By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Boston – Joe “Pet” Petruzzelli of Boston has accumulated musical memories spanning multiple decades as a drummer and vocalist with popular bands. Now, he’s also creating memories for others as the event deejay and master of ceremonies for his own entertainment business.
His fascination with drumming began as a child when he and his grandfather viewed Memorial Day parades from outside the Massachusetts Statehouse. There, drum and bugle corps would stop to play songs.
“I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in drumming since I was 6,” Petruzzelli shared.
Soon after graduating from high school in 1969, he and friends played in a band that worked a three-week gig as opening act for The Happenings, whose 1960s hits included covers of “See You in September,” “Go Away Little Girl,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”
The gig led to a two-and-a-half-year job for Petruzzelli as The Happenings’ drummer and vocalist. He performed on The Happenings’ 1971 recording of their interpretation of Mama Cass Elliot’s “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” While touring the East Coast and Midwest, they performed mostly at colleges as headliner or billed alongside the era’s other popular acts.
“I was blown away,” Petruzzelli acknowledged. “I went from playing local dives to having the world open up to me. Some of these college auditoriums were 10,000 to 15,000 seats. That’s when I really took playing drums seriously as a career.”
Another couple bands later in 1978, he was referred to audition for singer-songwriter-keyboardist Rick Berlin’s band Luna. Petruzzelli was immediately impressed and got the job. He also adopted the stage name Joe Pet.
“Luna was in the progressive rock-with-vocals category of Yes and Journey,” he raved. “It was one of the most intense musical and vocal experiences of my life.”
In 1981, most of the Luna musicians, including Petruzzelli, became a new band known as Berlin Airlift. The band achieved two hit singles on Boston radio stations, “Don’t Stop Me from Crying” and “Over the Hill,” released from their self-titled 1982 album.
Beginning in December 1982, Berlin Airlift opened for the J. Geils Band holiday tour with arena concerts in New Haven; Providence; Portland, Maine; and culminating with shows on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 1983 at Centrum in Worcester (now DCU Center).
The musicians partied late after the New Year’s Eve show. For the New Year’s Day performance, Berlin Airlift extended its opening set with Rick Berlin guiding their improvised playlist.
Petruzzelli explained, “The stage manager ran up to us onstage and said, ‘Listen, you guys, keep playing – Geils isn’t even in the venue yet!’ Rick started calling off new tunes including a song that I did a drum solo in. It was amazing!”
Local and out-of-state gigs continued when Petruzzelli joined the Joe Perry Project in 1983 and performed on its album “Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker.” Venues ranged from Boston’s nightclub The Channel with an official 1,700 capacity, to Pennsylvania’s 40,000-plus seat Pocono Raceway where they shared the bill with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Cheap Trick and Foghat.
In the memoir “Rocks: My Life in and out of Aerosmith,” guitarist Perry reminisces about working with his Joe Perry Project’s third lineup: drummer Petruzzelli, lead singer Cowboy Mach Bell, and bassist Danny Hargrove. Perry wrote, “Without a doubt, the wildest and most fun guys I have ever played with. It was rocking as close to the edge as I will ever get.”
Petruzzelli appreciated that the band consisted of only three instruments.
“There was plenty of room for me to move on the drums,” he noted. “I didn’t need to just play a simple part to hold the time down; I got to play anything that I wanted to play.”
In 1999, Petruzzelli drew upon decades of experience as a professional entertainer and opened A Beat Away Entertainment, for which he deejays and emcees events.
“I started playing music that I like and it just clicked,” he noted. “That’s detracted me from seriously getting back into playing drums again.”
Yet, he still periodically freelances as a drummer.
In 2011, he toured New England in “Boston Legends.” Among the show’s other performers were J Geils, Magic Dick and Danny Klein (J. Geils Band), Jon Butcher (Jon Butcher Axis), Charlie Farren (Joe Perry Project, Farrenheit), David Hill (Aerosmith, Joe Perry Project), and The Uptown Horns.
“I want to keep my chops up,” Petruzzelli said of his periodic returns to drumming.