Home Live Music News & Review An Interview with Michael Falzarano of The Englishtown Project

An Interview with Michael Falzarano of The Englishtown Project

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Singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Falzarano has been a working musician for over 45 years, most notably in Hot Tuna, the famed offspring of The Jefferson Airplane; The New Riders of the Purple Sage; The Memphis Pilgrims, a Memphis-style rock ‘n’ roll band he founded in NYC; and his current projects The Extended Family, Kings of Psychedelta (featuring members of Kerry Kearney Band, Country Joe and the Fish, Laura Nyro Band, and more) and The Englishtown Project. The Englishtown Project- playing the music of The Grateful Dead, NRPS, and The Marshall Tucker Band, like the famous concert that happened in September 1977 in Englishtown, NJ- is poised to kick off an August tour with festival appearances and debut concerts in the Northeast.

Falzarano is also a longtime member of The New Riders of the Purple Sage, a spin-off of the Grateful Dead, which features original members David Nelson and Buddy Cage.  This seminal cosmic outlaw country band tours extensively and has recorded two CDs of new material (“Where I Come From” and “17 Pine Avenue”), some of which was co-written with Robert Hunter, famed lyricist for the Grateful Dead.  Original Falzarano compositions appear on those releases as well as “Wanted: Live At Turkey Trot” (Fa-Ka-Wee).

A live show veteran of more than four decades, Falzarano has toured throughout the United States, Europe, Scandanavia and Japan with Hot Tuna, The New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Jorma Kaukonen Trio (Kaukonen, Falzarano and Pete Sears), among others.  Some of the headlining and shared billings have included The Allman Brothers, Black Crowes, Albert King, Jimmy Smith, Slash, Rusted Root, The Other Ones, Bob Weir’s Ratdog, Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, Bruce Hornsby, Los Lobos, Dave Mason, Poco, Railroad Earth, Yonder Mountain String Band, moe and The Commander Cody Band.

Additionally Falzarano has appeared live or recorded with such musical greats as Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Robert Hunter, Donna Jean Godchaux and Tom Constanten (Grateful Dead); John Lee Hooker; Johnny Copeland; Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (Howlin’ Wolf); Pinetop Perkins, Bob Stroger and Jimmy Mays (Pinetop Perkins Band); Jonnie Johnson (Chuck Berry); Maria Muldaur; Derek Trucks (Allman Brothers); Guy Davis; Vassar Clements; Paul Simon; Dr. John; Merl Saunders; Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson (The Band); Graham Parker; Steve Kimok; Bill Keith; Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, The Dead); Warren Zevon; Greg Allman (Allman Brothers); Oteil Burbrige (Dead & Company, Allman Brothers); David Crosby; Eric Anderson; Reid Genauer (Assembly of Dust); Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band; Tony Trischka; Arlo Guthrie; John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful); Kenny Kosek (Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band); Geoff Atchison; Bruce Hornsby; Eric Weisberg; Pete Sears; David Nelson, John “Marmaduke” Dawson and Buddy Cage (New Riders of the Purple Sage); David Gans; Peter Rowan; Paul Kanter (The Jefferson Starship); Trey Anastasio (Phish); Peter Mulvey; Melvin Seals (The Jerry Garcia Band); Jeff Chimenti and Mark Karan (Rat Dog); John Popper (Blues Traveler); Commander Cody; Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic); GE Smith; Jeff Healy, Tex Logan; Amy Helm; Alexis P. Sutter Band; and Jesse McReynolds (Jim & Jesse).

When not touring, Falzarano produces other artists and teaches guitar workshops at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch.  He recently performed an original song “When There’s Two There’s Trouble” in the hit feature film “Blue Caprice” which was directed by Alexandre Moors and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

Michael was kind enough to do an interview with LMNR and give us some dish about touring life, how he spent his pandemic, and his favorite festivals, both past and present. Read on!

LMNR: How did you find yourself in such revered bands such as Hot Tuna and New Riders of the Purple Sage? Tell us the story behind that.

