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Lynyrd Skynyrd 7.21.23 iThink Financial Amphitheatre West Palm Beach, Fl @2023 jskolnickphotographyMichael Cartellone

By: Lori Smerilson Carson  |  Photos by Jay Skolnick

Art and music are synonymous creations and Artist/Drummer Michael Cartellone has taken this combination to the highest levels. This extraordinarily talented artist and musician is not only getting ready to kick off a Fiftieth Anniversary Tour with his bandmates in Lynyrd Skynyrd, but he also premiered his latest artwork on July 20th at the Wentworth Gallery at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood in Hollywood, FL.

Catching up with Cartellone just prior to his premier, he revealed some details about his new art pieces, the upcoming Lynyrd Skynyrd shows, a bit about his past and what fans can look forward to.

SFL Music: You have your show at the Wentworth Gallery on July 20th. Your new 2023 series of artwork is a tribute to Ringo Starr and The Beatles as well as the Fiftieth Celebration for Lynyrd Skynyrd. How did that all come about? What inspired you to do this series of artwork?

Michael Cartellone: Well, I will tell you the Ringo painting is an idea that I had probably about fifteen years ago, which is not uncommon that I’ll just come up with ideas and put them down on a list of things to eventually paint (he laughed). So, it just kind of stuck in the back of my head and the painting itself, have you seen the image?
SFL Music: No, I haven’t seen that image.

Lynyrd Skynyrd 7.21.23 iThink Financial Amphitheatre West Palm Beach, Fl @2023 jskolnickphotography

Cartellone: The painting itself captures the iconic rooftop concert that The Beatles did in 1969 and the vantage point of the painting is what it was like to be Ringo. So, you the viewer are Ringo. You’re seeing what he saw that day. It’s from the perspective, sitting at the drums, looking across the drums at the three Beatles and beyond them, the London skyline. Being a drummer myself, this is a view that I’m very familiar with, and the timing just felt right. There was a lot of renewed interest in that period of The Beatles history about a year ago because they released a documentary called Get Back and it focused on that period of time and of course that triggered the memory of the idea of doing this painting, and it just seemed to make sense. So, like I always do, I spent a lot of time researching before I began painting because I wanted to make this as authentic as possible. So, I looked at dozens of photographs and films just to really have the reference point of what the drum heads looked like that were kind of aged and discolored and the cymbals being a little tarnished, and of course what all The Beatles were wearing and what the buildings looked like across the way to the degree of literally studying brick and mortar patterns to make sure everything was exactly right. Then Lori, I spent a full year painting this and it was a beast, but I was very, very happy with the finished painting, and it’s called “Ringo” and its hanging on the wall at The Wentworth Gallery at the Seminole Hard Rock. Then the other painting which is called “Fifty” is a tribute to that Fiftieth Anniversary that we are celebrating of Lynyrd Skynyrd. So, the first album called Pronounced came out in August of 1973 and the painting is a tribute to the seven band members that are from the Pronounced record. Like the “Ringo” painting, I did a lot of research before I began the work. I worked from a lot of different photographs of the guys from 1973 so it doesn’t look like an existing photo. It’s not derivative of anything. It’s a black and white, high contrast painting and basically, it’s a band portrait. Very, very happy with that one. It is being framed as we speak. It will also be at the Wentworth Gallery and that happens the day before the band kicks off its fiftieth anniversary tour. So, on the 20th, the work will be in Wentworth Gallery at the Seminole Hard Rock and on the 21st, we kick off the tour at the West Palm Beach iThink Financial Amphitheatre.

SFL Music: The prior artwork you have “The Road Series”, “The David Series”. They are amazing and you started painting at age four?

Cartellone: Yeah, I did.

SFL Music: That’s amazing because the rest of us were scribbling.

Cartellone: I wasn’t painting well.

SFL Music: What inspired you?

Cartellone: I really don’t know. What I can tell you is, in kindergarten the teacher saw something. Maybe that I really enjoyed drawing and painting and encouraged my parents to you know, take the ball and run with it. So, the summer in between kindergarten and first grade, my parents enrolled me at an art class that was at the Cleveland Institute of Art, Cleveland, Ohio which is where I’m from. That really just began a lifelong journey that hasn’t stopped nor has ever lost any of the magic. I took every art class available through grade school and high school and I couldn’t get enough of it. I started drumming at the age of nine, but the two, the painting and the drumming have coexisted my whole life. In my head they are completely connected. I like to say that they are two halves of a whole because I can’t imagine doing one without the other.

Lynyrd Skynyrd 7.21.23 iThink Financial Amphitheatre West Palm Beach, Fl @2023 jskolnickphotography

SFL Music: You have your “Pixelism” of John Lennon. I like the rose and the planets, Snoopy, that was very cool!

