Chuck Lichtenberger: Miles behind him and miles left to go…
By Peggy Ratusz
Music is a family tradition for Lichentenberger who has been studying, teaching or professionally playing piano for the better part of his life. Carol, his mother, was a piano teacher before he was born. When he turned eight years old, she insisted that he take lessons for at least six years. They made a deal that when he turned fourteen, he could stop or pursue it further at his discretion. By the time he was twelve he was composing music and lyrics and has been going non-stop ever since.
Challenged with high-functioning Asperger’s, his analytical nature and adeptness to math and sound is natural. Conversely, his admitted “lack of coordination” incited him to counter the math of music with the competency of sports. “I became obsessed and I’m still obsessed with basketball. And I became obsessed with learning basketball skills because I’m like a stick, ready to fall over.” Though basketball didn’t come as easily to him, the intensity he put into practicing at the net was the same as it was at the piano bench.
Both of Chuck’s siblings are 15-17 years his senior and their influence on his path to composer, teacher and working musician was big. He recalls with affection the nights his sister, Lynda and late brother, Edward would sit around singing Beatles and Indigo Girls songs in their home in Greensboro, North Carolina. Lynda’s affinity and prowess on piano, clarinet, classical and folk guitar helped define his ethics.
His first piano teacher was his mother. It became apparent to both of them rather quickly that calling in a non-family member to instruct him, was a much better plan. In comes Mrs. Mooney whom he studied with for five years. “As an elderly teacher, she could have easily turned me off to the piano by being strict, but instead she worked hard to find pieces that I liked to help keep me focused and interested. Scott Joplin’s, ‘The Entertainer’ was a piece I worked on during that time. I must have played every single version of it that was out there. Drove my parents crazy, I have no doubt. Music is an escape for me in relation to the Asperger’s. Because of the social challenges I face especially as a young boy and adolescent, music’s made it easier to form friendships.”
Mrs. Mooney’s flexibility helped him learn flexibility even when trying to prove to a childhood friend thather love of country music was unwarranted. But the young girl held tight her conviction despite his efforts to prove the genre was “bad because it’s so easy to play.” She didn’t waiver; she liked country music because it made her feel good. This was a pivotal lesson in listening and the seed that grew slowly over time, into his appreciation for all kinds of music as it relates to how it makes people feel.
David E. Fox who is now Director of Piano Studies and Associate Professor at Greensboro College, was Chuck’s piano instructor through high school at Western Guilford. At that time, Fox was a gigging jazz musician and through his mentorship Lichtenberger became interested in jazz for the first time. Studying a mixture of it and classical put another layer in his foundation for composing.
He applied for college in 1992 and was accepted to other programs closer to home, but chose UNC Asheville because “it was the farthest point away from Greensboro while still being in my home state.” Choosing UNCA over UNC Greensboro, which is considered to be one of the best music schools in the state, was a surprise to him and to his family. Even more surprising is that he didn’t go specifically, at first, to study music. When he did finally decide to major in music, the focus of study in the department was classical music, so although he enjoyed and excelled in the program, Lichtenberger sought private instructors in Jazz. He trained with Andrew Adams. “Andrew was really good for me because he taught me to interpret the musicality of the pieces because with my Asperger’s my delivery tended to be cold and calculated. He was big on phrasing and dynamics and he taught me how to lose myself in the music. When Andrew left town to pursue his doctorate, I began studying with Dr. Deborah Belcher who reinforced my Asperger’s in a good way with drills and schedules. The balance between the two curriculums was of great benefit.”
His intention was to do his graduate work at UNCG but when it came time to enter, he switched gears yet again, and decided to stick around WNC to “play rock n’ roll!” As fate would have it, Anne Combs opened up the Asheville Music School in 1996 and he was recommended to her by his professors, for the open piano instruction slot there. Simultaneously, he’d put together a short-lived “super heavy” college band called “Stoma Pony” that spawned the formation of a “hippy shake” band called “This Man’s Hat.” When that outfit disbanded, he joined a band that many Ashevillians remember called “The Goodies” whose charismatic front man was Holiday Childress.