MF: One day I was a kid playing the music of Hot Tuna, The New Riders, The Band, Grateful Dead and others in bars and clubs on Long Island and NYC. A few short years later in 1983 I found myself in Hot Tuna and on the road with Bobby (Weir) and the Midnights playing sold-out shows everywhere including the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, about 10 minutes from where I grew up. It was surreal! I moved to San Francisco in the late 70s to hook up with my then girlfriend, now wife, Claudia. She had already met Jorma and shortly after I arrived she introduced us which started a chain of events that led me to where I am today. I started playing with Hot Tuna in 1983 and toured with them all over the world until 2002 or 2003 when Jorma and Jack decided to go back to doing the Hot Tuna acoustic duo. The next few years were spent performing on the East Coast until I hooked up with Garth Hudson of The Band. Along with Professor Louie we toured for about two years throughout the US and Canada. During this time I also played a bunch of shows with Levon Helm also of The Band. Again I say it was surreal! Then one day in 2005 I got a call from Buddy Cage, pedal steel player for the New Riders.  He said that he and original member David Nelson were putting the New Riders back together and wanted me to join. I immediately said yes, and the rest as they say is history.   

LMNR: Could you share a wild and crazy story from backstage at these jamband concerts- pending the statute of limitations, of course?

MF: I have to tell you that backstage isn’t quite as exciting as you might think, although sometimes it does get crazy. But as they say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and the same applies to the road! That said when you’re in bands like Hot Tuna or The New Riders of the Purple Sage or touring with Garth Hudson or playing with Levon Helm you never know who will stop by. So many people have come by that it’s hard to remember them all but here are a few – Paul Simon (who I later recorded with), Tom Waits, Bob Weir, Dana Carvey, David Crosby, Rambling Jack Elliot, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Bonnie Raitt and Slash to name a few. That’s about all I can share about that.

LMNR: Do you have a favorite venue to play? Do you have a favorite festival to play? What makes them your favorites? Is there any venue or festival that has a special place in your heart that doesn’t exist anymore? 

MF: Favorite theater would have to be the Beacon Theater where I’ve played many times. It’s got a great vibe and the sound is amazing. My favorite club is the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. It also has a great vibe and I’ve always had a rockin’ good time all the countless times I’ve played there. My favorite festival that’s still up and running is Bears Picnic. I think I’ve played it 15 or 16 times. The festival that has a special place in my heart that doesn’t exist anymore is the Gathering of the Vibes. Great memories from all of those places, hopefully with more to come!

LMNR: How did the lockdown part of the pandemic affect you and how you created music? Did you use it as a time to take a much-deserved break or were you itching to get back out and perform ASAP? 

MF: We all know what a strange year 2020 was. Personally it was tough because it was the first time in 50 years that I didn’t play a single summer show. But while I was home I decided to finish up a Christmas album called A Kaleidoscope Christmas that I started in 2019. Many of my other housebound friends came on board like Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, (Hot Tuna), Jason Crosby (Jackson Browne) and Jeff Mattson (DSO/ Zen Tricksters).  In fact all of the Zen Trickster – Tom Circosta, Klyph Black and Dave Diamond – played on the album and are the core band for the whole project. All of the players recorded their parts in their home studios. I’m glad I got it done and released. It sold quickly and better than any of my other CDs. I was pleasantly surprised that the first pressing sold out before it was even officially released. It was also reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine which said one of my songs, The Eggnog Shuffle, “is a song you have to hear”!

LMNR: Do you have any aspirations for your music and your bands as the world seems to be receptive to hosting live music?

MF: Well I hope that things can go back to where they were before everything unraveled in 2020. We’re getting there but we’re not quite there all the way yet.  For me, there’s no substitute for live music and connecting with the energy of an audience.

LMNR: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MF: I’m really looking forward to Relix’s inaugural Rock Camp this October. Some of the other guest performers will be Phil Lesh, Robert Randolph and John Scofield which should be a blast!

ENGLISHTOWN PROJECT 2022 TOUR DATES

Wednesday Aug. 3 – Exit Zero at Ferry Park – Cape May, NJ

Thursday Aug. 4 – Bears Picnic Music Festival – Blain, PA

Friday Aug. 5 – The Colony – Woodstock, NY

Saturday Aug. 6 – City Winery – Philadelphia, PA

Sunday Aug. 7 – The Hamilton – Washington, DC

Friday Aug. 12 – Grateful Campout Music Festival at Thompson Point Beach & Campground – Brunswick, ME

Saturday Aug. 13, Bull Run – Shirley, MA

Sunday Aug. 28 – Warwick Winery Grateful Fest. Warwick, NY

Friday Sept. 2 – The Wonder Bar (Asbury Park) – Englishtown 45th anniversary show!

Saturday Sept. 3 – Brooklyn Bowl (Brooklyn) – Englishtown 45th anniversary show!

Wednesday Sept. 24 – Arrowhead Ranch Music Festival – Parksville, NY

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