Nick Sinopoli – The Human Jukebox

Nick Sinopoli is one proud dad.

Returning from his daughter Nikki (Lemonbeat)’s convocation at York University where she graduated with an environmental studies degree, Sinopoli is beaming about his daughter’s achievements.

“Nikki is going to save the world,” announced Sinopoli. “Even as a kid Nikki would decorate our fridge with “Cows Are People Too” stickers. She even pestered her high school cafeteria into going Vegan once a week.”

Nikki and brother Nicky (Green) -I know, it’s an Italian thing!- are also both talented performers with Nikki into creating earthy, Roots music while Nicky is more of a budding rapper. These are talents that will not secure them a place in their Dad’s group as Nick Sinopoli is the unchallenged master of Canada’s Premier Party Band, The Carpet Frogs – when not doubling as Burton Cummings’ back-up unit.

Anyone who has attended a Burton Cummings concert in recent years will no doubt have also noticed a tall guy with long, flowing locks standing to Cummings’ right on stage, usually with a tamborine in his hand. This is Nick Sinopoli who has led the Frogs for the past 20 years and is now celebrating 13 years as leader of Cummings’ back-up group.

You might also remember Sinopoli as Just Alice, star of Canada’s premiere Alice Cooper Tribute band for 12 years. And before that he was a Toronto kid, working as a roadie for Frank Soda & the Imps. “Yes I was the guy who put the television set on Frank’s head and danced around with the arse mask on my face,” cracked Sinopoli. “It was a great education, I always knew I wanted to get into the music business and this was a way in. At that time, Frank was touring with the likes of Humble Pie, Mountain and Ian Hunter so the experience was tremendous.”

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At the time, Nick decided to set up his own band, he realized the Toronto clubs were full of tribute bands with Tres Hombres, The Wholigans and The Blushing Brides being the top draws. “So I figured, if I am going to start a tribute band, I might as well cover Alice Cooper. I had all his toys, the electric chair, the mannequins to chop off their heads. When I pulled out a 15 foot snake, everyone knew I was serious. I even had Alice Cooper’s original guitarist Michael Bruce, playing in my band”.

So when Toronto’s bar scene went anti-tribut e band, Sinopoli didn’t see the point of performing original material. “You had all these new trends; punk, new wave, hair bands but none of the clubs were hiring original bands,” noted Sinopoli. “So I put together a cover band to avoid all these trends. When you’ve got five decades of music to pick from, you never have to worry about current trends.”

Originally put together to mark the closing of the famed Gasworks Club in January 1993, The Frogs found acceptance, first as Q-107’s house band and then enjoyed exposure as regulars at Lulu’s Roadhouse in Kitchener. “We were like the opening act every Friday and Saturday and got to play with a whole bunch of great bands and performers.”

The introduction of Goddo’s Greg Godovitz into the band in 1994 had them briefly flirting with going original, and they recorded their debut “Frog Curry” album at this time. However, the band elected to stay as a cover band and Godovitz moved on.

The band’s big break came in late 1999 whilst performing at a private corporate function in Toronto for Canadian Airlines’ `Christmas for Kids’ charity event. The Frogs found themselves on a bill with Kim Stockwood and Burton Cummings. Stockwood (with now Frog Tim Bovaconti in her band) went on first, the Frogs second, Cummings third with the Frogs returning to close the show.

“Our manager, Sam Boyd, wanted Burton to check us out but he was ready to head out the door and didn’t want to be bothered, reflected Sinopoli. “Anyway, we’re back on stage, I think we were playing The Beatles’ `Nowhere Man’ and Burton says to Sam, `So I know that Beatles song is playing over the P.A but when’s that band of yours going on?’ “No,” says Sam. “That’s not a Beatles song – that’s the band playing!”

“So Burton wanders back on stage and gets right into the gig,” reflected Sinopoli. “He’s calling out names for songs and we are playing them. I think we reminded him of the time when he was with the Deverons and they used to do Top 40 covers.

