Nicholas Caruso is a busy man to say the least; not only is he co-owner of one of the best local places around to find band shirts, Rock Stop (which has multiple locations in the central, FL area), he’s also a part of not one, but three separate tribute bands, including his most recent one, the Pearl Jam-inspired act, Black Ledbetter, which he leads.
Over the years, I’ve caught up with Nicholas (or “Nicko,” as he often goes by) a time or two, but had still yet to do an “official” interview with him (though the subject had been brought up on more than one occasion). Thankfully, we were able to finally put an end to that with a recent chat, just ahead of Caruso pulling double-duty with both Black Ledbetter and Nirvanna at Daytona’s Hard Rock Hotel this Friday, September 1.
I started our conversation off by inquiring about all three of Caruso’s acts and asking him to tell me a little more about each of them. He stated; “I’ve been a featured performer with Nirvanna as the Meat Puppets guitarist Curt Kirkwood. I’ve been doing that for eight years since this past February (wow time FLIES). I approached my band leader Ryan Salamone about starting a Linkin park tribute cause our singer for Nirvanna sounds EXACTLY like Chester Bennington, so honestly it was a no-brainer. His name is Eli Mitchell, and he’s so talented it’s disgusting! Ryan agreed wholeheartedly with the idea, and quickly put it into motion. We are called The Linkin Park Tribute Band (kept the name simple for marketing reasons I believe). I’m the guitarist and fill Brad Delson’s role.”
He continued; “It came to fruition rather quickly, and we’ve been touring all over the southeast U.S. Mainly Florida thus far, with respects to House of Blues New Orleans, but we are going to be all over the place in the upcoming year. I am also the merch manager for both bands. During the same conversation I had when I approached Ryan with the Linkin Park idea, I also informed him that last December I started a Pearl Jam tribute called Black Ledbetter, which I’m the singer and band leader for (Ryan owns the other two projects, while Black Ledbetter is mine).”
I wanted to know which one of said three acts was his personal favorite, and he informed me; “Black Ledbetter is my favorite – I get to be more animated as Eddie Vedder. I enjoy moving around a lot on stage, and the other two bands don’t leave much room for that by their design. Linkin park is also a lot of fun and the music is very rewarding when executed right. We are really tight, so it’s always an awesome experience. Nirvanna I also enjoy, however, I usually only play two, and on rare occasions three songs with them since the Meat Puppets only played three songs on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York. But nonetheless, it’s really cool and adds a great intimate moment to the Nirvanna set.”
As far as how long he’s been playing for, he told me; “I started learning guitar at age nine, but like most nine-year-old’s, I wasn’t mature enough to keep a practice schedule, and didn’t really start gaining any real skill until I was around twelve. Ironically the first song I ever learned on guitar was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Laughs). Never played that particular song in Nirvanna, but it’s still kinda neat that it was my first. My first passions though are power metal and prog metal, particularly Iron Maiden and Helloween, so my first bands for the first 15 years of my career focused on ’80s covers and older songs that were very responsible for the ’80s metal style (The Who, Arthur Lee and Love, The Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, many others from the ’60s and ’70s. All the finest that influenced all of my ’80s metal heroes).”
Of course I had to ask him about his childhood acting as well, which he stated; “I’ve done a lot of acting jobs as a child actor. My favorites would have to be Welcome Freshmen, a Pepsi commercial in 1992 with Lou Pinella when he managed the Cincinnati Reds, and the 1993 movie Cop and a Half. Henry Winkler directed that and he absolutely loved me, so it was an unparalleled experience and a great honor for me to work with such a legend.”
He elaborated; “I was a lead character in Welcome Freshmen, and at thirteen years old, that was a trip. I was “corrupted” during that time, and damn near grew up overnight. I was tutored during the film schedule for about five months, and when I came back to school all my friends had become my bullies and all my bullies had become my friends. It was WEIRD. But soon after that I started taking guitar really seriously and was learning Iron Maiden songs at sixteen, so I was about to enter the rabbit hole that has brought me where I am today.”
I also wanted to know who he would share the stage with if he had the choice between anyone (living or dead). He responded; “Oof, that’s a tough one! A small list would be Tina Turner, Arthur Lee, the Obscured by Clouds era of Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, The Who, the Guess Who, the 1964 Brian Wilson Beach Boys lineup, the 1952 Four Freshmen lineup, Helloween, Filter, Cannibal Corpse, Midnight Oil, Living Colour, Katie Melua, Taylor Swift, and Mike Patton. I would include Candlebox among that list but I’ve played “Cover Me” with Kevin Martin and the Hi Watts at a sold out show in Tampa in 2003. So I’ve done that. And at this stage of the hand with Black Ledbetter, I would LOVE to play with stone Gossard and Mike McCready. I would also include Dying Fetus and Cattle Decapitation, but honestly I would only be able to bring merch sales ability and waterboy responsibilities to those two tables! (Laughs)”
As far as the Daytona Hard Rock show on the September 1 goes, Caruso assured me; “At Hard Rock Daytona Black Ledbetter opens up for Nirvanna. I will be performing with both bands. The fans can expect to have their faces melted off…”
Caruso also filled me in on some additional upcoming shows; “Black Ledbetter plays the Alley in Sanford on Sunday, November 5 with the Smashing Pixies. Nirvanna and the Linkin Park tribute has a multitude of gigs all over the state and I think a couple across the US soon too. Honestly we are all working SO much the easiest thing to do is go to our social media pages. Black Ledbetter has a Facebook page where we list EVERYTHING. Nirvanna and The Linkin Park Tribute Band have both Facebook and Instagrams and I believe our Linkin park tour schedule for the rest of the year is up, though it’s always subject to change since hurricanes and illness can strike sometimes, but also many more gigs are being booked daily so the schedule gets heavier often. Again any one interested should go to our Facebook pages and follow us!”
He ended with; “Thanks for talking with me today! I’m always down to answer any questions you may have and look forward to seeing you and everyone else in the future! Up The Irons, brother Jesse! And all the fans past, present and future! Viva Black Ledbetter!”