Guitarist and painter Rick Vito talks about Albert Collins, Mick Fleetwood, Keith Richards, Jesus, and his art

"Pure feeling, energy, expression, fun, taste, tone, life. That's all real, and that's what the Blues translates to people everywhere."

Rick Vito: Rock n' Roll Artist with Soul

The VizzTone Label Group is tremendously proud to present a new album by one of the most widely acclaimed musicians of our time, Rick Vito. SOULSHAKER will hit the streets April 5th, 2019. Multiple Grammy nominee Vito is a modern master at the height of his powers. SOULSHAKER highlights his incisive songwriting, soulful singing, and the slide guitar playing that Bonnie Raitt describes as “sharp as a Cadillac tail fin.” He is a supremely talented and celebrated guitarist/singer/songwriter and a certified master of the slide guitar.

Few musicians in recent decades can lay claim to the caliber of credits held by Vito. With a rockin’ edge, deeply rooted in the blues, he has lent his unique slide and lead guitar work to the recordings and performances of an amazing list of artists including Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, John Fogerty, Bob Seger, Roger McGuinn, Boz Scaggs, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Delbert McClinton, Roy Orbison, and scores of others. He was a touring and recording member of Fleetwood Mac, and later had a band with Mick Fleetwood. Vito has appeared on hundreds of recordings, and his haunting slide guitar solo on Seger’s “Like A Rock” drove the Chevrolet truck TV commercial campaign for a decade.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the Music and Visual Art and what does offer?

I've been playing guitar since I was about eight years old, and I always enjoyed drawing and designing guitars. At one point I decided to try a painting and found that I naturally gravitated to guitars as a theme, done in an abstract style.

How do you describe Rick Vito’s sound and Art, what characterize your music and artistic philosophy?

I have an understated or economical style I think. In music I try to play what I think is right for the song and try to leave my personal ego out of it. Some players play very technically, but are missing the feeling, which is the most important ingredient in both music and visual art to me.

How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Musicians don't usually think that deeply, haha! My whole life has been a journey of music...it's all I've ever done professionally and also has taken up a big space in my personal life. Looking back, I am not incredibly fond of parts of the "business" which would include a lot of the people I've encountered. Many are in it for the wrong reasons, namely money, fame and power. Others look to exploit talented artists for personal gain. I've always been in it number one for the love of the music, which is what I do best, and two, to make a decent living. I've survived in it for almost fifty years, so that says something, I guess.                  Rick Vito / Photo by Hub Willson

"I have an understated or economical style I think. In music I try to play what I think is right for the song and try to leave my personal ego out of it. Some players play very technically, but are missing the feeling, which is the most important ingredient in both music and visual art to me."

How do you describe your new album "Soulshaker" songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

"Soulshaker" songs have a common theme that involves some aspect of the soul or spirit. That runs through most or all of them. The sound revolves around my slide guitar Blues playing, which I feel gives me the best way to express emotion. The creative drive just comes as it would to any artist. If you have something that you feel you do well and that is an expression of yourself, the artist in you seeks to let that out. For me it's in music, currently the new CD.

What touched (emotionally) you from the sound of slide? What are the secrets of?

Slide guitar shares some things with the voice, human or otherwise. It allows you to glide between notes as a violin does. Being unencumbered by frets, you can play subtle things not unlike what a vocalist can do, and this allows you to get into some emotional, soulful territory that has its own quality.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I've met some pretty big heroes either in the studio or as part of a jam. Some of those would be Keith Richard & Mick Jagger, The Everly Brothers, James Burton, Ron Wood, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn & Booker T, Albert Collins, Tom Waits and more. Each has its own story that will appear in my book someday.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would end Streaming. This robs artists of money that they should be able to earn, and that they have a right to earn from the playing of their music on the radio and all other sound vehicles. Someone figured out how to "go around" all this, so that now instead of receiving royalties for your music when people stream it, you get checks in the mail for .04 cents. The letter that sends the check costs $1.10. It's crazy.

"Slide guitar shares some things with the voice, human or otherwise. It allows you to glide between notes as a violin does. Being unencumbered by frets, you can play subtle things not unlike what a vocalist can do, and this allows you to get into some emotional, soulful territory that has its own quality."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits and industry?

I've learned to trust my own instinct, which has helped me to be objective and produce my own work. I've learned that self-confidence and a sense of humor are two major ingredients for success. I've learned that honest, creative partnerships can propel you forward, whether they be in management, songwriting, band membership, agent-artist or whatever. I wish I knew back then what I know now!

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Moving to Los Angeles as a young man of 21 to seek my fortune was a hard but magical time for me. Learning how to make my way in the music world was a challenge but gave me incredible experiences and memories. My 30's were also a great time; I met my wife, and got to play with people like Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, Bob Seger (and many more). Finally I got the opportunity to join Fleetwood Mac, which was definitely a career highlight.

What has been the relationship between music and visual art in your life and inspirations?

I think you use the part of the brain that is connected to intuition, emotion, creativity, and these are all important ingredients in producing all art.

Are there any memories from the Topanga Canyon Corral club which you’d like to share with us?

I used to play there most often with the Juke Rhythm Band in the mid seventies. We often backed up Albert Collins, Lowell Fulson, and other real bluesmen, and that in itself was a priceless education in playing Blues. It's hard to convey the real spirit of what was happening then because it was such a unique time in my personal history. I was young and it was good to be alive. I'm still great friends with the guys from the band and we often reminisce about those times, the music and the people we knew, many of whom are gone now.

