By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Marlborough – During the same time period when some workers consider retiring to get rest and relaxation, Tony “Soul” Parente of Marlborough relaunched his professional singing career at age 64 in 2011.
Parente adopted the stage name Tony Soul when he began his first singing stint as a teenager. After a lengthy hiatus, he returned to performing and ultimately formed the Tony Soul Project. He plans to continue singing into the foreseeable future.
“I want to keep this up until I’m at least 80 years old,” he declared. “Right now, I’m in the best shape of my life.”
A Milford native, raised in Framingham, Parente first heard soul music in his early teens on WILD-AM when the radio station was devoted to airing rhythm and blues, and its subgenres.
“The vocals, the style and down-home dialect of this music that these guys were singing fascinated me,” Parente recalled.
The teenage Parente worked an after-school job and hitchhiked from Framingham to Boston to buy 45-RMP records. He shopped at the now-closed Big John’s Oldies but Goodies Land, located on Washington Street in the now-defunct adult entertainment district known as the city’s Combat Zone.
“Big John’s had all the soul releases that I couldn’t find in the suburbs,” Parente relayed. “This guy turned me on to the musical giants back then – Eugene Pitt and the Jive Five, James Brown, Wilson Picket and Otis Redding. All my money went to buying records.”
Several years later at age 19 in 1966, Parente began working next door to Big John’s at the Intermission Lounge as lead singer of Tony Soul and the Midnight Hours.
Their repertoire was primarily soul music along with British rock ‘n’ roll. They performed at the club on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and a Sunday matinee.
“We worked ourselves to the bone,” Parente noted. “We were young and stupid – and there were drugs everywhere. There were also go-go dancers, who couldn’t be onstage at the same time as us.”
The band abruptly disbanded in 1969 after their lead guitarist, John Smith, was killed in an auto accident following a gig. Smith was one of Parente’s best friends and a buddy from Framingham.
“It hit me really hard – I cried for weeks,” Parente recounted. “We had a very close relationship and did everything together. That’s when I stopped performing.”
The soul singer became a national sales representative with Bekins Company based in Hillside, Illinois.
A chance meeting in 2011 with a musician who recognized Parente as Tony Soul led them to perform together in a short-lived band known as Rico Moon.
“They were older cats with some miles on them,” Parente said of his former bandmates. “We’d rehearse and develop songs, and then they’d forget them the next week. I’d get frustrated.”
At the same time, Parente frequented venues where vocalists and musicians took part in jam sessions.
While jamming at Acton Jazz Café, he met lead guitarist Mike Kalenderian and they formed the Tony Soul Project in 2012. Soon afterward, they started performing eight to 14 gigs monthly throughout central and eastern Massachusetts.
“It was still a jam band,” Parente explained. “We’d bring in musicians here and there. It was me and Mike and a bunch of other guys.”
Their current bandmates are bassist and musical director Henry James, slide guitarist Danny Clark, drummer James Thomas and saxophonist Marcus Washington.
“This is the tightest band that I’ve ever played with in my life,” Parente raved. “Every time we play, it gets better and better. These guys are absolutely unbelievable.”