Nick Catanese has been all over the world as the guitar-playing Evil Twin to Black Label Society's Zakk Wylde, but when he's off the road, he still calls Pittsburgh home, even though there are days of freezing rain in March.
"It's cool to see different countries, but it really makes you respect when you come home," he says. "This is home to me. To me, Pittsburgh is a hidden secret. When I come home, I come home. Everything I know is here, my family, my friends, going to Penguins games ....."
That makes him available for occasions like the show at 7 tonight at the Hard Rock Cafe to benefit the Wounded Warriors, which helps severely injured veterans. Mr. Catanese will be there, along with Wilkes-Barre-based Black Label Society drummer Chad Szeliga, to jam with local band Chaotic Playground. The concert actually stems from his friend Mike Pizutti's son's school project.
"I always like to do things for the military and Black Label has always been there," says the guitarist who lives in Robinson. "There have been times when I've gotten flags from the military, and I'm like 'You guys are the ones who are fighting. All I do is play a piece of wood with strings on it, and you're sending me a flag?' But music gets them through a lot of hard times there. Anything I can do to help them is an honor for me."
Mr. Catanese grew up in Heidelberg and started to play guitar at an early age, inspired by Kiss "Alive" and the early Van Halen albums. He took lessons, but it didn't click for him until his musician grandfather passed away when he was 12. He swears it was some supernatural gift passed on to him.
When he was 15, he formed the band High Voltage.
"We played up and down the East Coast, from Thunder Bay, Canada, to Key West, Fla. Four sets a night -- everything from Pantera to the Rolling Stones, and we played our songs, too. Then in '95, it started getting hairy with the members, and some thought they were rock stars, and it really wasn't fun anymore."
He was about to ditch the music career and go to computer school when he saw in Metal Edge magazine an email address for Mr. Wylde, the well-known guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne. The next thing he knew Mr. Wylde was on a flight to Pittsburgh to audition him.
What was that like?
"Terrifying," he says. "I mean, terrifying. He was my idol. In High Voltage, we were doing 'No More Tears' and 'Miracle Man.' He flew to Pittsburgh, I picked him up at the airport and he's in my house eating chicken and playing my guitars. It was like, 'What the hell is going on here?' He instantly made me feel comfortable, though. But he's one of the greatest in the world. You're thinking, 'What am I doing here?' I'm not a drummer, I'm not a bass player. I'm a guitar player and I gotta sit next to him?"
He joined Mr. Wylde for the Book of Shadows tour and became a touring member of BLS. His first studio album with Mr. Wylde was 2006's "Shot to Hell." BLS became a regular at Ozzfest, but he says, "I don't really consider us metal. We have piano songs, we have acoustic songs. If you put Led Zep and Ozzy in a blender, that's us."
He credits Mr. Wylde for pushing him to become a better musician over these 16 years. For example, the band's work in progress is the DVD release, "Unblackened," that's largely acoustic driven. Mr. Wylde asked him to play six solos, including slide on some of the tracks.
"I never played slide in my life," he says. "[Zakk] calls me two weeks before and says 'I want you to do the slide work in 'Road Back Home.' I'm like 'Dude, I've never played slide.' He's like, 'Do it.' So I busted my ass and did it. The day before the shoot, he calls and says, 'It sounds like you've been playing slide for a year. I'm proud of you.' He pushes me to be a better player and also has confidence in me.' "
He says the album, which will feature a number of BLS rarities, will show off the band's range.
"I think we could appeal to a wider audience because there's a versatile side to what we can do. We can do a lot more than make a circle pit."
He's not sure yet whether Black Label will tour to back the DVD or what the band is going to do this summer. He has done side projects, like the band Speed X as well as appearing in the movie "Rock Star." He also teaches guitar lessons via Skype and plays Mr. Mom to his and his fiancee's dog.
Sometimes, he says, it's nice to just stay home. Last year, his fiancee planned an eight-day cruise with friends and asked him if he wanted to go. "I said, 'You go and I'll stay and watch the house.' It was weird taking her to the airport. Even the dog was looking at me, like 'Aren't you supposed to be the one leaving?' "
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.