By Chris Spiewak
Amy Winehouse, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Buddy Holly are just a few of the many talented musicians taken from us long before their time. Because music is an international language that touches so many people, it is always a sad event when the world loses a great performer. For some, like former Red Bank resident and singer John DiStasio, the passing of the late, great Audioslave and Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell touched him in a profound way. Instead of putting a band together to include just a song or two from Cornell’s catalogue, DiStasio decided to go a few steps further and create a tribute band called “Channeling Cornell” that would exclusively perform songs written and performed by Chris Cornell.
The late Chris Cornell is considered one of the best rock singer/songwriters in the past 30 years. Beginning with Soundgarden in 1984, he penned some of the most influential music of the time. A later stint with former members of Rage Against The Machine became Audioslave, and Cornell had continued success. Unfortunately, he took his own life at age 52 after a concert in May 2017. This news hit the music world hard, leaving millions of fans in shock.
John DiStasio grew up in Brooklyn, singing along to Led Zeppelin and The Who records while in grammar school. Working the proverbial “day job” and performing in a Led Zeppelin tribute act in New York City, he decided to make the move to New Jersey in the late ‘90s. He credits Red Bank-area musicians for their help and support after his relocation. “Everyone was so nice, allowing me onstage and introducing me to so many other great musicians,” DiStasio said backstage at The Stone Pony last week.
Becoming friends with some local “heavy hitters” helped as well. “Matt O’Ree was so kind; having me up onstage with him was great,” he said. “I really have to thank Gene Potts and Sal Marra of Colossal Street Jam for their support and pointers along the way.”
In 2017, DiStasio was ready once again to put a full band together. Initially, he had intended to form a cover band featuring ‘80s and ‘90s music, but after many auditions he could not get the sound that he wanted. He was looking for something different and something no one else was doing. He made a bold decision to honor Chris Cornell, a musician truly worthy of DiStasio’s talent, drive and passion.
Channeling Cornell is a serious band with some serious talent. John DiStasio has the biggest shoes to fill, and he fits into them very well. His versatile voice shines on songs like Audioslave’s “Show Me How to Live,” where the verses are mellow and melodic and the chorus gets loud and somewhat gritty. This music demands powerful vocals, and DiStasio handles songs like “Cochise” and Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” with impressive control, delivering the lyrics with intensity and command.
Strolling about the stage, DiStasio seems quite comfortable as he interacts with the audience. Guitarist Mike Roman authentically recreates the dirt and distortion that is the signature sound of the Cornell years. This young man from Howell is a perfect fit for the band; close your eyes and it’s as if Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil or Audioslave’s Tom Morello is onstage.
Bassist John Moroney delivers the low end for the group, and he must hold the record for fastest fingers on a bass neck. Playing music since age 10, this quiet young man from North Brunswick is rock steady and seems to play effortlessly on stage. The other half of the rhythm section is Victor Montanaro, aka “The Beast” from Eatontown. With Moroney, he delivers the powerful punch that is necessary for the realistic sounds of the Cornell compositions. His style is somewhat reminiscent of John Bonham or Keith Moon and his technique perfectly complements this impressive group.
Although less than a year old now, Channeling Cornell has already played some big venues like The Saint, the Brighton Bar and The Stone Pony. More big events are on the calendar, such as the upcoming show at Starland Ballroom Feb. 9, so please visit their Facebook page for news and updates. Be sure to catch a show soon, as the band pays homage to one of the greatest rockers to ever grace the stage.
Chris Spiewak is a 40-year veteran of the Jersey Shore music scene.
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