Runk's rock raises funds for Parkinson's research

By Rita Papazian
Posted: 07/17/2009

Creativity knows no age says Gene D. Cohen. It allows people to view life as an opportunity for exploration, discovery and an expanding sense of self. Cohen expressed those thoughts in a 2000 issue of Modern Maturity magazine soon after he wrote The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half. The world-renowned gerontologist, psychiatrist and the first director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., believes creativity is empowering and dispels the myth that creativity or one's talents crest and ebb in middle years.

Southporter Bob Runk knows how empowering creativity can be. The insurance broker who wrote a humorous book on golf after the age of 50 turned his attention to his first love, music, and this past spring produced his first CD, Runk: Good Company, released on his own label, Rusher Music. To date, he has written 120 songs, which he performs on the keyboard and sings. He can't stop. The music keeps flowing; the lyrics keep coming as his creativity continues to be inspired by his long marriage to wife JoAnn, co-owner of Runk Douglas Antiques, on Pequot Avenue in Southport; his son Andrew and daughter-in-law Kristen, who offered backup vocals during Runk's recent benefit concert at the Fairfield Theatre Company; his daughter Amy and most recently his 1-year-old grandson, Alex, for whom he wrote a lullaby.

Runk's CD is not the product of a middle-aged guy having a mid-life crisis. This is the product of a genuine talented individual, says Gary Katz, who heard a demo of Runk's music and decided to produce his first CD. Katz should recognize talent when he hears it. He was the record producer for Steely Dan albums who has worked in the music business for nearly a half century with noted artists that include Joe Cocker, The Mamas & the Papas, Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night, among others.

"I love his music. It's extremely well done," Katz said in a telephone interview. "He's a fabulous keyboardist, singer and songwriter. When you listen to his music you would think he's 18. It's very vibrant, very current, very contemporary."

Katz was drawn to Runk's " body of work and the consistency of the work. It's very well written."

Katz believes the music is the genre that people over 45 relate to. He said there's no one "out there" catering their music to that market -- the AARP community. The music represents "the highlight of our age."

At Katz's suggestion, Runk worked for four weeks over a period of three months in a recording studio, Airtime Studios, in Bloomfield, Ind., to produce the record.

As it turns out, writing and recording the music is the easy part. Marketing and selling CDs is an entirely different story in a music industry that has turned itself upside down from the traditional approach in getting deejays to play your music on the radio.

While the advances in technology jump-started Runk's ability to get a record producer of Katz's caliber to pay attention to his music, the role of the Internet in getting a public's attention requires a great deal of money and marketing.

"I was nave to think the hard work was over after the CD," Runk said in an interview, accompanied by his wife, as the couple sat on the screened porch of their Church Street home where they have lived the past 30 years.

The road to producing his first CD began when someone introduced him to ProTools, the technology that offered the capability of working with a keyboard and computer to layer the music and the vocals to create the final sound. Katz said ProTools makes the process of creating music "affordable and accessible" and has had a great impact on the music industry.

"ProTools has allowed people with basic talent to get into the game," Katz said. Although he does not put Runk into this category, Katz said ProTools does allow anyone "with a whim to create something."

"Technology has made producing faster and cheaper," Katz said. The record producer offered another observation of the music industry today. Since computers produce so much of the music itself, there is a lack of good musicians in the industry who can actually play an instrument. However, he pointed out that the technology is vital in producing "Hip-Hop."

Katz said Runk has to be creative in finding ways to expose his music to the general public. Originally, Runk had planned to produce three CDs with a marketing plan that neared a million dollars. Then the recession hit and so did the reality that this is the 21st century and music is downloaded from the Internet.

Runk is acutely aware that his lifestyle is not such that he will be hopping on a tour bus and going city to city to do "gigs." Therefore, he took his first major step and organized a benefit concert for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. His wife JoAnn was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1991, the same time as the actor's diagnosis. Unlike the actor, her condition has been gradual.

Working with a committee of 10 to promote her husband's concert, JoAnn was so successful that the July 8 concert was sold out before the performance and raised more than $30,000.

For two hours, Runk and five musicians he had assembled for the benefit played a repertoire of songs from Runk's debut CD sprinkled with three cover songs, including the rousing "Mustang Sally," the Mack Rice song made popular by Wilson Pickett, which brought the audience to its feet. Much of the energy that ignited the band's performances was propelled by the harmonica of Jerry Vigorito, a Fairfield native and co-founder of the Band Together CT charity concert series.

"It was a privilege to play his music and to be asked to play tonight," Vigorito said, praising Runk and his wife's efforts to raise money for Parkinson's disease.

Throughout the concert Runk offered a little history of the inspiration for his songs, including a lullaby inspired by the birth of his first grandchild, Alex.

Runk admitted after the concert that at first he was a little nervous, but "once we got rolling, the adrenaline flowed and we slipped right into it."

Katie Hood, CEO of the M.J. Fox Foundation, who attended the event, said she was "amazed at the Runks' accomplishment in raising over $30,000." She noted that the Runks were among many members of communities across the country who come together under Team Fox in special events, such as concerts or marathons to raise funds for the Foundation. Since 2000, the Foundation has raised $140 million for research, said Hood, who is personal friends of Erin and Bill Russell of Sasco Hill Road, who attended the concert.

At one point in the concert Erin, six months pregnant with her second set of twins, was cajoled on stage by Vigorito to provide back-up vocals.

"I have no rhythm. I don't know what I was doing up there," said Russell, who described the evening as very "inspirational."

Joann Runk said she was "honored to help promote the concert because Bob needs to play his music. He's a performer and he's written fabulous music. People have said he sounds a little like Jimmy Buffet with more range. " His songs have a feel-good quality."

"Although a lot of melancholy," Runk said, listening to his wife's observations.

With a smile on her face, JoAnn noted how she has come to accept the fact that she is now living with the "boom, boom, boom," a reference to the rhythm she hears from the room over the garage where Runk composes and practic