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Musician Dave Nachmanoff Keeps It Positive

Award-winning multi-instrumentalist comes to The Sanctuary Concerts in Chatham on Oct. 27.

The old saying says to be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it.

Virginia native Dave Nachmanoff says that from the time he was a young boy, he wanted to be a musician on the road.

Today, he is just that. He is the musical right hand of his musical hero, touring regularly with folk-rock master Al Stewart (best known for 1970s hits "Year of the Cat" and "Time Passages"), and the two will perform at The Sanctuary Concerts in Chatham Oct. 27. He's also a prolific solo artist in his own right, a singer-songwriter, master guitarist and producer—and a husband and father of two.

Sit still? As if.

It's evident watching him perform with Stewart, whose music he's adored since boyhood. Nachmanoff is the guitar virtuoso to Stewart's musical Noel Coward. As the Scotsman sings and plays guitar coolly and elegantly, Nachmanoff plays as if his life depends on it, bounding to and fro across the stage, grinning as he glides his fingers over strings and frets with gleeful abandon.

For Nachmanoff, this is all a dream come true.

"Part of me felt it was inevitable, but there are always twists and turns and bumps along the road," he said to Patch. "Then you look back, and it's amazing."

What's amazing is that the artist decided that this would happen nearly 30 years ago.

"It all happened a little later than I originally planned," he said. "Certainly playing with Al—it took a lot of years to get to the point."

Dave Nachmanoff began making music seriously at around the age of 13. It was 1977, the moody, literate pop song "Year of the Cat" was a huge smash in the U.S. and abroad, and young Dave was already a big fan.

"I was very familiar with his music; I knew the bulk of his catalog before I ever saw him live," he recalled. "Al was a really big pop star, but his personality wasn't known that well. I was very curious about him."

So Nachmanoff went to his local library's Who's Who reference book to learn more about Stewart. And then, while listening to the classic, now defunct rock-music radio show "The King Biscuit Flower Hour," he heard an interview with his idol.

"I remember Al said he dreamt that Keith Richards became ill and he was asked to fill in for the Rolling Stones," he said. "And that gave me this clear vision that something like that would happen—Al's guitarist would get sick and they'd say, 'Does anybody know these songs?' and I would run out and play with Al. I dreamed about it at night and had daydreams… not about being in the Eagles or any other group. It was always Al."

In 1985, while a college junior studying in Oxford while his parents were living in London, his mother bought him a ticket to see Stewart perform live at the famed Royal Albert Hall.

"I talked my way backstage and met [longtime Stewart collaborator and current smooth-jazz guitar star] Peter White," he said. "I told him, 'I feel like I know you and I know all your parts, so if you ever need a sub...

"He was real nice and gave me a backstage pass to meet Al after the show."

That meeting did not occur: Stewart was suffering from food poisoning that night. Their initial encounter wouldn't happen again for at least another decade.

In the meantime, he honed his musical craft, got married, moved to California and began working toward the Ph.D he ultimately earned in philosophy.

By the mid-1990s, still a passionate Al Stewart fan, he said he sought out likeminded souls and found them on the Internet's Al Stewart Mailing List.

"I found out through the ASML that Al was performing at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and my wife and I went to the show," he said. 

Instead of going directly home when the concert ended, Nachmanoff decided to chat with fellow ASML members and then saw Peter White signing autographs.

Shyly, Nachmanoff went up to White, who asked, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

"I was astounded. ... I don't know what got into me, but I asked Peter to jam. He said, 'Well, OK,' and put a guitar in my hands."

In a scene reminscent of "A Star Is Born," Nachmanoff sang and played Stewart's rhythm guitar part on the classic "On the Border," and then took on the intricate Spanish-style guitar solo in the middle of the song made famous by White.

"A crowd gathered and applauded," he remembered. "Peter said, 'My god, I'm very impressed. You got my style down exactly.' By the time we were ready to go, I hear him yell, 'Guitar Dave!' and he asked for my card, saying, 'I'm not going to do this forever.'

"I couldn't imagine anyone would want to do anything but play with Al forever."

Four days later, Nachmanoff received a call from Al Stewart's manager asking him to come and audition, as White was going to embark on what would become a successful solo career in smooth jazz. The tryout went well, but the job went to Laurence Juber, former guitarist for Paul McCartney's Wings. 

There were and are no hard feelings.

"If i had gotten the job then, I never would have had the chance to put out my own album and to grow as an artist," Nachmanoff said. "Over time, I became a sub for Juber and Al and I became friends. Then I started touring [as a solo player] and Al came to my gigs and helped me with my songwriting and even did a vocal on one of my records, which was surreal."

By the early 2000s, the time had come for Nachmanoff, now an established independent recording artist in his own right. He went on tour with his mentor in the U.S., went to England with him in 2004, and in 2006, he came full circle, accompanying Stewart in a performance at the Royal Albert Hall.

Then came a real milestone: One of many Al fans' favorites is 1992's "Rhymes in Rooms," an acoustic CD chronicling a performance with Stewart and Peter White. In 2008, Nachmanoff produced an album he considers the sequel to "Rhymes," "Uncorked: Al Stewart Live with Dave Nachmanoff."

"It was an honor," he said. "The album captures the sparkle and the light Al has. I wanted to capture that. It was hard to do, but we did it."

And while many see Nachmanoff as Stewart's guitar partner, which he had always wanted to be, he realized he'd become much more. 

"I'm a songwriter first, guitar player second," he said. "They're both part of what I do, but the songwriting is closest to my heart."

That's evident on his ninth solo disc, the recently released "Step Up," an accomplished selection of fully realized folk-influenced rock and pop gems that he financed via the group-funding website Kickstarter.

The site solicits donations to fund artists' projects with a caveat: a goal must be set, and the donations are taken only if the goal is reached. Nachmanoff's pitch hit its goal and then some in 2 1/2 days.

"It was so heartwarming that people from all over the world jumped in and supported it," he said. "The stars kind of aligned and took it all to another level."

Nachmanoff said he feels optimistic about his future, and though he's endlessly busy with his solo career, session work, assisting other artists and Al-accompanying, he said he's happy.

"I'm in my own little niche, and I can't imagine doing anything else."

Dave Nachmanoff opens for and performs with folk-rock legend Al Stewart at The Sanctuary Concerts at the Presbyterian Church in Chatham at 240 Southern Blvd. on Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. For more information and tickets, call 973-376-4946 or send e-mail to boxoffice@sanctuaryconcerts.org.

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