Gary James' Interview With Tony Carlucci
Of Chicago Tribute
I bet you didn't know there was a Chicago tribute band out there. Well, there is!
Called Brass Transit, they tour the U.S. and Canada playing the hits and then some of Chicago. We spoke with Brass Transit's trumpet player and band leader, Mr. Tony Carlucci. We should also point out that Tony has worked with people like Percy Sledge, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Drifters, Sam And Dave and Paul Anka to name just a few.
Q - Tony, for some reason, and I don't know why, I wouldn't think there would be much interest in a Chicago tribute band. I'm probably wrong, correct?
A - Yeah. Chicago has had over twenty hits. (laughs) There's plenty of interest, that's for sure. Chicago can't really be everywhere. So, when I started the band, it wasn't really meant to be this kind of thing. It was sort of a fun thing, playing around bars in the Toronto area. We ended up shooting a video at our second gig actually at a really nice theatre in Toronto. My son said "Why don't you put the
video on YouTube?" I went "What's YouTube?" (laughs) And of course the rest is just history. We got a lot of interest. It even surprised me.
Q - Your interest in Chicago comes from the fact they're a horn-driven band?
A - That is correct. I am a trumpet player. It was one of the very first bands I ever got into. I was maybe eleven, twelve years old. I was always interested in Pop. They were very influential in my career.
Q - How many times have you seen Chicago in concert?
A - Exactly eleven times. I used to go see them every year when they came into Toronto when I was a kid.
Q - How often do you perform? With so many people in the band, this has to be an expensive group to book.
A - Eight people in the band. We're just getting started. We did forty jobs this year (2011) alone. That's quite a bit. I would safely say we're going to be up to seventy-five to eighty this year. (2011). It's not cheap, but then again it's all relative. When you work at a casino, they have no problem giving us our price. We could always use more, but we're also very realistic. Chicago still tours. Our biggest competition is Chicago, if I want to think of it as competition. But I have an American manager. He's well connected in the casino scene. When he heard of the band, he said "You know what? Chicago can't be everywhere." He said "There's sort of a medium market here that would support something like this." I said "OK. Let's see what we can do." This band is needle drop, if you know what that means. Note for note, all the tunes, which a lot of the fans seem to be missing. One of the reasons I want this route is I was getting feedback from people going, "you know what? The band doesn't sound the same. Of course, they do a lot of tunes, different arrangements." So I said "I'll go needle drop." And it seems to be getting a lot of response, which is great.
Q - You probably play corporate gigs.
A - We do corporate gigs, absolutely. Theatres, around eight hundred to a thousand, and casinos.
Q - And you put this band together in 2009?
A - Yeah. I did. It was my idea. The keyboard player, Don Breithaupt and the drummer Paul De Long came onboard. They're good friends of mine. I have several bands in the Toronto area and they work for me all the time. So, when I approached them with the idea, then we just sort of started brain storming, "who we can get in the band?" Again, it was just supposed to be fun. We rehearsed for like four months 'cause we got all the guys together who were really in love with Chicago. Finally, through a fluke, we got a gig at a theatre and we did the gig and it turns out that one of the soundmen doing the gig at the theatre was also starting up a new video company for bands. He said "I need a guinea pig to break in all my cameras." So we ended up filming it too. Of course the rest is history. Did a little bit of editing, put it on YouTube and it turned into way more than I expected it to be.
Q - Before this band, you were doing what?
A - Oh, I still do; I'm a band leader and I have several types of high energy dance bands. I travel the world. I do work in Hong Kong and Thailand and just all across the country. Toronto has a lot of work. I've written for TV and film as a composer.
Q - Your a jack of all trades!
A - You have to, to make a living in the music scene. You can't just be a player. You gotta do everything. I've got good people skills, good business skills. So, I naturally fell into the leadership job. I might do a hundred and fifty corporate jobs a year with the dance bands.
Q - You're talking primarily Disco music?
A - Everything. This is just everything from the '50s right up to the latest Lady Gaga tune. You gotta do that in order to make everybody happy. And so, I became very good at that. Actually, everybody in this band, we're all sidemen for many, many years.
Q - How do you get to compose music for TV and films? Isn't that work all in Los Angeles?
A - First of all, there's a lot of production in Toronto too. A lot of the stuff I've written has been for Canadian TV and that's basically where it is. I have friends in L.A. who are big producers and are from Toronto and I end up doing work for them, like over the internet. I'll do some recording in my studio. Generally, a lot of my writing is for my own CDs and TV and film in Toronto. My keyboard player, Don Breithaupt, has won an Emmy actually. There's some heavyweights in this band. The lead singer does all the jingles in this country for the last thirty years. An awesome singer.
Q - You've got an All-Star band there!
A - All of us are like top call kind of sidemen musicians. I've worked with Paul Anka myself and just whoever comes by and needs a band, needs a trumpet player. We're busy. We're very lucky. We seem to get a lot of work in Toronto. We're at the top of our game. But this is a labor of love, this particular project.
Q - Does Chicago know about Brass Transit?
A - Yeah, they do. Our drummer and their drummer know each other quite well. Paul, our drummer, sent them the link and their drummer told them about the band. I ended up sending a couple of DVDs down to the drummer. The story goes that they sat around after a gig on the bus once and just checked it out and loved it. Apparently they're super nice guys. We're not threat. They admire the fact that someone is doing it so well.
Q - Just to take an opposite point of view here, could Chicago make trouble for you if they wanted to?
A - They could. Easily.
Q - They could shut you down, couldn't they?
A - Sure they could. They know the band. As a matter of fact, we're doing almost the same casino circuit, playing the same rooms. Not the same hotels, but almost on the same circuit. We're not trying to put 'em out of business. We don't seem to be getting any flack from them. Maybe one day, they might. Who knows? I could be living in a fantasy land. I've never talked to them personally. But everything I hear from people around them is that they're super nice. Very, very nice. We're not really taking money away from them. As a matter of fact, any time we play any kind of major room, we always fill out royalty papers and they make money off of it, the writers in the Chicago band. We respect 'em that much for sure.
Q - You really are an advertisement for Chicago, aren't you?
A - That's exactly it. My understanding of it is, the concern is, some of these tribute acts are just not that good. They're not doing the original songs justice. The very first thing I said to my co-partners was "If we're gonna do this, it's gotta sound the best possible, note for note. You're gonna be true to the original recording, true to the institution of all the original arrangements." Everybody's at a super high caliber. If you listen to the DVD, you'll hear it. There's no fooling around here. The singer sings three different voices. He covers all the voices in the band, 'cause we want to make it sound like that. It's really out of respect for the writing and for the band and what they did in the past. When we play in front of people, they close their eyes and say "It sounds like when I was in the 1970s!" That's what I like to hear. I'm not trying to put 'em out of work. It's really out of respect for them and all the work they did.