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Desert Companion

Ones 2 watch: guitarist Corey Catalano

Corey CatalanoThis guitarist loves to play fast — but takes it slow when teaching young ones how to shred

Corey Catalano started playing guitar in Brooklyn — and he started young. When he was four years old, Corey’s first guitar was a Mickey Mouse model with a stem-wound, music-box action. “I wore that thing out,” he recalls. “I just wanted to play fast.”

There were jam sessions with local musicians, during which Corey’s father, Anthony Maggi, played sax, and Corey and his brother Kim were encouraged to attack the bongos. Music was the air Catalano’s family breathed; grandfather Frank Signorelli, of the Original Memphis Five, composed standards such as “Stairway to the Stars,” and had Corey accompany him on guitar while grandfather Frank played Gershwin on the piano. In fifth grade, Corey did what 10-year-old would-be lead guitarists in the '60s did: He started his first band, Total Destruction. They eventually changed the name to Naked Grape. (“We thought it was more psychedelic.”). After brother Kim got drafted and sent to Thailand, Corey moved to Michigan to study music.

Jobless on arrival, Catalano put an ad in a local paper. “Pro guitarist, any style.” Within a month he got his break, in cinematic fashion. He was in the house when the Contours, due onstage, got stuck in a snowstorm. A call came through: “Can anybody entertain?” Catalano took the stage, and in a few more weeks embarked on a career with the Motown greats, from Junior Walker and the All-Stars to the Temptations, and everyone in between. Motown would take him all over the world, including to Las Vegas — repeatedly. 

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“We played Caesars a lot, and the town was so beautiful, that after David (Ruffin of The Temptations) died, I thought this is where I’d stay.”

That’s what he’s done since 1995, performing for most of that time with his own band, Heels Over Head, and teaching, imparting the secrets of the guitar arts to acolytes who pilgrimage from the furthest reaches of the valley to the studio in Catalano’s home.

Names you might know: Panic at the Disco, The Higher and The Dirty Panties — he’s taught them and many others. “Corey is an awesome person and an amazing musician and teacher. When I started with him, I hardly knew anything, but he made it so much fun I was glad to go to lessons,” says Dirty Panties guitarist Barbara Lenox. Demand for his method of instruction is fierce, and his students are loyal. He leads showcases for them at local nightspots such as Choices, a pub in northwest Las Vegas.

That’s where his first CD, “The Hoodoo Project,” with new band Airy Otherness had its preview performance, with a release date in the fall. What’s in Catalano’s future? He shrugs and smiles. “I still just wanna play fast.”

Heels Over Head at The Fremont Street Experience fall of 2007 with Corey Catalano, Tiffany Brooks, Clayton Hall and Tammy McFadden

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