Conan And The Showdogs Interview

He was the Production Manager for Benny Mardones.

He ran lights and sound, hauled equipment and did security for concerts at the New York State Fair.

His band has opened for Marty Stuart, John Anderson and Lee Greenwood.

In 2006, his band received a SAMMY (Syracuse Area Music Award) for “Best Country Recording”.

He is-----Conan and his band is called-----The Showdogs.

Q – Conan, what type of a group is Conan And The Showdogs?
A – There’s two things I’m doing right now. One is Conan And The Showdogs. That’s my original project. That’s like a Country-Rock thing. Kind of like the Eagles. It’s more acoustic rock than country but, I guess in today’s genres I fall closer into country than anything else. Whiskey Mae is the cover band I’ve had together for about a year and a half, two years. We’re just strictly Southern Rock covers.

Q – Where do you perform?
A – Actually this Saturday we’re playing with ‘Brand New Sin’ up in Oswego, a brand new club that opened in Oswego. We play Mac’s Bad Art Bar in Mattydak about every 6 weeks.

Q – Which band is playing those venues?
A – Whisky Mac. The Showdogs thing playing. I’m not actually actively out playing. We end up doing 3-5 shows during the summer. We jump onto some festival stuff. We played the Taste Of Syracuse on the SAMMY stage last year. (2006). We do some festival things like that. It’s not something I really pursue. It’s more of a way for me to get some of my music stuff out. I’m more into making records with that band than really playing ‘live’.

Q – You were actually making trips to Nashville to check out the music scene there. Were you thinking of moving there?
A – Honestly, I’m 38. I grew up in the 80’s and the type of stuff I listen to and like to play and like to hear other bands do, is not anything like 10-11 years ago. That kind of stuff, the 80’s rock was dying out. I just wasn’t interested in the new stuff. I had a couple of friends that moved to Nashville. I was familiar with some country stuff at the time. I wouldn’t say I was a big fan. I thought, hey, let’s check out something else. I had friends down there which made it possible for me to go down and have a place to stay for free.

Q – That always helps.
A – Yeah. I kind of got interested through that really.

Q – How many trips did you make to Nashville?
A – I didn’t always go straight to Nashville. To the state of Tennessee and Nashville, probably 10 or 15.

Q – Over how many years?
A – A very short period of time. Probably a year and a half.

Q – You drove down obviously.
A – Yeah.

Q – I bet you put some mileage on that car.
A – Yes I did. I made a couple other trips around the country too. I put like about 55,000 (miles) on the car, in 9 months, in just that one vehicle I had.

Q – You were actually a jazz who liked Chuck Mangione, but, you switched to rock ‘n’ roll after seeing the Buddy Holly movie?
A – Yeah. I started playing trumpet at 9. I lived in Hannibal at the time. The premiere of that was in Oswego and my mother dragged me to that. I obviously had no clue who Buddy Holly was. Buddy Holly to me sounded like the Hollies and I knew that was some English group that I wasn’t into. I was 8, 9 years old. I had no idea what I was doing. (Laughs). But, I went. What really turned me on about that movie was, and I’ve talked about that movie in a couple other interviews, but what I probably didn’t mention was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane crashed October 20 th 1977. This movie premiered in ’78. So, before the Buddy Holly Story actually played there was like a tribute, a little montage of the Lynyrd Skynyrd thing. That’s actually the first thing I saw. That movie is still one of my favorite movies.

Q - When did you put the Show dogs together?
A – I took 12 or 13 years off from actually playing. I was working behind the scenes. I started writing probably somewhere early in the summer of ’97. I picked up a guitar and started writing again. Originally I was just going to write for myself and it ended up turning into a record with the traveling I’d done to Tennessee back and forth, and people I’d met, things I experienced. It was turning into what was probably going to end up being a record. At that point I had only planned on recording a record. I was gonna release it and try to sell a few copies pretty much for myself. By ’99 when we released the record people were like, ‘When are you gonna play’? It’s not a performing group. It was just something I got together with some friends to record. The very first Conan and the Showdogs show was November 21 st ’03. That was the first time I had been onstage with my own band in 13 years.

Q – Where did you perform?
A – The Bridge Street Music Hall ( East Syracuse). It’s a tractor place. I was actually managing that club at the time. It was more of a bet. We were sitting after hours, hanging out, drinking and people were like you’re not gonna play. I said you’re right. I’m not gonna. It’s not what I want to do.

Q – So, in this band Conan And The Showdogs you’re the singer?
A – Yeah. I sing and play guitar.

