Paul Sedacca

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Back when I was a freshman at the University of Delaware, I lived down the hallway in Russell A from a kid named Paul Sedacca. We quickly struck up a friendship.

Paul was a quirky Long Island kid. Huge into KISS. Smooth talker. A fantastic high school runner who joined me for a season of indoor track and field with the Blue Hens. One never knew where life would take you with Paul. Or, put differently, we once wound up in a Milford, Del. trailer park, trying to figure out how to get home. Long story.

Anyhow, in the 2 1/2 decades that have passed since graduation, Paul and I have gone our separate ways. From afar, however, I’ve observed his life with nonstop fascination. When Paul isn’t teaching fourth grade at Joseph M. McVey Elementary School, he’s playing guitar at this club, that bar, this festival. And he’s really, really exceptional—a classical and Flamenco superstar.

So I wanted to invite Paul to this space, to talk about a life of music. One can visit his Facebook page here.

Paul Sedacca, you are The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, you’re this fantastic guitarist with this crazy journey—from jam band to punk to Bluegrass to, now, Flamenco and classical. And when I knew you back in college, I’m pretty sure you played nothing. So … how did this happen?

PAUL SEDACCA: Actually, I started playing music in third grade (recorder) and fourth grade (violin). That’s also when I began reading music. I was motivated when I won the green certificate in recorder class and all the ‘smart’ kids earned the lower purple one.

Through high school I played guitar, mainly heavy metal, but very poorly. During college, every time I thought of playing guitar, in my mind it was, “You should be studying instead.” I did play during the summer though.

At some point around 1996 I joined my first band: Three 2nd Memory. We did some rock originals and Phish covers. I really loved the comradery of being in a band and the feeling of playing live music. When the band broke up, I knew that I wanted to continue. And they key decision was to become versatile. I decided that I would learn at least one song in every musical genre. Knowing how to read music better and learning music theory was the key component to this goal. Once I started learning how chords and scales were built, I was able to begin my quest. So when my friend John Corrigan and I wanted to start a jam/jazz band, I was ready. That band morphed into a few others. Additionally, learning music theory allowed me to begin writing original songs. As of now, I have probably written about 80 or so. Many of them are not very good. Some, I am really proud of, and some have had quite a life. I have a whole educational music CD that I wrote and recorded with my students singing as well.

I started playing Flamenco Guitar when my wife showed me her Spanish Guitar and played the first few notes of Malaguena. Once I saw her play, I knew that it was a direction I wanted to pursue. This also started me playing more classical Guitar and improve my reading of music.

The knowledge of music theory allowed me to learn banjo, bass, harmonica, and mandolin; all of which are on my new album, “Painted Guitars.” It is my eighth solo record.

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With Bego, Paul’s wife and collaborator.

J.P.: When we were at Delaware, you and I were pretty big KISS fans. And as I’ve aged, I’ve come to the conclusion that KISS’ music is, well … um, sorta trash. Is that too harsh? Do you still like/appreciate/enjoy them? Or was that just youth being youth?

P.S.: I’m really glad you asked this question. I read one of your blog posts a few months ago about Kiss and disagreed with most of it. Here’s why: Kiss has a huge catalog of original songs that they wrote and they perform. The song writing is excellent, especially Ace Frehley’s guitar riffs. The first six studio albums in particular are fantastic. To write and record quality original material is very difficult, especially when you know that you will be judged by millions of people. They have written songs that people love and they have been able to play those songs for millions of people live. It is not easy to play guitar, bass, and drums and sing in front of thousands of people, especially when speakers and monitors always sound differently at each venue. However, what is often overlooked about Kiss is the fact that Alive Cooper was doing the whole make-up thing and stage show BEFORE them. He deserves far more credit. He continues to perform live and record new albums of original material. Alice Cooper is the end all be all of hard rock music, the same level Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger are for rock n roll.

Kiss started in the early 70s in New York City. They needed to stand out. There were many other bands including early carnations of Twisted Sister to compete with. Kiss was brilliant at taking the Alice Cooper influence to the next level. People in the 70’s and 80’s never saw anything like that. So yes, I still appreciate and enjoy them. You may not like the type of person Gene Simmons has become, but you must respect his determination, creativity and success in the music business. The bottom line is Kiss wrote and performed amazing original songs themselves. No ghost writers and no Milli Vanilli.

