There comes a time in the lives of most musicians when Dockers replace denim, minivans fill the garage, and rockin' gets confined to the baby cradle.
For Carl Baldassarre, that moment came 20 years ago. A fleet-fingered guitarist weaned on such prog-rockers as Genesis and Yes, he fronted the popular Cleveland rock troupe Abraxas. But Baldassarre never had delusions about becoming a rock star, so he enrolled in college, started a family, and eventually left smoke-filled bars behind.
"The business of music is not easy, it's not fun, and it's not often based on merit, which really frustrates me," Baldassarre says with a sigh. "You can be a killer writer and a great player, but sometimes it doesn't get you anywhere. Rather than deal with some of those idiosyncrasies of the business, I just kind of hunkered down, went to business school, got a finance degree, and decided to lead a normal life."
Baldassarre became a banker at National City by day, a songwriter and studio musician by night. Now, two decades after he last hauled gear out of a club at 2 a.m., he finds himself onstage again, this time rocking out in an unusual merger of work and play.
Earlier this year, Baldassarre was coaxed by a former boss into entering Fortune magazine's Corporate Battle of the Bands. The contest, held at the Rock Hall each year, features amateur groups made up of employees of Fortune 500 companies from around the country. Proceeds from the competition go to the Rock Hall's education fund.
Baldassarre rounded up five National City co-workers, dubbed them Yield to Maturity, and cut a demo of classic-rock covers in April. The disc was good enough to beat out more than 50 entries and land Yield to Maturity in the finals, alongside seven groups from such companies as American Express and Harley-Davidson.
Watching Yield to Maturity practice at Baldassarre's Kirtland spread, it's easy to hear why the band has made it so far. The group performs amid overstuffed teddy bears, wooden bird houses, and The Pictorial History of Baseball in a basement family room, but compensates with revved-up '70s rock as sweaty and pronounced as John Bonham's gut.
Baldassarre grins and grimaces as they storm through Emerson Lake & Palmer's "Karn Evil 9," pulling out one rubber-laying lead after another, backed capably by Paul Mohacevich on drums and Al Rolik on bass. Keyboardist Cameron Mitchell and backup singer Lauri Warfield add harmony and texture (lead singer Deanna Brzozowski is missing from practice). The group is tight and confident, thanks in part to a pair of rehearsal shows it played, in a bar and a rented hall.
"I'm not as supple as I used to be 25 years ago," Baldassarre says to the room. "I remember doing a rock pose during our first show, and my back locked up. I had yielded to maturity."
The band exhibited few signs of rust at last Saturday's finals. Playing before a crowd of more than 500 -- a third of them clad in dark-blue National City shirts -- Yield to Maturity enlivened such audience favorites as the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" and Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" with four-part harmonies and a sturdy, rhythmic crunch. Throughout the 40-minute performance, the ladies sashayed and the fellas sucked in their cheeks and glared. During a rendition of Kansas's "Carry on Wayward Son," Baldassarre pogoed, broke out a minor duckwalk, and shook like a wet dog.
Marky Ramone must've been impressed. He was among the competition's three judges, who selected Yield to Maturity members for three of the six awards, including best keyboardist, best bassist, and best drummer. (The other judges were Seymour Stein, president of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, and Roger MacNamee of Integral Capital Partners and the band the Flying Other Bros.) Though YTM came up short in the best-band category, the rush from rocking out onstage one more time was enough reward.
"I had forgotten the joy, the camaraderie of being in a group," Baldassarre says. "I feel younger, healthier. I call myself the chief guitarist for National City," he adds with a chuckle. "That's my new official capacity for the corp."