5 Questions with Charlton Phaneuf

By Dwight Easter

DE: How far back do you go in the Norfolk music scene? Your bands, favorite performances, etc.

CP: I go back many moons to the time when The original Boathouse was in full swing, Waterside had stores & galleries and Hampton Blvd was hoppin’! My first job in Norfolk was at The Fudgery at Waterside as a singing fudge maker! Kings Head Inn, Friar Tucks, 4400 Club, Batterson’s, Mr.T’s (Speedy’s), Poorboys, Lewis’s or Cogan’s all had live music/events just about any given night. My first band was Called “Viewmaster” with bassist Johnny Cassidy initially as a duo and eventually we added drummer Richie Comia and a fiddler named Karl. We played most all of the fore mentioned venues. I recall winning some kind of contest once at the oceanfront Jewish Mother w/an all original set!

“On Beyond Zee”… was the band I joined around 1993 and we toured the east coast. We opened for The Derek Trucks Band & Col. Bruce Hampton at a festival in Athens, GA once. Our favorite bar in Norfolk to play was Friar Tucks. One show that sticks out is the night they let us decorate the entire bar with bamboo that was growing wildly in my backyard on 50th St. We turned Tuck’s into a Magical Jungle with fog and a crazy light show. We did an interpretation of “Green Eggs & Ham” where I'd sing the story while turning the pages of the Dr. Seuss book and go into a wild Kazoo solo! Another whimsical tune we played was called “Thunder Butt” in which we'd do pseudo faith healings & folks would line up to get smacked in the forehead by my palm as I exclaimed “Wash That Stanky Booty Clean!” and they’d fall back as though healed of their sins by an evangelist, whilst the band played a fast gospel outro! I opened for the now world famous Keller Williams at Friar Tuck’s shortly before they closed in the late nineties. I actually have a VHS recording of our sets that night!

Hampton Blvd eventually dissolved into the new millennium & the music scene changed dramatically. The Taphouse and other venues had opened & I played acoustic gigs for a while wherever I could. Mo & O’Malley’s downtown became a hot spot and I learned a handful of Irish drinking songs. Violinist Charlie Austin sat in on occasion and those were special nights!

Approaching 2008, I had a band called “Thinking CAP Trio”, we played the Norva a few times and were house band and open mic hosts at some venues as I continued honing my craft as a solo artist.

I also played drums on occasion starting around 2010 with Narissa Bond, who recently released her Album “The Rhythm Of Love”, in which I played a few tunes.

Currently I’m staying busy throughout Hampton Roads and Williamsburg with a sporadic stint out of town playing acoustic solo/duo gigs and occasionally full band as "The Charltones" with rotating musicians Greg Lee, David Mills, Rich Mossman and occasionally Jess Willoughby.

Dave Derring at Rock Star Booking and Jason Bruner at More Music Group have kept me fairly busy in recent years.

DE: As a working artist, a life that many would aspire to, what are some of the things those on the outside looking in might not know about the profession?

CP: This question actually has many layers and could be answered differently by different kinds of musicians, but from the standpoint of what I do as an acoustic artist and singer/songwriter, they might not know a lot of things... like the sacrifices made to really pursue a musician’s life. One common thing most people know, but may not think about, is the fact that there’s a lot more to the job of playing music than playing the music. A majority of gigs happen on the weekends and holidays while everyone else is free and enjoying life, you’re working. The work isn’t only during the gigs either, most of it, in fact is the time spent before the gig maintaining your gear, learning and rehearsing the music you’re gonna perform, advertising and booking. Many of my gigs are 4 hours long, but you have to include the drive time and the hour before the gig to set up and the hour after to load out and drive home… that’s easily a 6 plus hour shift for most shows! I’ve been doing this while maintaining a “day” job as well and it can be overwhelming at times in the busy seasons. It’s hard to make everyone happy, even though I play quite a variety of tunes from different genres, inevitably there’s always someone who will try to stump me or be dissatisfied that I don’t know their favorite songs. People can be really rude and will try to pigeon-hole you into fitting their idea of what they think entertainment is. If you’re a songwriter, it can be challenging to keep your “artistic integrity,” as you’ll be tempted to spend your time learning covers, which, in my opinion, is easier than writing. Balance is the key to everything. On the other hand, there are times that the gig is fairly easy and there may be a house sound system, making the load in and out a breeze. The crowd might be cool and appreciate everything you play. I often have folks tell me they love the variety in my repertoire and I actually played one of their favorite songs. I personally love it when I see someone cry and/or have a big smile while singing along to a tune… not that they are sad or happy, but that they were simply touched by the music or it reminds them of a special time.

DE: Our group is made up of many punk and hardcore fans, what in your catalog of music might surprise these folks upon viewing a Charltones performance?

CP: Ok, I’ll be first to admit I have somewhat “sold out” giving in to the system and just about to turn into the “Human Jukebox” that I always said I wouldn’t these days, spitting out classic rock covers and the like, but I do what I gotta do to keep the gigs rolling around here as a solo acoustic dude. I actually started out as a drummer in a punk band in high school and some of that is ingrained in my soul. Today you will still find in my repertoire “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag, “New Kind of Kick” & “Human Fly” by The Cramps, “It’s Rainin’ Today” by Angry Samoans, Several Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ramones, Velvet Underground, Motorhead, Tom Waits, Soundgarden, Jeff Buckley, Ani Difranco & Robyn Hitchcock to name a few! I honestly don’t do any songs that I can’t stomach & always make a point to do covers with my own twist.

DE: What is your absolute best scenario when playing out? Environment, crowd, aesthetic, and contributors?

CP: It’s always best to be playing to an appreciative, open-minded audience of kind folks… meaning, they are there to listen to music without expectations and not yelling out “Stairway to Freebird!” People dancing is always inspiring to musicians and more fun for everyone. I prefer a mid-sized venue with a pristine house sound system, monitors and lights provided, perhaps playing a full band with my favorite musicians and friends at maybe like the Norva or even a smaller theatre-type stage like The Attucks is a kool experience. I can’t really say I know what it’s like to be on a huge Amphitheater stage as a performer, but I hope to one day! My mind is prepared for it and I’ve often fantasized after working backstage at countless shows at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater and Portsmouth Pavilion (even Bonnaroo). It looks amazing, but somewhat intimidating. I did play the VIP lounge at the VB Amphitheater in recent times, which was fun! Moderate temperature weather on outdoor gigs and/or air conditioning on indoor gigs are a major plus in the summertime! Oh, and only the green M&M’s please!

DE: What do you have coming up/out that our readers should know about?

CP: I’m currently in the studio working with my ol’ pal and drummer/producer Rich Mossman and bandmates on an EP of original tunes due to be out by fall. This will hopefully lead to a full-length project in 2020. There are several songs, some of which I’ve been playing nearly 20 years and never brought to proper fruition or documented in the studio, which is why I’m thinking about calling the album “Grow Up”, the title track. Labor Day weekend I’m doing a full band gig at Indian Cove Resort in Sandbridge Friday 8/30/19, a duo gig Saturday 8/31/19 at the 34th Street Stage Gazebo at the oceanfront and Sunday 9/1/19 duo at Virginia Beach Town Center.

*Check out my website: charltonemusic.com

About Dwight Easter: Digital folk artist, family man and bread merchant. Some of the best moments in my life are experiencing the power and influence of great art. I came up in the Norfolk era of the M80’s, Buttsteak, and Antic Hay.