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Interview with Tom Principato
By MuzikMan
(more articles from this author)
1999-10-28
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MuzikMan: Can we start with you describing how you were brought up and when the thought of playing an instrument all started? What were the circumstances that initiated those first feelings?

Tom: I grew up in a typical middle class suburban neighborhood outside of Washington, DC, the small town of Falls Church, Va. Although neither of my parents were musicians, both shared a great love for music at my house as a kid. My parents played swing jazz records, including my fathers' Benny Goodman Sextet 78's with the great electric guitar pioneer Charlie Christian, as well as big band records like Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong, BIllie Holiday, Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton. My mom liked Les Paul and Mary Ford, which was a big early influence, as well as Chet Atkins, who first inspired me to want to play guitar. The "twangy" sound of the electric guitar has always intrigued me so much so that I have never really owned or played an acoustic instrument. I've always been an electric guitarist, for over 30 years! Other early influences I was exposed to at home would also include Gospel/Religious music, and Classical Masters like Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart and Debussey. Later on in high school in the 1960's, I discovered a lot of the current guitar players like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton (with Cream) and Mike Bloomfield. I also discovered a whole slew of Blues Guitarists, many of which are still touring and performing like B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, Freddy King (who I played with one night in Boston in 1971) and Otis Rush.

MuzikMan: There seems to be a lot of preparation before going on-stage to play a gig, can you describe some of the routines you have when preparing for a show?

Tom: I have found that the key for me to do my best is to be relaxed as much as possible before stepping on stage, but I try to be as relaxed as much as possible in my life, so that there really shouldn't be any change required to relax for a performance. Other than that, I really don't have any special routines, other than limbering up on the guitar whenever I can. MuzikMan: Today's technologies have really changed the way music sounds. Do you ever take advantage of certain technologies to enhance your guitars capabilities or do you prefer just to plug in and get the most out of your instrument without any fancy gizmos?

Tom: I am a gadget nut, so much so that everyone teases me about it. To me, "Stompboxes" are my paint brushes...each affording me a slightly different color, and I have quite a few. On a nightly basis you can catch me with a wah-wah pedal, 3 different kinds of distortion, echo, reverb, and occasionally a phase shifter, or even an octavia. I also use an E-bow. I always try to subtly and tastefully incorporate these effects into the music, so that they never get in the way of, or distract from the music.

MuzikMan: Are you satisfied with what your career has yielded thus far?

Tom: I am a very lucky person, I get to do something I really love for a living. I have some awards and accomplishments which I'm proud of, but I would still like my music and guitar playing to be known to a wider audience of people.

MuzikMan: Do have any other jobs or passionate interest outside of music?

Tom: One of my passions outside of music is cooking and in turn EATING! I love exploring and attempting to prepare different kinds of ethnic cuisine. I also enjoy seeking out and restoring art deco furniture and artifacts, as well as vintage electric guitars and amplifiers.

MuzikMan: Do you feel your marketability just got a real boost by the Internet?

Tom: For the present, I feel the Internet has made only a marginal difference in my marketability. For the future, I'm very excited!

MuzikMan: Who are some of the greatest guitar players that you ever had the pleasure to jam with? Any favorites? Who do you site as the most influential and the one artist that really comes out in your playing? Tom: The greatest guitarists that I've every jammed with would have to be Freddy King, and the late Danny Gatton, also Duke Robillard is one of the great guitar players of the world. Other favorites include B.B. King, Albert King, Otis Rush, Wes Montgomery, Les Paul, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, James Burton, Lenny Breau, and Chet Atkins. Pat Metheny is a favorite too. I think that B.B. King is one artist who really comes out in my playing. Although, I usually would not be mistaken for B.B. in a blindfold test. I have come to realize that what I learned from B.B., about dynamics, is what is at the heart and soul of my guitar playing.

MuzikMan: What are your goals and dreams?

My goal is to be the best person that I can be, and my dream is to have as many people enjoy my guitar playing and music as possible.

MuzikMan: Is the DC area supportive of Independent artists? I don't know a lot about the DC area but it seems like there is quite a bit of talent from that area, your thoughts?

Tom: The Washington, DC music scene has a lot of potential and the scene keeps fluctuating between various degrees of realizing that potential. There is, and always has been a lot of great talent in DC and of course a great guitar tradition that goes back to Link Wray in the 1950's, Roy Buchanan in the 1970's, and Danny Gatton in the 1990's. DC is pretty supportive of Independent talent. There are a lot of night clubs and a lot of people who earn good income who regularly go out for entertainment. There is however, a lot of competition for someone's entertainment attention.

MuzikMan: Is there anything in particular that you would like to voice an opinion about or discuss in closing?

Tom: Only that for live music to survive, especially on the Independent/Grass Roots level, more people are going to have to go out and attend shows and give support!!! How we view and value certain kinds of entertainment is changing, and people need to be aware that some effort is going to be required to support live music! We're too use to having entertainment brought into our living room through Cable TV, VCR's and now the Internet. If we're not careful, we could end up a bunch of couch potatoes with no bands to see in the clubs that gave up hiring bands because no on came!!!


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