Wednesday 21 July @ 16:33:48
by Tom Hallett
I’d like to say I can pinpoint the exact moment in time when I first saw Chris “Little Man” Perricelli. I mean, I know it was at the 7th Street Entry, and I know it was the first night I ever saw Chicago’s Ike Reilly and his band turn that room upside down and fill it right to the brim with an ocean of beer-sweat. But nowadays it just seems like the soft-spoken guitar tech/singer/songwriter/guitarist has been a part of the scene here forever.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The reality of mind has no form but pervades the ten directions. In the eyes it’s called seeing, in the ears it’s called hearing, in the nose it smells, in the mouth it speaks, in the hand it grips, in the feet it steps. Basically it is a single spiritual light; seeing thus, you are liberated wherever you are.”
—Lin Chi, from The Five Houses Of Zen
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Building The City Of Light”
My first impression of Chris was that of a rather shy, intelligent, honest guy with absolutely no pretenses—a hardworking, dedicated rock and roll devotee who seemed to always have a quick grin and a friendly word. I watched him “roadie” and guitar-tech for the Reilly band, the smallest dude in the bunch doing the toughest jobs, lugging amps, stringing axes, and humping gear from show to show, club to club, city to city, and never dreamed that he had his own monumental brand of rock n’ roll stewing in his soul.
One late eve at ye old Turf Club in St. Paul, Chris let it slip that he had his own band, Little Man, and that he had a copy of their first full-length CD, 2000’s Core Of Discovery, out in his car. I had to cajole one out of him for myself. I was, to say the least, thrilled with what I found. Having spent the previous months slobbering over Ike’s debut album, Salesmen And Racists, finding such a powerful, glittering batch of songs hiding in the heart of the band’s guitar tech was kind of like finding a tiny, perfect diamond in a bowl full of gold doubloons. I made it no secret to Chris—or Ike himself, for that matter—that I thought Little Man kicked ass.
Like Reilly’s own brand of catchy, throbbing pop-rock, Little Man’s sound was up-front, ballsy, and chock full of hooks, riffs, and nifty bass lines. Where their paths separated, though, was immediately clear to the discerning listener. Ike, that puppy-eyed, broken-nosed ex-hotel-doorman from Chi-town, had a perpetually broken heart throughout most of his catalog. He rallied for the losers, the downcast, the outsiders, over walls of guitar growls and crashing cymbals. Chris, on the other hand, used his own wave of guitar noise to augment stories of subtle spiritual triumphs; to explore the limitless possibilities of soul vs. body/mind; to purge his own eternal doubts and questions of self. Each is quite fascinating in his own way, but with decidedly different messages and deliveries.
So how did two such similar yet uniquely independent musical spirits end up connecting and contributing so much to our little local scene? And where did their paths diverge—what major factors had informed Chris’s muse, added such a mystical, timeless quality to his canon of songs? To get to the bottom of these questions and more, I went right to the source and asked Little Man himself for the low-down. “I grew up in Massachusetts,” he says matter-of-factly, “in a little town called Hamilton, right near the coast.
Living near the ocean has been a huge inspiration to me. I always liked to gaze at the shimmering light on the water, and hearing the waves. It made my mind GO. It was meditation. There are plenty of references to water in my lyrics. A symbol of vastness, life, rhythm, the subconscious, creativity.”
He began playing guitar at age 13, and was soon breaking into the biz by the usual route, playing covers at parties, and eventually joining a group of much older cats and playing in various East Coast bars. “The live experience was the key,” he recounts, “I was the ‘little man’ in that band, but they called me The Kid. That band experience helped shape me at a young age into the rock scene. I was pretty naive, I was young, but I learned a lot being around the bars, drugs, booze, admirers.”
A move to Chicago to attend DePaul University, where he majored in sound recording, proved to be the catalyst for the first line-up of Little Man, the band. “I wanted to be in a big music town,” he grins. “So I started my own band there and called it Little Man.” The origin of his band’s name, it turns out, runs a lot deeper than just a physical description of its diminutive, hard-rocking front-man, though. “Now, I’m a small guy, at 5’2”, but there’s more. I read a lot of books on mythology, symbolism, and especially self-realization topics like Tarot, Zen Buddhism, and Joseph Campbell books. I like the idea of The Journey. And the hero, cast out or gone on his own will, travels into the depths, into the forest to begin his journey.
On the hero’s way, he comes across the Little Man, a guide, who gives him what he needs to move forward. Wisdom, talisman, and what-not to help him on his way. I almost always carry Rose Quartz, Orange Carnelian, and Aqua Marine gemstones in my pocket. Three little rocks.”
