“Oh, yeah? What for?” The magic question is, “What for?” But art is not for anything. Art is the ultimate goal. It saves our souls and makes us live happily. It helps us express ourselves and be happy without the help of alcohol or drugs. So in response to such a pragmatic question, we need to be bold. “Well, just for the fun of it. Sorry for having fun without you.”
I’m lead guitarist and vocalist in a rock/blues coverband. Let’s say right away that my level is such as to allow me a minimum decency in front of an audience certainly never too large. My typical characteristic is to be able to perform with acoustic guitar and voice a rock repertoire not too varied but rather consistent, without reading anything, everything from memory. As a lead guitarist, I can afford to play covers of a certain level of commitment without embarrassing myself too much. In short, it seems that with my band I can put on an enjoyable show and that’s the only thing that counts as a hobby. The guitar is definitely the thing that represents me the most, what I really am.
Therefore, please, let me use the title of a recent album by the guitar legend Buddy Guy. I can’t resist, it is just perfect! Usually, when people see a family man playing guitar in a band many raise an eyebrow. It seems a teenager thing, not suitable to adults. Actually, this happens because we all have been taught to suffocate our natural instinct in doing art, something we are all born with. If our job is not art itself, we have learned to think that art is not for us. When someone tries to keep this instinct alive, it generates adverse reactions. Maybe it is normal. But it is never too late. As the Korean writer Young-ha Kim says, we should start doing art now. It’s urgent. We should rediscover our inner child and let he or she express freely. It is a matter of health, of a correct mental development. That is exactly why I’m doing it. I was born to play guitar!
And I was actually born with Music! (I’m not bragging, I’m just making fun of myself). I was born in 1964, the Rolling Stones had just published their first album, the Beatles their second and third, and Bob Dylan sang about times that were a-changing; that album was out just two days …before me. My earliest memory is about music: one of my mum’s brothers was making me swap records on a small white turntable while adults were dancing. They tell me it was the carnival of ’66 in Rome, therefore I should have been 1 and a half years old…
I’ve never been particularly sensible to arts at first. I tried to remedy this going sometimes to see expositions and to visit museums. But with Music this has never been a problem. It is the only art form that really grabs me from within, on very sensitive receptors. We can talk about anything, whatever the subject I won’t be prejudicial, I will be open to discussions and I will try to be fairly moderate. Not with Music. I’m wearing blinkers here. I just can’t bear listening to Music I don’t like. Music I do not like: it does not mean it is not good Music! I have no problems in recognizing artistic and musical value, but if I don’t like the product for any reason, there’s nothing I can do, I just can’t stand listening to it and I clearly state it. Really, this is the only subject where I am like this. When forced to listen to Music I don’t like, I become nervous, even irritable. I can’t stand it. I think this is due to the fact that Music can reach deep inside myself, affecting my mental state, channeling the artist’s feelings directly. For me this is not easily attainable with other forms of art. At least until some time ago.
Since when I was a kid (in my pre-school years) I used to sing songs I memorized from the radio, also mimicking the instrumental sections with my voice. Long after that, when I was about 11, I discovered the guitar, thanks to my sister, two years younger than me. I never studied, I’m doing that more today then earlier. Everything I achieved was through the advice of older guys who played guitar and thanks to some music I studied at school. I’ve never learned how to read and write music in real time, but I know how it works. I have no method, what I can do, good or bad it be, is more instinct than reason. I can’t actually explain how I do it and why. This is different from any other activities I do.
Few years after discovering the guitar I discovered the stereophonic sound and High Fidelity. I found out how much it was important to me to listen to Music in the best possible way. Music. That’s always been the point. Other form of arts are stranger to me. I don’t create music, I can’t read a score, but I love playing it. It is maybe the best thing I did in recent years: resume playing and in a more serious way. It makes me feel better, it makes me feel myself. And that should suffice, for me or anyone else…
What do I listen to? I really love 60-70s Classic Rock music, the one the Rolling Stones created out of the Blues, of which the Led Zeppelin are the highest expression. I also dig the Pink Floyd a lot, though they should be considered more a psychedelic rock-pop band. David Gilmour is one of the guitar players I appreciate most and there’s a lot of Blues in what he does; of course I love Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, the authors of the British Blues revival. I also like Eric Clapton as a man, though. Together with Gilmour, they are to me the ideal guitar players, normal people that play guitar at the highest levels, without behaving like typical rock stars, not even needing to be shredders to impress people. I also appreciate some more recent bands that in my view adhere to the same musical canons of the 70s. Among them I prefer the Pearl Jam, and I wouldn’t call them grunge but a very good modern interpretation of the 70s rock music. They music has not been the soundtrack of a revolution, but this is another story…
I appreciate Jazz music too but I am no expert and I don’t really like jazz guitar. It does not convey the same feelings and emotionsof Blues-Rock guitar. Lately, since I resumed playing in a band, I’ve been strongly driven, and rather obviously, towards the Blues, where it all comes from. My favorite active guitar player of my generation is Warren Haynes and his wonderful band, the Gov’t Mule. Then I also discovered some young American bluesmen like Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer, to which I am grateful for continuing to play guitar like it was done in the old days.
Probably, it all started from Robert Johnson. T-Bone Walker laid the foundations of Blues lead guitar and the 3 Kings of Blues, BB King, Alfred King and Freddie King, were inspired by him to make it great. Through Chuck Berry and Buddy Guy at first, the Kings’ respective British interpreters Peter Green (BB), Mick Taylor (Alfred) and Eric Clapton (Freddie) revived that way of playing in the 60, while the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Led Zeppelin created Rock out of it. Jeff Beck and Rory Gallagher experimented even more.
When Duane Allman founded the Allman Brothers band, the Blues made its rightful way back form UK to US, especially in the south with the Lynyrd Skynyrd. Inspired by all those great guitar players, the gigantic Stevie Ray Vaughan kept the Blues alive in the 80’s along with a great Gary Moore, while Bruce Springsteen and the U2 were maybe the only ones to play real Rock.
The Grunge of the 90’s, with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains went on playing a kind of Classic Rock. Warren Haynes and the Gov’t Mule went on playing the Blues with a right to do so. And they are continuing in the 2000s, with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, alone or with the Black Country Communion, Eric Gales, Kenny Wayne Shepard, Jack Black and Philip Sayce, with some work from John Mayer who has also a strong Pop side.
It is a strange feeling, though, when I think that all this great Music would not exist if there had not been slavery in the United States: it all comes from the sad songs the African workers sang while working in the cotton fields in America. Blues, Jazz, Rock, all have their roots in Africa, just like the whole human genre.