Minstrel is cruising with video’s success
By Jerry Sharpe / The Pittsburgh Press (Flashback News)

For 18 years a guy with the unlikely name of Frenchy Burrito performed as sort of a wandering minstrel at local bars and events, playing his acoustic guitar and singing in the manor of John Prine and other 1960’s folkies. Now in just four minutes, he reaches more people than all his previous audiences added together.He’s the star of the “Terraplne Blues” video that has been airing this month over the Shelly Mangrum video segment of Nashville Network. The video will appear again on Monday, Dec. 26 at 10:30 a.m., 3, 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. over the TNN cable system, which claims to have more than 3 million viewers.Burrito, 40, is otherwise known as Gregory Costanzo of West Homestead, where he lives with his wife, Elaine, and son Joshua 12. Burrito fell in love with the old song “Terraplane Blues” when he came across it on an old record by bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in the 1930’s. Burrito loved the Delta blues song, learned how to play it and did it in many live performances for years. Then one day he suddenly had the inspiration that it would make a great video. Trouble was that he didn’t have the $15,000 to $20,000 to make a video. Meanwhile, he found an antique car buff who agreed to lend him a mint 1936 Hudson Terraplane. Burrito approached Tony Buba of Pittsburgh Filmmakers with the idea to make a video. Buba liked the idea and agreed to produce the video as training for a filmmaking class he was conducting. “That was a real break for me,” Burrito said “There was no way I’d ever be able to raise the kind of money needed “Even as it turned out, it was three years from the time of recording to the time it finally got on a network, and I spent $1,000 trying to market.  A chief reason for rejections was the sound – deliberately geared to the inferior quality of recordings in the 1930’s by doing the lyrics with acoustic guitar in a living room rather than a sound studios. In the days of Johnson and country blues singer Jimmy Rodgers, it was common practice to record in hotel rooms, not studios. But Nashville Network loved it for for the reason other markets rejected it – the sound. Shelly Mangrum introduces it with the words that”It’s non-state-of-the-art, to give it a raw quality.” While Burrito with his acoustic guitar fronts a band of drums, bass,electric guitar and blues harp, the film rolls out the story of a wandering minstrel being picked up by a fancy woman in a new Terraplane. A spontaneous love scene follows, and the video ends as she drives away and he’s back on the road hitchhiking with his guitar over his back. The actress is Burrito’s wife, Elaine Dempsey, a therapist at Chartiers Mental Health, Mental Retardation Center. Burrito, who has sung at various local cafes, including most recently Chiodos Tavern in Homestead, said,”I’ve always been a sort of low-key performer to small audiences, but inside there was this desire to be seen by more people, I guess that’s something any performer wants. “National TV was the way to do it, but I never dreamed I’d crack it.”
By: Tony Norman
Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Folk singer Frenchy Burrito has been ramblling around these parts for nearly two decades.As a veteran of West Homestead's dusty street corners and bar rock scene, he's internalized enough working class ennui to know the difference between posing and the real thing. And while Frenchy will never be in a position to give Bruce Springteen pointers on the fine art of rockin' and representin' the working class, he's built up enough credibility over the years as an activist to qualify as one of the most empathehetic singers Pittsburgh has ever produced. In fact, "Strange Paint" is the album we all knew Frenchy had in him but had never produced. It's an odd collection of ingratiating vagualy raucous songs somewhat indebted to the blues. "Strange Paint" really starts rolling with the Rodd Willings tune "Land of Coca-Cola," a sweeping, mournful song that lays bare the shameful reality of American indifference toward it's citizens, whether vetern or displaced worker: "greetings in the land of Coca-Cola / where does a soul go when all hope has died?" The haunting, self penned "Homeless Hearts" makes the same point coming from a another direction. Accompanied by Steven Vance on violin, Frenchy Burrito turns in what may be his most beautifully recorded performance yet. Two other Frenchy originals, Shade of Shadyside" and "Blind Ambition," confirm the West Homestead natives's penchant for writing lyrically and melodically interesting songs. But Frenchy's cover of Dylan's, "Tangled Up In Blue" is a major disapointment, mostly because he resorts to twangy mannerisms instead of interpreting the song through his own experiences. Fortunately Frenchy's cover of Mance Lipcomb's "Keep It Clean" and Loudon Wainwright III's "Motel Blues" are more successful because he doesn't resort to irritating shorthand to get the songs across. It's obvious from the superior level of production on "Strange Paint" that Frenchy Burrito and The Folk Pistols arn't for cultists anymore. The local folk rock vet and his local pickup band are finally guaranteed some long overdue respect. - Tony Norman

