Genealogy: John Convertino of Calexico on His Immigrant Grandparents and His Musical Upbringing | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Genealogy: John Convertino of Calexico on His Immigrant Grandparents and His Musical Upbringing

Edge of the Sun out now via ANTI-

Apr 24, 2015 By John Convertino Web Exclusive
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Genealogy is our series where an artist writes about what they know about their parents, grandparents, ancestors, and where they come from. In this edition, John Convertino of Calexico writes about his immigrant grandparents coming through Ellis Island, his parents, and his musical upbringing. Calexico’s new album, Edge of the Sun, was released last week on ANTI-. The Tucsonbased band also features Joey Burns. Collaborators on the album, which was recorded in Mexico City, include Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Nick Urata (Devotchka), Carla Morrison, Gaby Moreno, Amparo Sanchez, multiinstrumentalists from the Greek band Takim, and Neko Case. (Also read our two Anatomy of the Song posts from earlier in the week where Joey Burns wrote about Edge of the Sun tracks “Falling From the Sky” and “Bullets & Rocks.”)

My paternal grandparents met on a boat coming to Ellis Island from Bari, Italy. They went their separate ways but met again some time after in New York City, they married and moved to upstate to Utica, NY. My grandmother worked for Spaulding sewing catchers mits, and my grandfather worked in steel mills and an underwear factory.

My father, born in 1924, helped out at a very early age by playing the accordion on the street and grandpa would pass the hat around. He later went on to play piano in the orchestra pit at strip clubs and theaters. He did eventually go to college, and aspired to compose and conduct classical music, but was expelled because of a false high school diploma. Teaching piano and accordion, he met my mother in Indianapolis, Indiana, Butler University.

My parents loved music, even though it seemed to me it tortured them at the same time. Mother very much involved herself in church music, but continually ran into walls because of the ultra conservative denomination she belonged to, so riding the line between secular and Christian music I think drove her nuts. My father, on the other hand, worshipped all the classic great composers and even some jazz greats, but limited himself to playing background music in restaurants, selling and tuning pianos, and teaching. I being the youngest of five, have many memories of kids coming in and out of the house to the Convertino School of Music, and my brother and three sisters all playing piano, accordion, guitar, cello, and singing. My father, though not Sicilian, was once approached by the Mafia to use the school as a front to run drugs; he refused, and continued to work hard to raise his family. A house full of music, we all eventually started playing together, not unlike the many family singing groups of the ‘60s famous or not.

I don’t know as much about my mother’s side musically, her father of Irish decent had a brother who had a great singing voice and played violin. He had a large family, but did something many did not do in those days, he divorced his wife to be with another woman. His new bride forbade him to play the violin and that was the end of that. My maternal grandmother had a organ in her house and piano, she would sit and sing hymns….loudly!

When I was in junior high, my brother and two of my sisters formed a band, we played cover songs, and tried to write our own. Pretty incredible and brutal memories growing up and traveling around the states playing dive bars with my familywe are talking mid ‘70s to mid ‘80s herenot very pretty, but someone had to do it!

Calexico North American tour:

5/30—Chicago, IL—Lincoln Hall (SOLD OUT)

5/31—Chicago, IL—Lincoln Hall

6/2—Toronto, ON—The Opera House

6/3—Montreal, QC—Corona Theater

6/4—Boston, MA—The Sinclair (SOLD OUT)

6/5—Washington, DC— 9:30 Club

6/6—Philadelphia, PA—Union Transfer

6/7—New York, NY—Bowery Ballroom

6/8—New York, NY—Bowery Ballroom

7/7—Los Angeles, CA—The Regent Theatre

7/9—Napa, CA—City Winery

7/8—San Francisco, CA—The Fillmore

7/10—Troutdale, OR—Edgefield Amphitheater (SOLD OUT)*

7/11—Troutdale, OR—Edgefield Amphitheater*

7/12—Vancouver, BC—Vogue Theatre

7/14—Jacksonville, OR—Britt Pavilion*

7/15—Boise, ID—Idaho Botanical Garden Outlaw*

7/16—Redmond, WA—Marymoore Ampitheater*

7/24—Newport, RI—Newport Folk Festival

*w/ The Decemberists


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November 1st 2016

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September 1st 2018

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June 26th 2019

Very interesting article, as always. I’ve always been a big fan of John Convertino