"I've met some pretty big heroes either in the studio or as part of a jam. Some of those would be Keith Richard & Mick Jagger, The Everly Brothers, James Burton, Ron Wood, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn & Booker T, Albert Collins, Tom Waits and more. Each has its own story that will appear in my book someday." (Photo: Rick Vito, the late great bluesman Albert Collins, and John "Juke" Logan)

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from recording and show time?

There are just so many memories to pick from. When I was learning to play I used to listen a lot at one point to the Rolling Stones, specifically Keith Richards. On one of my first L.A. recording sessions with Bobby Whitlock from Derek & the Dominoes, the session was produced by the Stones' producer, Jimmie Miller. After doing a take with a pretty good long solo, the door opened and in walked Mick Jagger and Keith Richards! The first thing Keith said was, "who's playing guitar?" This blew my mind that my hero actually liked my playing. A big compliment!

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Jamming with Albert Collins was the best time any blues guitar player could ever have…he was so much fun, and had an energy unlike anyone else I've ever known. He was very generous and encouraging too. Working with Bonnie Raitt also enabled me to jam with people like Allen Toussaint, Kim Wilson, Art Neville, Keb Mo, James Cotton, and many other greats.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Meeting Mick Fleetwood in the early 70's then again, and more significantly in 1987 was important because we hit it off musically speaking and he appreciated that I loved Peter Green. When Lindsey Buckingham left the group, Mick called me to replace him and it turned out to be very successful for me. I can't remember too many people giving me advice… I wish they had. I've always had to figure things out for myself I think.

What do you miss most nowadays from the 60s and 70s era? How has the music changed over the years?

I miss youth…not that I feel old, because I really don't. I think you just come to a realization at one point that those years are gone and you'll never get them again. Looking back I think the best rock & roll was produced from the early 50s to the early 70s when I was young. For me there has not been a better era in rock since then. These days I like to listen to all styles of music from around the world and from different time periods.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Rock n’ Roll with Blues and continue to Soul Rock and beyond?

I think it started with Black Blues, which combined with country roots formed White rock. Soul came from Black rock which also started with Blues and Gospel. In America, the mix of race and music has always produced interesting results.

"I hope our world leaders get better. Music and art will take care of themselves." (Photo: Rick Vito & Muddy Waters backstage / Bonnie Raitt's tour in the late 70s. Muddy was the opening act)

Some music can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? What does BLUES mean to you?

Pure feeling, energy, expression, fun, taste, tone, life. That's all real, and that's what the Blues translates to people everywhere.

Which memory from Little Richard, Albert Collins, Lowel Fulson, Fleetwood Mac, and John Mayall makes you smile?

Little Richard making me wear a lavender one-piece jumpsuit on the Midnight Special TV show. Albert Collins telling me he started out playing an "Ep-ti-phone" guitar. Mayall not letting me in his exclusive "Brain Damage Club" for two years then finally presenting me with an official T-shirt for no reason. Lowel Fulson turning around to me when we were playing his song, "Tramp," and yelling, "Don't 'Joe Tex' me!" Fleetwood Mac’s fans never once shouting out anything rude like "Where's Lindsey?," which made me feel accepted and appreciated.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of world, music and art? 

I hope our world leaders get better. Music and art will take care of themselves.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

A joke my wife made that I can't repeat made me laugh. We took it hard when George Jones died a couple of weeks ago. He was the greatest country singer who ever lived and he and his wife reside in our town near Nashville. We had just seen what was to be his last show just three weeks earlier. We've been listening to a lot of his music since then, and it has never sounded better, or sadder.

What from your memories and things (books, records, photos etc.) would you put in a "time capsule"?

My Gretsch "Peppermint Twist" guitar, old photo album, 45s by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, "The Catcher In The Rye," a slice of Mack's pizza from the boardwalk in Wildwood NJ, a piece of wood from my grandparent's house, our home movies from the 50s.

"I miss youth…not that I feel old, because I really don't. I think you just come to a realization at one point that those years are gone and you'll never get them again. Looking back I think the best rock & roll was produced from the early 50s to the early 70s when I was young. For me there has not been a better era in rock since then. These days I like to listen to all styles of music from around the world and from different time periods."

You have Reverend Rick Vito signature guitar. How did you get that idea? What are the secrets of?

I designed several guitars that I had built about 30 years ago. Since then I got to know Joe Naylor and Ken Haas from Reverend guitars and they liked a lot of my ideas. We combined different aspects of both of our guitars and came up with the first Rick Vito model in 2005, which was really cool, but did not sell very well. Two years ago we tried again with a different idea and it is doing much better. I like art deco styling, which this guitar has, and a combination of P-90 and Supro-inspired pickups that give it a different sound than is typical. We use a pan pot instead of a pickup selector switch and a tone roll-off knob to change the color and give a very wide range of sounds. There are some other secrets that I cannot divulge or I will be boiled in oil if it gets out.

What is the impact of Blues & Rock music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Well, that's a huge subject. Breaking it down I'd just say that music in all forms has allowed for cross-pollination of culture, tradition, politics, religion, economics, and the list goes on and on. Since the invention of radio, TV, recording and now all the endless ways that people view and listen to music and performances, how could we NOT be changed by music and the artists who create it? It has not always been a good thing and some music is probably bad for you. But it can be a very powerful catalyst for inspiration and healing too and that's a profoundly good thing.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I think I'd like to spend a day in Israel talking with Jesus Christ, both as a man and as a spiritual figure. Find out first-hand what it's all really about. Who would know better than He? Think of how spiritually inspired and life-enriched you would feel at the end of THAT day! It would make for a great song or two I'd say.

Rick Vito - official website

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