Hartford favorite and founding member of Holding Pattern talks about his illustrious career, including playing for the world-class Hartford Symphony Orchestra!

Interview with the Hartford Advocate about Tony's gig with the Hartford Symphony


Prog Archives March 2011

Spotlight on Connecticut interviews Tony Spada

Taking Flight (Again). Progression Magazine Interview by Mark Newman

Progplanets tLarz

Interview by Nucleus with Tony Spada, "The Visceral Man"

Germany's "RAGAZZI" magazine interview with Tony Spada in their April 2005 issue.


IO PAGES' - The Netherlands 1/20/2008

The history of Holding Pattern starts in 1979 when guitarist Tony Spada and drummer Robert Hutchinson decide to create and play their own music. Music with a message rather than the music they played before in numerous bands, doing cover versions of other artists. Just before entering the studio to record their self titled debut (mini)album, Holding Pattern keyboardist Ken Archer left the band and eventually a replacement was found: Mark Tannenbaum. In 1981 this mini-album saw the light of day and a mere 10 years after it's original release, "Holding Pattern" was extended and released as a full length album entitled "Majestic", on which the current bass-player Tony Castellano can also be heard. Shortly after the release of "Majestic" guitarist Tony Spada put out a solo album called "Balance of Power" and then Holding Pattern seemed to be vanished from this earth, until Spada, "out of nowhere", came up with the acclaimed solo-piece "Human Element" in 2004, with the collaboration of several (ex)members of Holding Pattern. This time the fire kept burning and amazingly enough, here's the brand new studio album "Breaking The Silence". From the office of Surveillance Records, on a cold winter's day in Hartford USA Tony Spada, founder, composer, producer and guitarist of the band reflects on over 25 years of HOLDING PATTERN ...

Hi Tony! The name Spada doesn't sound as a genuine English name to me. Where does the Spada family come from originally?

I was born in the USA as a typical American kid but both my parents were Italians, no liaisons with the mafia though, don't you worry! Besides, if I did have those liaisons, I would have been much richer probably!

Before talking about your new album I'd like to dig into Mr. Spada's history a little. I've been studying the notes on both sleeves of Majestic and Balance of Power of which I have the luxury editions. I noticed that as a teenager, you participated in a guitar-contest for young talents and you ended up second place behind Tony MacAlpine, which is quite an achievement since he is well renowned both as a guitarist and as well as a keyboardist. Did you ever get in touch with him after that contest?

Gosh you really own both the collector's editions? I don't even own one, I think I only have a promo somewhere….. About the poll, yeah that was right before the start of Holding Pattern, must have been something like 1983. In fact MacAlpine and I went to same Music College where I studied guitar and he studied piano if I remember correctly. He lives right across the river from where I live so yes.

According to the info on the sleeves mentioned afore your main influences are The Beatles and Yes. In my opinion what we hear in HP Music are distinct similarities in style and compositions with Happy The Man and especially Steve Morse's Dixie Dregs. Like Steve you seem to be quite familiar with other musical styles like classical and jazz. What part does Morse play in your musical career?

Steve became a friend starting in the early nineties when we did a mini-tour with the reunited Dixie Dregs and once he introduced me to their manager Frank Solomon, we did more shows with Steve and his band. Steve's musical studies and mine are parallel: just like many of us in those days we were admirers of bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Genesis and Yes but our classical studies provided us with the ability to write music in a different way and to combine classical, rock and jazz. The hi-tech style of playing is similar to great guitarists such as Bill Connors, Eric Johnson or Jimmy Herring. I love to play rock music with a lot of movements as in classical music. HP is not influenced by the Dregs as such but we share the same combination of education and favourites. Besides, I think there's a lot more country and bluegrass influences in the Dregs music. As kids we all started out to play like Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck but later we learned about classical and jazz music and along the way we started to learn the "hybrid picking" technique. I got kinda put off on my last album as people tried comparing me to this guy and that guy. It was funny because all they had to do was read the liner notes which explained what my intention was for the record. It was to echo some of my early influences regarding guitar trios and to also contribute music that I'm more closely associated with via Prog Rock.

All members of HP are classically trained, schooled musicians. You yourself studied mainly guitar and composition for about ten years in total. Do you consider this level of schooling to be advantageous or not?

It cannot be compared with people who are self taught. Except for the solo's of course, I write every note down on a manuscript, like in an orchestra. People I play with have all the notes on paper and play exactly what I want them to play. Since we don't like to rehearse much, this works just fine and because everyone knows what to play and when, we can focus on the solo's and re-learning older songs.

