East Coast Rocker

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Stefan Marchello Steps into Peppi’s Big Shoes As The Good Rats Play On

GoodRats-FULL BAND (2)The Good Rats Get a Mention on TV’s Vinyl

By DONNA BALANCIA – Stefan Marchello is leading The Good Rats into the future.  It’s a big responsibility to be handed the mantle of the legendary Long Island band started by his father, Peppi, and his uncle Mickey.  Stefan  tells us he’s coping with the emotional impact Peppi’s death had on him, but it’s not an easy road.

Stefan’s voice is amazing, he’s finding his way with the band and the fans, and this young ‘Rat’ is steering the ship. He recently sat down with East Coast Rocker to answer the important questions:

ECR: How are the Good Rats doing since Peppi passed away in July of 2013?

SM: Well, when we first started playing out again we played out as a 3 piece band with no guitar. I was playing bass guitar and singing.  My keyboard player (Dan The Man) was filling the no guitar void. He learned all the guitar leads on his keyboard. It was amazing actually how fast it all came together. We played out for about a year like that.

Stefan Marchello – Leading The Good Rats ship – Photo courtesy Stefan Marchello

At this point I decided to switch from the bass to the guitar. Dan The Man still does the lead guitars on his keyboards. Together we kind of brought that original sound back. For example, the guitar harmonies in “Fireball Express.” For years even with Peppi we only had one guitar player. So, we couldn’t do those famous Good Rats harmony guitar lines that Mickey and John did so well. It’s nice to add that TASTY factor back in.

ECR: Any changes these days?

SM: We have two new guys in the band. These guys, besides being top notch players they are loyal Good Rat fans and longtime friends. Joe “Mike White” Dibiase  who actually played and still tours with (Fates Warning) is playing bass with us. Also, Joey Dibiase  from (Oath) a great new band that also tours is playing drums for us. Another cool thing is the bass player and drummer are father and son, which is something I can really appreciate.

ECR: And so…?

SM: So, I guess on the question of how we are doing, I’d say we’ve come a long way. The band sounds great. It’s great to be able to play Peppi’s library of songs live for the fans. The fans are really supportive.

Getting up there to play every show is very tough for me. The emotions are high every time. Every show is a constant reminder of the 23 years I played with my dad as The Good Rats. Once I’m up there watching the fans sing along and have a great time like they did 10, 15, 23 years ago, my emotions subside and I just fucking love it. The music and the name Good Rats will live on!!

The Good Rats in their heyday

The Good Rats in their heyday

ECR: What are some funny incidents that may have happened to you and the band in the last two years?

SM: Well you know when it comes to funny shit that happens it’s usually only funny probably to us. I can say that every show is a blast. Whether it’s a tiny bar, festival or our annual event RATSTOCK. It’s always an adventure.

ECR: Have you discovered anything about the Rats you didn’t know since Peppi died?

SM: Off the top of my head I would say a song called “I Remember Loving You.” Peppi has a huge library of songs. I thought I knew them all but I dug up this song and it hit me when I heard it. It’s not a good copy but the song is amazing. So, I decided to go record it over and it will be on the next Good Rats album.

The Good Rats' new album, Afterlife

The Good Rats’ new album, Afterlife

ECR: Have you learned anything interesting about music, touring or stamina since you’ve been leading the band?

SM: Yes, stamina. I remember when I played drums in the band. I would bitch and moan at the end of the night. While that was tiring I have learned that lead vocals are no joke. Especially Peppi Marchello vocals. Just another reason I am amazed with my dad. To this day I can’t think of any other vocalist who sang so well and with such versatility. Also consistent in having flawless shows through a long career.

ECR: Who is doing the songwriting and are there any new songs to be aware of? Any special plans for this year?

SM: Well, last year we put out  “Afterlife” which is a great album. We’re now currently in the studio. We’re doing some new unreleased songs and working on some of my own originals. So, maybe Summer 2016 we’ll release a new record! Of course we plan to play lots of shows this year.

ECR: Was it our imagination, or did we hear someone on the new show Vinyl mention the Good Rats?

