Hill District musicians always competitive
Ronnie Biggs remains a mainstay on Pittsburgh’s live-music circuit. He got his start on the Hill with The Deltones band.
“It’s almost like what we did back then doesn’t count,” said Biggs. “I’m thankful to be a part of this article. It’s an important piece of our city’s rich history,” said the bassist and recording engineer.
The Deltones were a 10-piece, funky horn band that played several gigs at Duquesne University and at area high school proms. They opened up for BT Express, Earth Wind and Fire and the Ohio Players, Biggs said. Popular jazz horn man, Tony Campbell, also got his start with the Deltones.
“All around our Sugartop (Hill) neighborhood, there were musicians,” said Biggs. “We competed with Family of Eve, Pamoja, The Caprells, Family Band, Brass Monkey with Flo and Minnie Wilson, and Pyramid Band,” said the Schenley High School graduate.
Dwayne Dolphin is another Schenley graduate who continues to enjoy a stellar musical career as Fred Wesley’s bass player. “It don’t get no funkier than working with James Brown’s trombone man,” said Dolphin during a recent national tour stop in Augusta, Ga. Dolphin’s older brother, Freddie, is also another talented Hill musician who played various funk and jazz sets at the Hurricane Lounge, the Lowendi Club and at after-hour sets at the Aurora Club.
Biggs also recalls winning KQV radio’s Summer in the City battle of the bands contest and the Super M talent show promoted by Walt Maddox, a former vocalist with The Marcels and Freddie Johnson of “Blue Moon” fame.
Biggs still owns his first bass guitar, a Kingston four-string he purchased from Pitt Loans (pawn shop) on East Ohio Street for $65, he admits. A 1972 Fender Precision bass is also still in his presence. “They both stay with me,” he said.
(Timothy Cox, a former Entertainment Editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier, is now based in Augusta, Ga., where he continues to write music columns while managing one of Georgia’s premier wedding bands. Before leaving Pittsburgh in the early 1990s, Cox was one of the most sought-after drummers on the city’s competitive jazz circuit. Cox is a Journalism-Communications graduate of Point Park University in Pittsburgh.)