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Prolific north country songwriting duo release CD collection of their “First 100”

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DEFERIET — Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lennon and McCartney and Elton John and Bernie Taupin are some of the legendary songwriting teams that have left their marks on the music world.

Northern New York has Vincent J. Schneider Jr. of Deferiet and Thomas M. Ventiquattro II of Burke.

The pair may not rank with the legends, but they crank out a copious amount of songs with topics as diverse as the cycle of four seasons in the north country.

Their “First 100,” a four-CD collection, was released in February. On it, you can hear songs ranging from “Safe and Sound in Watertown” to “Croghan Bologna.”

The mind of Mr. Schneider is full of songs waiting to get out. He was the impetus for the CD, “The Vince Schneider Connection: First 100.” But Mr. Ventiquattro, who plays guitar and has a recording studio in Burke, Franklin County, added some lyrics and the music.

people, places, things

The songs are in chronological order of the date they were written, beginning with “June,” written in 1998 (“I was born in June,” Mr. Schneider notes) and ending with “Tavern Hotel” about the Carthage establishment, written this year.

There are songs about people: “Grace Western,” (song one on disc three), about Grace Palmer Western, who taught music at Black River and Carthage schools and died at age 96 in 2008.

About specific places: “Italian Block,” (song 13 on disc three) about the place in Deferiet, now gone.

About sports: “Thank the ’61 Yanks” (song 16 on disc one).

About the seasons: “Autumn Star, Autumn Bright” (song 18, disc three).

About love: “The Coldest Day of My Life” (song 13, disc three).

About historical figures: “Colossal Columbus” (song 23 on disc two).

And even about food: “St. Rita’s Spaghetti” (song 22 on disc two). (“St. Rita’s spaghetti dinner, for every saint and sinner, we knew it was a winner ...”).

There are 25 songs on each CD.

Many of the songs honor local places and establishments: “Carthage Central High,” “Down Washington Street,” “Church Street Diner,” “Bill’s Feed Service” and “Roxie’s Road Ice Cream Cafe.” Other songs range from patriotic tunes — “Happy Birthday American Dream,” “Glorify Old Glory” — to holiday songs — “Easter Shine” and “Christmas Angels Everywhere.”

The self-produced project consists of the complete catalog of recordings co-written by Mr. Schneider and Mr. Ventiquattro.

Mr. Schneider, 59, and Mr. Ventiquattro, 58, both graduates of Carthage Central High School, grew up together in Deferiet. Mr. Ventiquattro, whose stage name is Tom 24 (Ventiquattro is Italian for 24), performs regularly in the Carthage area at concerts and events such as weddings, holiday parties and banquets.

“Tom and I have been friends for like 53 years,” Mr. Schneider said, “and our families have known each other for 80 or 90 years.”

Mr. Schneider contributes the original song ideas and some lyrics; Mr. Ventiquattro adds additional lyrics and the music to complete the songs. Mr. Schneider sends his musical ideas to Mr. Ventiquattro via U.S. Postal Service.

“He’ll write a bunch of catchphrases that he wants in the song,” Mr. Ventiquattro said. “He’ll send an outline of where he wants the song to go and he’ll give a line that he wants in the chorus. Often, he’ll come up with a great catchy line in the chorus. More often than not, it will make the song. He’ll just pull it out of his head and it’ll be perfect.”

“He comes up with a lot of good ideas,” Mr. Ventiquattro said. “It kind of makes my job easier because I don’t have to think of topics. It’s almost like he gives me an assignment.”

Inspired ‘thoughts’

Mr. Schneider was asked where he gets the ideas for his songs.

“I don’t know; they are just thoughts that come to my head, I guess,” he said.

He has no musical background and does not play an instrument.

“But I like to listen to music,” he said. “Up in my room, I’ve got a whole bunch of CDs and cassettes.”

Among his favorites: albums by Barry Manilow, Ronnie Milsap, Abba and Englebert Humperdinck.

Mr. Ventiquattro, a retired fish culturist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, began performing live in 1979 as a vocalist with guitar, which he learned to play at age 11. He has released five other CDs in addition to “The Vince Schneider Connection.” Many were produced by Mr. Ventiquattro’s friend and studio producer Daniel R. Wills of North Bangor, who died in a 2009 plane crash in the Adirondacks. Mr. Schneider collaborated with Mr. Ventiquattro on all of the songs featured on the 2010 CD release “20 BY 24 — In Memory of Dan Wills.”

“Vince and I were really saddened to lose our friend Dan Wills,” Mr. Ventiquattro said. “He really helped us in the early stages.”

Mr. Ventiquattro said the first disc on the “First 100” contains several songs that have Mr. Wills as a musician and/or vocalist.

On “Safe and Sound in Watertown,” heard on disc one of the “First 100,” Mr. Wills’s bass vocals can be heard in the chorus.

broader horizons

Mr. Schneider and Mr. Ventiquattro began their musical partnership in 1998.

“My songs are kind of narrow compared to since when I teamed up with Vinnie,” Mr. Ventiquattro said.

“When we got to 75 or 80 songs, I said to Tom, ‘When we get to 100, let’s do a box set,’” Mr. Schneider said.

“Both of us asked if we’ve ever heard of any other artists coming out with a first-100 CD,” said Mr. Ventiquattro. “We hadn’t.”

And the songs keep coming.

“I’m writing one about Jack LaLanne, the exercise person, and I wrote some about my music teachers,” he said.

Ideas like the Jack LaLanne song impress Mr. Ventiquattro.

“I would never in a million years think about writing a song about Jack LaLanne,” Mr. Ventiquattro said. “But Vince wrote me a letter with a few lyrics and the idea, and I’ve been kicking it around.”

Such is the creative process that has led to songs like “Croghan Bologna.”

“Vinny really likes the bologna as a treat,” Mr. Ventiquattro said. “I actually grew up eating the stuff too. It’s a local icon. Not in a million years would I think of writing a song about it.”

The song outlines the product’s history and explains how Fred Hunziker, a Swiss immigrant, in 1888 brought his smoked beef recipe with him to Northern New York where the bologna, as the song goes, provides “total satisfaction by the pound.”

Mr. Schneider mentioned a doughnut shop in Carthage and his father’s Chevrolet as future song topics.

“The ideas are mine, but I can’t thank Tommy enough for helping me put the words and the music together with his great voice,” Mr. Schneider said.

“We’ve already got five songs toward the next 100,” Mr. Ventiquattro said.

The details
WHAT: “The Vince Schneider Connection: The First 100” produced and performed by Thomas Ventiquattro II (Tom 24). All songs composed by Mr. Schneider and Mr. Ventiquattro.
COST: $25
The CD is not available in stores or online. They can be purchased for $25 plus $2 shipping by contacting Mr. Ventiquattro at 518-483-8618 or by sending payment to him at 136 Fleury Road, Burke, NY 12917. Mr. Ventiquattro can also be reached through email at ventiqua@webtv.net
Other recordings by Mr. Ventiquattro can be found on CD Baby at www.cdbaby.com/all/tom24.
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