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Grammy Winning Producer Reflects on Livingston Roots

Published October 20, 2016 by Maryanne

rob-at-bitter-endRob Fusari (Photo by Alex Castaneda)

This article originally appeared in The Livingston News, October 2016. 

Grammy Winning Producer Reflects on Livingston Roots

By Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

Best known for having #1 hits with Beyonce, Will Smith, Whitney Houston, and Lady Gaga, Rob Fusari made it to the charts again this year, co-writing three songs for ABC’s release “Lexicon of Love II.”

“Lexicon of Love II” entered the UK album charts at #5. Fusari co-wrote “Confessions of a Fool,” “Singer Not the Song,” and “The Ship of the Seasick Sailor,” with lead singer Martin Fry.

Fusari said that he modeled his production and sound after ABC, whose debut album was released in 1982. “This is surreal,” he said in regard to having such great success with ABC. “I have to pinch myself. ABC is such an inspiration. I remember sitting in front of my mother’s TV watching ABC on MTV. The songs were crafted so well.”

Fusari will be the supporting opening act for ABC on their UK tour over the next few months, doing a one-man show. In addition to backing tracks, Fusari sings, plays piano and keytar – a lightweight electronic keyboard supported by a guitar strap. He plans on testing out new songs.

Fans experienced a taste of his one-man show September 14 at The Bitter End in New York City. Fusari paid tribute to the 1970s and 1980s by playing “mash-ups” – which take two different hit songs by other artists and combining them into one. For example, “Careless Whisper” by George Michael and “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol. He even mashed up one of his own productions with a tune by The Bangles. Then Fusari brought the house down when audience members joined him onstage to dance to a mash-up of the Bee Gees disco hit “Staying Alive” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

He also performed several of his own exquisite songs, like “Don’t Let Love Down,” “Spin U Around,” and “Paparazzi.” During these performances Fusari received standing ovations not only for his great songwriting but for his consummate showmanship.

Performing is natural and easy for Fusari, as he started very young, playing a piano recital at Carnegie Hall when he was 8-years-old. “When I look back, it’s surreal,” he said. “We didn’t have iPhones, video, and camera. I’d give anything to have footage.”

Born and raised in Livingston, Fusari said he can look back now and appreciate a lot more about the town than he did as a kid. “In the eighties, there was a lot of music in Livingston,” he said. “During the holidays, they’d have bands at The Circle. I never realized how much was there for the taking. I remember attending Battle of the Bands shows in the high school auditorium. Livingston itself allowed me to focus on a sense of musicality – and be close to Manhattan. I’d take the bus in and out to find new music there and see what the culture is like. It’s such an amazing place to be.”

Fusari is still very connected to Livington, often staying with family and friends in the town. “I think it’s amazing,” he said. “The success is coming full circle in terms of getting back to where the roots are and what’s real. You get caught out there in the whirlwind of the entertainment business; there was more disconnect. In the last five years I’m spending more time in town than I ever had. I appreciate it more than I ever had. Now I feel like, to live in a town like Livingston, that seems to be the reward.”

As a child in Livingston, Fusari grew up in a musical household. He said, “My mother was big into Liberace. As a piano player, when I’d play as a kid, she wanted me to play more extravagant. As I got more and more into my performance, I started to take that in. Liberace is a huge influence on me. My oldest brother was into progressive rock, like Toto. My other brother was listening to the disco thing. Listening to records – that’s your education right there. I’d listen to piano … drums … ‘How did they get that sound?’ All these different styles were getting into my soul.”

Fusari’s mother was a singer, but she didn’t pursue a career in music like Fusari did. “It was a different time,” he said.

His father, Charley Fusari, was a retired well-known prize fighter.

When Fusari received a full scholarship to Berkeley School of Music, his father passed away and threw him off his track. Instead he went to school for business at William Paterson. He got a job working 9 to 5, but still felt a calling in music. When the job didn’t work out, Fusari turned to music – treating it like a job, getting up at 9 a.m. and working all day and night.

“I couldn’t stop,” he said. He started recording demos and met up with the late hit songwriter Irwin Levine, who was also a Livingston resident.

