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'Papa Dave' Chiodo: Press

Northwest Arkansas Times
Forever soulful

BY KEVIN KINDER Northwest Arkansas Times

Posted on Sunday, May 3, 2009

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BROOKE McNEELY Northwest Arkansas Times David Chiodo, better known as "Papa Dave," has been playing guitar for about 60 years. Along with this wife, he runs MDA Central Casting Studios in Fayetteville and has recently released a new album - his first in several decades.

If there was a time when David Chiodo didn't play guitar, he barely remembers it. He's to be forgiven for that, though. He was just a young boy then. He started taking lessons at the age of 9. He was teaching others to play by 13, the same age he started playing in jazz clubs near Niagara Falls, N.Y., where he grew up.

Chiodo [pronounced Ch-eye-do] has been playing ever since. He was, for a time, signed to Mercury Records. He was in a band that tried to mimic The Beatles. He played hard rock at a time when few others did. While in Germany during the Vietnam War, he split time between riding in a tank and playing jazz for university students there. He was a backing musician for acts such as Dionne Warwick, Carl Perkins and dozens more.

Papa Dave, as his is frequently called, is retired, if that's what one wants to call it. But his client list at his MDA Studios in Fayetteville is brimming with students he and several other local musicians teach, and it is through that program that Chiodo continues his work. It was also at the local studio, located inside the Northwest Arkansas Mall, where Chiodo recorded "Blue Jazz," his first album in, perhaps, 30 years. Yes, Chiodo, now 68, is still playing almost 60 years after he first picked up the craft. Before The Beatles Neither of Chiodo's parents were musicians. But

there were plenty in his family. His extended

family, who were of Italian origin, played banjo, mandolin and other stringed instruments. Specifically, a guitar-playing cousin helped inspire Chiodo to pick up an instrument. Chiodo's father bought him a guitar and he started taking lessons when he was only 9 years old. After learning enough on his own, he started teaching others to play by the time he turned 13, he said.

He was also playing nightclubs at the time, something his father did not approve.

But, Chiodo argued at the time, "'You gave me the guitar. What did you expect?'"

Back then, his studies and playing focused solely on the type of music most readily available to him in the Niagara Falls area in the era just before Elvis and The Beatles.

"It was totally jazz. I'd never heard rock 'n' roll," he said.

That changed in 1958, when Chiodo moved to Florida, where he would live until moving to Northwest Arkansas about three years ago.

He immersed himself in rock 'n' roll, learning to play all the songs he could. Chiodo - who, by his own admission, isn't much of a vocalist - renewed his teaching when we wanted to start each new band. He would recruit those who did know how to sing and teach them guitar. He similarly recruited and trained the musicians who would play bass guitar and drums, he said.

One of his early bands, The Apollos, were signed to Mercury Records. Their first recording featured two songs: "Rockin' Horses," a rock 'n' roll version of "Camptown Races" and "Just Dreamin,'" an original.

Changes The Apollos had some

degree of success,

but rock 'n' roll was changing. Some group from England saw to that. Playing at a club in the Palm Beach, Fla., area, someone asked Chiodo and his band if they could play a song called "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

Chiodo had never heard the song before.

It wasn't long before the song - by The Beatles, of course - became an No. 1 hit and helped launch the British Invasion.

In the next few months, Chiodo learned every one of The Beatles' songs, he said. His record company could spot the trend, too, asking the band to reformat their sound and change their name to The Birdwatchers, "bird" being British slang for "girls."

As the momentum of the band picked up - there were television appearances, a movie score and Miami-area radio hits - so did tension in Southeast Asia. Chiodo was drafted into military service in 1965.

Instead of being sent to Vietnam, Chiodo was shipped to Germany, where he and his colleagues guarded the German border with what was then Czechoslovakia in a tank. It wasn't what he wanted, as he'd hoped to be on the front lines.

"I'm happy now. I wasn't happy then. I thought I was John Wayne," he said.

