Local music 'archer' Eduardo Canelon on target
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Latin music artist Eduardo Canelon remembers when he first picked up an instrument. He was 4 years old, and it wasn't a guitar, which he's known for.
"My uncle, Raphael, was teaching my older brother, Manuel, to play the cuatro," he said.
The cuatro is a relative to the guitar, found in South American music, particularly in Venezuela, where Canelon was born.
"I was just supposed to sing," he said, "but I wanted to be like my brother."
So he picked it up, learned what he could from his brother and taught himself to play. Eventually, he and his brother tried to figure out songs on their own. The first tune the 39-year-old remembered trying to learn to play?
Canelon laughed and said, "'Stairway to Heaven.'"
He's come a long way from figuring his way through Led Zeppelin songs.
During the past 15 years, Canelon has become a Charleston music scene institution, someone who seems to always be playing somewhere. Currently, he can be found Thursday nights playing solo at Bluegrass Kitchen, but he also frequently performs with the Latin folk band Comparsa and his wife, flutist Beth Segessenman, in Duo Divertido.
This fall, Canelon will teach guitar and percussion at Charleston Montessori School, on the West Side. Music is the man's life, and it's almost impossible to imagine that, not much longer than 15 years ago, Canelon was driving a forklift, working for a lumber company and playing no music at all.
Canelon was born in Venezuela, but his family left when he was 10 years old. His mother got a scholarship to Davis & Elkins College and brought them to Elkins, where he grew up.
In high school, he joined his first band.
"It was a garage band called Mosaic. I didn't name it," he said and laughed. "We did a lot of songs by Skid Row, Pantera, Poison and Metallica."
Latin music and the guitar came later.
After high school, Canelon said he sort of drifted. Instead of music, he took a job at a nearby lumber mill. After eight years, he took a job driving a forklift for Bruce Hardwood.
"I did that for three years," he said. "I became very good at that. I could flip a quarter with a forklift."
He's still proud of that.
After some time away, though, music found him again. In his mid-20s, Canelon heard an old record by composer Antonio Lauro, the "Gershwin of Venezuela," and it reignited a passion for Latin music and his love of the guitar.
He said his cousin, Tino, taught him to play a little, enough that Canelon sought out a guitar of his own: a beat-up acoustic instrument held together with duct tape.
He practiced with that guitar and, to his cousin's surprise, he got pretty good -- good enough that his cousin told him he needed to buy a decent instrument.
"That changed my life," he said. "I had a purpose. I felt that I was put on this world to play music."
It wasn't overnight but, with a lot of hard work, Canelon established himself and then put together a Latin combo in the late 1990s. The band played throughout the area, including Charleston's Multifest, and then, in 2001, the band made the move from Elkins to Charleston.
"I'm really happy where I'm at now," he said, although he's far from satisfied.
Canelon said he's constantly studying his instrument and his genre. He's mostly self-taught, works through books and videos, and just tries to apply what he figures out through that.
"I've taken classes here and there," he said. "I've learned some cool things from Ryan Kennedy."
He has high hopes for Comparsa's new CD, which he hopes will be out in time for the band's Live on the Levee show on Aug. 30 with Acoustic Syndicate. Canelon also wants to get Comparsa back on "Mountain Stage."
"We did the show once before, but I'd like to do it again," he said. "What we're doing, nobody else in West Virginia is doing that."
He also wants to win a Grammy.
Canelon smiled broadly and said, "I'm a Sagittarius. We're archers and aim high." Reach Bill Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5195.