The Story Of Baldassarre
“I answer the ‘why’. I don’t care as much about ‘what’ you need to play, but rather why it needs to be played. I’m coming at you as a composer, so it’s why that chord or technique is used and less about where a finger goes. I love looking at music and talking about what makes it work.” — Carl Baldassarre
In his nearly 50 years as a professional musician, Carl Baldassarre has been lauded as an exceptional guitarist, ingenious composer and a music scholar. And now, on the eve of releasing a new album (Grand Boulevard), he’s also becoming a YouTube classic rock sensation.
We’ll explain: When he’s not touring or creating music, Baldassarre serves as a foremost authority on rock’n’roll, particularly from the ‘70s. His YouTube channel (where he’s dubbed the Professor of Classic Rock) started on a whim during the early days of covid. But just two-plus years later, he’s already amassed over 1.5 million views for his clips, which focus on great guitar riffs and techniques, song composition and a bit of rock history, highlighting the best of Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and Rush (among many others).
“I’m bringing my knowledge of composition and classical music to the world of classic rock analysis,” he says.
You could say this was a gig 52 years in the making. “When I was 11 years old, in 1970, I had an older sister who came back from college and had been exposed to all this great rock music,” says Baldassarre. “She brought home all this vinyl and told me to sit down, put on headphones and listen to it. I heard [Led Zeppelin’s] ‘Heartbreaker’ and that was it — that was an awakening and the beginning of my musical journey.”
While his YouTube channel started out from a place of isolation during covid, it was also a project Baldassarre long wanted to tackle — going back to his roots and taking his decades of musical knowledge to relearn everything these great bands had done from a technical perspective. “Looking back, I realized how improperly I was playing the music,” he admits.
For his channel, Baldassarre spends less time on the note-for-note explanations of these great guitarists and more on the reasoning behind the music. One particular guitar hero was Jimmy Page. “It’s not just one thing with him. His solos, when he opens up, there’s an unbridled danger there, and even a sexiness. I don’t know (laughs), his soloing is sensual. And as a composer, I’m really impressed with his willingness to explore different genres — he’s done everything from Middle Eastern to blues to country, Celtic, funk, soul, classical … he shape-shifts through genres.”
The same description could be applied to Baldassarre’s own career as a musician and composer. Born and raised in Cleveland, his first band, Abraxas, received a recording contract when he was 19 years old. From there, he found success with his progressive rockers Syzygy, but later felt pressured to find a day job. “I’d been on my own since I was 17, and I learned a hell of a lot by being on the road nonstop early on,” he says. “There was a lot of instability in my upbringing and we were poor. I loved music but I needed a job. And I realized I was good at figuring out life in other areas, like business and finance.”
While not entirely leaving the music industry, Baldassarre went on to a highly successful white-collar career in finance. But in 2014, he pulled back from his job, dieted, cut out sugar and dropped a lot of weight (and regrew his hair) and relocated to a lake house in Madison, OH where he could focus exclusively on his music. “My career in finance kind of broke away from me,” he admits. “I was moving away from what I was as a composer, musician and educator. I was getting sick. I had to get back to how I started.”
Now working full-time as, yes, a composer, musician and educator, Baldassarre’s own catalog includes everything from progressive rock to beautiful pieces of classical music, all recorded in some of the best-known studios in the world. And with each new work, he remains impossible to pigeonhole, deftly leaping through styles and genres. As Baldassarre wryly notes: “A Grammy-award winning producer once described my music as ‘somewhere between Christmas and being burned alive.’”
The most impressive and expansive release in Baldassarre’s catalog might be the forthcoming Grand Boulevard, an album that deftly steers through guitar rock, funk, gentle ballads, R&B, reggae and even a bit of orchestral pop that would make Burt Bacharach (a personal hero of Carl’s) proud. It’s decidedly modern, but you may hear a hint of the classic bands he loves seep in. “I think ‘Sands of Tarifa’ has a bit of an Eastern, ‘Kashmir’-like feel,” he admits. “And ‘Gin With Alice’ is a Steely Dan-inspired song. But I think they’re all pretty original songs which grew out from their earliest inspirations.”
How to sum up a multifaceted career? “I just have this crazy passion to inspire and educate people and occasionally make their heads explode with new insights,” he suggests. “I love playing and writing. But I also enjoyed, at one point, being a sought-after private equity investor. It’s been a crazy journey.”
Even with his continued passion for the rock legends of yore, it’s Baldassarre’s own work that he remains proudest (and much of which the world hasn’t heard yet due to covid).
“Out of everything, I care mostly about my own compositions,” he says. “And that’s how I’d want to be remembered. I want it to say on my tombstone, ‘‘Here lies a composer. The boy had range.’”