Up all night for 27 years
Jimmy Fay and Jerry Morano talk about the ignition of Spark ‘N Cinder
This is what he does. At nine o’clock on the dot, every Tuesday night for the past five years, Jimmy Fay starts work. Stormy’s gives him the stage for the night, and with 40 years’ worth of material to draw from, there are a lot of songs to play and a lot of friends to play them with. The gig stretches on past night and into early morning.
“I didn’t get to bed until 7 a.m.,” blurts Fay, startled by my 10 a.m. wakeup call the next day. “I was up all night with some friends.”
As established a figure as Fay has become at his weekly Stormy’s gig, his tenure there pales in comparison to the 27 years of being “up all night with friends” as one of the founders of Chico’s longest-running band, Spark ‘N Cinder.
Fay is originally from Jersey City, New Jersey, and his life of music is rooted in a history common to a lot of kids growing up in the ‘60s. “I started taking drum lessons,” Faye recalls. “When the Beatles came along, we started a band—I played drums and my brother played guitar.”
Fay and his brother began playing regularly at high schools and bars all around New Jersey ("We were like mini rock stars in Jersey City!"), and before either of them graduated high school they’d already become professional musicians. “[At the bars] we use to have to stand in a closet during the breaks,” Fay shares, “because we were little.”
Faye eventually wound up in Chico with fellow Jersey boys Jerry Morano and Billy Baxmeyer, and the trio quickly combined forces with Chico locals Michael Cannon and John LaPado (who previously had been in the Butte Creek Family Jamboree). Spark ‘N Cinder was officially launched. “I asked Cannon to play keyboards,” explains Fay, “and he brought half the Butte Creek guys. He was like a cult leader of the hippies back then.”
Billed as a supergroup, the band had no idea how long of a ride they were in for. “We didn’t think we could last because the egos were so big,” recalls percussionist Jerry Morano. “It just kept going.”
With a musical palette that blends rock with Latin, reggae, and whatever else gets people moving, Spark ‘N Cinder’s danceable, groove-heavy sound has avoided being pigeonholed. “It sounds like a bunch of guys who took acid with Puerto Ricans, which is what we did,” Fay explains.
Whatever the description, the anchor of Spark ‘N Cinder’s sound has always been the rhythm section. With Fay on drums and Morano on congas and other percussion, the heart of the band has remained consistent, with dozens of Chico musicians hopping on and off the train over the years.
“Jimmy is the constant,” says Morano. But with members leaving and returning all the time, “it’s like an alumni society. We do it because we like each other: It’s a family.”
The band is a genuine phenomenon, a Chico tradition. And every five years all the members, past and present, gather for giant Spark ‘N Cinder reunions. “The last time we did it [at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room], it was massive,” explains Fay, adding that there were over a hundred or so lined up outside who couldn’t get in.
It’s a pretty exceptional feat for a small-town band to keep an enthusiastic fan base for so long, and the turnout of that reunion show certainly bodes well for the next one. It’s only three years away, and there’s no reason to think that the band won’t make it last for another half-dozen or so more reunion shows, and hundreds more marathon nights spent playing music with friends.
“Once you get into it," says Fay, "you get extended too far to not finish it through."