The gentrified Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York, is a much different neighborhood now than it was in the 1950s when Joseph LoCasto, a Franklin musician and businessman, grew up there.
The safety he felt in his home, church, and school helped protect him from the mean streets and prepare him for a battle decades later he never could have anticipated as a young boy, that of a devastating illness and the surgeries his beloved wife would endure.
The LoCasto Family, headed by American GI Charles and his Sicilian wife, Josephine Salavino, made a home for their two boys, Ben and Joe, a few blocks away from their church and school, St. Joseph’s. The young parish priest, Father Ferrara, would stop by the house for Sunday dinner and to watch the fights on television with the boys and their father.
“I was raised in an apartment under a train trestle in a neighborhood where gang wars were going on,” recalled LoCasto, 71. “But the family and church were safe.”
He attended St. Joseph School through eighth grade and during that time, a values system of faith, commitment and love was instilled in him. What was learned in school was supported at home, he explained, and what was learned at home was supported in school.
He sums up his Catholic grammar school education as “highly disciplined, well-structured, with a little fear of the nuns,” a formula to which he responded with respect.
Even as a boy, LoCasto said he felt like he was in a “good place” and is proud to have been a product of a Catholic school education.
With a growing interest in music, LoCasto opted to attend a public high school, which, he said, seemed like a better fit to grow in his music education and to pursue track. The discipline he learned at St. Joseph’s gave him an advantage in both those areas.
LoCasto went on to pursue a full-time professional career as a drummer in jazz and rock genres, touring in the 1960s and ’70s with well-known bands such as The Guess Who and later, with country music star, Brad Paisley.
The values system he learned as a boy helped him from straying too far off course as some musicians from that era did, blending the harmful and sometimes deadly mix of sex, drugs, and alcohol.
LoCasto said that one incident in particular on New Year’s Eve 1970 drove home his values system even more. He saw a stage hand wrapping a band around his arm and shooting up heroin. LoCasto asked him why he was doing that to his body and the stage hand told him he wanted to keep his energy up so he could make $50,000 a year. To LoCasto, that didn’t make sense. No amount of money was worth that self-abuse.
“Hey, I love making money,” he said. “But making money ethically.”
One night in 1980 after a rehearsal, he struck up a conversation at a bus stop in Queens, New York, with a pretty young woman named Sue who had left an office party.
According to LoCasto, he did most of the talking and assumed Sue thought he was crazy. He gave Sue his card and said when she was ready to go out with him, to give him a call. A few weeks later, he heard from her. She agreed to see him, he said, but only in public and never alone.
For the next year, they got to know each other on buses and trains, and over coffee. He laughs that it took a year before she consented to their first date.
They married Nov. 9, 1985, and lived on Long Island where LoCasto kept busy performing at weddings. Sue, he said, understood his music career, and to the benefit of their marriage, LoCasto refers to himself as a “boring musician.”
“I do my gig and go home,” he said.
“Without love, everything falls apart,” he said. “I believe a lot of that comes from Catholicism and goes back to that Catholic education.”
While enjoying a successful music career, LoCasto has pursued numerous business ventures, including developing frozen pizza that was carried by Whole Foods, Sprouts and Kroger. He sold the business after a decade and continues to field other business offers.
LoCasto and his wife relocated to Franklin in 2001. They lived a happy life together with no more than the everyday marital challenges until 2003 when Sue encountered a major health crisis. She was diagnosed with colon cancer that had metasticized to her lungs, and LoCasto’s love theory was put to the test.
The challenges during this time were big and many: the pain he saw Sue go through triggered periods of anger over the circumstances, but getting Sue well remained his focus. At one point, the couple had no medical insurance and faced skyrocketing bills.
The faith, he said, was always there too. LoCasto, whose brother, Ben, became a deacon and lives in Connecticut, cites a men’s retreat that he attended in the early 2000s that, through the bonding with fellow retreatants and being “totally in the moment,” drew him even closer to Catholicism.
Parishioners of St. Philip Church in Franklin, the couple has their daily prayers and devotions and believe that with God, all things are possible. LoCasto cited his four pillars that guide him through highs and lows in life as love, happiness, health and wealth.
“Your life collapses underneath you,” LoCasto said of a devastating illness hitting a family. He became a “soldier” in terms of being her healthcare advocate. He explained how he told the doctor that he wanted his cell number and he’d be calling him with any and all questions and concerns.
“The doctors aren’t the villains,” LoCasto said. “But you’ve got to stay on them.”
He took a job at Vanderbilt University Medical Center at a time when Sue was hospitalized off and on for months. She went on to undergo treatments, and four life-threatening surgeries. She lost so much weight that at one point, her form could not even be seen under the blankets.
Immediately after one surgery, while LoCasto was working at Vanderbilt, he was allowed to see her. He described his wife as white and nearly flatlined. When she finally came to, her first words were “How’s my husband?”
“That’s love,” LoCasto said.
Today, he said she’s doing great and looks wonderful, but last year, another scare came on LoCasto’s 70th birthday. He held a concert at the Franklin Theater in honor of the day, inviting friends and family to attend.
“It was totally self-indulgent,” he said. First, he performed with his jazz band, then changed into his “hippie” clothes to play with his Cream tribute band. While playing the last note of the night, he went from what he described as a “euphoric high” to looking over at Sue, seeing her clutch her abdomen in pain, a complication that can arise as a result of abdominal adhesions from surgeries.
She went through the evening in pain, he said, without his knowing, so he could have his night. When it was over and he realized what was happening, LoCasto said he jumped back into “soldier” mode for Sue.
“That’s where loyalty comes in and commitment to marriage,” he said. “This isn’t a guilt commitment. This is love.”
LoCasto draws strength from his wife, calling her an eternal optimist. He broke his hip three months ago and is recovering well, while admitting he is not a “patient” patient, but when people ask him what he’s learned from the experience, he doesn’t hesitate to tell them. “I tell them I learned a broken hip hurts!” he laughed.
But it hasn’t stopped him from performing, pursuing business ventures, and working on a motivational speaking program. In addition to his professional gigs, he alternates drumming at St. Phillip at the 5 p.m. Mass on Saturdays.
LoCasto is constantly reminded of Sue’s struggles and the strength and faith with which she has dealt with them.
“The woman looks amazing,” he marvels. “She is my strength and puts everything into context.”