We could all just call it a day and go home if we labeled Chet Catallo simply as a "guitar player." And though that's how the man considers himself, it would be a disservice to the Gibson-endorsed, multi-Grammy Award nominee and his history, his pedigree, and his six-string savvy.
This year marks 31 years for The East Irondequoit native's band, Chet Catallo & The Cats, an all-star band he formed after a successful stint in the smooth jazz sensation, Spyro Gyra. Catallo wrote songs like "It Doesn't Matter," "Lovin You," and "Cafe Amore" during his tenure with the band from 1978 to 1985. A good deal of this period in his career was spent circling the globe with stops in Europe, Asia, South America, Central America, and all over the US.
Catallo continues to perform and record. His latest is the double CD "First Take." Catallo dropped in to City Newspaper to discuss the early days growing up in East Irondequoit, playing with Kings, and just being a guitar player. An edited transcript of that conversation follows.
City: You've been playing guitar for a while.
Chet Catallo: Yeah, I started playing guitar when I was around 8 years old. It was the early 1960's and I'd play house parties. I started writing original stuff in high school: blues, R&B, jazz stuff.
When did you first hit the road?
I went on the road when I was 18 with Portable People; I graduated high school and was on the road for three years. We were first based in Newport, Rhode Island, before moving to Dallas, Texas. We were recording with producer Major Bill Smith. He was responsible for a lot of 50's and 60's hits by artists like Paul and Paula, and Wayne Cochran and the CC Riders. We were on his Roulette Records label.
Columbia records was looking to sign the band as well?
Ultimately that fell through in the wake of a big payola scandal. But we became the house band at Mother Blues in Dallas, roughly 1972 to 1975. We changed the band name to Gamble. We played with all the Kings: Freddy, Albert, B.B.; Johnny Winter, John Lee Hooker, The Vaughan brothers. I cut my blues chops with all those cats. I left the band in 1975, returned to Rochester, and started up a jazz fusion and blues crossover group, Vixen.
That's just before you hooked up with Spyro Gyra?
I hooked up with Spyro Gyra in 1978, just before they made it big. We were riding around in an RV for $200 a week.
When did you leave to form Chet Catallo & The Cats?
I left around 1984 or 85 to start The Cats.
How has your sound changed over the years? From Spyro Gyra to now?
It's a lot bigger. It's got a bit of an edge to it. I can get rough with it or I can get cool with it.
It's bluesier and harder hitting than Spyro Gyra.
Well, the records were a little slicker. In a live performance it was edgier and was more out there; we were taking chances.
You're still pushing "First Take," but do you have another album in the works?
I have a backlog of stuff I want to record. I've got multiple records worth of material.
Are you considered a jazz player because of your time with Spyro Gyra? It seems you're more than that.
Well yeah, I'm considered a jazz player, but I love the blues; I love R&B. I picked up on jazz early on, rock 'n' roll, Duane Eddy, Santo and Johnny ... I mean I was playing surf, Ventures stuff, when I was 9 years old. I'm just a guitar player.
Punk-metal icon Wendy O. Williams will be inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame on Sunday. Plasmatics guitarist Wes Beech and Rod Swenson, the band's creator and Williams' life partner, talk about the legacy of the singer.