by Nancy E. McCarthy
Musician Aaron Lipp, 32, has mastered numerous instruments, performed solo and in countless bands, appeared on television shows and played on or produced nearly 40 albums. He’s toured the world yet Lipp is most content at home in Naples, in the house and recording studio he built himself in 2018. Nestled in nature with a sweet view of Canandaigua Lake, this familiar, peaceful environment fuels his creativity and inspires some seriously prolific song writing.
If there is one constant in his life besides making music, it’s a deep connection to his Naples roots. “So many things about Naples that I love,” says Lipp. “Mostly it’s the perfect combination of a rural landscape with endless gullies, lakes and streams.” An avid outdoorsman, Lipp hikes, fishes and hunts – a great antidote to society’s distractions.
A Family Affair
The musical soundtrack of Lipp’s Naples childhood included folk music, jazz, bluegrass and recording artists his parents loved such as Doc Watson, Joan Baez and Emmy Lou Harris. And there was live music. His father was a professional bass player before marrying and raising a family. “He is an incredible intuitive musician,” says Lipp. His two siblings, mother and grandfather play guitar and sing. However, Lipp began with piano lessons at age four, progressing to Scott Joplin ragtime tunes. At 11 he picked up the acoustic guitar, his main instrument today (also electric, slide and steel), playing rock, folk, country and bluegrass. Lipp would eventually master other string instruments such as bass, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bouzouki. He still plays piano plus keyboard, organ, drums, harmonica and trumpet. Oh, and he sings.
Lipp didn’t learn anything new taking music classes in school but had the opportunity to play in jazz, concert, marching and rock bands.
“Aaron may be one of the most versatile artists I have ever known and he keeps expanding and evolving,” says Curt Bliss, a Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC) English professor and a longtime fan and friend. Bliss is not alone in his opinion.
At age 16, after being introduced to the Rochester-based reggae/world beats band Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Lipp was invited to temporarily fill in as their keyboardist. That gig ended up lasting seven years. “We had musical chemistry and liked playing together,” Lipp explains simply.
Giant Panda mainly toured the United States, playing about 250 shows annually. During Lipp’s stint they recorded several studio and live albums one of which, Steady, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Reggae Chart.
It was a great experience but a grueling lifestyle. After Aaron amicably left Giant Panda in 2013, he pursued his interest in wildlife and conservation back home with a semester at FLCC (he had graduated from Naples High School during his early Giant Panda years).
His academic pursuits didn’t last long. Through a random tweet, Lipp was invited to play Hammond B3 organ on a
Robert Randolph & the Family Band tour. The NJ-based band featured Randolph, the legendary steel pedal guitarist, playing Sacred Steel – a musical style developed in African-American Pentecostal churches in the 1930s. Lipp was familiar with this genre from playing with Rochester-based The Campbell Brothers. He was flown over for dates in Tulsa with no audition, rehearsal or music sent in advance. “That’s okay because I thrive off playing by ear,” says Lipp.
It was a jam-packed year of touring in the United States and Europe playing to festival audiences of thousands, sharing the stage with renowned artists such as Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal plus several radio and television appearances including the “Late Show with David Letterman” and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Lipp describes the music as “like magic fire” but he wasn’t interested in being a hired musician for the rest of his life. “I wanted to do my own thing and live the life I dreamed of, build a house, studio, have more time in the woods hiking, hunting and fishing, have my own band playing original songs and living the dream for real,” he says.
It was time to come home.
Back to the Future
“He’s musically insane,” says Jon Willis, who books talent for Lincoln Hill Farms (LHF), an outdoor event venue in Canandaigua. Willis means that as a compliment, particularly impressed that Lipp masters any instrument he picks up. Lipp is a consistently popular performer at LHF, drawing large audiences as a solo artist, in duos or in bands he’s formed. It’s hard to keep track of his projects because there are so many.
This is just what Lipp wants. “The goal is to always play with people who make you feel good. Gotta love what you do or else it’s not worth it.” His shows are unique collaborations with stellar Finger Lakes musicians he has a deep musical connection with such as Bobby Henrie, Richie Stearns, Max Flansburg, Ben Haravitch and Brian Williams to name just a few. This translates into playing fewer, bigger shows that generate more revenue. It also decreases his time on the road, leaving more time at home to write and record songs.
Lipp has formed several bands with accomplished local musicians playing original tunes such as The Cabin Killers (high energy bluegrass/old-time style), Aaron Lipp and The Slack Tones (rockabilly/country swing music) and his newest: Temple Cabin Band (psychedelic country and rock and roll).
In September, Lipp released Nothing to Lose, his first solo CD which he produced, mixed and engineered at Temple Cabin Studios, his home studio. An amalgam of several musical styles, Lipp wrote all the songs, sang and played every instrument with the exception of guest artists on three tunes. It was a career highlight for Lipp when one of his musical heroes and collaborators, Oliver Wood of The Wood Brothers, sang and played slide guitar on “Rough Around Town.”
Fan and friend Bliss says this CD is his current favorite. “It’s Aaron’s deepest expression of himself as a musician and the songwriting is remarkable.”
In October, Lipp hit the road for a short 10-date tour with friend and former band mate, Ric Robertson, in support of their respective solo CDs. The duo performed acoustic and electric sets, switching off on guitar and mandolin to piano and drums. They started in Rochester and the Finger Lakes and ended in New Orleans, Robertson’s home base, with several states in between.
Lipp will continue to perform local shows and short tours in 2022, but his next big project is to build another larger studio and small performance venue on his property using reclaimed wood he salvaged from deconstructing barns. Whether Lipp’s hands are hammering a board, picking a guitar or casting a fishing reel, it’s all good – as long as it is in Naples.
Visit aaronlipp.com for more information. Purchase Lipp’s music on bandcamp.com.