Nick Veltri

Nick Veltri

Blues Bassist
BMHOF Class of 1994

Most musicians in Buffalo agree that the most solid wall-of-sound bass player in Western New York is Nick Veltri. He learned his trade listening to and later backing up national blues artists playing the inner-city clubs, such as the Governors Inn and Jan's Casino. Years with Big Wheelie & the Hubcaps, the Buffalo Blues Band and Stan & the Ravens, along with Billy McEwen & the Soul Invaders and Barbara St Clair & the Shadows have given him a sound others try to imitate. 

Nick was a a partner in Sessions Recording Studio, along with Dwane Hall and John Dikeman, both also Hall of Fame members as members of Stone Country.

Nick has been involved in booking blues acts at the former Lafayette Blues Room on Washington Street in downtown Buffalo. He was also partner in Blues Room Records, a record label based out of the club.

In the last few years Nick has been producing R&B revues with fellow inductee Sam Guarino. 

He is also very involved in promoting the heritage of Buffalo Music. Due to his years of support and his close involvement with The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, he was elected President for the year 2000 and continues to be active to this day.

Back - 1994



The article below was originally published in the Buffalo news on March 29, 2001
It was 1965. On Elmwood Avenue, a skinny kid could be seen lugging his bass to the Utica Street bus stop for a trip to the East Side. The 15-year-old, following his passion for rhythm and blues, would catch a ride tothe Governor's Inn on Sycamore Street.

Located in the heart of Buffalo's black community, it was a blue sclub run by musician James Peterson. On most weekend nights, Nick Veltri would be there to listen and, if he was fortunate enough, get to sit in and play.

Some friends told Veltri it was a dangerous area, but it took more than a tough neighborhood or the tense racial climate of the times to stop him. His passion for music transcended race, geography and age.

"I'll never forget Nicky," says veteran Buffalo singer Mondo Galla. "He was just a teenager when I first met him. He comes up to me and says he wants to play with Stan (Szelest) and be like Tommy Calandra. Nicky says he wants to be like the pied piper and he wants people to follow him.

"You know what? Nicky made it happen. He played with Stan, he played with Tommy and look at him now, he is a pied piper.

"Nick followed the older guys and he always respected them. That's why Nick's so special," Galla says. "In this business you get a lot of competition and a lot of jealousy, but everybody likes Nicky, because he cares about everybody."

Veltri looks back fondly on those bus-riding days to smoky blues clubs.

"Never once did I feel uncomfortable or did anyone bother me," Veltri says. "I loved that music and those guys who played it. I wanted to be a blues man."

He is.

Keeping the fires burning

Veltri, now 51, is resting his compact frame in a private area near the kitchen area of the Blues Room on Washington Street. An ex-Marine, he exudes a bulldog tough-and-gruff exterior.

On this day, he is wearing a trademark cap atop his balding pate and is dressed in a blue sweat shirt and blue jeans. A cigarette dangles from amid his gray-flecked goatee. The red pack of Larks he chain smokes and his cell phone rest on a yellow Formica table. A dim ceiling light has created a dark glow as Veltri sits in a kind of silhouette shadow, with a ghostly gray cloud of cigarette smoke slowly rising.

On stage, a local blues band is playing, and Veltri is keeping time, tapping one hand on the table. As the music grows louder, it envelopes the room. Its brooding emotion seems in tune with Veltri's persona, but beneath his exterior lies joy and spirit and commitment, too.

Veltri is a link to Buffalo's golden musical past. He has played with Szelest, Calandra, Billy McEwen, Barbara St. Clair, Elmo Witherspoon, Big Wheelie, Shakin' Smith and more.

He made a pledge to Carolyn Szelest, widow of one of Buffalo'smost influential musicians, after Szelest died in 1991.

"I remember being at the funeral and talking to Carolyn," Veltri says. "I told her: As long as I'm alive people will never forget Stan Szelest."

When Tommy Calandra, another local music legend, died in 1998, Veltri made a similar vow to Calandra's widow, Edith.

Preserving such legacies is part of the reason Veltri became involved with the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.
"A lot of people might not think so, but I'm a spiritual guy," he says. "I believe talent is a gift, and when you receive a gift, you have to give something back."

