An Interview with Luke Ferracone

Christopher Snyder returns to LVU. This time, he sits down with guitarist Luke Ferracone of The Groove Merchants. Luke tells us everything about the band, and extensively discusses the music that has influenced him. It’s a great read — we hope you enjoy it!

You are the guitarist in The Groove Merchants, a funk/groove outfit that has been gaining attention throughout the Lehigh Valley. How did you guys get together?
We all met at while attending Kutzown University. I would play from time to time with Anthony, and he would bring some of his friends over to jam. When he brought his friend John Evin over, the chemistry was immediate, and we clicked right off the bat. The three of us (an unnamed band) got booked to do a gig at an art gallery downtown, but Anthony and John Evin were coincidently already scheduled to be playing also as a trio with Tye Vallone. Once we realized this, we decided all of us ought to just play together on the gig and thus, the Groove Merchants were born. We made a lot of noise that night in the art gallery. We played a lot of similar events around town to start; art galleries, small parties, campus events. We got some tunes together throughout that process and starting gigging in Bethlehem. From there, we just continued branching out into Allentown, West Chester, Philadelphia, Manayunk, Kennett Square, Rehoboth Beach, and a handful of other spots.

About two years in, we added Dylan Hinnershitz as a permanent fixture in the band. We messed around with different horn players, keyboard players, and percussionists among other things, but where our head was at musically, Dylan’s trumpet fit with what we were going for. Dylan also attended Kutztown and has brought a totally different element to the band.

It’s been a fun and, at times, challenging process, but we’ve all learned so much from gigging and just playing in front of people so much. You see what works, what doesn’t, and what you thought was cool but really might not be as hip as it first seemed. You get your chops together as a player, meet other musicians, and see how they do it. You get exposed to so much different music you probably never would have gotten turned onto. It’s really a huge, continuous learning process. We’ve been playing about four years now.

Your Dad is also a musician. How does it feel when you get to share the stage with him?
Yes, my dad is a drummer and recording engineer. It’s great every time we have the chance to play together. I grew up listening to him play at clubs and listening to all his records, so it was pretty much the first music I was exposed to. I grew up listening to him play with tons of different people; most notable at the time was his work with organist Papa John DeFrancesco (with his son Johnny playing guitar), as well as Johnny’s own band, The Johnny DeFrancesco Power Trio with Paul Klinefelter on bass.  These guys are some of the baddest mofos on the planet. It blew my mind; they’re still some of my favorite bands that stand up next to anything out there.

It’s like getting to play with one of your favorite drummers, so needless to say, it’s pretty great. I have a while to go until I get to that level. He’s always stayed true to the music and highlighted what’s most important to draw out of it — emotional impact being one major element. It has certainly guided my approach to playing an instrument.

Since we know and love a lot of the same music, we pull from a very similar pool, so he’ll know where I’m going or vice versa. It’s always a lot of fun to play. When you’re playing with him, you have to get on board, or get run the fuck over!

Are there any albums that have resonated with you over the years, that you go back and listen to on a regular basis?
My listening always goes in waves. Sometimes, I’ll get really into something for a while, and then not revisit it for a long time. The records I love, though, always come back in the rotation. To name all the records would be hard, but some of the records that exemplify my listening ‘journey’ may be some of the following;

Johnny Defrancesco Power Trio – Live at Vincent’s
Papa John Defrancesco – Jumpin’
B.B. King – Live at the Regal
Jimi Hendrix – Live at The Fillmore East
Allman Brothers Band – Live at the Fillmore East
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
A Tribute To Jack Johnson
In a Silent Way – Live at The Fillmore West
Santana – Santana
Ron Thomas – Scenes from a Voyage to Arcturus
Wood Brothers – The Muse, Paradise, Loaded
John Scofield – A Go Go
Wes Montgomery – Groove Yard
Grant Green – Live at the Lighthouse
Fela Kuti with Ginger Baker- Live!
JD Simo – Love Vol. 1 LP
This Ray Charles live record from around 1970, and pretty much everything else he’s done.
The Doors – The Soft Parade
Derek Trucks – Songlines
Joyful Noise – Live at The Georgia Theatre, Roadsongs, and Soul Serenade, as well as his stuff with Tedeschi Trucks band
Scrapomatic – Alligator Love Cry
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
Blind Willie Johnson
This Best of John Lee Hooker Record
Jimmy Smith – Root Down
Black Sabbath –Live in Paris
Bill Withers – Still Bill
The Staple Singers early LP’s
Marvin Gaye – What’s Goin’ On
…and a bunch more.

