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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the December 18, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Music for Trenton’s Kids

Trenton-based blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter

Joe Zuccarello has come to realize that becoming a teacher was probably

the best decision he ever made.

"The music clubs are too fickle today," says Zuccarello, "but

I was able to make a living in the early 1970s just playing Trenton

clubs." At 49, he spends his days teaching instrumental and general

music at Trenton’s Martin Luther King Middle School, where he directs

the orchestra and band.

Zuccarello — or "Joe Zook" as he’s known in the music

world — is part of the generous line-up for the Ernie White Band’s

second annual Christmas Extravaganza at Conduit to benefit the Trenton

Head Start Program. The Monday, December 23, show also features Mark

Giovi, Dan Lavery, Pete Maloney, Lisa Bouchelle, Richie Cole, Duke

Williams, John Bushnell, Joe Vadala, Paul Plumeri, the Commons, Ed

Wilson, Scott Rednor, Jerry Monk, Mike and Chris White, and Joe Grillo.

Zook’s education at Trenton State College was interrupted by the death

of his mother during his freshman year in 1972. "I left school

after my mom passed away," he explains. "She was the one that

was really keeping me in college, and I was perhaps 19 when she died."

The environment for music clubs around Trenton was much healthier


"I was in a lot of different bands, including my own. But the

club gigs are just not happening like they used to," says Zook.

"And you realize you’re not so young anymore. I used to be able

to survive by playing gigs around Trenton, making 75 or 100 bucks

a week, in 1974." After a nearly six hiatus, he went back and

graduated from Trenton State College [now College of New Jersey] in


Zook, who released the CD, "Blues with a Capital B" two years

ago, will release another album of mostly original blues this spring.

He’s knowledgeable and passionate about the classic blues artists:

vocalists Big Joe Turner, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and guitarists

Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Freddie King and others.

Zook began playing guitar as an 11-year-old after he saw the Beatles

perform on TV. "That year I took my first lesson from Frank Hipp

on Hamilton Avenue in Trenton," he says. "He’s still there

now, still teaching, he’s awesome!" Eventually Zook was teaching

guitar at Kretchmer Music Store and at home.

For most of the 1980s Joe Zook and Blues Deluxe had a residency at

the now-closed City Gardens on Calhoun Street. The band became legendary

for their Tuesday and Wednesday night shows, but Zook and his band

also had the chance to open shows for Sam and Dave, Albert Collins,

Junior Walker, Hubert Sumlin, Hot Tuna, and others.

Zook’s forthcoming CD, which he plans to release by June, is called

"Still Payin’ Dues." In 1991, he and his band issued "Payin’

Dues" on cassette.

Zook won’t be accompanied by his regular band at the benefit show.

But he looks forward to sitting in with Ernie White, guitarist Paul

Plumeri, saxophonist Richie Cole, and others.

"We think Head Start is a great organization," says concert

organizer Ernie White. "It deals directly with helping kids —

that’s what Christmas is all about. We figured we’d go right to the

source and help the local kids." White organized last year’s Christmas

Extravaganza, which resulted in donations of over $1,000 to two area

charities. "We’ve put together an even bigger and better show

this year with more national and local celebs," says White. "We

hope everyone will come out and enjoy a great night of music and fun

and help a local charity."

"This sounds like it’s gonna be one helluva show," says Zook

enthusiastically, "and I’m hoping I can do some sittin’ in and

jam with the other bands. I know I’m supposed to do `Merry Christmas

Baby,’ and I might be sittin’ in with Duke Williams on `Silent Night,’

but I hope to do some sittin’ in with everybody! Hey, we’re all from


— Richard J. Skelly

Christmas Extravaganza, Conduit, 439 South Broad

Street, Trenton, 609-656-1199. Holiday show featuring the Ernie White

Band to benefit Trenton Head Start program. $10 donation. Monday,

December 23, 8 p.m.

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