For years now, locals who love live music have been dancing to Solid Gold.
Although there have been lineup changes, the group consistently attracts fans looking for a good time at restaurants, clubs, dances, private parties and outdoor events.
The three longest-playing members are Pat Seminara, Jack Kelly and Noreen Molinari. “Pat was the leader who did the arrangements,” Kelly says. “I booked the gigs. Noreen was the star. Our thing was, ‘If you can’t dance to it, we won’t play it.’”
Seminara, a New York transplant, started Solid Gold Dance Band in the late 1990s. “I’ve been in music since 1959,” he says. “Everybody sang harmony in the ‘50s. We knew a girl that worked at Paramount Records. One day we were waiting for her, hanging out, singing in the hallway. Without us knowing, she had a cheap tape recorder and recorded us. She gave it to the A&R [artists and repertoire] man. He asked to see us.”
Calling themselves the Melodeers, their only original song was a rock ‘n’ roll version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Paramount wasn’t in the market for Christmas songs, however. So they reached out to 20th Century Fox. “The only hit record Fox had had was a Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy,” Seminara notes. “When they heard Rudolph, they gave us a contract.”
Within six weeks, the Melodeers were on television and touring. “We never made Dick Clark, but we did little shows — Connecticut Bandstand, Rhode Island Bandstand. Also, The Clay Cole Show on WPIX and we were on the cover of a teen magazine.”
The Melodeers gained popularity but made little money. “It was crazy,” Seminara says. “We never got paid; it was all for promotion. The only time we got paid was with the Cole show; I got a check for $320. I’ll never forget that.”
Although many of their songs were about true love, it was love that eventually split them up. “Everybody got married and went their separate ways.”
Seminara’s “real” job was floor covering, difficult work after performing until 3 a.m. He took a break from music but when his marriage ended, he began playing again with The Rodgers Brothers, a Long Island band. “We played from Montauk all the way to Queens.”
Seminara visited Florida in 1989 to see his daughter graduate from Florida Atlantic University. Sitting in a coffee shop one morning, he flipped through a penny saver magazine. “It said waterfront property from 30 thousand dollars,” he says. “Waterfront property in New York was 20 times that.”
Purchasing a lot in Port St. Lucie, Seminara moved down two years later, laying his guitar down in the process. When one of the original Rodgers brothers moved south as well, he picked it back up and the Solid Gold Dance Band was born.
Over the years, Solid Gold went through several incarnations with sax player Al MacDonald, keyboardist Victor Lob and others. For a while, Seminara’s second wife, Helen, sang and played tambourine.
Then one night at an event, one of the band members angrily walked off the stage. “Jack [Kelly] was in the audience,” Seminara explains. “He came and picked up the guitar. He filled in the rest of the gig with us.”
JACK JOINS THE BAND
“Well, it was my dance,” Kelly says. “I was running a huge dance at the [Port St. Lucie] community center for the Honor Flight, when we fly veterans to Washington, D.C. I hired Pat to play. I was the emcee and ran the thing.”
Seminara felt it was time for a change. “Jack had a different band at the time, Good Tymes, that had broken up,” he says. “I asked if he and the girl on piano wanted to join me. Make a trio out of it. That’s how we got started.”
Kelly grew up just across the Long Island Sound from Seminara in Connecticut. “We were poor, but I’d never want to grow up differently,” he says. “It was the best upbringing any kid could have. Corn Flakes for supper and I played with 40 kids.”
When Kelly was about 12, an older friend showed him how to play a few guitar chords. Other friends played small venues and Kelly jumped in one night to help out. In time he’d play with several bands, including Tony Garo and the Connecticut Yanks, Pete and the Playboys, and Franny Gee and the Upstars.
In Kelly’s case, marriage didn’t break up the band. “I was 19 and Gail was just out of high school,” he says. “If it wasn’t for the band, I don’t know how we would’ve made it. We needed the money. She put up with a lot, but she trusted me. We’ve been married 49 years.”
Kelly went to school for industrial engineering, working with International Harvester and General Electric. Indoor employment was not a good fit for the former Eagle Scout, however. “I was an outdoor guy. Our band had a big breakthrough with an agent. We’d travel for double the money I was making. I looked around and thought, ‘This is like a jail. I can’t do this.’ I quit GE, quit school and said I’d never work for anybody again.”
