That’s how Frankie O’Malley- singer, guitarist, drummer, and founding member of “garage-kissed power pop” band The Safes- feels about the success and the incredible enterprise that the group has experienced over the last nearly two decades. The family-centered musical faction, comprised of O’Malley and his three brothers, as well as nieces, nephews, and cousins, just released its fifth full-length record. Aptly titled Winning Combination, the album is a nod to O’Malley’s parents, who are celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary this fall.
Heading up the extensive family tree, O’Malley matriarch Celia, and patriarch Frank, are Irish immigrants who both hail from Co. Mayo.
“When my mom first came to America in 1957, she came through Ellis Island,” O’Malley says. “She had an uncle in Columbia, Missouri (and) there was a job there for her. So she came over at sixteen years old, and her older sister was already here. They were looking for an Irish dance to go to… (but) they were told that if they wanted to meet Irish people, they needed to go to Chicago. So they saved up enough money to get a flight to Chicago for a weekend.
“When they got here, they met these really nice people who were going to show them around, but what ended up happening is they ended up getting robbed. Those people stole all their luggage and money, and they had to ask someone for a dime to call their uncle back in Missouri. When they called and asked what they should do, their uncle said ‘Go find jobs. Go find jobs right now.’ So, as teenagers, they both became waitresses that day. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be speaking right now.
“They ended up staying in Chicago. My dad played in a band, he played dances and weddings and stuff. My mom went to one of the places he was playing, and (my dad says that) when my mom walked into the room, he pointed to her and said ‘I’m gonna marry that lady.’ And here we are, sixty years later.”
Frank, whose band was The Frank O’Malley Band, raised his children in a musical household, playing the accordion at the kitchen table and supplying a plethora of instruments for them to experiment with while growing up. For their part, Frankie and brother Sean started a band together in their early teen years, followed by brothers Michael and Patrick teaming up to form their own duo.
“Later on, we decided to join forces,” O’Malley explains of The Safes’ beginnings. “Instead of having two separate bands, we thought ‘how about all four of us just start a band?’ And we put out our first album as the Safes in 2003. It was called Family Jewels… We’d cut our teeth in other bands, and we were getting pretty good. We grew up listening to all the same music. We grew up with all the same references.
“When we first started, Patrick said ‘If you really wanna do anything with this, we gotta get out of Chicago.’ We’d both played at venues (here), and we had our little band of fans, but (we were) big fish in a small pond, and you’ve gotta venture out, so Patrick booked us all across the country in 2003. I had no idea what was in store for me. We went out and hit the road, and I saw the value in it.”
Now sixteen years into touring and all the life changes that have come with the passage of time, the band’s membership is always changing. Frankie and Patrick are two constants for the group, while Sean and Michael attend to family and other various obligations. The four come back together to record albums, and to play shows in Chicago.
With full-length album number five, Winning Combination pulls nearly the entirety of this generation’s O’Malleys together onto one incredible record. Based on the same guitar/bass/drums foundation they’ve been honoring since the beginning, this time Frankie and Patrick are directing a much larger cast. Sean and Michael, along with nieces, nephews, and cousins, all take a turn showcasing their musical talents, adding up to seventeen individual accompaniments.
“What we did with Winning Combination is, six of my sisters have kids, and my brother Sean has kids too. (Sean’s) daughter wasn’t interested in playing on the album, but his son plays drums on it. My sister Mary Theresa’s daughter plays the violin, and son plays the string base, so we had each of them on one track. Then we had my sister Eileen’s only son play violin on one track. My sister Noreen has one daughter that plays clarinet, one that plays the violin, and a son that plays piano, so we had all three of them play on another track. We brought each sister’s family to join The Safes, which was already a band of brothers, so for each track it was brothers, nieces, and nephews. And we actually have three cousins, Patrick, Ellen, and Mickey, play on it as well.
All of our parents’ grand kids are on this, so we thought we could make it a tribute to them… we thought ‘Well, four sons and their grandchildren made this record, so (we can) say thank you to them with it, even though it’s not a bunch of songs about them’.”
The album’s cover, a shot of Frank and Celia on their wedding day, October 31st, 1959, brings together title and contents for The Safes latest release, illustrating the gratitude the whole family has for these two people and what they have helped create in their children and grandchildren.
As for Frankie, he says, “A big thank you to my mom and dad, to all my sisters, and the fans that have supported us over the years. Not to be cheesy, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We wouldn’t be here without any of them.”
For more information on The Safes, including this year’s tour dates, visit the band’s website at thesafes.com.
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