The beautiful excited girls dancing on the TV screen were the ones who caused Lewis Ray Cammarata to go into music. That was when he was watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. Cammarata remembers it likes it happened yesterday because his dad was wincing with disgust, but his mom thought the Beatles were cute.
His older half-brother, Marty Goldscher, bought him a guitar after watching the eventful Beatles performance.
"A year later I was in a band. When I was 16, an older teenager introduced me to James Brown's music. I didn't know that type of music existed," Cammarata says.
A year later, he was playing in a rhythm and blues band. He played with bands in Los Angeles for 20 years before taking a time out for 10 years to raise his son. Then, he moved to Phoenix 11 years ago and has been working his way back into the music business.
Cammarata continues to mix the Beatles into his alternative blues music, which finds him at valley venues about four times a week. He leads the open microphone performances every Tuesday at Shakers in Scottsdale, every Sunday he joins the jam at Pho Cao, and every Thursday he joins Ray Ray's blues jam at Starters Sports Bar and Grill.
Cammarata plays alternative acoustic blues along with Americana and roots music. Most of his music is original, as he likes exchanging ideas with songwriters. His relationship with the blues has been mixed.
"I know Chicago blues is the basis for all pop music, but when I walk into a bar I don't want to hear that repetitive 1-4-5 sound," he said. "I do a lot of Tom Waits. He's as much blues as anybody else, but he does it differently. Ry Cooder is also among my favorites. That's why some call it alternative blues."
Cammarata started leading the open mic at Shakers when the usual leader stopped showing up and the guy running the bar asked Cammarata to show him what he could do. He must have passed the audition.
"We've got regulars. I usually start with four songs, and each musician gets four songs," he said. "They have a huge stage and a wonderful PA system."
Pho Cao has an interesting vibe with its reputation of good blues music and excellent Vietnamese food.
"The music room is wonderful, and it's set off far enough from the dining room that you can barely hear it when you're eating," he said.
Cammarata also performs in the New Brothers Band, which is usually a three-piece acoustic guitar setup with guitarists Charlie Dickens and Reggie Chavez.
"We do down home dirty blues, Beatles, Tom Petty," he said.
When Cammarata is playing solo or with his three-piece band, he usually is found at wine bars, coffee houses or breweries where people want to listen, but not necessarily dance. However, when a club wants a dance band the New Brothers Band becomes a five-piece, adding Tracey Mortimer on bass and Mike Musa on drums. They usually get one or two gigs a week with recent performances at Sad Willie's in Chandler, Rhythm Room or the Italian American Club.
Lemme Out of Here is Cammarata's first CD, which came out about a year ago on Funzalo Records out of Tucson. Funzalo Records is known for getting its musicians in the background music for TV and movies.
Cammarata will be showcasing himself along with a couple other musicians May 31 at the Ice House Tavern and June 28 at Pho Cao. He said the key to being a successful working musician in Phoenix is diversifying. Between his jams, his three-piece band and his five-piece band Cammarata are doing just that.
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