Perricelli’s lucky charms must’ve been working full force when he hit the Windy City, because it wasn’t long before he hooked up with drummer Dave Cottini, who would go on to hold a kit for Ike Reilly, and began gigging as Little Man. “I loved playing with Dave—things really worked well, and he’s a good friend,” he says with a meaningful glance. “After releasing an EP called About A Painting and our first full-length, Core Of Discovery, Dave hooked up with Ike through Ike’s keyboardist/guitarist/co-writer/producer Ed Tinley, who I went to college with and am good friends with as well. I never really got a chance to promote that record. Ike signed to Universal and Cottini was too busy for Little Man. Ike then asked me to come aboard; they needed a guitar tech, and though it was a hard decision for me, I left my band, quit my job, and hopped on a tour bus called “The Geeze,” because it had been a transport for the elderly, and it still had the “Senior Adults On The Move” slogan on its side!” (Laughs)
Of his time as a road-eye for the Reilly band, Chris is typically stoic. “It was a lot of fun, but it was work for me. I was their only roadie, I lugged gear, set up the drums, and was guitar tech to three guitar players.” And though Ike’s mates are legendary, at least locally, for their bibulous after-show antics, Perricelli says he usually spent that portion of any given evening packing gear and coiling cords. “Ike’s band parties on and off-stage,” he chuckles, “I might be a familiar face to Ike fans, for I was always dashing around their beer-drenched stage, resetting mic stands, retrieving fallen guitars, and re-tightening lug nuts on the drum kit. They kept me on my toes, but whenever the industry people came around, I was packing up. And after packing up, the beer was ALWAYS gone!” (Laughs)
The road experience, he says, was a rock n’ roll lesson he’s glad to have suffered through, and he holds his former employer and those rascally chums of his in the highest regard. “I learned a great deal with Ike,” he stresses, “and each one of those guys is top-notch. Ike was always generous and honest with me, and easy to get along with. I enjoyed hearing his advice about things, and I still do. I got a better insight into the business, and an understanding of how much money it takes. I loved being in a different city every night, the different faces, though I am not the social type, normally. I prefer solitude. I feel an unnatural effort being social for long periods of time, and I get anxious. Being on the road coaxed me out of my shell a bit.”
But if being on the road and learning to deal with “different cities...different faces” every night helped him to begin to come into his own as a front-man, it was meeting an attractive, rock n’ roll-friendly St. Paul hospitality worker that, as the old song goes, “put settlin’ down in his brain.” “During my two years of touring with Ike, I’d been keeping in touch with a girl I’d met in St. Paul. I saw Brigid at the end of the bar at the Turf Club, and she was a red-headed beauty that I just HAD to talk to. We were really hitting it off, sitting up all night on the Turf Club SPMC bus, when the tour manager says we have to go! And I knew that there was no way I was leaving, I mean, I felt that!” Eventually, after months of letter-writing and infrequent visits, Perricelli once again left his band, his job, and his adopted hometown and made the move to St. Paul, where he’s re-formed Little Man, who are on the eve of the release of their second full-length CD, the appropriately titled Big Rock.
As if finding true love in the heart of the rock n’ roll beast wasn’t enough, says Chris, he found the Twin Cities to be the most hospitable, down-to-earth scene he’d come across in all of his travels. “There’s just this giant support (for musicians) here,” he shrugs. “The clubs were great to us. Rob Rule (Turf Club soundguy/booker/guru) epitomizes, to me, what a club manager should be. Just honest, and friendly, and a great supporter of local music.” Fitting into a real, true-to-the-music-and-people local music scene, he figures, was just the ticket for his vision of a new Little Man. “One thing that got to me about being on the road as a tech was that I had no release. I am a musician and a songwriter myself, and it got hard being a part of it all but not having the satisfaction of playing to a crowd. I missed playing out. When things slowed down a bit with Ike, I stopped.”
Spending his down-time in local haunts like The Turf, he says, allowed him to catch up with the wide-ranging, eclectic sounds of the Cities’ musical palette, as well as introduce him to the cream of the rock n’ roll crowd: “I saw bands like Ol’ Yeller, Kruddler, and The Beatifics. It was a great music scene.” He also found, among those outfits, the current members of Little Man, guys who are as good of friends to him as they are talented band-mates. “I hooked up with drummer Ken Devoe, he’s a great communicator. We played together for awhile before officially hooking up with a bass player. We’d just jam in his living room, and he dug the songs. His style really worked well with what I’m doing. I met (bassist) Heath Henjum from seeing him play with a bunch of well-established local acts like The Beatifics and The Olympic Hopefuls. Heath can magically enhance a song of mine; when I listen back, I often find myself humming his bass lines. These two fellers helped me to create a new Little Man.”
Big Rock, the band’s latest, was recorded with the inimitable Rich Mattson (The Glenrustles, Ol’ Yeller) at Flowerpot Studios in Minneapolis, and it’s more than apparent in Chris’ description of the process that he and Mattson are musical compatriots. “I’d been watching Rich playing out, hearing about his tours. I really admire him for his calm composure and all that he’s done with his own band. He helped me to produce the album, and I highly valued his opinion on all things. We came up with some great ideas together. I remember the smiles on our faces after the two of us added a percussion track during the guitar solo on the track “Clothes On The Floor.” It was great to work with him, and I’m glad he wanted to work with us!” Mattson, breaking from his usual form of generally remaining neutral in public about bands he’s recorded, enthuses, “Little man pulls melodies from the stratosphere and riffs from the soul of rock and roll!”
