Wednesday, November 20, 2019

MiZ to rock Jazz Café with full set of Clapton 

Mike Mizwinski, while finding success in Nashville,
returns home for special holiday show

Special to The Weekender

For more than 10 years, Mike Mizwinski has been regarded as one of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s best guitarists. And on Thanksgiving Eve, he’ll be paying tribute to one of the greatest guitarists of all-time.  

“MiZ plays Clapton, with special guest Justin Mazer,” will blast the River Street Jazz Café on November 27 with a show featuring nothing but the music of “Slowhand.” Mizwinski, a native of Pittston who relocated to Nashville last year, has done tribute-type shows before celebrating the music of Tom Petty, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead. Wednesday’s show will be the third time he’ll be doing a full night of Clapton.  

“Growing up, I was a huge fan,” says Mizwinski, calling from Nashville. “My father got me into him. The first song I ever learned how to play was a Clapton song. The thing about Clapton that's fun is his songs are great vehicles to jam on, and to improvise on, and to extend and sort of interpret in your own way. With some artists you have to kind of have to stick to book, and then there's some that are more fun to just kind of interpret.  I just have a blast interpreting his songs and making them our own.”

Clapton’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career spans five decades. In the ‘60s, there was his pioneering work with The Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith. Later, “Times Pieces,” a greatest hits package that featured some of his best work of the ‘70s, contained tracks such as "I Shot the Sheriff," "After Midnight," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," “Wonderful Tonight," “Cocaine,” “Promises,” “Lay Down Sally” and “Layla." That alone would have made for a remarkable career, but Clapton forged on into the ‘80s with hits such as “Forever Man,” “It’s In The Way That You Use It,” “Pretending” and “Bad Love,” the latter two of which came from his multi-platinum album, “Journeyman.” In the ‘90s, Clapton gave a landmark performance on “MTV Unplugged,” which is best known best for his deeply personal performance of “Tears In Heaven” and his brilliant reworking of “Layla.” He has continued to tour and record, he has won 18 Grammy Awards, and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest musicians of all-time.

Mizwinski says he’s a fan Clapton’s complete catalog of work.

“I like it all,” he says. “If I had to pick a favorite era, I’d say it was the Cream days. I love that old Cream stuff. And I guess the reason that I love it is because it’s what got me so interested in him. That’s what got me playing.  ‘Journeyman’ was also a big album for me growing up. My parents had it and we used to listen to it. Later, when I went to college, I got into ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ and the ‘70s stuff. Throughout my life I’ve gotten into different aspects of his career. There’s a few ‘lost’ albums in there, too, that I‘ve heard recently, but I hadn’t even heard of before. I really like his whole career.”

Success and artistic growth in Nashville  

Mizwinski himself has been actively recording for more than a decade and has released several critically acclaimed, roots-rock albums, including “East Hope Avenue,” “Parking Meters” and “A Year Ago Today.” And though he’s also lived in Central Pennsylvania and in the New York City area - and though Northeastern Pennsylvania has always been home - he decided last year to move to Nashville.

“I wanted to learn,” he says. “I wanted to further my career. I wanted to sit down with guitar players and songwriters that were better than me and that challenged me and that inspired me. And I wanted to become a better guitar player and a better songwriter. That was my real reason to come here. A lot of people come here and are straight out planning on ‘making it.’ My plan was a little bit different. I came here and kind of hung around in the background for a while and watched what's going on and got to meet a lot of people that were influences of mine. I got to take guitar lessons from some of my favorite players and got to do some recording. I just wanted learn. And I felt like it was the right move for my career as a musician.”

 Mike Mizwinski has found a welcome place for his music in Nashville 
Mizwinski says he received encouragement about the move from everyone, including Bob Lewis, another well-known NEPA musician that had also relocated to Nashville a few years prior.

“He's been a big part of me being down here,” says Mizwinski. “He’s over the house all the time and we've been writing together a lot. My manager had moved down here, too, and there were a few other people that I knew that were living down here. It just was like to the next step for me, and the right step, and I'm really glad I did it. I’ve really been loving it.”

