Joe Vitale Sr. handed his son a tambourine and told him to play along to the song “Teach Your Children.” Joe Vitale Jr. was 10 years old, standing on the Blossom Music Center stage in front of 19,000 people.
“I was terrified that I was going to throw the whole band off. Even though I just had a tambourine, I was like, ‘OK, I don’t want to screw this up,’” the younger Vitale said.
His father — and band mate for the evening — plays drums for Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The father and son will visit the Lemon Grove Cafe on Saturday for a cider tasting, book signing and acoustic performance by the younger Vitale. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Ballyhoo Music Festival.
The elder Vitale joined Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1977 and has performed with other big-name artists such as The Eagles, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton and Dan Fogelberg.
“You name them, I’ve played with them,” he said.
The Canton native started performing in Youngstown, though, and said he is excited to revisit his roots.
“Youngstown’s just full of great people,” he said. “Before I started on the road with national bands, I used to play in Youngstown, Boardman, Poland, Struthers and all those places when I was in a local band.”
Scott Austalosh created the Ballyhoo Music Festival in 2011 as a fundraising effort for local cancer charities. He said the younger Vitale contacted him about performing at the event.
He said although Crosby, Stills and Nash is an older band, the elder Vitale’s name is noticeable because of his experience alone.
“[The elder] Joe’s resume is so extensive that you would literally have to live on another planet to not hear a song that he has participated in,” Austalosh said. “His name may not be too recognizable, but once you’ve seen who he has been involved with, people will know.”
The elder Vitale said his passion for music is like a family heirloom. His father and brother were both musicians. He continued the musical tradition with his son, too.
However, the younger Vitale, now 34, didn’t take up the family trade right away.
“When I was younger, like so many other kids, I wanted to be an astronaut, and I studied that forever really intensely,” he said.
It wasn’t until his experience at Blossom Music Center that he changed his tune.
“I was still very much into the space program, but I decided to try to change the path of my life, and I started learning to do music,” he said. “My parents got me a little eight-track recorder when I was in high school and started writing songs.”
Now, the younger Vitale performs electric and acoustic music with his band, the Joe Vitale Jr. Band. He said the music is a blend of classic rock and industrial, referring to it as a cross between Nine Inch Nails and The Who with cleaner lyrics.
The elder Vitale, 63, said he is working on an album with Joe Walsh from The Eagles. He said it is “slow time” right now and touring hasn’t started yet.
After 40 years of traveling, the elder Vitale said he welcomes the short break. He added that he considers his life a lucky one.
“Some of the places I’ve gone to I probably would have never gone to, but my work brought me there,” he said. “It’s been really fun to be able to travel. People wait a lifetime to travel, and it’s my job, so I’ve been really fortunate.”
While he was on the road, the elder Vitale would tell his wife tales of the tour and the people he worked with.
Over two and a half years, she compiled a book with the stories he told her. The book, “Backstage Pass,” will be sold at the Lemon Grove Cafe.
The younger Vitale said the 488-page book was a family effort.
“It’s a book of humorous stories, and there are over 762 photographs,” he said. “My mom wrote the book, my dad told the stories, and my mom and I put the book together and assembled the layout for it.”
Among the comical stories, the elder Vitale shares trials and tribulations during his time with Crosby, Stills and Nash, as well as the good times.
Although he said he feels he has contributed enough musically to be a part of the band’s title, he takes comfort in the fact that he was in what he called “the safety zone.”
“You’ve got to remember, when we do really great, they get all the glory, which is good, and I’m glad,” he said. “But if something happens where we have a horrible show or something horrible happens, it’s always those three names that get blamed.”
Austalosh said the visit from the Vitales will give local fans and aspiring musicians the inspiration they need to move forward. He said allowing fans to meet a rock legend is a rare opportunity.
The elder Vitale said, from his experience, the most important thing for budding artists to have is persistence.
“It’s very discouraging at times, but it’s also very encouraging to keep at it,” he said. “There was some burning fire in me that would not go out; I would never give it up. You may have to put it on the shelf temporarily, but you never throw it away.”