As a child, David DiStefano remembers his family members playing music around the clock. Blaring from their speakers came Steely Dan, Supertramp, YES, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, David Bowie, Neil Young...
“That music became a part of me,” DiStefano says. “The lyrics, rhythms, and melodies were instilled in my DNA.”
One afternoon when DiStefano was 14 years old, his uncle, Doug Heck, sat him down and “cranked up” the song “Xanadu” by Rush. Next came the track “Working Man”/“Finding My Way,” which featured a drum solo by Neil Peart.
DiStefano bent his ear toward the drums in Rush’s songs, toward the magic that Peart had created.
“That was like nothing I had ever felt before,” he recalls. “Pure inspiration.”
DiStefano also found inspiration from hip-hop music — specifically, artists such as Grandmaster Flash, Doug E. Fresh, Run-DMC, Slick Rick and Afrika Bambaataa. Darren Robinson, a.k.a. “The Human Beat Box” of The Fat Boys, schooled DiStefano on the art of beatboxing.
His first instrument? Airdrums. Definition: pencils on phonebooks. All day, every day, DiStefano says, until he received his first drum kit at age 16.
In conversation, DiStefano speaks with an incredible amount of enthusiasm for music. “I’m addicted to music,” he says. “It is my life. It is my nourishment.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that when asked to describe what it’s like to perform onstage in southwestern Pennsylvania — or anywhere, for that matter — he selects the adjective “symbiotic.”
“When the audience is feeling it,” he says, “I’m feeling it.”
It’s safe to say that audiences have been “feeling it” for quite some time.
DiStefano — lovingly known as “Dave D” and “Davey D” — is one of Johns-town’s most recognized and respected musicians. He’s been at it for so long that, if you’re reading this and think you haven’t seen DiStefano perform, then you might very well be wrong. He might’ve been playing at that one festival you attended a decade ago, or at that one restaurant you stopped in after work one day last year.
Or, if you stepped into Dively’s Tavern on Derby Street on any given Wednesday evening from the year 2000 onward, you would’ve caught DiStefano hosting the venue’s “JamNight.” In addition to welcoming countless musicians to the stage, DiStefano estimates that he’s played at least 1,000 “JamNights.” It’s a gig that he loves and rarely misses.
“JamNight” at Dively’s Tavern has given DiStefano one of many musical outlets in his hometown. Other outlets have come in the form of performing in the following bands: The Chi, David DiStefano and the West Hills All-Stars, and FlowerChild.
Of the now-defunct The Chi, DiStefano says that there was “nothing more free, exhilarating and comfortable” than playing drums in that band, which he says was full of great players. “The setlist of covers was dynamite,” says the multi-instrumentalist (in addition to drums, DiStefano plays guitar, harmonica, flute, bass and piano).
David DiStefano and the West Hills All-Stars came to fruition in 2005. “It’s my way of getting my original music out there, along with my favorite covers of my lifetime in a full band setting,” he says. “I called it the All-Stars because the lineup is ever-changing with so many of my favorite musicians and friends being a part of it.” In addition to DiStefano, the band is rounded out by Eric Suppes on guitar, Randy Penrod on bass, Luis Gonzalez III on keys and Ben Ressler on drums.
One of DiStefano’s favorite memories of playing music in the Johnstown area occurred while playing with this band at the 2010 AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival. “We played an all-original set to an amazing crowd on a beautiful day,” he says. “I’ll never forget it.”
And then there’s FlowerChild, DiStefano’s Grateful Dead cover band that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. “When I discovered the power and depth of the Grateful Dead’s music, I was blown away,” DiStefano says. “I fell in love with it all. They tore all the walls down. You won’t find a band more eclectic.”
To satisfy his urge to play the Grateful Dead’s music, he recruited a few friends to start what he thought at the time was going to be a “low-key” cover band. The original line-up consisted of BT Rhea, Jason Whorl and Scott Mina. “The gigs kept coming and we slowly began to gel,” he says. “Our first gig occurred on Sept. 8, 1994, at Dougherty’s Tera Tory.”
Chris Martinez and Roger Kimbrough joined the band shortly thereafter.
In time, Dougherty’s Tera Tory closed, and over the years FlowerChild’s line-up changed (“due to moves, children, and time,” DiStefano says). Others who have played in FlowerChild include Nick Nicolette, Jim Syfrett, Gary Barnhart, Steven Azami and Joshua Ben.
Also worth mentioning is DiStefano’s one-and-only “seasonal” band. Every Christmas, he gets together with John Bagnato, Tim Wetmiller and Mike Hruska to play a show under the band name The Bloodpipes.
“I look back in admiration of all of the players I’ve been lucky enough to perform with onstage,” DiStefano says. “There’s so much great talent in this area to admire that I could easily write a book on the subject.”
When DiStefano’s not playing solo or with his bandmates, he teaches private drum and guitar lessons and also enjoys working on original material. When inspiration strikes, he grabs a voice recorder or an instrument (preferably both) and then begins playing chords or riffs.
“Then I work on humming through melodies that suit me until I can whittle words or phrases from them,” he says of his creative process. “At this point, the song takes on a life of its own as I try to arrange it into something palatable to me.”
Despite building quite an impressive fan base across all of his musical projects, DiStefano has yet to release a full-length album. The closest he has come is a five-song EP that was released in 2010. “Those in my orbit know I have tons of music written,” he says. “I just have yet to be satisfied with the end result to release a full album’s worth of material, so I’ve kept my studio musings mostly to myself.”
He hasn’t ruled out releasing an album in the future. If/when it does happen, DiStefano’s official website, https://daviddmusic.com, would be the place to find all the details.
In the meantime, DiStefano wants to thank his fans for their continued support.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he says. “It has been an absolute pleasure. A music scene is not just the music alone. It’s the bars, clubs, festivals, promoters and especially the music lovers that make it. I wouldn’t have had the life of music that I’ve had without it. I owe it all to you.”