Hello Franco. It’s a pleasure to have you here and have a chat with you; let’s start by your career: has your passion for music began in the family? Someone, in particular, influenced your initial steps in music? Thank you for this invitation. I always gladly return to an area where there are dear friends and guitar lovers.
I had no musicians in the family, except for a drummer uncle who had worked in cruise ships coming and going to and from the States. I must say that my father was very sensitive to music and had a strong emotional transport that transmitted to me. Later he became my first fan. When I was a child, my parents noticed my particular vocation, so at eleven years old I I started to take guitar lessons by plectrum: the first notes on the stave, the first chords, the first methods and books of solfeggio.
Which musical genres did you like as a listener and which ones contributed to your training most? In the beginning, when I first joined a band, we were playing Beatles, Rolling Stones, Creedence and songs by other Italian groups, let’s say early seventies repertoire. The first shock came with Jimmy Page guitar sound and Led Zeppelin, as I felt a force and expressive freedom never felt before. Then in their albums, some songs began to approach the acoustic guitar. When I moved to Bologna, the choices were much more extensive. I was very intrigued by Takoma, a small label founded by a slightly crazy guitarist called John Fahey. An aspect that attracted me more than others was the freedom of expression being out of pre-established schemes. Many of the things I was looking for I found, of course, in the blues. Then later, other elements contributed to my formation, I speak of the experiences with groups, music exchanges with excellent musicians and around everything all this, the self-study.
Which albums were, and still are, fundamental and unmissable in your collection? Many. But for brevity, I mention just the names but album titles as there would be too long of a list. Rock and progressive rock was an important genre for a whole series of guitarists who played in groups like Deep Purple, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis. Then there was the jazz fusion genre like Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Oregon. From acoustic-traditional side Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, Leo Kottke. From the new acoustic music Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, Metamora, Montreaux Band, Philip Aaberg, George Winston. From the Irish folk revival Donal Lunny, Dave Spillane, Bothy Band, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, David Graham. Finally, I have always appreciated the different alchemies resulting from fusions of styles and genres, crosses of different cultures that develop something new.
Let’s talk about your training: how did you start your course of study with the guitar? Apart from the first three years of research, my training was mainly autodidact. I wish I could meet good teachers on my way. I would have indeed saved time. I began to build a repertoire “drawing out” by ear what I liked more and improving ear-training by recognizing chords, intervals, scales, and chord progressions. The pieces I learned were my exercises, and I considered a study concluded just when the execution went smooth. When you have the opportunity and the need to play live everything must work well and be presentable. Today it seems to me that many guys have few opportunities to perform. Maybe they play in front of their teachers, or they record a video to post on youtube. I hope there will have more opportunities in the future because live performances make you more secure and self- motivated.
In your musical journey indeed the blues covers a central position: how did you approach this genre? I have always been fond of blues. I was feeling its influence everywhere. In Bologna, I started playing around a lot of pubs in the city and suburbs. There we played classics like Hesitation Blues, Cocaine and many other traditional blues and folk revival. Every bluesman I was listening to, from records or tapes, had his style. I published my first “Acoustic Blues Guitar” book, keep in mind the idioms and languages of this genre. In this sense, the ear training experience I had previously had proved to be very useful because it allowed me to get closer to even more challenging pieces. What I tried to do in that book, is to personalize the different contents. Then I composed licks and blues phrases that I thought were beautiful and fundamental, even though I had to keep a certain didactic perspective. At that time Bèrben Edition printed books just with the pentagram, without tablatures, and in spite of this, the sales went strong. Today the volume is reprinted in Germany under the title “My Acoustic Blues Guitar.”
Apart from blues, another essential part of your production has focused on Irish traditional and Italian popular music. Tell us about your approach with regard to these genres and what did motivate you in entering these genres. I remember the concerts of the Pentangle, Alan Stivel, then John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Duck Baker, guitarists who began to expand a repertoire that until then had been confined to American music. I realized that starting from O’Carolan’s ancient arias to traditional dances, there was a lot of exciting material suitable to be interpreted and arranged for solo guitar. Kidnapped by this genre, I published “The South Wind” for the German AMRecords, now reissued in Italy as Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar. It’s absolutely the book which has sold more than others. Then I arranged and wrote other Celtic songs for the album “Road to Lisdoonvarna” but I published only single songs that are available from my online shop. We sell many, especially in countries like the United States, Canada, and the UK. I am still very attracted to Celtic music because I find it has an extreme, almost magnetic melodic power. Originally this was music almost without harmony, except for a few background notes, were all melodies played in unison, the accompaniments that we hear today came much later. However, after this experience, I also understood how to arrange pieces of Italian folk, because the acoustic is the most suitable type of guitar to interpret the traditional repertoire between slow tunes, gighe, and tarantelle. I have to say that Italian Fingerstyle Guitar, both as a book and as a Cd, gave me a lot of satisfaction, mainly when you listen to guitarists from all over the world playing Italian folk music.
