I took my first piano lesson from Fred Cadiente at ABC Music in San Bruno at the tender young age of six. I had my heart set on playing the guitar but thanks to my being born with small hands, the executive decision was made that I was going to play the piano. Every Tuesday afternoon for the next nine years I learned how to tickle the ivories under the expert tutelage of Fred. I switched to taking lessons from an older woman in Millbrae (whose name at this time eludes me) during my sophomore year in high school. Two years later I began to study under a professionally working pianist named Don Haas but those sessions didn’t last too long mainly due to a distinct lack of discipline and an acute case of high school senioritis on my part.
Although I had wanted to do it sooner, I joined my first rock band sometime during tenth grade at Capuchino High School (yes, you read that correctly and no, I did not attend Mocha Middle School). Mark Nutini, Dan Germano, and I formed the white hot nucleus of a progressive rock band called Skids whose original tunes included The Prophecy of Kid Kinetic and The Wet Diaper Song (I actually have a recording of it). We practiced in my garage and I remember my Mom popping in every rehearsal to deliver us a plate of salami slices, cheese squares and cans of Pepsi.
We added two older and more musically experienced members (Jeff Michelini and Curtis Laiple) when we decided to play in the school’s Band Showcase. With the band name now changed to Pilot, we made a pretty good showing of ourselves in our one and only gig by playing the now classic original Let It Roll and a cover of the Gary Moore cover of the Yardbird’s song called Shapes of Things. (Not only do I have an audio tape of the Showcase, I have a video tape copy (somewhere) as well). Even before I had a chance to wipe the sweat off of my forehead after the show, Pilot disbanded.
Around senior year in high school, I met a singer named Mike Xavier at a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show in Belmont. In addition to seeing a ton of punk shows together up on Broadway in San Francisco, we decided to form a Hanoi Rocks meets Dead or Alive glam/techno band called Isabel. We wrote several songs together but ultimately the project never got off the ground.
I reemerged from my musical cocoon during my second year in college at UC Davis when my fraternity brothers and I formed the Sigma Chi Blues Band for the Greek Week Talent Show. We penned at catchy little twelve bar blues ditty called (UCD’s Too Crowded, I’ve Got) The Reg Fee Blues and we performed it to rave reviews. When we were invited to catch lightning in a bottle for a second time during a noontime performance on the Quad, we imploded from the immense pressure (and not to mention a serious lack of talent) and barely made it off the stage. At least I got to realize my dream of driving my car on campus.
The following year I answered an ad seeking a keyboard player in the Davis Emptyprise newspaper and I met Roy Frush. Roy was this amazing drummer from York, Pennsylvania, and together with Mike on guitar (whose girlfriend crafted and sold jewelry from the bones of roadkill she found on the side of the road) and Dale on bass (who we called Stale due to the fact that he was constantly drunk and on painkillers), we formed a band called Film at 11. While our thirty song set list was comprised of mostly 70s and 80s rock and roll covers, my membership in this group was developmentally and musically significant for me for two reasons: one, all the guys in the band were much older than I was and two, they encouraged me to sing lead vocals on several songs (the first one being Touch of Grey by the Grateful Dead). We played several private parties and spent a few hours one Sunday in a video recording studio but our absolute pinnacle as a band came the evening we played this nightclub in Marysville the night after Rick Derringer played there.
After about a year, Roy and I sought greener pastures by joining the latest incarnation of the Sacramento Valley’s preeminent 50s and 60s show band Fast Stops and Car Hops. Together with guitarist extraordinaire Cedar Seegar, versatile vocalist John Dickel, bassist slash curmudgeon Glenn, and the blonde bombshell saxophonist Leslie, we shortened the name to Fast Stops and spent months perfecting our craft in Cedar’s tool shed, also known as the Boogie Shack. A handful of gigs into it, we hit a wall (either Glenn copped an attitude and quit or Leslie decided to bail, I don’t remember which) and Fast Stops was dead.
