One of the more sought after bands in Windsor Essex County the last couple years has been a group of kids ages 10 to 16 years old who are disciples of Pete Palazzolo’s Canadian Conservatory of Music. Joining Pete in the mentoring and managing of this group is John-Paul Bonadonna who is also the father of drummer Addisyn and guitarist Alex. The band is rounded out with Timothy Hole and Luca Angelini.
We talked with John-Paul about the story of the kids, new music and changes coming for the band.
Tell us about the band?
Pete Palazzolo of Canadian Conservatory of Music put bands together with his students but never had he put one together where the lead singer was 11 and the drummer was only seven, because that’s what Alex was at the time. Basically that was so the kids could perform two songs at the Christmas recital and two songs come summertime.
What was crazy was the most progress that any of these bands that he would put together, came from this pairing of two kids. Essentially at the time Pete would play lead guitar and there was another kid who played piano but he didn’t have the same commitment level that Tim and Alex did. I said to Pete, do you want me to play bass so that the songs can sound that much fuller when we’re rehearsing?
So that went on until basically January of 2018 and by that time there had been a revolving door with different kids then finally a piano/keyboard player by the name of John Dorman arrived and Alex switched to guitar and my daughter Addi was playing drums. So now we had Addi in the mix and I think we had the right commitment level from John and Tim and Alex had been waiting for.
So over the next few months, I was just posting Facebook videos of us playing in the basement, Addi on drums and Alex on guitar. Alex liked playing drums but at the same time he was into playing piano, he was taking guitar lessons and the growth of his guitar playing was exponential so it reached the point we knew eight or ten songs and people started asking, would you come play at our event?
At the time they meant would I come with my two kids and I’d been in top 40 bands and wedding bands for twenty years since I was eighteen so I had all the stuff but I thought, if I do this we’re going to jump in both feet. I didn’t want to be the lead vocalist who brings two kids out, I said let’s see if the other two boys are into doing this and they were. Basically the first gig was very much a community type thing, it was the Social Media Day event at Lanspeary Park.
We took the six or seven songs we knew, played them twice and at that point I knew it was going to be more than just that. They played nothing but classic rock so Leave those Kids Alone was a good fit and then we were off to the races. Next thing you know, all these family events that had stages were asking us to play. Last year we had a very busy schedule of trailer parks, festivals, we played Strawberry Fest and Sunsplash, Belle River Stroll the Street.
2020 was supposed to be the year of all years. We got their work visas, we were going to go stateside, there were summer concerts booked. One was Bay City Michigan, we were going to kick off their summer concert series. Booking House out of Toronto jumped on board. It was going to be an incredible summer where people showed up at venues to see adult bands, tribute acts and they were going to be blown away by these kids but COVID happened so we turned to doing social distancing videos.
We went through our songs and had each kid record their part separately from their own home and I used my abilities to stitch them all together and that ended up being crazy. We had a recording of Comfortably Numb that had almost half a million views when you factor in what we posted and sites that took the video and reposted it so now we have followers literally all around the world.
Come June, we said we gotta get out there. We saw other bands going out and playing in someone’s driveway so I said let’s just do it. We did it in a way that it was no cost to the host, essentially it was until we were full. If you asked, we pretty much played in your driveway. So we did thirty-four driveway shows in the summer and we also did a fundraiser for Teen Mental Health through Bluesfest Windsor along with a few other things.
As much as we were disappointed about not playing all those shows in the U.S. it turned out great and we had an absolute blast. The gratitude from people in the neighbourhoods we played for was great, people bringing out lawn chairs and being respectful of each other in regards to social distancing, etc. I think things will be better next year with vaccines coming and whatnot but will festivals be back up and running or are they going to say bear with us for one more year?
I see a whole summer or at least part of a summer where it’s going to happen again and that doesn’t bother me. It worked out really well and gave them a lot of exposure. The degree to which they know the ins and outs of playing live has really developed.
Obviously you being a musician influenced them.
Yeah, my wife Michelle too, she was the vocalist in Blonde Tango which was my second band after Icy Red. My brother-in-law got married a few years ago and we had Alex on drums and Addi sang with Michelle and they learned what it was like to learn a set of music and play in front of people. Alex learned all those songs and for the rest of the band it felt normal.
