This story comes from Frank Grosz, Frank Wackerle and Delores Houck Batz and centers around Ray’s Bar and Grill in the 1960s (as a number of quirky stories from Sodus Point seem to). In those days, Ray’s was a blue collar watering hole that catered to the railroad, coal trestle and sailor crowd.
Ray’s Bar and Grill was located on Sentell Street near the Malt House. Sporting a jukebox, it also boasted live entertainment in the form of a very old and heavy piano. The piano was played by Frenchie LaClaire who was a big, strong Quebecois who sometimes worked for Stu Sill and at times he had no place to stay so Stu would let him stay in the gas shack at the end of the dock ( where Katlyn’s tower now stands). He was a tough old bird and Stu sometimes would have to tell him to clean up, so needing a shave he would go out dip a bucket in the bay water (break ice to get water) and shave with that cold water. He also worked as a deck hand on the Fontana which was a 370 foot coal freighter that made a daily 16 hour circuit between Sodus Point and the Oswego power plant delivering the coal needed to power the plant.
Frenchie playing the piano at the Dolphin at Frank Wackerle’s wedding reception circa 1965. He also played at Connelly’s Cove wearing a blonde wig.
Frenchie was no one trick pony. He also played the accordion and harp.
Frenchie was not a classically trained pianist and in fact had never had any formal piano lessons. He played by ear. But if Frenchie knew the song, he could belt it out with the best of them. On many occasions, when sufficiently fortified, the regulars at Ray’s would decide that the residents of Sodus Point needed to appreciate the finer things in life that only Frenchie could deliver. They felt it was a step towards a more cultured outlook on life sorely lacking in our village in the 1960s. So those hard working, muscular men would lift the piano from Ray’s and man handle it onto the back of a pickup truck. There Frenchie would sit behind the piano, on a stool, and as the truck slowly drove around Sodus Point, the residents were treated to an impromptu concert of whatever songs Frenchie’s alcohol addled mind would come up with. It was not an “Evening with Pops” but more like a Sodus Point version of Woodstock. This went on for several years although the increase in a more cultured, sophisticated population was never fully realized.
At some point, it was decided to donate the piano to the community center. Once more the piano was loaded onto the back of the truck for the short ride from Sentell Street to the Community Center. Alas, it was on this fateful trip that tragedy struck. As the truck went around the 4 way corner onto Bay Street, the piano rolled off the back of the truck. It played its final musical note as it smashed onto the pavement in the middle of the street. Sadly another 60s musical legend came to an untimely demise. This time not because of sex, drugs, rock and roll but rather taking a corner too fast. We can only imagine the thoughts that went through Frenchie’s mind as his budding musical career laid broken in the middle of Bay Street. Perhaps one anguished “Sacre Bleu!” escaped his tormented lips that night.