Peppi Marchello, lead singer and songwriter of Long Island Music Hall of Fame band The Good Rats, known for clever rock anthems including "Tasty" and "New York Survivor," died Wednesday night of cardiac arrest. He was 68.
Marchello was recovering from heart surgery last month, but had been feeling ill at his Nissequogue home in recent days, said his brother and Good Rats' co-founder Mickey Marchello.
"He was one of the greatest songwriters and he was the greatest brother," Marchello said. "Beyond that, what else is there to say?"
The legions of Good Rats admirers around the world would agree, having seen the band play everywhere from Madison Square Garden, Nassau Coliseum and London's Hammersmith Odeon to nearly every little club and park on Long Island. Mickey Marchello said his brother was looking forward to playing Hoyt Farm in Commack on Sunday.
Rolling Stone magazine called The Good Rats, which the Marchello brothers formed in 1964 after seeing The Beatles, "the world's most famous unknown band." But to Long Islanders, they were far from unknown, releasing their eponymous debut on Warner Bros. Records in 1969, and following it up in 1974 with "Tasty," which includes the title track that has long been a staple on rock radio.
However, it was The Good Rats' live shows that became legendary, landing them in the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2008. As fans will attest, there are quite a few Long Island women who have tattoos due to the band's live version of "Yellow Flower."
"Guys would always come up to us and say, 'I met my wife because of you,' " Mickey Marchello recalled Thursday. "And Peppi would always ask, 'Is that a good or a bad thing?' "
"Peppi onstage was magic," said Michael "Eppy" Epstein, who would book The Good Rats regularly at his legendary Roslyn club My Father's Place for years. "He took control of an audience and had them eating out of his hands."
Peppi Marchello often talked of the "Curse of the Rat," to explain how so many of the bands The Good Rats performed with would gain worldwide attention while they did not. "The Cars, Blondie, Cheap Trick, even David Copperfield, opened for us," Mickey Marchello said. "We told Bon Jovi that they would make it big after they opened for us because of the 'Curse of the Rat.' "
But it was a good-natured curse. Things always seemed to work out for the best. Mickey Marchello said his brother had been a promising baseball player who was scouted by the New York Yankees when he was a teenager, but a serious bout with rheumatic fever halted his career before it began. Instead, he took up music and paid tribute to his love of baseball by carrying a bat onstage and using it as a trademark of his performance.
John Sullivan of Garden City-based Americana band Throwback Busking said he was always impressed by Marchello.
"They were a band that made me work harder onstage in connecting with your local base of fans," he said. "Whether they were at Malibu or Nassau Coliseum, The Good Rats had the same work ethic."
Marchello is survived by his wife, Cathy; children Gene, Stefan, Kristin and Spencer; his mother, Yolanda; a sister Vivian; a brother Mickey; and eight grandchildren.
Visitation will be Saturday and Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at St. James Funeral Home, 829 Middle Country Rd., Rte. 25, in St. James. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Monday at Sts. Philip and James Church, 1 Carrow Pl., in St. James. The family said the visitation and the funeral are open to the public.
"My father was a blue-collar rocker," said Marchello's son Stefan. "His funeral will be open to his fans -- that's exactly what he would have wanted."