SM: Vinyl actually has a scene where they talk about the Good Rats. There was an article in The Wall Street Journal about the show and it included us. It’s a huge show and I know Peppi is looking down and smiling.

ECR: How would Peppi rate the Good Rats of today?

SM: You know I say after every show how happy Peppi would be with this lineup. I know he would be proud.

Rock Stars and Guitars: The East Coast Rocker Interview with Stevie Salas

The Stevie Salas signature Idolmaker is a lot like the artist himself, purposeful with quality, and just a little flashy.

The Stevie Salas signature Idolmaker is a lot like the artist himself, purposeful with quality, and just a little flashy.


The Idolmaker, Stevie Salas signature by Framus Warwick —  

By DONNA BALANCIA – Stevie Salas has worked with the best.  But despite being selected to play lead guitar for Mick Jagger, George Clinton and a host of other famous superstars, Salas is true to his humble Southern California roots.

“This is my third signature model in 25 years,” Salas told East Coast Rocker.  Salas’ extensive work as musical director for 19 Entertainment and American Idol inspired the name of the guitar.

“People have told me they think it’s the most beautifully crafted guitar and that’s not because they were talking to me and it’s my signature guitar.  It is extremely good quality. I wanted something different, something that wasn’t a ripoff of a Stratocaster or a Les Paul.”

Sleek in its purple and black with gold tone, the Idolmaker, like the rock star himself, purposeful with quality, and just a little bit flashy. The neckwood is maple, the fretboard is Tigerstripe Ebony with Indian Feather Inlay, a reminder of Salas’ Native American heritage.  It is a carved body top, the bodywood is 1-inch AAA Quilted Maple top with Mahogany body.

Particularly interesting to Salas is Warwick’s devotion to the planet: The company is known to purchase its wood from sustainable sources.

“A few years ago,  I met Hans-Peter Wilfer, who owns Warwick,” Salas said. “I like his views.  Since I have a Native American background, I wanted something that was environmentally friendly.”

Salas said he took a tour around the production facilities in Germany, met the head of production, designer Marcus Spangler and was impressed with what he saw.

“I wanted the precision of German craftsmanship but also the Native American warmth,” Salas said.

Check out Stevie’s Guitar 




The East Coast Rocker Interview: Johnny Winter a Humble Blues Innovator

Johnny Winter is a Grammy-nominated producer and blues historian

Johnny Winter is a Grammy-nominated producer and blues historian – Graphic courtesy of Johnny Winter


Guitar Great is ‘Just having fun again.’

Johnny Winter has learned to become a great teacher — and a student — of time’s lessons.

In an interview originally published last fall, Johnny Winter told editor Donna Balancia all about his likes and dislikes and his climb back to the top of the Rock N Roll charts.

“I never knew my career would last this long, but I sure hoped for it,” said Winter, who at the age of 69, has survived a finicky musical landscape to emerge as one of history’s most well-respected blues artists.

Sporting his signature long white hair, cowboy hat, and characteristically cool demeanor, Winter sat down with EAST COAST ROCKER to chat about his career.

Winter, a Blues Foundation Hall of Fame inductee, is a Grammy-nominated producer, known for his work with blues greats like Muddy Waters.  The famously fair-haired, Texas-bred blues buff and older brother to rocker Edgar Winter, has come through dark times to reach the light-heartedness that now marks his personal life and his musical career.

His relationships have been an important factor to get him and keep him healthy, in particular his friendship with guitarist Paul Nelson, who has been one of the most significant people in his life.

Check out Johnny Winter on Late Night

Check out Johnny Winter on Late Night

“Johnny’s a blues historian,” said Nelson, Winter’s bandmate and manager. “He’s not the kind of guy who’s going to listen to Pavarotti. He’s cemented to the blues.  He not only plays it, he knows the blues.”

Nelson has helped Winter instill a healthy lifestyle to keep touring and recording.

“It’s been a long road, but he’s sober now, he’s smiling now and his vocals are clear,” Nelson said. “There was a time that there was so much that came so fast, like in the 1970s, it was when he went from blues to rock. Then through the 1990s he had a rough time.

