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

Guitarist Rick Vito was born in Darby, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Though very young, Rick distinctly remembers the impact of the early years of Rock & Roll and the effect it had on his interest in playing the guitar. Rick became immersed in learning to perfect his Blues playing by studying the styles of the great Blues masters. Vito made their way to New York City and their first professional recording date, produced by fellow Philadelphian, Todd Rundgren. Moving to the Hollywood Hills in the summer of 1971, Rick did his first pro work on tour with Delaney & Bonnie. At this time Rick also worked with such artists as Little Richard and Bobby Whitlock, among many others.

Late in 1974 Rick received an invitation to join a new band being formed by British Blues pioneer, John Mayall, with whom Rick worked with subsequently on four albums. In the following years, Rick was a member of Roger McGuinn, Thunderbyrd, and also a founding member of Los Angeles club favorites, the Angel City Rhythm Band. With the ACRB performing regularly at the Topanga Canyon Corral club on Monday Blues nights, they regularly held court with Albert Collins, Lowell Fulson, Big Joe Turner, and among many others. 

Rick did join the band Fleetwood Mac, as a member in July, 1987. Rick devoted much of 1995-96 to family interests, but in 1997 he began recording his second solo CD, this time one firmly rooted in a Blues vein, recorded the CD, and entitled "PINK AND BLACK". During 1998 and 1999, Rick also participated in a highly visible world tour with singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt. In 2001 Rick's CD, "LUCKY DEVILS" was released. Rick managed to squeeze in yet another tour during 2001 with rock icon, John Fogerty, appearing on Tina Turner's Tour.

Rick’s fifth solo CD, “BAND BOX BOOGIE,” marked a turning point in style for him. Rick recently teamed up in 2005 with JOE NAYLOR from REVEREND GUITARS to co-produce the new REVEREND “RICK VITO SIGNATURE SLINGSHOT” electric guitar. In 2007 and 2008 Rick began forging new grounds with old friend and bandmate Mick Fleetwood. 

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.

"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."

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.

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.

"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."

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.

"Some players play very technically, but are missing the feeling, which is the most important ingredient in both music and visual art to me."

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.

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, Mayall and more 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. 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.

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 25 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.

Rick Vito - official website

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