Stevie Starlite
Rocking along in a groove all his own

By Bill Dalton

       Among local musicians, none have been more consistently visible than Steve Pacelli. Who? Stevie Starlite, purveyor of the vintage sound and the blue tongue. People who come to his performances with the Padre Pio Trio quickly find that Stevie finds nothing sacred. Many are just as quickly offended. Those who aren't scorched stay to revel in the lewd, crewd and shrewd show that Pacelli has honed into a niche of his own.

       Pacelli has insulted just about everyone; preppies, Irish girls, power brokers, local rock stars. His barbs are peppered with all the commonly used (bleep) words and spiced with a rolling rap. He makes people squirm, but more often helps them leave their pretensions at the door. Patrons also are usually warned at the door that, as Pacelli says, "this guy is dirty, he swears and spits on stage."

       Stevie Starlite has built a solid following with his live performances and along the way has become a self-sufficient musician who records his music his way.

       "The whole thing I'm trying to do live is just get people to have fun," he says."They're just silly songs. If music isn't for fun, why do it?" He leaves 'em laughing with his cover tunes, among them "I Think I'm a Homo," a take-off of the Tommy James 60s classic "I Think We're Alone Now." Offensive? To some, no doubt about it. But Pacelli's tongue is firmly planted in his cheek and his rap stays on stage where it belongs.

       In informal conversation, he conveys the persona of one who has seen his share of the streets, dingy clubs, booking agents and everyday people. Lest people think he is without scruples or morals, Pacelli is still conscience of holding his nasty words to a bare minimum around his mother. "I think I slipped once." The mothers in his audience are another thing entirely.

       At 31, Pacelli has maintained a high profile in Chicago clubs while working from his home base in Evergreen Park. While others who began the grind with him 10 years ago have left their dreams behind and demurred to a more predictable life, Pacelli sticks to his music. He has a passion for vintage rock and a consummate collector's knowledge of who played what, when and where. His basement studio is lined with more than 20,000 albums, many obscure, literally impossible to find, and representative of three generations of rock music.

       His four track studio set-up has given Pacelli that flat, vintage sound which helped sell 2,000 copies of "Don't You Dare Touch My D.A," his first album. Stevie Starlite's respect for that pure sound has him recording in mono, which translates to commercial suicide in the normal marketplace. On stage he and the trio (actually a duo composed of Gordon Patriarca on bass and Bobby Valentine on drums) play straight from their amps, for a raw punch usually lost through the common feed into the mixing board and through the p.a.

       "If the band is good, you can do the dynamics yourself," he says. So there is no sound man. In the studio, he uses the two-mike setup that recorded so much of the first rock 'n' roll in the 50s. "I hate stereo," he says, putting another of his vintage disks on the turntable. He hates stereo so much that he mixes more modern records to play mono. Pacelli says he loves that primitive, raw sound that made Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran sound so urgent. Pacelli's respect for his roots is probably obscured, partly because of his show, but while others turn more toward electronic drums or turn back toward rockabilly as the latest fad, he sticks to his sound as a viable, modern approach.

       An upcoming album, "The Starlite Zone," will contain 30 original songs running about 1:30 with titles such as "Ugly Girls," "Jetstar 88," and "382-5968," which, he points out, spells (bleep) you on the phone.

       Both albums are distributed by Pacelli on his Snorko label, which makes him self-contained, partly out of necessity. "I sent acetates of the first albums everywhere," he says. "I always got the typical 'we're not interested in this kind of stuff at this time' reply. Arista was interested and a guy came out, saw the show and that was it. He left after the first set and never said anything." Shellshocked.

       "If I ever have any amount of success, it will be on the local level. I'm going to stick with what I'm doing." Pacelli obviously is not aiming for a highbrow audience or mass appeal. He would likely respond with an upraised finger to the types who prefer to look down their noses at his act. Rather, he aims to "get people involved" by increasing their attention span through verbal shock treatment. "I do have a lot more scars to show."

       With unfashionably long hair and a scraggly, full beard, Pacelli sidesteps trends without much of a thought and remains popular on the club circuit. History, he says, repeats itself anyway. "Everyone is going to look back on this generation how they did on other generations. The people doing what's shakin' are going to be embarrassed. It all reverts back to rock 'n' roll."

       A big part of his staying power has been enthusiasm. No one can accuse Pacelli of going through the motions. "He really has a love for rock 'n' roll which sounds corny but it's true," Patriarca says. "People react to it because we play with energy. The humor thing is just natural. He's just poking fun at people. The music comes first."