It may seem hard to believe, if you’ve only been on the East End for the past couple of decades, and have frequented venues where you’ve enjoyed the talents of local singer-songwriters like Inda Eaton, Nancy Atlas, Lynn Blue, Gene Casey, Rob Europe, Bryan Gallo, Mick Hargreaves, Caroline Doctorow, and the myriad others who call the Twin Forks their home, but according to Fred Raimondo, “Long Island used to be where original music came to die,” he said with a chuckle.
That’s right. According to the East End resident, there was a point when Suffolk County was populated by almost nothing but cover and “tribute” bands, with the occasional big name that would touch down for a show or two, then vanish. With the exception of a couple of bright spots like Jim Turner or Nancy Remkus, it was a creative wasteland.
Raimondo remembers. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, he would work the sound board at the Stephen Talkhouse, and would get up to do a song or two, opening for the big names that would come through. He has stories about all of them: Jorma Kaukonen, Richie Havens, Donovan, Taj Mahal, and many more. “I remember when Rick Danko played,” he recalled. “It was the middle of the winter, and it was freezing cold, so there were maybe 50 to 75 people there. And just 10 years or so before that, he had played Watkins Glen” — in front of more than 600,000 adoring fans — “so I didn’t know what to expect. But he walked into the room and the moment he started to play, it was like he didn’t care how many people there were. He was part of the music. It was chills,” he said.
He has also played with Damaged Goods for almost three decades, and The Woodworkers, a retro-alt-surf-groove band.
After developing a treasury topping 200 original songs, Raimondo decided to record a CD. “Really, it was just a way of cataloging them at first,” he said. When he dropped “Stories from the Dark Heart Tavern” in 2014, Bonnie Grice of “The Eclectic Café” on 88.3 WPPB FM named it one of the year’s five best albums, calling it “haunting, sexy storytelling.”
“I can’t say enough good things about that station. Brian Cosgrove and Bonnie Grice, they are so supportive. They give a lot of airtime to local performers,” Raimondo said. “Having Pete Kennedy and Caroline Doctorow co-producing just brought everything to a higher level. We ended up with some of the songs on the folk charts.” It’s really hard not to compare Raimondo’s sound to the “Nebraska”/“The Ghost of Tom Joad” Springsteen years.
With “Dark Heart,” Raimondo told the fictional backstories of the denizens of a bar in Anytown, U.S.A., but with “Little Flower,” he took it a step farther. “It’s sort of a continuation of just one of those people, and her interactions with other people, her lovers, casual acquaintances, her observations,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of strong and loving women influence my life,” he continued.
“The goal was to present a group of songs that together tell the story of a strong, loving, and empowering woman,” Raimondo explains on his website, www.fredraimondo.com. “‘Stories From The Dark Heart Tavern’ was a collection of songs about a place. ‘Little Flower’ focuses on one person, and the people whose lives are impacted by her. Each song paints a portrait of woman as observed by lovers, friends, and family members,” he said. Again, Kennedy and Doctorow lent their support and musical talents, along with Eaton and others.
Raimondo is on the roster to perform at two upcoming events: The “Share the Harvest” farm benefit at the Stephen Talkhouse, his old stomping grounds, on March 2, sharing the stage with OC/DC, Cynthia Daniels and Sarah Greene, Rorie Kelly, Glenn Feit, and his old friend, Klyph Black. The show starts at 7 PM; tickets are available at www.stephentalkhouse.com. Then, on April 5, Raimondo will be the featured performer at the “Songwriters Share,” playing to raise money for The Retreat, at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on Bridgehampton Turnpike. The show begins at 7:30. Tickets are $20, and can be reserved by calling 631-537-0132.
“This is such a creative community,” he said, passionately. “Out here, there’s a community of artists, and writers, and songwriters. It’s one of the things that drew me here and keeps me here. To be surrounded by that, to feel that energy and be around creative people all the time, it’s so inspiring.”