Q&A With Chuck

This area of Chuck Cantalamessa’s web site contains questions and answers about his life and career. For Chuck’s bio, click here.

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Chuck: I met my wife Nathalie, while I was performing at Coconuts, a club at the Bahia Mar Yacht Basin in Fort Lauderdale. She had brought three of her friends to hear the musician who played there on Thursday nights. To their surprise, I was substituting for the regular performer because he was ill. By sheer luck, the first song I played was “Part of the Plan” a song by Dan Fogelberg. Since Nathalie was a big Fogelberg fan, I won her heart. We were married in Fort Lauderdale in 1990, and have a son, Connor who was born in 1995. We live in a mountain home nestled in the Laurel Highlands of Farmington, PA.

Question: Are you related to the Cantalamessa’s that own the formal wear store in Uniontown, PA?

Chuck: My grandfather Tito started the business in 1925 and my father, Joe, ran it until 1993. Today, Nathalie and I own the business. In one of my songs, “Thank You Both” I thank my parents–Jean and Joe–for all that they have done for me, but admit that I’m still an artist at heart and prefer my music over business.

Question: What do you like to do outside of music and working in the family business?

Chuck: I love cross-country running on a course that I mapped out on our mountain property in Farmington, PA. I run the course every other day as part of my exercise routine. Running frees my mind and brings me peace and solitude by becoming one with nature. Many of my lyrical ideas are born when I’m in the running zone. There are no roads, and no distractions–only an abundance of wildlife (deer, turkey, foxes, pheasants, red-tail hawks, etc.) to grace me with their presence.

I also really enjoy skiing, both downhill and cross-country. My favorite skiing destination is Telluride, Colo. However, my most challenging experience was helicopter skiing on the avalanche chutes at 10 Mile Range between Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, Colo.

Scuba diving is undoubtedly my top sport of choice. I love exploring underwater caverns and canyons, as well as reliving history on shipwrecks. Night dives are very intriguing since the marine life is totally different than during the day. Deep wall diving gives me the greatest satisfaction within the ocean realm. The sense of cascading off a reef ledge, gracefully free-falling along the sheer face of an underwater mountain is so exhilarating. There is an island in the Caribbean Dutch Antilles called Saba, where cathedral pinnacle spires rise from the ocean floor 300 feet and break the surface of the water. Diving around the circumference of these seamounts yields rare marine treasures and dazzling coral formations.

Question: You also have a passion for fine imported beers. Tell us about that.

Chuck: While I was living in Florida, I played in many clubs that carried premium beers, and over time I acquired a taste for fine imported beers. To me, a good bottle of beer is like a vintage wine to a gourmet. At home I have an antique, 1952 vintage Coke machine that is stocked with beer. Most are from Belgium, England, and Germany.

Question: You’ve had a chance to meet some of the world’s best musicians. Have any of them had a particular influence on you?

Chuck: I would say that Dan Fogelberg influenced me in the beginning stages of my songwriting. I am self-taught on guitar, and during the time when I was learning, Fogelberg’s songs felt comfortable for me to play. The style of the Eagles and Crosby Stills and Nash caught my attention as well.

Question: When first starting in music, was there a particular style, artist, or group you emulated?

Chuck: It was the Beatles who really grabbed me when I first became interested in music. I then became the lead singer in a well-known local (Uniontown, PA) band called the Critters, which was founded by my older brother Joey. I joined the band after he left for college at Kent State University.

Question: Who is your favorite artist/musical group?

Chuck: Hands down, my favorite musical group is Steely Dan. The clever lyrical/musical formula of Donald Fagan and Walter Becker is one of a kind, in my opinion. The methodical implementation of world-class musicians on Steely Dan’s recordings is done with unparalleled taste and fineness. I never tire of listening to Steely Dan.

Question: You wrote a relatively new song called “High Longing”. It’s your only song that doesn’t have lyrics. Where did you draw the inspiration for that song?

Chuck: “High Longing” derives its title from the Irish connotation of the name Connor. With me being half Irish, we honored that heritage when naming our seven-year-old son Connor. I was inspired to write this instrumental while watching him expend his endless energy in his model train room comprising four substantial track layouts. The song even appears to take on the flavor and rhythm of a freight train rolling, as its intricate structure unfolds. I dedicated this song to Connor.

Question: In your opinion, what is the best song you ever wrote? Is it your favorite song?

Chuck: I believe the best song I have written is “Seasons”. I like the sensitive poetic lyrics and warm melodic flow of the tune. However, my favorite song is “From This Moment Divine”, which I wrote as a gift to my wife on our wedding day. I surprised her by playing it for the very first time during our tropical garden wedding ceremony.

Question: You write a lot of Christian songs. How is that a part of your life?

Chuck: Being self-taught musically, I am so grateful and believe that my music is a gift from God. It is ironic that the Italian translation of my last name means “sing the mass”. Though I am not one to minister, I do feel a calling to share the divine inspiration imparted to me through my Christian songs. I have a strong faith in the Lord, and I do believe in eternal salvation.

Question: What is the biggest venue you’ve ever played at?

Chuck: In the early 1980s, I formed an all-original band called High Sierra. It was composed of three guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. We were asked to play as an opening act for the Outlaws (a Southern rock group) at the Convention Center in Asbury Park, N.J. More than 10,000 fans were there for that performance. This, I think, qualifies it as my largest audience ever. At the urging of the crowd, our band played two encores. We also received a more favorable review than the Outlaws did the following day.

Question: Where is the best place you’ve ever played?

Chuck: I have such fond memories of playing at Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado with Chuck and Scott Kirkpatrick and Terry Harr–all from my Wind Star group.

Another keepsake performance was one night aboard a boat anchored on French Reef eight miles off Key Largo, Fla. Several boats were tied together in a circle for an unforgettable concert under the starry sky.

I also have great memories of playing in Costa Rica. The minister of tourism provided me with a band of talented San Jose musicians to back me on the shows. Between the television interviews and warm hospitality, I was received like royalty. The natural beauty of the Central American country is breathtaking, with its rainforests, cloud forests, and volcanoes.

For Chuck’s bio, click here.