Doesn't this approach interfere with the creativity of other members of the band and have you always written down all music you composed?

Not quite! A lot of the tunes I come up with get rewritten during rehearsals and usually I try to fix any changes instantly and they have the reworked manuscripts in front of them the next day at the latest. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I have this melody in my head and in the early days I used to think that I would remember a tune until the next day. Most of the times however I was proven wrong and it was gone, so that's when I started to write the notes down instantly and since then I've never changed this. My whole schooling was based on reading manuscripts, by Bach, Fernando Sor and others, as I studied classical guitar, so for me it's the easiest way to memorize music. Another advantage of manuscripts is that you can communicate much more easily with fellow musicians. If I was to teach another guitarist where to put his finger on what string because he wasn't able to read notes, it would take me a whole day for just one song, so I really don't think you can do business that way...

Don't you think there a risk of putting in themes from other composers subconsciously because you had to learn so much music by other (classical) composers?

That's a really good question! Indeed I went through an awful lot of classical compositions, but I do my utmost to avoid this kind of thing happening. Whenever I or maybe someone else has the slightest idea there might be a resemblance between my music or as much as a chord in it, and another composition, I rewrite my song instantly, no matter how much I liked it and sometimes even before it has been written down. I just read a story about Paul McCartney's "Yesterday": he woke up one day and he wrote that song but for a long time he thought his father showed him this song earlier so he was afraid to put it out until one day he finally went to his dad and played him the song and his father subsequently told him he never had heard that song before! So then he recorded it and it became a huge hit as we all know. Up until this day no one sued him!

In your resume there's also some videos mentioned, among others "Mercenary" from 1984. What kind of videos were these and will they ever be released as DVD or bonus material?

Our manager at the time thought it would be good to record a video-clip for MTV because "Mercenary" would be released as a single in the UK. Actually the clip got airplay on MTV and there were a few more clips by HP as well on air in the program "Night Flight" in 1986. It's quite funny you mention these videos because at present there's a record company in California that's interested in re-releasing the "Balance Of Power" album with a DVD as a bonus. From a recent tour there are some live recordings in Japan that might be on it, but probably the video of "Mercenary" along with possibly one or two more clips will likely be on that DVD too. Furthermore I know of a lady that used to tape a lot of concerts. For years she recorded each and every show by Kansas and she worked with Annie Haslam too and I know for a fact she taped a whole bunch of HP concerts. If she's able to transfer these tapes on to DVD format, we might be able to put out a DVD from those gigs as well. We'll see how things go, but surely I would think it a great idea to have a DVD as a bonus covering the history of HP!

I guess you‘ve been touring a lot in both the US and Japan as a solo artist and with you own band. Now HP goes back on the road?

Yes, though we never stopped playing HP songs, the band was brought together by the promoter Hiroshi Masuda of the Poseidon-festival in Tokyo in 2005 and he invites us every year, so now the band is playing as HP again. Currently we have some concerts in Japan scheduled as well as a performance at Baja Prog, where I play as guest with the Alex Carpani band. After Baja I'll be joining that band for the last leg of their tour in California. Should be pretty interesting because I believe the singer from Le Orme is with them and their guitarist Ettore Salati was with another Italian band called "The Watch"!

What about Near Fest?

Last year I was there, sure, but not to perform. We did a sort of meet and greet for three days and I joined Paul Whitehead in his booth. He's famous for his early Genesis covers and he also designed the cover for our "Breaking The Silence" album as well as the cover & artwork for "Waterline" the new album by the Alex Carpani Band. Carpani is a great keyboard player and I was granted the honor to play on their last album. We just got word from a French company that both "Breaking the Silence" and "Waterline" are in their top 5, which is kind of cool, isn't it!

In the nineties HP did many live shows with a singer: Jeff Brewer. Do you have any contacts with him and what made you decide you'd rather play purely instrumental music?

Jeff is a great singer and believe it or not, like ten minutes ago, I received an email from him! He's a gifted musician, he‘s still in the music business and he's a nice guy too. He played in a band called After The Fall (also featuring former HP-member Ken Archer-MvBF). In fact After The Fall opened for us on a couple of shows! The reason we returned to playing instrumental music was that right after the "Balance Of Power" album, I put a new band together and we played a lot of shows as a trio. We had a lot of fun doing it and for me as a guitar-player these performances were truly awesome because I got to play a lot of guitar and as a result of that I decided to stick with that band, rather than performing with a vocalist. At that point HP had split anyway. Once in a while we had some reunion shows where I invited Mark Tannenbaum and I know there are a few pretty spectacular videos of some of these shows, so I'm hoping to include some tracks from these shows on to the DVD we mentioned earlier.

