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2011 Update to Interview with Bernie Chiaravalle
Master Seven Interview by Tom Beninate
Copy Editor: Susan Castellano
Dec 16, 2011

Bernie, how are you progressing with your new CD?

I have about six songs cut and another four or so in the production stage. I plan to release next year on Michael McDonald's Chonin label.

How do you balance your schedule between playing lead guitar for Michael McDonald, touring, making records, co-writing with people such as Michael McDonald, Amy Holland McDonald, Larry Carlton, Jon Vezner, John Goodwin, and Chazz Frichtel, producing Amy Holland McDonald, and all those other music related things that you do?

It all seems to work out. Michael is not a real heavy tour guy so that allows me to be in town to write and record. I also have a web design company that I love. I design sites for many artists in the music business.

You designed websites for a number of high-profile entertainers as well as businesses through your BVC Web Design Company. What synergies do you find between songwriting and web design? Does working on one give you a break from the other?

I find the creative process to be somewhat similar with recording music and web design. Although I have to say, music has a much more spiritual payoff. I get chills at times when I get involved in making music. That's something that I don't get from web design but I do find it very gratifying. I also find it a nice "getaway" from the music biz for a while here and there.

The year 2011 turned out to be very busy for you. Do you plan to continue at this pace in 2012?

I'm always open to whatever comes my way. I'm not sure I'll be on the road quite as much, but then again, this business can be so unpredictable. I have started writing with Amy McDonald again so it looks like we're starting a new record for her. I love the stuff we have released before and love the new things we have written. Looking forward to the new year!

When writing your own music you’re free to explore any avenues that you wish. How does this compare to when you co-write music? Is co-writing easier or more challenging?

I'd never really co-written much before I joined Michael McDonald's band back in 1988. After being in the band for a bit I began writing partnerships with Michael, Chuck Sabatino and Chazz Frichtel. Writing with someone like Michael was different for me because suddenly I was writing for a specific artist and their style (in this case Mike). [When] writing with Chuck … we [were] also writing with the goal of getting the song to an artist to cut; whereas writing with Chazz was a little more what I was accustomed to where there didn't seem to be as many "restrictions." I've loved my co-writing with Amy McDonald, John Goodwin and Jon Vezner as well. Co-writing is very much an exercise in compromise and learning. I have learned so much about writing from these people. But I still love writing alone. My last record (The World Around Me) was written mostly by myself. I really enjoyed the return to writing alone. I really had a chance to express exactly what I wanted to say.  But at the same time writing alone can be a very isolating feeling. Sometimes I feel like I have nothing left to say. That's why it's good to co-write. Writing is a wonderful gift for sure, but it can also be torturous! Lol

How would you describe your experiences meeting, being on stage with, and playing alongside legends such as B.B. King?

One word... surreal. We actually played "Thrill Is Gone" with him. This was an influential radio song to me as I was growing up. To be playing it with the man himself was simply amazing. He was a nice guy and funny. He played a version of [the guitar he named] Lucille (he told me Gibson sends him many newer versions of Lucille and they never ask for them back) through a Fender Twin, and there was that sound and tone! Another legend I got to play with was Billy Preston. We did a show back in '04 with McD and I was quite overwhelmed when it occurred to me suddenly that I was playing with this amazing musician who once played with The Beatles! I also was honored to be asked by Michael to do a tribute show for NAMM in 2000 where many famous artists played. But meeting and playing with Ray Charles was certainly a thrill. He was especially great at rehearsal when things were a lot looser and we jammed a bit. Seeing him and Mike sing together was unforgettable!

What advice can you give to kids just starting out who are motivated to making a living in songwriting and music?

Love what you do. If you really have the drive in you you’ll know it. You can't fake that. If you have the desire then just play as much as you can. Start a band, play with a friend, and play to records.... Play, play, play! But be prepared for a long tough haul. It's a very competitive field and not real easy. [There is] not much money so it shouldn't be about that when you get started. If you're good and you hang in there long enough it may pay off, but be about the music first.

And finally Bernie, what technologies have been successful for you in promoting and marketing your music?

Digital downloads and the Internet. Without those two things so many of us indie artists would not stand a chance of being heard. Facebook is also great for getting the word out for new music and playing live. I'm also a big fan of CD Baby for selling both physical CDs and downloads. CD Baby gives indie artists an avenue for making our music available.
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Photo credit: Dennis Hines
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