Cartellone: Thank you. There are nineteen of those Pixelism paintings now and they’ve been very fun. Admittedly, those are hard on the eyes because just painting all of those squares on that perfect grid, but they really are fun and they’re always worth it when they’re finished.

SFL Music: I also liked the artwork. The painting you did of Gary Rossington is amazing!

Cartellone: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

SFL Music: You’re welcome. What would say inspired you to paint those types of pieces, the series of the David portraits?

Cartellone: Everything really does have a backstory. The David paintings go back to the fact that my wife and I, who by the way, today is my wife’s birthday. Happy Birthday Nancy.

SFL Music: Oh, Happy Birthday Nancy.

Cartellone: My wife and I went to Italy on our honeymoon and one of the stops was Florence because I had never seen the David and wanted to, and that was a really, really powerful experience. Have you ever been to Florence? Have you seen the David by chance?

SFL Music: No, not yet.

Cartellone: Put that on the list.I will tell you Lori, it’s pretty powerful when you turn the corner and you see that statue because you just simply aren’t prepared for how big that statue is (he laughed). The statue itself, which is on a pedestal, the whole thing, its close to eighteen feet in height. It’s overpowering. Anyway, it was such an amazing thing to experience that I thought at some point, it would be really cool to do a painted tribute to this statue and I just filed the idea away in the back of my head like I did with the “Ringo” painting and everything else. I guess when the time comes that I finish whatever painting I’m working on and then I change gears to the next one. I open up my phone and I look at that list, and then I see what jumps out, and in that particular moment, it was the David. I thought, oh yeah. You know what? Maybe now is the time, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it and then I thought, well maybe I shouldn’t just paint one David painting. Maybe I should paint more than one and then the idea grew. Well, what if I paint him in different genres that represent different periods of our history? And that’s how that idea kind of took shape. So, I then kind of started to narrow down the field and I ended up with many more than just four, but I zeroed it down to four thinking it would be nice to kind of have you know, a cubed thing on the wall in the gallery and then the Davids are big canvases. Those are each four feet by four feet square. There are four of them so they take up a lot of room on the wall, and I painted every one of them here at home in New York City in the room I’m sitting in right now, and they took varying lengths of time. The very first one I did is the Van Gogh inspired David, and for the people that haven’t seen these, I basically would paint David the way that maybe Van Gogh would have painted him and then I painted David the way Picasso may have painted him. That was the idea behind those. The Van Gogh painting took seven months to complete. It was easily the hardest one, but what was fun about those paintings was that with each next painting having to research the painter in tribute to try and capture his style, meant having to learn an entirely new technique. So, I grew as an artist working on those four paintings which was really a fascinating process, and I did a video which is on my website michaelcartellone.com. It’s like a documentary. It’s about six minutes long and it shows the whole process ‘cause I had my camera going while I was working all of those. It was fun.

SFL Music: Like you said, you started playing drums at age nine. Would you say that Ringo was your inspiration?

Cartellone: In a way yes because my older sisters always had Beatle records playing in the house. So, they very quickly became my favorite band and he very quickly became my favorite drummer. Then at the same time, I had a cousin named Burt. I’ll give Burt the tip of the hat right now, who had a drum set and played drums, and every time we would visit them, I would beg him to let me play his drums, and every now and then he would let me (he laughed). My parents saw that I was fixated, so I started taking drum lessons at age nine and haven’t looked back.

Lynyrd Skynyrd 7.21.23 iThink Financial Amphitheatre West Palm Beach, Fl @2023 jskolnickphotography

SFL Music: That led you to play with Damn Yankees, right?

Cartellone: Yeah, a few years after age nine. Damn Yankees was a wonderful period of time. In fact, I just had a text right before I called you from Tommy Shaw. So, we have all stayed in contact which has been great and you know, it’s amazing Lori. It is over thirty years since that first Damn Yankees album came out and that band is still selling records. Somehow, miraculously. Once a week without fail someone asks me, when is that band going to get back together? So, it really struck a chord with people which is wonderful because it was a great period of time and I could not be more proud of what we did.

SFL Music: You also did some recording and have played with John Fogerty, Cher, Peter Frampton, Freddie Mercury. What would you say you took away from those experiences, working with those artists?

Cartellone: Well, every one of them was amazing in a different way and in the case of someone like Frampton, that turned into a long term friendship which has been wonderful. The Freddie Mercury scenario, he had already passed away and I ended up playing on a record where they took some of his unfinished recordings and then the recordings were finished with newer instrumentation. So, in the case of that, I was sitting in a recording studio in Los Angeles, behind my drum kit. No one else was there and in my headphones, I’m hearing Freddie sing and play piano and I just drum along with that. It was a pretty out of body kind of experience (he laughed).