Shortly after "Majestic" you released the solo-album "Balance Of Power" with contributions by Mark Tannenbaum and Tony Castellano, still a HP member today. Is it fair to say that problems with "Hutch" (former HP-drummer Robert Hutchinson) were the reason that this album was not a HP album?

(Laughs), yeah I'm surprised you didn't hear about it! We had problems with Hutch since day one! He's a very tough guy to get along with and although the two of us founded HP, he was actually fired from the band around the mid eighties. He was invited to be part of the reunion and he went to Japan with us, that's why he's on the new album, playing that live track from 2005, and he really did well. During rehearsals and on the tour he was just great! Then, about two months before we were scheduled to go into the studio to record the new album, he turned into "Hutch" again, which is truly remarkable and a shame coz' he's a fine drummer. If you want to have dinner or just hang out with someone he is the perfect guy: he's got a great sense of humour! No one could work with him so he got fired for the second time!

Are you the owner of the band-name Holding Pattern?

Yes, I think I am. I came up with that name and everyone liked it. It comes from the aviation (A holding pattern is a predetermined manoeuvre designed to keep an aircraft within a specified airspace – MvBF), and that's another thing Steve Morse and I share: he's a pilot too, although I gave up flying some ten years ago when I got married. So if I wanted to fly again, I'd have to do a lot of tests and stuff. My wife's from California and she will be flying from East to West with me to keep me company during the tour mentioned before. My original idea was that, being a pilot, travelling with the band would be a lot easier but we ended up travelling in vans still the same, so that didn't work out as I thought it would….

After "Balance of Power" you shared the stage with The Dixie Dregs and as a result there's collaboration between Steve and you in a song called "Sleaze Factor" that ended up on "The Human Element". What's the story behind that track?

Now that's a nice question because no one asked me before why that song was on The Human Element album! This song actually has been recorded during the period we played some shows with the Dregs. We played that song as a soundcheck for Steve and when he walked into the venue he laughed and said "you guys play this better than I do!" At the time I was planning to do an album with a trio in styles I grew up with: Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix and we recorded among others the track "Mile High" (Human Element) that day. So I decided to record Sleaze Factor for fun and we did it in one take, just to get level with our instruments, no one has been fooling around with it!

Has the decision to play live shows as a trio, without a keyboardist, after "Balance Of Power" been influenced by the fact Steve Morse Band was a power-trio also?

As mentioned previously Steve Morse really has nothing musically to do with us except he enjoyed my playing and writing and invited us to do shows. I've played in many trios growing up and always felt it gave me more opportunities to branch out and develop my technique. Although we played as a trio, we still used a lot of keyboards: Tony plays keyboards and bass-pedals simultaneously and I use a guitar-synthesizer for the orchestral chords, so apart from "power-trio stuff" we still used a lot of keys and we played many HP songs as well! For example on "Mile High", my favourite track on "The Human Element", I run the synthesizer through the PA system to produce those mighty strings underneath the guitar sounds and people asked me: where is all that keyboard-stuff coming from and in fact it was me playing all that!

The biography mentions that you work as a guitar teacher but also that you compose a lot of music. Still, eleven years after "Balance Of Power" you release an album of "a mere" 42 minutes. Did you write a lot of material for other artists, or didn't you record all the things you wrote?

Oh surely I wrote tons of stuff I never recorded because it's mostly acoustic. I used to do a lot of live shows on my own as a classical guitarist but I don't see the point in recording that stuff because who would want to buy it? It's a small market already. As far as the album being around 45 minutes in length, I only like to write about ten songs per album. I'm not concerned with length of time, that is plenty of material in my opinion. To be honest I don't like long albums as I don't generally have time to listen to anything in one sitting which was something I used to love to do. Now that the CD format allows more time per disc it shouldn't have to mean an artist has the new responsibility to fill it up.

I know Steve Hackett did acoustic albums and still does: they seem to sell well, but that's an exception perhaps. You could do an acoustic album however, as a bonus with a forthcoming live album?

That's a cool idea, you're right on it! You know as we played shows as a trio I used to open the set with a 20 to 25 minutes acoustic solo performance and I'd like to include some of that stuff on that DVD and try to make something like "best of both worlds". A lot of tunes I wrote are ragtime style or jazz and they wouldn't fit on either albums and are completely different from the more classically orientated acoustic tracks included in both solo-albums.

Still the Music on "The Human Element" album is quite varied, stylistically speaking and the compositions originate from many different years. How did you make a choice which pieces to record?

It wasn't that hard to decide because those songs were mainly the live set we used to play, a mixture of styles featuring guitar, while the other half of the set would be the "Balance Of Power" and Holding Pattern stuff, tracks like "Arrival", "Ten Passed Midnight", "Ground Zero" and so on.

Did you ever perform live in Europe? I can't recall any gig by HP here, neither by many other bands like Happy The Man or Shadow Gallery.

I regret to say not. I've recently met a contact in Switzerland who would like to have us play at the PROGSOL festival in October, but as always, it comes down to the money issue: they're not able to pay for the airfares. To let it to be profitable for us too, seems to be very difficult to realise. Most of the time, the budget just isn't big enough to have us fly across the ocean. I'd really love to play in Europe though, since HP has fans all over the world.

On "The Human Element", there is Tony Castellano, playing bass & keyboards but also the current HP drummer Robert Gottfried. How did you get in touch with him?

When we were trying to put a trio together for "The Human Element" I talked to my manager to get me the best drummer possible and for sure Rob Gottfried was "the man". He's just soooooo good, but extremely busy as well. Around here he's quite famous you know. He does a lot of solo performances and he is pretty popular TV personality, especially with the kids as "Rob The Drummer" in Sesame Street. He travels all over America to help children regain their self esteem, preventing abuse of certain substances and he is a well respected and renowned jazz drummer too. Just like Dennis Chambers (a.o. David Sanborn – MvBF) he is a muscle drummer! I guess he's been in Tokyo at least twenty times and he's been to Europe (Belgium and Russia) as well. We managed to make contact and he agreed to listen to some of our music, so we sent him copies of BoP and some HP stuff and that same night I got a call and he said he just loved it and that we should get together and play. So Tony C. and I went up to his studio and we started playing and it sounded like we were ready to go tour! The three of us played for 2 or 3 hours and we really had a ball. After that session he said to me: "this sounds like a band to me, let's do it!"

You released "The Human Element" as a solo album too. Is the name Spada more popular in the States than Holding Pattern?

That's a tough question. I really don't know but what I do with the trio is a bit different from the things we do with HP so it seemed a logical choice not to use the band-name.

You used to do a lot of session-work. Are you involved in other projects at the moment?

Yes I am. The other day I was approached to do some work on an album, I think it will be called "Pirate Tales", Cypher Arts label manager Dan Shapiro is trying to get me with Gentle Giant guitarist Gary Green to collaborate on a song. Gary's a nice guy whom I met at Near Fest a couple of years ago. Recently I did an album with a band called Domestic Casualty and next week I've been booked for sessions on a jazz/fusion album. In Florida I did a lot of session work for radio-commercials, television-commercials and so on.

Obviously you are a professional musician. How about Robert Gottfried and Mark Tannenbaum?

I used to refer to Rob as "the busiest man in showbiz" because he's always gone. At the moment he's in LA, some 3000 miles away, doing clinics, demonstrating drums etcetera. By the way, I'm working on a new endorsement deal too. Mark Tannenbaum is a booking agent, all he does is book bands and he's doing a great job too. My estimate is that he's got about 300 bands. I think practically every club or nightclub in Connecticut book through him, almost a monopoly. Mark agreed to play on the album, more or less as a guest artist because he is done with touring so probably we will hit the road, the three of us as before. Maybe we'll add a bass-player, likely Bob Laramie, but he is an extremely busy musician too. This would enable Tony C. to focus more on the keyboards.

And how about Tony Castellano?

