The following background information is an edited excerpt from ARB Productions website:
For more than 20 years, ARB Productions has been producing and brokering nostalgia stage shows featuring legendary performers and tribute acts from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. ARB was founded in 1990 by Tony Busseri and his brother, Frank Busseri, who was one of the original members of The Four Lads. ARB began producing nostalgia shows in dinner theatre format, bringing acts to venues across the country.
Sadly, Frank Busseri passed away on January 28th, 2019. The following announcement was posted on the NFEF Facebook page:
Today we lost a member of the Niagara Falls Elvis Festival Family and a music legend. Frank Busseri, a member of the Four Lads and founding member of Festival partner ARB Productions, passed away in Palm Springs at the age of 85.
Before rock & roll took over the charts and became a decades-spawning cultural phenomenon, Toronto vocal group The Four Lads dominated the early 1950’s North American pop scene. Their four-part harmonies and clean-cut image helped make hits of songs like “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, “Moments to Remember” and “No, Not Much!” in both America and Canada. Frank Busseri and the Lads were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1984.
Frank was part of the Celebrity Panel at the 2018 Niagara Falls Elvis Festival and entertained our guests with his more than 60 years of experience in the music industry.
In Tony Busseri’s interview, he shares fond memories of his brother Frank and stories from their early life at home. Tony’s deep love for family shines through in all his answers. In partnership with his daughter-in-law, Heather Busseri, and Greg and Alana Frewin, Tony produces the highly successful Niagara Falls Elvis Festival, now in its third year.
It was a delight interviewing Tony over the phone, and I very much appreciate Tony’s insightful answers. At the conclusion of the interview, Tony commented, “You now know more about me than anyone else.” With today’s post, everyone will get to get know a little more about the man behind the productions we all enjoy. On behalf of all SIDEBURNS Magazine readers, I wish to extend a heartfelt thank you, Tony, for sharing your wonderful story.
It is indeed a pleasure introducing Anthony Ralph Busseri to you all. C.M.
Q. Tell us five interesting things about your childhood.
A. My dad, whose last name was originally “Bucceri”, was from Brooklyn, NY. In his late teens, my dad came to Canada where he met my mom who was born in Toronto, where I was also born. I grew up surrounded by a lot of music. My dad, who was a musician and a music teacher, was also in a band later on. My brother, Frank, who was 8 years older than I (I am the baby of the family), was a singer; so between my dad and brother’s connections in the industry, there were always a lot of celebrities hanging out at our house. With our loving mother, home-life was a lot of fun. I played a lot of sports, and had an interest in music. I wasn’t the best student, but I liked school.
Q. Describe your life as a teenager.
A. I had a lot of friends and a lot of fun as a teenager. Bloor Collegiate High School was a small high school, so everyone knew each other. It was a different era. I was involved in hockey and football. I had some good teachers. My favourite subject was history. I worked for the City of Toronto Parks Department as a park and recreation playground supervisor.
Q. Did you take any lessons related to the performing arts? Please explain.
A. The exposure to music at home was a big, big, factor, and I learned a lot through the experience. I also learned from my brother, Frank, and from travelling with him and others.
Q. What music was most often heard in your home?
A. Sinatra and his era of music. We listened to a lot of crooners and big band music. I worked with Jerry Vale and Al Martino. I booked and promoted them. My brother, Frank, was in three PBS specials with The Four Lads.
Q. What valuable life lessons did you learn from your parents, or mentor, that you still use today?
A. From my parents, I learned to treat people like you want to be treated and to show respect. I learned to sit back, assess, and reflect on what I was doing in my work and personal life. I learned about humanity through the related courses I took. You have to know how to deal with people--especially performers. The big name performers were reasonably easy to deal with. Now my job is a producer, and it is a big part of my job.
Q. What did you do with your time after your high school years ended?
A. I went into chartered accounting and worked for a firm; but I didn’t finish the course because I really wasn’t an accountant. I decided to get involved in the government. I was groomed into management and became a director. I took many Social and Humanity courses, as well as leadership courses, over the years. I married in my twenties, and with wife, and our three sons that followed, in tow, moved around a lot for work. Due to the job, and to get the experience I required, we moved 6 times in 5 years.
I retired at 55 after 35 years in government employment, and for the past 28 years, I have been a show business promoter-- a total change in career!
Q. Who are the important women in your life? Why are these women important to you?
A. My wife, Patricia, was the important woman in my life. I learned so much from her about how to deal with people, and how to nurture and love. She could make you feel you were the only one in a room. She didn’t judge and thought the best of people, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Patricia passed away 18 years ago, and my grandchildren came into my life at the right time.
Q. How are you different from your late brother Frank?
A. My brother was a lot more laid back and easier going than I. I am more assertive and goal oriented. It took years to find out his stories about the business because Frank was very private.
Q. Describe how your company ARB Productions got its start.
A. When I retired I was too young not to do something else and music was the logical next step because of my brother’s influence. I started an entertainment business in partnership with my brother. The promoter takes all the risks. At first I was an agent; now I am a producer. The concept of dinner theatre was our attempt to bring back the heyday of dinner theatres and nightclubs…a place to have a meal, have a drink, and see a great show. As I did that, dealing with the variety of performers, I moved into producing events after I learned about the business…it was a natural progression. Entertainment agents sell the shows. Producers create the shows from a concept.
Q. What men have had a positive influence in your life? How?
A. My sons have had an influence by providing input. My oldest son, Tony, is a CEO and works with finances. My middle son, Michael, is a psychologist, and along with my daughter-in-law, he is there for counselling. He reminds me I don’t smile enough. And youngest son, Peter, is there for moral support and to have to fun. Heather is my business partner in the NFEF, as well as Greg and Alana Frewin. Heather has her roles in the business. And my other daughters- in-laws, Karen and Jodi, have also had a positive influence in my life.
