Tommy Colletti, founder of The Music Zoo, is also an accomplished guitarist and singer/ songwriter. Tommy spent the majority of his youth chasing guitars, sounds, and idolizing and emulating the guitarists of the day. Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Leslie West, Brian May, Gary Moore, Michael Schenker, Ace Frehley, Thin Lizzy and John Sykes were all influences on his playing as a young guitarist.
Although creatively the songwriter in him drew from an entirely different bucket of influences. Badfinger, ELO, The Beatles, Paul McCartney, Tom Waits, Foreigner, Boston, Queen, Grand Funk Railroad, Brian Adams, Jellyfish, Elvis Costello to name a few.
Tommy started playing guitar at the age of 12. Originally encouraged by his parents to take piano lessons at age of 5 he soon dismissed the piano for the gravitational pull of playing stickball in the streets of New York City. The influence of the hard rock band Kiss enticed young Tommy back to the desire of playing music, specifically drums. Tommy's mother quickly decided that drums were not going to be acceptable in their small home in Queens. She nudged Tommy to think about the guitar as "Choice B".
Early lessons were taken in a smoke shop/candy store on Eliot Ave in Middle Village after closing time. The store owner / guitar teacher (Bobby Marino) straightened magazine racks and candy shelves and shouted, "play it again!" to a young fledgling beginner. Lessons quickly progressed into an obsession and Tommy graduated from teacher to teacher growing as a guitarist. By the age of 15, Tommy was teaching at the local music store, Central Queens Music in Maspeth, Queens for owner and guitarist Fred Capitelli. He built a large roster of students quickly as he was known locally as the 15-year-old Eddie Van Halen. Then teaching 70-80 students per week the ‘players of the day’. "Everyone wanted to learn to be Eddie (Van Halen) or Randy (Rhoads) back then". He admitted that in those days he had a guitar in his hands over 10 hours a day. Tommy also credits Dominick Mauro who taught him the H. Klose’ method of clarinet applied to the guitar. “I loved Mr. Mauro; he was a great influence on me. By the time I was taking lessons with him he was in his 70s. He called Eddie, “Van Heusen” and Eric Clapton “Eric Clapman” and would give me a cookie at the end of each lesson if I practiced. His love of big band music was fathomable and the thousands of chords in his head were mind boggling to me.” Tommy also cites Paul Cabri who he studied classical guitar with during high school and college.
Tommy studied music throughout high school as well as Queens College’s Aaron Copeland School of Music. During college Tommy set out to look for a band. Through auditions and networking, Tommy landed what became New York City/ Brooklyn based hard rock band Kingsland. The original band consisted of Mike Gandia, original member of NYC hard rock band Squadron, a staple in the NYC club scene and The Great Gildersleeves on the Bowery. Introduced to Mike through a studio owner in Greenpoint, Brooklyn conveniently called Kingsland studios on Kingsland Ave. Pete Anes, a bass player from popular Queens band, Surrender. Pete was later replaced by bassist Chris "Junior" Romanelli who had been an integral part of The Plasmatics featuring Wendy O’ Williams. W.O.W. produced by Gene Simmons of Kiss later toured with Kiss as their opening act. Chris penned the music for "The Damned" as well as other Plasmatic songs and was a big part of the sound and dynamics of The Plasmatics. Chris was also a member of Savoy Brown featuring blues guitarist Kim Simmonds.
Soon after joining, Romanelli became lead vocalist as well as bassist of Kingsland and Colletti and Romanelli began writing many of the Kingsland songs for the trio. The band had a few lineup changes including drummer Ray Callahan also of the Wendy O' Williams band and for a quick moment a four-piece featuring a second guitarist.
The band's final and perhaps best lineup featured Chris Romanelli, Tommy Colletti and Long Island drummer Billy Fernandes. Billy, recommended by Richie Blackmore's Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli. Although the band had strong songs and a large local following, they were a victim of the rise of grunge and the Seattle rock scene at a time when big rock became second class to grunge rock very quickly.
Kingsland did have opportunities; the band declined a record deal in 1989 from a notable record label who demanded 100% ownership of the song writing credits. The band felt that giving away the rights to the songs was a death sentence and apt to keep pursuing other options.
As strong as the songwriting was, the opportunity to record the songs was very limited due to proper funding. Unfortunately, many of the local rock anthems were never heard by a larger audience. For the few that got to see the band live they were treated to a great rock show with strong material and musicianship. Foundation’s magazine called Tommy, "a guitar deity in waiting", the future seemed bright for the band.
Soon after Kingsland, Tommy moved to Studio City, California. His early roommates included Greg D'Angelo, drummer of White Lion (Tommy's cousin) and Derek Sherinian, then keyboardist for Alice Cooper and Dream Theatre. Tommy wrote briefly with D’Angelo and recorded with D'Angelo and bassist James Lomenzo (White Lion, Pride and Glory featuring Zakk Wylde). Tommy was also considered for the Alice Cooper band at that time.
After a quick visit back to New York the idea for a guitar store to be a home base for Tommy’s students as well as a small store to sell local community musical sundries started to take shape. Tommy began looking for a location to open a music school/music store, and the tongue-in-cheek name, The Music Zoo started to stick.
The Music Zoo, Inc. was incorporated in January of 1994 and opened the doors in its original location in Little Neck, Queens at 255-03 Northern Boulevard in late March of 1994. Tommy admits that in the early days of The Music Zoo he hung his own guitars, guitars consigned by friends and a few sets of strings. The original plan was to have a “home base” to teach as opposed to traveling door to door for lessons. The store quickly took off and as a result Tommy eventually handed teaching duties off to other instructors.