Mixing duties were handled by Chris’s old buddy, Ike Reilly cohort Ed Tinley. “After tracking the album with Rich, I took what we had to Ed in Chicago. He’d recorded my Core Of Discovery a few years back, and he knows my musical tastes very well. I get a lot of inspiration from The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Faces, Liz Phair and The White Stripes. Gladly, we have our own unique sound, and Ed helped to keep us sounding true to that.”
Which brings us, finally, to the songs populating Little Man’s latest, Big Rock. As I stated earlier, the title of the album is spot-on to the nth degree—sharp sheets of sweet sonic axe wash over thrumming bass lines, tribal drums, and Perricelli’s airy, aurally-pleasing pipes. Kicking off with the positively ringing axe-work of “Touching Wonder,” it’s plain right from the get-go (as if the title weren’t enough of a clue) that this is no beddy-bye, sleepy-time mod-rock snooze album. A glorious, driving, upbeat nugget that’s half psychic commentary, half celebration of the wondrous workings of the female mind, “Touching Wonder” certainly captures small elements of each of Chris’s above-listed influences, yet stands alone as a completely unique example of song-crafting that I honestly can’t pin down to any one source.
“A lot of the songs involve love, self-discovery, and change,” confirms the album’s author. “I fell in love. I’m coming out of a shell. I moved everything I had to Minnesota.” It’s not hard, even upon first listen, to suss that Perricelli is a man in the thrall of both earthly and spiritual love—and he’s positively reveling in it. “Look at how in love we are...” he croons in the goose-bump-inducing, guitar howling triumph that is “All Of Yours, All Of Mine.” “Even though we’re very far/Look at how our time is spent/Writing notes received and sent/Away today/All of yours, all of mine/Pave the way/From your mind to mine...”
“I love to be so creative in so many facets of my life,” he admits to me with an open gaze, like that’s something that’s going to SHOCK me. I wouldn’t have thought anything different, I think, having spent the past two weeks living inside your albums, Chris. The only thing that surprises me, with all that talent, is how long it took you to come out from that shell you talked about. But he puts that into perspective, as well, and post-haste. “Zen inspires me,” he nods wisely. “I play in a fantasy world where lyrics can take me anywhere. They’re mystical in some parts and full of symbolism. I like for a listener to get their own experience from a song of mine—they’ll take it all in differently than I would. It’s touching you, like a Tarot card—you can get something out of it that connects directly to you. Then Little Man becomes a guide. The Big Rock songs are inspired, but that’s just a starting point. That’s one of the things I like about song writing. I can take a song anywhere- freedom!”
That freedom has allowed him and his band-mates to create the varied, textured collection of tunes that make up Big Rock—songs that, even when they’re quiet and introspective, still hold all of the exhilarating, positive soul-vibes their louder, more brash album companions do. I’d actually go so far as to say that 90% of the tunes on Big Rock are ANTHEMS—not just songs—and that as a listener, I’d take Chris’s advice and dive headfirst into ’em and see just what they mean to me, personally. Me, I already have, and I can report back to you that it’s a different swim in the same pond every time. In other words, they only get better with repeated listening, and that’s saying something for a batch of tracks that grab you right by the short an’ curlies upon first listen.
And that brings us up-to-date with One Guitar Player’s Story: Guitar player gives up job, band, and social life to go on the road with big-time regional rock band, meets girl, gives up job, touring, and no social life to make a new home in a new city with a new band and more of a social life than he probably counted on.
And that’s a good thing. Because even though I can’t remember the first time I saw Chris “Little Man” Perricelli, I sure the hell remember the last time I saw him, every time I see him. Why? Because I always feel better after I talk to the Little Man with three little rocks in his pocket and one great big one in his soul. And you will too. As he says on Big Rock, in the song “You Already Know”: “Because of me/It’s what I see/Because of you/It’s what you view/Open to the possibilities/Broken down to the simplicities...” Like a lot of other Zen-like Chris-isms, I dig that notion. Do yourselves a favor—open yourself up to the Little Man both inside and outside of you, and get in on the Big Rock.
Little Man CD release party for Big Rock at The Turf Club in St. Paul on Thursday, July 22nd. $5. 9 p.m. 21+. Call The Toif for more info at: 651-647-0486. Big Rock will be available at Cheapo and online at CD Baby. For more info: http://www.Littlemanmusic.net. That’s it for me this week, gang. Tune in next time for more local and national reviews, and until then—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d like to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to complain that your own personal Little Man has been leaving the cap off of the toothpaste, send replies to: (temporary e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org.