The Piedmont Brothers Band: Hands Across the Water
They say music is the great mediator, the universal language, the common bond. If that’s indeed the case, then credit the Piedmont Brothers with building ties of international fellowship. By sheer happenstance, Marco Zanzi and Ron Martin, the two founders of the band, found a musical connection in their common love for classic Americana. They shared their mutual admiration for bands like the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band through emails, spawning a friendship that transcended the fact they live thousands of miles apart. Yet even though the two reside in different countries – Zanzi is from Varese, Italy, while Martin hails from Eden, North Carolina – they found commonality in the characteristics of their far-flung hometowns as well. Both locales are referred to as the Piedmont region in their respective environs. Hence, the pair began their musical journey with a name already assured, dubbing themselves the Piedmont Brothers Band.
While Martin played in various bands in his home turf, Zanzi’s musical trajectory seemed less likely. After all, North Carolina can boast a bluegrass pedigree, but country rock certainly isn’t the first thing most people associate with Italy, or any Mediterranean country for that matter. However, Zanzi’s passion for the banjo – first nurtured by the Dirt Band’s Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy and Poco’s Cantamos LPs – drove him to learn the instrument almost entirely on his own.
When, in 2007, Zanzi went to visit Martin in North Carolina, they deepened their musical bond and did some recording as a duo. More studio work was attempted when Martin went to Italy to visit Zanzi the following year. Those sessions spawned the Piedmont Brothers’ debut album, Bordertown, which was followed in 2010 by their sophomore set, Lights of Your Party. While the players consisted largely of Italian musicians, Zanzi’s recruitment of Colorado-based Mike Gallivan to play on a cover of the Springfield standard “A Child’s Claim to Fame” took the band to a new level. It was Gallivan’s friendship and association with several of the genre’s original practitioners – Richie Furay, Rick Roberts, Jock Bartley, Patrick Shanahan, and Herb Pedersen – that enabled them to add their star power to the next Piedmonts disc, aptly titled III.
A live album, Hear My Brother, followed, and by the time the group began recording its fourth studio effort, 2013’s Back to the Country, the list of famous names offering assistance had expanded to include ex-Byrd Gene Parsons and Stephen A. Love, who, like Shanahan, spent time in Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band and the New Riders of the Purple Sage. A similarly star- studded rarities album appeared the same year.
Meanwhile, Zanzi has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, though he continues to perform even as he undergoes chemotherapy and a diet of new medications. He has also managed to release a pair of solo albums – Time to Start Again (Time to Fly Again) and Mock – since the last Piedmonts record was released two years ago. And, while performances by the full band are limited due to distance, the members of the Piedmont Brothers Band remain hopeful that future endeavours will follow.
“We stay in constant touch via email and Facebook,” Gallivan, the group’s semi-official spokesperson, says. “In fact, during the recording of an album, I talk to Marco more than my friends here in Golden. We travel back and forth as much as our finances allow.”