An Exclusive Interview With Talented Artist Chris Ruggiero

Chris Ruggiero takes his audiences on a journey through the golden age of rock and roll, breathing new life into the timeless music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  Chris has been described as an “old soul” at 22 years old, whose approach to his concert appearances is more in line with that of a bygone era than it is the artists of his generation. Chris says, “I try to make every move and sing every song with a touch of class that reminds the audience of a time when entertainers put their heart and soul into their songs and delivering an exceptional concert was paramount.”

No stranger to live audiences and television audiences in the northeast, Chris first came to national attention when he performed in concert on one of PBS-TV’s coast-to-coast broadcast specials, which still airs to this day.  Since then, Chris has been traveling around the country delivering his unique brand of vintage rock and roll and sharing his passion for the classics.  He’s shared the stage with artists such as Bobby Rydell, The Duprees, The Drifters, and many many more.  It seems almost pre-ordained that he’s now working the same stages as the artists who he grew up admiring. 

“When I’m on stage singing a classic love song and I look out into the audience and see that twinkle in their eyes, I know they’re thinking about a special time and place in their life – or maybe their first kiss!” Chris says.  “It’s magic.“  For Chris, entertaining is not a vocation, it’s a way of life.  “Just give me a spotlight and a microphone and tell me what time I go on.” 

Q:When you decide it’s time to make a new record, is that more exciting or stressful?

Ans: It’s definitely exciting AND stressful in a way that is tough to describe. It’s a lot of responsibility – responsibility to the audience, the listeners… then there’s responsibility to the men and women who wrote these songs to tell their stories and there’s my own anxiety because I know whatever I do that day in the studio I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life! So, I guess it’s exciting and a little stressful too. On the 2 albums I just put out, I would say the stress was definitely worth it!

Q: How did you pick the songs for your new albums?

Ans: It was definitely a combination of brainstorming, a handful of songs that I’ve always loved and always done in my shows, and also a desire to have certain songwriters represented. For example, most of the songs are 60s and 70s pop-rock and I think if we’re talking about the greatest composers of that era, you have to include Brian Wilson, the Gibb Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison… In the case of Roy, I think “Crying” is his most recognizable ballad but so many people do that song in concerts and it’s been recorded so many times, that I wanted to do something different but equally as dramatic, so I did “It’s Over.” I did The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” and I did “My Cherie Amour,” so Stevie Wonder is represented. And one of the most dramatic songs, “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” which was a Burt Bacharach / Hal David song. I have an open line of communication with fans, on Facebook and especially on Patreon, so I hear a lot about their taste and that also gives me a lot of feedback.

Q: How did you develop the arrangements for the albums?

Ans: Well there are 2 albums or CDs – “Time Was” is a collection of songs done fairly close to the original arrangements. That’s for purists and people who love things the way they were. But the CD that is getting the most attention is “I Am Chris Ruggiero,” which was a collaborative effort between me and several of my favorite people.  It started a year ago with my manager, Joe Mirrione, telling me to try singing some of the songs a little differently, with my own flair. We went to Clint Holmes, who, in my opinion, is one of the finest interpreters of song on the planet, and he helped me to find my voice. He helped me to sing songs like “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” in a way that strayed from the Paul Anka version so that I was able to make it my own. He helped me with “This Magic Moment,” “Betcha By Golly Wow” and so many others. We got Bobby Miranda – the original lead singer of The Happenings to help us do an arrangement on “The More I See You” that was inspired by his arrangement of “See You in September.” Then Joe and I took all of our ideas and asked Charlie Calello to do the arrangements and orchestrations. Charlie arranged or produced for Sinatra, Streisand, Humperdinck, Bobby Vinton, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and even a song for Bruce Springsteen. But the reason we wanted him on this project was because he had done all of the arrangements for Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, The Toys and Lou Christie and he knew how to capture the era of this music with horn arrangements and so on. And we also knew that Charlie would help make sure the arrangements suited me and that our ideas and rhythm patterns and piano figures would stay intact, because we were excited about our ideas and really attached to some of them. Charlie took all of our ideas and improved on them and he took these songs over the finish line. The result was that we immediately got airplay the same week the album came out and the response from the fans and people in the business has been overwhelming.