“I gave him the cassette,” Fusari said. “Sure enough Irwin called and said, ‘Could you come over to the house in Livingston and meet me?’”

He met with Levine every day for two years. He said, “He told me how to craft a lyric and massage a melody.”

Fusari wasn’t an overnight success, but eventually he got his first song published, “No, No, No,” with Destiny’s Child, and it went to #1.

Of the countless number of legendary recording artists Fusari’s worked with, he feels it’s unfortunate that he never got to work with Prince, who died earlier this year.

Fusari continues to seek artists for his own independent music label “Last Quarter Records.”

“People are always sending me stuff,” he said. “I’m so specific to the artists I want to find. I’m very picky, but I’m always looking for that next Bowie.”

After the tour with ABC, Fusari said he’ll be compiling a seven or eight song album. He also has a side project with R&B singer Andrea Martin, who wrote songs for Toni Braxton, Monica, and En Vogue, to name a few.

“We have thirty songs for the album,” he said. “We’ll write five or six songs per night. She’s so fast.”

When Fusari isn’t writing music, he said it’s still in his head. “That’s something I struggled with my whole life. Friends and family notice I’m writing in my head. I went to Tahiti a few weeks ago. I said, ‘I’m not gonna take my lap top.’ I’m making the effort. Music’s been my life.”

For more information on Rob Fusari, visit: http://robfusari.com/

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Bethel, N.Y., July 25, 2015

Published July 26, 2015 by Maryanne

SAM_8059Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

It was such a perfect, summer evening to see an outdoor concert in Bethel, N.Y. — on the same grounds hippies graced at the famous Woodstock the summer of 1969.

My husband surprised me with tickets because I love Lady Gaga. Now, mind you, I am not qualified to call myself a “Little Monster” as I do not have any of her CDs. BUT I won’t turn her off when she’s on the radio. And from day one I just liked her for her unique style and sincere personality. (It was always great watching her on talk shows).  “Poker Face” is one of my favorite pop hits ever, as she sings in the same range as Cher and I’ve adored Cher since I was 7.

I figured a Lady Gaga show with Tony Bennett would be more my speed than a regular Lady Gaga concert, so when I heard about this, I hinted heavily that I wanted to go! But note, I don’t own any Tony Bennett records either. Still, it was thrilling to go see a man 88-years-old, that I was aware of since I was a little girl. The only older performer I ever saw was Les Paul who was in his 90s when I saw him perform.

So … going in not knowing what to expect except for the videos I saw on You Tube. I must say I was “wowed.” The show was phenomenal. The Bennett/Gaga duo was a perfect musical marriage. They did over 30 jazz hits together and solo. And during Tony Bennett’s solos, Lady Gaga went backstage for at least 10 costume changes. It was a fun show, kind of like a Las Vegas-y, burlesque, old school variety show. Their chemistry was fabulous, and I loved how Tony Bennett endearingly referred to her as “Lady” (instead of “Gaga” as her fans call her).

I had three favorite highlights of the evening:

1. When Lady Gaga sang La Vie En Rose (by Edith Piaf). It was moved to tears and gave her my own personal standing ovation for that one. What a voice!

2. When Tony Bennett sang his hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He got a standing ovation from me on that one. And what a voice on this one too!

3. When they ended the show with “It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing” and Tony Bennett brought out his little dog! Then Lady Gaga seemed to be personally thanking their back-up band, which was so heart-warming to see. Moments like that go to show the true personalities behind the stage persona.

When I saw the set list from one of the other shows, I was saddened to see that this go ’round Tony Bennett didn’t do “Fly Me to the Moon” which is one of the few Frank Sinatra songs I like.

But other favorites of the evening were: Lady performing,”Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down,” (a Cher song!); Tony Bennett doing, “Smile Though Your Heart is Aching,” (a Charlie Chaplin song); and the two doing, “The Lady is a Tramp.”

After the show, my husband and I has our own little late night picnic on the grounds after getting the most amazing vegetarian spring rolls at “Hungry Hungry Hippies.”

SAM_8086Best vegetarian spring rolls ever!

SAM_8045Enjoying the show!

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta is the author of “On the Guest List: Adventures of a Music Journalist” available on Amazon in paperback version only: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/162903908X