MARQUETTE - At an age most children are learning the alphabet, Marquette native Derrell Syria was learning how to be an entertainer.
Entertaining is something that he's spent his lifetime doing and now that he's retired from his "day" job as a driver for Marq-Tran, Syria will have even more time for his musical pusuits.
"I grew up in a musical family," Syria said. "My parents performed throughout the Upper Peninsula, mainly polkas, waltzes and big band. I started playing the accordion at the age of 5 and I performed at private functions, although I did make some guest appearances on the Ray Adamini show on TV6 in 1955."
The Derrell Syria Project play a recent gig at Flanigan’s Bar in Marquette. The linup, fom left, is Cliff Porter on bass, Ethan Syria on drums and Derrell Syria on guitar and vocals. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Syria's father, John, was himself an accordion player. Syria's mother, Mary, played the mandolin, violin and saxophone and was a vocalist.
"They're both jamming in paradise," Syria said of his parents.
"I was fortunate to be brought up in a performing family where my parents allowed me to play the drums at some of their gigs: $5 was a lot of cash back then," Syria said. "My father gave me a steady regiment of accordion lessons but they were put on the back burner due to my need to participate in childhood sports and games... my loss."
Here are five musicians/musical groups whose music you might hear at a Derrell Syria Project show:
Creedence Clearwater Revival
It wasn't just at home that Syria trained for a life in music.
"I picked up the clarinet and eventually joined the junior high band, but as proficient as I was at playing the instrument, I lost my ability to sight read," he said. "My orchestra career was short-lived. My older brother needed a drummer for his band and at the age of 13, I started playing at parties.
"Then came his need to have a bass player. I was available," Syria said. "We did a lot of Everly Brothers and '50s rock. I moved along performing with other bands ... Superiors, PJ and the Nities, The Apple Corp, Spineburg Hollering Team, The Fools, East of Orange, Lost Mountain Rangers, Autumn Equinox, New Riders of the Seney Stretch and now with Conga Se Menne and also the Derrell Syria Project."
The Derrell Syria Project performs at a range of venues with an ever-evolving set of members.
"The Project started about four years ago," Syria said. "Bands have a tendency to break up. Musicians either move out of town or retire so I started the project with the intention of being self-reliant and surrounding myself with as many quality players who were interested in making a little money.
"Dave Ziegner, Ray Dollar, Jerry Kippola, Aron Kippola, Kay Smith, Gary Parkkonen, Paul Neumann, Cliff Porter and Ethan Syria are part of the floating cast," he said. "The Project performs many genres of music - reggae, blues, world, re-arranged covers and some originals."
He's had a great time through the years and some memorable performances.
"One of the many gigs that stand out in my mind is opening for Weird Al Yankovic at the state fair," he said. "And also playing the second stage dance at Blissfest. That was fans gone wild."
Syria, like many musicians, has had to balance his playing time with his work schedule through the years.
"Now that I'm retired from my day job, I plan on dedicating my time to performing with Conga Se Menne and also with the Derrell Syria Project, keeping in mind that my family comes first," he said. "I've been recording jingles for some time now and my plan is to make it into a business (Sandwood Jingle Writers and Recording Studio)."
Syria can be reached at 249-3686 or via the web at congasemenne.com for more information.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.