Author: Courtney Hampson | Photographer: John Brackett
Its midnight in Nashville, TN, and Angie Aparo’s phone is ringing. He answers. On the other end is John Rich, of Big & Rich, who’s calling from his bar. “You’ve got to get down here,” Rich says, “Jeremy Piven is at the bar and you have to sing for him.”
So Aparo stumbles out of bed, heads to the bar, downs three Jagermeister shots and a Miller Lite, (“to catch up”), and joins the party. He gets on stage, sings a couple songs, and before he knows it, Jeremy Piven is inviting him to play his birthday party.Fast forward three weeks and Aparo is in an oceanfront house in Malibu doing just that. “I’m doing my thing, playing, and I look up; and in a surreal moment, I realize I’m staring out at Dane Cook, Cindy Crawford, John McEnroe… it was like I was watching T.V., but it was real,” Aparo joked. When he finished the set, he brushed past McEnroe in the hall who said, “Nice singing.” At a rare loss for words, Aparo replied, “Nice tennis playing.”
Ah, the life of a star.
What’s In A Name?
The burning question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Angie is his given name. The answer is—well, sort of…
Aparo’s grandmother used to tell him stories about his grandfather, who was a stage hand at a theatre in Boston. After performances, his grandfather would bring his buddies back to the house, in the middle of the night, for a few drinks. And the more they drank, the more his grandmother would hear them hooting and hollering and calling her husband, Angelo, “Angie.”
“I hated that name,” she told Aparo.
But Aparo figured that any name your grandmother hates is a great rock and roll name. That’s when James Angelo Aparo became Angie Aparo.
Aparo’s mom used to sing all the time when he was growing up. Singing along was a natural way to bond with Mom. And if they were singing, they were singing along with the artists that Mom wanted to listen to: Carole King, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. So, it’s no surprise that all of the above are in Aparo’s head when he is stringing together lyrics and melodic verse. And, when you listen to Aparo, you can hear those voices of the ages in his work. In fact, Carole King’s Tapestry is one of those albums that Aparo can “listen to over and over again,” and never tire.
Aparo is matter of fact when discussing his chosen career. “It is my destiny. I’ve learned that everyone has a language to speak. You realize that you are what you are and then you decide what to do with it. I got addicted to the euphoria [of singing and songwriting], and then I figured out how to make money doing what I love,” Aparo said.
But, where does the inspiration come from? “It’s a labor of love,” Aparo explained. He follows the guidance of The Artist’s Way, a workbook for writers that encourages “morning pages,” meaning you wake up and purge—free-flow writing, whatever it is on your mind—the bits and pieces of everything your mind has collected overnight. Nary a few make a complete sentence, but it is going back and re-reading the pages that often reveals the “little gems” that offer the inspiration, according to Aparo.
Aparo splits his time 50-50 between touring/performing and writing. While the two balance each other nicely, writing is where Aparo is 100 percent in his comfort zone, because he can control that zone. Touring is another story.
We’re Truck Drivers
When he’s on the road, city to city, there is a lot that he can’t control. Every stretch of road, every stop, presents new challenges. “I’ve been in the car for five hours; I get to the club and the guy in charge is a @&%$. I play, get to the hotel well after midnight, and then they kick me out less than 12 hours later.”
The bottom line is there is little down time on the road. Aparo doesn’t really get the opportunity to see the city he is playing in. “We’re basically truck drivers, traveling from place to place,” he said.
But the Lowcountry is a venue Aparo knows well, having gotten his solo start here in 1995. He returns often and says he has a “cult following” here—a microcosm dedicated to Aparo. And that was apparent last month when he played the Big Bamboo on Hilton Head. It was an eclectic crowd, but most certainly familiar with his songs and his style. Aparo sat on stage with his guitar and local, Martin Lesch joining him on keyboards. Some folks pulled chairs from the tables up to stage; others sat cross-legged on the floor right at Aparo’s feet. CDs were for sale on an honor system, i.e. throw $10 in the bucket and take your pick.
When Aparo makes the trek to the Lowcountry, he often extends his stay—a luxury he doesn’t get on most stops. He actually does a lot of writing here. He disconnects and, in his words, “It is the perfect place to be alone.” He’s close enough to Atlanta, which he calls home, but “far enough away to still be away.” “Hilton Head is low-key, I can write all day but then connect with my friends later—a perfect balance,” he said.
When he is on the road, there is one thing that he absolutely needs to have. Alone time. Time in which he doesn’t have to manage other people or personalities. Time to be alone in his thoughts and perhaps find some of those “little gems.”
The Cinderella Moment
When asked about his greatest moment so far, Aparo called it his “Cinderella moment,” and it happened in the office of Clive Davis. In 1998, record producer Matt Serletic put Aparo in front of 10 labels. The last visit was to see the legendary Clive Davis at Arista Records. Serletic told Aparo that he should really play “Cry,” as he had a hunch that song would get Davis’ attention. Aparo fought him on it, and in fact didn’t even think “Cry” should have a place on the record. But Serletic prevailed. And, as such, Aparo had to think fast, because he “didn’t even remember the words,” he said.
So, he called his then wife, who rummaged through the upstairs closet, pulled out the shoebox, found the piece of paper with the lyrics to “Cry” and read them to Aparo over the phone.
With lyrics in hand, Aparo sat down at the piano in the lobby of Arista Records, figured out the changes and basically re-learned the song in less than 30 minutes. Back in Davis’ office, he played “Cry.” And when he was done, Davis asked that he read the words, just the lyrics, so he could understand the expression. Aparo did, and Davis signed him right there in his office.
“Cry” went on to be included in The American, Aparo’s record released in 1999. In 2002, Faith Hill recorded “Cry,” shooting Aparo to stardom. In 2005, the two sang “Cry” together on an NBC Thanksgiving special where Aparo says they were both overcome by the emotion of the song and grasped hands at various points during the performance. (If you are not familiar with “Cry” please Google the song right now and listen immediately!) After the performance, Hill’s husband, Tim McGraw congratulated the duo and “shook my hand—pretty hard” said Aparo. “There was a subtle message there,” he chuckled.
Aparo is a busy man, with an extraordinary talent. When he does get the rare opportunity to sit back and relax, he spends his time with his 15-year-old son, Anthony (who is refining his own singing chops) and his opera-singer girlfriend who Aparo describes as “amazing.”
So, what’s next for Aparo?
He is currently working on a new album, writing a book, and conceptualizing a TV show with, you guessed it, Jeremy Piven. No current plans for John McEnroe to make an appearance but, you never know.