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

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Jul. 10—EDITOR'S NOTE — Fourth 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 — For the casual observer, a look back over Phil Facchini's musical career has enough of the high life to inspire envy. He's shared the stage with musical royalty, gotten paid impressive sums of money to do something he loves more than most anything else in the world, and he's drawn the attention of adoring fans who might otherwise not have given him a second glance.

But the rock and roll lifestyle has not been without its hardships for Facchini, who played his first professional gig at age 10 and has played with no less than 17 bands over a four-decades-plus career. In fact, it's the "sex and drugs and rock and roll" ethos that has embedded the guitarist in the hardscrabble existence that he's never really escaped for more than short periods of time in his 53 years.

"I started drinking to be cool; I started smoking pot because of the same kind of peer pressure," Facchini, who currently has a tenuous relationship with the Kentucky band U-Turn, said during an in-depth discussion about the darker side of the music industry. "I first saw cocaine spread out like confetti all over a table at my dad's house when I was 15 and living with him in West Palm Beach. I was turned on to it at a friend's party, and I pretty much used it ever since."

It's the what Facchini calls "aphrodisiacs" of the music business — the drugs and alcohol — that led to many of the ups and downs he's experienced as a musician.

"I'll admit, there are a lot of records I wrote starting around 2000 after inhaling toxics for the chemicals in them that put me out in left field," the guitarist said. "They took me to what (late Doors singer) Jim Morrison referred to as the 'spirit world.' There were a lot of deep thoughts that left me with well-defined lyrics. Looking back on it now, I can't help but think that if I hadn't been on something, I maybe would not have come up with those words.

"As far as maybe wishing I hadn't ever gotten caught up in drugs ... that's hard to say. I will say, though, that I'm thankful to still be here, to be who I am today. Of all the things that I've been involved in that failed, the one big positive is that I'm happy with who I am right now. I'm happy to be me."

The drugs and alcohol impacted Facchini's career as he moved from band to band, and while he doesn't exactly say so, they no doubt played a part in the near-misses that have plagued his musical journey.

"You'd be playing, and people wanted to be around you, to be part of what you were doing," he said. "And they had plenty of money, an abundant supply of party favors and were willing to share to get themselves in the door. It was the lifestyle; even part of what we were doing with the drinking on stage became part of who we were.

"With one band, me being a big Jack Daniel's drinker became part of the show, part of what fans expected. It got to a point where I'd get an empty Jack bottle, get a large sweet tea from Krystal, and fill the bottle with the tea. I had already perfected acting drunk, so that's how I'd get through some nights when it was just too much."

But when some of the big names in the music industry — names Facchini refuses to reveal — came to town, they would find musicians like him to "hook me up" for the after-show parties.

"You go to a hotel room, and the confetti's all over the table, if you know what I mean," Facchini said. "There were people who are still all over the radio, names that everyone would recognize, who're banging on hotel walls at 7 in the morning, wanting to keep the party going. And when you finally drop them off at the airport and go home, your wife or girlfriend's not going to believe you were out all night entertaining the stars and nothing happened."

Something that dramatically impacted his life did happen when Facchini, then 15, left West Palm Beach and returned to Albany, where his mother had remarried, living, the guitarist said, with "a man who abused her and me, the reason I snuck out of the house at night to get away from him and get through a day without another beating."

Hanging around friends whose friends took the party life beyond even the rowdiest of rock and rollers, Facchini found himself embroiled in the 1985 murder of Michael Tony Moorman on Lovers Lane Road.

"Some of us were going to dinner and a movie, but I was on my bike earlier that day and ran into two guys," the guitarist says. "They asked what I was doing, and I told them I had plans. They said to change them, and I said no. They told me if I didn't meet up with them later, they would beat my ass every day.

"We went to a convenience store, and they stole a lot of beer. We were sitting around later, talking and drinking, and they said they needed some money because they were out of drugs. Being a smart-ass, I told them they should go rob a bank. That got them talking about robbing a guy that they said had ripped them off."

That guy would be Moorman. And while information about his death more than 35 years ago is now sketchy — and Facchini offers only the basic details of the events leading up to Moorman's demise — the guitarist says he was an unwilling — and unwitting — participant who did not actually witness anything that happened at Moorman's Lovers Lane Road residence.

Facchini said he wanted no part of the nefarious plan that started to take shape as the group drank more beer, and he said one of the group of men (whom he would not name) pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him at one point and said he'd "kill me and my family if I didn't go with them and do what they said."

Facchini said he was left to watch the vehicle the group parked on the highway near the victim's home and told that if anyone came by, to get under the truck and say he was having engine trouble.

"I didn't hear the gunshot, and I didn't see anybody get shot," Facchini said. "They told me later — again — that if I said a word to anyone, they'd kill me and my family. That was on a Friday night, and on Sunday morning early, there was a knock on the door. It was the Lee County Sheriff."

Initially, no charges were brought against Facchini. But he was eventually charged as an accessory to robbery by intimidation and was placed on probation for a period of 20 years.

"It was one of those situations where they give you a chance to plead to a lesser charge or take your chance of going to jail," Facchini said. "On the advice of my attorney, I took the deal.

"For about the next five years, even though I was still playing music, I couldn't drink, I had to pay an outrageous fine, and I had to do a urinalysis every month, plus 600 hours of public service. I don't know if I would have made it if it hadn't been for (childhood friends and bandmates) Dave and Nathan (Hebler), who never gave up on me and believed me when I said I wasn't involved in what happened. They kept me in music until I finally served out the rest of my probation unsupervised."

Years later, Facchini also found himself in a holding cell in Thomasville, with a broken nose and ribs after he drove back to the Rose City from the Florida Gulf Coast in an attempt to stop a bank overdraft.

"I knew I had to be at the bank early Monday, and I was really wired," he said. "I'd gotten a little sleep, but on the way to Georgia, I'd drank 27 8-ounce cans of Red Bull. When I went to the bank early Monday morning, I was still dressed pretty much in drag and had greasy hair because I hadn't had a chance to take a shower.

"The lady at the bank was trying to get information from me, and I got frustrated. Plus, she was looking at me like I was low-class. I said something stupid like, 'They got the Twin Towers, I wish they'd get this place, too.' I started to leave and told them I'd be back, but not like Arnold Shwarzenegger in 'Terminator,' but that I'd return later to straighten out my finances."

Facchini said he sold a couple of pieces of his equipment at a pawn shop and came back to the bank to make a deposit.

"I'm standing in line with a hundred-dollar bill in my hand, and I get a tap on the shoulder," he said. "This voice says, 'Put your hands behind you.' I didn't know who it was, so I turned around. When I did, I got a beating by some cops. I was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats."

Facchini stops the narrative for a few beats. Then he offers his take on how such ordeals balance the equation of joy that comes from making music.

"I've been through a little bit of everything," he says. "I get pleasure — I get a rush — playing guitar in front of an audience that's into what I'm doing. But all I've been through, it's been years and years and years and years of bad stuff, too. I thank the Good Lord in Heaven for getting me through it all.

"And what I have to tell people when I talk to them about these things is that they really happen. I've had people who know me say when they hear about some of these things, 'Not Phil.' Yes, Phil. The things you go through, the things that happen, they just become a normal part of that lifestyle. I'm just thankful I made it through."

NEXT: Once a rocker, always a rocker.

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