Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Tom Principato has long been a regional star in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. He has toured nationally around the U.S., Canada, and Europe, but often the venues are clubs. His particular blend of blues-rock is highly specific; jazz guitar master Pat Metheny said of Principato, "he has an enormous talent at telling stories in his solos; he doesn't play 'standard' licks." Raised in suburban Washington, D.C. his early guitar playing heroes included Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. He listened to his parents' recordings by the likes of Chet Atkins and the Benny Goodman Sextet with Charlie Christian, and like a lot of kids, discovered the power of Chicago blues in his high school years.
Earlier in his professional career, Principato divided his time between two still-great cities for blues, Washington, D.C. and Boston. Principato was the leader of a band, Powerhouse, whose only album but lively shows made them a major club attraction in the late '70s. In 1980, Principato also joined guitarist Geoff Muldaur on the road and recorded an album with him as a member of his band. Back home in D.C. in 1981, he sought out and hooked up with a number of musicians, including Big Mama Thornton, Billy Price, and Sunnyland Slim and the Assassins, a band that included Nighthawks guitarist Jimmy Thackery. Principato recorded two albums with the Assassins, No Previous Record (1986) and Partners in Crime (1987). By 1987, Principato had launched his own solo career, playing at various nightclubs in and around D.C. and northern Virginia with varying trios. He made a live recording with his early mentor, Danny Gatton, Blazing Telecasters, which was later released in 1990.
Since 1984, Principato has recorded many solo albums featuring his own varying groups. They include Smokin! (1986) I Know What You're Thinkin (1988) Blazing Telecasters with Danny Gatton, In Orbit (1990) Tip of the Iceberg (1992), In the Clouds (1995), and Really Blue (1998). He released Blues Over the Years in 1999, Not One Word in 2000, Live in Europe in 2001, Fingers on Fire with Pete Kennedy (now of the folk-rock duo the Kennedys) in 2002, House on Fire in 2003, Oh No! More Blazing Telecasters in 2005, and Guitar Gumbo, released that same year. His most recent recording, Raising the Roof, was released in 2008.
Through the years, Principato has released records on his own Powerhouse Records label, as well as with the now-defunct, Atlanta-based Ichiban label. His live shows, often accompanied by just a bassist and drummer, are exciting, with lots of guitar pyrotechnics and great playing from the other members of his ensemble. Since the 1990s, Principato has enjoyed ongoing endorsement deals with Fender guitars, DR String Co., Seymour Duncan pickups, and Roger Mayer effects pedals. (The London-based Mayer made a variety of effects pedals and electronic gadgets for Jimi Hendrix.)
Based in Falls Church, VA., when he's not out delivering his powerful live shows to crowds in clubs and theaters, Principato is like lot of unheralded blues and roots rock performers; he spends a lot of time in Europe, where the crowds in general seem to be much more appreciative of indigenous American styles. Other than a brief flirtation with Island Records, he has never been signed to a major label. ~ Richard Skelly