On a list of the many things the Cubs might need for a successful season, a new song is not near the top. But that’s what the team has now, a song recently discovered, a song not heard for more than 50 years, a song with lyrics such as …
Come out to Wrigley Field
The home of the Cubs
Your cares’ll fly right over the wall
You strike out troubles and woes
When you let yourself go
And see the National League play ball
There is more to this song, of course. It is titled “Come Out to Wrigley (The Home of the Cubs)” and was written and recorded by a man named Pasquale “P.J.” Panico. It will be performed in public for the first time on the night of Aug. 2, when talented singer Sam Fazio, backed by a bass-keyboard-drums trio, sings it to the crowd gathered outside Wrigley Field at that adjacent outdoor tavern/playground known as Gallagher Way.
“It’s going to be a real treat and pleasure for me,” Fazio tells me. “It’s such a catchy song and the lyrics cleverly tie together so much … the field, the sun, pitch your worries away. You can’t help but love it.”
The song came to light after Panico’s death in 2016 at 95 years old. While going through a pile of old recordings, Panico’s grandson, Rob Sarwark, found it. “There were hundreds of albums that he had collected over the years,” he says. “Most of them were in the basement of his home but this one we found in a small pile upstairs. I had, of course, heard my grandpa play many times but this tune was new to me.”
Sarwark is the son of Panico’s daughter Maria, one of his five children. A native of Glenview, he lives in Atlanta and works as a librarian but also is “an entrepreneur in various cultural realms.”
Among those is as the co-founder, with Andrew Joncas, of Tiki Core Records, a record label that has released more than 75 digital tracks since 2011.
He was quite taken with his grandfather’s song. It was in the form of a 78 RPM demo record, labeled “Cubs Song” and also contained another name, that of Paul Geallis, a friend and sometime musical collaborator of P.J., who died in 2012.
The song was first played at P.J.’s wake. Those in attendance were grabbed by the lively lyrics. Sarwark gave it its new title and got to work.
“I knew it was something special. Other family members and I knew immediately that it was P.J. singing and playing the accordion, likely in the 1950s or ‘60s and I knew we had to preserve this,” he says.
He worked with Steven Serra, a musician, producer and owner of Small House Studios in Palatine. They remastered the original and created a couple of new versions, a rock-influenced “Wrigleyville Version” and a jazzy “Old Town Version.”
Fazio was friendly with the Panico clan and once he learned about the song, and then heard it, he was determined to perform it.
“I had met P.J. a couple of times but unfortunately never got to hear him play,” says Fazio. “But this song really grabbed me. And P.J.’s life balancing his music and working life mirrored mine.”
Fazio says is a lifelong Cubs fan, adding that “the head of the grounds crew lived across the street from my grandparents. When I was a kid we got to watch the game from the dugout. Yes, crazy, but so cool. One year, I was able to help out as a bat boy for a couple of games during the season.”
After studying vocal and opera performance at DePaul University, graduating with master’s degree in 1987, he left town for Las Vegas where he performed for a few years.
He came home but stopped performing in order to make a living. He earned an master’s degree in gerontology from Northeastern Illinois University in 1995 and a doctorate in developmental psychology from Loyola University in 2005. He has worked ever since for the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, where he is the senior director of quality care and psychosocial research. He writes scholarly papers for publication and is the author of a 2008 book, “The Enduring Self in People With Alzheimer’s.”
He came back to music in 2009 and has since had success juggling his two careers, singing in such places as Andy’s Jazz Club, Jazz Showcase and for five years at the Coq d’Or in the Drake Hotel.
He has performed at Gallagher Way before, likes it too. “It’s not inside the park but this is so close,” he says. “It’s an exciting place to perform.”
There are, as even the most casual fan knows, a number of Cubs-related tunes, official and not so. Among them are “You’re My Cubs” by the great Alan Barcus, composer for some 2,400 commercials; two from the late Steve Goodman, the so-so rah-rah “Go, Cubs, Go” and his brilliantly poignant “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request”; “Hey Hey Holy Mackerel” by Johnny Frigo, the legendary jazz violinist and bassist; and there are others.
Sarwark is flying in from Atlanta to be at Fazio’s Gallagher Way performance. He too is a longtime Cubs fan and will be with friends and a dozen family members.
“It’s very exciting for us,” he says. “It’s just too good a song to remain hidden. My grandfather was a modest man but I think his dream was to one day have his song played in Wrigley and Sam is helping get close to realizing that dream.”
Panico was born and raised in the great Italian neighborhood centered on Taylor Street. He served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II. Though he worked fairly steadily as a professional musician, for a time at WLS radio and TV, his primary career was working for the City of Chicago.
“He worked into his 80s, riding on the back of a garbage truck as a streets-and-san guy,” says Sarwark. “He was proud of that too, that and his music made for a full life.”
And, oh, one more thing: he was a proud White Sox fan.