Life-Changing Art: Tom Principato

Local guitar legend plays Rams Head tomorrow, Kennedy Center Saturday.

By John Lewis. Posted on January 02, 2014

David Colwell

What piece of art changed your life? How did it affect you?

Seeing B.B. King for three shows a night, three nights in a row, in 1969 at the Cellar Door club in Georgetown. I was 17 years old, still in high school, and still developing my guitar and music skills. I had just been discovering blues through the popular guitarists of the day: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton with Cream, and Mike Bloomfield. I knew of B.B. King’s music—at this point I had a couple of his albums—and I had read that he was an influence on those guitarists.

I hitchhiked to Georgetown from my home in Falls Church, Virginia and arrived at the club early enough to get a seat at the front table. I was literally inches away from B.B. King and could have even reached out and touched him if I wanted. His performance for those three nights was electrifying. Never had I seen such emotion and musical dynamics conveyed in a musical performance! And he mesmerized the audience. It was almost like attending church. His playing and singing were so inspired, emotional, and soulful.

I decided right then and there that I wanted all of those ingredients in my music, too—songs that built in a dynamic way to crescendos, or, sometimes, to a quiet whisper (while the audience was captivated). I decided to always try to convey emotion and inspiration in the same way that B.B. King brought those things to every note of every performance for nine shows in a row in December 1969. It literally changed my life.

Area guitar legend Tom Pricipato brings his electrifying take on the blues to the Rams Head in Annapolis tomorrow night. Tommy Lepson opens, and the show starts at 8 pm. Principato—whose latest disc, Robert Johnson Told Me So, features Chuck Leavell on keys and Willie Weeks on bass—plays the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Saturday at 6 pm. 


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