Μultilateral Italian Fabrizio Poggi talks about the Blues miracle: This music calls out for peace and justice

"The blues world sometime it’s a little too busy and sometimes there is a little misunderstanding about what is the blues and what isn’t the blues, so it’s no easy for young artist to find a place in it." 

Fabrizio Poggi: Dum Spiro Ludere Blues

Fabrizio Poggi singer, Hohner Award harmonica player, traveller, musicologist, writer, journalist and amazing performer, has recorded fifteen albums, mostly in USA. Fabrizio’s performances have been described as dramatic, totally captivating, amazing, engaging and soulful with a sound truly unique.

He during his long career has played at the most prestigious clubs and festivals in Europe and USA performing on stage or on his own recordings with legendary artists as: Garth Hudson, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Charlie Musselwhite,  Flaco Jiménez, Little Feat, Otis Taylor, Eric Andersen, Blues Brothers Band, Bob Margolin, James Cotton, Robert Plant, Robben Ford, Tony McPhee, Doug MacLeod, Mitch Woods, Eddie Bo, Super Chickan, and many others.

In 2008 he released MERCY an amazing "spiritual-blues" CD. Mercy was born out of Fabrizio’s struggles with health problems over the past ten years.  It expresses his gratitude for a life rediscovered.  It’s a therapeutic album, inspiring and poetic. In 2010 Fabrizio released (as written by the press) “a Grammy Award CD”: SPIRIT & FREEDOM, a precious, touching and intense CD. In 2011 released the album LIVE IN TEXAS an amazing, moving and intense CD Accompanying Fabrizio on the project are a number of great musicians and many friends.

He has written great books about blues and folk harmonica history. His latest works, the books titled “The breath of soul: harmonica and blues harmonica players” and “Lost angels of Mississippi” (with cover by Robert Crumb) have enjoyed tremendous critical acclaim all around the world. In 2012 Fabrizio recorded HARPWAY 61 an all instrumental album. All proceeds from the sale of the album go to The Blues Foundation. This CD is also a way to give something back to the musicians who have inspired and guided him during his long career. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Some years ago I saw these words written on the wall of an old record store in Mississippi:

“If you don’t like the blues you have a hole in your soul”.

And it’s true. To me the blues is a miracle. The miracle of the blues is that it’s so full of power and wisdom that it touches every heart throughout the world.  It doesn’t matter where you were born, what language you speak, or what color your skin is.  Blues and spiritual, and music in general, are amazing gifts – many from wonderful unknown singers – to heal people’s souls.  This music calls out for peace and justice.  Every time…  Everywhere…

"To me the blues is a miracle. The miracle of the blues is that it’s so full of power and wisdom that it touches every heart throughout the world." (Fabrizio and Bob Margolin, photo by Gabriele Penati)

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER? How do you describe Fabrizio Poggi’s music?

I really don’t know but thanks for your words. I don’t know if I’m really a good bluesman and songwriter. The only thing I know is that I always try to touch people heart. And when I can make it’s an amazing moment. My music is a blend of the music I grew up: folk, blues, gospel, singer songwriter songs. My key word is honesty. If you are true to yourself people will feel it.

Don’t ever try to be someone else. Don’t try to pretend to be someone else and people will appreciate it very much. People like to see your soul when you perform.

A few years ago, I read that for someone, “Hell is the experience of being separated from God.” After coming out of my deep depression, my own personal “hell on earth,” I realized that for me singing Blues and Spirituals was a way of staying connected to what I call “Heaven.”  Just as it was for African slaves in America, music in general, and blues and spiritual music in particular, is my key to survival in this “mean ol’ world.”

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues? What is the best advice ever given you?

Maybe it seems a little strange but most of the things I learnt in my younger days came from records. There were not computers, Google, YouTube, and musical instructional books were very difficult to find. It took me six months to learn something that today a kid can learn in one day. Also with English language was the same. I always make a joke of it but my English teachers really were Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.

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

There were so many that it’s impossible to tell about them. We’ll need a big book. The beautiful thing is that I learnt from bad and good times. Everything was useful and thought me something. I don’t have any regrets and I always look forward.

(Photo by Aigars Lapsa)

What are you miss nowadays from the “OLD OF BLUES”? How has the Blues changed over the years?

Nowadays blues is the son of the old school blues when is played with honesty in the musician’s soul.

We don’t have to forget that the music of Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters was very modern at their times. Very contemporary. The blues is a always changing music that is why it can survive through years and years. The important thing to keep in mind is that the blues is not only “pure” entertainment. It’s much more: it’s a powerful medicine to heal world’s sadness.

So the blues needs respect.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Be yourself. Steal everything from everybody but then make it your own. Don’t act. Be simple and humble. Love and respect people that come to your show. Be nice with them. They will tell you some precious words that keep you going on when the wind of life will blow too hard against you. Play from the heart. