Chris Vallillo makes music work
Macomb resident and working folk musician Chris Vallillo (sounds like pillow), has spent a lifetime making a living making music. Anyone who’s tried knows what a trying time that can be, and anyone who has even thought about it likely came to the conclusion the attempt was not worth the risk. Chris did it, does it and will continue doing it as long as he is able.
Vallillo’s musical ride began as a young boy strumming a guitar, moving with his family to a new home in the Midwest every few years. While attending college in Arizona he first experienced music with real folk musicians who explained and exposed the fantastic and deep heritage of American roots music. After graduating he found work in Macomb as an archaeologist and settled into a career before reaching an epiphany on his life’s journey.
“I distinctly remember in 1977 when I was working at WIU (Western Illinois University), thinking I’m not going to spend the rest of my life doing something I don’t love to do,” said Vallillo. “I decided then to take one year off to play music and see if I could make it work. I was young and didn’t mind being a starving artist.”
He soon hooked up with Rushville resident and band leader Ken Carlyle, and became a Cadillac Cowboy, working steadily with the country music traveling show. By 1983 the band slowed and Chris took off on his own, doing solo shows in whatever form he could to make ends meet. Soon he was doing a public radio show, writing music grants, hosting a monthly music series, releasing records and playing at a steady and lucrative pace. Since then he continues to progress, sticking to folk traditions and singer-songwriter territory, basically becoming a do-it-yourself, hard-working musician capable of self-supporting independence while keeping the creative juices flowing.
“I’ve always said if they won’t let you in the front door, break out the basement window,” he laughed while explaining the perseverance necessary to achieve his goals. “You gotta be able to do more than one kind of gig, find multiple markets – bars, festivals, libraries, traditional folk shows – but I always play music that resonates with me, whatever the venue or situation calls for.”
In 2009 to celebrate 200th birth year of Abraham Lincoln, Vallillo released the encompassing and ambitious Abraham Lincoln in Song CD to critical and commercial success. In 2012 he produced The Last Day of Winter, a winning combination of original instrumental and folk songs featuring Chris’s amazing collection of vintage guitars and his tasteful bottleneck slide guitar performances.
After some 35 years of making a living making music, Chris sees the future as much of the same, and he wouldn’t have it any other way, as long as the choice is his to make. The combination of continued creativity and constant marketing makes a long-term, can-do attitude that seems very similar to any successful small business owner, only this one works in the arts as a performing musician.
“I was very lucky to have discipline from my archaeological background. Sometimes all the work is overwhelming, but I have no choice, and this way I have control of my life, time and music.” he reflected. “You do the best you can and always work to get that transcendental moment of enlightenment that gives an audience their money’s worth and the performer the satisfaction of playing music well.”
Chris Vallillo performs a house concert in Williamsville on June 1. Call 217-566-3462 for reservations and visit www.chrisvallillo.com for more about Chris’s career, dates and music.