From the humid, insect-ridden swamps of Florida, Bruno Esposito, also known by the moniker Lone Wolf, has stepped forth as a newcomer to the one-man band scene. With his vigorous banjo playing and gruff vocal delivery, he certainly plays a style of music one might associate with the swamps of the Southeastern United States. But just as his sound is made from the same stuff that made old-timey music great in its day, it also possesses that which makes modern music great. That is to say, it is raw and primitive, earthy and full-of-feeling, indeed the things that many obscure music enthusiasts have come to expect from such singer/songwriters.
Within seconds of first listening to Lone Wolf’s debut self-titled release, it is clear that his sound is built on foot-stompin’ percussion, lightning-fast banjo pickin’, wailin’ harmonica bits, and rust bucket vocals. All thirteen songs are absorbing and well-written compositions, with thoughtful lyrics about the ol’ railroad tracks, women troubles, drinking heavily, the warm drowsy stupor of morphine, the story of a crow, and here and there glimpses into Esposito’s personal life. Two of the songs he sings in Spanish – “El Canto Del Periquito” (which literally translates into “The Singing of the Parakeet”) and “Mala Crianza” (which more or less means “Bad Upbringing,” I think). But what else would one expect from a fella whose early years were spent in Peru and Italy, respectively, who was brought up on old Italian folk songs and such, and who later became involved in the 80s and 90s punk movement. That last was what Bruno did until, wanting to branch out a bit and hearing opportunity knock, he found himself playing double bass for a psychobilly band, which opened up new musical doors for him. The doors to roots music.
In addition to the minimal drum setup he uses, which is little more than a kick drum, Lone Wolf plays his banjo in a rather percussive fashion, thumping his thumb repeatedly against the instrument’s body, sort of the way one would employ a snare for rhythmic punctuation. There are shakers, too, which he cups in his hand as he plays his banjo, and which sound almost like a small handful of buckshot rattling around at the bottom of a plastic cup. Uncommon in the one-man band scene, he has incorporated the use of spoons in his percussion, having fixed them to back of his banjo, between the dowel stick and the head. On his old, raggedy five-string banjo Lone Wolf shreds using the well-known clawhammer (or frailing) technique, sounding something like a punk rock Roscoe Holcomb without the full measure of Holcomb’s “high, lonesome sound,” coupled with Scruggs’ quick-fingered playing, perhaps after a few gulps of mason jar moonshine.
One-man bands that do the whole banjo thing aren’t as rare as some might think. One-man bands who do the whole banjo thing exceptionally well are pretty rare, however, each of them standing out as a credit to the scene in his own way. Phillip Roebuck, The Dad Horse Experience, One Man Banjo, Thee Asthmatic Avenger, Royer’s One-Man Band, and Trainwreck Washington are a few those artists, and now so too is Lone Wolf One Man Band.
Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Bruno Esposito (Lone Wolf One Man Band). He turned out to be a pretty cool and interesting individual. And what follows is the content of that interview in its entirety.
As is usually the case, I would like to begin in an introductory fashion by asking you: Who is Bruno Esposito (aka Lone Wolf One-Man Band), not just as a singer/songwriter but as an individual, as a human being of this vast and crazy world in which we live?
I’ll begin with a brief family background. In the aftermath of WWII, my parents fled from war-torn Italy, as kids with their respective families, and immigrated to Peru, where they met in 1964. They eventually married in 1969 and started a family soon after. I’m the last of four children. Because of political and economic instability in Peru, my father decided to move us all to Miami, Florida in 1978. As with millions of other immigrants, my parents sought the “American Dream” in the good ol’ USA. I was two-years-old when we arrived. With the exception of a brief experience living in Naples, Italy for two years in the mid 1980s, I have lived in Miami for most of my life and consider it my hometown.
What made you choose the one-man band route as opposed to the full band lineup direction?
There are lots of reasons why I chose this direction. For one, I tend to move around a lot. My whole life has been about moving around. If I move, I just take the act with me and there are no letdowns, no commitments.
There’s also more control over things like finances, decisions on gigs, songwriting. There’s no dealing with egos…no bullshit, just me and my music. And I’m free.
