Craig Ventresco & Meredith Axelrod

San Francisco, CA
Added 5/17/2010

The following is from a review of Craig Ventresco by Pete Madsen, Acoustic Guitar magazine, October 2006

If you ever wandered through San Francisco metro stations during the mid-1990s, you may have heard what you thought was the ghost of Blind Blake playing ragtime guitar. In fact, the music echoing through the tunnels was coming from the guitar of Maine native and transplanted San Franciscan Craig Ventresco.

[Craig’s] unconventional musical direction was set during early childhood, when he fell in love with old 78-rpm recordings of early ragtime and jazz. When other kids were listening to Led Zeppelin, Ventresco was searching through dusty bins for rare sides by such obscure artists as Billy Murray, Arthur Collins, and Will Denny. "I love all kinds of music from the turn of the century - ragtime, waltzes, marches," he explains. "I wasted every dime I've ever made on old records."

Ventresco's parents forced him to take classical guitar lessons, and he can read and write music. But he is essentially a self-taught. Much of the material he plays was not originally guitar music. The rags of pianist Scott Joplin are obvious examples, but Ventresco also draws inspiration from horn players, accordionists, and even the American Quartet, a best-selling vocal group that scored hits during the 1910s and '20s with such popular songs as "Casey Jones," "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary," and "Over There."

Ventresco's playing stands out by virtue of his aggressive sound. Using only a flatpick (to set up an attack that can't really be duplicated with a naked thumb or a thumbpick) and the ring finger of his right hand, Ventresco manages to sound like three guitarists, and he achieves a brawniness lacking in the approach of many fingerstyle guitarists who play similar material. "People tell me my style is all screwed up," Ventresco says of his idiosyncratic picking, "but I think people used to play this kind of music in a muscular and aggressive way. My favorite ragtime pieces are the piano rolls, and when you hear piano rolls you really hear a heavy left hand."

[Craig performs] on a regular basis in a duo with pianist/guitarist/vocalist Meredith Axelrod - they have regular indoor restaurant gigs. So if you find yourself sitting in Cafe Divine on a Wednesday night, eating fettuccine, sipping a nice Chianti, and wondering who that amazing ragtime guitarist is, consider yourself fortunate: you just ran into Craig Ventresco.

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