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Friday, August 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 85.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Joel Pingitore finds his musical playground northwest of I-43
Goodbye Kenosha, hello Madison
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Pingitore seeks freedom in heavy blues.
Pingitore seeks freedom in heavy blues.
Credit:David Michael Miller

When Joel Pingitore discovered the guitar at age 9, he was desperate to have one of his own. Before his parents agreed to buy him a six-string, Joel took matters into his own hands.

"I got some boards and bought some strings and tried to make one," says Pingitore. "It never really worked as an instrument. It was just a toy to play with."

Twenty years later, Pingitore is just as passionate about playing guitar. The lifelong Kenosha resident moved to Madison last year to join the Playground of Sound, a local blues band that continues to gain in popularity. The band performs at the Annex on Thursday, Aug. 26, at 9 p.m.

"I was self-taught," says Pingitore. "There were times where I would get so frustrated, I'd hide my guitar under my bed so I wouldn't have to see it."

For almost as long as Pingitore has been obsessed with guitar, he's been infatuated with heavy blues.

"I remember riding in the car somewhere on a family trip, and my dad was going to play a Stevie Ray Vaughan album," recalls Pingitore.

"I looked at the cover and thought it was going to be country music, which I didn't care for. Obviously the album made an impression on me. I've been stuck on heavier blues music for a very long time. There is so much freedom in it. It allows you to express whatever you want. There are no boundaries."

His first high school band played instrumental blues. When Pingitore turned 18, he got engaged (onstage at a show). He decided to try to make money off music full-time and moved to his fiancée's hometown, Indianapolis.

"That all fell through, and I came back to Kenosha," says Pingitore. "I played in a band called Livin' Will with Tom Leeman for a number of years."

The Playground of Sound formed when Pingitore met Madison bassist Frank Queram, who plays in the Benefits of Being Paranoid. The band includes drummer Joel Brantmeier and vocalist Brad Reichert.

"All of those guys are from Madison," says Pingitore. "I was driving here to play with them, until it finally made sense for me to move here."

Pingitore has been impressed by the Madison music scene during his first year in town.

"It's awesome," he says. "The music scene in Kenosha was dying. Nobody cared about local bands. But here, you can't beat it."

Playground of Sound performs a mix of original songs and blues covers. The band has just finished recording a debut CD, which is due for release this fall.

Pingitore's muscular blues riffs frame the band's sound. Reichert's jagged, raspy vocals add a street-smart, blue-collar feel.

Pingitore says he's been sharing songwriting duties with Queram.

"Frank is a lyrical genius," he says. "I've never put that much effort into developing my lyrics."

"I don't have any particular place I go to write songs," adds Pingitore. "It just happens. We'll be playing and sometimes a song just comes together."

For Pingitore, his band members help distinguish the Playground of Sound from other bands in which he's played.

"You can spend more time with your band than with your family," he says, "so relationships are important."

"It would be hard to find a group of guys who get along better than we do."

Having now played in bands for half his life, Pingitore shows no sign that he's tiring of the experience.

"My interest is not dwindling," he says. "You would think it would be, but I'm more comfortable on stage than I am walking around the bar talking to people."

Music, he says, "is all I ever really wanted to do."

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