Veteran Hamilton rock promoter hops on the mic

Lou Molinaro has spent years booking bands in Hamilton. Now he's fronting his own.
Lou Molinaro has spent years booking bands in Hamilton. Now he's fronting his own: Tongue Fu. (Adam Carter/CBC)

When Lou Molinaro talks about rock and roll, his eyes light up.

"I'm trying to do everything I can so that rock and roll will always be alive," Molinaro says, perched on a stool at This Ain't Hollywood, a live music venue on James Street North.

For many years, that has meant booking bands all over Hamilton. He started back in 1998, and has been a co-owner at This Ain't Hollywood since 2009.

But in January, Molinaro will vault into new territory: He's going to front a band of his very own, playing all original music.

It's called Tongue Fu, and it's made up of a who's who of rock in Hamilton. The group includes Gord Lewis from Teenage Head, Peter Arseneault of the Doughboys, Gene Champagne from the Killjoys, Dave Elley of Orphans and Greg Brisco of the Dinner Belles.

They're all seasoned vets. Molinaro says he "harvested" them to play his group — and is about as close to giddy about it as a man of his stature gets.

"None of these guys represented a band that was trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes," he says. "I'm in awe when I play with them. I float along a bit."

Who will save rock and roll?

So what inspires a middle-aged booking agent and bar owner to start a band at this stage of his life?

The catalyst was a song called Who Will Save Rock and Roll?, released in 2001 by the New York punk band The Dictators.

"I've always said that this song was the most important song ever written about rock and roll," Molinaro says. "Because it actually asks, 'Who is going to save it?' It drove me, it motivated me."

Molinaro was never the kind of guy who spent his formative years singing in bands. He was the kid buying records and singing along in the crowd.

But still, he'd scribble some notes on a note pad while wandering around.

"And I'd think, 'One day, that'll be a verse or a chorus.' "

Eventually, he got up the courage to get a band together and play the songs born of those old notebooks. Molinaro admits that he's not a proficient guitarist — so he finds himself in a room of professionals who have toured internationally, strumming some barre chords and hoping his associates get the gist of what he's throwing out there.

"And it's worth it," Molinaro says. "It was their bands that made me who I am today."

'Just like that first slow dance'

The songs are dark, but that's the bulk of what drives him to write. Sonically, the group draws heavily from his influences — most notably, The Dictators, The Rolling Stones and Blue Oyster Cult.

Not formally trained as a singer, Molinaro likens the feeling he gets when he jumps onstage to "that feeling you get the first time you slow dance with a girl."

Courtesy Dan Medakovic

"It's scary," he says. "I'm still a fan first. A fan of music that's now singing these songs."

But the mystique and passion of honest rock music — he knows all about that. The kind of thing that only comes from "playing to 10 to 12 people on a Tuesday night."

And he's hoping that's the kind of honest performance his new band will be able to offer fans.

"We're not trying to be a flavour of the week," he said.

"We probably don't even taste that good."

You can catch Tongue Fu's debut at This Ain't Hollywood (345 James St. N) on Jan. 11 with Illusion Avenue and Beard.