By J. C. Lockwood
Sunday morning. Peter Tentindo's on the phone, croaking out an apology about something, it's hard to tell what exactly ... Oh, wait. It's about his croaking: The former Robbie Roadsteamer guitarist blew out his voice after four weekend shows with Britannica, the classic rock outfit fronted by "Grateful" Ted Solovikos.
Luckily for the Danvers axeman, the throat issue should have no impact on his next big gig — a performance that does not require any singing. Or any other musicians, for that matter. No, it's not a solo instrumental show. Not exactly. It's not even really a concert. And it pays way better than most shows. He's earned a spot in Round 2, the district level, of Guitar Center's King of the Blues competition. It's still a long road to the Hollywood House of Blues finals, but if he gets through this round and the next, he's got a shot at a $25,000 payday. And endorsement deals. And national ink. And gear. And bragging rights for being "the nation's top undiscovered blues guitarist."
Yeah, there's a lot riding on one short, tense gig that takes place under some pretty unnatural circumstances. You get five minutes to set up, you play your part against a pre-recorded backing track, you get out of the way so the next guy can crash through his "set" and then you wait for a three-member panel to give its marks, deciding whether you move on to the next round. "It's pretty nerve-racking," says Tentindo, who actually got his start in a similar, if significantly less profitable showdown eight years ago, as a high school student, when he won the Almost Famous: Next Generation of Guitar" competition — and a chance to play at the old House of Blues in Cambridge. The tune that got him there was an early version of his guitar instrumental "Reflections," which was on his post-high school solo album.
He's lived in Danvers all his life. Well, there was the short time in Revere, but we don't count that. His father Ken Tentindo was a musician, who played guitar in the Wildkats, a band that made a lot of local noise during the 1960s. Peter Tentino got his first guitar when he was 10 years old and learned his way around the instrument. He grabbed the spotlight during the "Almost Famous" competition, then released "Reflections," shortly after graduating from Danvers High School. He moved on to Salem State College, where, despite his rocker ambitions, he broadened his musical horizons, playing in the college jazz ensemble, and grabbed academic accolades, like the President's Art Scholarship and Creative Arts Award. Then in 2005, he landed a slot playing guitar with Robbie Roadsteamer, a bizarre musical hybrid that combined music, comedy and something approaching theater, but with a World Wide Wrestling kind of attitude — an often rude, usually hysterical and histrionic parody metalband blowout fronted by a Louis Robert Potylo, coincidently another Oniontown resident. It was a wild, two-year ride for Tentindo. He performed on, and wrote for, two Roadsteamer albums ("Postcards from the Den of Failures" in 2006 and "I'll Be at Your Funeral" in 2007) and played some high-profile gigs, like the Warpred tour. It was his first real band. "It really opened my eyes," he says. "I learned how to be a performer, but, more importantly, I learned that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."
Then last year, without warning, Roadsteamer came to an abrupt and, considering the frontman's outrageous, high-decibel personality, quiet end, calling it quits last year without a public word of explanation. Even Tentindo doesn't have a clear idea what happened exactly, saying it's possible that Potylo finally grew weary of the character. The guitarist surveyed the post-Roadsteamer environment, trying to plot his next move, when he ran into Solovikos at an open mike at Mandrake Bistro in Beverly. "Something clicked," says Tentindo, who also teaches guitar and piano at the Music & Dance Connection in Danvers. Best known for his work with Smuggler, the 1980s North Shore rock band that collapsed just after landing a big record deal, Solovikos invited Tentindo to join Britannica, his new band, which focuses on British Invasion covers, but does some original material as well. Formed last year, the band has been playing out regularly and will be featured during Salem's Haunted Happenings for the second year running.
But right now Tentindo is focusing on two things: One, getting his voice back. And, two, locking up the district finals for the King of the Blues gig, which take place next week in Boston. He says he's not nervous about the competition, despite its stakes. "I'll do my best," he says. "What happens happens. I'm confident. I'm ready to do this."
JUST THE FACTS: Peter Tentindo will perform in the district finals of the King of the Blues competition September 30 at the Guitar Center, 1255 Boylston St, Boston. The competition starts at 7 p.m. Performance times are determined by a drawing just before the music begins. For more information, call (617) 247-1389. For more information about Tentindo, log onto myspace.com/petertentindo