To Hell and back: Phil Facchini's rock and roll odyssey

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Jul. 17—EDITOR'S NOTE — Final in a five-part series about Albany rock and roll guitarist Phil Facchini, who in his career has brushed up against, been a part of and suffered the harsh realities of the rock and roll lifestyle.

ALBANY — Those who choose music as a career are, in general, a transient lot. In the world of rock music, multiply that by a few gazillion.

Phil Facchini is the embodiment of the rock lifestyle.

Since playing his first professional gig at age 10, Facchini has played in some 17 bands (and counting), none longer than the decade-plus musical relationship he forged with his boyhood friends, fellow Michigan natives Nathan and Dave Heabler. In fact, some of the bands that Facchini has played with imploded before they even got started, and some were only fleeting memories.

Still, Facchini warriors on.

Right now, he's sorta, kinda employing his brilliant guitar licks with the Kentucky band U-Turn. A mutual friend got Facchini together with the boys in U-Turn when they parted ways with their lead guitarist, and the fit seemed at first to be perfect.

"He fit in so well with what we were doing; we were excited to find someone who could step right in," band leader Jamie Todd said during a radio interview after Facchini first played for the group and knocked it out of the park. "He could help us get to the next level."

But, with only two U-Turn gigs under his belt, Facchini's future with the band is tenuous at best.

"It's, frankly, shaky right now with U-Turn," the guitarist, who has played some well-received solo gigs in the area in recent weeks, said. "(The structure of the band) was sold to me as more than what it was. I get there to play with the band, and it was nowhere near the rock star lifestyle that I'm used to living with a band.

"They do a good job on that type of level, but the last show we did, I get there and some of the members of the band are in these Izod, button-down type shirts that just are not rock and roll. And the gig was a nightmare. We didn't really get paid, and I took a half-day off work on Thursday and all day Friday to go do the show. And I had to drive all the way to Kentucky."

Facchini's confession makes the fact that Todd did not respond to messages seeking comment for this article seem ominous as far as Facchini's future with U-Turn stands.

"I've agreed to stick with them," Facchini said. "They wanted me to play another gig with them, but I told them to get their old guitar player back. They texted me afterward and said the gig went well, but they want to go on with both of us. I told them we could try it out to see how it goes."

Meanwhile, Facchini and some regulars on the Albany music scene got together and jammed a few times, a promising start to a band that they called The Trimm. But domestic issues seem to have gummed up that project before it has had a chance to get off the ground.

"I've been talking and playing with another couple of buddies of mine," Facchini said. "We may get a project started."

No matter what band he's played with, the guitarist has not found the longevity that he had when he and the Heablers played as the Black Fire Band and in projects like Cookie Monster.

"That whole thing with us was so organic," Nathan Heabler said in a phone interview. "That we ended up living beside each other after moving to Albany from Michigan was just so weird. But the music was something we bonded over. We were like all the other kids in that we rode our BMX bikes, climbed water towers, jumped into rivers ... crazy boy stuff. But unlike the other kids, we had music, and even at 9, 10, 11 years old, we took that very seriously."

Heabler, now a financial analyst who plays only on occasion, confirms that Facchini's troubled home life was painful to watch.

"That dude had a f---ed up life," he said. "To be honest, I'm surprised he's still alive. But we were brothers in the truest sense; he practically lived with my family. And you could see when that light switch clicked for him with the guitar. The guy's 12 years old, and he'd playing stuff that Randy Rhoades and Eddie Van Halen play.

"And since we played together for about 15 years before going our separate ways, there were times when, let's just say, things weren't that cool. But right now, yeah, we're really cool."

People say that true genius is eccentric, that individuals blessed with a singular gift often have trouble relating to others who do not understand the complexities of that gift. Heabler hints that his boyhood friend sometimes has a problem relating to others who do not get — don't understand — music the way Facchini does. It's becomes telling, then, that of a list of people Facchini provided contacts for to interview for this series, only Heabler and one other responded to the requests. The other person? His promised return call never came.

However, if you spend more than a few minutes talking with Facchini, you get the impression of a man who's been scarred by life, but who's weathered the scars with the help of his one true friend: whichever of his many six-strings he has with him at any given moment.

"Man, I was playing that (solo) gig at Pretoria Fields a little while back, and it brought joy to my heart," Facchini said. "Seeing the reactions of the people in the audience was just overwhelming. As I look back on it, it was like I was sitting back in a recliner, watching the best movie ever made."

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