Burrito after whole enchilada
Success a shock to folk/rocker

By Rege Behe
Frenchy Burrito has a hard time understanding why he's been able to make a living as a musician for 27 years in Pittsburgh. "In a busness dominated by young people, it's bewildering to me that I'm still out here doing this," he said in an interview earlier this week.Not that Burrito is living in mansion, taking limos to concerts or touring the country in chartered jet. The 49-year-old singer/guitarist describes his buget as "shoe string," and the recent release of his self-tilted CD took more than three years to complete. But Burrito has something that many musicians might never achieve: peace of mind. "A lot of people would want more. I'm odd in that way," he said. "The simple things make me happy. I'm not trying to make a million dollars. I have a drive obviously, because it keeps me doing this. I mean, there are easier ways to make money." What makes Burrito happiest playing a type of music not often heard around these parts. He's a folk/rock type of guy who sites Bob Dylan, Loudon Wainwrifgt III and Townes Van Zandt as influences, a storyteller, whose first gigs in Pittsburgh were at now-defunct clubs and coffeehouse such as the Razzberry Rhinoceros, the Portfolio and Loaves and Fishes. "My first paid gig was at the Casbah in Shadyside in '70 or '71," he said. 'I got paid $15 dollars for two sets. About the only thing I remember about it is I took a bus there and then took a cab home. Fifteen dollars went a long way back then."Born in Minneapolis and raised in Chicago, Burrito came to Pittsburgh in 1970, following a coed he met at Northwestern University who had family here. He soon fell in love with the city, and has established himself as a regular performer at local arts festivals during the summer and Beaver, Butler, Erie and Ohio the rest of the year. Opportunities to move elswhere have come his way, but Burrito has resited the lure of seemingly brighter lights."Townes (Van Zandt) took me to Nashville once and tried to help me out," he said. "But I would have had to move there, and I didn't want to do that." Although the singer has released a couple of cassettes during his career, "Frenchy Burrito" marks his first compilation of music of 13 years. recorded with his band the Folk Pistols ("It's a collective of about 15 different musicians because I can't afford to retain a regular band"), the album s a immidiate feel to it, given that it has very few dubs."Everything was done in one pass, one take," Burrito said. "I had a very limited budget. It was real tough to put together. Everybody worked for very minimal amount of money to help get this done. Not that the album suffers in any way because of Burrito's financial limitations. The Cd is an impreeive effort, and could be a calling card for other opertunities if the fates smile his way. Not that Burrito is counting on this recording as being his ticket to the big time. "I've been through the whole routine," he noted. "Warner Brothers called me, Sony called me; I've talked to all of them in one way or another. But to me, just the fact that I'm doing it is satisfying. If something happens that's fine, but I'm happy just the way I am. "I'm like Che Guevara," Burrito added with a laugh. "I come out of the hills, make a little raid fight the rising tide of conformity and head back to the hills." Burrito's CD is available at Borders Books & Music and selected National records Marts. He will appear 9:30 tonight at the Bronzhood Lounge in Robinson. Admision is free.

Folk Pistols Target
'Strange" Subjects
One of the enjoyable aspects of none-realistic painting is that the viewer sometimes can find many layers of meaning to peel away from what's layered onto the canvas. Same can be said of some songs.Cover of the new CD by Frenchy Burrito and The Folk Pistols is a crop of pinkish shapes on a black background. It's a painting by Paul Warhola, Andy Warhol's brother and long-time Frenchy friend. Should the album therefore have been titled "Strange Painting?" No - there's no evidence of Warhola's chicken-foot application process. Actually, the artwork, upon close inspection looks kind of like strawberries, is rather eye-catching. The music inside, crafted by the West Homestead resident, is largely ear-catching. Frenchy, who often has played to focus attention on social issues, is best here on a couple of tracks that maintain that focus. Notable entry is his "Homeless Hearts," quiet, with a fiddle line reminiscent of the Appalachians; consider it a theme song for the needy. "Land  of Coca-Cola," penned by Rodd Willings (who we know best for his work with Chuck Owston), is sort of a rock dirge, a spooky,  excellent look at those intertwined downers: homelessness and hopelessness.Frenchy's concern for the working person surfaces with "Aren't You Bored?" It's industrial feel, inspired by a plodding, mechanized arrangement in keeping with the workplace concept, feels for those in mind-numbing jobs. (An answer song seems to be in order: yes, I'm bored, I hate it, but the job's gotta get done.)"Strange Paint" opens on a more upbeat note with "Ford V-8," a catchy bluesy/rockabilly jaunt through the real of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jeannie C. Riley in order to meet a guy who wants to be buried in his car. Countrified"Blind Ambition" is musically pleasant with an interesting hook.Laid-back good-time look-back at the same-named neighborhood is found in "Shade of Shayside," with appealing clairnet accompaniment.Visiting another land, "Mexico" is good for post-siesta dancing, a keeper to sing after a few tequila's. This one was chosen for video treatment, which presents Frenchy and friends in various guises in various wet/dry places. Visiting another songwriter, Frenchy wraps his pipes around Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up In Blue." Problem with doing a Dylan song is that you can hardly help sounding better than the original vocalist, and Frenchy does, even though it sounds like it's cranked up a little too high in his range.Interesting sequencing of songs follows "Homeless Hearts" with "Motel Blues," about a rock and roller on tour whining about being lonely. (One is tempted to respond to the songs character, "Hey, buddy at least you have a job and a roof over your guitar!") "Keep It Clean" concludes things up with toe-tapping blues.Music stores have been lining up to offer "Strange Paint" (shouldn't paint stores be doing the same thing?)  You can find it at Borders, Premier CD on the South Side, Paul's  in Bloomfield and soon in the NRM near you. But will you find some hidden agenda in Warhola's creation? Probably not, but it's fun to contemplate....