Anyway, Burton didn’t have a band at the time, he was just doing that “alone and up close” gig with his piano so when he was asked to do a televised performance for the Millennium, he asked us if we’d support him and we’ve been doing that for the past 13 years!”

During this time, the Frogs, currently comprising of Sinopoli, bassist Jeff Jones, guitarists Bovaconti, Gerry Finn and Michael Zweig and drummer Sean Fitzsimmons, have appeared on two Cummings-Bachman CD releases; “First Time Around and `”Jukebox”, and two Burton Cummings’ projects “Above The Ground” and “Live From Massey Hall” plus four Carpet Frog releases (“Frog Curry” “Christmas All Over The World”, “Everything Is Beautiful” and “Pretend To Fly”, yet the Frogs have no desire to pursue a more original approach to their music.

The Frogs flexibility saved them during the Live 8 concert July 2nd 2005 when they were booked to support Cummings and Bachman at Canada’s contribution to Bob Geldof’s global telecast at Molson Park in Barrie. “We were playing with Burton the night before in Kincardine Ontario and he suffered a throat infection so he couldn’t play at Live 8. We had Randy flying in from Vancouver, we’d never played with him at that time, we had a replacement bass player so we had to learn Randy’s three songs (`Hey You’, `Aint Seen Nothing Yet’ and `Takin Care Of Business’ in Deep Purple’s dressing room just before we went on stage.”

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Touring with Cummings as taken the Frogs all over the world and Sinopoli claims Burton’s music and his stage performance is just as strong as ever. “That point was driven home to me when we recently played in Minneapolis on a bill with Joan Jett, Stone Temple Pilots and Fuel,” explained Sinopoli. “ I am looking at the bill and I’m thinking we could be in trouble, especially going on first, but we stepped on stage, the Canadian flags came out, the Winnipeg signs came out and everyone was singing along to the music. I thought, Wow! We’ve just reached a whole new audience.”

Another new audience The Frogs played before were troops in Afghanistan, having been over there twice, first time as the guests of Maple Leaf Sports. “I am really proud that we were able to go over there and entertain the troops. Their response was fantastic!”

According to Sinopoli, Burton is currently in the best shape he’s ever been in. “He’s stopped smoking and that’s helped him a lot. He can go three or four nights straight and he still has his chops, he’s never sounded better than he does right now.”

The Frogs are about to launch a new season of touring activity with band gigs around Ontario, festivals, boat cruises, their annual three-day concerts at the CNE and with Burton at the Big Fest in Belleville on June 22nd, headlining a gig that also includes Hedley and Counting Crows.

“We’ve always said that getting to the gig is the real work but when we get on stage, it’s magic,” enthused Sinopoli. “We never, never have a set list; we just go on stage, look at the audience, try to figure out what they are into and take it from there. As we finish one song, I’ll yell out what we’re going to do next and we take it from there.

This flexibility and the band’s ability to play for any set of demographics, makes them the darlings of the corporate world where from the fall through to New Year’s Eve, they are Canada’s Number One party band for private functions. “Don’t tell me there’s a recession,” grins Sinopoli. “Believe me, these guys are prepared to pay top dollar and fortunately The Carpet Frogs are the first band they think of. Aside from the festivals and Burton’s gigs, we don’t play any club dates; those private corporate gigs keep us very busy.

“The great thing about this band is they are so flexible,” concludes Sinopoli. “They can play anything at any time. You look at a guy like Jeff Jones who’s played bass for the likes of Ocean, Red Rider and Tom Cochrane. You’ve got other guys who play in other bands. Yet when the stars align, they come to play as the Carpet Frogs and it’s just magic.”

What Sinopoli enjoys most about the Carpet Frogs is that the band is virtually immune to current trends. “There’s obviously a big nostalgia movement at radio but that’s perfect for us. This is the kind of music we play. Trends make affect other bands or artists but they don’t affect us. To be able to look at an audience, figure out what they want to hear and to be able to play those songs for that audience is totally amazing.”

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