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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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In Music

Johnny Cee goes solo.

Drummer Calarco readies first solo release


After decades of playing in bands, drummer John Calarco – also known as Johnny Cee – will release a solo album on June 15 called "Shine."

Calarco, who started drumming at age 10, has received seven WAMIs and played in many local bands including Big Bang Theory, Greg Koch and the Tone Controls, Common Faces (from Madison), Tony Jarvis, Daryl Stuermer Band, NC-17 (Gabriel-era Genesis Tribute band featuring Todd Sucherman from Styx ), "H," Chasin Mason, Kirk Tatnall Trio, Mike Standal, Dan Trudell Trio, The String Station, The Willy Porter Band and many other side projects.

Calarco also worked with Andy Summers of The Police, Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren, Pat Travers, The B-52s' Kate Pierson and Frank Zappa's guitarist Mike Keneally.

Calarco co-wrote a few songs with Porter for his celebrated "Dog Eared Dream" CD, including the hit "Angry Words." The success of the song led the band to open for Tori Amos in the mid-90s.

In 1997, Calarco left the Willy Porter Band and moved to New York City, where he played with the Blue Man Group and Joy Askew, Peter Gabriel's keyboardist.

Recently, OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Calarco to talk about his new album, fatherhood and his thoughts on making it as a musician in Milwaukee.

OnMilwaukee.com: How is your solo album different?

John Calarco: The new album is different for me in that I wanted to surprise some people who have no idea that I sing and write songs. So, that in itself should be different.

I always have been a songwriter in my own mind, but I never had the time or financial means to put out my own CD and all that comes with it. So, a lot of my earlier songwriting was in the form of co-writing with already established artists.

My motivations for doing my own CD are based entirely on my life experience and what has moved me emotionally. I wrote all the songs, played all the drums, sang all the vocals. I also played some percussion, acoustic guitars and piano, as well as some programming and other odd instruments I could get my hands on.

Ryan Rossebo and my brother, Frank, supplied the electric guitar onslaught. Seth Marcum from Nashville provided the thunderous bass and Derek Wollford, also from Nashville, provided the cool and interesting percussion.

OMC: There is a theme of struggle and addiction on the record. Can you expound on this?

JC: Although I do not suffer from any chemical dependency, I have, however, been affected by many loved ones who do suffer from addiction. I feel that it has been cathartic for me in writing songs about self-realization and the heavy emotions, both of euphoria as well as trauma, that go along with this part of life that has affected me so heavily. So, some of the themes on this record are about love lost, addiction and the two combined. I try to look at the positive and reflect that in this music.

OMC: What are your thoughts on being a professional musician in Milwaukee?

JC: Milwaukee is a great place to live and make money as a musician; but it comes at a cost. There's not enough, in my opinion, support for original music. But, if you want to play in a cover or tribute band, you can make enough to quit your day job. Hopefully one day the opposite will happen, that a musician / artist will be able to support themselves playing their own music.

OMC: What is your favorite Milwaukee venue?

JC: My favorite room to play in Milwaukee is the Pabst Theater followed by the Riverside. I love the acoustics of those rooms. As for clubs, I enjoy all of them. We need more live venues and more people to go out and support live music.

OMC: Where can someone pick up your CD?

JC: On my website, johhny-cee-calarco.com, as well as Amazon, CD Baby and iTunes.

OMC: When and where are some of your upcoming gigs?

JC: I have many gigs coming up as a drummer with various acts both around town and out of town. On most weekends you can find me playing with Chasin Mason or with my jazz fusion band, Hoodoo. My original music to support this CD will be making a splash soon. I'm rehearsing a band and am excited to get it out there. It's going to have serious energy.

OMC: Are you able to support yourself and your family as a musician?

JC: I have been a full-time musician for over 25 years – yikes – and I continue to support my family doing this; however it gets a little harder these days. But I'm one of the lucky ones and am grateful for it. I still get many calls as a session drummer here, Chicago and abroad.

OMC: Has being a father changed your music?

JC: Fatherhood has indeed changed everything for me. I have two beautiful boys, Anthony, 8, and Michael, 3. Every decision I now make is done taking their needs into consideration first. It has forced me to be a businessman as well as the idealistic musician. Finding a happy marriage between the two is the challenge. It has been both humbling, challenging and extremely rewarding all in one. I needed it! It's done wonders to the enormous ego I never knew I even had.

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