Joe Proc Melds Four Musical Businesses Together Over Past 40 Years
Need that warped guitar or bass neck tweaked back into playing shape? Joe Proc has you covered.
Looking for a live musical act to spice up your party, club, or restaurant? Just get a hold of Joe Proc.
Searching for the perfect starter guitar or vintage instrument for an impossible-to-buy-for musician? Give Joe Proc a holler.
How about somebody for guitar, bass, or percussion lessons — or to provide some vocal coaching? ....ditto, Joe Proc.
Celebrating 40 years as one of Newtown’s self-proclaimed “best kept musical secrets,” Joe Proc (Procaccini) is as talented a performer and instructor as he is a trusted instrument purveyor and technician/luthier. And he has done it all out of his modest Botsford home, where he posted a handmade “Arrowhead Guitars” sign back in 1980.
Walking through the residence, visitors can inquire about an economic starter instrument for a young or not-so-young newcomer to music lessons. Or they can peruse a few racks and display cases filled with tuners, capos, packs of strings, picks, and other accessories.
More experienced players might be trusted with a chance strum one of the nearly priceless (or pricey) vintage instruments in his collection, or they may bring in one of their own for some TLC at his cozy workbench.
Despite a serious slowdown in live gigs due to the pandemic this year, either as soloist and alter-ego “Bongo Joe,” or accompanying any number of other musical collaborators he has known over the past four-plus decades, Proc still tracks his jobs on a simple paper calendar. He has amassed promotional photos, advertisements, and press clippings of his musical exploits along with reams of other memorabilia in several well-worn albums and file folders.
And while he may answer initial questions about gear, lessons, repairs, and gig availability with short, precise responses, once he begins opening up about a common interest or passion — almost always something musical — he transforms into an animated, engaging storyteller.
Over his many years as a player, Proc has joined other musicians to serve as opening acts for the likes of Traffic co-founder Dave Mason, popular folkies Richie Havens and Jonathan Edwards, and Jefferson Airplane alum Jorma Kaukonen. He and his long-time girlfriend, Gisela Matisons, performing as Fox Fire, were also recruited to play on a television showcase on TNN, The Nashville Network, hosted by the late Charlie Daniels.
Music In His Genes
Proc represents the third generation of musical Procaccinis. His grandfather, a blind accordion player, came to America in 1913 and promptly opened up a piano tuning business.
One of the advertising posters from that business hangs in Proc’s studio, and his grandpa’s accordion is displayed proudly in the parlor. Proc’s father was a chip off the old block, a gifted classical musician who also tuned and built pianos.
Proc has his dad’s piano tucked into a corner just across the room from his grandfather’s accordion, lovingly displayed in perfectly playable mint condition. He also has his first guitar, which he acquired after cashing in six books of S&H Green Stamps.
An acoustic bass — the only instrument he ever built from scratch — is also on display. Like countless other music lovers of his generation, Proc recalled the moment he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and make music his life.
“I was 10 years old and I saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show — that was it,” he recalled. “I made up my mind right at that moment that I was going into music. No Plan B.”
By the time he was a teen, he had set up something of a cottage music store in his parent’s basement, and by the time he was 17 he was playing bass in a band alongside Tony Perrone, a well-known regional jazz cat.
Some years later, Proc spent enough time hanging with another decidedly bigger name — John Mayer — that the eventual multiple Grammy winner credited Proc on his first demo.
“My nephew played in a band with Mayer when they were kids,” Proc said. “And I used to go to all their shows and help them carry equipment. And while he was still learning the ropes, Mayer would come to see my band Fox Fire. So I guess I was some sort of inspiration. His parents were telling him to get a job and go to college, and I would always tell him no, play music and follow your dreams.”
While he played in various types of bands, he established Fox Fire as a duo with Matisons, adding her daughter on occasion as a backup singer, and they surrounded themselves with whatever other musicians each gig would require.
“We were playing three, four, five nights a week,” Proc said. “Fox Fire ended up lasting for over 20 years. We had everything going — we were a couple, we built a house together, we even had an art gallery for awhile, and although we don’t gig anymore, we’re still together.”
Proc said he taught himself how to fix and maintain guitars out of necessity.
“I had already started collecting some pretty incredible guitars, and I liked to play them all,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to trust them to anyone else to fix, so I learned how to do it myself. The same with all the electronics, amps, and PA systems. I started learning from books, and as they became available, I was learning from instructional videos.”
A Gifted Instructor
Proc also was something of a natural when it came to teaching.
“In high school I was bringing my friends home and giving them guitar lessons,” he said. “But then my guitar teacher decided to retire, and he gave me all his students. I was traveling all over Connecticut teaching kids in their homes.”
Back in 1990, Proc recalls teaching three young brothers who formed a trio called The Bandits.
“They got so good so fast that they started getting hired to play the Norwalk Oyster Festival and at Lake Compounce,” he said. “That was big time for a group of kids.”
He eventually became so popular that he was able to turn the tables and get all his students to come to his home for lessons.
“It was a good thing, too, because I was doing 30 to 40 lessons a week,” he said. “It got to the point that when someone canceled it was such a relief. And after 2008 things started falling off with lessons, and COVID basically killed that part of my business. But it’s okay, because I’ve been teaching for over 50 years and I needed a break!”
Ever since high school, Proc has kept his eyes open for used instruments, which he would buy, restore, and re-sell. He also became an authorized dealer for a couple of lines of new instruments, including Seagull, which is known as the Martin Guitars of Canada.
The cream of the crop have become investment pieces, including a late 1800s Martin parlor guitar that he keeps in a solid wooden “coffin” case, a vintage 1965 Fender Stratocaster, and a gorgeous ’60s-era 12-string electric Rickenbacker, and a classic Les Paul electric guitar autographed by Les Paul himself.
“They’re all in playing condition, and I rotate them because I play and practice every day,” he said. “That has never, ever stopped. I’m still building a collection, and I’m continuously striving to learn the hardest arrangements I can find.”
After 40 years, Proc still fixes instruments for a couple of friends he’s known since high school. And he is somewhat blessed that he never had to advertise, virtually all his work comes from networking and word-of-mouth referrals.
“I just want to keep my name out there,” he said, “and I want to keep my reputation as Newtown’s best kept musical secret rolling. I must be doing something right, my music business helped me pay off my mortgage 30 years ago.”
To reach Arrowhead Guitars, call 203-426-0580.