Talking about Tony, I think he plays in four other bands and he makes solo-albums too. I played on both his albums "The Fun Size" and "The Red Hour", which are very good progressive rock albums: sort of "Genesis meets Frank Zappa", and he writes really hilarious lyrics! Another amazing feature of Tony C. is that he is like a computer: mistakeless! Once we played something like twenty shows in a row and he didn't hit one bad note! Therefore Rob Gottfried calls him "musicmachine". He's just unbelievable. He shows up, looks at the manuscript, plays every note as he should and the next time he comes to a rehearsal he knows it all by memory. In fact he knows the songs better than I do and that's the God's honest truth. He really forces me to be on my toes and if I make a mistake …(grins) and he just gives me that smile and tells I should have played an A major instead of an A minor, and I just say "oh yeah, I know I made a mistake but you don't have to analyze it"! Although he is a very serious musician he's got this funny side to him as well, which not many people see, but I do. He's one of my best friends too! It's kind a strange how we met by the way. Back in the early days we were doing an interview for a radio-station and a girl, Ann Castellano, who turned out to be the program director came up to me and said "hey, I've got this younger brother and he loves Holding Pattern and he's great musician" and I just thought "yeah sure, whatever" and that was it. But a few years later, when he came for an audition, he introduced himself as Tony Castellano. I asked him if his sister was called Ann, and when he confirmed, I said to him "Tony, if you want to you have the gig"! He did and never left the band.... The engineer we used for Breaking The Silence is a very well known guy, who also worked with Lisa Gerrard and worked on the Gladiator soundtrack: he was stunned. I've heard him say: "Spada comes into the studio with these guys to play impossible human music and they do it in one take as well"!

I guess you may consider yourself blessed with such top-musicians playing with you! If I compare "Breaking The Silence" to "Majestic", I hear more guitars and less keyboards. Was the album originally written for a trio?

Actually there's a lot of keyboards on the album but most of them have been played by Tony and me, as we would also play this music live. Mark did all the solos and since he's no longer active as a musician, he warned us his fingers might be a little rusty. He has been studying classical piano since he was four years of age and he is like a shred machine on the keyboards and he's got a lot of technique. When he came into the studio and started playing we looked at each other and said: "rusty?? where!!!", because he did play some amazing solos for the album.

On the "Breaking The Silence" album you are also credited as producer. Did you produce the album because of the budget or did you have special training to become a producer?

That was a deliberate choice. I've been hanging around in studios since I was a teenager and when I was offered the opportunity to hire a producer, the engineers used to say "no need, coz' he knows what he's doing". I am very tickly about sounds and if you have like hundreds of mixes and you would have a producer from outside our music, he would likely make you sound like you don't wanna sound so we kind of stay away from those.

Do you have your own studio?

Yes, I have my own studio in my house, but mainly for the demos. I record my guitar-parts here and some of the keyboards and bass. Then we move on to a larger studio, the Planet of Sound studio in Connecticut operated by Myles Mangino. He has done the lot with renowned bands (a.o. Nickelback – MvBF) and he tours around the world, emailing me from Rotterdam or Paris and sometimes even he calls me with his blackberry and says "hi, I'm having breakfast in Venice, what are you doing?" and I'd have to say "I'm mowing the lawn!". He‘s a great guy and a fantastic engineer. Actually his studio is so big, that we had the release-party of "Breaking The Silence" there with over a hundred people attending!

Do you use the internet and the computer solely for communication with the outside world or do you exchange pieces of music as well?

I use the computer mainly as an email machine and to look up stuff. Just like you when you requested an interview by phone rather than email I like to deal with a person directly and although I use pro-tools in the studio I still prefer the good old tape: if I don't like what I hear I'd rather do another take than editing and pasting like all those kids-bands do. They enter the studio and do one verse and one chorus and the rest is done via the computer. I don't like that at all. It's like cheating when you play an electric guitar but having it sound like an acoustic one, I couldn't do that! So when you hear a nylon string guitar at the end of "Like Waves" it is a nylon string guitar, for me it's inconceivable to use an electric guitar instead. Everything you hear we have played on the original instruments, no pasting or attaching and personally I think guys like us are far more creative than the younger generation. People always ask me why we are you playing that weird kind of rock because it's not commercial, but I don't think it has to be commercial to be listened to and I just like to play it!

What kind of influence do the other members of HP have on the music on the new album?

Well, for this album I did all the arranging myself but the other guys definitely put in their own ideas by changing the instrumentation or the sounds rather than rebuilding a whole song. I'm not like a dictator who tells people what to do note for note, because these guys I work with are just too good: if anyone would like to change something we try it and see what comes out best.

What's the biggest market for music by Spada & HP? Were the albums successful financially?

Luckily for us all the albums released thus far have made us money! From the profits of the Human Element album I could buy our house so that wasn't bad at all. And we are fortunate that so many distributors all over the world want to buy our records and even from the digital companies. I see cheques coming in almost every day!

That's really cool for you because I know a lot of bands in this genre who have trouble surviving....

Yeah, it's really sad but true. Cinthia from Surveillance Records was talking to Martin Orford from the band IQ and he quit that band because he was just fed up with the whole band-life. I know other guys have day-jobs to make a living and in the weekend they can play the music they love. I never had a regular job in my life, I've always played music! You know, the biggest problem is that the major record labels are run by managers, it's all corporate now whilst in the earlier days those companies were led by people who really cared for the music. Their goal was the make records, now they only look at statistics and sale-figures and when it's likely they might loose some money, you're down and out!

Does "Breaking The Silence" mean there's more to come?

Absolutely, we're not done yet! Probably there will be another solo-album in the near future too and maybe even a live DVD.

What more can I say? That's great news: new solo-album, re-release of the BoP album, maybe even a live DVD - I guess all the fans will be eagerly anticipating what's next to come! On behalf of all from iO Pages magazine, I wish you and Holding Pattern every possible success and Tony, I'd like to thank you very much to grant me this interview on a Sunday afternoon!!

You are most welcome, it has been a pleasure talking to you!

Back to Top

Taking Flight (Again)

Holding Pattern has defined the career of guitarist Tony Spada, who is piloting a new solo release before navigating a reunion of his legendary band.

by Mark Newman

Progression Magazine, Issue #48

For a musician who has kept a decidedly low profile for the better part of a decade, Tony Spada can hardly believe the interest in his new solo album. Best known as the guitarist and founder of Holding Pattern, a legendary band from the dark ages of American prog (i.e. the early 1980s), Spada is back in the spotlight with the release of "The Human Element", his second solo effort. That the album is a precursor to a new disc and tour by his former musical outfit only adds to the excitement. "I'll never layoff that long again", says Spada, who has been flying low except for a regular gig in a popular classic rock cover band on the weekends and scattered Borders appearances. "Talk about missing time. It was almost like I was abducted by aliens for a couple of years." Spada is back with a solid CD that should appeal to fans of progressive, fusion and classic rock. 'The Human Element' features a fluid, melodic playing style that hearkens back to almost every famous strummer from the Seventies.

"Every guitar player is like a sponge. If my phrasing happens to sound like a particular style, it's only because I've been listening to this music for 35 years. If I sometimes sound like somebody else, I'm usually not even aware of it."

In truth, Spada sounds like a guy who's been keenly aware of his art for the past three decades, a schooled musician who has never stopped soaring in practice even when his public profile was flying in circles. He may have taken time out to get married, buy a house, raise two kids and even take pilot lessons, but his focus has never wavered far from the dream that began with a certain American television variety show.

"I've been playing guitar since I was eight years old. I started playing because I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I wanted to play guitar like John Lennon and get all the girls screaming."

By his teens, Spada was his guitar teacher's best student - good enough that he was offered the opportunity to switch chairs after his instructor got married and wanted to leave teaching.

"I was sight reading everything he could throw at me. I was already playing classical guitar, but I could play all styles. I was just guitar crazy."

Neither of his parents were musicians, but they loved music all the same. They loved listening to guitar music, he says, recalling the six-string strains of Andres Segovia, John Williams and Chet Atkins. His hero was Fernando Sor (1778-1839), a prolific Spanish-born composer known as "the Beethoven of the guitar" for his large body of work.

"I learned to play his Opus 22 No. 4 from listening to a John Williams record".

Eventually, Spada became enamored by the blues-based power trios of the late 1960s

"As a young teenager, I thought Johnny Winter was incredible. I had never heard anyone play so fast and every note so perfect."

Another favorite was Blue Cheer.

"I loved all the power trios like Cream and Jimi Hendrix, but I got more and more into classical guitar, and less and less into the blues-based, psychedelic rock style."

Growing up in Connecticut, Spada was raised on the radio like every teenager in the early 1970s. Then he started high school - and that's when his ears were really opened.

"There was this rich kid, Joe, who drove a Riviera and even had a car phone, which was pretty unusual back then. We went to Montreal together and I remember driving around ordering pizzas. He turned me onto Genesis by playing 'Foxtrot' and I thought it was amazing."

But it was another group that really turned his world upside down.

"I went to see Grand Funk about 1970 - no later than 1971 - at the Yale Bowl in New Haven and there were like 30,000 people, The opening band was 'Yes' and that was it for me right there."

Seeing Steve Howe provided an exclamation point to everything Spada's father had always tried to imbue. His father, Tom, worked in the garment industry, but he knew it wasn't enough to give the shirt off your back to make in the music business.

"He was always telling me that if you wanted to be any good, you had to get into jazz or study classical guitar and here was Steve Howe playing both in the same song. The next day when I heard 'I've Seen All Good People' on the radio, the Grand Funk records hit the trash."

Spada played in bands during high school, gigging everywhere he could, from nightclubs to outdoor festivals.

"My dad would throw all of the band's stuff in his car and he'd act like our chaperone. I was always kind of a showoff. I'd play Alvin Lee's 'I'm Going Home' while laying on my back with a cigarette in my mouth, or I'd sit on a drum riser playing a 20-minute version of Johnny Winter's 'Mean Town Blues' after the rest of the band walked off the stage."

His parents were totally supportive of his efforts, no matter how ostentatious his playing became. His mother, Marie, who would later own and operate the music store where he first took guitar lessons, became his biggest supporter.

"We'd play in the backyard and the cops would come and she'd yell back at them that she didn't care because at least she knew where her kids were. We'd play Beatles records in the rec room and she was the only mother in the neighborhood who would tell us to turn it up until the pictures fell off the wall."

Spada was totally into music. He studied theory and harmony for 10 years, attending the prestigious Hartt College of Music in Connecticut, where he majored in classical guitar and composition.

"I did a lot of transcriptions for the teachers there - they liked my fingerings. You get the impression from a lot of guitar books that (the authors) are just showing off, writing these fingerings that you'd have to be an octopus to play. I wrote them logically so a normal person could play them."

Almost from the beginning, Spada felt comfortable playing an amazing variety of styles. His stylistic embrace of zigzagging musical genres ultimately led to positions in arranging and producing with a Miami-based outfit called Talent Associates Agency during the mid -'70s. Spada did session work, doing everything from television commercials and radio jingles to studio gigs, even supporting a would-be-lounge singer who was a cross between Tom Jones and the Bill Murray character on 'Saturday Night Live'.

"He was like an Elvis impersonator - he was one bizarre guy. I guess you could say he was 'mildly insane.' The bottom line was he was not very good."

By 1977, Spada left to play in a Los Angeles heavy metal band, which performed throughout Southern California.

"We were supposed to go into the studio to cut a demo when our bass player, who had been pacing the sidewalk, quit. From that point on, it seemed like we had a different bass player every night."

The band played the same circuit as another successful band by the name of Mammoth, a group which Spada later learned would become better known as Van Halen. Disheartened but not discouraged, he returned to Connecticut, where he played in several bands before forming Holding Pattern in 1981. He spent time in Whisper, the premier progressive rock band in New England at the time.

"Before I joined them, they were the only band I'd go see on my nights off. We were like the local Yes - fog machines, lights, two mellotrons."

Spada even used a guitar stand from Rick Wakeman's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth' tour.

"We had all sorts of cool equipment on stage. We were big shots in New England."

He also played in Fugitive, a bar band that covered a lot of ground (from Kansas to Boston), where he met Jeff Brewer, who would join Holding Pattern in one of its later incarnations when it evolved into a more commercially oriented enterprise - rather ironic, since project was initially not even a band.

"I got together with Hutch (Robert Hutchinson, Holding Pattern's original drummer) to write and record. We bought a mellotron and some recording equipment and made a two-song cassette that we sent out to college radio stations."

Much to their surprise, the cassette - which featured the song 'Tunnels' on one side and 'Jigsaw Dreams' on the other - hit the top of the playlists of several New England radio stations.

"We'd get in the car and drive to the stations to do these interviews and we didn't even have a band yet. It was really out of necessity that we went back into the studio and cut the four-song album that became the first Holding Pattern record."

Spada and Hutchinson recruited Ken Archer (keyboards) and Jerry Lalancette (bass) for the sessions which culminated in the original four-track, 29-minute instrumental opus that drew comparisons to Steve Hackett and Camel, although its multilayered sound was uniquely its own. The lineup lasted for one show.

"After the first gig, Ken Archer quit because he couldn't work with Hutch, who back then was rather militant in his views. He was into Scientology, ethics and all this stuff which had a habit of turning people off. Of course, you'd never know it now because Hutch is the mellowest guy in the world. But back then he could be rather difficult. We started to have this problem of people wanting to leave because of the drummer."

In Archer's place, the band found the talented Mark Tannenbaum.

"For his audition, he played Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, then we proceeded to jam to the first side of UK's debut album. He was phenomenal."

Eventually, the group decided to add vocals to the musical mix.

"We didn't set out to be an instrumental band and we were beginning to feel pressure to be a little more commercial".

As a result, Spada and Hutchinson collaborated on 'Mercenary' a single released in 1983 that was backed by an edited version of 'Honor Before Glory', a track found on the band's first album. The group even enlisted Steve Katz, a noted filmmaker, to help them make a video for the song, which received a smattering of play on MTV, the USA Network's 'Night Flight' series and overseas.

