My father, the drummer Vincent Ocharsky (also known as Vinnie Owens), died on Jan. 26 at the age of 89. He had been a Local 802 member since 1942.
My dad had a typical childhood, growing up in the Lower East Side in the 1920s and 1930s. His parents – Peter and Kadie Ocharsky – had immigrated to the U.S. only a year before he was born.
He was the second oldest of six children and his own father was a little tough on him. He called him lazy and told him that he had no motivation and no skills or trade. But that was all to change.
My father became an altar boy at St. Stanislaus Church on East 7th Street at a young age and was selected to join the church’s drum corps, where he found his true calling. Music became his one and only interest. He took it very seriously and began private lessons with two of the city’s premier drummers at the time: Ted Reed and Billy Gladstone. (Gladstone was the featured percussionist at Radio City Music Hall.)
At 13, my father first assumed his stage name of Vinnie Owens and started playing drums professionally in various dance halls and clubs around the city. By then, his parents were very proud of him. However, due to his young age, his mother insisted that his father accompany him on all jobs to help carry his drums and ensure he got home safely. My dad’s talents were evident and he became noticed. At the age of 15, he began performing, recording and touring with notable bandleaders like Louis Prima, Benny Goodman and Jan Savitt, and backing up top artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Mae Morse, the Mills Brothers, Phil Brito, Vic Damone, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Vinton. During his career, he performed in the top venues in NYC and around the country.
My father eventually enlisted in the Army. Thanks to his musical talents, he was kept stateside (much to the relief of his parents), performing in the Army band until his discharge in 1944. He soon married Frances Satsuk and resumed his performing and touring schedule.
After the birth of his fourth child in 1958, my dad decided to stay close to family and home. He stopped touring but continued to perform in the area, including at resorts in the Catskills.
At the age of 70, my father finally retired after over 55 years of performing. Even then, his love of music continued throughout the remainder of his life.
My father was a quiet man and didn’t like to brag about his accomplishments. But if you asked him, he would tell you amusing tales of his days on the road and the people he played with. Some of you might remember that he worked at Local 802 in the early 1980s.
Besides myself, my father is survived by my brother Douglas (who is also a member of Local 802) and my sister Nancy. (My other brother, Warren, is deceased.) My father is also survived by six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.