DOWN MEMORY LANE
The Illusions Hit It Big
The Illusions – hit-makers of “Give Me Mercy” in 1967. L-R: Eugene “Skeets” Boiani, Jack Pender, Ruff Francis, Phil Bazicki and Michael “Micky” Caruso. Photo courtesy of rufffrancis.com.
You’ve heard many people say, “Oh, I should write a book.” Many people think their lives are extraordinary.
For Ruff Francis, it’s true.
He was born Ralph Francis Passonno, Jr. into an industrious family. His grandfather founded the paint company bearing the family name and his parents expected him to continue in the busi- ness. But music beckoned. His quintet made the national scene. And today he is the president of a major firm, Uncle Sam Auctions of Troy.
In the 1960s his quintet The Illusions (later a sextet) played many of the top spots upstate (and down) from Duke’s in Troy to the 1965 World’s Fair in New York. They opened for the Dave Clark Quartet at Colonie Coliseum. Their recording of “Give Me Mercy” ranked numbers 14 and 20 on two Capital District radio stations,
hit nine and 10 in San Francisco and seven in Pittsburg. It was recorded at the CBS studios in NYC in the autumn of 1966.
Ruff was the leader, Fender Jazz bassist and vocalist; Phil Bazicki (brother of Tommy of the Valentinos), tenor sax; Eugene “Skeets” Boiani, guitar; Jackie Pender, tenor; and Micky Caruso, drums. Later drummer Alphonse “Pops” Jones joined them.
As time went by, they tended more toward jazz. Lyman “Butch” Strong, a mighty fine organ- ist, was added. They often played with Troy’s award-winning saxophonist Nick Brignola and Albany drummer Larry Jackson.
In 2014 they released a record of the Francis- composed ”Misery Loves Company,” which can be heard on YouTube, as can “Give Me Mercy.”
–C. ROBIE BOOTH