I like a lot of older stuff, but since meeting a lot of players these past few years, I’ve gotten exposed to great newer music, like Cory Henry. It wasn’t really until I heard a Derek Trucks record about five years ago for the first time that it really opened up for me to all sorts of other music, and it inspired me to get more serious about playing, I guess by just applying myself more and really digging in, in between the lines and whatnot. Being in a band with these guys has opened me up to a lot of other music too like Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Tom Waits, King Crimson, and Allen Stone, among others. There’s so much great music out there.

Who are the top five guitar players that you enjoy watching?
Top five is a very hard number to limit it down to. but I’ll just say the players I’ve been into lately: B.B. King, Derek Trucks, J.D. Simo, Oliver Wood, and Bill Frisell.

What advice do you have for younger guitar players that are just starting out?
Advice for younger guitar players just starting out? I feel as if I am exactly the one in those shoes! I guess what has helped me, however, is just being honest with myself and following my ear. Following your ear and what moves you is a good place to start. When picking up an instrument, I think it’s important to have an approach or philosophy to the music, just as you have one in life. Knowing when to support and when to lead, when to listen and when it’s time to speak, and how to speak truthfully. How to trust yourself. How to utilize space. Really listening a lot is huge. Tell a story; all great guitarists, songwriters, and drummers tell a story in everything they play. Listen to a B.B. King solo, and you’ll hear exactly what’s going on. I think it’s all transferrable to everyday life, just a different expressive medium we have at our disposal to share our human experience and compassionately connect.

Were there other instruments that you played before the guitar?
I played drums before I played the guitar. Sometimes, I feel like I like drums more than guitar. I love shit that grooves. Rhythm is so important and it literally moves you. I like listening to Elvin Jones drum solos or Bill Ward beating the shit out of the drums. It’s more physical and primal. The grooves in Felat Kuti’s music are so deep; it’s literally a spiritual experience. Listening to and feeling the groove in Coltrane’s rendition of “Afro Blue,” “My Favorite Things,” or “Greensleeves” captures the same element, but in a slightly different way. Papa John DeFrancesco, Jimmy Smith, and Joey Defrancesco are other guys that groove just so damn hard! Real powerful stuff. I haven’t played much in past years, but I’ve been getting back into it. Once in a blue moon, Anthony will let me play a song at a gig behind the kit.

What does the future hold, for you personally and for The Groove Merchants?
Hopefully, the future holds more gigs, and bigger gigs, and just being able to continue playing. We’ve been fortunate to play some awesome events in the past like Musikfest, Allentown’s Blues Brews and BBQ, SteelStacks, Dogfish Head, Turks Head Music Fest, 104.5 Live at 5, and Midnight Mountain Music Show. More events like that would be ideal. Concert type settings are ideal, as they allow us to showcase more of our original music and our concepts as a band. We’re always trying to land opening spots for bands coming through town, so that would be great to get more of those. Touring is also something that would be a great experience.

I do love playing smaller clubs too, though; it allows you to do things and connect in a certain way you sometimes can’t on a larger stage. Having a good time playing above all is the goal.

For me personally, I’m interested in continuing to develop my own voice and, as Derek Trucks put it, “pull the ghosts out of the instrument.” Facilitating a way to play more often with other great musicians and make music is something I’m aiming fo,r too. It’s tough to find a middle ground between playing and my day job, and making sure I still make enough money to buy green smoothies. It’s really a balancing act, but so is everything else in life.

What does the Lehigh Valley and Bethlehem music scene mean to you?
SouthSide Bethlehem is where we really started playing out on a professional level. By professional, I mean making more than $10.75, if that, for a show in a crowded tiny art gallery (which was a great gig). We first hit at The Funhouse on Sundays from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Needless to say, it’s an interesting time slot to have, but it taught us what we needed to be able to play a gig. We learned a lot from playing those gigs while still having fun. We definitely failed many times, but I’d like to think we’ve succeeded just as much and more. SouthSide was the first place we really played out as a band in front of people who didn’t know us and didn’t care about us at all. At school, we had the ‘home-team’ at our gigs, our girlfriends and friends who’d always come out despite how bad it may have been. Because of this, those venues are definitely special places for us. We’re grateful for all the opportunities we’ve been given in the SouthSide, and we love all the people there. I can’t stress enough how much of a group effort the band has been. Anthony, John Evin, Tye and Dylan have all contributed so much to the group as a unit, and we wouldn’t be what we are without the heavy influence of all band members.

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