Reviews / Press

Hey Frenchy,

I received Lo-Fi World Cd the other day and have not been able to stop listening to it. What a fantastic recording.  I've lost all interest in Hi-Fi recordings.  I have really enjoyed your song writing and have been waiting for more of your stuff.  You should really consider creating a "boxed set". I am glad that I was able to contribute a little bit to your art. I once heard that a true artist (musician in this case) does not create music that everyone wants to hear; he creates the music and says, "this is who I am, I hope you like it" That is what you have done, and its good!  I hope that someday I can write, perform, and record like that.
Take care,

Curry Werkhieser  Jazz
Guitarist/Washington, DC

Hey Frenchy,

I did receive package, and let me offer Greg (Frenchy) a very hearty congratulations!!! His CD was fabulous - I listen to it all the time. Sort of a combination of Bob Dylan and Greg's own style. It realy is great. What is happening with it - is he on the road with it at all?  Where is it being marketed?  I'm just so excited for you both!!!

Leigh Ann  Contract
Manager/Sacramento, CA


Music Preview: Frenchy Burrito gathers bands for Rainbow Kitchen benefit
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Editor

Frenchy Burrito spends Wednesday mornings answering phones at the Rainbow Kitchen, directing people to the professionals who work there.
"The underemployed, the unemployed, the homeless. On drugs and off drugs. You name it, they call," he says.
Tomorrow, the musician will make another contribution to the cause by organizing Salt of the Earth, a benefit concert at Rosebud featuring the likes of Joe Grushecky, Jimmy Sapienza and 5 Guys Named Moe, Karl Hendricks Trio, Mon Gumbo and Brad Yoder.
It's the fourth such show over 12 years presented by Burrito, a Minneapolis native who came to Pittsburgh by way of Chicago and other places 35 years ago.
  Salt of the Earth
What: Rainbow Kitchen benefit, hosted by the Post-Gazette's Tony Norman and featuring Jimmy Sapienza and 5 Guys Named Moe, Sounder, Joe Grushecky, The Shanks, The Little Wretches, Chuck Owston, Grain, Adam Evil and The Outside Royalty, Mon Gumbo, Karl Hendricks, Science Fiction Idols, Brad Yoder, Badr Regiment, Frenchy Burrito and The Folk Pistols.
Where: Rosebud, Strip.
When: 7 tomorrow..
Admission: $10; 412-464-1892.
Burrito, who will perform with his band, the Folk Pistols, arrives at the show with not one but two new records, his first since 1998's "Strange Paint."
"Mosquitoville (revisited)" has a light tropical folk feel, inspired by Burrito's brief stint living in Key West, Fla. "Lo-Fi World" is more like a New Wave/cabaret record, a la Bowie, with synthesizers and drum tracks.
" 'Lo-Fi World' is darker and more cinematic and has a theme running through it. It kind of jumps around [musically]. You never know where it's going, and it's kind of bluesy in a way," Burrito says. " 'Mosquitoville' is more like a collage. I worked on songs with people long distance, and we sent tapes through the mail. It's like a time warp."
On the title track of "Lo-Fi World," Burrito sings, "No money to make that next CD/so I'll go to the garage and record it for free," and that was the philosophy behind making the record.
"I had such a small budget," he says, laughing. "I had to pay the musicians with pizza. They were kind to help."
The songs kept coming, his own as well as covers of Bob Dylan's "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)," Tom Waits' "The Heart of Saturday Night" and the Johnny Ray hit "Cry" (which, he says, was his first musical memory as a child).
"It's been like five years since I put out ['Strange Paint']," Burrito says, "so there are 28 songs on the two albums. I must have recorded 33 or 35. I kept doing it until I ran out of gas. Then I thought, why not make two and make up for the space in between?"
One of the highlights for Burrito is "Homestead," a ballad that rides on a Latin guitar line as it delves into the bloody history of the town.
"I've lived over here for 20 years. It's my home," he says. "I've seen it from the mills still standing to the transformation that it's made. I owed it to Homestead to write a song about Homestead."
Burrito says he sent the two records overseas where radio is not so "Clear Channelized," and he's gotten some airplay in countries such as Ireland and Belgium. Getting heard, he says, is more important than recouping the small investment he put into the twin records.
"After all these years I'm not really in this for the money. I believe in free expression, and I'm glad I can play this music and get it heard. It's fine if it makes money and fine if it doesn't. That," he says laughing, "is my existential approach to the music industry."

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.