I started playing bass when I was13, at the prompting of a guitar playing classmate who promised if I got my hands on a bass, he’d teach me some songs and we’d put a band together. That never happened.
What was the first tune(s) you learned?
As a bass player, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers” by ZZ Top
Who was your first teacher? Most instrumental teacher?
My first teacher was Gary Szwajda at Szwajda’s Music Store on William Street in Cheektowaga. I took bass lessons from him for about a year before I quit and began learning by ear from records. My most influential teacher was the late Jim Kurzdofer, who was my bass and music theory instructor at Villa Maria College. There simply is not enough room to list the things I learned from Jim.
Is your family musical?
Mildly. My brother took guitar lessons for about a week, one of my sisters took guitar lessons for a few months and she actually has a very nice singing voice. I’m the only one in my family who pursued it to any degree.
When and how did your current band originally form? Or are you solo?
I’m a solo act, although I do perform on occasion with Jeffrey Mikulski who accompanies me on electric guitar and mandolin. We met in the late 1980’s while we were music students at Villa and have been friends ever since. We began playing together a little over 10 years ago.
How did the name of the band come about?
It’s a nickname I’ve had for a long, long time so it kind of stuck.
Which famous musicians do you admire?
There could be a very long list here, but first and foremost, Rush. Why? Even though genre wise they’re far removed from what I do, the way they have managed themselves throughout their career for 40 years. They have conducted themselves very ethically, with both artistic and business integrity, determination, always pushing themselves to be at the top of their game musically and not really caring what the trends are or feeling they had to jump on a bandwagon to achieve success. Even if you don’t like what they do musically, you have to applaud the enormous success and the amazing length of their career with the same members in a business where most bands break up within 5 years. If you can’t at the very least recognize them for that, you’re just being a hipster snob. Their recent induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about 10 years overdue in my opinion.
Describe your first instrument.
It was an inexpensive short scale bass that my brother in law bought for me to begin lessons on. It served me
well for the first couple of years until I was able to scrape together enough cash for a Rickenbacker.
Where is your favorite place to play/sing in Buffalo?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have played most of the venues in Buffalo that everyone recognizes and they are all great for their own reasons and the vibe of each one individually; Nietzsche’s, The Tralf, Mohawk Place, The Sportsmen’s, The Village Meeting House (where Buffalo Friends of Folk hosts their concerts). As far as the room itself and what it brings to me as a performer in terms of overall sound and comfort level, I’d say hands down is a very little known venue in Alden, NY, ACTS Performing Arts Center which is operated by the Alden Christian Theater Society. It really and unfortunately suffers from its location, but every time I play there, its an absolute joy, even though there’s usually only between 20-30 people in attendance. They sit and listen attentively, are very supportive in terms of buying CD’s and the room itself, well it’s just glorious sounding. It’s an old Mason Meeting Hall and the floors are wood, with high ceilings and wood beams. I wish I could bottle the room and take it everywhere with me because it is so warm sounding. The Village Meeting House would be a close second.
Where would you most like to play/sing in Buffalo?
Well, I never had the chance to perform as an opener for Thursday at the Square – that would have been great, in that location, at Lafayette Square. I would love to perform as a opener at Artpark whether it’s at the outdoor venue or the indoor theater. A dream gig would be to open for someone at Shea’s. It would be an amazing feeling to see that room from the stage and to perform in such a beautiful and historic venue.
Who are your favorite musicians?
To name but a few within the Folk/Americana/Singer-Songwriter genre, Blue Rodeo, Patty Griffin, Gillian
Welch and David Rawlings, The Jayhawks, Paul Westerberg, Aimee Mann.
Have you been in competitions?
I don’t like to view music as a “competition” per se, although it can competitive in terms of having to
compete as an artist for the public’s entertainment dollars. But I’ve never felt comfortable with paying a fee to enter a songwriting competition where a panel of judges decides what is “best”. For me, the “shortcut” of winning a competition has never been what music is about and is probably the main reason I hold such disdain for shows like American Idol and The Voice. It’s always been about working hard, paying dues, dealing with the adversity as well as the success and the very act of performing.