Don’t get me wrong, maybe one day the opportunity will come again to form a good band, and I’m not opposed to doing that at all, but at the moment, I couldn’t be happier doing what I’m doing.
As a newcomer to the one-man band scene, what has been your experience and overall impression of it so far?
Well, to be honest I haven’t really played out with a lot of OMBs, only my friend Uncle Scotchy out of Miami, and Joe Buck. May, Friday the 13th, I’ll be playing with Phillip Roebuck, which I’m looking forward to. But the experience so far has really been a positive and educational one. As a one-man band I’m always looking for ways to improve or add different sounds or elements to the act. I think, when I play out with guys who have been doing this for years, I really get inspired to get better and better.
With a sound that clearly has ingredients of country blues, ragtime, Appalachian folk, and bluegrass, surely you have some roots influences. And that brings up a point of curiosity: What do you personally think of today’s growing roots revival throughout the world, both in the one-man band scene and the full band scene?
I’ve always been a huge fan of old-timey music. Something about the way they played music back then just made it better. I really think that technology is great, but it has distracted us from really learning things that truly fill the soul with satisfaction, like learning an instrument. Nowadays, you barely see kids playing in the streets; they’re all inside watching TV or on the internet.
So, to see that kind of roots mentality coming back, in a big way, on a world level, is amazing and makes perfect sense to me.
What have been some of your most memorable gig or road moments so far as Lone Wolf One-Man Band?
James, to be honest with you I’ve had some great ones, but I really think the best ones are yet to come.
I’ve been playing lots of dive bars where the people dig what I’m doing, but the best reactions come from gigs I do within the scene. Like opening for Hellbound Glory and Six Time Loser at Will’s Pub in Orlando, which stands out as a good show. But the most memorable one would have to be the Hootenanny-Versary Hillbilly Hoedown at The Poorhouse in Ft. Lauderdale. Not only was it a really cool lineup of bands but also Scene Mom Productions (Deb and Joe’s) anniversary. They’ve been in the scene and helping out bands from all over the world here in Florida for more than thirty years.
I met a lot of people and got to see Uncle Scotchy, Joe Buck, Viva La Vox, The Sawyer Family, The Darling Sweets, The Loxahatchee Sinners Union, and Boise Bob.
All the Miami shows are not so memorable due to memory loss.
Having only just released your debut self-titled album a few weeks ago, what has been the general response to it so far?
It has been very well received so far. Triggerman’s review from Saving Country Music was incredible and truly inspired me to continue doing this for as long as my body can handle it, and to grow and evolve as a musician and person. Reverend Nix out of Orlando, Florida really needs to be credited here for putting my name out there and really supporting what I’m doing. We have lots of plans for great releases in the future. For example, we have this idea of recording in this tin shack (here in the middle of our swamps) called the catfish hotel, which has this amazing sound in it. Also, doing split albums with other great artists, like Blues Beaten Redshaw, Uncle Scotchy, Husky Burnette and working with Hillgrass Bluebilly have been talked about.
What are your plans for Lone Wolf OMB in the coming weeks, months, etc? Anything of note, as far as shows, special projects and whatnot?
Lots going on. Everyday something comes up. The future looks bright for Lone Wolf OMB. I’ll be doing recordings with Chris Jay (sound engineer extraordinaire) out of Orlando soon. There are a few releases in the works. So, keep your eyes and ears peeled. Some out-of-state tours are being planned. I would also love to go to Europe for a while, as I haven’t been back to Italy since 1995 and it would be great returning to see my big family over there…and play some shows.
My schedule just gets busier and busier. I’ve had to hold back just a bit recently ’cause I got me a job at Gold Tone (instrument company) working as a stringed instrument assembler and repairman, though they are very supportive of me gigging and touring. It’s the perfect set up. My life nowadays sure beats working six or seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. in restaurants…being a slave to that system and all that.
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover…or if there is anything you would like to express or discuss, by all means feel free to do so now. The floor is all yours, Lone Wolf.
I would just like to say, “Thank you, James,” for making this series of one-man band interviews.
“Thank you!” to all the writers and D.J.’s who write about and play good music. Dave Harris for documenting everything going on recently, and writing the book. And all the one-man bands and musicians out there keeping this music we love alive.
Oh, and come check me out at my shows!