The Gift of Playing Music
Colin Aberdeen, the hat-wearing frontman for the raucous, SAMMY Award-winning band Los Blancos, still drawing crowds. “Every time I get to play music is a gift,” he says
By Margaret McCormick
“Don’t quit your day job” is a way of suggesting that someone stick to the known and not pursue a career that isn’t certain to bring success. Artists, musicians and other creatives hear it all the time, and Colin Aberdeen is no exception. Or he was no exception.
About 25 years ago, Aberdeen gave up the security of a day job to commit fully to playing music. And he’s been doing it ever since.
“It’s an eat-what-you-kill situation,’’ Aberdeen says. “I don’t have any family money. I don’t have a spouse with a good job. I live on what I make playing music and teaching an occasional lesson. It’s a humble existence. You’re a hero for a few hours a week if you’re lucky.’’
Aberdeen, 57, is a pillar of the Central New York’s music scene and one of its most recognizable members.
He’s the hat-wearing frontman for the raucous, SAMMY Award-winning band Los Blancos. And he’s also developed a following for several side projects, including duos like “Colin and Max’’ and his one-man venture, “CA Solo.’’
“Colin is a sage soul whose genuine knowledge and appreciation of American roots music is clearly evident in the convincing style of his performances, as a singer and guitarist,’’ says former Central New York radio personality Dave Frisina, who now resides in Florida and continues to spotlight local music on his Sunday morning streamed show, “Soulshine’’ (www.soulshineradio.com). “I’m glad to be both a fan and a friend.’’
Aberdeen was born in London to an Australian father and British mother. He moved to the United States as a boy and to Central New York as a teenager. His father, a surgeon, asked him one day what he wanted to do with his life. “Play music and travel,’’ young Colin responded. There was just one problem: He didn’t yet play an instrument. He had some friends who played music, and he accompanied them on vocals sometimes. One Christmas, there was a guitar under the tree. It was acoustic and difficult to play, Aberdeen recalls, but he taught himself, kept at it, and absorbed as much as possible from musicians who mentored him.
He graduated from Fayetteville-Manlius High School in 1983 and worked the door at a local club checking IDs. It was there he realized he’d rather be outside playing and took his guitar to the street. Eventually, he was invited inside to play bars and clubs. “I’ve been gigging ever since,’’ Aberdeen says. A “nomadic period as a burgeoning guitar player’’ took him to West Australia (where he has family), Colorado, California and elsewhere in the U.S. He returned to Central New York and worked more than a decade for Kerner & Merchant Pipe Organ Builders before leaving that job to give music his all.
If you’re a Central New Yorker of a certain age with an appreciation for live music, you might know Aberdeen as the founder of the Westcott Jug Suckers. The band had its start in the late 1980s and its members still get together for events like the annual Golden Harvest Festival at Beaver Lake Nature Center and the New York State Blues Festival. In the mid-1990s, Aberdeen co-founded Los Blancos with Jose Alvarez, Steven T. Winston and Paul Roehrig.
The current Los Blancos lineup features Aberdeen on guitar and vocals, Winston on bass and vocals, and Mark Tiffault on drums and percussion instruments. The fourth chair is occupied by Max Eyle on piano and harmonica and Bruce Gerow on accordion. Eyle stands out as youthful in a group of seasoned veterans that Aberdeen is known to describe in jest as “long in the tooth.’’ He calls Winston his “longest-suffering accomplice,’’ and describes him as a virtuoso who writes songs “and can play literally anything.’’ Tiffault, another veteran member, supplies the backbeat, as he has for countless local bands and national acts.
Los Blancos plays a combination of cover tunes and originals and is known for its gumbo of styles: blues, rock, folk, funk, country, Zydeco, ragtime — a virtual musical stew. Some of their regular haunts include Shifty’s Bar and Grill and The 443 Social Club and Lounge, both on Burnet Avenue in Syracuse. At The 443, Los Blancos has a monthly Sunday afternoon gig called Nachos and Blancos, which Aberdeen always looks forward to.
“It’s a fun hang,’’ Aberdeen says of The 443. “It’s really such a nice place to play. It’s great to have a place that’s truly a dedicated music venue.’’ 443 co-owner Julie B. Leone returned the compliments near the end of a set featuring tunes by Robert Johnson, Booker T and the M.G.’s and Muddy Waters, as well as a couple original songs by Winston. “This is our most fun event,’’ she said Feb. 18, as she presented the band an award for its fifth consecutive sold-out show. “We sell out every single month.’’
Los Blancos was the headliner when The 443 opened in 2019 (as The Listening Room) and the band and Aberdeen’s duo and solo projects have been on the schedule regularly since that time. It’s win-win, Leone says: Besides bringing the music, Aberdeen and company are savvy marketers. “When I book a show with Colin, whether it’s Los Blancos or one of his other projects, I know we will be working as a team to promote it and make it an awesome event for everyone involved,’’ Leone explains.
Aberdeen uses Facebook as a tool to promote Los Blancos and his other projects and to share snippets of his life as a father, son, and advocate for people with disabilities.
His mother Virginia, 93, lives in the area and his daughter Marley, 15, is in high school. Marley has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects her movement and muscle coordination, among other things. Both his mother and daughter give him immeasurable support and “keep me in check,’’ Aberdeen says. Both were in attendance for the February edition of Nachos and Blancos.
“Marley has always been around my gigging life,’’ Aberdeen notes. “There’s nothing like sharing what you love with your kid and friends.’’
As the members of Los Blancos get a bit older, Aberdeen says they appreciate afternoon and early evening gigs. “I don’t really like to be loading out at 2:30 in the morning,’’ he says with a smile. But late nights come with the territory and playing always beats not playing. Aberdeen says he will pass on a solo gig if there’s an opportunity for Los Blancos to play.
Los Blancos and bands everywhere found themselves with blank calendars and nowhere to perform during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Aberdeen adapted, taking “CA Solo’’ to Facebook Live, where he hosted “CA’s House Party for Shut-Ins’’ on Saturday nights. He’s grateful for support from longtime local fans and new fans from around the world, who tuned in and sent donations via a virtual “tip jar.’’
“CA Solo’’ is a long-running (17 years) Tuesday night feature at The Limerick Pub in downtown Syracuse. Aberdeen brings a couple guitars and performs two sets starting at 9 p.m. each week. You might hear him play a folk classic like “Freight Train’’ by Elizabeth “Libba’’ Cotten (a songwriter and left-handed guitar playing legend who lived in Syracuse in her later years) and sprinkle in a song or two of his own.
“Every time I get to play music is a gift,’’ Aberdeen says.
For more information on Los Blancos visit www.casablancos.com.