(Transcription Part I)
1. Hi Franco it’s a pleasure to have you as our guest and have this chat with you; let’s start talking about your career as a musician: is your passion for music born in your family? Did you have the first contact with music influenced by someone in particular?
Thanks to you for this invitation, I always gladly return to an area where there are dear friends and guitar enthusiasts.
There were no musicians in my family, except an uncle who was a drummer who worked on cruise ships coming and going from the United States. I must say, my father was very sensitive. He certainly gave me his strong feelings about music. Later he became my first fan. As a child, my parents realized my special vocation, so at the age of eleven, I started to take guitar pick-picking lessons: the first notes on the pentagram, the first chords, the first methods and books of solfeggio…
2. As a listener, what musical genres have you been most passionate about and contributed to your education?
When I joined a band we played Beatles, Rolling Stones, Creedence and songs from Italian bands, in short, music from the early seventies. I got my first lightning flash with the guitar sound of Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin because I felt the power and freedom of expression that I had never sensed before. Then in their albums, some songs brought me closer to the acoustic guitar. When I moved to Bologna the choices were much wider. I was very intrigued by Takoma, a small label of a slightly crazy guitarist called John Fahey. When I think about it, one aspect that took me more than others was the freedom to express myself and to get out of certain schemes. In the blues, of course, I found a lot of the elements that I was looking for. Later on, other elements contributed to my training, I’m talking about group experiences, interchanges with good musicians and personal study behind it all.
3. Which albums have been, and still are, fundamental and essential in your collection?
Very many, but for brevity, I’ll just mention some names, also because the album titles would make up a list that’s too long. Rock and progressive rock was an important genre for a whole series of guitarists who played in bands like Deep Purple, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis. Then there was the jazz/fusion genre then Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Oregon. On the more acoustic/traditional side Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Leo Kottke. From the new acoustic music Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Metamora, Montreaux Band, Philip Aaberg, George Winston. The Irish folk revival Donal Lunny, Dave Spillane, Bothy Band, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, David Graham. And finally, I’ve always appreciated the different alchemies resulting from mergers of styles and genres, crossings of different cultures evolving something new.
4. Let’s talk about your guitar line-up: how did you start studying with the guitar?
My training, apart from the first 3 years of study, was mostly autodidactic. I wish I could meet some good teachers on my route and I would have saved time. I started doing a repertoire ” bringing down” by ear what I liked and training my ear to recognize chords, intervals, scales and chord progressions. The pieces I learned were my training and I considered a study completed only when the performance ran smoothly. When you have the opportunity and the need to play live, all must perform well and be presentable. I feel today many kids have few opportunities to play around, maybe they perform in front of their teacher or record a video for YouTube. I do hope they may get more opportunities in the future because the live performance makes you confident and committed.
5. In your musical career a central place is covered by the blues: how did you get close to this music genre?
I have always liked the blues. I could feel its influence everywhere. In Bologna, I started playing in almost every pub in the town centre and outdoor. We played classics like Hesitation Blues, Cocaine and many other traditional and folk revival blues. Every bluesman I listened to from records or tapes had his style. I published my first book “Method for Blues Guitar” bearing in mind the idioms and languages of this genre. In this sense, the ear training experience I got before turned out to be very useful because it allowed me to reach even more challenging tracks. What I tried to do in that book is to personalize several contents. So I composed licks and blues with phrases that I thought were beautiful and valuable, conceived also with a certain didactic purpose. Even if at that time Bèrben was printing books with only the pentagram without tablatures, the sales went really strong. Today the book is reprinted in Germany with the title “My Acoustic Blues Guitar”.
6. In addition to the blues, another key part of your production has focused on traditional Irish music and Italian folk music. Tell us more about your approach towards this repertoire and what motivated you to engage with it.
I remember the concerts of Pentangle, Alan Stivell, then John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Duck Baker, guitarists who began to develop a repertoire that until then had been confined to American music. I became aware that from O’Carolan’s ancient arias to traditional dances there was a lot of interesting material that could be adapted for solo guitar.
Fascinated by this genre, I published “The South Wind” for German label AMRecords, now reissued in Italy as Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar. It’s the book that sold more than others. Then I arranged and wrote other Celtic songs in the album “Road to Lisdoonvarna” but only releasing singles that are available in my online store. We sell a lot of them mostly to countries like the USA, Canada and UK. I’m still very attracted by Celtic music because I feel it has a very strong melodic, almost magnetic, power. Originally this was born as music almost without harmony, except for a few drone notes, they were all melodies played in unison, the accompaniments we hear today arrived much later. However, after this experience, I realized how to arrange Italian folk songs because, between slow arias, jigs and tarantellas, the acoustic is the most suitable type of guitar to interpret the traditional repertoire. I must say that Italian Fingerstyle Guitar, both as a book and as a Cd, brought me a lot of satisfaction, in particular when I hear this kind of Italian music played by guitarists from different countries of the world.