Is there something special in the water in Mingo Junction?
I've got to know, because it seems there are more great musicians per square inch in the village than any-where else in the Ohio Valley.
It has to be the water. Yup, I'm sure of it.
I guess it goes back all the way to the 1970s with Mingo native Rob Parrisi and his band Wild Cherry. You know the story, unless you've been dead under a rock for the past 30 years.
But I remember a lot of bands and players from Mingo even as a teenager growing up here, and they were always good. I remember the initial buzz about the U.S. Kids back in the day, and that band is still together under the leadership of Mingo resident John DiCarlo.
Fast forward to the present, and all of a sudden I hear about this band NeverWake, led by Johnny DiCarlo, John's son. Never Wake is another Mingo band playing a synthesis of metal and hard rock. Johnny DiCarlo must be one of the hardest-working - and most talented - of the new breed from the village by the river. His band recently was signed by a label catering to the band's brand of music.
Then I hear about another band of three girls playing with their dad, of all things. I mean, really? How hip can that be? I've heard it all, I'm thinking. What the hell are they playing? Miley Cyrus tunes?
Then I see a live video of them on Facebook. Yes, Spinning Jenny really is a band of three precocious girls playing tunes with their dad. But it's hardly dull. In fact, they made my jaw drop. Amazing, and I guess they also have Mingo ties, being somehow related to the DiCarlos.
Not only is Spinning Jenny a band with three sisters, they are a GREAT band with three teenage girls who somehow missed, thank God, the pop crap their generation is force fed to listen to.
Damn. It HAS to be the water.
So, last weekend I cover Mingo Community Days for the paper and this young guy who looks like a cross between Mick Ronson and Peter Frampton opens the festival with a rendition of the national anthem played on a Les Paul and a stack of Orange amps. He's even dressed like some rock god from the 1970s. Now, what the hell is this, I ask myself?
The second day after his retro-national anthem I get a minute to talk to Ty Carney, guitarist for the Mingo-based Vanilla Sounded Chocolate. There's a cigarette constantly hanging on his lip, just like Keith Richards. This kid REALLY likes the music of the '70s, I'm thinking to myself.
He tells me all the band members were from Mingo, but I could already have guessed that. Then he tells me his band won a Pittsburgh battle of the bands, beating some 56 bands for a recording contract. A really nice kid. We talk guitars for a few minutes, and then I leave.
I go to the band's website, listen to a few tunes and dig what I'm hearing. Another great band and guitarist from Mingo, I'm thinking. And then I read who's in the band. A DiCarlo on drums? Say it ain't so! You must be kidding. Is every musician from Mingo named DiCarlo?
So, there it is. And I have a theory about it.
Mingo is kind of in the dumps right now, with very little money. The mill has closed and it's not coming back.
But the young people don't care, and they dig music. They got that from their parents. I think half the people in Mingo played in a band at one time or another. It's the most music-conscious city around here. That's where all this comes from.
Listen - sometimes great bands come from places with a working-class ethic. I think of the Beatles, who were from Liverpool, which at the time, was thought of as the armpit of Britain. Maybe it's boredom, maybe it's fate, but I've noticed a large percentage of really great bands come from, well, nowhere. That's not a slight on Mingo - it's a compliment that for all the adversity the town has suffered, Mingo Junction still has these kids who are so passionate about music. It's in their blood, handed down from the previous generation. Believe me, there are things far worse in life than to be committed to art. Music can save a soul.
So, that's that. I'm convinced it's the water. After all, they talk a lot about water during Mingo Council meetings.
(Mark Miller is co-editor of Weekender.)