The Long and Winding Road to Success (Part 2): Lenie Colacino, Musician

Lenie Colacino, Order of Sir Paul

Here is part two of my three-part interview with musician and voice-over actor, Lenie Colacino, of The Most Excellent Order of Sir Paul – The Ultimate McCartney Concert Experience and an alumnus of Broadway’s Beatlemania!

You can find part one of Lenie’s interview HERE.

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Starring as Paul in Broadway’s, BEATLEMANIA!, Lenie Colacino is a musician and actor who has toured the world, from New York to New Zealand, and from Brazil to B.B. King’s, in many national and international tours of the Broadway show.

He is the founder of The Cast of Beatlemania, a completely live show that has delighted audiences in the US and Canada, South America, Austria, and Japan. It has been performed for members of the British Royal Family and for US presidents.

He’s also sung and voiced dozens of national ads, including those for Hershey’s, Tropicana, the US Army, as well as for Nickelodeon’s Emmy Award-winning animated series, The Wonder Pets. 

Lenie is also the founder of The Most Excellent Order of Sir Paul, a show completely dedicated to the music of Paul McCartney, rock’s greatest living legend. 

A true left-handed player, Lenie plays a vintage left-handed Hofner violin bass and is an endorsed artist by Hofner.

Over the years, Lenie has shared the stage with such greats as Dion, Billy J. Kramer, Pete Best, Laurence Juber, and many more.  

A recognized expert on the Beach Boys, Lenie contributed to Wouldn’t It Be Nice, Brian Wilson and the Making of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds by Charles L. Granata

Colacino lives with his wife and their dog, Trooper, in Montclair, New Jersey. His interests include vintage guitars, film, and the New York Yankees.

How do you feel overall about how your career choice has impacted your life? I’m getting that you feel it’s been mostly positive.

Absolutely. I think if I’d gone the other way and not listened to my true, inner heart on these things, I’d be a very unhappy person. I think I’m one of the happiest people around because I have this. For me, it’s an anchor. Whenever I’m down or feeling that things aren’t going well, I’m very grateful for the fact that I can sit at the piano and play a couple of songs and feel better about things. Music is the best medicine. It allows an outlet for everything — if it’s going wrong or if you’re happy or sad. No matter what mood you’re in, music is always your companion. It’s a tough thing for me to [articulate]. I think other musicians know what I’m talking about. It’s always there. My guitar is always hanging on the wall, within reach.

I think Neil Young put it really well when he said after you get to a certain age, “My guitars don’t belong to me. I’m just using them until the next guy comes along.” That’s kind of the way I feel now. My collection of basses and guitars is going to outlive me, but my obligation to them is to play them. I know a lot of musicians or musician-wannabes who collect instruments and they hang on a wall. If they don’t get played, I think that’s a crime against nature. It’s there for you to play. Whatever gifts you have, you’d better use them. There’s no greater waste than a waste of talent. A lot of my friends are that way. They have a tremendous talent and they just don’t care because maybe their lives are different now or they don’t need the money. To me, I’m grateful that I still depend on this for a living because it spurs me on to keep playing, to keep my music chops up. I think if you let them atrophy, you’re really committing a crime against God. I don’t want to sound too heavy, but God gave you whatever he gave you and it’s your obligation to use those gifts the best you can. It may not be a fantastic gift, but whatever talent you’ve got, I think you’ve got to use it. Regret might be the worst thing you could ever feel.

I think it can give other people so much joy. You got that talent for free. You own it. It helps to give it away because it can make so many other people happy, too. 

I agree 100%. I think all performers or all talented people are basically narcissistic. They want that adulation from the audience. If you ever experience it, it’s something you get very addicted to. It’s like, “Yeah, I want you to love me. I want you to think that everything that comes out of my mouth is fantastic. I think that gives you a certain obligation to your audience in that, “I want this to be great. I’m going to make sure I warm up and do my exercises and make sure I’m not just mailing in my performance.” Every performance you give, you’re giving it your all. Every song you sing, you’d better do justice to, not just breeze through. I think that’s the true essence of it.

Joe Pecorino (left) and Lenie Colacino (right) of The Most Excellent Order of Sir Paul

How did you go about finding a manager? What makes a good manager?

It’s kind of two different things. Sometimes, managers will find you. I’ve gone through four or five managers and I’ve got to say, my managerial experience has not been good.

My first manager was in that early band, Ralph. He was trying to steer us toward a record deal at his company. He basically split the band up. He encouraged me, and believe me, I’m not saying it was a bad thing, to go for that audition in New York for Beatlemania!, and when I left the band it did cause quite a ripple. Although I didn’t think I was an essential member (there were other guys who were more involved in it), when I left it was not under very good circumstances. They were not happy that I left the band. It took me years to repair my relationships with those guys, some of which are still, to this point, very touchy. He also sort of interfered in the Broadway show. He was demanding from the producers that I do this, or I be that. They were very upset with him and me. I had to get rid of him.

