About two weeks ago I received a very odd email from percussionist Christopher Garcia. It was entirely in the subject line and was asking for my phone number, because he had a gig I might be interested in. My first thought was that Chris had sent it to me by mistake, and I replied to him, telling him as much. But no! It was legit, so I sent him my contact info and that began a very surprising chapter in the life of “Pete Brunelli, International Rock Star”
I met Christopher back around 2007 at a DeManIa gig in Natick, MA. That group is Alex DeGrassi, Michael Manring, and Chris. I’m a fan of Manring, and IMO, DeManIa is the best thing I have heard from DeGrassi. I am the kind of bass player who really watches and listens to drummers more than other bass players, and Chris just blew me away. His approach, technique, musicality… he is a great player. It took me a minute to figure the connection, but I realized that he was (and still is) the drummer in Grande Mothers, a group featuring ex-Mothers-of-Invention. My band DOOT! had just opened a show for ex-Mother Don Preston’s Akashic Ensemble, and I had seen Chris’ name in the lineup for Grande Mothers. We chatted after that gig, and we caught up again at Zappanale 20 in 2009. We were staying in the same hotel, and had a chance to talk shop and such. I was fairly perceptive. Chris was showing me tabla rhythm stuff with his hands as part of a normal conversation… my kind of guy.
Another notable event was that I met bassist Roy Estrada, one of the bass players who stands out to me as an influence, and as a very hard working player. Nothing fancy, but no mistakes either. More specifically, Roy met me, which is accurate but still seems beyond reason. I was standing in the parking lot of the Horizonte hostel looking for a ride into town and this hand slaps me on the back and says, in a loud and funny voice, “what the fuck ever happened to Doctor Dark!” So Roy somehow identified me as the former bass player in a Captain Beefheart cover band? It remains one of the weirdest events of my adult life. Roy has one of the most distinctive discography/biography lines in bass player history. Original member of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Original member of Lowell George’s Little Feat, and member of a few very good lineups of Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet’s Magic Band. So I told him: I fell hard for the music, couldn’t get the band to rehearse to a level I was comfortable with, and eventually I had to get out. He didn’t miss a beat and said “Artie (Art Dyer Tripp) and I had the same problem. You did the right thing”
Chris Garcia and Roy hung out quite a bit during Zappanale 20. Most groups have that kind of dynamic where some members have other commitments, some are loners, and some end up hanging out. We had some very loud and raucous breakfast conversations with Denny Walley, and I remember standing on grass beside the backstage wings with Chris, Roy, Steve Chillemi, and my wife Sandy during Terry Bozzio’s performance/finale that weekend. Roy was a very “normal” guy, with no kind of attitude problems or “big time” issues. I enjoyed the time I got to spend in his company. On top of that, I felt like I had come to some closure with my Doctor Dark experience thanks to a benediction from the “rejected mexican pope”.
Via this odd sequence of events and connections, I was asked if I was interested in playing bass in a Captain Beefheart tribute at a festival in Rochefort, France. The details worked, I am able to get the time off from the jobby job, so I agreed. There was one small detail to work out…