The Stratocaster, Hendrix and SRV

I’ve been playing guitar since I was 11 years old and I’ve always dreamed of having a Stratocaster. It was the guitar used by my favorite guitar player at the time and I wanted one too. I couldn’t afford it, so eventually my parents bought me a reproduction, which was the best gift I ever received. Some time later I had the chance to buy a PRS Strat at cost price but then I almost stopped playing. I resumed 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 model, I think I achieved my goal. It is a vintage reproduction of 1956, one of the first models created by Leo Fender, who had the same name as my son and the same birthday as me.
Playing the electric guitar, it is inevitable to get drawn sooner or later to the likes of 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 through the usual David Gilmour and Mark Knopfler I was pushed back in time towards 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 song, 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 actually played with his heoes 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 like that) made me curious about the guy: 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 reportedly 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, except he listened to SRV and I listened to an Italian band – Okay, their guitar player was a genious, though….
Young JM would stay locked in his room playing guitar and his worried parents thought he had a psychological issues… I would have liked to have the same “issue” myself: golden hands… More or less all us guitarists have started this way, spending hours experimenting, trying to understand how the hell our heroes could do it. More or less we all maybe started because we were shy and insecure. In the instrument of the stars we were looking for a chance of revenge, a chance to do something that few can do and to express in some way what we could not express otherwise.
JM dreamed of a Stratocaster, too…. He would take all the details from the Fender catalog and write down the ones of the Stratocaster of his dreams!
At the same time, I would drool over the store window looking at an impossibly priced Stratocaster.
JM 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 so I 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 Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam….

Jimi Hendrix, 1942-1970

For the rest, we’re tragivally different worlds… incomparable guitar technique and experience in me and Mayer, of course! But 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 (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 his lab – so long Apple! Well, it’s 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, born 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’s how it is for everyone, at whatever level you are: if you’re loke me, just able to perform other people’s music in front of a small audience with a minimum of decency, or people like John Mayer playing stadiums with his own music.
In the end, if you buy an artist’s records it’s because his/her music touches you: there must be something in common!

Like JM, I love the Stratocaster, too – and who made it famous; already this would be enough to justify my interest in the American artist. But I should also add 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 (17 ago as I’m writing) 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

Proof that a connection, at least in my head, does exist came recently, after I met an English singer from a cover band similar to mine. He also had moved for love reasons to the same new town as me, though several years earlier. We both have a wife from around here and also share a passion for music. And the music scene here is quite lively. Apart from cover bands, there are also local groups that produce and publish their own music, and the famous manufacturer of very high value guitar amps Mezzabarba is just a stone’s throw away. After some time, my new English friend tells me he has an idea: a John Mayer cover band…

He’s a big fan and has had the thing buzzing around in his head for a while. But he couldn’t find guitarists who knew JM’s music. When I told him I certainly knew JM, the classic light bulb went on in his head and after a while he suggested the idea. At first, he was a little dubious asking ,e because I usually sing and play guitar. But I wouldn’t have minded sharing the duties with him, concentrating on the guitar alone, leaving the main vocals to the mother tongue guy. Within a short period of time he brought in a drummer with whom he was already working on a project called The Grand Experiment. They and other musicians contributed, in pure pandemic style, each from their own homes. They recently published the first album (I will also appear on the next one). We’ll probably be joined by the bassist from the guy’s cover band and start rehearsing John Mayer tunes as well as his Jimi Hendrix covers and maybe something by SRV.

It’s a great challenge for me but it’s also an opportunity to play with like-minded people, who in their own small way have also managed to release their own music. Maybe in time it will happen to me, too. Meanwhile, we are on a mission to make the Hendrix and SRV heritage known in our area. And who knows, maybe one day John Mayer will even thank us….

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

Early in 2016 I lost my job and dove back into guitar. It was a bad year except for the guitar part. In December I would have played my first paid gig with my cover band, including Gravity. A few months before, John Mayer had 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 place can best represent this plenty of opportunities for those who dare if not New York, where anything can happen, where something special happens every night, as it has also been even for me, for us…