From Drywaller to Guitar Legend
“A drywall magazine? I gotta talk to you guys,” says Jimmy Vivino, recording artist and sound enthusiast, as well as music director for Jimmy Vivino and The Basic Cable Band that is employed by Conan O’Brien on his TBS late night talk show.
Walls & Ceilingscame to the attention of this gifted musician through a podcast, where Vivino had stated that before he entered a career in music professionally, he was working all kinds of construction, with an emphasis on hanging board and “spackling.”
Music always leads you down a different path: A conversation about John Lennon could lead to Carl Perkins; a conversation on The Cramps will point to Bo Diddley; Bob Dylan took several cues from Chuck Berry. “Roll Over Beethoven”? You can count on that sentiment as Baby Boomers ditched the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Van Cliburn for the likes of Ike Turner, Otis Redding, Duane Eddy and “The King,” Elvis Presley. Somewhere in that mix of talking about musical history lies Vivino. When you talk to the man, you want to slow that turntable down from 78 to 33? rpm to keep pace with what this guy says. I dare you to try but you won’t slow the revolutions. To the guitarist that from a very early age was assigned to work with his dad’s construction outfit, music was always the priority, it seemed.
“I’d work these projects with my dad’s business, and what he’d pay us I’d spend on records—the old 45 singles,” Vivino says. Whether it was from records by English recording artists of the ’60s to the Stax and Chess blues legends, fate held its place for an ace guitarist in the making.
His dad, an Italian immigrant, migrated to the states with his brothers and all became builders. The young Vivino was on the job site from an early age, mostly serving as a laborer for his dad or one of his uncles. From roofing to carpentry to drywall, the young man learned all facets of building for Vivino Construction.
“My father was a craftsman. He worked with his brothers and they built these housing developments in the suburbs,” says Vivino. “We were always going to the job. They would strap an apron on me and give me a bunch of nails. We all [siblings] worked jobs with him.
“I think [originally] his idea was to be a great trumpet player,” he continues, with the implication his pop could pursue a career in music. “But he wasn’t going to let that happen—it was going to get better for each generation.
“Hence, I was up on a roof at seven, eight or nine. They would nail a little sapling to the roof at the end of the job—Italian superstition, I guess.” [Contributing Editor Kevin Bush comments: It’s called “topping out;” kind of like smashing a bottle of champagne on a new boat. You will also see ironworkers place a flag on the uppermost beam of a new building.]
Vivino says he remembers his time fondly in construction. When asked what types of products he was using then, he recalls:
“At that time, there weren’t screw-guns, so we nailed board. For bead and mud, I was using mostly USG products.”
On the project, Vivino wasn’t presumptuous: He didn’t want to bring his own music to the jobsite so typically he and his co-workers would jam out to various stations from New York.
“Great time. We’d hear Sly Stone to the New York Dolls,” he remembers. “Back then, they [the radio stations] played all genres in a playlist.”
It wasn’t long after that Vivino began playing clubs in and around New York and then moved to music director of the 1984 production “Leader of the Pack.” Less than a decade later, the guitarist hooked up with O’Brien. The rest is a brilliant and productive career. When he’s not directing The Basic Cable Band—among other numerous projects—he is a member of the Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux. Good name.
Top Five Classics
W&C couldn’t resist asking Vivino to rate his Top 5 albums. True to his spirit, here’s some rock, folk, blues, psychedelic and pop that he names which helped shape this legend into what he is today:
Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
You get Bob coming to life as a catalyst songwriter combining folk, blues and rock ‘n’ roll on the most important album of all time. “Like A Rolling Stone” is and always will be the number one song of all time to me. (Plus my biggest influences as players appear: Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, Paul Griffin and Harvey Brooks all on one record.)
Chuck Berry: The Great 28
Everything we know about rock ‘n’ roll guitar and songwriting appears on this collection.
P.S. There is no Highway 61 Revisited album without these songs coming first.
The Beatles: Meet The Beatles
Game and life changer for a nine-year-old kid in 1964.
Muddy Waters: The Real Folk Blues
Blues college... textbook for all things to come.
Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced?
' Deep down, this is what was to come [in the future]: Really loud Muddy Waters!