Q – You always wanted to be a singer?
A – I never really was a singer. I’m origionally a bass player, after the whole trumpet thing. I started playing bass and we had a little 5 piece group. We had a singer, guitar, drums, keyboard, and me playing bass. We actually had a show booked. Our very first show ever. My first time playing anything but trumpet onstage. The singer didn’t want to learn the stuff we had picked to play. He was a little eccentric at the time. We ended up getting in a big fight and he stormed out of rehearsal, and everybody looked at me ‘cause I was singing all the back-up stuff anyway at the time. I wasn’t really a singer at all. I had no intentions of wanting to do that, but we already had this show booked. Our drummer was Chuck Featherstone. His brother Mike played in The Works, who were a really big band at the time. Our first show was opening up for The Works. To us, The Works were a big name in town. It wasn’t like a little school show we could cancel. We felt we had to fulfill our obligation. So everybody looked to me to start singing and I had to sing ‘cause our singer left. (Laughs).

Q – You worked a variety of jobs at the New York State Fair: you ran lights and sound. You hauled equipment. You did security. How did you get that job?
A – A lot of people in my family are musical. You actually interviewed my Aunt 25 years ago.

Q – Who’s that?
A – Brenda Barboni. She’s originally from Syracuse, she hitch-hiked to California when she was 16 or 17. So, I got some musical people in the family. An uncle on the other side of my family had been a sound guy in the late 60’s, early 70’s. He was friends with a lot of musicians. He took me out to see a band. He said, ‘I’ll introduce you to my buddies’. I was probably 13 or 14, but, I’ve always looked a lot older than I am, when I was younger at least. We went up to Oswego to the SRO Club. I think it turned into the Matader after that. We saw his buddy’s band. I think they may have been called ‘Matrix’ at the time. I’m not really sure. Long story short, a couple of years later they turned into ‘Zoid’ and Lou the keyboard player became sort of a mentor to me, and still is to this day. Years later after I met him and started working with the band we realized we were actually related through marriage. So, we call each other ‘Cuz. I was kind of hanging out, doing security for ‘em, backstage stuff. They realized I was a musician myself and thought maybe I could help out with the Back Line, and started moving gear for them. Towards the end of the ‘Zoid’ career I ended up as the Road Manager, and I was the Lighting Director. Then I was actually the Spotlight guy for 3 years. Then when the Road Manager moved out of town I took over that position. That’s kind of how that all got started. In between that there was a ton of stuff going on too. My father owned a bowling alley. I worked that a few nights a week. I actually met a guy who used to come in with his girlfriend to bowl and he owned a security co.-----Northern Security. They were the big security co. in town at the time.

Q – And you were the Production Manager for Benny Mardones for 12 years. What did that job entail?
A – Boy-----that was A to Z. Basically I’d pull up a truck to rehearsal. I’d load all the gear in it. I’d take it to the show, set it all up. I’d have to be there to make sure sound and lights were set up correctly so that our show ran smoothly; and we had a sound and light guy at the time so I wasn’t doing anything like that. I was actually the Guitar Tech during the shows. Tearing everything down. I actually hired production for a lot of shows. I was the guy in charge of finding the sound co. lighting co. Renting trucks. I’d advance a lot if the shows; a lot of the festival stuff we did I was in charge of the advance work, which is calling the promoter, touching base, making sure the stage was going to be right for us, that we had the right amount of risers, things are right in the dressing rooms as far as catering and towels and water and soda. Benny was in California. The band was all from here. So, being a singer at the time I sat in. I was the singer for the band during rehearsals.

Q – You won a SAMMY (Syracuse Area Music Award) for your CD “Tone Deaf And Color Blind”. What does that do for your career?
A – I’m a big fan of the SAMMYS. On a local level, honestly, I don’t think it does a lot for you. It does a lot for your ego, and not necessarily the ego. The SAMMY I have sits next to my desk. Every day I sit down and see it. It reminds me of something I’ve accomplished in life, if nothing more. Locally, I think some of the younger guys really look up to it and go, ‘WOW, a SAMMY’! So, that gives you a little more clout with some of the younger people in town. Some of the older people in town say-----‘Aah-----it’s a SAMMY’. That’s cool I guess. It’s not really a Big Deal. But, I think it gives you a little stepping stone. I’m getting older. Soon, I’m gonna be one of the old guys in town, that younger guys are looking at going, ‘Conan used to do this’, like my friends do with Mike Secreti. So, I guess that’s kind of cool. On a larger level it’s great for the resume; great for the presskit. I don’t necessarily think it garners us any more gigs. To some people it’s very impressive; to some people not so much.

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