Seventy-six years ago Ray Spencer thought he was going to get a beating, but instead, he got his very first accordion.
He was 6, and had been sneaking into his older brother’s room for a whole year, teaching himself to play his accordion.
And when his older brother caught him, and stated taking off his belt, the 6-year-old quickly started playing “Home Sweet Home,” which stopped his brother in his tracks.
He didn’t get a beating. He got his own accordion, which he calls “a button box.”
That was 76 years, 27 countries and 150,000 memorized songs ago.
Today, Ziggy — short for Zigani Tzinsedamset, which means “Gypsy’s seventh son,” so named by Gypsies in another life — plays Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights at Pane e Vino Italian restaurant on the corner of River Oaks Drive and Carolina Forest Boulevard.
Claudio Chillico, who with his mother Anna and father Antonia, owns Pane e Vino, calls Ziggy “The Legend,” a title the musician much prefers.
“In 1950 my agency booked me at the old Ocean Forest Hotel for a medical convention. I fell in love with Myrtle Beach and vowed to return,” Ziggy says. “I did so in 1978 and have played here ever since.”
Ziggy loves taking requests and tells his audience, “You request it, and I’ll murder it.”
The musician’s career has spanned from 78 RPM records to CDs and everything — including TV, radio, on stage, and a “Super Mario Bros.” movie — in between.
He’s played for everyone from Frank Sinatra to astronauts Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.
He played for USO shows during WWll, and at one time had his own music school where he taught all band instruments including piano, guitar and accordion.
With typical self-depreciating humor, he says, “Most people think when I’m playing what I’m holding is an accordion, but actually it’s an iron lung.”
This particular day, Ziggy was wearing turquoise blue leather boots, white pants, a turquoise blue sash, a green, blue and pink balloon-sleeved shirt and a turquoise blue top hat.
The boots are one of six white pairs be bought in 1960 and spray painted to match his costumes.
Ziggy, who is writing an autobiography he hopes to see published in 2012 — “I should live so long,” he says — says his musical ability is a gift from God.
“My cup runneth over, in fact it floods,” he says.
The octogenarian realizes accordion music is well beyond the hay day he enjoyed 40 years ago.
“Back when Lawrence Welk was on top, it was the number one instrument and every block had an accordion student,” he remembers.
But he’s watched the decline of that kind of music, he says, seeing music go from a melody to a beat.
“Composition isn’t important anymore, rhythm has overtaken composition. Rap goes back to jungle days when people were beating on a drum,” he says. “And then there’s rock…”
But for Ziggy, the accordion is still the instrument that transports him to another world.
“It’s what I turn to when I feel lonesome,” the 81-year-old says.
His audiences enjoy accordion music, he says, because it’s either romantic, or it’s folk music that takes them back to their youth.
And when someone makes a request, if the song is one he’s played in the last 16 years, it comes right to him.
“If I don’t play a song in 17 years, it goes back into my subconscious and I wouldn’t be able to remember it right away. But, in the 16th year, if somebody requests it and I play it, it’s good for another 17 years,” he laughs.
And yet he says, “I am by no means a virtuoso on the accordion. There are many talented players locally that can put me to shame.”
Read more about the food offerings at Pane e Vino on our sister site MyrtleBeachRestaurantNews.com.