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Mention the name Vinny Pastore in a word association game and an entire generation is likely to respond “Big Pussy from ‘The Sopranos.’”
But far fewer may know that years before his role on the hit HBO mob drama, Pastore was a singer and a rock ‘n’ roll club owner in New Rochelle.
This Thursday evening, Pastore will return with his band Gangster Squad at The Garage at Lucy’s in Pleasantville for an evening of rock ‘n’ roll. Joining Pastore will be Eddie Denise (bass), who played with Dion, Al Orlo (guitar), Kevin Tooley (drums), and their musical director Frank Pisani.
“I have a good time,” said Pastore, 76, who was born in the Bronx and currently lives in City Island but grew up in New Rochelle. “I have good guys that come up and sing with me, like Eddie Denise. I like the standards, but they put people to sleep, so, you know, we pep it up.”
Don’t expect Pastore to be breaking out any Sinatra or Tony Bennett numbers Thursday night at Lucy’s with Gangster Squad. Patrons will hear the Stones, Van Morrison, and many other rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues selections from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
It was on the streets where Pastore learned how to sing as a kid.
“I’ve always enjoyed music, my whole life, the music more than the acting,” Pastore said. “The music came before the acting. The music came on the street corner doing a cappella.”
It wasn’t until later, sometime after being discharged from the Navy, that he took acting classes paid for by the G.I. Bill. In the years after the classes, he performed in community theater around the metropolitan area.
He had various small movie roles, mostly portraying gangster types, including bit parts initially in films such as “Carlito’s Way” and “Goodfellas.” A larger role came in the 1995 movie “The Jerky Boys: The Movie.” A few years later he was cast in “The Sopranos.”
Pastore made it to Broadway for the first of his two roles there in 2007 in the musical “Chicago” as Amos Hart, followed about seven years later as Nick Valenti in “Bullets Over Broadway.”
Even as he slowly earned more acting credits over the years, Pastore never let go of the music bug. He had opened his club called the Crazy Horse in New Rochelle around 1980. Pastore operated it for about six years before he was bought out when he started taking acting more seriously. But he’s remained in contact with many of the musicians who played at the Crazy Horse, including the members of his band.
It’s been more than 15 years since Pastore’s stint on “The Sopranos,” but he doesn’t mind if most people in the general public remember him only as Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero. It’s opened up plenty of other opportunities for him, including his Broadway roles. In addition to writing plays, Pastore also teaches acting with Maureen Van Zandt, the wife of Sopranos buddy and E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt.
He’s been able to carve out a fun and fulfilling life with gumption and being unafraid to take a chance.
“I tell this to my actors, you have to have these visions, you can’t say you’re not going to do it, I’m not going to be able to do it,” Pastore explained. “You can do it. You just have to go out and do it. You can’t give up and we’ve lasted with all these obstacles.”
He’s looking forward to returning to Lucy’s later this week, a place he has grown to love because it has many of the same vibes as his old club.
“I have a good time up there, and I’m really glad I’m going back,” Pastore said.
Tickets to see The Gangster Squad this Thursday from 8 to 11 p.m. at The Garage at Lucy’s is $20, plus a fee, on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/vinny-big-pussy-pastores-gangster-squad-tickets-381687897777
The Garage at Lucy’s is located at 446 Bedford Rd. in Pleasantville.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/