Kelly went into real estate, also buying businesses. “I never bought them to keep. Every business I built, I sold. And I did real well.”
By the time the real estate market crashed in 1990, his children were grown. He and Gail traveled the country in an RV, eventually visiting Florida. “I got off I-95 in Port St. Lucie and there was the Mets Stadium. I may have lived in Connecticut, but I was a New Yorker.”
Kelly became a politician in St. Lucie County. Helping others get elected, he went on to become a city commissioner and vice mayor. He met Seminara, in fact, at the ribbon cutting for a music store. Currently, he serves on the school board.
NOREEN MAKES THREE
For almost seven years, Solid Gold Dance Band was Kelly, Seminara, and Noreen Molinari, who had sung with Jack in other bands.
Seminara remembers that when he first met Molinari, she seemed timid. “When we actually had a rehearsal and Noreen started singing, my mouth fell to the floor. I couldn’t believe how good she was.”
“What a gift,” Kelly adds. “She’s someone who can listen to something and then play it by ear. She’s easy to work with, too. A band’s kind of like a marriage — squabbles now and then but you work it out. We never argued about the material.”
“I’m so blessed to have played with them,” Molinari says. “You hear about famous bands who hate each other behind the scenes. I love them.”
Having sung publicly at various events and programs, Molinari was introduced to Kelly in 2009 when he was putting together a band. “I auditioned and got the job.”
“My husband Tony’s always been supportive of my singing,” she says. “More than a couple of Valentine’s Days he’s had to roll with the punches. And growing up, my girls thought it was cool that Mom was in a band.”
In its heyday with the three performers, Solid Gold might be booked 10 times in a month including as a regular feature at the 19th Hole at the Saints Golf Course in Port St. Lucie.
Then COVID hit.
“It was hard,” Molinari says. “I’d paid off my car; now I was paying tuition. Plus, you meet such nice people when you’re performing. I love to entertain.”
It was well into 2021 before Solid Gold was back in business. “It was easier here in Florida than in places like Chicago,” Molinari says. “People could sit outside.”
Without Molinari, Kelly and Seminara say their playlist would’ve been reduced. “We like everything,” Kelly explains, “but without Noreen we wouldn’t have thought of doing Bruno Mars.”
There’s more to being in a band than performing, of course. Years of hauling equipment and breaking it down takes a physical toll. Booking gigs and communicating with venue managers can be stressful. Rehearsals are ongoing.
“Over our 12 years together, we have almost 300 songs memorized,” Kelly says. “We never used tracks with extra music and voices. We made our own music. I’m proud of that.”
And then there’s the age factor.
Seminara quit performing at 80. “I couldn’t remember the words,” he says. “Getting up and going downhill, my back and legs — I was sorry to go but I just couldn’t take it. I thought, ‘I better quit before I make a complete fool out of myself.’ I had a good run.”
“A very good run,” Kelly says. “Few men can sing Roy Orbison songs like Pat.”
After Seminara retired, Rick Shryock joined Kelly and Molinari. “He’s an excellent guitar player,” Kelly says, “but he also plays violin. People love it.”
This year, Kelly is also slowing down, with plans to retire completely when he ends his school board term. “I’m 78. I’m not doing clubs anymore. Maybe big events.”
In the meantime, Molinari and Shryock perform as the Solid Gold Duo. “I miss Jack and Pat,” Molinari says, “but we’re moving forward. With just the two of us on instruments, we have a karaoke-type playlist.”
Molinari has returned to school to get a psychology degree, hoping to be a counselor one day. She has already seen the difference her music can make.
“One dear 82-year-old woman used to dance all the time at the 19th Hole when we’d play,” Molinari recalls. “She’s in assisted living now but I’ll never forget this one time she says, ‘You have no idea what this does for me, dancing and being with my friends.’ That’s why I do it.”
Pat Seminara and Jack Kelly have entertained people with their music and voices for over 120 years combined, with no regrets. They’re grateful that as they close a chapter, the legacy of Solid Gold continues.
So are their fans.
© Port St. Lucie Magazine | Indian River Media Group