But not for very long, though. With the addition of Jeff Sears on bass, Bernie on sax, and Pam and Joyce on lead vocals, we arose from the proverbial ashes of despair like a phoenix, this time with a new and improved band moniker, The Sensations. This time around we kicked ass and took names. The Sensations played parties, festivals, nightclubs, and spent some serious time in a recording studio (and, oh yeah, I have copies of those ones). The emotional end for me came when I chose to establish a post-college life in the Bay Area instead of commuting to Winters every weekend as I had done for the past six months since graduation.
I don’t remember a whole lot of details about my next band, Letch Luthor and the Fiends. The bass player was an alcoholic, the singer ended up doing time for drug trafficking, and our only gig was when we opened up for the Mermen at a warehouse party in Oakland. The bassist for the Mermen did tell us that we did an impressive rendition of Statesboro Blues, though. If I was to sum up my experience in this band, it would be like this: Casey Jones didn’t have nothing on us and our train.
About a year later, I answered another ad, this time in the SF Bay Guardian, and joined a raucous blues band called Bad Attitude. Comprised almost entirely of San Francisco cab drivers, I provided the group a much needed jolt of youthful enthusiasm. We holed up in a massive practice studio complex on Third Street in the City and developed a ten song set of original numbers (of course I have recordings) but internal band politics and an unmotivated and, quite frankly, bad attitude ultimately did us in as a band.
I quickly rebounded from the disappointment of yet another failed rock band when I joined the mighty Bay Area Band. Guitarist Bob Noto, bassist Dale Hitchcock, and drummer (and my Dad) John Picetti had been playing together for almost a decade and a half prior to my arrival. They took the time to groom me and train me and teach me hundreds of songs that ranged from Frank Sinatra to Donna Summer to ZZ Top. We gigged everywhere (and even got paid) and I really blossomed into a fairly competent singing keyboardist. Not only was I having a blast playing interesting and challenging music, I had the unique opportunity to rock out with my Dad on a weekly basis.
Through it all, I would unabashedly say that having the chance to play music with my Dad for over ten years in the Bay Area Band has been the most rewarding aspect of my musical journey through life so far. After all, he was the guy who played old Louis Prima records for me when I was a kid. He was the one who made me count out weird ass time signatures to random jazz records before I was allowed to watch my Saturday morning cartoons. And even now, he is the one person that I can count on to take a quick trip up to the Haight and visit Amoeba Records any day of the week. It is because of my Dad that I have an innate love of music. There are few things more satisfying to me than experiencing music in all of its various forms. Whether it’s on cd, vinyl, cassette, mp3 or even performed live, music is a fundamental part of who I am and who I will always be.
When I started having problems with my voice last year, I remember asking Bob to sing a few of my songs for me during the Father Daughter Dance last October. Try as I might, I just couldn’t hit those high notes any more. I also noticed that my right hand wasn’t playing runs and notes as quickly either. Although I didn’t realize or anticipate it, that Father Daughter Dance was the last gig I will (most likely) ever play. My fingers and voice just don’t work the way that I would like them to any longer.
Am I sad about this? Of course I am. It seems like ALS has taken away nearly everything I loved to do in the short span of less than a year. But rather than be depressed about what I can’t change, I prefer to look at my loss of musical ability a bit differently. The way I see it, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had the ability to make music for thirty-three years. And as you can see from the preceding thirteen hundred or so words, I attempted to make the most of my talent. I learned from every musical experience I have ever had and I’ve had the privilege and honor of playing with some of the most musically gifted and incredible people over the years. Even though I can no longer actively participate in its creation, I can still listen to it and appreciate it and enjoy it.
Music will always be a major part of my life and if it works out that way, I hope it will be a part of Emma’s life, too. She already has a few cds of her own and lists Led Zeppelin and Elvis Presley lullabies as her favorite recordings. Emma has already seen a live band play, too. This past October 17, 2008, Fehmeen and I took Emma to her first Father Daughter Dance. She lasted about an hour and she got to see her Grumpa play the drums with the Bay Area Band. Even though I wished I was still playing, there is no feeling sweeter than dancing with my beautiful daughter.