Don Guerrazzi ~ Live at the Stone Pony

The multi-talented Guerrazzi on the keyboards at his Stone Pony show

I’ve been really fortunate over the last year or so to get to know some talented artists and musicians here in New Jersey.  One musician you’ll want to keep an eye on (and an ear out for) is Hamilton, NJ resident, Don Guerrazzi.  Guerrazzi is a singer-songwriter who plays piano and guitar and reminds me of a little of John Mayer and Jack Johnson.  His lyrics are beautifully introspective, but playful at the same time – with an occasional hint, here and there, of his great appreciation for hip hop and rap.

Guerrazzi has had a pretty eventful year himself.  In the spring of 2010, he completed his MBA from Lehigh University and celebrated the release of his first CD, I Got Your Back, at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ.  Guerrazzi and I recently had a chance to sit down and chat (lucky me!), and I got the story behind the Stone Pony show, the CD, and some of the other things he’s working on.

The Stone Pony Show
Of all the NJ venues that Guerrazzi could choose from, he selected the Stone Pony for his CD release party in April.  He ‘s seen many shows there over the years and recognizes that, “It’s one of the more well-known venues on the Jersey Shore line.”  Once he decided on the Stone Pony as the venue for his CD release party, Guerrazzi had to make sure that he had a band to perform with him.  He contacted friends and the members of his college band, The Greater Kudu, and without any hesitation, the guys were eager to be a part of the show.

Performing with Guerrazzi at the Stone Pony that night were John Andreach – Lead/Rhythm Guitar, Danny Bauman – Lead/Rhythm Guitar, Bryan Shoff – Bass Guitar, Nick Speach – Drums, and John Larson – Saxophone.  Guerrazzi is grateful that his band mates from college were all there to back him up.  Due to hectic schedules, they only had a day and a half of rehearsal (but no one in the audience would have been able to know that – they sounded great).  In addition to The Greater Kudu members, Mike Naselli from Hoboken, NJ played his congas and made his debut with the band, and Arty Skye from New York and Nick Ditri from Red Bank, NJ made guest appearances on guitar and piano.

I’ve Got Your Back
The CD’s thirteen tracks are all written by Guerrazzi, and I’ve Got Your Back is a collection of songs that span his musical journey so far.  Some of the songs have been in the works for a while and were written back when he was 18, and others were written as recently as this year (he’s 24 now). He explains that the variety among the songs represents his evolution through the writing process, and says, “I’ve always had a passion for music.  And I’ve always known that you’re not going to be taken seriously at first.  I can only really write as seriously as I’m being taken.”  As Guerrazzi’s audience grew and he saw that his fans were taking him more seriously, he began to write what he referrs to as more serious songs.  Though he may be serious about his music, he still has a lot of fun with it, and the CD has a little something for everyone.  Many songs on the CD have moved up to the top of my personal playlist (especially “She Said” and the title track, “I’ve Got Your Back”).

Our conversation over a cup of coffee at the fabulous Grover’s Mill Cafe in West Windsor, NJ (photo by Christina Rudczynski, artwork by Robert Hummel

Defending Jersey
Of course, I had to find out what his opinions of New Jersey are, and what he thinks about all of the “Jersey” shows out there right now.  Like many other New Jerseayns, Guerrazzi wishes that the attention New Jersey was getting in the media was a little more accurate and portrayed the many facets of the state.  “For my Stone Pony show, some of my Buffalo friends from St. Bonnaventure came down and it was the first time they were in Jersey.  They said, I can’t believe how nice it is here.”  Guerrazzi took his friends to areas of New Jersey including Rumson and Asbury, Red Bank, and Shrewsbury.  “We did our part and showed them around.  I love New Jersey.”

Guerrazzi on guitar during the Stone Pony show in April

Looking Forward
Guerrazzi is just at the beginning of a very promising musical career, and it is keeping him busy.  He and conga player, Mike Naselli, were recently featured on BalconyTV, and that episode, and plenty of other videos of his live performances, can be found on YouTube.  Between shows, he continues to write songs, for himself and for other artists, and spends his time recording in the studio.

Performing is what he loves best, however, both when he’s on stage with just his guitar or with the full band behind him.  Guerrazzi has numerous shows planned in New Jersey and New York in the coming months.

“For now, it’s going to be a lot of singer-songwriter nights,”  Guerrazzi says of his upcoming schedule.  In fact, on September 13th, Guerrazzi will be performing in a special showcase with other singer-songwriters at The Bitter End in New York City.