J.P.: You’re the banjo player in Chapel Street Junction, a Delaware-based bluegrass band. And I’m fascinated—how does one become the banjo player in a Delaware-based bluegrass band? What was the path?

P.S.: In the late 90s I saw a performance of Doc Watson and Dave Grisman at the Wilmington Opera House. It was my first exposure to Bluegrass. I loved the speed and accuracy of the picking. It was like country music on steroids. I said to John Corrigan, “If you get a mandolin, I’ll get a banjo.” We both agreed, then got our friend Scott Perlot to bring his acoustic guitar and singing talents. The band Delaware Rag was born. We played a few open mics at the now defunct East End Café, and before we knew it we were getting real paying gigs. (Meanwhile I knew only one ‘banjo roll’ and was learning the instrument from a book and in front of audiences). Up to that point, I don’t think I ever made any money playing rock, jam, or jazz. We found a bass player (upright), and another guitarist. The band really took off, sometimes we were playing 10 or more shows a month. We recorded several albums and even did a short southern tour one summer. The Delaware Rag was so busy that it began affecting my day job of teaching. So, Scott and I formed Chapel Street Junction. We would only play a few shows a month and stay employed at our daytime jobs. That was 13 years ago and still going. Chapel Street Junction has also been very successful. We play one or two shows a month and have also been playing a lot of Irish Music. In March we are very busy and have been playing the Logan House, Stewart’s Brew Pub, and some other places every year. Once again being Versatile has helped us. We play Bluegrass, Country, Irish, and Classic Rock bluegrass style. Sorry, no Kiss covers yet, but we do some Twisted Sister. This summer we have several big shows including the Concert Series at White Clay Creek. Last time we played there, there were about 1,000 people watching.

J.P.: I’ve watched a ton of clips of you playing, and what I keep thinking, sincerely, is, “God, Paul just looks really … happy.” What are you feeling when you play? Does your mind wander? Are you hyper focused?

P.S.: The reason why I am happy in general is that I am proud of my accomplishments in life. Also, the fact that I don’t depend on playing music as my only source of income allows me to enjoy it much more. I still find every live performance different and unique. And, getting paid to play Classical Guitar and Banjo is actually amazing and funny to me. When I am playing, I do need to go into some sort of hyper focus. But, if I focus too much I will make a mistake. For example, if I am playing banjo or classical guitar, each finger of the right and left hand has to hit a specific string with the proper force in order to produce a smooth even tone. If I focus too much on each individual finger, I will crash, especially when playing high speed banjo. The focus has to become auto pilot. Same is true when playing Bach off of sheet music in front of an audience. The mechanics need to be worked out at practice. Much like a quarterback. The QB during a game is not thinking about each step he takes, the angle of his arm, the pressure of each finger when he throws etc. He practices all of that, so it is automatic during the game. Or, when you are typing one of your best- selling books, I’m sure that you are not thinking about which finger should be hitting each key.

My mind sometimes wanders, and that is usually followed by a mistake. It is difficult at times to focus on playing when you have job related stress such as standardized tests, or maybe your car is in the shop, and your kitchen sink is stopped up. Concentration is also tested by outside factors (see next answer).

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J.P.: So you recently played a solo gig at the Olive Tree Café in Newark, Del. And I’ve always wondered—what’s it like playing music at a restaurant? Everyone’s eating, talking. Silverware clangs, phones ring. Is it hard to focus? Do you at all mind when people don’t focus or pay respect to the artistry before them?

P.S.: Oh, Pearlman, you really hit one of my sensitive spots. As you know, it takes years to be able to play the Classical Guitar well enough to perform in front of people. Some songs I have practiced for countless hours until I was comfortable playing them live. Sometimes I close my eyes and improvise off of a piece and really take the music to some amazing places, only to open my eyes and to see that most people didn’t even notice. It took me a long time to accept the fact that many people don’t respect the time and effort that is needed to provide the background music while they are eating tapas and paella. However, what I have learned is that many people really do appreciate my playing. Sometimes it is evident in my tip cup at the end of the night. Sometimes, it is just a few people coming up and letting me know.

Regarding silverware clangs, loud talking, cellphones etc., the worst offender is the blender especially when I play with my wife at the Mexican Restaurants. The pouring of ice into the ice bin is another loud auditory distraction. To deal with this, I sometimes practice with the TV on and the volume turned up. Also, being a teacher, I keep a guitar in my classroom and will sometime practice Classical pieces during indoor recess. And, if you can concentrate when 30 fourth graders are playing in one classroom, you can focus through anything.

