Loss of My Best Friend

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Joseph Malinconico

I think it was September of 1967, the first time I met Joe Mal. I auditioned for his band at a restaurant called DeMaio’s in East Hanover, NJ. I was only 16 years old, so my Mom had to drive me to the audition. I played well enough, I guess, to pass the audition that day, and the following weekend I played the first of a countless number of gigs with Joe that lasted for the next 15+ years.

Joe was an extraordinarily talented musician, playing sax, flute, percussion and singing. Great stage presence, a gifted performer and band leader … 10 years my senior, I’m not 100% sure why he gave me that gig, because I was still pretty young and had a lot to learn. Nonetheless, I was handed a list of 75 tunes and told to “learn these by Friday”.

This was 1967 … no internet, no Spotify or streaming, just an AM radio with DJ Cousin Brucie and the hope that some of the songs would come up in Cousin’s rotation over the next few days.

Joe spent the first gig on that Friday night shouting out chord changes to me as we went through the sets. It’s a very long time ago, but I remember him having a tremendous amount of patience with me over that 1st 3 day weekend. On Sunday night, after we packed up, he said to me something along the lines of “nice job, but learn this s***. I’m not gonna be throwing you changes forever”.

I did “learn that s***” in time for the next weeks gig, starting on a Wednesday. Joe didn’t comment one way or the other about my progress, he just accepted me as the bass player in the band and off we went on a musical trip together.

Traveling on the road with subsequent bands, Joe and I were always roommates as we toured around the country, seeing new places and entertaining Lord only knows how many audiences over all of those years together. When times were great we basked in the fruits of our labor together, and when the hard times hit we shared in the misery of that, as well. Up & down, good and bad, we hung in there together.

“Something Cool” recorded in 1976 on a cassette recorder (use headphones), Full Circle Band – Arlene Carole, Mark Mincello, Ron Yacovetti, Ed Goode, Joe Mal

My best friend.

I don’t know how to even begin to scratch the surface of the times we had together, so I won’t even try.

We stopped working together in the sort-of early ‘80’s, although I don’t remember exactly what year that was … I was burnt out, trying to once and for all squash a drug habit, and I had to walk away from the music for a while. Then suddenly, Joe and his beautiful wife Carol moved to Florida and our contacts and time together grew less and less.

We would see each other a few times each year, maybe some periodic phone calls now and then. Those years just flew on by, always with a “let’s get together soon” plan that never came to fruition. Then, my late wife Bunny died, I met and married Sheila and moved to Georgia at the same Joe and Carol began to have some health issues and relocated back to Jersey.

We last spoke in September of 2020, a few lengthy phone conversations about the past and how our lives are now. They were conversations between two best friends that hadn’t seen each other in probably 15+ years (at least), but acted as a reminder that even though we hadn’t stayed “in touch”, best friends accept that from each other.

Over these past several years a lot of my music mentors, band mates and hero’s have, as is so often said, joined God’s band. These include my own son, Steve, band leaders Pat Galo and John “Muzzy” Napodano, and now my best friend Joe Mal. It’s to be expected, as we have all grown older and no one is stopping the pages of the calendar from flipping.

But I’m blessed to have had a best friend for most of my life, regardless of how often we saw each other. Whether it was sharing a stage in St Louis, eating at a backwoods diner in Mississippi, working a temporary day job on some production line when the music money was poor, or talking on the phone long distance in our elder years, I knew my best friend was there for me.

And I know, likely in the “sooner than later” time frame, that I’ll be standing in the audition line for God’s band and Joe Mal will hand me a list of 75 tunes and tell me, “learn this s***, I’m not gonna be throwing you changes forever”.

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