When Mike Clemente walks onstage at O’Reilly’s Restaurant and Pub in Oakdale, N.Y., he ceases to be a mild-mannered 29-year-old with shoulder-length black hair and the long fingernails of a classical guitar player. He becomes “The Godfather.”
“Hey Godfather,” 23-year-old Andrew Lohse of West Islip, N.Y., yelled in the dimly lit pub. “Play something.”
Clemente restrings his guitar and sets up the PA system. Then he welcomes the audience to Tuesday’s open-mic night and the game that made him a famous on the south shore of Long Island — Stump the Godfather.
“Who likes to drink for free out there?” Clemente asks the 30 or so people in the pub.
“Name a kick-ass hard-rock band from the 1960s to the 1980s, and if I can’t play either a verse or chorus from one of their songs I’ll buy you a drink,” Clemente explains.
The audience, ranging in age from early twenties to late forties, many of them pub regulars, seated at tables and the bar yelled out various rock bands and Clemente plays and sings Blue Oyster Cult, Pantera and Cream, completely from memory.
Uriah Heep, Poison, Ronnie James Dio, Metallica, Slayer and Yngwie Malmsteen — he can play it. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Van Halen — he’ll play a medley of more than a dozen songs for each artist.
“I turn it on,” Clemente said about becoming The Godfather.
After stringing and tuning his guitar and getting himself a glass of Drambuie, before announcing the first performer of the night, he was approached by a gray-haired man, in jeans and boots with white socks, on his way to the restroom.
The man was 1970s rock legend, Ritchie Blackmore — a founding member of Deep Purple, now with Blackmore’s Night, a Celtic-rock band.
“I’ve been down there the whole time watching you set up,” Blackmore told Clemente pointing to the end of the bar.
After speaking with Blackmore, Clemente explained that he will be leaving in May to go on a tour of Europe with Blackmore’s Night. He will be playing bass and rhythm guitar.
“That’s what I’ll be doing this year,” Clemente said.
Clemente started playing guitar in 1993 while in high school and went on his first national tour five years later, as bassist of the Long Island rock band Scraggly Jane.
“I had to prove to my parents that I’d stick with it,” Clemente said about getting his first guitar in 1992. “The insanity started in 1998,” he said, referring to touring.
Clemente has been performing O’Reilly’s for more than three years. “I love it here. Everyone is really great,” Clemente said.
Jeff Altman, 32, a bartender at O’Reilly’s, said that Clemente brings customers in on normally quiet nights. “He’s very fun, keeps the crowd going and gets people involved,” Altman said.
Act after act finishes and the crowd thins to a handful of regulars and die hards in the wee hours of the morning. Clemente’s drive to keep them involved doesn’t fade. If no one tries to “stump” him, he’ll play any song that anyone yells out and he’ll impersonate just about any character the audience requests, the crowd favorite is Kermit the Frog. He stands behind a microphone stand at the front of the stage playing the chorus of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” as President George W. Bush, as the crowd laughs wildly.
Besides his Tuesday night gig as The Godfather and performing at other local venues, Clemente has also created his own Internet mock game show, been a member of various theater pit orchestras and been an extra on television and in movies. He tells all about his adventures on his website, www.xilpadrino.com.
Sir Michael Clements, another of Clemente’s personalities, hosts “The Genius Game Show.” The game show boasts it is “the show that finds out who is the genius and who is just plain smart,” Clemente said in the first episode of the show.
As the night ends early Wednesday morning, and the bartenders begin to clean up, Clemente normally chats about what will come next for him. Discussing what other local acts are doing and what he wants to do, but for now he knows he will have a regular gig, be it at O’Reilly’s or on tour with Blackmore’s Night.