It was almost 30 years ago when the music of Levittown’s Danny DeGennaro helped bring John Farmer out of a dark place.
Farmer, who was grieving the untimely death of his wife, had reached the lowest point in his life. He didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. That is, until he happened upon a DeGennaro set at a New Hope venue.
“He was a dynamic, very soulful performer and it really connected with what I was feeling at the time,” reflected Farmer, who became a fan and friend of the artist.
Though the pair lost touch for some years, they accidentally, but happily, reconnected in 2011. “My wife and I were walking down the street in New Hope and I heard this music coming out of the Logan Inn. I said to her, ‘That’s him! That’s the guy!’ I had talked to her about him and how fantastic he was,” said Farmer.
The pair made plans to meet up after Christmas — Farmer, who wanted to repay the guitarist for his positive influence, offered to help him make a comeback.
“But I never heard from him,” said Farmer. “I texted and emailed and then finally I Googled him and read the headline.”
On Dec. 28, 2011, DeGennaro was shot to death inside his Levittown home during an attempted robbery. The entire community was shaken to its core and so was Farmer, who penned a touching tribute to DeGennaro for the Philadelphia Inquirer. To his surprise, the piece attracted the attention of DeGennaro loved ones and admirers from across the country, who sent Farmer stories, performance clips and more.
This, in turn, led to the creation of Farmer’s new book Way Too Fast: An American Reckoning: The Life and Music of Danny DeGennaro, which was released on Amazon last month. Since 2015, Farmer has been steadily interviewing and compiling memories about DeGennaro from approximately 100 individuals.
“It’s not the kind of thing where there’s a ready market for it because he wasn’t a famous musician, but the more I learned about his life, the more I realized it intersects with so many important milestones of my generation. I thought it was a story worth telling,” said Farmer. “We’re releasing this into the universe and hoping that it goes somewhere.”
According to Farmer, it wasn’t hard work tracking down interviewees. Chatting with one friend or band member would open the door to at least a dozen others. Farmer also sat down with Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub, detectives and other law enforcement who worked on the case.
“I’m sure there’s people I missed, he was so well-traveled,” said Farmer. “But I think I’ve got enough that I painted a pretty good picture.”
Way Too Fast starts at the devastating end of DeGennaro’s life before circling back to his childhood and moving forward chronologically.
“It makes the point of, you can’t in the darkness of that moment lose sight of all the bright things that happened before,” said Farmer.
Readers learn about DeGennaro as a child prodigy and how, at the age of 10, his guitar teacher found nothing to critique him on; his preteen years spent competing in “battle of the bands” contests throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey; his days touring with Kingfish; and his battle with drugs.
Some of the stories are feel-good, such as when DeGennaro accidentally brought a plant filled with praying mantis larvae into his friend’s house. Others are more serious, including how DeGennaro watched the 1979 Levittown riots over gas shortages unfold on the news while on tour.
Regarding the book’s title, Farmer selected Way Too Fast for several reasons.
“He wrote a song called ‘Way Too Fast’ that has to do with going into Trenton to meet the guy who sells him drugs. Drug abuse was one of the burdens he had to bear through his life. In my mind, it also refers to the fact that his life was cut short,” said Farmer. “Also, for the people of his generation and mine, looking back on our lives, it’s all gone way too fast.”
So far, Farmer has received nothing but positive feedback about Way Too Fast from DeGennaro’s loved ones and supporters. However, he hopes the book extends beyond DeGennaro’s immediate circle and intrigues the next generation to give his music, now available on streaming platforms, a listen. In Farmer’s opinion, DeGennaro’s music is an “authentic portrayal” of life’s struggles because he never left them.
The book was available for purchase on Saturday at the 4th annual Creative Inspiration Concert, which was hosted by the Danny DeGennaro Foundation. Proceeds will be awarded as scholarships to Bucks County Community College students pursuing music or the arts. In life, DeGennaro regularly took aspiring artists under his wing.
Farmer’s wish for younger individuals to be introduced to DeGennaro’s talents is coming true. On Saturday, up-and-coming musicians Katelyn Cryan and Laura Fiocco teamed up with his former Kingfish bandmates, along with blues artist Mikey Junior and Hooters drummer David Uosikkinen, for quite the rocking setlist.
Visit amzn.to/3kiK3Vr to purchase Way Too Fast.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com