Most of the Artist Spotlights you read here on the ESP site are about famous musicians who are known worldwide, but today, the spotlight shines on a less well known, but equally deserving guitarist.
There are thousands and thousands of people who grew up playing guitar and continued playing it their whole lives, despite never have achieved fame or fortune. Truth be told, thatʼs the case with most people. We play music because designing art with sound satisfies the creative need thatʼs within us as musicians. But in the case of Gerard DiSalvo of Long Island, New York, playing guitar is more than just a hobby. According to him, itʼs whatʼs helped keep him alive and hopeful over the past five years.
Gerard has stage four renal cell carcinoma. In laymanʼs terms, thatʼs advanced cancer of the kidney. His diagnosis and treatment (including a removal of the affected kidney) began in 2005, but in 2008, the news got worse; his cancer had metastasized and spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. As you can imagine, the day that Gerard went to Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and got his diagnosis was terribly traumatic.
“I was with my wife Dana, who is my soulmate and caretaker,” he says. “I left Sloan- Kettering and just started walking. It was a terrible day, cold and rainy, and I was feeling the effects of the chemo. I walked all the way down to music row and went into Sam Ash. Thatʼs where I met Steve Pisani, who was a salesman there at the time, and is now the president of GTR Store. I ended up with my first ESP.”
The Early Years
Long before Gerardʼs life was turned upside down by cancer, he describes himself as a regular working guy. He was born and raised in a lower-middle class part of Brooklyn, but after marrying Dana and starting a family, the DiSalvos moved to the suburbs of Long Island. Since he was 11 years old, Gerard has been a guitar player.
“I just fell in love with the guitar, and I played whatever I could get my hands on, or build myself,” he recalls. “I started playing in 1972, and my influences at the time were Robin Trower, Michael Schenker, and Tony Iommi.”
Like many ESP players, young Gerard hooked up with other local musicians and started a band that performed at local teen dances and school events. A little later, he started another band called Soon They Will Come along with his brother Michael, a great drummer. Unfortunately, before they could progress with recording and touring, Michael passed away.
Gerard continued to play guitar for fun and self fulfillment. However, in 2005, everything changed. “I got hit with the axe,” he says. “They were hoping it was something small like kidney stones, but then they diagnosed the tumor.” Despite the resulting kidney removal and other treatment, his condition did not improve to the degree he and his doctors would have liked. A few years later, after getting the bad news at Sloan-Kettering in 2008, our story continues.
“I was already a huge fan of ESP because Dokken was my favorite band, and I love George Lynchʼs playing,” says Gerard today. “So there I was at Sam Ash, and Steve put an ESP George Lynch Skulls & Snakes model in my hands. I fell in love immediately, but I told Steve that there was no possible way I could afford a guitar like this, especially under my circumstances. It was completely out of reach.”
Telling Steve his story, Gerard got a surprise. “Steve explained about the LTD models that were more affordable, and he also said he personally knew the big boss man at ESP, and that maybe they could do something for me,” he says. “I thought he was probably just jerking me around at the time, but that night, my phone rings and itʼs the boss from ESP. Next thing I knew, he asked what guitar I was interested in. I had also tried out the LTD Michael Wilton Demon model, and told him how great it was. He then took down my address.”
The following week, Gerard returned from his chemotherapy treatment, and a large rectangular box was at his home. “They sent me an LTD Michael Wilton, no charge. I couldnʼt believe it. It was everything to me,” he says, becoming emotional at the memory. “Thatʼs when I realized ESP wasnʼt just selling guitars. They care about the people.”
Becoming Part of the ESP Family
Gerardʼs association with ESP could have ended there, but it didnʼt. Whenever ESP artists were in New York doing concerts and clinics, Gerard would be there as well. “ESP opened the velvet ropes for me,” he says. “The first point was meeting George Lynch, which Iʼd never have done without ESPʼs help. Since then, Iʼve been able to hang out and talk with other ESP artists like Gus G. and Andy James on several occasions.”
His ESP collection has also expanded, after he purchased an LTD GUS-600EC and, in 2012, an LTD Kirk Hammett KH-DC. “Theyʼre such great guitars. I love them all,” he says. Gerard is also a big contributor toward ESPʼs social media presence, having put over 300 videos of himself playing on his several LTD models on our Facebook page.
Perhaps best of all for Gerard is his addition to the ESP artist roster, a position weʼre honored to offer him. “Iʼm just a regular guy, and it meant so much to see my name there next to the great ESP players,” he says.
Gerard continues, “Iʼm on a 5-year plan. When you have stage four cancer, goals are so important. You guys at ESP have been so great at dangling those goals in front of me, whether theyʼre new guitars, or being on the artist roster, or even this interview. The cancer has taken away my ability to walk for the last two years. I was in a wheelchair to see Michael Wilton and Queensrÿche, but when ESP opens a door for me, no matter how sick I am, Iʼm going.”
He may be a self-described regular guy, but thereʼs nothing regular about how this courageous 52-year-old man has found solace and inspiration to keep going, via his music. We are as proud to have him on our artist roster as any of the many more famous names on there.
“This is what I tell everybody,” he says.“Cancer may kill me, but in no fucking way will it ever beat me. I will fight it like it owes me money. It may seem like my whole life is doctors, doctors, doctors. But really, my ESP guitars are my life.”