“I met Johnny in 2000, he had been a recluse,” Nelson said. “His management was not up to date.  I firmly believe that when you’re young you need older management, when you’re older you need young management.”

Winter has become a new man since turning the corner and quitting drinking and partying.

“No, I don’t do any of that anymore,” Winter said. “I’m not drinking or doing drugs. If I didn’t quit, I wouldn’t be alive today.  This was my choice.  I’ve been clean for 10 years.”

Winter lives in Connecticut, but has fond memories of his home town of Beaumont, Texas, where as a kid he did a lot of fishing, he said.

“There are some really great parts of Texas,” Winter said. “My folks aren’t alive, so I don’t have much cause to go back there too much these days.”

The Screamin' Demon is at it again

The Screamin’ Demon is at it again

His business and personal interests have diversified over the years.  He’s even come out with his own signature hot sauce called “Screamin’ Demon Hot Sauce.”

While he said he is encouraged that young people today are getting into the blues, for the most part, he said, he’s not too fond of the “sound of today.”

“I hate the new music,” he said. “I just do.”

His touring keeps him busy, and promoting his album, “Roots,” has been a labor of love, Winter said.  It’s through his touring and promoting the blues that he stays in touch with the fun in life.

“These are the songs I heard when I was first getting into my music,” he said. “It’s just real good music.”

Back in the day, the average age of fans at a Johnny Winter concert was 20, today the average age is 55. He is appreciative of his fan support.

“When my fans come talk to me they always say things like, ‘I’ve been listening to your music for 40 years,'” he said. “And let me tell you, that’s a pretty good feeling.”

Tom DiCillo and The Black and Blue Orkestre Build Bridges with New Album

Tom DiCillo Black and Blue Orkestre East Coast Rocker Interview

—Tom DiCillo: Music plays a leading role in all his work — All photos courtesy of Tom DiCillo

With Bandmates Will Crewdson and Grog Rox, Trio Collaborates on Trans-Atlantic Recording

NEW YORK CITY — It’s been a few years since we’ve spoken to Tom DiCillo, writer and director of such films as Johnny Suede, Living in Oblivion, and the compelling 2009 documentary about The Doors, When You’re Strange. But paths always cross again and we sat down for a Q and A with the director, an East Coast Rocker in his own right.

Fresh off the release of his unique album Hurt Me Tender, recorded with his band The Black and Blue Orkestre, DiCillo shares his opinion on music, film, and on life, as told by one of the few truly independent filmmakers and artists around.  This is Part One of a three-part series.

Hurt Me Tender  is a complex and reflective collection of songs DiCillo  created with his band mates Grog Rox and Will Crewdson. The threesome is known as The Black & Blue Orkestre.

DiCillo sat down to talk with ECR Editor Donna Balancia.

ECR: Tom, I’m extremely happy to catch up with you. In reviewing your work, it’s obvious that you love and respect music. You’ve written and directed films about aspiring musicians, accomplished musicians, and you’ve even collaborated with established musicians.  Now you have an album of your own. How have your Hollywood experiences influenced your music, in particular the Black and Blue Orkestre’s album Hurt Me Tender?

TD: I’ve actually had very few Hollywood experiences. But I do know this;  Hollywood is about power and the perception of power. People telling you what to do, and when you can do it. So, picking up the guitar every now and then is a salvation. It’s a direct connection to something creative.  And you can do it whenever you want to.

Black and Blue Orkestre Tom DiCillo Donna Balancia

Trans-Atlantic Trio: Will Crewdson, Grog Rox, Tom DiCillo

ECR: The Black and Blue Orkestre is a really unique ensemble — and the assembly of the music when all three partners in the band don’t live anywhere near each other is extremely compelling.  How did this happen?

TD: Hurt Me Tender came out of a 5-year collaboration that started with me and UK guitarist Will Crewdson. We connected when my film Delirious was opening in the UK and Will sent me an email saying how much he liked the film. He mentioned his musical tastes and somehow that prompted me to send him the first song I’d ever really sung, my version of “16 Tons.” Will liked my voice and laid down some amazing guitar tracks.

