Minstrel is cruising with video’s success
By Jerry Sharpe / The Pittsburgh Press

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 “Terraplane 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 Carroll 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.”
 
 
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 Terraplane Blues Music Video by: Tony Buba - Pittsburgh Filmmakers - Starring Frenchy Burrito