Trust me, you won’t want to miss it.

The Jersey Girl

Don Guerrazzi official website

Don Guerrazzi’s facebook page

Don Guerrazzi on iTunes

Clash of Influence ~ Fresh, Organic Garden State Talent

New Jersey based, Clash of Influence (photo by George McBride)

“Organic” might not be the first word that comes to mind when you encounter Clash of Influence, but after seeing them perform live at the Stone Pony, watching a rehearsal session, and talking closely with some of the band members, I realized that it is the best word to describe them.

The Beginning
When the summer of 2004 began, two guys from Milltown, NJ sat by a backyard pool and played their guitars. With a shared love for music (and quite frankly, nothing better to do on a lazy summer day), Jay Renda and Pete Brucato embarked upon a musical endeavor that would lead to what we now know as Clash of Influence.

Renda, who had always dreamed of starting a band, was encouraged by the positive responses he and Brucato received from friends and family for playing cover songs.  The two long-time friends quickly got more serious about their music; they practiced, wrote their own songs, and through mutual friends, found Chris Dundon to sing with them.  Once Dundon and a fourth member were on board, they started to write more original music and book shows.  Renda’s dream of being in a band was becoming a reality.

Jay Renda, of Clash of Influence, warming up before headlining at the Stone Pony (photo by Christina Rudczynski)

At this time they were called The Other Path, and their sound was primarily acoustic.  Renda and Dundon found that they were a good songwriting team; Renda wrote the music and Dundon wrote the lyrics.  Things were starting to fall into place, and though Brucato made a decision to leave the band in 2006, Renda and Dundon were still interested in seeing where the music would take them.  They found new members and with each addition, the band’s acoustic sound gave way to punk, metal, and classic rock influences.  Renda felt that the group’s “melting pot” of interests and styles was at the essence of who they had become and decided to rename the band Clash of Influence.

On stage at the Stone Pony with Clash of Influence (photo by Christina Rudczynski)

The Present
Today, Clash of Influence is: Chris Dundon – vocals, Jay Renda – guitars, Billy Hoffman – guitars, Aaron Fried – bass, and Jeff Trenholm – drums.  They have daytime gigs that include bartending, landscaping, and being a stay-at-home dad, but it’s their love for music that connects them.  “We get together on the weekends so we can have some fun,”  Renda explains.  “We all love doing this.  Being in the band gives us a chance to do what we love.”

During a rehearsal session at Frankensound Recording and Rehearsal Studio in North Brunswick, NJ, it was clear how much the guys in Clash of Influence love what they do.  They energetically played new material, challenged each other to remember how to play old TV theme songs, and sang covers of some of their own personal favorite songs.  The veteran members supported drummer, and newest addition, Jeff Trenholm, as he became more familiar with the songs in the band’s catalog.  Laughter filled the rehearsal space just as much as music did, and when their four hours of rehearsal time was up, it was evident that the band would have been happy to stay there to rehearse together for at least another four hours.

Clash of Influence, rehearsing at Frankensound

The Future
Currently working on a dozen new songs and preparing to record a new album, Clash of Influence is still gaining momentum.  Some of the new songs they’re testing out will take the band back to their acoustic roots and they may eventually try to incorporate more acoustic moments into their live shows.  They recently headlined at the musically historic Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ and have been invited to play there again this summer on July 6th.  On playing at the Stone Pony, Dundon said, “It’s kind of the pinnacle when you’re playing in Jersey.  I felt humbled because Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi played there.”  The Stone Pony show and other summer dates are posted on the Clash of Influence website.

With Clash of Influence, a genuine love for music and performing supersedes the idea of stardom.  Dundon explains that with the way the music industry is changing, there are many ways for an unsigned band to share their music these days.  This grassroots method of sharing music gives the band the freedom to stay true to who they are musically while, as Dundon puts it, ” We get out there and hustle.”  Even though no one in the band is pushing for it to become full-time, they are, however, sincerely open to the idea.  With a big grin on his face and a bright gleam in his eye, Renda says, “We’re willing to see what happens, and go along for the ride.”

Clash of Influence is the real deal, the genuine result of five talented musicians getting together, believing in what they do and doing what they love, or in another word: organic.

The Jersey Girl

Related links:
Visit the Clash of Influence website for links to iTunes, their facebook page, and other ways to listen to their music and keep informed of upcoming shows.
For booking information, email