From the time he discovered his mother’s cookware, Vinny St. Marten filled his world with music. “For years I drove my family crazy, using forks and spoons to bang on pots and pans, as I listened to music on the radio. It got so bad that my family hid all the silverware from me. So in the middle of the night, I found two 4 lb. jars of coffee, dumped the coffee down the toilet, and taped the jars together. It was my first pair of bongos. We were so poor that my mother couldn’t afford to hire a plumber. She spent hours plunging the toilet and screaming at me.”
“One of my brothers suggested that mama should buy me a set of drums. I got my first drum set when I was twelve. One by one, ‘for sale’ signs went up all over the neighborhood as complaints about the noise grew. But I didn’t care. Who needed neighbors? I had my drums.”
Vinny was raised in Glen Cove, New York, in a neighborhood known as “The Orchard.” It was home to many immigrant families, mostly Italian. There were grape arbors, and bocce courts. Behind his house was a small farm. Vinny still recalls hearing the sounds of chickens and sheep outside his window.
His father had been a farmer in Calabria. In America he found work on an estate, managing a huge garden and caring for the livestock. Vinny remembers his dad pushing him in a wheelbarrow, as he gave him a tour of the grounds. “Papa” held the same job for 65 years, until he retired.
His mother was married at twelve and had her first child when she was thirteen. Vinny was the last of sixteen children. He and his brothers slept three and four in a bed. “I remember hearing the sound of rats scratching in the walls as we tried to sleep. But I just assumed that everyone lived that way.”
Vinny was born with glaucoma, which was a very rare occurrence for a newborn. His condition was written about in several medical journals. He also had recurring cataracts and endured twelve eye surgeries, until finally losing his sight when he was about eight years old. In 1956, he received one of the first corneal transplants on the East Coast. There were newpaper articles, television cameras, get well messages from celebrities, and even a marriage proposal. Sadly however, the operation was not successful.
But music became Vinny’s lifeline. Once he began playing drums and singing, he formed a band and started his life as a professional musician. When he was eighteen, he left Glen Cove and moved to Manhattan. There he found studio work and played on recordings by The Four Seasons (“The Good Ship Lollipop”), Spanky and Our Gang (“Sunday Will Never Be the Same”) and The Essex (“Easier said Than Done”), among others. Vinny was at one of these recording sessions during the blackout of 1965. He knew his way around the building and was able to safely guide everyone down the stairwells to the street.
In 1968, Vinny was the first artist signed to Davy Jones Records. The record was called “Gypsy Girl” and just recently, Vinny was able to find pristine copies of the 45 in Australia. He was also featured in some of the teen magazines of the day. And he continued his studio work, most notably at ABC records and Bell Sound.
He met Elysa Sunshine in 1973. She answered an ad that Vinny and his band had posted in a local newspaper. When he heard that a young woman was coming to audition, he told his bandmates that he didn’t want any girls in the band. “They’re too much trouble,” he said. However, after hearing Elysa play and sing, he realized that he had to hire her. 33 years later, they are still best friends and musical soulmates.
Elysa Sunshine: Bass Guitar, Vocals
Elysa Sunshine has had many years of musical experience in the New York area. She is an accomplished vocalist, prize-winning composer (American Song Festival) and multi-instrumentalist (bass guitar, keyboards, violin, viola). She has recorded with renowned songwriters Laura Nyro, George David Weiss and Don Covay. As a performer, she has been featured on RCA, Columbia, Atlantic Records and Koch International. She has also written and recorded numerous commercial jingles. She has recently appeared at Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium, and was musical director for the off-Broadway hit, “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn.”