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Getting to Know Sean Fried

Having been in the CNY area for only about 2 years, Sean Fried is a fairly recent transplant from Chicago. And since that time he’s become one of the busiest players in town. Sean has carved his niche in the scene by tirelessly networking. He’s compiling a huge repertoire of songs spanning numerous genres. Sean has actually been dubbed the “Utility Guy” by a local producer after the producer noted him playing both bass and guitar with various acts. And as of this writing, Sean has been playing professionally for 32 years. He is a veteran of the bar scene as well as having played, recorded and toured with award-winning indie acts.

Having been in the CNY area for only about 2 years, Sean Fried has become one of the busiest players in town.

And, now he’s here right in our backyard. New blood. And he’s busy. There’s a reason for that and that’s why I’m introducing him to you.

Chuck Schiele: Hi Sean. Thanks for taking some time to chat with Table Hopping.

Sean Fried: Thanks, Chuck. It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

CS: Let’s get started by asking how you got your start in music?

SF: My entire family is musical. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I learned guitar at 14. Most people think of me as a lead guitar player. That said, when I was 15 or so, my father said, “If you want to work, play bass, everyone plays guitar, hardly anyone plays bass.” As soon as the guys in high school found out I had a bass, they were fighting over me. My first paying gig was in 10th grade, playing our high school homecoming dance. The sound man at that gig was a guy named Eric McMann. He was in one of the biggest bands in town. Eric came up to me after the show and complimented my Rickenbacker bass and said I had “star power.” He hooked my high school band up with slots opening for his group in the clubs. I eventually joined his band as the lead guitar player a few years later. We wound up living in a recording studio/farm. We made 2 charted indie records and later a country record. He is still pretty well known in the Chicagoland area. That band was called the Crickle … for all you people who like to Google things. The earliest years of my “career” were spent as a bass player and later a guitar player in oldies bands. I’m probably dating myself but back then, oldies bands were very lucrative. I even played bass in a Beatles tribute band. I had a 63 Hofner that I bought for $350, I later sold it for $500 and thought I was a genius …

CS: You are somewhat new to the area. What brought you to Syracuse?

SF: I lived in CNY as a kid. I moved to Chicago when I was about 9. Later, still living in Chicago, I went through a horrible divorce. That led to a 3 year streak where I kind of quit life and drank morbidly. I came back here to straighten my life out and be around what little family I still had left. Sort of a new start.

CS: Who do you listen to for inspiration?

SF: People who know me are amazed that I listen to almost zero music. The radio in my last truck was broken for 10 years. That said, Keith Richards is my greatest hero. I used to want to grow up to be Keef. I like to think of myself as like a Mike Cambell or Elliot Easton sort of player. Players who play for the song, as opposed to their ego, inspire me. In CNY most people think of me as a country guy. Pete Anderson with Dwight Yoakam was my guy. Specifically, “Guitars and Cadillacs” made me say, I’ve got to play country music. I love most old school blues, jazz and country.

In this area, I love Savannah Harmon. I love Keith Ford. He has a song that is so good it’s made me cry. I like what Irv Lyons and his guys do. I don’t know what you call their style, but it is cool. I like your band. You were the first act I saw when I came to town. I kid you not.

CS: Your goal was to get busy. And you certainly are. What’s the secret? Who else do you work with?

SF: I’ll play with anyone who will hire me (call me people!). My main band is Lonesome Crow, but in the last few months I’ve done gigs with: Matt Chase & Thunder Canyon, Savannah Harmon, JD & Rollin’ South, Keith Ford, Jillian Leigh and Kent Proctor (Bear) from PEP.

My goal is to gig 6 nights a week. I am always looking for gigs and people to play them with. I’ve started doing my own bookings and I actually often have more dates than I can find people to play them with.

CS: Tell us about some of the favorite highlights in your music career.

Sean Fried is a veteran of the bar scene and has played, recorded and toured with award-winning indie acts.

SF: Hearing myself on the radio is still a gas. It is pretty validating to hear your guitar coming across WLS or some other big station. Rolling into college towns where our record was #1 on the college station in that town could be pretty amazing. Tommy Tutone sharing his pizza with me at a gig was hilarious. He was the nicest guy. He signed my guitar and even apologized for not having a better marker. Since I’ve been in CNY, playing the OnCenter with Savannah Harmon for the Carrie Lazarus TV show was really cool.

CS: Tell us some funny war stories.

SF: I have almost no real war stories. It has been a pretty cool journey so far. I only wish there were more of it packed into every day. Music has been very very good to me. There are some fun groupie stories but perhaps this is not the forum.

CS: If you could change one thing —an old episode, a factor in the scene, something you wish … what would it be?

SF: You know what? It happened not too long ago. I joined in on a big FB thread about a certain CNY area agent regarding ethics/skimming issues. I was right with, and in what, I said but I should not have done it publicly. The agent pressured his acts and venues to stop hiring me. I won the battle but lost the war. It estranged me from one of my favorite acts and cost me a lot of  money in lost gigs.

Stay out of scene politics and don’t air dirty laundry in public. Lesson learned.

As far as changing the scene. My observation is that CNY needs to believe in itself a little more and we should all be helping each other make things great as opposed to griping about what maybe isn’t so great. CNY seems pretty cool to me.

CS: I agree about believing more. Skepticism is for … for … I don’t get skepticism, I guess. Anyway … What do you have to say to the budding musician?

SF: 20% is talent, the rest is work ethic.

The biggest problem with the CNY scene is all the people saying there is no scene!

CS: AMEN!

SF Get business cards. Be nice. Almost all the most successful people around here are also the most friendly and helpful. It takes nothing to be nice, to show up on time, to return texts and phone calls, to be ethical. It takes only slightly more effort to be in tune, be prepared, to learn the material and dress cool. Do it!

Learn how to sing and learn to sight read. If I could do those two things, I could work not only 7 days a week but probably 8 or 9 days a week. I plan to take singing lessons in the next few months actually. HA, and like my dad said, learn to play bass.

CS: What are your thoughts on the CNY music scene, itself?

SF: I am an outsider. I came from Chicago which is a major market that spawned some huge acts. I’ve seen what it looks like in places outside of CNY. Let me tell you something … CNY kills. The biggest problem with the CNY scene is all the people saying there is no scene! There is plenty of work here if you can play a little and are out there hustling.

There is some sick talent in town. I recently saw Skunk City and these guys called the Spring Street Family Band; both were so friggin’ good, I almost threw up. Did you ever see an act and just know you are getting your ass kicked???

CNY needs to believe in itself a little more and we should all be helping each other make things great as opposed to griping about what maybe isn’t so great. CNY seems pretty cool to me.

CS: So, what’s on the horizon? What’s coming up that you’re looking forward to?

SF: I just started working with a crazy good, young singer/guitar player named Payton Bird. Some people kind of know her, she has been singing guest spots in CNY since she was like 11 years old. She is now old enough to start doing actual gigs. I hate to throw it around lightly but she could wind up being the “next big thing” around here. Beyond that, I want keep playing and see how far one can go in this area. I’ve been here two years but I feel like a babe in the woods in CNY.

CS: Got a
website?

SF: seanfried.com

CS: Ok, man It sure is good getting to know you. And I’m looking forward to our eventual jam. Thanks a lot for sharing part of your story with us. And I hope you feel welcomed here in Syracuse.

SF: Thanks, a lot Chuck. I appreciate the chat. See you out there, soon.

Chuck Schiele
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Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write chuck.schiele@gmail.com.