The Daytona Beach News Journal
Oct. 9, 1998

Tom Cellie: Man with a big plan

Entertainment Writer

The man behind the Daytona Harley-Davidson Seafood Festival is a well-connected, fast-talking jokester who heavily promotes Daytona Beach and doesn't mind being called short, big-mouthed and wacky, because he is.
"He just never shuts up, but that's good. He was worse when we got married," says his wife of 15 years.
Promoter Tom Cellie is the sort of guy who makes fun of his own misfortune, of which he's had his share in the last five decades. For instance, rather than complain about the time a horse threw him, shattering his left wrist and stalling his music career, he quips: "I got on a horse. He said, Get off,' which taught me one thing. Don't play with anybody bigger than you."
"He's got the worst luck of anybody. He's always getting in accidents," says his wife, Linda, a cardiology nurse. "He's been crunched and broken ... major headaches every day."
"Let me put it to you this way," Cellie says. "I've broken all my toes more than once, my left ankle, my knee, six ribs, four fingers, my jaw, four vertebrae, two in the neck, two in the back, and my nose more times than I can count, and I'm still a happy camper.
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," he says. "I must be a tough S.O.B."
Cellie has his mouth to the phone from sunup to past midnight, lining up bands, media, vendors, sponsors, portable toilets and other minutiae for the Seafood Fest, Magnolia Festival, various street festivals, charity events and parts of Bike Week and Biketoberfest.
Such a life is a culmination of surviving and striving.
Cellie taught himself to play most wind instruments. He blew saxophone in a Boston strip bar at age 11, played Las Vegas during the days when Wayne Newton was a fresh face, toured America for a few decades, nearly died in a few car wrecks, and there was that horse escapade.
Persistently, Cellie has earned a name for himself as a happy, faithful and trustworthy can-do guy who organizes events at reasonable costs, then tirelessly promotes downtown Daytona Beach as an oasis of Jimmy Buffett songs come to life.
"He knows people in town" - politicians, musicians, businesspeople - and "he does what he says he's going to do," says Daytona Harley-Davidson owner Bruce Rossmeyer. "I think the people he does things for benefit more than he does. He's not retiring tomorrow."
"He gives too much, which I get kind of mad at," Linda says. "He's always giving.
"He takes money out of his own pocket (for others) when I could pay bills, or he could buy a computer he needs, or he could go in the studio" to work on a CD of his own.
"Homeless people, he'll give 'em $10 to help clean up" after a festival. "I used to not care about anything or anybody," Linda says, but her husband's influence turned her attention more toward people in need.
"I don't know. There were times when I wanted to go, but he's fun. Look at him. He doesn't look his age. He's just got life in him. He's so full of it. I don't even have a girlfriend who's my best friend. He's my best friend.
"I think the day he dies, this town will turn out for him. If only they would turn out now, so he could see who his friends are."

Gig's up

Tom Cellie grew up in a close, Catholic family of Sicilian heritage in Beverly, Mass. His mother fanned him while he slept, because they didn't have air conditioning.
He learned to play "In The Mood" when he was 5. His dad would come home from working in a factory, go to the bathroom to shave before dinner, and young Tom would follow him in to mimic on clarinet whatever his father hummed.
His father occasionally took him to a nightclub to play with a band. Tom performed many standards by 10, and learned that, for five to 10 cents, he could take a short train ride to play in a strip club in Boston.
"The only way I was caught was I left my clarinet on the train. Nobody stole it. The conductor found it and called my mother, and my mother asked me, What are you doing in Boston?' The jig was up. She got jiggy with it."
One of Cellie's boyhood heroes was Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who played three saxes and a "nose flute." ("He stuck his flute in his nose.") So Cellie taught himself to play three instruments at the same time. But he was also still taking in the adult world at a young age.
"You know how everyone has A Summer' in their life? I was 15 or 16. I was lifeguarding in the daytime. You had your choice of (people to party with). I played in a club until 2 in the morning. It was a wonderful, innocent time."
He moved to Vegas and won a job playing tenor sax, alto sax and horns with one singer, then snagged another Vegas job performing on stage with 16 topless dancers. He was still a teen-ager. His parents were supportive.
"I was a responsible guy. I went to church. I didn't do drugs. I didn't drink. I just wanted to be Sammy Davis Jr."
Cellie roamed a lot, so he soon ended up in California for a few years in the early 1960s, until he experienced earthquakes, which sent him packing for home and New York, where his band Raw Meat covered R&B hits and got as much attention for a picture as for music.
A band photo showed Raw Meat band mates naked except for strategically placed instruments. One night in Philadelphia, hundreds of people braved a blizzard to line up to see them at a nightclub.
"Why do you think it was so packed? It was a gay bar. ... We lost two of the guys in the band that week. (They quit.) That was when gay bars were underground."
Next, his seven-piece band, Virgo, commanded $900 a week in and around Philadelphia, for playing continuous dance music and for acting outrageously.
"I'd bring watermelons to stage and say, Hey, catch!' and throw it, and you know, no one's going to catch it. And one time we went on stage in clown costumes. I would chase women into the ladies' room and put my (microphone) up to the stall and say, So where you from?' Except one night, a husband chased me in there.
"We were there to make 'em laugh, to make 'em forget. It was when music mattered, when the words and the music meant something, when one night in a nightclub with us, they would remember forever."