He was inducted into the hall for his bass playing in 1994. Over the next few years, the hall endured struggles and Veltri became more involved. Today, he is its president and has helped it improve its stature and presence in the community.

"There are a lot of guys who have been playing in Buffalo for years, and this hall of fame is the only recognition we're ever going to get," Veltri explains. "I feel compelled to do whatever I can to make sure that it continues."

That's typical Veltri: A can-do guy who makes things happen.

"Nick's the pivot'

"I've known Nick since the seventh grade and one thing about him hasn't changed: He's the guy everybody else counts on," says Jo eGiarrano, a bass player and close friend.

Veltri takes special interest in younger musicians, such as blues guitarist Jack Civiletto. "He gives you a lot of fatherly advice and sets a high standard," Civiletto says. "Nick is always there if you need him.

"Nick's been a mentor and a teacher. After a gig the guys just like going out with him to a restaurant and listen to him tell stories. He'll keep you there all night talking about Stan and the old days."
Veltri can also be a hard-driving taskmaster.

"Nick was in the Marines and he lets you know right away when things aren't going right," says singer Sharon Bailey, who has appeared in a number of all-star R&B revues organized by Veltri. "Nick's got thatloud voice and he gets everybody down to business when he has to."

Drummer Lenny Rinaldo agrees. "Yeah, Nick's bossy but you know why? He knows the right way of doing things. Whether you agree with Nick or not, he commands and demands respect."

Veltri constantly jams and sits in with blues bands, including Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons in the Blues Room. He and his long-time musical partner Doug Morgano work together in the Morvells and play with LeeRon Zydeco.

"Nick is so good that people here take him for granted. You watch him play, and this guy never makes a mistake," says Morgano.

He says Veltri has mastered "the Buffalo sound" -  a rhythm-based blend of instruments, featuring hard-driving bass and drums - "and style in his playing. He's one of the people that keeps that sound alive and he does it better than anyone else.

"It's not just talent with Nick," Morgano adds. "He just works so hard and is so motivated to sound better. That rubs off on the other people he plays with."

"Nick's the pivot to this whole music scene," says fellow bass player Joe Skinner. "He's the ultimate bass player and I'm talking beyond Buffalo. He can play R&B and high quality rock 'n' roll but when it comes to the blues, nobody else here can touch him."

In addition to performing, Veltri has produced a number of R&B, blues and country CDs in the past few years with Sessions Recording Studios, a venture with musicians Dwane Hall and John Dieckman. He is also involved with Blues Room Records.

Following his muse

Veltri began his musical career with a rock band known as the Savages. Eventually, he turned to blues and started a group called the Live Name Band. After graduating from Cardinal Dougherty High School at 19, he enlisted with the Marines. He was stationed on ships during his two years between 1969 and 1971, first in Europe and later in the Pacific.

After leaving the service, Veltri took up the bass with a vengeance. "I applied a new work ethic and discipline to it," he recalls. By 1973, Veltri landed his biggest gig: playing bass for Big Wheelie (Chuck Vicario) and the Hubcaps.

The group played a '50s show along the order of Sha Na Na, and sold tens of thousands of records. Veltri went on a national tour with the band. He left the group four years later, briefly tried his hand in the Hollywood and Nashville music scenes as a session man, and eventually returned to Buffalo.

Veltri became a regular on the club circuit, teaming up with Szelest and other groups. He also married his teenage sweetheart, who sang in a band.

"Music means everything in Nick's life," says Veltri's wife, Fran. Like other musicians, she understands his dedication to music. "Nick is a perfectionist. He wants to get everything done and he wants it done right."

On stage, Veltri is the consummate pro. He has a kind of stoic presence, totally immersed in playing, appearing oblivious to everything else. Off stage, "he's reserved and quiet," his wife says. "Nick's not very sociable but he loves music and he loves people."

Veltri's never regretted his decision to make music a career.

"I love it more everyday," Veltri says. "I just want to go out there and play.

"I don't have a lot of money, I never sold a million records. But people know me here, and they respect me because of my music. It doesn't get any better than that."

Veltri has achieved his dream of becoming a blues man.

"You watch Nick," says Lenny Rinaldo, "and you see Tommy and Stan."

If you listen closely, you can also hear both. And Nick Veltri,standing proudly alongside them.