By John Burton |
The Two River Times has lost one of its earliest and most influential voices.
Michael Lisa, 68, who for many years wrote the rock and roll music column “Night Grooves” under the byline “Uncle Mike,” died on Thursday, Sept. 28, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Lisa’s column, which he wrote until retiring a few years ago, became a must-read for the denizens of the Jersey Shore music scene and those simply interested in live music. Starting not long after the weekly community newspaper was founded in 1990, Lisa began writing his column, detailing who was playing and where, but also offering reviews of recently released recordings by area artists and live performances, in both large and small venues, and sitting down with those singers, songwriters and musicians to provide insight into their creative process and influences on their work.
Over the years his work gained attention in the music orbit, with artists seeking out Lisa’s attention for his reviews, sometimes strongly worded but never cruel.
“I think what he did was keep live music alive,” said Norman Seldin, a veteran performer and recording artist who said he considered Lisa a friend. “If you were into live music, you knew who Uncle Mikey was.”
Pat Guadagno is a singer/musician long on the Jersey Shore scene and noted for his annual “BobFest” tribute show to Bob Dylan. Early in Guadagno’s music career, his work came to the attention of Lisa’s Night Grooves, “at a very crucial time, when I had serious doubts about my musical career,” Guadagno said.
“With just one stroke of, what we used to jokingly refer to as his ‘poison pen,’” Guadagno recalled, “Mike assured you that someone was listening and enjoying what you do.”
Singer/songwriter and recording artist Karen Mansfield recalled her first mention in Night Grooves, when Lisa offered a tough assessment of her performance at an Asbury Park nightspot in 1993. Mansfield came to realize shortly that Lisa’s review was on the money and the two developed a friendship that lasted until his death. “He had a great passion for the musicians and participants on the scene and helped us in ways that are just immeasurable,” Mansfield said, noting she has kept many of the columns containing references to her. “He made me feel like a million bucks.”
“I’ll always remember him. He was a friend. He was a comrade in music,” said Bobby Bandiera, a guitarist who has played with Bon Jovi, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes and Bruce Springsteen during benefit concerts, as well as fronting his own band.
Claudia Ansorge, who founded The Two River Times and served as its first publisher, considered Lisa a friend “who had a lot of great qualities,” not the least being his generosity. “He was also the hippest thing about the paper from the time he came on,” she noted.
“I feel I lost a member of my family – my TRT family,” said Eileen Moon, former managing editor of The Two River Times.
This article was first published in the Oct.5-12, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.