SFL Music: You joined Lynyrd Skynyrd in 1998.

Cartellone: Yes, and all these years later, that has just been a wonderful experience and continues to be so.

SFL Music: What can fans look forward to with the new Lynyrd Skynyrd show with ZZ Top (The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour)?

Cartellone: Well, I will say for the people that have seen us in the past, they’re about to see something very different. We just spent this past week in Nashville rehearsing a new show. So, there is new staging. There’s new equipment. There’s new lighting. There’s new video content on the big screen behind us and a fair amount of songs. Some old, some new that we haven’t done in quite a while, and even some of the old standbys have been given in some cases, a slight little left turn. Some new intros to songs. Some new endings to songs. I think people are gonna really enjoy the show because we put a lot of work into giving them something different this year to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the band, as well as a tribute to our brother Gary Rossington who passed away a few months ago. So, it’s as much a tribute to Gary as it is to a fifty-year celebration of the band.

SFL Music: What would you say is maybe the secret to the longevity and success that you have and Lynyrd Skynyrd has?

Cartellone: I will say the longevity of Lynyrd Skynyrd is just the music that Ronnie Van Zant and the original band wrote, and then the newer music that the current band continues to write. It has stood the test of time because it’s just so damn good. I mean, the fact that we get to play “Freebird”, let’s just start with that. That’s as iconic musically as you can get. You’d be hard pressed to say an American song that is more iconic than “Freebird”. It is known worldwide and it’s become a part of pop culture. How many concerts have to been to where you heard someone yell “Freebird” when Lynyrd Skynyrd wasn’t even there (he laughed). I was literally at a comedy club, and when the comic took a pause, someone in the audience yelled “Freebird”. It is everywhere. So, that is why fifty years later, Lynyrd Skynyrd is still important. It’s that simple. Then for myself personally, I’ve been blessed to have a wonderful, very consistent musical career with the good fortune of working with a lot of different people. Some of which you mentioned earlier, and I can only say that I’m a very serious person when it comes to work. I’m very focused. I never create any obstacles for myself in any way and if I am joining a new band, I’m gonna show up on day one very prepared, already knowing all the songs and you know, just deliver that one hundred and ten percent every day, and just to be the best professional I can. Then regarding the art, the visual artwork and the painting, that is just another form of expression that checks all those same boxes. Very focused and very researched and very professional and again, another form of that same expression. One is really loud and one is very quiet (he laughed).

SFL Music: That’s true. You just said some very profound things. Is that the type of information that you would recommend to a new artist or musician?

Lynyrd Skynyrd 7.21.23 iThink Financial Amphitheatre West Palm Beach, Fl @2023 jskolnickphotographyCartellone: Absolutely, and not only music or arts, but in any field. As cliche as it sounds, you get one opportunity to make a first impression. It’s how one carries themselves and what they bring to the table, and to be someone who is an asset to whatever organization they happen to be working in, and to be someone that’s nice to be around. In the case of the music business, a band is together twenty-four hours a day. My wonderful friend Tommy Shaw sums this up perfectly. He said, “you know, its not the two hours onstage, it’s the other twenty-two hours that are important because if you don’t know how to hang with each other, that’s when things get difficult.” And that applies to every line of work and with your co-workers. You want to be the best self you can always be.

SFL Music: That’s great advice. What can fans look forward to at the art show?

Cartellone: Wentworth is going to in this exhibit, I know they’re going to try and cover all the bases. In the ten years, ten or twelve that I’ve been exhibiting through Wentworth, there are well over a hundred works that I’ve done for them, and I think they’re going to show a nice cross section. There will certainly be some “Pixelism” paintings at the Wentworth exhibit. There will certainly be some other music themed paintings as well as some of the more traditional things. I’ve done some Italian landscapes. Some very colorful pop art. Some photo realism black and white portraits much like the Lynyrd Skynyrd piece I just finished. So, I think people will see a lot of different styles, and that’s one thing that I’ve gone out of my way to do is to not just paint one type of thing over and over. It’s more interesting to me just to kind of let it flow and cover a lot of ground.

SFL Music: Your work is in other Wentworth galleries as well?

Cartellone: Yes. Wentworth has, I think off the top of my head, it’s eight or nine different galleries that are up and down the Eastern seaboard. People could go on the Wentworth Gallery website and see the different locations, and what’s nice about working with Wentworth is they make sure you are represented in every gallery at any given time. Even if they have an art show from another artist and that artist has filled the gallery with their work, they have these kind of slide out walls that have other artwork on it, so all of us are always represented.

SFL Music: Is there anything else you want fans to know about the art show or the concert?

Cartellone: Just that I could not be more excited to share the new art with everyone and get out there and see a bunch of smiling faces as we play some great music this summer.

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