by Steve Walbridge
For most people who dip their toes into the music business, especially if they are relatively young when they do it, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the who’s who of the business and to want to be seen with and associated with the “stars” of the industry. Well for me personally, that is still true (hey, I admit it). The only difference now is my definition of who the stars actually are.
I booked clubs and festivals for years, and not only have I dealt with some of the biggest flaming ass-wipes you could ever meet (agents and road managers, honest to God—talk about needing a reality check!) and some real prima-dona musicians, but I have also had the pleasure of dealing with some of the most gifted, sincere and committed musicians to grace this planet, and they are usually the ones most people miss out on.
I’m not knocking the “stars” of the music industry (stars—come on, I’ll tell you who a fucking “star” is: the neurosurgeon who saved my daughter’s life when she was five days old is a star, or the guy crawling through the desert in Afghanistan just to make the world a safer place for my grandkids, if I ever get any). Anyway, I’m just trying to set the record straight that for me, the real stars are guys like Rich Pagano and Steve Conte, two working class New York City session musicians who are the real workhorses of this industry and who truly live and breathe rock ‘n’ roll.
Yeah sure, Pagano is the fabled drummer of the Fab Faux, and Conte is slinging his guitar with the New York Dolls right now, both of which garner these guys at least a fraction of the attention they deserve, but there is so much more to them—and the thousands of other musicians who aren’t getting nearly the attention they deserve.
I first saw Pagano nearly 20 years ago when he was drumming for Marry Me Jane, and was introduced to Conte a few years back when he was sitting in with New York City singer/songwriter Willie Nile. The thing I’ve learned from watching them countless numbers of times (in every incarnation of a rock band you could think of) and from discussions with both, is that guys like them represent the lifeblood of rock ‘n’ roll. Not only capable of sitting in with anyone that drops a dime for ’em, both have also recently put out their own incredibly strong releases (Steve Conte & the Crazy Truth, and Rich Pagano and the sugarCane cups), which only supports my claim that that you owe it to yourself to seek out musicians like these.
There will always be the next Dave Matthews (John Mayer) or the next Madonna (Lady Gaga). I’m not taking anything away from them, and sure, people will squeal, “Oh, studio musicians are a dime a dozen,” but only people that haven’t a fucking clue what they’re talking about— they’re not talking about studio musicians like these guys.
I’ve pleaded with readers to call the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to task, to support local record stores, and to ignore shitty corporate crap music when there is so much more out there and to embrace your own idea of what is hip in music, but this is getting right down to the human element of it. Don’t let talent like this—not just Rich Pagano and Steve Conte, but the thousands of guys and girls that keep real rock ‘n’ roll alive—lose out on the admiration, devotion and most importantly, the respect and support that they deserve.
Rich Pagano and Steve Conte are just two of the real stars of rock ‘n’ roll, and I for one want to make damn sure they, and you, know it.