From the porte cochère of the Plantation during the 1950s, you’d hear the music while a uniformed attendant parked your car. The song might be something snappy, like “I love you, a bushel and a peck.” Inside the Moline entertainment-dining palace, you didn’t need ask who was playing. “Oh, yes, it’s Val Eddy,” the checkroom attendant would say. “Everyone knows his music.”
His real name was Valentino E. DeCastris, a romantic name that even sounds like the music of Venetian nights. But somewhere in his life, Valentino thought four syllables were three too many for a roving musician. He cut it down to one — Val — and that it stayed for a lifetime of making people happy.
Val Eddy, of Rockford, Ill., is dead at 88. He played at the Plantation for so many years that he once moved in and lived in an upstairs apartment of the grand place along 7th Street in Moline. For the grayhairs, mention of the Plantation means the Val Eddy Trio.
Val played anything that had strings, and off to the side in the Tahitian Room, his trio shared sets with Sinclair Mills, a cool guy at the keyboard whose theme, “House of Blue Lights,” encouraged many snuggles under the little grass huts.
Val died Aug. 4. Visitation, with a band playing the old tunes, will be 5-9 this Wednesday at the Fitzgerald Funeral Home in Rockford. The funeral Mass will be Thursday at Holy Family Church, also in Rockford.
According to his daughter, Valeri DeCastris, Val grew up as a musician, nailing together a broken mandolin given him by his godmother, Ida Calacci. Self-taught, he learned the sweet sounds of the mandolin by listening to his next-door neighbor, Gabriel Giorgi, playing the instrument on his back porch. That’s the way it was on Cunningham Street in Rockford’s Italian neighborhood, where the sound of music was a custom. From the mandolin, Val graduated to the string bass and banjo. Some said he approached the skill of Eddie Peabody, the world’s greatest and fastest banjo player.
Before settling down in one place, Val played with Lawrence Welk and strummed his banjo alongside Louie Armstrong. He was a bassist with the big bands like Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman. Charles Peart, formerly the mayor of Davenport and a musician himself, remembers Val Eddy from his Plantation days as “a musician who could make the strings talk.”
If he wasn’t at the Plantation, Val would play gigs at clubs and private homes. Tish Hewitt, the great-great-granddaughter of John Deere, hired the Val Eddy Trio for John Deere company parties and late-night jam sessions in her home.
The late Nic Chirekos, the owner of the Planation, would challenge anyone to name a song that Val couldn’t play. Val would say his music was a God-given gift and that he pleased God by making people happy with his music.
Bill Wundram can be contacted at 563-383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.