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MUSIC FEATURE: Being Bob Greco

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Bob Greco can't help it. He is what he is: a musician, a comedian, a father. He has had brushes with triumph and brushes with death. He's lived the high life, he's been down and out. He's seen the world while singing and performing with party band to the stars, Nik and the Nice Guys. He shows his soul fronting his own Bob Greco Band, and is the proud father to a young man with an incredible story of his own. At 49, Greco, an on-stage wisenheimer, still rocks and rolls with the punches. He dishes out a few as well, and shows no indication of slowing down — though a heart attack three years ago stopped him from smoking. You could say the dude abides, and he adjusts. He always did what it took to get on stage.

"I used to play trumpet in school," Greco says. "I always sang, did comedy. Somebody would need a keyboard player, I'd buy keyboard gear. That band would break up, somebody would need a bass player. So I'd sell all my keyboard gear and buy bass gear, then guitar gear, and so on."

Greco's first real gig was at the Penny Arcade when he was 17. "The band was called Stiff Kitten. We had this papier-mâché cat on a cross. It had nothing to do with putting God down — I'm Catholic, my mother would have killed me — it was just cool. We did get shut down early when we played Bishop Kearney High School, though. Up went the papier-mâché cat, and off went the power. Yup, Stiff Kitten."

Clearly the humor was there — a smartass was brewing beneath. Greco started pursuing the hi-yuks and guffaws full time.

"I went hardcore into comedy, he says. "I gave up music for seven years. Comedy came easy for me. It was easy to walk into a packed club and just be an asshole. It was awesome. And...they had to listen. Also, I was the best looking guy on stage, because I was the only guy on stage."

But the ha-ha highway had a downside that music did not, and at the heart of it, Greco was first and foremost a musician.

"The problem is," he says, "after the show, you sign a few autographs, feeling on top of the world, but then you go back to the hotel, and you're alone." Doubt and loneliness began to creep in.

"I played somewhere — Saskatchewan, I think," he says. "Wherever up in Canada where it looks like the moon. Those were the days you go, 'What am I doing? I could've been a plumber.' With the band, it's just like you're with family all the time, having fun."

Still, Greco was doing well. The phone was starting to ring — a lot. "I was doing really well," says Greco. "I was doing some work for Second City in Chicago. I had started writing music again. I was touring with Dennis Miller, Andrew Dice Clay...and then my son was born."

Bob Greco, Jr. was born in 1989 with arthrogryposis; a disease that has rendered him a quadriplegic. In coping with this disease, he had 24 operations, many of them as a child. Despite the monumental hurdles he's had to endure, the now adult Greco, Jr. has served as assistant offensive line coach at St. John Fisher college and worked with Jim Kelly at his football camps. Today Greco, Jr. is his father's biggest inspiration, but when he was born, the situation was bleak.

"They didn't think he was going to make it," Greco says. "Meanwhile, I had an agent calling with gigs. I had just started breaking through."

His career skidded to a halt. "It was horrible from day one," he says. "That was a really dark time. There was no way I could go out on the road and be funny."

Greco found work where he could — tending bar, hosting morning radio, ultimately purchasing Gallagher's Irish Pub in Geneva. It was the straight life for Greco, until his then-10-year-old son admonished his dad for giving up on his goals.

"It was my son who said you've got to go back," Greco says. "He was upset that I'd given it up for him."

That was followed by a serendipitous — albeit humbling — encounter with the singer from Nik and the Nice Guys. "He walked up and said, 'Weren't you Bob Greco?'" Despite the back-handed compliment, he offered the gig to Greco. Besides Greco taking a break to record his solo CD "On The Run," this began his 20-year relationship with the band.

In that time he's taken some heat from folks who feel he should be doing more of his own music, not fronting a cover-heavy party band. "You take a lot of crap," he says "'Well, aren't you selling out?'" Greco holds the doubters in the same esteem he does with those who have told him to get a real job.

"There's nothing more satisfying than touring and playing your own music. And we've done great," he says, referring to his own Bob Greco Band. "But then you're like, Gosh, we gotta eat... Nik has taught me to perform, how to talk to an audience, and be willing to sing Kool and the Gang and 'Mustang Sally' every night. But I've gotten to tour the world with the band. I've done 14 pre-games for the Super Bowl, the Olympics... Music isn't a choice; it's what I do. It's what I love. Everything I do has a song attached to it."

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