By: Samantha Stanich
The Exact Change solidified itself as a musical institution in Northeast Pennsylvania over the last five decades.
Formed by Paul LaBelle in 1967, the band has grown from four aspiring musicians to nine seasoned veterans.
“It has been nothing but music for 50-plus years,” the Clarks Summit man said. “I have conducted for the Temptations, the Four Tops, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Neil Sedaka, Cab Calloway — the list goes on. It’s just been music and teaching music; it’s all I have ever done.”
In his early years, LaBelle studied and taught at Gallucci Music, where he said “the music got in my soul.” As a teenager, he also spent smoky Friday nights with Pittston legend Gene Guarilia, who gave him the chance to play in his first group. LaBelle joined the Army Reserve in 1964 and formed Exact Change with Jeannie Lombardo, Frank Lambardo and John Christiano when he got home.
“I have always known the music I wanted to play — music with substance — but you have to go with the flow and continue to get better musically,” LaBelle said. “When we started, it was groups like the 5th Dimension or the Four Tops. As the years went by and the music changed, we had to change with it. We go with the music trends and mold the classic rock ‘n’ roll songs to fit our band.”
In 1969, LaBelle was hired as entertainment director by the owners of the Treadway Inn.
“That really propelled my career and made it that much better,” he said. “The more good work you get, the better players are attracted to you.”
Today, the Exact Change band boasts a “bad-ass brass horn section” and gets people on the dance floor, he explained. Members have come and gone, but LaBelle said some, such as trombone player Gary Rixner, have performed in it for more than two decades.
“He is one of the greatest musicians I have ever played with and a great personal friend,” LaBelle said. “The biggest challenge is keeping nine people very happy, all their egos in tact, plus mine, and trying to work together.”
Often, that work involves supporting community causes. LaBelle and his wife, Sharon, will be honored Friday, Nov. 3, at Northeast Regional Cancer Institute’s Spirit of Hope Celebration at Mohegan Sun Pocono, Plains Twp., for raising more than $200,000 over the past six years for the group through the annual Judi H. Rock On event, which LaBelle organized in memory of his niece, Judi A. Perry Hartridge. The Exact Change will perform that night.
“When we would put on events to raise money, other musicians would come and play, and they would never take a penny,” LaBelle said. “It is in our being as musicians that whatever we can do to help a cause, we do, especially the musicians in NEPA. They are so big-hearted. You can’t find any better anywhere.”
Venues, especially those where bigger bands could play, are shrinking everywhere, LaBelle said, but the Exact Change remains “busy enough to keep it going and keep everyone happy and still have a lot of fun.”
“That is the whole thing about where we are at right now, is having fun and, boy, do we ever,” he said. “This group is tremendously talented. I would put up this band up against any band that does what we do, any place, any time.”
Members: Tony Vergnetti and Fawn Mukerjee, lead vocals; Paul LaBelle, guitar; Joe Cole, bass; Bob O’Connell, keyboards; Patrick Marcinko, percussion; Gary Rixner, trombone/lead vocals; Nick Driscoll, saxophone/lead vocals; and Daniel Coyne, trumpet/flugelhorn
Based out of: Scranton
Genre: Classic rock ‘n’ roll