The retail store, (pre-internet) originally opened 7 days a week and slowly built a following as the "go to" guitar store for the locals. "I sold many of my treasured guitars in the beginning just to pay the rent”, claimed Tommy.
The Music Zoo became a 24 hour a day commitment. As time went on Tommy started to build relationships with many of the manufacturers that continue to this day. The early days in Little Neck also groomed some budding guitarists to bigger futures. Former students and customers include Bayside's Anthony Ranieri, Mike Gibbons of Leeway and Grammy Award winning producer and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Andrew Watt, then a young ‘bright eyed and bushy tailed’ Andrew Wotman.
In 2001, days before September 11th, Tommy and Oshin Baroyan took over the lease to what became Station Sound Studios in Douglaston, Queens. Named Station Sound by Tommy and Oshin because it was conveniently located next to the Douglaston Long Island Railroad station. It was originally called Avalon Studios and also previously owned by the new wave band The Fixx in the ‘80s.
Station Sound proved to be a great testing ground for Tommy’s new material and the majority of the basic tracks to albums II, III and IV were completed there. The studio eventually changed hands to producer and engineer George Fullan at General Recording Studios and the production continued with Tommy and George. George later made the introduction to both Grammy Award winning producer William Wittman and longtime musical director for Cyndi Lauper as well as drummer, engineer and producer Sammy Merendino (Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Osbourne). The writing and recording continued…
In 2011 The Music Zoo moved to a larger location in the bustling Roslyn Harbor and as Tommy describes, "We built one of the nicest guitar stores in the world!”
The store boasted two levels and water views of Roslyn Harbor. The store also featured the first Taylor “Find Your Fit" room in the world as well as a Gibson Custom Shop “vault” and Fender “guitar loft”. At this point The Music Zoo had become one of the most respected Fender Custom Shop, Gibson Custom Shop, Taylor and Martin Guitar destinations in the world, both in store and online. The Roslyn location also became home to visits, clinics and performances by Steve Vai, Warren DeMartini of Ratt, Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, Steve Miller, Jimmy Vivino, Perephery’s Misha Mansoor and Marc Holcomb, Captain Kirk Douglas and The Roots, Guthrie Govan, Megadeth's Chris Broderick and Dave Ellefson, Tosin Abasi, Yankee and jazz guitarist Bernie Williams and more.
In 2015 The Gibson Custom Shop came to Tommy with an idea to replicate a guitar that was near and dear to him, his 1959 Les Paul Custom. The guitar was previously owned by James Honeyman Scott, late guitarist of The Pretenders fronted by Chrissie Hynde. Custom Shop's Phillip Whorton along with Kevin Van Pamel and then Custom Shop Manager Ric Gembar decided to produce the guitar. Adapted as part of the Collector's Choice series, the guitar was the only Les Paul Custom in the series. Most of the run was concentrated on 1959 bursts of different looks and feels. Tommy, a long-time player of the Les Paul Custom was the perfect ambassador and The Music Zoo the perfect platform for the sale of the guitars. The guitar continues to be desirable to collectors especially since the fame of the Peter Frampton Phenix and the resurfacing of Jimmy Page's original 1960 Les Paul Custom.
Tommy, also a huge fan of the early Charvel guitars playing and owning many of them as a kid. Fender guitars had purchased Jackson/ Charvel and started to reproduce some of the guitars from the ‘80s. As the guitars were being produced Tommy noticed some specs, details and quirks that were missing from the originals. He soon started to design, re-spec and build guitars with Charvel exclusively for The Music Zoo that are still built to this day. A special thanks to Jeff Cary from Fender Musical Instruments for seeing Tommy’s vision and letting him run with the passion he had for the old Charvels. Past and current Charvel employees have gone on to say that Tommy had a big role in “saving” Charvel.
In 2019 The Music Zoo moved from Roslyn to Farmingdale to their new and current home and showroom.
The Songs… “Songwriting has always been a passion of mine”, Tommy explains. “I’ve been writing my entire life and it seems to come in and out of my life depending on “Life” and things that take precedence in my life. Building and growing The Music Zoo, the marriage to my beautiful wife and birth of my child and family. All of these things take precedence, but the writing always comes back eventually.” The majority of the songs on the first four records were written between 1998 and 2009. Tommy’s music is heartfelt and catchy with a good measure of guitar for the people that still love the guitar. Enjoy and listen with an open mind and heart. Tommy can be found spending time with his family and continuing to grow and enjoy The Music Zoo and the great people he’s met that have come from these pursuits.
Tommy Colletti I-IV were written and recorded between 1998 and 2009.
Tommy Colletti I, engineered and produced by Tommy Colletti and Oshin Baroyan in NYC.
Tommy Vocals and Guitar
Oshin Baroyan, Piano
Tommy Colletti II, recorded by Oshin Baroyan and George Fullan in Douglaston Queens at Station Sound and General Recording Studios respectively.
Tommy Colletti Vocals, background vocals, all guitars and piano
Dave Burnett Drums
Kris Bauman bass
Tim Reynolds guitar
Tommy Colletti III and IV enlisted the help of Cyndi Lauper musical director, Grammy winning producer and bassist William Wittman as well as notable Cyndi Lauper/Billy Joel drummer Sammy Merendino along with George Fullan. Recorded at General Studios in Douglaston and Sagamore Hill Studios in Port Washington NY.
Tommy Colletti vocals, background vocals, guitar and piano, electric piano
William Wittman background vocals and electric piano
Sammy Merendino Drums