Monday, February 7, 2011

Rockin' and talkin' with ace guitarist, former farmboy Brian Mello

I wrote the following profile of San Jose State University friend Brian Mello for my final journalism class in the fall of 1989.  

Present: Mello -- singin' and strummin' (Courtesy photo)
By Andy

Brian Mello likes to drink beer.

And when he gets a guitar in his hands after consuming a fair amount, things start to happen.

People start smiling, hands begin clapping and Mello is set to winning yet another crowd over in his never-ending string of impromptu musical jams.

"I owe it all to Miller Genuine Draft," said the soft-, yet outspoken 22-year-old, while sipping -- what else? -- a Miller.

Relaxed on the carpet in his San Jose apartment, Mello's slicked-back brown hair and a cut-off shirt -- which reveals a tattoo of a snake curled around a heart on his right arm -- display the rock-and-roll image.

It is hard to believe the seven-year guitar veteran grew up on a farm in Visalia, Calif. While he grew to appreciate cows and other farm features, Mello decided to leave "the armpit of California" behind to search for greener pastures in San Jose.

There are certain happenings on the farm that will always be remembered.
"There was my grandfather getting pissed off at the chickens," he laughed. "He grabbed two of them by the feet and slammed them together while screaming profanities at them."

Another favorite is when one of his cousins made some marijuana brownies and served them to the family. "All I know is that my mother bounced on her knee and started laughing maniacally," he said. "It sort of scared me at the time."

Not quite the stories your basic Farmer John would tell, but then again, Mello is not normal in any way. His love for music began in the sixth grade when the school band needed a drummer. He filled in and hasn't stopped since.

Pulling out a 1959 vintage Gretsch guitar, Mello strums a blues riff and goes into a spiel of the many bands he's played in.
"There's been jazz bands, bad heavy metal, country and an extremely Caucasian blues band," he said.

One night in Visalia, he and a friend banged endlessly on pots and pans until people threw beer bottles at them.
"We even got hassled by the cops," he said. "But it was all in the name of music."

Past: Mello's San Jose band
Nowadays, he is focusing on the impromptu style that has gained him a lot of fans around the San Jose State University community. At any given party where a guitar is available, he can churn out classic tunes like a jukebox, only stopping occasionally to grab a swill off that crucial brew.

Some of his most requested songs are "The Pubic Hair Blues," the Juicy Fruit gum TV commercial tune and "The Yodel Song." The latter was inspired by a German accordian player, Heinz Kimmich, whom Mello saw perform at an Octoberfest party more than a year ago.

"That song is one of my favorites," he said. "Heinz is a prophet in leiderhosen."

Christine Parise is an avid Mello supporter, and recently asked him to play at her parents' pig roast in Benicia. Her reasoning for enjoying the performances has a lot to do with his relaxed style.

"He makes me feel at home," she said with a smile. "I'm always singing along and having a good time."

Mello's roommate, Phil Bullis, also agrees that his personality is a major asset. "His last name says it all," Bullis said. "He is definitely a mellow person, and it comes across while he's playing or just hanging out."

These special qualities have even been appreciated by an older generation of folks, as shown at the pig roast. While Mello and his band, Mud Bones, went through their set, Parise's mother could be seen collecting money from the neighbors to pay the boys.

The musicians refused the cash because they felt playing there was a privilege in itself, but they did stay around to drink beer and partake in the feast.

"I'll definitely remember that pig," Mello said. "His head was staring at us from the table while we were playing -- it was sort of a haunting experience."

As far as experiences go for Mello, just being able to play the guitar gives him a good feeling inside.

"It makes me feel better," he said. "Whenever I feel like biting the heads off pigeons, I grab the guitar -- it's much more soothing and sanitary."

And having a nice cold Miller by his side wouldn't hurt, either.

From 1991 to the present, Mello has handled guitar and vocals in a handful of bands -- ranging from Americana/rockabilly to power pop -- in the San Jose/East Bay areas: The Jackdaws, Blue Arrows, Parker Brothers, Boxer Lodge and The Bellyachers. There was also The Lonesome Weasels, "a bizarre acoustic cover band -- Billy Squire, Journey and Blue Oyster Cult songs were molested by upright bass and banjo," Mello said.
The Bellyachers: Mello, wife Sandra Austin Mello and Peter Craft (Courtesy photo)


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