This began our electronic trans-Atlantic collaboration. Eventually I sent him some songs that I had written and again Will added greatly to them with his guitar. Up until that time all the bass and drums were programmed by me. It was Will’s idea to bring in Grog, bass player and lead vocalist for her own group Die So Fluid. I would sketch out a mix with my vocal, Will’s guitar and a basic drum track and send it to Grog in LA. She composed and recorded a bass track and sent it back. Soon, this was how we were doing all our songs.

Will Crewdson was inspired by the films of Tom DiCillo - East Coast Rocker Interview

Will Crewdson

Finally, we had about 12 originals and I just said ‘Let’s see if we can at least get them out there as some sort of album.’ I didn’t have the time to try and get a label interested. But, I thought that all that work should at least be gathered together as some kind of finished product. So, the whole effort became finishing the songs we’d been working on for five years and making them sound like they’d all come from the same musical moment of inspiration. And finally, at the end of 2013, we got them all mastered and released them via Ditto Music.

As of this date we have never performed live together in the same room, city, country or continent.

Frozen Sunset Video by Tom DiCillo and Black and Blue Orkestre

Grog Rox in Frozen Sunset Video

ECR: I love “Shoe Shine Shuffle,” “Frozen Heartache,” “Whiskey Promise” and of course, “Hurt Me Tender.” There is such a sense of longing and adventure at the same time. Can you describe the storylines behind each of these great songs?  What inspired each of them?

TD: There is a vein of something personal in each of the songs. I find I can’t write music (or a film) that doesn’t have some deeper connection for me. All the songs originated out of some simple musical idea. With “Shoe Shine Shuffle” it was a guitar lick that the lyrics, “There’s a word for it,” attached themselves to. As the song developed it took on the idea that all of us have at times prostituted ourselves. It is the way of the world. Some of us do it by choice, most of us are forced into it by circumstance. But, to judge someone for this is idiotic–almost as idiotic as thinking that only “bad” people do this. In some form or another, everybody’s done it. It is especially true in the film business.

Shoe Shine Shuffle BBO East Coast Rocker

Shoe Shine Shuffle by the Black and Blue Orkestre

TD: Great songs are like really good short films to me; the music conveys something that brings both visual and emotional layers. I like words and phrases that also create a distinct emotional world. “Frozen Heartache” is about a woman who is obsessed with a man who could care less about her and she keeps telling another guy all about her torment. She’s so consumed by her obsession she never sees that this other guy is in love with her. I’ve been there. It was Grog’s idea to add her voice on the chorus, “Everybody knows” and I think it adds a spooky, kind of gothic 50’s touch.

Frozen Heartache Black and Blue Orkestre

Frozen Heartache by Black and Blue Orkestre on Soundcloud

“Hurt Me Tender” is the last song I wrote for the album. It started as a kind of latin/gypsy chord progression; something Elvis may have done in the early 60’s, like “It’s Now Or Never.” The title is actually a reference to Elvis, but bent slightly into the psychological realm approaching the masochistic. It’s about a guy who is drawn to a woman whose joy and beauty cover a fear of the world that renders her helpless–and at times exceedingly cruel. I’ve found this combination to be a powerful aphrodisiac for people, especially men.

TD: Your words “longing and adventure” about these songs are very interesting. They imply a certain say, sadness or melancholy at the same time some kind of unexpected drama. I think that’s a good description of what we tried to do with the album. The songs are about people that have come up against some of the shoves and collisions in life. And like all of us, they have the bruises to show for it. That’s one of the reasons the group is called The Black & Blue Orkestre.

ECR: You are attracted to the music of Link Wray, who has a credit on your first film, Johnny Suede.  Is Link Wray a big influence for the BBO?

TD: Yes. I’ve always been impressed by what he brought to the amplified guitar. I like anybody who is genuinely trying something. And somehow, you can always feel it when it’s real.


END TOM DiCILLO #BlackandBlueOrkestre PART ONE