Ron Onesti: Memorabilia and memories

  • Among the music memorabilia owned by Ron Onesti is this American flag guitar signed by two members of the band America, as well as other performers.

    Among the music memorabilia owned by Ron Onesti is this American flag guitar signed by two members of the band America, as well as other performers. Courtesy of Onesti Entertainment Corp.

 
 
Posted10/2/2020 6:00 AM

We go through our lives collecting souvenirs and mementos from memorable moments that we want to keep in our hearts forever. Some were saved for us, often by our moms when we were little. I still have my first pair of shoes, a lock from my first haircut and the first baby tooth that fell out of my mouth (it's not as cute as one might think).

I have the first 99-cent 45 RPM record I ever bought, "Bennie and the Jets" by the great Elton John, and my first 33⅓ album, "CHICAGO IX Greatest Hits." My first eight-track was by Eric Clapton and Cream, and my first cassette tape was "Wings Over America" by Paul McCartney & Wings. My first CD? Who really cares?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The stub from the first concert I bought a ticket to was from the 1976 "World Series of Rock" at Hawthorne Racecourse. I was 14 years old. It featured Peter Frampton supporting his huge record-setting album, "Frampton Comes Alive," Lynyrd Skynyrd, Yes and Gary Wright ("Our Love Is Alive"). What a rock show THAT was! It was life changing! Before that day I was mainly into Chicago, the Beach Boys, Elton John and Barry Manilow.

I was a part of a detective agency at one time and, among other things, we did movie set security (That part of my life is for another time). One of the films we worked on was the 1982 Cheech & Chong comedy (remember them?) "Things Are Tough All Over." One of my "huge" responsibilities was to keep an eye on Tommy Chong's 5-year-old son, Paris, during filming. As a thank you, Tommy gave me the blue-paisley bandanna he wore in the film. Chong was famous for wearing those.

About 25 years after my first paid concert at Hawthorne Racecourse, I returned to produce the horse racing venue's concert series, and we did a show with James Brown that I will never forget! On his rider was a hair dryer. But when he arrived, his manager pulled me aside and corrected me. It was supposed to be one of those big helmet-style hair dryers our moms would sit under at the beauty salon, and not the Conair handheld model I had for him. I only had a few hours but I tracked one down in a resale shop on Cicero Avenue. It succeeded in giving Brown his signature helmet hairstyle, and he left HIS signature on the hair dryer as a thank you. Probably my strangest bit of memorabilia!

One of my recent columns referenced a few pieces of history that came to me by way of a secretary to Jerry Lewis who was retiring and looking for a few dollars to help her in her twilight years. I have items from his "Dean & Jerry" years including Friar's Club programs, "Dean & Jerry" pens, buttons and Christmas cards. The biggest find was his personal phone book with the phone numbers of Hollywood's elite including Jackie Gleason, Orson Welles, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor and so many more! And when he left The Arcada after his autobiographical show, he signed the drum head with his signature caricature to me!

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The Arcada has provided soooooooo many opportunities for me to create friendships with rock legends and showbiz superstars. I could write a book on all the stuff I have collected from music, television and film icons over the years. For example, Mickey Rooney celebrated his 82nd birthday with us. I have a black and white photo from Mickey as "Whitey Marsh" in the 1938 classic film "Boys Town" he autographed to me. Pretty cool.

Guitars, guitars and more guitars! I have close to 100 autographed axes signed by Bruce Springsteen, KISS, Grand Funk, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Guy and many more. Rick Springfield tosses his guitar high above his head and catches it during his show. His first time at The Arcada didn't work out quite as well. He missed it and it fell to the ground, breaking into three pieces still connected by the strings. I have THAT autographed!

Jim Peterik, the iconic singer-songwriter from the Ides of March and Survivor, presented me with a very personal and awesome gift. He signed the guitar with almost all of the major songs he wrote including "Eye Of The Tiger," "Vehicle," "Hold On Loosely," "The Search Is Over," High On You," "Caught Up In You" and about 100 others written on every inch of the guitar, front and back! Breathtaking!

Another guitar very special to me is a six-string acoustic I received years ago. It has an American flag paint job and I had it in a corner of a room for years. Then I thought to have Gerry and Dewey from the band America sign it. It became my "Americana" guitar that I have since had Kevin Costner, Jim Peterik, Arlo Guthrie, Michael and Kevin Bacon, Graham Nash, Ted Nugent and Bret Michaels sign.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I was also lucky to have spent some time with the great Joe DiMaggio because of my affiliation with the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. He rarely signed stuff, especially for free! But he warmed up to me and signed a baseball to me. A couple years later, we hosted an event with legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra. I got him to sign the same ball. Tommy Lasorda signed it too.

The towering country superstar Charlie Daniels signed a fiddle to me … unbelievable!

I could go on and on. The recent renovations forced me to vacate my office and clean out the countless bits of entertainment history that has accumulated in every crevasse of the office. Removing it all was like a "Clown Car" of collectibles! It was never ending! I could fill my own museum!

But my most valuable, and meaningful historic possession is the folded flag a military veteran receives upon their passing. My dad's sits on the mantle above the fireplace in my living room. There isn't a day I don't look at it as it reminds me of my eternal best friend, and a hero who represents all the heroes who have fought for our country. It is because of that flag that I have the other pieces of memorabilia and the experiences tied to them in the first place.

Here's to our memories and to those who fought for our ability to create more in the future.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email ron@oshows.com.

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