Friday, March 15, 2013

The Notable Johnny Rines

By Chet Williamson

Guitarist Johnny Rines

He was a guitar player’s guitar player. Not one to wow you with flashy licks, but give support with choice chordal accompaniment. He was a selfless player whose styling and phrasing made many a soloist sound great.

He was Johnny Rines. Although not publicly well-known, jazz guitar players throughout the Central New England recall lessons learned from hearing him play.

Rines was a stage name. His real name was John P. Rynkowski, and according to the 1940 US Federal Census, he was born in Webster, MA on May 12, 1919.

Spanning his 40 year-career, the guitarist worked with local ensembles, regionally with territory bands, and with a score of national acts. He was best known for his 22-year-stint with Emil Haddad and the Noteables. 

Clockwise from top left, Eddie Defino, Emil Haddad, Johnny Mason and Johnny Rines. 

Rines was also a highly regarded teacher.  The Webster Times once reported that, “a generation of young guitarists studied under him.” For years he taught at Perry Conte’s studio on Front Street and later at Guido Forchelli’s at 14 Portland Street in Worcester.

“I studied with him now and then, occasionally, when I was in high school,” said guitarist Steve Cancelli. “Most of my studying with John, however, was talking to him and going out to hear him play on the bandstand.

Guitarist Steve Cancelli
“Like, on the break I’d say, ‘What is that chord you played on that song.’ So, on the bandstand he’d play that chord and look right at me. I’d say, ‘Okay.’ So, I learned a lot from him just by listening.”

According to Cancelli, Rines mostly played an L5 with the P90 pickups with the black covers. “It’s a real collector’s item today,” he said. “He played through an Ampeg Jet amp. It was the best sound. He later went on to a Guild Artist Award.”  

Guitarist Rines here with Epiphone Delux and a vintage Sano Amplifier
Virtually a lifetime member of the Worcester Local Musician’s Union, Rines’ early work was doing general business dates throughout the Webster area. He also played in local nightclubs such as the Happy Hour and the Top Hat with boyhood friend, Tony Lada Sr., a trumpeter. His son Tony Jr., a respected Berklee College of Music educator, also recalls Rines as “a fine player, very knowledgeable and well-respected.”

“He loved George Van Eps, the seven string player,” Cancelli said. “He actually introduced me to his great record called the Mellow Guitar. George was a master of playing inside, moving voices within the chord structures. John was into that. He used to move the voices like good a pianist. Beautiful. That was the first time I heard anybody locally do that.”

George Van Eps

Band leader and trombonist Dick Bellerose gave the guitarist his stage name, Johnny Rines. Bellerose played in the Jimmy Dorsey band and later with Hines in the Gene Broadman Orchestra, a territory band the barnstormed throughout the Southern New England region. Rines was a teenager at the time.

According to Webster’s Edward Mrozinski, it was the Broadman band that was scheduled to play at the fabled Mohegan Dance Pavilion the week it burned down. 

During WWII, according to The Webster Times, Rines, “served in the U.S. Navy. He was assigned to a Navy band, backing many name acts that entertained service men at Navy bases around the country.”

After the war, Rines, using the G.I. Bill, enrolled in the Schillinger House, which later became Berklee College of Music. He also continued his gigging schedule locally, including with the Worcester-based Dol Brissette Studio Orchestra, a band that was featured regularly on WTAG – AM 580.

In 1950, Rines joined a trio, led by accordionist, Johnny Mason. In 1953, he helped to form the first version of the legendary Noteables, with Mason, trumpeter Emil Haddad, bassist Eddie Defino, and drummer Eddie “Sham” Shamgochian.  
The Noteables were one of the more successful bands the Worcester area has ever seen. So popular, that they didn’t take a vacation for 18 years. They played six and seven night a week for more than 20 years.

Rines, Haddad, and Defino in action 

The most consistent line up of the group featured guitarist Rines, Defino, Mason, and Haddad, who sang and played trumpet, a little bass, and cocktail drums.

The Noteables and unidentified singer

According to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reporter Walter Crockett, the Noteables began working at the Red Top on Rte. 9 in Shrewsbury, “then moved to Toni Toscano's 371 Club on Park Avenue…. The Note-ables spent three years and a month at the 371 Club. Then they were off to Nicolena's on Shrewsbury Street. Then back to the 371 for three and a half years, then off to Framingham. Johnny Mason left around 1960 to play on cruise ships, but the Note-ables continued as a trio, their popularity unflagging.”


During their impressive shelf-life, the band played a number of rooms up and down Rte. 9. Webster trombonist Tony Lada, Jr. recalls seeing them at the Framingham Motor Inn. “I was playing Monticello’s [a showcase also in metrowest] after my show I would jump in the car and drive to the Inn just to sit-in with Emil.” 

Another Rte. 9 venue was the Indian Meadows in Westboro. Radio announcer Johnny Most, known as “The Voice of the Boston Celtics,” and player/coach K.C. Jones were regulars.

In the book, High Above Courtside: The Lost Memoir of Johnny Most, the broadcaster recalled how he and Jones would visit various nightclubs in the greater Boston area. One in particular was the Meadows. This was in the 1959 office season.

Jones (front row, nearest to the camera during his playing days

“As we sat listening to the Noteables, a jazz trio from Worcester, KC would softly sing along,” Most wrote. “I was so impressed with the quality of his voice, that I asked the horn player, Emil Haddad, to invite KC to the stage to sing a number or two. KC was very shy and didn’t really want to sing in front of hundreds of people. ‘Please give it a shot. You’ve got as good voice as a lot of professional I’ve heard,’ I encouraged him.

Paul Holmberg (standing), Haddad, Jones and unidentified woman 

“Finally KC went up and performed a couple of ballads. At the end of each song, he received a standing ovation and even did an encore at the insistence of Haddad and the entire audience. From that night on, KC became a welcomed, regular, non-paid performer at the Meadows.”  

The Noteables would often invite guests to sit-in with the group. And no doubt, because of Rines’ self-less support and musicality, the accompaniment was more than complimentary.  

Bill Leavitt

Rines was very good friends with the late William Leavitt, who was a longtime Berklee educator. He wrote a series of instructional books that continues to school countless guitar students both in and out of the school. 

“If John couldn’t make a gig, they would get Bill Leavitt,” Cancelli said. “He was a very smart player. One night when John was playing Bill Leavitt came to see him. After listening to him for two sets he said to Johnny Rines, ‘You know I’ve been analyzing your playing and you play everything like an arrangement. It’s very deliberate.”

After leaving the Noteables in the early 1970s, Rines worked in a trio with Defino for a couple of years and later formed a trio with Ken Barrett called, the Bermuda Triangle.  

“I never heard anyone do it any better than Johnny,” Cancelli said. “John could play a few notes and just knock you out, because he played the right notes. He was really unique. He had a different style. He was a very much underrated player in Worcester.”

Rines died in Worcester on March 24, 1977. He was 57. He is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Old Worcester Road, Webster. 

This is a work in progress. Send all comments to: 


A special thank you to Carla Manzi of Olde Webster for her kind assistance. 

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