Killington, Vermont's Resident Guitar Legend: Joey Leone

KILLINGTON, VERMONT – The first time I saw Joey Leone perform live was at a local awards show in 2011 and I remember walking away quite impressed with his guitar work and stage presence. But that was nothing compared to the second time I saw him perform the following year alongside my guitar idol, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, at a benefit show to raise funds after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.


Article by Joe Milliken * Photo one courtesy of Joey Leone, Photos two (Cider Magazine Awards) and three (live with Joe Perry) by Joe Milliken

I was in the front row as Joey, his band the Chop Shop and Mr. Perry proceeded to blow the roof off this elegant little theatre in Woodstock, Vermont. But I digress…

Leone has been a staple in the Killington area and beyond for two decades and has played countless concerts and benefit shows along the way. Not to mention rocking with his band and other guest spots five nights a week during the busy season. Yes, Joey is a busy man around these parts, though he is not a native-Vermonter.

Originally from Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Leone’s first music experiences were singing and dancing as a toddler and then learning how to read music and playing violin in the grade school orchestra, before turning his energies in junior high school to rock guitar at the dawn of the 70’s. By age 17 and because he was classically trained and could read music, Joey got his first music permit, which allowed him to play in the music union.

Back in those days all shows were union shop gigs because of the tremendous demand for music - especially in New York - so you had to be in the union to play in the music scene. Music unions would eventually dissolve in the late 1970’s, leaving most hard working musicians without a fair wage. However, Joey forged on playing his fiery brand of bluesy rock-and-roll, often having to travel long distances to get paying gigs. During this time he also developed another skill as a dialysis technician to help pay the bills.

In the 1980’s, Leone formed his own rock band with a goal to record all original material and land a record deal with a major label… and although he garnered some interest and even developed a production deal with a major label, nothing materialized in America. However, Joey did have a release in Japan and was able to build enough momentum overseas to tour in support of the record. During the 80’s surging economy, authentic American rhythm-and-blues was hot in Japan and with R & B being Joey’s bread and butter he developed quite a following with the Japanese rockers, subsequently touring throughout Japan several times.

Heading into the 90’s, Joey was simply wearing too many hats within his own band; front-man, singer, guitar player, songwriter and producer and unless you are Frank Zappa or Prince, this is simply too much for any musician to have on his or her plate… so Joey sat down, examined all of his skill sets and chose the one talent to focus on, hands-down: rhythm-and-blues guitar player.

The man was honest with himself and had no doubt, done his homework and made the right choice for over the years, Mr. Leone has since shared the stage with an impressive and diverse list of artists including Stevie Ray Vaughn, Joe Perry, Chubby Checker, Albert Collins, Albert King, Ronnie Wood, Mick Taylor, Jason Bonham, Average White Band, Blues Traveler, Living Colour, Chaka Kahn, The Commorores, Natalie Cole, Danny Gatton, Spin Doctors and The Coasters. Whew!

Leone then began focusing more on not necessarily playing gigs, but evaluating them as he began accepting opportunities as a freelance talent agent, checking out new bands in search of talent that could not only create excitement in a live setting, but also transition well into the recording studio. Leone’s experience as not only a musician, but also a band leader, music director and producer provided the necessary background for such evaluations. Ironically however, he also feels that not being focused or honed in on one specific talent may have played a part in not reaching his own full potential.

Then in the early 1990’s while Joey and his wife, Kathy, were living in New Jersey, they decided it was time to move to the country… something Leone had wanted to do for a long time. His father-in-law owned a house in Vermont, so Joey and Kathy left their jobs and with their two little kids, moved to the Green Mountain state to start a new life adventure. Leone got a job in Windsor as a medication technician and with but one guitar left to his name, started revealing to folks about his past music endeavors and before he knew it, starting getting phone calls about playing music again.

“I came too Vermont to start a new life and raise a family, figuring I'd never play guitar ever again,” Leone said in an exclusive, Standing Room Only interview. “But the call came and I soon realized that Killington was the place to concentrate on, as the audience there was consistent and was hungry for something new for ski areas.”

His first Vermont gig was a benefit show held in Killington for local musician Donny Gray, who had suffered a stroke after a skiing accident. This turned out to only be the beginning, as Joey’s rhythm-and-blues playing started to catch on and before long, the word got around the ski areas about this new guitar player.

He was then brought in as the house band at a place called Mother Shapiro’s, taking up residency at the Killington club for the next two years, before replacing Killington legend Frank Chase at the Sante Fe, after Chase had told the owner that Joey had to be the one to take over the room upon his retirement. This would turn out to be the turning point for Leone, cementing his association with Killington and allowing him to truly make his mark in Southern Vermont.

It would ultimately turn into a five night a week gig utilizing five styles of music each week – from blues, funk and rock, to lighter acoustic and jazz - Joey and his band played it all and they played it loud! For three solid years it was epic, a different set list every night… yes, Mr. Leone had certainly made his mark.

Today, Joey is still in the Killington area and continues to play a lot of shows with his current band the Chop Shop, as well as various guest appearances and of course, area benefit shows… he’s done about 40 of those over the years. Of course, being in the front row for the aforementioned Goodbye Irene benefit show in Woodstock stands out for this writer, having watched Joey and his Chop Shop tear it up onstage with my personal favorite guitar hero (and part-time, Southern Vermont resident) Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

“The ‘Irene Benefit’ with Joe stands out to me as a musical experience that was truly positive and fulfilling, Leone said. “ It forged a relationship with Joe of mutual respect… just two guitar players playing together for a good cause and making some good music. Joe is a great guy, no rock star bull shit at all.”

Most recently, Joey has written a number of new songs revolving around a fictional character, the most recent track called “Dying Breed,” which also includes a video shoot. “Dying Breed is a song that started out as part of a trilogy of songs about this fictional character named Jesse David, who had a rough childhood and gets himself into some big trouble and goes to jail at the age of 19… and does 30 years of time,” Leone said.

“When he gets out, he goes back to the town where he is known best for his deeds… but the years have changed his perception of the world as well as the way people see him. The younger people only know the story but are disconnected from the crime itself. He becomes this rebel figure who is feared and strangely respected. ‘Dying Breed’ was the third song in the trilogy, but I have since written two more songs to complete his journey… which eventually brings him to salvation and God. As for the video, I put it together with my bass player Jeremy and my producer, Kevin Declue.”

Of course, Joey continues to stay as busy as ever, performing multiple shows throughout March and April. “I’ll be finishing up some Killington shows and then preparing for a full spring and summer of promoting my new record and booking more shows.

“Music is a magical entity that shares 12 tones... a commonality shared by all that play music no matter what the style or discipline. The music will tell you what it needs and as musicians, we must listen to it and serve it. Remove ego and posturing and get to the essence of why we do this. We should not focus on the 'American Idol' syndrome of game show music… we have to get back to music being an enjoyment and an escape from our daily lives. The message is that those 12 tones have to be organized harmoniously for the magic to be realized... people might want to realize this and practice it in their lives.” Amen brother Joey.

To learn more about Joey Leone’s new songs and to find out where you can next see the Chop Shop up close and personal, visit Joey Leone’s website at www.joeyleone.com and please, continue to support local music!