Looking for a break Somehow, word that Chiodo played guitar got around. An officer approached him and asked if he was willing to play with some other soldiers. And the jazz musician turned rock 'n' roller was soon a jazz player again.

The audiences there, mostly German university students, were hungry for American jazz, he said.

Those gigs lasted until he left the service in 1967. Within a week of being home, he got a call from Steve Alaimo, a pop star and producer on Dick Clark's "Where The Action Is" show. Alaimo had a gig for Chiodo: as a guitarist for Dionne Warwick, one of the era's most popular acts.

During this time, he also backed dozens of other notable musicians who passed through the Palm Beach area.

He also formed his own band, The Projectors, who were playing an early version of hard rock, Chiodo said. When word got out about The Projectors to someone at Atlantic Records, the group was asked to send in demos and record as an audition for the label.

They did, and were certain their big break was on the way. Instead, the band was told that Atlantic Records had opted for another band.

It was British rock icons Led Zeppelin that got the contract instead, Chiodo said.

Undeterred about music, Chiodo went a different route. In 1970, he purchased a studio - the same one where The Projectors had recorded those demos, as fate would have it - and started a music label. It marked the last time, except for a few sparse gigs, that Chiodo would perform publicly.

Teaching again It was his children who were living in the area that enticed Chiodo and wife Michelle Scott-Chiodo to relocate to Northwest Arkansas about three years ago.

It wasn't long after moving here that the couple founded MDA Central Casting Studios, which is now located in the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville. Scott-Chiodo, working professionally under the name J. Michelle Scott, had opened a similar school in Nashville in 1968 and taught students for years.

More than 100 students, mostly children, are on the client roster there, and seven coaches, including Chiodo, serve as teachers. Trainees take lessons in guitar, bass, keyboards, vocal skills and more.

The teacher in Chiodo, the same one who taught fellow children so many years ago in Niagara Falls and potential bandmates in Florida, came back.

"It's very gratifying," he said. "What they say is that kids that excel in music excel in anything."

Most young students, the guitarists that Chiodo teaches anyway, come because they have dreams of being rock 'n' roll stars, he said.

But that's not where they start when he teaches. Someone who has played a little bit of everything throughout the years knows no other way.

"You don't come to me to learn rock 'n' roll," he said. "I teach music theory, and how to be a good technician. Then we can go in any direction they want to go." Back to the beginning Chiodo has been in all those directions. As it happens, he now prefers blues and jazz music. That duality is reflected in his newest recording "Blue Jazz," which was released on his own Soul Deep label in April.

"I really haven't heard anything like it," said Chiodo, who, as he listened to the album on a recent Tuesday morning, bobbed his head along with the chord changes. Chiodo, who had not recorded any music of his own since the late '70s, said he wanted something for his family to enjoy.

He's been working on the project for about two years. It features 11 original tracks, all but one of which were written by Chiodo. The 11th song was written by his keyboard player, Mick Henderson. Chiodo wrote and recorded all of the guitar parts on the album, often dubbing over himself to have both rhythm and lead parts.

Several other handpicked artists contributed to the project, including Chiodo's son, who is also named David.

The album was also produced by a familiar name - J. Michelle Scott, Chiodo's wife.

The album is available online through Amazon. com and at 2,400 physical retailers across the country.

The recording is all instrumental except for assorted jazz-style scats throughout the album. If it resembles any one artist more than any other, it might find things in common with the Latin-inspired work of Carlos Santana, a favorite of Chiodo.

The process of making the album has reawakened his passion for performance, and Chiodo is entertaining the idea for a few select gigs. But no matter how many more gigs he plays, how many more albums he produces and how many more aspiring musicians he trains, there is a certainty, something one can see by looking at the jet black 1979 model Gibson Les Paul guitar he used to record the album.

There is a pick lodged in the strings high on the fret board so it's handy. It makes sense. One doesn't imagine he spends much time without playing.