The road to the Winter Olympics is paved with entrepreneurs, among them Don Scimonelli, of Centreville, who has started a record company to launch a song called "Skier's Lament." The record, which was to be released recently, is timed to coincide with the onset of cold weather and capitalize on the nation's mounting anticipation of the lighting of the Olympic torch at Lake Placid, N.Y., in February.
Scimonelli saw it as a good omen when we received the first pressing of the 45 rpm on Oct. 9, the day the metropolitan area was hit by a freak snowstorm.
"Hardin and Weaver would have had fun with that," he quipped, his black-brown eyes glistening with excitement as he pushed buttons and pulled levers in the control room of Omega Studios, a recording studio in Kensington, Md.
Scimonelli was thinking, as he often does these days, of promotion. A novice in the record business, the 26-year-old Scimonelli is flying by the seat of his pants with $10,000 from investors riding in his back pocket. Although he and his family have been part of the local entertainment world since his childhood, Scimonelli has only recently gone into the business end of it, forming his own record company under the "Doctor's Orders" label this fall.
Is he frightened? "No," he said. "If I were, I wouldn't have any right to be here at all." But as Scimonelli sees it, he has a perfect right. He sees the enterprise as a logical step in his family's musical traditions.
"Skier's Lament" is a family affair. It was written by older brother Paul, who sings the song and plays bass on the record; on drums and background vocal is brother Glenn. "The heavy" in the business, Don says is sister Angela, who has been pressing people about deadlines for promotion copy, getting musicians to recording sessions on time and doing much of the office work. Finally, brother Frank, a school principal in Knoxville, Tenn., is "standing by" to help push the record in the ski-happy Gatlinburg, Tenn., area.
This is by no means the first time the Scimonellis have worked together.
Frank Scimonelli, Don's father and chairman of the music department at Prince George's Community College, began his musical career when he joined the Navy Band at age 14 as an English horn player. He stayed 26 years, rising to master chief musician before retiring in 1965. He married Natalie Silvestri, then a WAVE soloist singing on radio's Navy Hour, in 1943, and together they raised a family of musicians in District Heights, Md. By the early 1960s, the seven Scimonellis were a sought-after combo. With the Navy Band alone, the family made some 300 concert appearances throughout the country.
"I got used to working very young," said Don Scimonelli, who first performed with the family when he was 4. "It was a way of life."
The theater, too, was a Scimonelli pursuit. "We were sort of a fixture at Arena Stage," said Scimonelli, pulling yellowing newsclips and old programs from his scrapbook. "And other places," he added as he produced a picture of Glenn, at 13, dressed for his role as John Darling in "Peter Pan," and himself -- who played a Lost Boy -- shaking hands with Lady Bird Johnson following an American Light Opera Company performance of the musical at the White House in 1964.
"Glenn had a photographic memory for scripts," said Scimonelli, "so father pushed him to the New York stage," where in 1966 he played on and off Broadway. While working toward a master's degree in broadcasting at the University of Maryland and teaching percussion there, Glenn is a member of Music Magic, a combo which has played at area hotels and lounges.
Paul "was just all-round talented," said Scimonelli, still reminiscing with unabashed pride. Paul is a writer, arranger and composer with what Don terms "an artist's mentality. He worries a lot."
"Mother was always the organizer and a good one," said Scimonelli. "She arranged bookings, kept the books and performed and taught on her own. But no one in the family was really business-oriented.
"As the youngest brother, I saw everything that was going on. I decided I needed to learn business and I did anything I could to learn it," adds Scimonelli.
Starting in high school, he worked as a mechanic, an insurance agent, a District police officer and an automotive sales business manager, while pursuing another of his interests, automobile design. Recently, he formed DRS Design to refine the gas turbine engine, which he believes is the engine of the future.
Meanwhile, he watched his brothers struggling with their individual careers.
When Paul wrote "Skier's Lament," Don asked him for the record rights and set out on his campaign to "get a record on the air." For the past four years he has concentrated on the record taking it on the rounds of radio stations, seeking advice on how to improve the sound, promoting his product and generally "applying what I learned growing up to pull together all the things my family does best."
His immediate goal is "to see the family together, with me as manager," said Scimonelli, and to make enough money at it for him to keep DRS Designs going.
He sees a similar path for his brother and sisters.
"If we have a chance to go out on the road together, we'll do it. Then everyone will come back (richer) to whatever his own speciality is," said Scimonelli.
The vehicle for achieving this is "Skier's Lament," a ballad in a hangloose spirit reminiscent of the Beach Boys. The big push is on and Scimonelli is confident, based on his own market studies and an abiding belief in his family's talents, that the record will sell.
According to his survey of the 10 most popular ski resorts in the country, the take last winter for lift tickets alone, at an average of $8 per ticket, ranged from $80,000 at Steamboat Springs, Colo., to $340,000 at the combined Snowbird and Alta, in Utah, up 30 percent from the previous winter. c
"Basically, what I found out," he said, "was that there are a lot of skiers out there spending a lot of money, and I was able to convince investors of that."
The ultimate test will be whether the managers at 492 target radio stations in ski meccas across the country will play the song.
Scimonelli is determined to convince them, as he did his investors, that "Skier's Lament" is "a tribute to the nation's skiers and their insatiable desire to excel, or barring that, to their determination to get to the bottom of the hill in one piece."