Guitarist, singer, and bandleader Ernie White knocks himself out this time of year planning for his annual Christmas extravaganza, which benefits a different charity each year and takes place this year on Sunday, December 23, at Katmandu in Trenton. “I often ask myself why I do this,” White says in a phone interview from his Hamilton Township home and recording studio, “but actually, at the end of the night, it’s so rewarding. It’s a high having all my buddies up there playing on stage with me. It feels good when the money raised gets distributed to organizations that really need it. Musicians in general have such big hearts, and all they’re getting out of it is the enjoyment of doing it.”
The benefit grew out of a small group of friends throwing Christmas songs around at the Merry-Go-Round nightclub about eight years ago, White says. Over the years, the benefit show has been held at Conduit and other venues. This year White’s concert will benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Trenton and Mercer County, and ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens) in Mercer. Previous concerts have benefitted Trenton Head Start; Mercer Street Friends; CASA, the court appointed surrogate program; the New York Times 9/11 Fund; the Hamilton Elks Handicapped Children’s Fund; the post-Katrina musicians of New Orleans, and CONTACT, a suicide prevention program. Last year’s holiday show at KatManDu raised more than $10,000 for local charities. White expects to top that figure this year.
White and Tom Reock, who plays keyboards in White’s band, handle the task of organizing and coordinating the benefit, which this year will include performances by Trenton area guitar titans Paul Plumeri and Joe ‘Zook’ Zucharello, as well as keyboardist Duke Williams.
North Brunswick singer-songwriter Glen Burtnik, who had a huge late 1980s radio hit with Patty Smyth’s take on his song, “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough,” may show up again this year at Katmandu, White says. Burtnik will hold his annual holiday bash at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank on Saturday, December 22.
Other Trenton-area performers who are confirmed for the December 23 benefit include ex-Bricks Mortar guitarist John Bushnell, Mark Sacco, Joey Kramer, Billy Hill, Jerry Monk, Joe Vadala, Lisa Bouchelle, Ed Wilson, Dan Lavery, Jeff Plamer and Friends, Joe Grillo, Sandy Zio, Honey Spot Boulevard, Michael White, and Jody Giambellucca. The concert will be broadcast on WDVR-FM.
White was raised in Trenton in the 1960s. His parents ran White’s Market on Hamilton Avenue in Hamilton Township.
White, who is divorced, spends his days teaching a bevy of guitar students and recording a variety of musicians from his home studio in Hamilton Township. He has two grown sons in their 30s — Michael, who works part-time as a musician, and Christopher, a civil engineer and Princeton University graduate — both married.
White had a brush with stardom in the early 1980s with Sam the Band, who were signed to Casablanca Records, and a few years later with Aviator, a hard rock band signed to RCA Records. After both groups were released from their major label contracts, White decided to pursue his solo career in earnest in the early 1990s, and he has continued to write and perform his original songs since then. White’s self-released albums include “Unplugged,” “Rude Awakening” in 1999 and “Scenes From America” in 1997.
His studio, LeBlanc Studios, derives its name from White’s father’s actual last name. His father was French Canadian and his family changed its name when they immigrated to America in the 1930s. White was raised in Hamilton and began playing guitar at age 10. By age 12 White was playing in his first rock ‘n’ roll band.
Asked about the changes he’s seen in the business of getting your music out to the people since U.S.1 last spoke to him in January, 2003, White says there aren’t nearly as many venues in the Trenton-Princeton corridor as there once were. “There’s no comparison to what it was in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but nowadays, young kids have different ways of marketing themselves and getting their music out there that just weren’t available to us.
“Now, you can have thousands of people listen to your songs at once over the Internet, so that’s kind of neat. It’s kind of been an ebb and flow. Live performances are probably kind of suffering. If you’re a young band, you can’t really get your chops together until you’ve had a chance to perform a lot,” White says, recalling in the “old days, we’d do five sets a night, and now, these kids go out and do a one half hour show. We’d play from 9 to 2 seven nights a week.”
Even if you wanted to now, most bands can’t find enough venues to support playing out live six or seven nights a week, as White did in his go-go years in the early ‘80s. “We would play all week and many bands would get really tight,” he says, “but nowadays, gigs are so scarce for the kids, it’s tougher to do that. A lot of younger bands go out and play these multiple band shows, three or four bands on a given night at the VFW Hall, and there’s a promoter who puts the money up. At Finnegan’s on Route 130 and Club 449 (in Trenton), they’ll have multiple bands on the bill.”
When he began playing in earnest in the late 1970s, White recalls, the various bands he was in would play school dances, block parties, and later, when they all turned 18, nightclubs. “Now with the Internet, you get your music out on a MySpace page or on YouTube, so it’s a new age. The kids now have to use all these technologies to help them out, whereas before, we would just pound the pavement, rack up mileage, and keep running from club to club.”
Benefit Concert, Sunday, December 23, 7 p.m., KatManDu, Waterfront Park, Route 29, Trenton. Ernie White and Friends perform. $25. 609-393-7300.