The Stratocaster, Hendrix and SRV

I’ve been playing guitar since I was 11 years old and always dreamed of having a Stratocaster. It was the one used by the Italian guitar player Dodi Battaglia and I wanted one too. I couldn’t afford it, so my parents bought me a reproduction, which was the best gift I ever received. Some time later I was able to buy a PRS Strat at cost price and then I almost stopped playing. I picked it up again much later and decided to make the dream come true. I sold the PRS and bought a Fender Stratocaster. Even though it’s a Made in Mexico, I think I achieved my goal. It is a vintage reproduction of 56, one of the first models created by Leo Fender, who was named the same as my son and had his birthday on the same day as me.
Playing the electric guitar it is inevitable to get sooner or later to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, especially if you love the Stratocaster; or better, if you love those guitarists you end up dreaming of a Stratocaster.
For me the dream was triggered with an Italian guitarist, then the usual David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler pushed me back to Jimi Hendrix and his guitar heir SRV.

I had just started playing again in a band when my wife, while channel surfing, stopped on a live concert by a young American who inspired her sympathy: John Mayer was performing at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads event with his Gravity, brandishing a Stratocaster. Look at that, I said to myself, there are still young people who play the guitar in a certain way. Young people…. Well, Mayer is only a dozen years younger than me… and “a bit” more technical. But I was intrigued, and Gravity eventually made its way permanently into my band’s set list. I bought the Continuum album more for my wife than for myself, but listening to it made me remember my old love for Hendrix and SRV. Like so many guitarists, John Mayer had gone from Vaughan and Hendrix to rediscover the greats that inspired them. He then went on to do much more because he played with them and became one of the best contemporary guitarists. But the fact that my wife liked him (no bad jokes about the stereotype of the handsome guitarist who attracts young girls, my wife is not one) made me curious about his character: in my wife’s eyes Mayer is a simple guy, the classic well-meaning American, easy-going and carefree as my wife sees Americans. Yet Mayer suffers from panic attacks and has had several problems with the media because of unfortunate sexual jokes he made during a famous interview.
But for some reason I identify with him (besides the big handsome face and past flirtations with famous women and New York nightlife ;-)). In short, there’s something about the young man from Connecticut that makes me sympathetic too.

John Mayer performing Gravity at Crossroads in 2007

Maybe we were both obsessed with the guitar as shy kids, only he listened to SRV and I listened to an Italian band. Okay, Dodi Battaglia has been a good school….
He would stay locked in his room playing guitar and his worried parents thought he had a problem… I would have liked to have the same “problem” myself: golden hands…
He dreamed of a Stratocaster…. He would take all the details from the Fender catalog and transcribe the details of the Stratocaster he wanted!
I would drool over the store window looking at an impossibly priced Stratocaster.
He has a ton of them of course and at Fender he was able to realize his dream by helping to build his signature Stratocaster.
I realized that dream when I sold my PRS and was able to buy a used Mexican Stratocaster. He, on the other hand, went on to design with Paul Reed Smith himself a custom PRS Strat….
We both love both Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam….

Jimi Hendrix, 1942-1970

For the rest, different worlds… incomparable guitar technique and experience between me and Mayer, of course! Then let me say that a guitarist of that level would have done much less or very little in Italy. There are many good guitarists here, but if you’re not in the USA or the UK, you can’t do much more (let’s see how Maneskin will do, as they seem to overturn this idea). We joke that if Steve Jobs had been in Italy the public health department would have closed the lab – so long Apple! Well, it’ still like that, and if Maneskin will prove me wrong I’ll be happy but I’ll say that there could have been many more.

Leo Fender, born on 10 August 1909 and myself, 10 August 1964, with a 50s Stratocaster in our hands (mine is a recent made in Mexico reissue)

I’m studying some John Mayer riffs that push me to delve even deeper into Hendrix and SRV. Like John Mayer said, for me these are an invitation to go backwards through the history of the electric guitar on a journey into the blues of the past. It’s only natural that it happens that way for everyone at whatever level you are: me being able to perform other people’s music in front of a small audience with a minimum of decency, and people like John Mayer exalting stadiums with his music.
In the end you buy an artist’s records because if his/her music touches you, there must be something in common! I too love the Stratocaster and who made it famous; already this would be enough to justify my interest in the American artist. But I like to add to it that somewhat autistic passion for the guitar, a relationship with both PRS and Fender, a nightlife in New York but in my case less gossipy: I started there the story with my wife while John Mayer was creating his Stratocaster in the Fender Custom Shop. A few years later we married in New York and again later we returned with our baby Leo(nardo), coincidentally almost with the same name as Leo(nida) Fender, born on 10 August like me (but of my grandparents’ generation).

Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1954-1990

In 2016 I lost my job and dove back into guitar. It was a bad year except for this one. In September, John Mayer performed with Alicia Keys in Times Square, creating the typical magical atmosphere that only those who love New York can truly understand. Mayer had won the Grammy with Gravity but had declared that it would have been fairer if Keys had won it; so he divided the statuette in two giving one half to his friend. You can clearly see it in the video: two artists who esteem each other and smile radiantly because they do what they love most, they express what they are; thanks to us, of course, but also thanks to those possibilities that in America still seem to be greater than in other places. And what can better represent this availability of opportunities for those who dare if not New York, where anything can happen, where something special happens every night as it has been for me, for us…

John Mayer and Alicia Keys perform at Times Square, New York, 10 September 2016