That’s when I realized we were dealing with something that was a little bit more than normal. For Alex it was just something we would always do. We would jam when he was five, I would sing various Beatles songs and he would just play along. I didn’t want Addisyn to be the sibling that just tagged along so I got her involved playing drums. Alex was transitioning into guitar so I asked Addi if she could sit in and just give us the straight beat and next thing you know it transitioned to this song and that song. I brought her to Pete and said you know how we have this thing going with the other kids, I think Addi can sit in. I think he was a little tentative and rightly so because she was eight years old and not a student of his but it became clear right away.
It was six months from the time she sat in and played a standard rock beat to playing on stage with the boys.
You recently lost a member.
Like any band, sometimes there’s a change in personnel. John decided a few weeks ago that he would be leaving the band. This is an opportunity to fill his void with two players, a bassist and a keyboard player, I’d like to see the full line up be kids. Running the board is an instrument all of its own so if I can transition to that roll I’d be perfectly fine with that.
Jeff Burrows of The Tea Party has been a big supporter of the band.
Yeah, it all started at the first Rocking for Kaleb’s Kourage fundraiser. We met Jeff there and he was super gracious. I think he likes to say he sees a lot of himself in the band, they would do that very thing when they were young and even his dad John has commented about enjoying seeing it from his perspective as another musician dad. Just to be invited to perform in The LiUNA Bluesfest series and help raise funds for teen mental health was really great.
He told us we’d be invited to be VIP guests for a Tea Party show during the summer but unfortunately like so many other things it didn’t happen this year.
The musicianship is indeed outstanding. I particularly like their cover of Roll With the Changes, it’s spot on and Tim’s vocals are perfect for it.
That’s all Pete, he made a point from the beginning that these were not going to be watered down, he wanted everything to be perfect. Trust me, some of those songs were project songs. It took weeks and what we would do is just offset them with some easier songs that we would learn here at the house so all credit to him and all credit to their abilities.
They are committed, they are not music lesson type kids in terms of a half hour a night. Alex is one who when he comes home, it’s guitar and you’ll get him off it because it’s time to eat. He certainly makes time for school but he’s always playing it. I make sure that they’re a student of music as far as giving them the back story behind these bands because it’s fascinating to me. I wasn’t into classic rock as a kid, I’d get to everything late but that’s a benefit because I got to discover Pink Floyd five years ago. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true, I’m having fun discovering all these great songs along with them.
Why classic rock?
I think it has to do with the musicianship aspect. If you want something where they’re all playing very active parts, it almost has to be. I think along the way there’s plenty of classic hits into the eighties and nineties.
You’ve just released their first original single, Invisible Enemy.
Recently Pete said to us, the kids are reaching an age where let’s think about what you ultimately want to do so our focus during our weekly sessions turned to writing. At first it was let’s come up with a chord pattern and how would you support that and eventually Alex came up with the music for a song.
Got the rest of the kids involved in the lyric writing and that’s how our first original single came about which was just released on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube. I think we were pretty happy with what we had but the parts that Pete’s producer mind would help shape, that’s where magic happened. So we recorded it in my basement and sent it out to João Carvalho in Toronto to have it mastered. Who knows how the response will be but it’ll be cool just to know that it’s out there.
Is there a special memory from this past year?
We were on Breakfast TV in Toronto which probably wouldn’t have happened without COVID. It was a result of making those socially distanced videos that we submitted to their Canadian Families Got Talent competition and we got an honourable mention, along with a ten minute Skype interview which was pretty cool.
The video they really liked was the one where Addi was smiling and looking intensely at the camera and what they don’t realize is the reason she’s doing that is because she’s locked in trying not to make a mistake. She’s just solid and all of them, they all have moments where they’re just kids and that’s ok, but for the majority of the time they’re all doing songs that my top 40 band used to do and my band didn’t sound anywhere near as good as they do. As much good that happened this year, you never know what would have happened if we had played those gigs in Michigan. The good thing is they are young and time is on their side.