Brian O’Connell is a western Massachusetts based musician who is noted for his kinetic and inventive playing on bass guitar and touch guitar in a variety of contexts. Brian has been active on the Northeast music scene and beyond for over 20 years and has performed widely with Uncle Sammy, Gordon Stone, The Gary Backstrom Band, Road To Utopia, Jo Henley, Live At The Fillmore, Interminable, Rev Tor, The Steal Your Peach Band, Dave Brunyak, Dave Scandurra, Kevin Silvia, Sarah Blacker, under his own name, and with many others.
He currently leads The Brian O'Connell Fellowship, which performs his original compositions and features his bass playing in a lead role.
Most recently he has launched a podcast called "Witch Hunt - history told in music, sound, and story". Originally conceived as a rock opera, Witch Hunt is a prog-rock telling of the Salem Witch Trials in the format of an old time radio drama.
Brian's rock opera, Over The Line, a multimedia meditation on ideology, indoctrination, and self realization debuted on February 4, 2012 at Spontaneous Celebrations in Boston, MA. This theatrical rock show featured giant puppet actors and a 10 piece band consisting of members of The Grass Gypsys, Brief Awakening, and the Gary Backstrom Band.
Originally from in Amherst, NY outside of Buffalo, and influenced by his musician brothers Pat and Mark and the musical tastes of his other brothers he took up the bass guitar at age 13. Roger Waters bass performance in the movie “Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii” was the first influence that led him to pick up the instrument. Lessons with Buffalo bass legend Jim Wynne provided a solid foundation to pursue music with his first band Jamasaurus Rex, who showcased an ambitious compositional style with extended jamming. Hard work by these young musicians allowed them to climb the ladder in the local to the point where they opened a few times for the then up and coming Buffalo jamband, moe.
After graduating from Amherst Central High School in 1993 he studied music at Villa Maria College and then Buffalo State College and gigged with his drummer brother Pat O'Connell in the blues/rock band The Purple Connection and Ike Smith and the Flash of Purple. He also played original progressive rock with the band Earful. During this time Brian studied with Buffalo bass teachers Jim Kurzdorfer, Rodney Appleby, and Greg Piontek.
In September '96 Brian moved to Boston, MA to attend Berklee College of Music. There he further honed his chops studying under Anthony Vitti, Jim Stinnett, Bruce Gertz, and Hal Crook. At Berklee he met Max Delaney (guitar), Tom Arey (drums) and Beau Sasser (keys) with whom he would form the band Uncle Sammy. Spearheaded by the visionary management and natural promotional skills of future Umphry's McGee lighting director Jeff Waful, Uncle Sammy performed across the Northeast and East Coast from 1997-2003. Richard Gehr, of The Village Voice said of the band, "Uncle Sammy is a startlingly nimble, energetic, and spontaneous young quartet apparently comfortable jamming in just about any style of music...They amazed me recently with inventive jam after genre-shifting jam...Heavy in the chops department, and stylistically slippery to boot, Uncle Sammy improvises with a ceaselessly inventive prog-fusion edge".
After Uncle Sammy disbanded in 2003 Brian played extensively throughout the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic for 2 years with legendary banjo and pedal steel guitar wizard Gordon Stone.
Also while at Berklee Brian performed with noted modern composer and polyglot Chris Opperman culminating in his debut recording "Oppy Music. Vol. 1: Purple, Crayon" which was produced by music legend Mike Keneally.
He then developed a one-man solo show featuring the 12-string Touch Guitar, an adaptation of the Chapman Stick, a hybrid guitar/bass with a radical tuning that is played by tapping or hammering on the strings with the fingertips, like a piano. The solo performances also feature looping, samples, bass, songs, and spoken word.
