Paul Prestopino passes

Paul Prestopino, a renowned multi-instrument sideman and recording engineer, with long experience in bluegrass, old-time, folk, and contra dance musics, passed away peacefully at his home in Roosevelt, NJ, on July 16, 2023. He was 84.

One of two sons of acclaimed American artist Gregorio Prestopino and his wife Elizabeth (Dauber) Prestopino, Paul became a mainstay of the vibrant 1960s folk revival scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village. He played mandolin in the pathbreaking “citybilly” bluegrass band, The Greenbriar Boys (between the tenures of Eric Weissberg and Ralph Rinzler). He soon toured and recorded as a backup musician with the nationally-successful folk act, The Mitchell Trio, and later toured extensively with the now-legendary group Peter, Paul & Mary. 

His studio work included sessions with Pete Seeger, John Denver, Tom Paxton, Graham Parker, Christine Lavin, and Judy Collins.

Paul also brought the sounds of bluegrass banjo, mandolin, and dobro to hit records by such rock stars as Aerosmith, Rick Derringer, and Alice Cooper. 

How? As a veteran technician with The Record Plant studios (notably their remote mobile operation), he helped countless musicians make their best-possible recordings. And he typically had his acoustic instruments at hand. So, when pop musicians or their producers mused about giving a track more of a folk, bluegrass, or old-time sound, Paul was ready to go.

“Presto” (as he was known to his many friends) was musically active to nearly the end of his days, performing and/or recording with such popular New Jersey-based groups as the Roosevelt String Band, Hold The Mustard, the Princeton Country Dancers Pickup Band, and the Magnolia Street String Band. He was also a fixture at annual jam session reunions in New York City’s Washington Square Park. He received a New Jersey Folk Festival Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.

Paul Prestopino was also famed for his friendliness, hipster humor, and distinctive sartorial style: brightly colored shirts under bib overalls and multi-hued, mismatched socks. In his fashion sense as well as his music, he was one of a kind. He will be greatly missed and fondly remembered. Paul is survived by his wife Sara, daughter Peri, and granddaughter Roisin.

R.I.P., Paul Prestopino.

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About the Author

Richard D. Smith

Richard D. Smith is a journalist/researcher/author (as well as bluegrass musician and theater person) based in the Princeton, NJ area. He is the author of six books of history and biography, including Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass. His writing has appeared in national publications ranging from The New York Times to Bluegrass Today.