How old were you when you started playing guitar?
I was 13 years old.
What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
It was a Harmony brand acoustic guitar. My sister passed it down to me because it was just collecting dust in the corner of her room. I don’t still have it and I can’t remember where it went. I wrote my first songs on it. And later on in life when my band signed with Capitol Records, I started playing Harmony guitars because I realized that was what felt the most comfortable to me.
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
My dad played organ and Ukulele. And we probably messed around a little but I wouldn’t describe any family jams that took place on a regular basis. I know one of my grandfathers was a bandleader but he died before I was born.
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
I play a Thomas acoustic guitar that my friend Tommy Neal built for me. He has a guitar company and mine was one of the flagship guitars that came out of his shop. It is absolutely beautiful and plays like a charm. He initially asked me to tell him what I liked in a guitar, and I did, and a few months later, it was in my hands. I also play a street level Alvarez that I love for any songs that have alternate tunings.
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
I use Jim Dunlop .60 MM picks, and then I use thumb and finger picks for the ballads.
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
I have used Peter Stokes at Broken Neck Guitar Repair in Boston since I started. Would always recommend him.
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
My favorite guitar shop is Lewiston Music in Niagara Falls, NY, mostly because the owner is so knowledgeable and helpful, and just a good all around guy. He is a gigging musician himself, so he knows and understands the needs of the working musician.
Owner and operater of Lewsiton Music, Tony Petrocelli
At what age did you start writing songs?
I’m the youngest of six kids so when I was 13 years old and I was borrowing all my siblings’ vinyl albums and absorbing them. I had a brother who was into show tunes, a sister into Jackson Browne, another brother who loved Hendrix, and another brother who loved Springsteen, and my parents loved old country and John Prine. So at some point I realized I should create something on my own and I started writing about whatever was going on in my life at the time.
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
Usually music comes first, either in the form of a guitar part or a melody. Lyrics come last because that is like filling in the crossword puzzle. Once in a while, I’ll start a song with a lyrical idea, but not often. I am still an old school paper kind of guy, but I will always make lyrical notes and adjustments on my phone.
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
Simon and Garfunkel made me want to write songs, the Replacements made me want to make music my career and Sam Cooke made me want to write songs that can reach any and every age group.
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
Definitely Sam Cooke. I have had a weird obsession with him for many years now.
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
I guess I pick these because they were important transitional records in my life and being stuck on an island would be a huge transition…U2’s - Unforgettable Fire, Ben Watt - North Marine Drive and Charles Brown - Black Night.
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
My dad brought me to see the Jazz drummer Buddy Rich. I went to see Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band. My friend Colin Hay has been in the All-Starr Band for many years off and on, and I have opened for him a lot on the road.
The Beatles or the Stones?
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
I sang in an Episcopal Church choir in Buffalo, NY when I was 16. I think around $150 a month.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
There have been so many times when I have felt remarkably fortunate I honestly couldn’t pick one.
What has been your worst gig so far and why? You don’t have to name names.
One of my bands early gigs was at a very crowded bar in Allston MA called Gerlando’s. We got on stage and were playing our hearts out only to get a very limited to almost no response. At some point, I realized the bar was directly across from a school for the deaf, and the whole crowd was conversing in sign language.
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
There are so many places I love playing. Maybe the Paradise in Boston, because I used to go there as a fan of music and see bands that I thought "made it” so when I finally stepped on that stage there was some palpable sense of accomplishment.
I also love the Ninth Ward in Buffalo. It is part of the Babeville complex started by Ani Difranco, and it is really set up to have all the things a performer needs. A nice backstage, good sound, etc…
How do you work out your setlist?
I generally pick one for a tour and then deviate and move songs around and add and subtract songs as the tour progresses. I like to get one set down really well so I have a solid framework to work with.
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
Take at least one business class. Maybe a marketing class too. For me at least, situations came up that I was unprepared for. Contracts, money, lawyers, etc and I used to feel one step behind. Obviously, follow the dream of the music but realize if you are pursuing it professionally, you essentially are opening a pizza shop in that business rules do apply.
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
Yes, start listening to world music. Immerse yourself in music that is out of your normal comfort zone. A few years back, I listened to old romantic Cuban music almost exclusively, and it changed the way I looked at melody. I think writing good lyrics is based more on a mental state than anything. Try and set the rule book aside and let creative thoughts flow.
If you weren’t a singer songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
I sometimes have a secret dream that I’m the produce manager at a supermarket, because it seems like you wouldn’t really have to bring the job home with you. If not that, maybe a teacher. I don’t know, I am the type of person who wants to live 100 different lifetimes…with different jobs and different homes in different cities…
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.