Ted Pellegatta is reinventing himself . . . again.
The last transformation of the 76-year-old steelworker – cum – restaurateur – cum – traveling salesman – cum – food distributor was to art photographer. Around the turn of the century, inspired by the beauty of Rappahannock County and the Blue Ridge foothills, Ted taught himself how to use a camera, and then travelled the backroads, finding the perfect light and the perfect angles to picture the county’s magic. Published in 2011, the resulting coffee table book established Ted as an expert on the Rappahannock “look.”
Now, he’s done with capturing, and instead he’s creating, motivated by a muse with rhythm, rhyme and a country twang. His first single, “Never is a Good Time for a Broken Heart,” is hot off the CD press, he has eight more songs written and ready to record, and his mind just won’t stop singing.
“I don’t know where I get the inspiration. It’s confusing,” Ted confided. “All of a sudden, words are coming out of me in rhyme, with bits of melody attached.”
Ted Pellegatta’s first single, “Never is a Good Time for a Broken Heart,” is available for 99 cents from www.cdbaby.com’s country music collection. Click to www.cdbaby.com/cd/tedpellegata
Ted wrote the first verse of “Never is a Good Time” in 1979, after a woman broke his heart. But it was not the right moment for the switch to troubadour. He put the song away for decades and pulled it out again three years ago to work with local singer and musician Linda Orfila, “trying to get something that sounded right,” but neither was satisfied with the outcome, so the lyrics went back into the file.
Then, with the New Year, he tried anew, scratching out verses on a notepad now and again. It was during one of those creative interludes over coffee at Central Coffee Roasters that Ted ran into Jesse Rogers, from the Gold Top Ramblers.
“Not doing photography anymore?” the young musician asked.
“No, I think I wrote a song,” Ted answered.
“Can I hear it?” Jesse replied.
He handed Ted his smart phone, and on the spot, Ted sang into it for the premiere of “Never.”
“This is good!” Jesse enthused. The following week, they met again at the Roasters for an impromptu singing session. Forrest Marquisee, another local talent who has a mixing and recording studio on Keyser Run, walked in with a musician friend, a performer from Charlottesville, while Ted was singing. The stranger asked, “I don’t recognize that song. Who wrote it?”
“That would be me,” said Ted.
The assessment from the professional: “You’ve got something here.”
And the next week, they were in the studio, with Forrest switching back and forth between pedal steel, guitar and mandolin, laying down tracks for the melody. “He asked me to sing,” Ted continued. “I’d never sung into a mic before. I didn’t know what my voice sounded like. I didn’t know that I even had a voice! And I know nothing about music. I can’t name chords or count beats, so Forrest would look up and nod when it was my turn to come in. He’s a genius. He’s made this so easy for me.”
A few days after Ted’s debut at the mic, Orfila added the back-up vocal, Forrest played master mixer and sound engineer, and “Never is a Good Time” was finished — an overnight creation that took 37 years.
“That’s not the way it’s usually done,” said Forrest of Ted’s creative process, “but it’s good. Now, get out of your own way and see what comes.”
“So that’s what I’m doing,” Ted noted.
Ted’s a keen observer and a good listener, and his concentric social circles in Rappahannock range from hunt meets to hippie gatherings. He also turns a poetic phrase. Over the decades, that combination has made for engaging conversation and stories that are funny, revealing, telltale and insightful. With the foray into songwriting, Ted is directing those same talents to musical storytelling of lost Sunday mornings that once lasted all day long, a goodbye note left on the kitchen table of a dark and empty house, a meeting with a stranger who is not and the destination of busted hearts and broken dreams.
Ted and company are back in the Keyser Run studio to polish bits of melody into full-fledged tunes and overlay voices with instruments, aiming to produce a standard CD featuring the new Willie Nelson of the Virginia Piedmont.
“Sometimes, I wonder how I made it this far,” acknowledged the man who has beaten cancer and survived brain tumors. “I don’t believe I could take another yesterday.” And he paused, eyes twinkling, his face creased by a broad smile. “Ahhh, I like that line! Maybe I’ll use it in in the next song,” Ted concluded. “Watch me — I’m going to have fun with this!”