J.P.: So you and your wife Bego and the Hall and Oates of Delaware flamenco—she sings, you play guitar. What’s it like teaming up with a spouse, musically? What are the complications, if any? If, say, you just had an argument about taking out the trash, does it impact the show?

P.S.: First we need to write some hit songs and sell a few million albums to be compared with Hall and Oates. Collaborating musically has been a great part of our relationship. It started when I learned she played Spanish Guitar. We used to play the same Classical pieces together while on Skype. Later she started singing a song or two with me during my concerts. Previously Begona sung in a chorus in Spain and also performed in some Zarzuelas (Spanish light opera). Everyone loved when she sang. She added a great authentic Spanish sound. So, gradually we added more songs. Now, we have some shows where we co-headline. I usually start with some Flamenco pieces, then we do some songs together, and she also sings along with backing tracks. Some shows are more geared around her vocals. Most of our Mexican Restaurant gigs are like that. In addition to the Mexican and Spanish Restaurant circuit, together we have also played Wilmington Brew Works, Hotel DuPont, University Of Delaware events, and The Deerfield Country Club. It has been very successful. Some complications are the typical difficulties when learning a song together, that is figuring out a key, tempo and rhythm pattern that works for both of us. I have been thrown into the Spanish and Flamenco genre and really learned from her a whole new approach to the guitar. Sometimes we disagree about whether or not we need to use a monitor at a certain venue. There were a few times when we had a disagreement before a show. And, honestly it would be tough while setting up the speakers and running the mics and cables. But, after the first minute of the first song, everything seems to feel so much better, and by the end we tend to forget what the disagreement was even about. Music is a magical healer in that way.

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Paul, right, with Chapel Street Junction.

J.P.: Can anyone play guitar and be solid-to-good at it? Or are there certain things people are born with? Talents? Skills?

P.S.: Much like professional sports, the physical characteristics of the human are important. For example you need to be tall to play basketball. If playing guitar, having longer fingers does help. But Leslie West of Mountain proved that short stubby fingers can play guitar well too. Most people think that you are ‘born’ with musical ability. I don’t completely agree with that. I feel that the most important aspect is to practice and not give up when you don’t get better right away. It takes so many hours to improve just a little bit with an instrument. Too many kids these days give up on an instrument because they expect to get better without putting in too much time. Video games take practice but the learning curve is far steeper than an instrument. Because the children are used to the relatively short time it takes to improve in a video game, they can’t persevere through months and years of getting better at an instrument.  Also, in my opinion the music that your parents played when you were growing up is really important. I remember riding in my mother’s car and her playing 8-tracks of Billy Joel, Elton John, and The Beatles. This auditory input was key to me loving music as I grew up. Those songs made me feel good and the melodies were just so appealing to my ear.

J.P.: I just watched a video from you at Stewarts Brew, singing, clapping. People dancing. How did you develop the comfort and self-assurance to stand before people and sing? Were there things you needed to overcome?

P.S.: I became comfortable when I felt that I was capable at my instrument. If you are always expecting to be the best at an instrument you will be disappointed. Just be good enough to play something that sounds like music and get in front of a crowd at an open mic. When you are not depending on it for income, you can just throw it out there and enjoy the rush of playing music in front of an audience. It really is the best feeling. I also have so much confidence in my band  Chapel Street Junction and I know we are putting out a good product and helping people enjoy themselves and helping the bar owners make money. I try to get people clapping, singing, and dancing. Crowd interaction is part of a performance. I grew up watching David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), and Paul Stanley (Kiss) work the crowd. Interacting with the audience is really important. I sometimes do some ‘Name that tune’ songs during my Classical/Flamenco shows. I will give some background information on composers etc. I also try to be funny and usually mention that real job is as a fourth grade teacher.

Singing has taken me many years to get better at and years to overcome the difficulty that it takes to hit the right notes and carry a tune. Learning the banjo is the most difficult thing that I have done in my life. It is sooooooo challenging and frustrating with the right hand finger picks, high speed, and hitting the right strings with the proper force.

Wedding day.
Wedding day.

J.P.: You seem like a happy guy. You truly do. I’m a happy guy—with major doses of dread. Climate change, Trump, greed, etc. Mainly climate change and Trump. How do you soldier through? How do you find and maintain happiness?