Q: What’s your next project?

Ans: Well, it’s kind-of the opposite of this project we just did. On the last album, some of the cuts had 20-piece orchestrations on them, but the next one will be just my voice and a piano. I’ll be doing some cabaret-type dates later this year and in 2022 with a trio. On those concerts, we’ll do some stripped down versions of the songs from my albums, and we’ll also do some old standards. 

Q: What is your favorite song to belt out in the car?

Ans: I’m not really sure, but it would probably be something by Journey, like “Don’t Stop Believing” or “Open Arms.” Even though my first love is 50s and 60s music, there is something about those big power ballads that I love to sing in the car. My friend Bucky Heard, who sings with the Righteous Brothers, had a Journey tribute band in Branson and I’ve taken advantage of his help quite a bit in expanding my vocal range… because who would know more about hitting high notes than a guy who had to sing an hour of Journey music every night?

Q: At what age did you start singing?

Ans: I am a very late bloomer as singers go. I discovered that I could sing when I was 17. Then, I spent a few years just copying what I heard on the recordings that I liked. It really wasn’t until I was 21 that I started to explore finding my own way of singing and, so, to be honest, I feel like I’m a newborn. I’ve only really been singing – the right way – for about a year or so. I’m so lucky because in a short time, I’ve gotten a lot of people’s attention and I’ve ended up on a PBS TV special, performing in Las Vegas, New York, New Jersey, Cleveland and South Florida over the last few months. I now have close to 30 concerts scheduled for the fall of this year. It’s insane and I’m so grateful. My manager tells me about the calls that come in from people who saw me on TV, or heard about me from a friend and it’s just been incredible.

Q: Who are your inspirations?

Ans: Early on, Paul Anka, Frankie Valli and Bobby Rydell really helped to shape how I sang – especially my phrasing and my tone. In order to become more well-rounded, since I grew up listening to so much pop, I started listening to some of the R&B masters like Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Jackson, Jerry Butler and guys like that. The night before I recorded “Betcha By Golly Wow,” I listened to Aaron Neville, which ended up being a tremendous inspiration for the way I sang the song the next day. So, new inspirations come along all the time.

Q:  Which famous musicians have you learned from?

Ans: I’ve already mentioned Clint Holmes, and I’ve also watched a lot of a singer named Nicole Henry. When a singer can interpret a song the way Clint does or the way Nicole does and it just radiates from their body when they sing, it moves me in a way that makes me want to be a better singer. I spent some time in the studio being coached by Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers on phrasing, and I mentioned earlier his partner Bucky Heard has coached me to help me improve my range. Spending time with guys like those has been invaluable to me.

Q:  Who are your favorite musicians? Groups? CD’s?

Ans: From the vintage pop-rock era, I love The Flamingos, The Duprees, The Platters… I guess if it were easier, I would have a singing group because I love harmony! I love Jerry Vale, I already mentioned that Bobby Rydell is a favorite… and for new music, I like Bruno Mars, Shawn Mendes and Clint Holmes just turned me on to Finneas.

Q:  Tell me about your upcoming concerts.

Ans: Well, there’s quite a variety on the calendar. First of all, I’m still at that stage in my career where people are still finding out about me. I’m far from a household name. So, I’m doing a ton of concerts where I’m on the show with other major singers from the 60s and 70s – like Peter Noone and Jay & the Americans, for example. Those are all in big performing arts centers around the country and I’ll do 15 or 20 minutes at the most because those guys had a hundred hit records that people came to here. And then I’m doing a lot of shows with my full band – with live horns  – and a handful of shows with just a trio of musicians, like I mentioned earlier that are kind-of cabaret dates. On my website, it gives my full schedule and also says which kind of show it is. So, if you only like me a little bit, you can come and see me do a short show! I’ll be in New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Texas, Pittsburgh, Chicago and a bunch of other places that I’ve never been to and I’m so excited to do it! Meeting the audiences, meeting new people – that’s the best! I want them to feel like family after they see my show and that’s the most important part for me.

Thanks for taking time out of your day:)