Winter away. It made me SICK during snack time!!!!

    Here is a link to Johnny doing something off an album “Serious Business.” It is called “Sound of the Bell.” It is from Sweden back in 1987. If you watch him here you will get the feeling that for the Movie Crossroads they should have cast him as the Devil to take on Ralph Mocchio. No disrespect to Steve Vai I just think Johnny would have been more menacing a character and he was more of a blues purist in my humble opinion.

    What can I add to the passing of Boots? He loved to Laugh, he loved Wrestling and would stay over during the summers to watch Mary Tyler Moore from 1:30 AM to 4:00AM and then Bob Newhart. I do remember when my Dad, Big Lou, came out one evening to watch an episode of MTM and Mary tells Lou Grant that he shouldn’t eat an eclair cause he is overweight. My Father was immediately uncomfortable due to Boots weighing over 400lbs. Boots laughed the loudest of all of us and even called Lou Grant a Fatso! Then followed his big laugh. I have to say he had a great personality and I am not just saying that because he was fat.

    Loved your post Maria!

    Comment by Chris — July 29, 2014 @ 9:08 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, Chris. I could never think of Johnny Winter without thinking of you and Jude. I thought everyone had big brothers who taught them about music. I guess we were the lucky ones. As far as Boots goes, I forgot about the midnight Mary Tyler Moore shows! I used to love those midnight snack runs and marathon MTM viewings. He really did have a personality that was bigger than life! Thanks for leaving such a great comment.

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — July 29, 2014 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

  3. Maria, Boots was a classic. He was always laughing and ready to party. His death hit me harder than JW or JG because he was a contemporary who I actually had contact with. There were so many dimensions to the man as you listed in this blog. I don’t think he had a bad bone in his body. That didn’t mean he wasn’t playful in a sarcastic way. He will be missed. I wonder if you will get any international hits on this blog because you mentioned him. If you do, and it’s for JW, I will make believe it’s for Boots. He deserves the notoriety.

    Comment by Tony Lagalante — July 30, 2014 @ 10:05 am | Reply

  4. Never underestimate the power of a smile … or the the importance of having a person in your life who can make you smile.
    I always smile when I read your posts.
    And I’ll always remember Boots with a smile 🙂

    Comment by Christine Lagalante — August 1, 2014 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  5. Ah, yes……..Johnny Winter and BOOTS! It twas a double whammy, that’s for sure. I’ll never forget how funny that guy was….. how he’d come over and crack us up all night long. Told me one of the funniest jokes I’ll always remember. Probably be too long to go into here, but, I think, Maria, you might know to which one I’m referring to. If you don’t, TRUST me, it got lots of laughs! I remember he told it one summer night we were having an all nighter at the house, and Dad was actually up, hanging around with us. Boots told the joke and cracked POP up! Thanks, by the way, for posting those pictures of him, I hadn’t seen him in years, I was wondering how he’d looked. Still the that “canary ate the cat” grin in his eyes! Thanks again!

    Comment by Paul — August 2, 2014 @ 3:30 pm | Reply


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