P.S.: Well I feel the key to happiness is to be proud of your accomplishments and the type of person you are. I finally found a beautiful and loving wife. We really enjoy performing and experiencing life together.  I have been a teacher for 23 years, won several awards and have had five articles written about my teaching. My students and I helped make the Grey Fox Delaware’s Official Wildlife Animal. (That’s a whole separate story too.) I also have been in all of the lower 48 states, and 13 European countries. I even have been to Iceland. Musically, I have made tens of thousands of dollars and played probably around 500 shows.  I try to be a good son and an excellent husband. I let other cars merge in front of my car on the road, I’m polite and respectful to employees at any business, and I do everything I can to help the Earth and environment.

I do get major doses of dread when it comes to Trump’s attitude toward climate change and the environment. That is my number one concern. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord, reducing the size of national parks, and loosening the regulations on clean air and water are unforgivable, unacceptable, short- sighted and stupid. I also hate when over- development cuts down trees and old growth forests. Finally, a president should not call opponents insulting names, and use profane language.

J.P.: Greatest moment as a musician? Lowest?

P.S.: Greatest moment as a musician …On banjo, playing with Chapel Street Junction at White Clay Creek for about 1000 people, or some of the many shows where the crowd is rowdy and dancing. On Classical/Flamenco Guitar my greatest moment was playing the Macarena with my wife singing for International Night at the elementary school. We had a whole bunch of kids and teachers dancing. It was really funny.  Also having about 100 kids in the school chorus singing the school song that I wrote 16 years ago is a great feeling.

Lowest: the first time I ever tried playing with a band. It was 1989, my guitar was out of tune, and I broke a string. I was not able to participate at all.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Vinnie Vincent, Mike Going, Moo Shoo Shrimp, John Lukawski, Stone Balloon, Dan Walsh’s 1989 quarterback play, chocolate-covered raisins, sandals, Bobcat Goldthwait, Sam Cassell: 1. John Lukawski, 2. Johnny Lawrence (Cobra Kai), 3. Stone Balloon (Ramones) 4. Vinnie Vincent. 5. Mike Going 6. Moo Shoo Shrimp 7. chocolate covered raisins, 8. Dan Walsh’s quarterback playing, 9. Bobcat Goldthwait, 10. Sam Cassell, 11. Sandals, but never Mandals.

• How did you meet your wife?: I spotted her when I was walking through Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I got out my map and asked for directions.

• Five reasons one should make Newark, Del. His/her next vacation destination: 1. Great restaurants and variety of places to eat. 2. Nearby walking and hiking trails. 3. Walking UD campus. 4. No sales tax 5. Awesome live music scene.

• Three most noteworthy people to come out of East Williston, N.Y.: 1. Jack Kirby 2. Christopher Masterson 3. Carol Leifer

• I’m not feeling Scotter Gennett as a longterm answer for the Reds. What says you?: I would say to get Mookie Wilson as a hitting coach and Jesse Orosco as pitching coach.

• Five all-time greatest KISS songs: This is the toughest question of the entire Quaz. I have been thinking of this everyday since you sent me the questions. The album that each song is on is in parenthesis.

• Hard Luck Woman (Rock n Roll Over) Forget Beth, this is Peter Criss’s best song.

• Deuce (Kiss) awesome guitar riff and a great song that I used to play live in a punk rock band.

• Parasite (Hotter than Hell) Such an great guitar lick by Ace, a nice dark sound that really rocks.

• I Stole your Love (Love Gun) Another unstoppable guitar riff by Ace.

• Rock n Roll All Night (Alive I) This song and video got me into Kiss and is a classic rock anthem that should be respected.

 • What are the three most important human emotions?: 1. Empathy 2. Ambition 3. Acceptance (not sure if these count as emotions, but it is a Quaz after all)

• Celine Dion calls. She wants to perform a duet with you, and it’ll be the lead single on her next album. She’ll also pay you $5 million. However, you have to spend the next six months living in his Las Vegas basement alongside a pile of festering dog shit while listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural address on an endless loop. You in?: No, I do not need money that much. Six months is too long to be away from my family, friends, job, and music performances.

• Greatest moment as a runner at the University of Delaware?: Running on Creek Road with my new good friend Jeff Pearlman and discussing life. Also, running a 9:19 in the 3000m at a UD track meet in 1991. (good enough for 10th place).