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The Frank & Joe Show: Looking for a Long, Happy Run

R.J. DeLuke By

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AAJ: I've got one thing from both your backgrounds to ask you about. Joe, you were a roadie for Buddy Rich as a teenager. What was that like?

Joe: I was right out of high school. A friend of mine and I used his red van to travel around the northeastern portion of the United States and show up at Buddy's gigs, informally. And every night we'd ogle the band and hang around and start helping them lug the gear and put it in the bus, and I gravitated toward the drums and gravitated toward the next gig. They'd say, "You here again?" The next thing you know, I was setting up the drums and breaking them down; setting up the drums and breaking them down. It started out as something very informal, out of sheer joy and enthusiasm to hear Buddy Rich, and then I was sitting this far away [a matter of a few feet] every night hearing him and was mesmerized. Just like somebody said to Frank, "You didn't get the chance to play with Connie Kay?" Well, I can tell anybody in my life I got the chance, night after night, to sit this far away from Buddy Rich and experience that intensity. And that's something that will stick with me. There's nothing like it. That was an experience.

Frank: [tongue in cheek] Is that that singer with the white hair? That Rich guy? Who was that?

Joe: Charlie Rich?

Frank: I had the wrong guy.

Joe: Close.

AAJ: Frank, you were grand national banjo champion in Canada as a teenager?

Frank: I am the national grand banjo champion of Canada in 1982. That was my big year. [toilet flush from the adjoining bathroom]

Joe: And there goes Gary Mazzaroppi passing dinner. Continue, Mr. Vignola...

Frank: Straight from the dressing room of the Frank and Joe Show... [laughter]

AAJ: Was that a banjo competition?

Frank: It was a banjo competition. My father played tenor banjo. He still does. I started on guitar, but at about 12 years old I started picking up the banjo a little bit. He took me up there to this competition in Canada. There were three categories: five-string, four-string tenor, and four-string plectrum, which are two different styles of four-string. And I won the grand champion at 13 and I was kind of this little prodigy. And I only played, like, for eight months on the banjo. I played "Limehouse Blues." That was the end of the competition.

Joe: Sure beats a milk route or a paper route.

Frank: I like the banjo, but it's like a novelty instrument. When you have a guitar, compared to a banjo, for any stringed instrument player there's just so much more to do on the guitar. It was pretty thrilling, actually.

Joe: And he became the Buddy Rich of the banjo...[laughter]

Frank: I just got the trophy back from my mother. She was going through some boxes.

AAJ: You guys do other stuff as well and keep pretty busy;

Joe: It's an interesting time. Yes. This is a stepping back, or looking at it from afar. It's a big, interesting transitional period. Because we're naturally moving in this Frank and Joe direction, which is the culmination of a lot of music. The answer to your question is: yes. There's a lot of variety in the career, in the craft, being an itinerant musician or an independent artist getting calls for recordings and tours and things like that. But it's an interesting time right now because we have this project and it's a big transition.

Frank: I kind of do three and a half things right now. I play with Mark O'Connor and his Hot Swing Trio. And then I play with Les Paul every Monday. And then for the half, I do a lot of little guitar things. Like I'll do something with Bucky Pizzarelli or Gene Bertoncini, kind of like my heroes. It's really fabulous to be able to play with my heroes, if you want to put it that way. And then the other thing is the Frank & Joe Show. I try to juggle all the schedules, while watching the Frank & Joe Show move ahead. It's like the Kentucky Derby. "Come on, Frank & Joe! Come on, Frank & Joe! It's Frank & Joe by a nose!"

AAJ: You guys both did that Goodfellas album with Joey DeFrancesco.

Joe: Two-thirds of the Goodfellas project is sitting right here. Actually half. Joey's a big guy. [laughter]. That guy can swing you right off a bandstand.

Frank: He can eat you right off the bandstand too, I tell ya. It took us like three hours to make that record. We would go to the studio. We would hang out. Tell jokes. Then someone'd say, "OK, let's try 'O Solo Mio.'" And we'd go in there. At the end of the record, we said, "Oh wow. We did all Italian songs." [laughter]. The amazing thing about Joey DeFrancesco is, from the first recording I heard of him at 17 years old on Columbia [ All of Me , 1989], he plays like no one else.

Joe: Ridiculous.

Frank: Unbelievable. Then I heard him with McLaughlin . He just sort of showed up on that gig. John showed him all the parts. That night, he had John McLaughlin's book down! On the sound check.

Joe: Really. He said he brought [the sheet music] to the hotel room and it was all this chicken scratching and he said, "I can't read this shit. Are you kidding me?" and he tore it apart. He shredded it. He's incredible.

Frank: It's amazing.

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