Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t until a 1950s dress-up day at San Dieguito High School that Encinitas resident Gary Ferritto felt vindicated. Ferritto was mocked and teased in school for being a “greaser” — the way he dressed, his pompadour hairstyle, and the Elvis songs he sang.
One year after his 1971 graduation, K-Earth 101 radio began blasting 50,000 watts of “golden oldies” throughout Southern California — music from the 1950s to pre-Beatles. 1973 saw George Lucas’s American Graffiti hit the big screen, followed by ABC’s popular Happy Days, both portraying life and music of the late ’50s, and early ’60s.
In 1974, the school invited Ferritto to put together a 1950s-style band with some fellow alumni. He adopted the stage name “Kanickie,” a character in the then-Broadway play Grease. The Fabulous Belair Boys (of which this writer was a member) made their first appearance.
It led to a 20-year gig at the Del Mar Fair, along with Ferritto’s solo act, “Kanickie’s Tribute to Elvis.” In the 1980s and ’90s, Ferritto’s Belair Boys had regular house-band bookings at San Marcos’ Mission Inn, Fallbrook’s Valley Fort, Carlsbad’s Henry’s, and Escondido’s Speakeasy, along with numerous car shows.
Kanickie never strayed from his set list — the band only performed early rock ’n’ roll tunes up through the Beach Boys era and never wandered into the British Invasion.
Throughout the past decade, Gary “Kanickie” Ferritto, although he had a stroke, continued singing his music as a regular at karaoke bars. Ferritto was hospitalized 20 months ago after a second stroke.
“Elvis has really left the building. He was such a presence when we all went to San Dieguito and years later too,” wrote David Teten on Facebook.
Guitarist John Chatfield, a onetime fill-in band member, wrote, “Gary was the Real Deal. I remember seeing that old Duo Sonic guitar at Sterling Sound in Encinitas. I told Gary about it, and he snatched it up in an instant; the perfect guitar for him! He used it for many, many years.”
As a Torrey Pines High School teenager, Doug Allen of the Mar Dels credits seeing the Belair Boys perform at the fair as his inspiration for starting his band years ago.
“The best picnic jam session in heaven next to your friend Elvis and all the gang. What a cool jam that’s going to be,” wrote fan Madeline Elden.
A part of history in the North County music scene passed away on March 4.