Q. What makes you sad? How do you cope with sadness?
A. In my moments of despair, there is loneliness at not having my partner, my wife. We took risks together, and we talked a lot about things. I have some good friends to talk to.
Q. Describe your typical day at home.
A. I like to go to sporting events. I like movies and documentaries. I follow the news, and watch research programs on PBS. I like to read stories, mostly fictional, because I like to be distracted when I read. A good story does not require much concentration, and I get lost in the story. I enjoy cooking for my family. I also cook for myself because I enjoy it. I watch a lot of cooking shows. I occasionally enjoy gambling.
Q. What makes you laugh?
A. Kidding around with people makes me laugh. With my buddy, “Fast Eddy”, who is a widower, I laugh a lot. He likes to joke around. I learned from the tragedy of losing a wife that we have to look at the lighter side of life and take each day as it comes. Make life fun and look at it in a humorous way. Eddy lived around the corner, and I would see him walking fast around the streets after his wife died. That is how he got the nickname “Fast Eddy”.
Q. In the list of entertainers on your website, there is an absence of ETAs. Please explain.
A. I don’t usually promote individual Elvis tributes. Steve (Kabakos) Michaels is one of the better ETAs in the business, and I booked him for 12 years. I stopped promoting him because once I got involved in Elvis festivals, I had to stop promoting individuals as I had no desire to create a potential conflict of interest. Once an artist has become an Ultimate, it becomes easier to promote them because they cannot compete in any other competition
Q. What has surprised you most about the Niagara Falls Elvis Festival?
A. I did not realize the commitment and the level of trust of Elvis fans and the Elvis community. They help each other and do so much to help other festival promoters who are their business competitors. The ETAs pay their own way-- commonality between all festivals. We lost the idea of community, and found it in the ETA world. I am continuing to build the legacy that Elvis left, and it is nurtured in true ETA performers.
Q. Describe one or more memorable event in your business career.
A. The Elvis festival has had the most profound effect on me than any other aspect in ARB Productions. It does not happen in the entertainment world. They know they help each other, but they do not realize how unique the brotherhood of ETAs and their community is.
Q. How are the judges chosen for the Niagara Falls Elvis Festival selected?
A. I specifically wanted three experienced ETA judges, and three other entertainment people who also know something about Elvis and who have a lot of experience in the entertainment field--performers or agents, producers etc.
Q. What sacrifices have you made for your career?
A. Time. I donate a lot of time to my business. You just can’t call it in.
Q. Besides your brother, Frank, who was/is your favourite all time performer?
A. Frank Sinatra.
Q. What performer, past or present, would you like to book?
A. I would have liked to book the original Rat Pack.
Q. How do you explain the success of your first and second annual Niagara Falls Elvis Festivals?
A. People who know the entertainment business—Greg with his 30 years of experience, and me with my knowledge of management at the business end, and the right location, account for the successful first two years. Niagara Falls is an excellent city to run an Elvis festival. We wanted to be different: We offer food, location, competition and contest. To me the contest is fundamental to our success.
Q. What annoys you?
A. People who live on the dark side of life annoy me. People who do not see the potential in life annoy me. I feel badly for them. They can’t see much hope; they need to help themselves.
Q. What do you fear?
A. I don’t know. I’m not worried about dying. I may worry bills, but don’t dwell on it. I worry about not wanting to screw up. Still can have failure…the things I can’t protect. I pay attention to them. When you are at this stage life, you worry about your energy level. You don’t sleep the same. You have to manage what you want to make important.
Q. Describe a future that is specifically design for you.
A. I don’t know. I take segments at a time. After the festival I take stock and change what didn’t work and what did work. Before I do it with other people I have to know from where I am coming. I look at what the next festival will be and whether it is something I want.
Q. How do you handle disappointment?
A. I look at why that happens. I am very much into assessing what went wrong.
Q. How will you know when it is time to retire?
A. I don’t know…maybe when I run out of steam. And if I still have the energy. I think will know when, and if, the time comes.
Q. What will you do in retirement?
A. Until I know I am going to really retire, I have no idea.
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. Don’t ask me. Sometimes I worry about things that I should not worry about…the human side of me. I have my good days and bad days. And I do the best I can.
Q. Do you have a favourite Elvis Presley song?
A. No, I don’t have a favourite Elvis song. What do I respect and endear is how good of a performer he was. I now realize how phenomenally talented and creative he was. There were two guys in their 90s that I asked separately to name three things they liked about Elvis. They both said the same three things: He was a good singer; he had stage presence; and he had a great personality.
Q. What do you treasure?
A. Family, friendship, and my five grandchildren. I travel to my grandchildren’s games to support them. My grandson plays baseball in the US, and I coach my granddaughter’s softball team. My other granddaughter is a rep goalie in girls’ hockey.
Q. If you had not co-founded ARB Productions, what would you want to do for a living?
A. I have no idea.
Q. What question do you wish I had asked, but didn’t?
A. I think you asked the key questions.
Q. How would you answer your own question?
A. I wanted to make sure you understood why I got involved in the Elvis festival. It was getting more difficult finding a show to put on. I didn’t want to go to the 80s and 90s to promote, and the audience was changing. They used to know the performers. So I asked myself, “What do I want to promote?” Someone mentioned Elvis, and I did some research and was staggered by the ETA business. No other entertainer who has passed is as well-known as Elvis Presley.
Thank you to photographer Louis Young for giving permission to use his photos in the above slide show. And thank you to photographer Lori-Anne Crewe for capturing the interview update in the TCB photos below. You are both so awesome!