Don Luster came to San Diego in the from Gloucester, Massachusetts, after working being offered a job by a Horatio Velha at the Moonglow in Clairemont Mesa. Later he started his own bar.
San Diego bar owner Don Luster was born in Gloucester Massachusetts in 1933 and passed away in 2019 at home in Clairemont Mesa near the beloved neighborhood bar he founded, Peter D’s. Named for his eldest son, Peter D’s, was and still is a storied dive bar hangout/karaoke bar and community nerve center at the corner of Clairemont Mesa Drive and Limerick.
What most don’t know about Don is that he began his life in entertainment as a 1950’s-style crooner and once was approached by Elvis Presley to buy his original song, “The Lonely G.I.”. Don turned down Elvis because he felt proprietary about his copyright and wasn’t inclined to release it or share it, even with The King.
Time went on and as the decades proceeded the music industry found Don fully immersed in the bar business here in San Diego and raising what he said was his “wonderful family” of two sons and a daughter with his wife whom he brought from Gloucester.
From the liner notes on the back of the cd:
“No purveyor of flash-in-the-pan gimmicks, Don Luster has arrived equipped with the knowledge and polish of a veteran performer. Having sung in musical productions since the age of 12, he displays in this — his first album for Donn Records — the timing, phrasing and drive of a young man destined for the top.
Ably backed by the conducting and arranging of Rene Hall, Don slips easily from the tender phrases of a ballad to the driving pulse of a Basie beat; from the clean precision of a contemporary swing to the virtuoso shadings of an authentic Arabian chant.
A rugged-looking young man, Don put in his years of apprenticeship in the show business beginning in Gloucester, Mass., where he was born, ad, after working in local clubs between appearances in everything from minstrel shows to community theater musicals, gained the attention of Tony Parisi.
There followed a happy association with Tony’s group during which the young singer of Lebanese extraction tried his hand at songwriting along with his duties as a singer. Two of the original tunes Don wrote during his stay with Tony while the group played up and down the East Coast are presented in this album (“It’s Only Human” and “When You’re In My Arms”). After several successful recordings in New York in 1959, Don moved to the West Coast where he met Pat Carlin, producer of this album, who also left New York for the relaxed life of California after scoring and conducting for several Broadway shows.
It wasn’t long before Pat and Don were comparing musical concepts while Don worked the first of a string of held-over engagements at the Moonglow Club in San Diego. The combination of two young men with talent and experience in music ranging from the basic roots of legitimate folk tunes to modern jazz proved too volatile to stay bottled up for long.”
The music business was rife with payola at the time and because of this Don eventually decided he didn’t want to pursue the dream of being a jazz-pop singer.
Instead, he managed The Moonglow nightclub for Horatio Vela in Clairemont Meaa before leaving to then build The Pink Panther bar on Morena Boulevard. Then, in the late-1970’s Don opened Peter D’s where his son Peter followed him after turning 21, eventually owning and running several other establishments around San Diego.
This collection of 14 songs with Don Luster’s excellent and deeply rich voice is a fine time capsule from a bygone era when people went out dancing in semi-formal attire, men wore ties regulary, and women expected manners. ONLY HUMAN is a part of the legacy of San Diego’s music history and it’s highly worth listening to if you can find it.
Editor’s note: for a copy of ONLY HUMAN, call Peter D’s, 858-277-3217, 5149 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. If anyone knows where its distributor is they would. [peterdsbar.com]