I’ve been nominated 8 consecutive years for the Buffalo Music Awards, but have never won one. I did win the WNY People’s Choice Award in 2004 for Best Solo Acoustic Performer, I was included on two of the compilation CD’s that were put together by the now defunct 107.7 The Lake. It’s nice to be recognized with that kind of stuff, but I don’t think that type of award is going to make or break someone’s career. Maybe on a local level, particularly if you’re in a cover band, it might be helpful to put that on your posters to pique the attention of the people who frequent those venues. I don’t necessarily believe it will result in more work or being able to demand higher fees though. I like to think of the things I have managed to achieve as “rewards” for hard work I’ve put in and honing
my craft as a songwriter. Things like being selected as an official formal showcase performer at the International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis, TN in 2011, my latest CD, “Testing For Rust” being selected by four different radio stations as a “Best of 2012” release, the airplay the CD has received internationally and the opportunities that now present themselves as a result of that. To makes strides towards longevity in this business – that is way more satisfying than any trophy.
Do you perform in public venues? Concerts, radio, TV?
I perform at live music venues, and have performed live on various radio stations around the Northeast as well as made a few live television appearances.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Real life, dreams, reading. These things all play a role in the inspiration to write songs and to be creative, but ultimately most of it comes from the things I actually experience. Some of the best ideas come while driving long stretches in silence – no radio, no music. Just the sound of the wheels on the highway.
Do you tour?
Yes, I tour throughout the Northeast, Midwest and sometimes into the Atlantic States and parts of the South
Where is the furthest from Buffalo that you have played?
Memphis, TN is probably the furthest.
How often and for how long do you practice?
I try to get in practice time at least once a week, even if it’s to just pick up the guitar and run through a few songs to keep my fingers nimble, but I’ll pick up the guitar a couple times a week even when I have shows. Time spent writing is a different discipline and it’s not as much practice as it is a concentrated effort to get an idea in an arranged form.
Where do you practice?
I have a room that I use at home where I can get privacy.
Do you play/sing covers?
I do the occasional gig where I perform mostly covers. It pays the bills and learning the songs of other artists is actually a great way to not only learn new chords but to learn about arranging and song structure.
Do you play/sing original music? If so, who writes the music and the lyrics?
Yes, the main focus of what I do is writing and performing my original songs. I write the music and the lyrics, although my first co-write with Jeffrey Mikulski, a song called “Carnival” appears on the new CD.
If you could play/sing for one famous person, who would that be?
Geez, I don’t know – that’s a tough call and I might be too nervous depending on the perceived celebrity of the person. I would love the opportunity to sit down with someone like a Lucinda Williams, Jim Cuddy (of Blue Rodeo), Patty Griffin, etc… and play a few of my songs for them just to get their feedback.
What are your strengths?
My work ethic, my integrity, my determination, my ability to write and arrange very good songs, particularly my lyric writing.
What are your weaknesses?
My weakness used to be my temper. I used to fire off scathing emails to venues when I would get a rejection email. I’ve learned over time that it’s best to just be gracious, take the hit and accept it for what it is and not to take it too personally. Then try them again down the road when you have new music to present.
Do you have a label? A recording studio? Have you recorded a CD?
I do release my recordings on my own label, h3o Records.
Where and when is your next gig?
My next local show is on Friday, May 10th at Pausa Art House, 19 Wadsworth Street, Buffalo, NY at 8:00 pm, $5.00 cover. I’m really excited about what’s going on at this venue (learn more). It’s owned and operated by Jon and Lazara Nelson, who are not only married but are two classically trained musicians. So they understand things from the musician’s viewpoint in terms of the struggles, the frustration we go through, the hard work that goes into doing this. They also demand the respect of the artist from the audience by requesting that no conversation takes place during performances, which is how it should be. To pay money to see a show and then to hold a conversation or to be texting/checking your phone for voice mail during the show is simply disrespectful to the performer. And they get that, which is nice to see.
If you play in a band here in Buffalo, and have an upcoming gig at a venue(s) in the city, considersending Buffalo Rising an emailrequesting to be emailed a Q&A interview that we can then post, along with concert dates. It’s a fun and easy way to get your name in front of another audience that is intereste
d in learning about the local music scene.
The requirements are:
-You must have a public show coming up in the city of Buffalo, as our focus is the urban landscape
-You must have a photo of the band
-Solo acts are also welcome
-Video is a plus
-CD/Album/poster art is welcome
-Links to Social Media sites are a bonus
-Ability to take accept both praise and/or criticism is a must
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Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.