….we are not a bar band”. L2P offers you the pros and cons of being in a (gasp!) tribute band from one of the originator’s of RI’s popular “Forever Young.”

John Fuzek wrote his first song when he was 15 years old and performed it a year later while auditioning for “The Gong Show.” While he has been writing and performing his own music ever since, a surprising twist of fate has landed him in a tribute band. In our exclusive L2P interview with John, now 49, says it’s one of the best gigs he’s every had.

L2P: So after all those years of playing your own music, you find yourself in a band that features the music of Neil Young—How did your “Forever Young” show come to be?

John: Forever Young was never supposed to be a band… it just happened. Mark Cutler, Dan Lilley and I were playing an in-the-round show at Stone Soup Coffeehouse in Rhode Island. Joanne Lurgio was in that round as well…we thought that it would be cool to end our set with a song that we all knew…I can’t remember if it was Mark or Dan, but one of them suggested “Powderfinger” by Neil Young. Mark, Dan and I knew the song…Joanne didn’t…she had bought the CD and learned it for the gig. We had a lot of fun doing the song…there were four verses and four singers on stage so we all took a verse…a couple of months later, I was watching some you tube videos of Neil Young doing some of his early stuff and I thought that it would be fun to do a whole night of Neil Young songs in that fashion.


I asked Mark, Dan but didn’t ask Joanne—only because she wasn’t as familiar with Neil. Instead I asked Becky Chace to join in as well…I booked a venue and we started putting together a show…it was just going to be the four of us doing a sort of CSNY 4 Way Street type show…then I ran into a friend, Pete Vendettuoli, at a music store he was running at the time…I went to get a new guitar case and while I was there, told him about the show…he looked ad me and simply said, “Can I play? I’ll sit in the back and play mando and banjo.” I knew Pete from playing back-up with another friend but didn’t know him well so I talked to the other “members” and they were cool with having Pete join us…so, we rehearsed a couple of times and went to do the show.

The room we were playing held just around 200—we filled it and more…we had people in the aisles and had to turn a lot of people way. We never expected such a response. Soon after that, we were booked for a couple of other shows…then I wanted to book a bigger venue, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel which is the preeminent venue in RI. Pretty soon, the rest of the group were talking about adding drums and bass…I wasn’t so sure about that as I was more of a folkie at heart, but we added John Amitrano on Bass (he is Mark Cutler’s half brother) and Phil Hicks—they both play in a band with Dan Lilley called “Lovetrain” and have been in other bands with Dan as well. That brought the band up to seven members and a full blown rock outfit…now we were able to do Neil’s acoustic and electric songs.


We played Lupo’s and it was a great gig for us…we got booked for other venues and started doing the acoustic and full blown electric shows in one…that is where we are now…we unfortunately lost our drummer, Phil Hicks, to cancer in January and have replaced him with Leo Dumas, he’s doing great. During the time between Phil’s death and our most recent gig, we did one all acoustic show with no drummer in honor of Phil.


L2P: What is the structure of the show? What songs were chosen and why?

John: We do two sets that usually run about 90 minutes each…there are so many songs to play…Neil has recorded over 400. We tailor each show to the venue…sometimes we do more acoustic tinged numbers or more rock and we add new songs to every show and probably know 50+ Neil songs at this point. At a show this past december we performed the After The gold Rush album in its entirety and in the order of the album…we will probably do another album night again soon. Playing in this band allows us to stretch our musical wings beyond what we normally do. Three of us switch off and play a bit of keyboard during the show…we are all just keyboard dabblers, but it adds more texture to the music-piano, organ, etc. I play a six-string banjo, we do 3-4 part harmonies, sometimes there are twin lead guitars during the longer ‘jamming’ songs. What we do is a show…we are not a bar band. We played to 200 ravenous fans the other night…standing ovations and encores…we are hoping to move up to bigger venues, tour a bit and just keep doing it—we have a blast doing these shows. We are a real band…we rehearse…have promo pix, work out sets and a show.

L2P: Aside from the music, are there props or costumes that add to the Neil theme?

John: No, not really…we pay tribute to his music…no one tries to be Neil…we all know there is only one Neil Young…in fact…we don’t have a lead singer…we have SIX…we all take turns singing songs and there are 3-4 part harmonies…sometimes we may dress a little retro but that is up to the individual members…I wear a fringe jacket from time to time…John Amitrano wore a tye dye shirt at a recent show and Dan sometimes wears a Neil Young t-shirt but otherwise, we come as ourselves…

L2P: Have you found that being part of a tribute show has helped you get more opportunities to play your own music?

John: Yes…it has gotten us other gigs individually…it gives us a chance to get into a venue we may not have been able to play as a solo in the past. Within the band are four singer songwriters with recordings and who play regularly…also Dan, John Amitrano and Phil (who died) had/have a band called Lovetrain that plays Dan’s original music…Becky Chace has now been borrowing John Amitrano as her bass player and she has a band as well…Mark plays in a couple of other bands and it gigging all the time…Dan, Mark, Becky and myself are all award winning singer-songwriters in the RI area…and the band has won an award as well…we sell our own CDs and merch at the gigs and people get turned on to one or more of the members of the band and pick up the CD and then go out to see their show elsewhere.

L2P: What kind of reaction do you normally get to the FY show?

John: It’s amazing…we have people who are “addicted” to the band and can’t wait for us to play…they can be pretty ravenous…we feel like real “rockstars” on stage…we have been told that we “out-Neil, Neil”…people LOVE the band and we are complimented at every show…Mark tends to get the most notice…he is an AMAZING guitarist…one of the best I have ever seen or known…he was signed to Atlantic Records at one time with his band “The Raindogs”…and the band did a tour with Bob Dylan. Unfortunately that record company went belly up…we all have had close calls with fame, but not a close as Mark.

L2P: Have you thought about launching any other tribute type shows?

John: No, actually…I never wanted to be in a tribute band…I don’t even really like to play cover music, but FY is fun and I really like playing with all the members in the band. We all like and respect each other and have a lot of fun…and actually make some $ at it as well, which helps to support our original music endeavors. I actually never even played in a cover band other than in high school…I have spent most of my adult musical career as an original performer primarily playing only my own stuff as a solo, or in a duo with Mary Ann Rossoni playing stuff that w
e wrote…I have recorded or contributed to 9 CDs at this point in my career and have several more planned…

L2P: So the pros and cons have playing in a tribute show are…

John: The pros…money, playing in front of LARGE audiences, getting known to a whole group of people who may have never heard of you. the cons…being stuck in a tribute band and not being known for anything but that…but we work on it so that will never happen.



Forever Young photos and videos


Columnist (Roots Report) for the RI magazine, MOTIF: www.motifmagazine.net?

Co-Chair of the RI SONGWRITERS ASSOCIATION: www.risongwriters.com?

President of HEAR IN RHODE ISLAND: www.HearInRhodeIsland.com

Originally posted 2010-05-04 13:33:41.