'The road goes on forever'
SAYVILLE—Andy Falco spends much of his time on the road. As a matter of fact, he was getting ready to head to the airport during this recent interview to discuss his music career and Long Island roots. When Falco isn’t traveling, he is producing and engineering from his home music studio in Sayville.
Among numerous other acts, the Nassau native is the guitarist for the bluegrass band The Infamous Stringdusters, which he joined in 2007.
The group won a Grammy Award (Best Bluegrass Album) last year for their latest studio album, “Laws of Gravity,” released in 2017. They were previously nominated for another Grammy (Best Country Instrumental Performance) with 2011’s “Magic #9.”
Falco grew up in Garden City. He briefly attended Nassau Community College and SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, but decided the college path wasn’t for him. “I didn’t last long,” he said.
In his earlier years, Falco “cut [his] teeth” playing with various blues, funk and R&B groups here on Long Island and in New York City. He described the city’s music scene in the 90s, which is widely regarded for its smaller, more intimate venues, as “vibrant” and “inspiring.” There, he met, learned from and performed with many class acts, including composer, conductor and multi-instrumentalist David Amram, singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton, musician, singer and songwriter Gavin DeGraw, and longtime Chuck Berry collaborator Johnnie Johnson.
Falco also has a longstanding friendship with Jimmy Vivino, best known as the leader of Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band, which has served as Conan O’Brien’s late night house band since 2010. Vivino was previously a member of The Max Weinberg 7, which performed on O’Brien’s late night shows going back to 1993. Falco said he would go see him perform in New York City, adding that Vivino helped encourage his musical path by inviting him onstage to “jam, occasionally.”
“[Vivino] has helped me several times over the years and still remains a friend,” Falco said.
The Grammy-winning artist also credits a Long Island-based musician named Don Celenza as one of his early mentors. Celenza, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee, has been at the music game for over 40 years. Falco said he watched him play “religiously” out in Nassau County. Eventually, he asked him for lessons. Celenza said he didn’t give lessons, but instead offered live gigs. “It was mostly blues and electric guitar in those days,” Falco said. “A lot of those were pickup gigs.”
Fast-forward several years when Falco falls in love with blue grass, largely due to his “education” under another Long Island musician, Buddy Merriam, from Buddy Merriam and Back Roads, which he formed in 1980. Merriam’s second book of mandolin music, “Back Roads Mandolin Music Vol. 2,” was published in 2015. That same year, he received the Long Island Sound Award from the Long Island Music Hall of Fame for “outstanding contributions to Long Island’s musical heritage.”
It was Falco’s newfound love for bluegrass at the time that led him to Nashville, Tenn., where he lived for several years. There, he joined his current band, which has released eight studio albums to date. Unfortunately, people aren’t buying records like they used to, Falco said, adding that his band mainly follows the “Grateful Dead touring model.”
“We’re always on tour,” he said. Falco was headed for Colorado on the day that we spoke to him, two weeks ago. He was scheduled to come back home for Christmas, only to head back out to Colorado after the holiday was over. “Thank God for MacArthur Airport,” he laughed. “ I don’t have to deal with LaGuardia [Airport].”
As of two weeks ago, Falco’s most recent destinations were the beaches of Mexico and the snowy mountains of Vermont. “The road kinda goes on forever… and that’s a good thing,” he said. Falco added that his band will “hit most of the country” within the first four months of the year, along with numerous music festivals in the summer and fall.
Besides the traveling his music has allowed, Falco is grateful that his experience has enabled him to mentor younger musicians, who are just like he was years ago. He recently worked with a young, local music artist named Nick Russell, where he produced and performed on his upcoming album “Talisman.”
Falco also lived in Charlottesville, Va., for a couple years before moving back to Long Island several years ago. One of his favorite places to play locally is the Grey Horse Tavern in Bayport. He describes the venue’s owner, Lynda Ringhouse, as a “dear friend” who has worked to create an “intimate setting” for artists to feel free and play what they want.
Falco will be performing at the Grey Horse Tavern, 291 Bayport Avenue, on Saturday night, Jan. 5.
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