‘Thirty-one years and still jamming!” That’s what area guitarist Carmen Marranco exclaimed when he updated the Tone Rangers Band website with the 2015 schedule.
Band members may have come and gone over the years, but thanks to Marranco, who joined the band the year it was formed in 1984, and John Dodd, who joined in 1993, the music is still going strong.
In addition to providing guitar and vocals with the Tone Rangers, Marranco and Dodd also perform as the duo “Carm and John.” Audiences can catch the duo at Fedora Cafe in Lawrenceville on the third Wednesday of each month with their next sessions on February 18 and March 18.
They also play — as a duo or with the band — at Halo Pub and Pete’s Steakhouse in Hamilton, Hopewell Valley Vineyard in Pennington, and other venues found on their website: home.comcast.net/~euwers/rangerframe.htm.
During a recent conversation the two musicians shared the individual journeys that would eventually bring them together in the 1990s.
Marranco, a Mercer County native, lives in the Island section of Trenton, close to Ewing where he grew up. His mother was a homemaker; his father, a member of the Democratic Party and the Elks Lodge, worked at General Motors and as a carpenter.
Dodd, who lives outside of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, was born in Maryland and moved frequently because of his father’s work as a service manager for Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation. His mother was a homemaker.
After their high school graduations, Dodd joined the Navy; Marranco opted for college. Dodd says he tends to keep his political views to himself, but Marranco, he says, wears his political and social views on his sleeve. “And I pull him back when he gets too far out,” grins John. “But I open him up to new ideas,” counters Marranco.
So how is it that they got together and are still together both as a duo and as key members of the band keep for more than 20 years and counting? In spite of their differences, they have some important things in common, says Dodd: their dedication to the band and performing the music they love on stage.
While they both write their own music, they perform a mix of songs written by artists from the classic rock, blues, country, and bluegrass genres. When they play as a duo, if they use background, they pre-record their own tracks because they don’t like off-the-shelf, prepackaged material.
The original Tone Rangers Band was strictly a country band, founded by the husband and wife team Dan and Pat Hutt in 1984. Responding to an ad in the newspaper, “Champagne Donnie” Palmer joined the band as a guitarist and vocalist. Then Marranco ran into Don at a convenience store, learned about the band, auditioned, and joined. Country music was big at that time, and the Tone Rangers played at several venues, including the Yellow Rose in Manville, Tex Louis Cowboy Hall of Fame in Bayville (where they opened for Willie Nelson in 1989), and Veterans Park in Hamilton.
During the Hutts’ tenure, several artists also performed with the band, including Glen Borden, John Wilcox, Rich Ziegler, and Willie Endebrock. In 1999 the Hutts retired to pursue other music endeavors.
“Carm and I were left wondering, ‘What should we do now?’” says Dodd. The band’s founders were gone, they no longer had a female voice, and country music was no longer hot. “So we drew on our backgrounds and made a change to classic rock,” he says.
Their solution was to keep the band open for new musicians to join while the two of them would perform as a duo with their own original background tracks or would perform strictly acoustic, based on the venue.
Today, in addition to Marranco and Dodd, the Tone Rangers Band includes Reed Thomas, Marranco’s stepson, on bass and vocals, and Matt Noonan on drums. Both Reed and Noonan also play in the progressive rock group, the Noonan Family Band.
In recent years the Tone Rangers have played at Fran’s Pub in New Hope and community events, including Mercer County Park, Lawrence Jubilee, and the Trenton Farmers Market. One of their more recent gigs was a benefit for the Ewing Presbyterian Church, built in 1867.
One of the reasons they have survived and keep thriving is their versatility in musical styles. By drawing on their backgrounds, they can change with the times but remain true to themselves.
Dodd, who started guitar when he was 12, played during his high school years and later while in the Navy, where he served as an aviation electrician. After completing his term of service in the mid-1970s he played in a rock band (JJ Dodd), bluegrass bands (Dodd Brothers and Borderline), and some country bands (Redwing and Silver Rose). He also played with the Kinley Twins for about one year before they moved to Nashville and would eventually make it on the national country circuit.
Today, in addition to performing, Dodd is a full-time partner in Manix Mfg. Inc. in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, where he works on CAD design and machine fabrication for the electronic assembly industry. He says he picked up a lot of his career skills from his father.
Marranco bought his first guitar in 1973 and played rock and pop with his friends in the garage. He loved listening to the live bands that performed at Ewing’s Incarnation Catholic School dances, and while he confesses that he didn’t do much dancing, he soaked in the music.
Acting on his love for guitar music, he signed up for lessons with Paul Plumeri, who now leads the Paul Plumeri Blues Band and who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013 as a great blues artist from Trenton.
Marranco went to Mercer County Community College, where he studied engineering and graphics. Today he has a CAD drafting service, Draw the Line. He also works for the George Pearson architecture firm, where he worked on the interior design for some of the venues where he and Dodd play, including CrisPanino in Ewing, the Halo Pubs in Princeton and Hamilton, and the overall layout for Halo Farm in Lawrenceville/Ewing. “I have architecture and music groupies,” he says jokingly.
As the designer of the Tone Rangers’ website, Marranco showcases the artists’ music with sound and video and a calendar of upcoming performance. His wife, Bette, a teacher and facilitator with the Trenton school district, provides photography and video for the site. When not performing or working at the architectural firm, Marranco enjoys spending time in nature. “You could say I’m on the green side of things,” he says.
People have joined and left the Tone Rangers Band for a variety of reasons: career and artistic changes, marriage, children, or job relocations. “But here we are today,” says Dodd.
Carm and John, Fedora Restaurant, 2633 Main Street, Lawrenceville. Wednesdays, February and March 18, and April 15, 6 to 9 p.m. 609-895-0844.
Laurita Winery, 85 Archertown Road, New Egypt. Saturday, March 21, 1 to 5 p.m. Free. 609-752-0200.
The Tone Rangers Band, Halo Pub, 4617 Nottingham Way, Hamilton. Saturday, March 7, 7 to 10 p.m. 609-586-1811.
Pete’s Steakhouse Tavern, 523 Whitehorse Avenue, Hamilton. Friday, March 13, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. 609-585-8008.
Lawrenceville Jubillee, Main Street, Lawrenceville. Sunday, May 3, noon to 5 p.m.