“Childress is an amazing storyteller and vocalist and was the key to the unique and signature sound of the band.” It was the multilayered grooves and witnessing the audacious stage presence of the lead singer that would drive him toward projects of similar fancy in the future.
While Chuck was feeling giddy about “The Goodies” and expected to quit teaching once they started to make it in the big time, life was busy making other plans for him. Since the only certain thing is change, it naturally devastated him a bit when Holiday decided to dissolve the group. Luckily for our man Chuck, his good friend and “Goodies” drummer, Vic Stafford (Toubab Krewe, Donna the Buffalo) ended up collaborating with Asheville’s Jazz and R&B singer, Kat Williams. At that time, Kat was working to launch an original R&B project. Though that project stalled, both guys ended up playing in her cover band. The world of easy money opened up to him in a way that astounded him, in that he could “go down the street and play Mustang Sally” to throngs of supportive locals and tourists.
Soon though, his desire to play original music could no longer be ignored and when it reared, he met his wife, the fabulous singer songwriter, indie-pop and jazz frontwoman, Stephanie Morgan. A mutual friend and fellow musician named Mike Alexander introduced them at a Jazz Jam Chuck was hosting at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz & Blues. Chucks tells me that he and Steph “co-wrote before we dated and dated before we joined musical forces.”
And forces is what they have become, to the very fabric of the Asheville music scene. He, with his original weird whacky wonderful Archrivals band whose members of virtuosic proportions fuse rock and jazz and funk with theatrics; and she, with her captivating, satiating, groove-laden indie band, stephaniesid. And if that weren’t enough, they also have a popular jazz/swing quintet called Cry Baby.
Supporting three powerhouse singers’ three bands in a row, Chuck felt his role in any band would be that of “right hand man.” At the start of stephaniesid, they had 15 songs and six of them were written by Chuck. The songs they ended up keeping on the playlist were the nine Stephanie had penned. “I realized I wasn’t going to get to be part of the creative process as much as I wanted to be, so that’s when the Archrivals thing started.” It was a project on which he could stake a claim.
One of his only desires is to play music, so creative juices never stop flowing for Lichtenberger and as he puts it he’s “constantly creating and constantly writing” because it’s part of his DNA. Listening to the Archrival’s self-titled release, you’ll uncover funked up, freaked out, jazzed up, popped in themes from cheeky novelty tracks to pointed lyrics urging people to live cleaner, healthier and kinder lives–all set to pulsating rhythms, raps and rhymes that are deliciously fun to sing along and dance to.
The collaboration necessary to create the sound that is the sound comin’ down, Chuck says he discovered fairly quickly the value of co-writing and co-arranging. Tim Haney, drummer and Jonathan Pearlman, guitarist/vocalist are dear pals, core members of the sometimes seven-piece band. They’ve developed a tight bond through their collective influences on life, liberty and the pursuit of grooves and melodies. At this point they’ve figured out and so have audiences, that they do two different things: They rock aggressive funk with vocals and instrumentals. But they intimate and interpret instrumental jazz with a heat and originality all its own. Tim and Chuck’s common bond is metal rock. JP and Chuck’s common bond is jazz. Tim and JP’s common bond is funky jam rock.
The full-on Archrivals consist of Stephanie on backing vocals while additional instrumentalists include Jacob Rodriguez on baritone sax, Justin Ray on trumpet and Zack Page on basses. Upcoming shows: They’ll be at the Grey Eagle on Saturday June 8th at 8pm and Barley’s Taproom in Spindale on Friday June 14th at 8pm. They play fairly regularly at Southern Appalachian Brewery in Hendersonville as well. Check out their schedule on Facebook or on
A more affable, determined, accomplished, gifted, creative, caring and beautiful husband, son, friend, music partner and neighbor you won’t find for a million miles in any direction.
Peggy Ratusz, songwriter, vocal coach, songstress. Check her out at ReverbNation, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.