Having just turned 50 in June, Phil Angotti’s at an age where most rockers call it a day. But look at Angotti’s calendar and you’ll see this Southeast Side native is busier than ever. He’s fronting the reunited pop band Material Issue (now dubbed “Material Reissue”), filling in for the late Jim Ellison. His new disc, “People and Places,” showcases his affection for the catchy, melodic rock he loves. And he still plays for enthusiastic audiences when he’s not working at his Wicker Park music store, Avenue N Guitars.
“As you get older you get more sentimental, and you’re happy to survive and to just be able to do this,” says Angotti, who’s of Calabrese lineage on his father’s side. “When you haven’t had the major success you hoped for when you were younger, you still keep trying harder; you keep trying to prove to yourself and your audience what you can do.”
To be sure, Angotti has drive and passion that should be the envy of guys half his age. “People and Places” marks the 11th disc he’s released since 1986, and he made it by tapping some of the city’s best players, from drummers Brad Elvis (The Romantics) and Mike Zelenko (Material Issue) to keyboardist-vocalist Carolyn Engelmann (the Chamber Strings).
“I worked in three different studios with four different drummers; I had never done more than two studios and two drummers before that,” Angotti says. “I brought in Steve Dawson [of Dolly Varden] to sing harmonies and play slide guitar; Joel Patterson played pedal steel. I sang a duet with Jacky Dustin, who is a band called The August, on a country song called ‘Same Ol’ We.’ And it was a lot of fun: There were never any roadblocks or aggravation. I felt good about the songs going in and really went the extra mile to get things the way I wanted them.”
For Angotti, “People and Places” marks the latest chapter in a musical life steeped in the British Invasion. The son of a steel worker, “I listened to Italian music from my father’s side,” he recalls. His mother, who was Eastern European, was a polka fan, “but she also bought me my first pop records: The Hollies, Gene Pitney, Tom Jones. My dad was also a country fan so I was listening to Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens and Johnny Cash. And Elvis — my Dad liked Elvis.”
As a kid, Angotti absorbed it all, along with The Beatles and Rolling Stones, and you can hear it in his sound, which salutes those influences without wallowing in nostalgia. That’s because as a live player, Angotti has to stay rooted in the present. “I’m having a bit more fun and joy in what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m still playing live and I’m getting better as a guitar player and singer. And more new people are coming out to live shows, so obviously they are seeing something that they like.”
Check out Phil Angotti’s music at philangotti.com