CD release party
Friday, September 14
Show: 8p | Doors: 7p
Tickets: $15 ($2 Service Charge Included With Online Tickets. All sales are final, no ticket refunds or exchanges. Seats are on a first-come, first-serve basis, and seats are not guaranteed with ticket purchase.)
Visit Website: http://www.gregpiccolo.com
After Four Inspired Decades, He’s Still Doing It With ‘Who Did This?’
By Mark T. Gould, Sound Waves Magazine, September 2018
For more than 40 years, the legendary Greg Piccolo has regaled and inspired audiences and fans with his prodigious musical talent.
Whether it’s from his earliest days with Greg & the Groupe at the old Stonington Community Center (nee’ “Como”), the relatively short-lived Friends (with mainstays Buzz Goodwin and Bob Goodman) or the world-renowned original Roomful Blues, Piccolo’s chops, soul and exquisite ear for great music has endured and grown.
Now, as he holds two live local residencies in Mystic and Misquamicut, while still getting the call for session work and gigs around the world, he has returned to his instrumental roots, the tenor saxophone, from his salad days listening to and learning from the masters of the instrument from the 40s and 50s as he developed those seminal bands.
The most-recent result of that is the emotional and poignant “Who Did This?,” his new sax-based album, scheduled for release this month.
“ ’Who Did This?’ represents the sax ballad side of my playing,” the 67-year-old Piccolo told me in a recent interview. ”I have focused more on the sax over the past few years, and this is the result.”
Recorded live at the Knickerbocker Café, in Westerly last January, it will be released on Piccolo’s own label, Swank Tone, and will be available for purchase or download on his web site, gregpiccolo.com.
Accompanied by long-time band mate Shinichi Otsu on organ and keyboard bass, and Bobby Ruggiero on drums, “Did This” is a brilliant showcase of the deep, soulful “Pic” sound on the tenor, and, as such, is a true testament to his own musical inspirations over the years.
“I’m influenced by, and love, all the great, big-toned melodic sax players from the 40s, and 50s, just like always,” he said.
“Sax was first for me,” he added. “I always loved the sound of the tenor sax. 50s music almost always had a tenor solo with a gritty tone.
“I didn’t know any of the names then, but I knew what sound I liked. I mostly sang as a teenager and when I was 19, I joined Roomful as a sax player where I was exposed to the great players. My favorites are Ben Webster, Illinois Jacquet and Gene Ammons, but there are dozens more I love from the same period,” he said.
Along the way, Piccolo also picked up the guitar.
“Guitar came in handy on my original tunes, because I couldn’t play sax and sing at the same time,” he said. “My style on guitar is a cruder version of my sax style, as sparse as possible. I like all styles of music, so long as something about it moves me.”
“I always wanted to do songs that nobody had ever heard, because they were cool, and of course, I wanted to be cool,” he said, laughing, talking about his early influences and bands.
“That was pretty much my own way of making my own statement, looking for and playing things that I thought nobody else knew about, and doing them the way that I wanted to do them.
“What I do now, in the genre that I am in, is a lot like what I did then,” he said. ”I wouldn’t be happy if I weren’t playing the horn, if I weren’t writing songs, I’d think that I would be neglecting a piece of me. I am just what I am, for better or for worse.”
Sharing the stage with players that he is comfortable with also helps, he said.
“Shinichi has been with me for 19 years. He knows what I like, and he is versatile enough to jump through the stylistic hoops I throw in front of him,” Piccolo said. “He also is sensitive to space in a song and knows when NOT to play! He is great for me.”
Not only was the new album recorded at the Knickerbocker, but the renowned venue will host a release party for it on September 14, which, as long-time fans of Piccolo’s music know, completes a musical circle of sorts for him.
It was the “Knick,” as it’s commonly known locally, where the incredible Roomful of Blues, with Piccolo on tenor as part of a three-man sax section with Rich Lataille and Doug James, teamed with guitarist/singer Duke Robillard, pianist Al Copley, and drummer John Rossi to create arguably the most famous, and best, of all of the Rhode Island-based bands that made the area a blues mecca.
And, Piccolo told me he is quite sure why.
“Easy,” he said. “Duke Robillard.
“It was all Duke, without Duke, there certainly would not have been a Roomful of Blues,” Piccolo said. ”There would not have been any of what happened here without Duke. He was the one that was driven to do this. He dragged us along with him, because, I mean, Duke was the best. He was always as good as he is now. His execution on the guitar was always perfect.
“I didn’t even care what I played in Roomful, I just wanted to be in that band.” He said. ”I never expected anything, businesswise, out of Roomful of Blues, because what we were doing, at that point, there was no market for it, period.
“I told myself when I joined Roomful that I was not doing it for money,” he said,”I was doing it because I really enjoyed and liked the music. Whenever I got discouraged with Roomful of Blues, I always went back to that original reason, for ‘why did I do this in the first place?’”
“But,” he added,” none of it (the success) surprised me, because I thought we were the best. There was no doubt in my mind that when we got on the stage, we knew we were the best. We were going to do what we did, and screw it if people didn’t like us.
“I’ve always loved this area (southern New England),” Piccolo added.” I think the times were conducive to new ideas everywhere, and bands had places to develop more so than today. So, not the where but when I came up seems more relevant to me.”
The original Roomful still occasionally plays together, many times for benefits at the Knick.
“It’s like automatic pilot when the old guys get back together,” he said.” Everyone falls back into the groove of playing together and it’s fun! We also have made a CD that should be out soon.”
If he doesn’t sound busy enough, Piccolo also plays two local weekly residencies with his current band “Heavy Juice,” Misquamicut’s Ocean House for Sunday brunch, and the Steak Loft in Mystic on Monday nights, but, characteristically, he’s not stopping there.
“My Monday Steak Loft gig and my Sunday Ocean House brunch gig help me to stay in shape, and I’m grateful to have both of them on a weekly basis,” he said. “I consider (owners) Jon Kodama and Chuck Royce as my benefactors. They are true supporters of the arts. I am going to Switzerland in November for a few shows, and if I don’t go to Texas in October, I will go there in the spring.
“All of my sax recordings (like “Did This”) have been as a solo artist,” Piccolo added.”’ Heavy Juice’ is the combined elements of my music, sax, guitar, vocals and original songs.”
No matter if it’s Heavy Juice, Greg & The Groupe, Friends, or Roomful of Blues, or his own solo recordings, Greg Piccolo’s music keeps growing.
I’ve had the most enviable pleasure of listening to Greg Piccolo play his battered but trusty Selmer Mark VI tenor sax for going on 40 years, and I have not heard a bad performance yet.
He was leading Roomful of Blues when we first met, tearing up dance halls around the land with hard edged and blues drenched solos, and for decades he was renowned among his contemporaries as the toughest and most soulful tenor player out there.
His forte has always been playing with tone, feeling and economy, and these strengths come through loud and clear on this recording, his first recorded venture into the land of jazz. He has always had a soft spot for ballads and slow blues, and his playing here, gorgeously accompanied by keyboardist Shinichi Otsu and drummer Bobby Ruggiero, exemplifies his taste and appreciative understanding of the song, and most importantly, the blending of sound and feeling to all its parts.