“Owning a [plumbing] business and having a family is a full-time job,” said Turonis. “Now I’ve got an empty nest as my youngest is in college [Goucher College in Baltimore] and music has always been a passion of mine. I’ve been playing in basements for years and now it’s all come together.”
Turonis, who classifies his sound as “swinginghonkytonkabilly,” pulls inspiration from a variety of sources and professionals. At 72, he’s looking forward to finally focusing full-time on his art.
‘All the Pretty Girls’
“All the Pretty Girls” features both original songs and covers.
He said he was inspired to write the title song after decades ago, he attended a party with a date, and another female attendee began to flirt with him in front of her. Musically, he said, the song was inspired by the music of the James Bond theme song “Goldfinger.”
It features beautiful tongue-in-cheek lyrics performed by Turonis, as well as acoustic guitar and accordion melodies.
“I have an off-center point of view,” said Turonis, of his original songs. “I spend a lot of time on my songs and I think they are artfully written and I hope people can appreciate what I’m talking about and my sense of humor as well.”
Through the years, Turonis has been known for both of his pursuits. He began working as a local plumber and moved to Hoboken in the early 1970s.
“When I moved here, downtown smelled like sewerage and the cops ran the town,” he said. “It was definitely a cop town. The cops were mayor, they were one the school board, and they were the City Council.”
He said there was a large artist community in town back then, but many have left.
“Most of it’s gone to the Heights or Brooklyn,” he said. “There is no place for them to play and live anymore. It’s the typical thing. The artists come for the cheap rents and make it fashionable, and then new people move to town.”
He said he doesn’t plan to leave and will stay in Hoboken, as he owns his house.
Turonis has also performed in local concert series around town and had standing shows at Court Street and Elysian Café for several years.
His name may also be familiar because his wife Renee Turonis ran for school board roughly 15 years ago. She works these days as a nurse in Hoboken High, and won an award as one of the Education Service Professionals of the year for the 2017- 2018 school year.
“I just hope I can move people.” –Gene Turonis
Turonis said he made a rough cut of “All the Pretty Girls” six years ago with his friend Marc Johnson, when Turonis visited Johnson in Texas.
Last year he decided to show it to Glenn Morrow, who owns Bar/None Records. “I knew Glenn casually but didn’t have a real relationship with him, but I took it to him and asked if he would listen to it,” said Turonis. “I said ‘You’re a professional I’d like you to listen and give me your opinion.’ ”
He added, laughing, “I said I’d pay him in money or plumbing. He took the plumbing.”
Turonis said he was originally inspired to make music when he was taking various college courses in theater, philosophy, and writing classes such as poetry.
He said he pulls inspiration from his daily life and past experiences.
One of his Hoboken-inspired songs, though it’s not on the album, is called “The Bourgeoisie is Coming to Town.” It was set to the tune of the holiday favorite “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and was inspired by the gentrification of Hoboken in the 1980s.
The album also features a range of curated covers including Clarence Brown's "Going Back to Louisiana," Steve Fromholtz's "I'd Have to Be Crazy" and George Jones’s 1983 track "I Always Get Lucky With You."
Turonis said his favorite song on the album is the George Jones cover.
“The covers are all of music I’m inspired by,” said Turonis. “I’d never do a cover just because it’s a hit or someone suggested it to me. The only way I’d do it is if it was inspiring, and George Jones is the best country singer, period...He can do a song, the corniest god damn thing around, and yet convey such deep human emotion.”
The next chapter
Turonis said his music is thoughtfully written, and he’d like to reach people outside of the mile-square city.
“I just hope I can move people,” he said.
Turonis said he’ll miss the financial stability of plumbing, and he usually loses money performing music. But he said his family is supportive.
“They are hopeful for me,” Turonis said. “They know its what I want to do.”
“All the Pretty Girls” can be purchased online at http://www.bar-none.com/gene-d-plumber/ for $13.98.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.