The original composition is your distinctive mark. How do you approach a new compositional idea? Can you talk about your composing process: do you start from a melodic idea or other elements? Do you usually write a song ‘right away’ or instead you need more time to process it in the final version? It’s a question that comes in the right order because we talked about tradition and arrangement, experiences that should always come before dealing with a subject like that of the composition. I say this because I find many young people who start to compose original pieces, that do not have the necessary experience. The music I compose, also when dealing with different genres, remains entirely declarative, therefore melodic. In a song, you can have good melodic lines or exciting ideas, but then you must find a way to put them together according to a standard musically homogeneous and coherent. The rhythm within which the melody is inlaid is also fundamental, a little phrase can sometimes become interesting by changing the position of the notes. Building harmony around a melodic idea is a very well established practice, but there is none precise rule. Sometimes the melody line can be suggested by a chord progression or even by a particular rhythm. I usually spend a lot more time processing the final version because listening better to what you are playing you can realize what you may change, by adding or more often, remove.
You have played with great artists all over the world and in important festivals; do you remember someone with a special pleasure? Do you have any curious anecdotes that have happened to you on your career? I remember a live blues played with John Renbourn. I was so excited about that. Thank goodness it was only three chords! Then at a festival in Liechtenstein where the Oregon were playing. Ralph Towner had not arrived for the usual delays from Fiumicino’s airport; his suitcase was stolen. So Paul McCandless asked me to play some songs with them: wow! It’s been an unforgettable experience. Then I shared the stage and performed with many guitarists from Tim Sparks to Alex De Grassi, from Duck Baker to Woody Mann. Most of the time we were touring together, telling us jokes, but these after time are forgotten, whereas the experience sharing music on stage remains.
The world of modern music is evolving more and more with methods of communication and ways of “using” music, often favoring quick and immediate listening. Do you think acoustic music still plays a central role in the contemporary scene? If so, what’s its place, according to you? The music we love is the soundtrack of our life. It’s clear that today everything is so fast and immediate that even the consumption of music is affected. This causes a very rough use of music that in many cases follows just rules of speed and marketing. What we can do, as individuals, is to understand what we listen to, to know what we like without letting ourselves be misled by casual listening. Surely as a listener, you can give music a central role or a commentary sound. The problem is always quality. Bad proposals reach us in an intrusive way that sometimes it is better to know how to defend yourself. Best things are those you choose and find on your own rather than those passively received. The problem today is also that niche musical genres end up to become more and more isolated. It is a fact that today many festivals of acoustic music, blues and jazz have closed up. Municipalities both in Italy and in Europe cut funding for organizers and politicians think these musical genres do not attract enough public. In this way, they instead prefer to invest in mass products, where election return may be more extensive.
The acoustic guitar has developed, especially during the last years, many striking techniques that push guitarists to play more and more music to “see” than listen to. Do you think that the tradition of the acoustic guitar has still its expressive power today? Looking at a musician more than listening to him certainly distracts from the real musical contents. But I think you can definitively realize when specific videos show technique and animation. From Michael Hedges onwards, the school of tapping and percussion on acoustic guitar has done a long way. In order not to lose the focus I advise to always keep in mind the quality of music. Surely even the beautiful images with appropriate sound comments can be a very expressive and powerful binomial.
What kind of advice would you feel to give to a beginner acoustic guitarist? What should he better focus? I’d suggest growing in the acoustic guitar starting from bases and other references linked to traditional genres because it is a tool that draws its origin from the blues, then jazz, Celtic music, ethnic. By my experience I say that it is good to study some years of classical guitar to acquire a right touch and a clean sound, then surely have along the way experiences with other musicians. It is important to start playing something original after having done a lot of repertoires based on different genres and styles.
Which project are you working on now? Tell us a little about the upcoming projects you are planning.I’m recording new songs for a new album. I had some technical delays like an old pre-amplifier to be repaired, then a microphone not working well, then you stop because the nails are not strong enough. However, delays have sometimes also a positive side because you have more time for details.
Recently I like arranging jazz standards for guitar only; I already have about twenty and more arrangements done. Maybe I’ll publish something about it. The problem is that in jazz after the theme there is the improvisation that in fingerstyle is a gamble, but I already have some ideas that are partly those developed for Miles of Blues. Then there is Raffaella that between a song and the other has created a new site very beautiful www.acousticguitarworkshops.com if you happen to go and see, there are all the dates of the next seminars in our residence in Osimo and those of the annual workshop in Malosco where the participants also perform in concert. We have reached the 12th year now, and I must say that I have lived beautiful experiences in contact with many fans and guitarists. In particular, there is a piece, based on my book Basic Fingerstyle Guitar, which we play together with the guitars in the orchestra and always transmits a particular enthusiasm to everybody. The title came spontaneously: “The Best Stories with My Guitar” www.francomorone.com