That act ended in 1974. Cellie was in the midst of the second of his three divorces. He moved to Florida a mere 114 pounds, with two shirts, two pants and two horns. His vehicle was sideswiped on the move down. He opened in a Lake Buena Vista hotel. He says 700 people were in the crowd the first gloomy night.
"I walk out and start singing Barry Manilow's It's a Miracle.' Seven-hundred people get up and walk out. The whole place empties out. It was a tour group, and the buses were leaving, but I didn't know that for a week. I was a blubbering idiot on stage. That was a tough time. It's funny now, but back then ..."
In 1975, he hooked up with the band Kickin' and, for the next three years, played six nights a week at the Holiday Inn at the Boardwalk in Daytona Beach.
"They used to shut the elevator off, we were so popular," he says.
The Christmas show was a highlight. Cellie would sing "The Christmas Song," which blended into another musician's doing Cheech and Chong's Christmas song, and then all four bandmates would fall to the floor and bark the melody to "Jingle Bells."
"We would do anything to make (audience members) forget (about problems). It was our job."
Cellie began accumulating health woes in 1980 because of a car wreck on South Atlantic Avenue in Ormond Beach. The driver, a friend of Cellie's, died.
"When they pulled us out, the car was 28 inches wide. I shouldn't be alive," Cellie says.
As paramedics worked on Cellie, his future wife was on a date in a nearby restaurant. She saw the commotion and walked outside to check it out.
After Tom and Linda met more formally a year later, (she was a teen-ager; "he lied to me about his age when we started dating"; Cellie won't divulge his age) she remembered seeing Cellie barely alive at the scene of his life-changing wreck.
Soon after they had begun dating, Cellie relapsed and couldn't fully perform music for years. If he hadn't developed himself physically in the 1970s through Yoshukai Karate, he would have been even worse off, he says. (Cellie, a second degree black belt, now teaches twice a week at the Ormond Beach YMCA, and Linda, a first degree black belt, trains with him.)
"We've been through hell and back," Linda says. "It was stressful. Lost everything, lost the house, the car, washer and dryer, everything. We've gone from that to being almost homeless. Finally, he had to change careers because I was pigheaded. I said, If you can't play your horns, you have to do something.'"
Cellie turned to other work. He helped design nightclubs in Orlando and Daytona Beach, including the Twilight Zone, Razzle's and Club Mirage, which then became Billy Bob's. He earned a license as a mortgage broker.
"The bad thing is, when you're playing as a musician, people don't want to accept you as a businessman," he says.
In the late 1980s, Cellie began organizing outdoor music festivals. In 1993, he brought free, top local talent to an Easter Seals 24-hour relay. That led to a contract with the Downtown Business & Professional Association to organize events intended to attract customers to the downtown area. Cellie claims downtown events pull in a cumulative 750,000 visits from people a year.
"Look at my events. Families. No druggies. No head-bangers. All families," Cellie says.

Mad hatter

Cellie always attends the events, and often can be seen, in his buzz haircut and close-cropped beard, sandals and shorts, next to one of his cars - the '67 burgundy English Ford Anglia, which Linda rebuilt with her father a generation ago, or the turquoise-and-white 1959 Nash Metropolitan.
"I tell him he drives a pregnant roller skate," Rossmeyer says. "Look for the little guy in the funny hat or the little car."
"That's me. I love life, I love my wife, I love my cars, I love Daytona, and try to live my life the best I can and not be motivated by money," he says. "Everybody's motivated by How much?' If you don't ever consider that when you do things, you're untouchable."
Linda is around her husband so much she can't remember the last time she attended an event he didn't organize. She's proud of what he's endured and accomplished while remaining generous. He's enamored with her.
"Through it all, if it wasn't for Linda ... She never wavered, no matter what. She's the best thing that ever happened to me."
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