Charles Laurita may have just earned his associates’ degree in entertainment technology from Mercer County Community College, but the Hamilton-based 22-year-old guitarist-singer-songwriter-bandleader is now ready to conquer the world — musically, at least, with his own brand of horn-heavy, Motown and funk-inspired rock ‘n’ roll and blues-rock.
Area music goers can find out for themselves when Charles Laurita and the Mischief appear at the Record Collector in Bordentown on Friday, July 19.
Laurita made a name for himself with his startling guitar dexterity and his abilities to re-arrange classic rock staples at Ernie White’s annual Christmas Extravaganzas, among other places in and around Trenton and Hamilton. But that was a long time ago, when he was 16 and 17.
In his senior year in high school at Nottingham North in Hamilton, he started writing his own songs and trying to find his own voice, his own style. Today he seems to have hit upon it with his new band, the Mischief, which just held a well attended album release party at Princeton Manor [formerly Cedar Gardens in Hamilton] in June.
“This group was about four years in the making, just because I was trying to get the right group of people together,” Laurita says after a recent performance at RockFest, an alcohol free celebration for recovering addicts and substance abusers at Mercer County Park in West Windsor.
“This band took a few years to jell,” he says, “because I’m into a very large eclectic mix of music. I’m very into Motown and very into funk, so I’m very happy how it’s all turned out. I’m very proud of the guys I play with. They all bring something to the table I would not have been able to do on my own,” he says. “I wanted to find good players, but also, people who were essentially nice people.”
Laurita says that he and his band mates — all from the Trenton area except Langhorne-based trumpeter Sean Joyce — enjoy hanging out together as much as they enjoy rehearsing and performing together. Something that Bruce Springsteen did with his first E Street Band.
Officially formed in January of this year, the Mischief promptly recorded a seven song CD, a well engineered, well produced affair that showcases their all original songs.
Instead of tired old themes of love and relationships, Laurita takes his inspiration from epic films, science fiction, and even the comic books he read as a youngster.
His work was aided by the fact that he has worked with the band’s drummer, Dar Morua, and sax player, Chandler Scales, in previous groups, and spent a number of years doing inventive arrangements of well-known classic rock, blues, and country songs before turning his efforts toward creating original music.
Laurita was 10 years old when he began taking guitar lessons from Trenton-area guitar titan Ernie White. He studied with White for more than seven years and credits him as his biggest local influence, but readily acknowledges musicians and band leaders such as Paul Plumeri and Joe “Zook” Zuccarello were also important in his development.
“Prior to playing guitar, I played violin for about four years,” Laurita says of his years in the Hamilton public school system and some training that would come in handy later. “When I was in the fourth grade, I actually helped transcribe music for our orchestra to play.”
Then there was a change. “I decided I wanted to play guitar. Ernie pushed me, in a loving way, to help me to begin to unlock my potential. He opened my mind to a lot of styles and a lot of different players. He’d play something on a CD, and then we’d sit and analyze it together and figure out why it worked or didn’t work.”
Of his recently earned degree, Laurita says the focus was on working with recording and video software and engineering, as well as the business side of these artistic endeavors. Hot on the heels of his successful record release party, Laurita talks about his goals.
“I hope to take this group if not nationally, then, around the world. I get no greater thrill than playing for people. That’s what I like to do, that’s what truly makes me happy, and I just like to share that happiness with other people,” he says.
Given how organized he is with marketing, that his songwriting approach is unconventional, and that he’s already proved his talents as an arranger with both a good voice and great guitar skills, he may just may be able to do it.
It also helps that he as the support of his parents. Laurita’s father works for the New Jersey State Department of Transportation, and his mother works outside the home a few days a week as a floral arranger at Pedal Pushers. While they have always been proud of their son and his efforts, they are not the pushy types who would insist he sit in with prominent guitar players everywhere they went together. To a great extent, they have let young Charles make it on his own terms in the music business.
Laurita does not have to be told the modern record business is not what it once was, and he and his band mates are willing to do the grass roots legwork themselves to gain a wider following.
“We’ve all worked very hard to achieve what we have now, and I’m not going to cease until we get to where we want to be,” Laurita says, adding, “we put a lot of time and money and work into our CD release party, yet we weren’t prepared when we got on stage and saw 400 people out there to hear us,” he adds.
The album reflects Laurita’s eclectic range of inspirations, and includes funk and swing, blues-rock, and alternative rock, with most all of the tracks featuring the trombone, trumpet, and saxophone. Laurita’s band mates in the Mischief — aside from the already mentioned Morua, Scales, and Joyce — include bassist Kenny Hamilton and trombonist Steve Balalis.
With a score of eclectic influences that include the band Earth, Wind and Fire, music legend David Bowie, Marvel comics’ Stan Lee, and filmmakers Walt Disney and Ray Harryhausen, it is easy to understand Laurita when he says, “I’m into so many different genres, it’s hard for me to write in one style and be satisfied with it. So with this release, I wanted to write in a bunch of genres but have it still sound like us, like Charles Laurita and the Mischief.”
“I never understood why music was a barrier to people; I always say, let’s try to break the boundaries down and have something in there for everyone by creating some catchy songs and riffs that they’ll remember.” Then recalling his marketing and promotion training, Laurita says, “Of course, we’ll have copies of our CD for sale at our first gig at the Record Collector.”
Charles Laurita and The Mischief, with Discrete, The Record Collector, 358 Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown, Friday, July 19, $12 to $15, 609-324-0880 or www.the-record-collector.com.