From 2006-2013, Brian played with The Gary Backstrom Band. A highly respected New England based guitarist/singer/songwriter, Gary made a name for himself leading the popular jamband Jiggle the Handle and he is known for his incendiary guitar playing, soulful singing, and deep-hooks songwriting. Brian also played in Gary’s tribute project to the legendary Todd Rundgren - Road To Utopia, which even performed with Kasim Sulton and Prarie Prince from Todd's Band.
In late 2011, Brian did a short tour with a new all star group called New Moon Review which features Berkshire guitar-god Rev Tor , Xavier and Arlo Guthrie drummer Kali Baba McConnell, and former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom "TC" Constanen.
From Fall, 2012 to late Summer, 2013 Brian played bass with new roots band Jo Henley.
Brian debuted his rock opera, Over The Line, a multi-media show which debuted at Spontaneous Celebrations in Boston in 2012. This multi-media theatrical show featured a 9-piece band and giant puppet actors. Over the Line features themes based on radical politics, societal indoctrination, and inner psychological transformation.
In 2013 he relocated to Philadelphia where he played regular jazz gigs with the Rick Lowenberg Trio, the diasporic space-music band Interminable, and occasionally with the Allman Brother's tribute band Live at the Fillmore.
Brian moved back to Boston in 2016 and was soon performing with the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers tribute band The Steal Your Peach Band, led by Rev Tor.
In 2017 Brian began a long overdue project, The Brian O'Connell Fellowship which performs his original compositions, focusing heavily on the music of Uncle Sammy and Over The Line.
In 2019 he relocated to western Massachusetts.
In 2020 he began releasing podcast episodes of his new rock opera project "Witch Hunt - history told in music, sound, and story" which tells the story of The Salem Witch Trials.
Also in 2020 Brian oversaw the completion of a long lost Uncle Sammy studio album produced by Mike Keneally called Unearthed.
In 2021 Brian took part in starting a new band with Dennis Angelo, who is a founding member of the popular band The New Motif, as well as Brian Epstein and Mark Munzer from the popular Boston based Grateful Dead tribute band Playing Dead. The result of their collaboration is Arukah, a jamband supergroup that features incendiary performances with a diverse catalog of original tunes contributed by the members of the band. They have been playing at festivals and clubs around New England.
Brian also is an accomplished music teacher who teaches lessons on bass, guitar, touch guitar, drums, and piano.
Some of Brian's primary musical influences include: Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, Joe Jackson, Phish, Victor Wooten, Kai Echardt, Oregon, Trilok Gurtu, Steely Dan, Santana, Michael Hedges, Gentle Giant, ELP, Genesis, Yes, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, The Tubes, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Aquarium Rescue Unit, moe., Igor Stravinsky, The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Steve Reich, Charles Mingus, J.S. Bach, Herbie Hancock, Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Bruce Cockburn, and many more.
Aside from extensive performances with the above mentioned bands; Brian has performed, sat in, and/or recorded with Addison Groove Project, The Breakfast, ulu, Mike Keneally, Kasim Sulton, Prarie Prince, Bobby Strickland, Peter Prince, The Bomb Squad, Scott Murowski, Marc Brownstein, Al Schnier, Chuck Garvey, Double Helix, Brother's Past, Miracle Orchestra, Jake Pardee, Jimmy Ryan, Victor McSurely, Brent Sirois, Oen Kennedy, Automatic Man, Oak Street, Wooden Spoon, DJ Logic, Chris Opperman, Jordan Carp, Muriel Anderson, Ed Gehrhard, Pete Pidgeon & Arcoda, George Puleo, Pamela Ryder, Johnny Trauma, Mike Barnette, Anna Freitas, Mitch Cohn, Andrew Alexander, Caleb Bronz, Doug Perkins, Larry Mancini, Jeff Gittleman, Larry and Mike Reynolds, Peter Stoltzman, Julee Avallone, Chris Chitourus, and Sean Frenette; as well as members of moe., Max Creek, Soulive, The Spin Doctors, The Slip, Jiggle The Handle, The Disco Biscuits, and many more.
(Above Photo by Kate Huggins)