Since his move to Nashville, Mizwinski has recorded two new songs - “Virginia and “High For Now” - at Gold Cassette recording studio, which is owned by multi-platinum country star Luke Combs. Working with Mizwinski on the music were producer Alex Gilson and guitarist Sol Philcox, who have also worked with Combs. And the tracks were mixed by Craig Alvin, who recently won the “Album of The Year” Grammy for his work on Kacey Musgraves.

“That’s been really exciting because obviously I hadn’t worked with Grammy-winning people before,” says Mizwinski. “We’re going to be releasing the songs soon. We’re just waiting on the mastering.”

Philcox is known as one of Nashville’s top session guitarists. Still, given his own capabilities, Mizwinski is asked why he felt the need to have a session player play guitar on his own original songs.

“That’s a funny story,” he says. “Sol and I barely even knew each other. He’s a mastermind in studio, but he didn't realize that I played lead guitar. He hired all these musicians and called in all of these all-star Nashville guys, and they charted out the songs. At the end of ‘Virginia,’ he said, ‘We’re just going to jam out the end,’ and he hits record, and we jam, and he plays a guitar solo, and I just kind of ripped into one after him, and that take is the one that we kept. It was the first time I ever actually did a live recording in the studio with five guys just letting it rip. The vocals. Everything. What you hear in the recording is five guys playing live in the studio. When we ended the song, Sol was like, ‘Holy crap. I didn’t know you played guitar like that!’ And since then - and it’s been a joy for me - me and Sol became buddies.”

The new friendship has helped open additional doors for Mizwinski, including performing live with Kashena Sampson, Emma White and Jenna Paulette. All three women appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of top-10 up and coming country artists.

“Sol has been sending me a lot of the work that he can’t do,” says Mizwinski. “He gets so many calls that it’s just insane. But I kind of quickly found out that was not what I want to do. Playing guitar for modern-country singers … it's just not my thing. It was a killer experience I can't say enough about how great it was to work with them, and their bands, and how nice they were. But it also made me realize that I really want to stay focused on my own music.”

Apparently, playing his own music in Nashville is also working out just fine.

“I got to play ‘New Faces Night’ at The Basement, which is one of the most prominent clubs in Nashville for the type of music I play,” he says. “It's a really, really big deal to get added onto ‘New Faces Night.’  After the owner saw our set,  I got a call, and he not only rebooked us, but he actually let me put my own bill together for my own night at The Basement. I played and headlined and I had to two other people come and play, too. It’s been great. My mindset coming down here has been strictly that I want to soak this all in and I want to purposely put myself around people that are that are better players, singers and writers than and I am.”

Even Mizwinski’s Nashville roommate, an artist named Boo Ray, is a talented musician. Stephen Ferrone, the former drummer for Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, appeared on his album and he’s been getting airplay on Sirius XM Radio. Mizwinski has also recorded with Boo Ray and, once again, has worked with some of the industry’s top producers. Boo Ray also introduced him to the legendary John Hiatt, with whom he now sometimes meets for lunch.

“That’s just crazy,” says Mizwinski.

Coming home

For the “MiZ plays Clapton” show, Mizwinski will be joined by his friend Justin Mazer, another NEPA native and dazzling guitarist who has also toured the country and has been featured in national publications such as Rolling Stone, Relix, and Guitar Player magazine. Mazur has also played some of the country’s top music festivals and is currently working and touring with Ryan Montbleau.

“We’ve got backup singers and we’ve got some other guests coming down,” says Mizwinski. “It's going to be phenomenal.”

Though Mizwinski is making great strides in Nashville, he adds that it’s nice to come home.

“It’s always great,” he says.  “I miss it. I'm one of these people that loves Northeast PA. I think it's a great place, and I miss being there. I miss home. I miss seeing the people.  Coming home feels good, and when I do come home to play I feel so lucky. People are so good to me and they're so supportive of me. I’m so lucky to have this dynamic, or this opportunity, to be able to come home every few months to play, and to have people coming out and supporting me. It's really cool. Even moving down here, people were really supportive of it and I can’t thank him enough.

“It's a great, music-loving community.”

WHAT: MiZ plays Clapton with special guest Justin Mazer
WHERE: River Street Jazz Café, Plains Township
WHEN: Wednesday, November 27, 10 p.m.
TICKETS: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
INFO: www.

Photos courtesy of Sam Watson. This story also appeared as the Weekender's cover story on November 20, 2019. The Weekender version can be found here: