Tony Califano has had no shortage of musical projects since moving to Saratoga Springs in 2005.
The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and music educator currently plays in two local groups — as mandolinist and one of three lead vocalists for the bluegrass quintet Fairview Avenue and as bassist for the jam band Skunk Hostage and the Bomb Inspectors, which grew out of his previous group, Cooper Union. Both bands are democratic affairs, with all members contributing in the songwriting process.
But even with so much going on, Califano felt something was missing.
“I’ve basically just wanted something that felt like it was 100 percent mine — that sounds kind of terrible to actually say,” he said. “But Fairview Avenue is a band, a collaborative effort — we play some of my songs and some of the other guys’ songs, so it’s not a situation where I’m really entirely in control.
“Skunk Hostage came out of another band, Cooper Union, and that band was a band where I was kind of the band leader — it was pretty much all my material,” he continued.
The Americana Music Club presents: Tony Califano, with Dan Johnson and His Expert Sidemen
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Valentine’s, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany
How Much: $5
More Info: 432-6572, www.valentinesalbany.com
Playing for fun
“I was sort of like the impetus behind that band, and that just sort of dissolved. Out of it came Skunk Hostage, which is a lot of the same guys that just didn’t want to take it seriously; we were all a little worn out. So I ended up with a very serious band that I’m not in charge of, and not-a-serious band where we all got together and played, just kind of for fun.”
Califano has always written songs on his own, away from his bands. Over the summer he landed a solo gig at The Moon & River Café in Schenectady, and first had the idea to form a band around his solo songs.
He played another summer solo gig at the Howling at the Moon concert series at Mabee Farm in Rotterdam, where he first met multi-instrumentalist Dan Johnson. Johnson hosts the Tuesday night Americana series at Valentine’s and invited Califano to play the series this coming Tuesday. Califano quickly assembled a trio for the gig featuring bassist Harry Strole of the Tern Rounders and drummer Derek Dobson from Skunk Hostage.
“My initial plan was to maybe try to bring more people in, but it’s hard to get that organized,” he said. “This is sort of like the next step towards sort of playing some sort of solo shows with a whole band.”
The material Califano will be playing at the show falls somewhere between the bluegrass and jam band modes of his two main bands, in a stripped-down acoustic setting. He’s planning to self-release a five-song EP, “Rusticator,” at the show, which he recorded entirely by himself in his home studio. The recording is much more fleshed out than the trio will be, featuring acoustic and electric guitars, Hammond B-3 organ, piano, mandolin and banjo.
The songs range from older material that Califano wrote five years ago, to brand-new songs, to old Cooper Union songs and a different version of a Fairview Avenue song.
“I guess that is the other reason I’m doing this — I have some songs that don’t work for either band,” Califano said. “There’s one that’s going to be on here which is pretty old, that I wrote for my wife way back when we were just dating, so that one is probably from like 2006 or 2007. There’s one brand-new song that I wrote three weeks ago. And there’s one song we are doing for the next Fairview Avenue album that I wrote, but I won’t be singing — I wanted to have my own take on that one.”
Looking ahead, he hopes to continue playing with new musicians, but isn’t necessarily looking for a concrete lineup for his solo material.
Making an impact
“My goal is to just make music that is specifically, 100 percent what comes out of my head,” he said. “I just want to be able to get it out to whoever I can get it out to. I’m not really in a position in my life where I’m interested in riding in a van all around the country, but I’d like to make an impact locally and be able to have relationships with other artists in the area doing similar things. There’s a little bit of an Americana, rootsy scene going on in this area, and I have maybe the tip of my toenail into it.”