Quick Q and A with John Fuzek (Forever Young)

A simple enough story: John Fuzek and friends thought it might be fun to play a Neil Young song….once.  Ten years later John and his friends are still playing Neil songs.  It’s important to know that Forever Young is not supposed to be a note-for-note recreation of all things Young. The solid band has the chops and knows the songs but they’re able to let loose and have some fun with the music.  John Fuzek was kind enough to tell us some more about the band, the Rhode Island music scene and his own music.

To learn more about Forever Young, check out their website.

Here’s a video of the band performing “Tell My Why”

As a founding member of Forever Young, can you tell us about how the band was formed?

Back in March 2006 Dan Lilley, Mark Cutler, Joanne Lurgio and I were part of a show at Stone Soup Coffeehouse. We wanted to do a group closing song so we chose a Neil Young song as Dan, Mark and I were fans. We selected “Powderfinger” because it had four verses and we could all sing a verse. After that show I was watching YouTube videos of Neil’s solo acoustic songs and I thought that it would be fun to play a show of all Neil Young songs. We all were spending a lot of time writing, performing, and promoting our own music and I thought it would be fun just to take the pressure off and have fun for a night. I asked Dan and Mark to be part of the show. Joanne, who performed with us at the Stone Soup wasn’t that familiar with Neil Young so I asked another female singer-songwriter friend, Becky Chace. We decided that we would perform solo acoustic selections from the NY catalogue and if we wanted to join in on a song, we would. Just after I booked the venue for the show I stopped into a music store that was owned by a musician that had been performing with a friend of mine. As we were talking I mentioned the show and he asked, “Can I play?” So, that is how we added Pete Vendettuoli. We were just hoping for a few folks to show up so we would have an audience to play to. Over two hundred people turned out and folks were sitting in the aisles. It was crazy. We had a blast. We figured after the show that was that. Then Stone Soup asked us to recreate the show as part of the Pawtucket Arts Festival. So, we did it again and have been doing it ever since. The members have changed for various reasons as with all bands but Dan Lilley, Pete Vendettuoli and I are still the core members. The other members of the band are Amy Bedard, John Amitrano and Gary St.Germain.

The name Forever Young was actually the name of a duo I had about 30 years ago. I designed the logo but we never performed in public. I recycled the package because it seemed appropriate to use. And that is the story, long as it is, of how we began!

Do you have a favorite Neil Young era?
That is a very hard question to answer.

He has so many. I generally prefer the acoustic phases but I enjoy probably 90% of what he has done. I really liked his Trans album and was fortunate to see the tour for that one. It was a solo, techno-ish type show. It was pretty cool. I am not sure if we will ever do any of the material from that recording. You have to be a true fan to have stuck with him over the years. I can remember going to a show in Boston and hearing people complain that he didn’t play “Heart of Gold.” It was odd because he was with Crazy Horse for that show and it was a rock show. Another time I saw him he was playing songs from the yet unreleased Harvest Moon CD. He was getting booed because it was all new and the crowd wanted to hear the hits. It was kind of funny when he stopped a song and asked “you want to hear the hits, don’t you? Too bad!” and then he just kept playing the new stuff!

Do you remember the first time you heard a Neil Young song and what you thought at the time?

My first memory of Neil Young was when I was in fifth grade and was taking an after school art class. The teacher had asked that we bring records to listen to. Only two records showed up one day. One of them was Heart Of Gold. We listened to it over and over again. I know it is kind of cliché but that is one of my all-time favorite songs. It says so much so simply and speaks volumes to me.

If you could play any one song with Neil Young, what would it be and why?

I think I would play “Cowgirl in the Sand.” It’s a great band song and jam song and there is a place for everyone to open up and stretch out in it.

In addition to being part of Forever Young, you are also a singer-songwriter. You are very active in the Rhode Island music scene.  Tell us a bit about how you’ve rallied the musicians in our area to form a community.

I have been part of the Rhode Island music scene for about 30 years. In the beginning I had to navigate my way through it all alone. It was hard and I had no clue what to do but I learned. In the early 90’s I was part of a duo called Fuzek-Rossoni. We played most of the major folk venues around the northeast. We put out a couple of recordings, won awards and got fairly well known. During the FR days I connected with a few people who were part of a brand new group they were calling the RI Songwriters Association. I thought it was a great group but I thought that it could be bigger and include more known artists so everyone could work together and build something. As I said back then, “My two cents turned into five dollars” and I was basically given the “keys” to the organization. I have been working on and off with the group now for almost 25 years. From that I created another organization called Hear In Rhode Island which is now in its twenty-second year. HIRI has produced festivals, concerts, CDs and worked with other festivals such as the Newport Folk Festival. Currently HIRI produces the Providence Folk Festival and the Downtown Sundown Series. Sometimes my own music takes a back seat to the organization. On top of all that about twelve years ago I was asked to write a column for a brand new magazine called Motif. I had never written before but am still at it and have written about lots of local and national acts.

How would you describe your own music?
I am a singer-songwriter. I like to write songs that mean something. I tend to write socio-political stuff but will also write love songs. Over the years I have developed my own voice and guitar style and don’t try to mimic anyone. Trying to describe your own music is one of the toughest things that a musician can do.

Besides Neil Young, who else would you cite as a musical influence?

America, Aztec-Two-Step (probably my biggest and they wound up being friends of mine), Firefall (I know, huh?), Pink Floyd, old Elton John, mostly everything from the late 60’s and early 70’s!

Everyone in the band has a lot of fun playing the shows and the audience does notice this. The fact that we are having fun connects with them and they do as well. We NEVER try to imitate Neil Young. We just play the songs. We try to honor them as best we can. We have been told that we “out Neil, Neil”. We all sing and we all front songs. We kind of play like CSNY did on the Four Way Street live album.