"Hutch was a really good lyricist and he was comparing selling out to being a mercenary: 'You make your hit and then vanish from sight.' It was all tongue in cheek."

Besides the obligatory pretty girl in military fatigues, the video featured guitars with bayonets and ammunition crates stamped with the band's logo on them.

"It was a lot of fun, and pretty exciting, too."

Eventually, Holding Pattern recruited Jeff Brewer, with whom Spada had played in Los Angeles, as a full-time vocalist, but the band ultimately splintered. Although the band attracted a fair amount of attention during its heyday, Holding Pattern never signed with a major label and never recorded a second album. That didn't stop David Overstreet of Art Sublime from reissuing the first album in 1991, complete with a bevy of bonus tracks. Renamed 'Majestic', the album was compiled at Precision Mastering with the help of engineer Tim Dennen, who went through Spada's collection of tapes, including unreleased demos and live recordings. The Art Sublime release, which came housed in a gatefold LP sleeve as well as a normal jewel case, was mastered by Kevin Gilbert of Toy Matinee and Giraffe fame before his untimely passing.

"Kevin had just opened his studio in Pasadena and we got to hang out together. I still have photos of him with a box of Crunch Berries and scotch in the other hand. He was a great guy."

The re-release of Holding Pattern set the stage for Spada's first foray into solo work. 'Balance of Power' was a tour de force featuring Spada's stunning guitar playing in a stripped-down band format with bassist Tony Castellano, a holdover from his former band, and drummer Rob Gottfried, best known for his work on 'Sesame Street'.

"I wanted to put together a trio, which naturally put more emphasis on the guitar. Both those guys are such big players that it was a huge sounding band and we played a lot of shows."

Work began on a second release - then life intervened. Spada was playing guitar for an off-Broadway production of the rock opera 'Tommy' when he met an attractive woman in the lobby one night. They talked for a while before Spada left momentarily to retrieve his guitar. When he returned, the woman was gone.

"I had managed to extract enough information to find out that she worked for a dog groomer. About a week later, I called her and asked if she could do the guitarist's hair for the rock opera 'Tommy'. When she realized who it was, she freaked out."

Spada had already been spent several months on his next solo effort, but suddenly his focus was elsewhere. He eventually married Cinthia Link and bought a house together. They now have two daughters, Antoinette, 5; and Olivia, 4.

"People wondered where I went but that's what happens when you get married, buy a house and have kids. I couldn't say I had a new record, but I did have a nice lawn. It's comical because the guy across the street came over this summer and asked me if I was starting a putting green. I was out there every morning like a maniac. They call me the Lawn Nazi."

Spada has kept himself busy during the intervening years by conducting clinics and giving lessons. He also took up flying, an interest fostered by his friendship with Steve Morse, with whom he shared many concert bills.

"I did lots of flying in the ‘90s. A traffic controller at Brainard Airport was a fan of mine who later became a good friend and he would teach me every week on Sundays."

Spada eventually enrolled in an accredited flight school, but his new lifestyle doesn't really afford him the time to keep up with it. Besides, he was more interested in getting his solo career off the ground again.

Ten years in the making, 'The Human Element' is the product of extensive work with engineer Myles Mangino, who has worked with Yes, U2 and Nirvana and is currently on tour with the Pixies.

"He was a very important part of this project. We recorded all of the overdubs and new drum tracks at Planet of Sound Studio where he did a phenomenal job of reworking the old tapes."

The music on 'The Human Element' reflects the riff-oriented dynamics of the power trio while paying tribute to the symphonic progressive sound which Spada is most closely associated through his work with Holding Pattern.

"We did a lot of test market research to judge people's interest and the response has been phenomenal, It's nice to know that people still remember Holding Pattern and, even more so, that they haven't forgotten me."

Spada says the plan is to promote the new release, then go back into the studio for the new Holding Pattern album and, hopefully, a tour - possibly even to Europe, where the band still has a sizable following.

Most of the reunion record has already been written and demoed, although Spada would like to collaborate with Hutchinson on a couple of tunes before heading back into the studio.

"Hutch has a lot of good ideas"


Judging from two work demos titled 'Fish Bulb' and 'Flying Colors', fans of progressive instrumentals - from National Health to Happy the Man, Mahavishnu Orchestra to the Dixie Dregs - won't be disappointed by the new Holding Pattern.

"It's amazing the interest that we're getting. It's almost like we never went away."

Back to Top