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About Tom Principato
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Tom Principato has long been a regional star in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. He has toured nationally around the U.S., Canada, and Europe, but often the venues are clubs. His particular blend of blues-rock is highly specific; jazz guitar master Pat Metheny said of Principato, "He has an enormous talent at telling stories in his solos; he doesn't play 'standard' licks." Raised in suburban Washington, D.C., his early guitar-playing heroes included Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. He listened to his parents' recordings by the likes of Chet Atkins and the Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, and like a lot of kids, discovered the power of Chicago blues in his high-school years.
Early in his professional career, Principato divided his time between two great cities for blues, Washington, D.C. and Boston. Principato was the leader of a band, Powerhouse, whose only album but lively shows made them a major club attraction in the late '70s. In 1980, Principato also joined guitarist Geoff Muldaur on the road and recorded an album with him as a member of his band. Back home in D.C. in 1981, he sought out and hooked up with a number of musicians, including Big Mama Thornton, Billy Price, and Sunnyland Slim & the Assassins, a band that included Nighthawks guitarist Jimmy Thackery. Principato recorded two albums with the Assassins, No Previous Record (1986) and Partners in Crime (1987). By 1987, Principato had launched his own solo career, playing at various nightclubs in and around D.C. and Northern Virginia with varying trios.
Since 1984, Principato has recorded many solo albums featuring his own varying groups. They include Smokin! (1986), I Know What You're Thinkin (1988), the live Blazing Telecasters with his early mentor Danny Gatton (1990), In Orbit (also 1990), Tip of the Iceberg (1992), In the Clouds (1995), and Really Blue (1998). He released Blues Over the Years in 1999, Not One Word in 2000, Live in Europe in 2001, Fingers on Fire with Pete Kennedy (of the folk-rock duo the Kennedys) in 2002, House on Fire in 2003, Oh No! More Blazing Telecasters -- another duet record with Danny Gatton -- in 2005, and Guitar Gumbo, released that same year. The 2008 album Raising the Roof was credited to the Tom Principato Band -- and he reverted to a solo billing for 2010's A Part of Me. In 2012, he released a collaborative album titled Guitars on Fire: Live at Chez Paulette with Fred Chapellier. The tribute album Robert Johnson Told Me So arrived in 2013, while 2015 brought Live and Still Kickin'! A duet album with Steve Wolf, The Long Way Home, appeared in 2017.
Through the years, Principato has released records on his own Powerhouse Records label, as well as with the now defunct Atlanta-based Ichiban label. His live shows, often accompanied by just a bassist and drummer, are exciting, with lots of guitar pyrotechnics and great playing from the other members of his ensemble. Since the 1990s, Principato has enjoyed ongoing endorsement deals with the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, DR Handmade Strings, Seymour Duncan (pickups), and Roger Mayer (whose namesake founder made a variety of effects pedals and electronic gadgets for Jimi Hendrix).
Based in Falls Church, Virginia when he's not delivering his powerful live shows to crowds in clubs and theaters, Principato is like a lot of unheralded blues and roots rock performers; he spends considerable time in Europe, where the crowds in general seem to be much more appreciative of indigenous American styles. Other than a brief flirtation with Island Records, he has never been signed to a major label. ~ Richard Skelly
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