I had agents, which are different from managers. They’re supposed to get you work, such as jingles and voice-over work. I had agents that would send me on auditions and I wouldn’t get paid for some of these things. I was hired to do the voice work on the remake of Yellow Submarine. Most people don’t know this was even going on. The director, Robert Zemeckis, was remaking Yellow Submarine. It got squashed in mid-production. I was doing voice-over for the ‘Paul’ character and I was very, very happy about that, that I was going to be the voice of my idol, McCartney. My agent at the time was making it very difficult. Every session I did for these voice-over things he would say, “Where’s my money?” He wanted his 20% of what I was getting paid. It was like, “Can you relax? I’m gonna send you the money.” He made things difficult as far as the chain of command of talking to the directors. I just wanted to do my job. I didn’t want all of this nonsense going on, but eventually the project got scrubbed anyway. It was all about his percentage. He stopped getting me work. Then I stopped doing voice-over work about, I don’t know, five or six years ago. It got very tedious.

So my experience with managers has not been good. Maybe there are advantages out there, but I think you’ll hear the same story from a lot of people. They’re not looking after your best interests, but that’s their schtick, that’s what they say anyway.

But it’s not possible to do things on your own. You pretty much have to have an agent or manager, right?

Well, not at this point. I do a McCartney show now and I still work in The Cast of Beatlemania. We do have agents, but I don’t deal with them.

My own show, The Order of Sir Paul, we do that ourselves. My wife and I book it. We take care of everything, which is a lot of work. If you’re not an agent or someone who’s had experience booking, you can find the going a little tough because venues may only want to work with established managers and agents. I find it much more rewarding to do that ourselves because then we don’t get screwed around.

In my band, The Cast of Beatlemania, which we’ve been doing for a long time, we do work with various agents and management companies, but I’m always the last one to know. What I like about being what they call a ‘sideman’ is, “Okay, here’s the gig. Here’s how much it pays. Can you do it?” I can either say yes or no. If I say ‘yes,’ then I have no kick coming about what I’m being paid or the circumstances of the gig, because I agreed to it. My attitude is, “Okay, that’s the gig. That’s what I’m going to do. Thank you very much. I’ll do my best.” I don’t have all the headaches of arranging the rooms, of arranging the equipment rentals, and everything else that goes into making your own gig work. Do I have enough PA for this venue? How are tickets going? Have I done enough promotion? I understand how that works and I’m on both sides of it.

 

What is a typical day like for you now? How different is it from what it was 10 or 15 years ago?

When I’m working a day job, and I’ve been doing that on and off as well, a typical day would be like today, although I’m talking to you. I’m going to take my dog for a walk. I try to get in at least an hour of playing if I’m not gigging. I have to take care of myself. I try to run every day. I try to eat healthy. Being physical, taking care of myself, warming up. I’ve been a bit lax about this, too, but I have these various vocal exercises I try to do. Sometimes you need to take a few days off from doing it because gigs can wear your voice out. I have to say it isn’t easier as I get older to sing the high parts that came a little easier in my 20s. You really have to take care of the instrument.

If I am working, that’s a whole preparation thing. Usually, if I’m getting on a plane, or I have a gig I’m driving to, that day starts really early. If it’s an 8:00 p.m. performance, usually I have to be on site by two or three in the afternoon. There are long sound checks. We have costumes, wigs, if I’m doing a Beatles gig, makeup, all these preparations that go into [it]. Then, finally, the gig happens. After the gig, usually you have this nice spent feeling if the gig goes well. Maybe you’re at the bar with the fellas for a drink or two, then you’re in a hotel room. Then you’re waking up and driving someplace else. The day starts over again, depending upon how many gigs you have that week. Sometimes you’re on a ferry. Sometimes you’re in an airplane. It varies, which is part of the thing that I think is attractive. You don’t want it to be a routine.

I still like the adventure. When I was younger, I wanted to see the world. “I want to see what Michigan looks like.” Okay, now that you’ve done that, the wanderlust feeling gets satisfied. For me it did, anyway. Some people I know are still out there doing it, like “I can’t wait to get to North Dakota.” I’ll say, “Well, I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need to go again.” That’s my own feeling on that. I’m atypical that way. I’m not like the average guys, who are living the teenage life still, in their 60s. I know a bunch of guys like that. I won’t mention any names. They’re dear friends of mine. I’m like, “Ok, good for you. I’m gonna be home as much as I can.”

As far as balancing your professional life and your private life, I imagine you find it easier now than when you were first starting out. And you mentioned a day job — that’s not the Beatlemania or Sir Paul thing?

Right. I had worked for the various cable companies for 20+ years on and off, currently off, but my main gig had been as an instructor. Because of my theatrical background, I found it kind of easy to get up in front of people and talk to them about what their jobs are going to be like, sort of like a motivational speaker. My wife tells me I should do that for a living, rather than music, but it’s not my passion, for sure. I found that an easy thing to do and as I worked for companies, if I needed to take time off I would do that and do gigs. I’ve found a pretty good balance there. I was lucky. If I did five or six gigs a month that was enough. It still is enough for me. I don’t want to be full-time, on the road.

There’s a Beatles band called Rain, which some of my friends are still in. Those guys are out there maybe six weeks at a time and then they’re off two months. I can’t do that. I’ve got to be around the northeast. I can’t take a week in British Columbia and then go on to northern Canada, then Saskatoon. I can’t do that and I won’t, even if the money was unbelievable, which it isn’t. I think a lot of these guys are playing because they love to do it or they love the glory aspect of it.

I loved getting up in front of an audience every night, which is very addictive, I gotta tell you. Even if it’s a little audience of 10 people or 10,000, I’ve been there on both sides of that. I know what that feels like. I don’t want to seem like I’m putting those guys down. It’s just not for me.

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