Blues Hall of Famer Frank Cosentino Still Makes his Guitar Gently Weep
Body and soul. Every. Single. Time.
Guitar aficionado and veteran recording/live axeman Frank Cosentino believes legendary guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were undoubtedly greats, but not because they were the fastest or played the most complex chords. Toronto-born Cosentino has recently been playing awesome remote gigs like “One Hour of Pure Guitar — Frank Cosentino Band brought to you by Dave & Wendy’s Place.” Of Hendrix being the GOAT, he suggests it was because every single time he performed he gave us “absolutely everything he had.”
Indeed, when a young, wide-eyed Cosentino saw Hendrix play a legendary concert at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Garden in the late 1960s, he was blown away by seeing, hearing and feeling the guitarist at the very peak of his powers. Cosentino recalls, “The sound I was hearing, I was dumbfounded that all that power was coming from just three players! From the very first sounds I heard, which was Jimi’s feed-backing guitar, I already knew then that this was something very special that I was witnessing. Although it would take many years later to appreciate and understand just how profoundly I was affected by this singular experience of someone putting their whole body and soul into playing guitar.”
Cosentino enthuses that “musically it was like a religious awakening” and that experience also inspired his own life-long love affair with the guitar, one bordering on a happy obsession — one that has seen him playing in various bands and touring thousands of miles crisscrossing the USA and Canada numerous times. In 1989, he started The Frank Cosentino Band and he’s fronted it till this day, releasing five albums, and tearing down the house on three European tours to date. And now, he says, “I’m working on my newest release now getting ready to record asap!”
Over that happy period, he has amassed an awesome collection of about 60 guitars, all working instruments. He adds, “I’ve been obsessed with them, my ladies, since I was five. In many ways, my life has been one long conversation about them, interrupted only by the countless hours of deep pleasure I have playing them.”
“The first time I heard a guitar the world for me went from black and white to technicolor.”
Seeing Cosentino in performance, you can tell with one look at his face, when he’s in “the zone.” And much like his idols Jimi and Stevie Ray along with others like Dave Gilmour and Canadian legend Domenic Troiano, Frank puts his body and soul into it. But his passion is shared not only with his audience but also with whomever he shares the stage with, whether fellow musician or singer, and collectively we are all drawn into the experience.
So, where did this fire start burning? The amiable chap recalls, “I was born and raised in Toronto. Though music was always important in our family — I was taken by a family member who was a professional musician to that infamous Hendrix performance — I was the only one to pursue the music life. In fact, for many years my parents waited for me to get past my ‘music’ stage and finally come back to reality. For them, unfortunately, that was not to be, as I was hooked by the big sound of an E chord many years before and it was over for me, I was IN for life. I just knew I needed to make that noise.”
He continues his tale and the importance of naturally having a good ear like many legendary musicians: “The deeper I dug the more I wanted to learn. I took my first guitar lesson in 1968. As a teenager, I began learning from records, developing my ear to be able to hear something once and then play it instantly. To this day, students are blown away when they witness me doing it during their lessons with me. It’s been my most important skill as a musician, and something I’d recommend young musicians to develop and work on. As I got older, my hunger and need for knowledge just exploded and I was accepted to the prestigious Humber College music program. For the next three years, I immersed myself in guitar studies at school, while at night I kept a busy gigging schedule. Upon graduation I began my life as a touring musician and haven’t looked back.”
He says he’s been fortunate to have played with many great musicians and bands. And, that many of Canada’s top tier players have “found their way to many of my shows, resulting in long time working and personal relationships, be it in a bands together or guesting on records or tours.”
Along the way, he’s played everything from rock to soul and R&B, to old-time blues. A 2017 inductee to the Canadian Blues Hall of Fame, he points out that a Hendrix classic like “Hear My Train A Comin’” was inspired by earlier American spirituals and traditional blues songs. Cosentino talks of his own conversion to Blues music: “Since the early 80’s, I’ve been passionate in the study and playing of the Blues. But if I had to pinpoint some experiences to my getting hooked, they’d include: seeing Albert Collins live; witnessing Stevie Ray at his now infamous El Mocambo gig in Toronto; and, then witnessing Honey Boy Edwards do ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ live, which brought me to tears.”
“My love of old instruments specifically became an addiction my whole life.”
In fact, Cosentino has found that older instruments which have “character and personality” have the uncanny ability to transport one to another place in time, explaining, “I came to understand that older instruments were like time machines and when I plugged them in, my ears were instantly transported to the year the particular guitar was born. For example, I was recording my ‘Unfinished Business’ record and wanted to do a traditional delta blues track and a collector I know brought me his prized 1930 National Steel instrument. It was the perfect vehicle to get to that place I was hearing in my head. And true to form, as soon as this incredibly historic instrument was mic’d everyone in the room felt it — you were instantly transported back to 1930 and its power on the track was instant.”
He’s now finding that, having been loaned Domenic Troiano’s 1955 Guild CE 100 guitar by Frank Troiano, he’s now being transported back to when “Donnie” was part of the unique and great “Toronto sound” of the 60s and 70s.
Of his own private 60-plus guitar collection — his “wing men” — Cosentino waxes poetic, “I see guitars as pieces of art, and each design is beautiful to me. I have the gamut of vintage to modern with the older girls being my favorites, but I’m not a snob to new guitar technologies. It’s just the older instruments have years of stories in them which comes out in their individual voices. Some of my prizes include: a 1952 Telecaster; two of the original first 500 Fender releases of the Stevie Ray Vaughan signature guitars from early 90’s; a Fender Stratocaster, my first ‘real’ guitar I bought back in 1977, at a brand new Toronto music store called Steve’s Music — coincidentally Steve himself sold that Strat to me; my Cosentinocaster #1 from my own signature line of guitars from ZS Thomas Guitars in Olympia Washington; along with many other Fender Stratocasters, Gibson Les Pauls, PRSs, and Martin D28s, etc.”
He adds a story about one Martin acoustic, “Once, after giving it electric to a capacity crowd, in mid show, I decided to grab my Martin D28 from the dressing room and take the crowd to the Delta. You could hear a pin drop. Suddenly, from the stage, all I could see was the glow of lighters flaring up throughout the crowd. Right there, I knew the audience was coming with me for the ride. Magic, you know!”
“I know a ‘riff’ is only good for a minute but a ‘hook’ can last a lifetime…”
As for moving forward, like so many musicians, Cosentino has been taking stock during our collective timeout, and seeing how he can improve himself for our re-entry, so to speak. He optimistically says, “I will continue to write, record, and tour. I’m almost four decades of doing just that already. And let’s face it, I’m not getting any prettier.”
As they say, Have Guitar will Play. So, expect Frank Cosentino to do exactly that. Every. Single. Time.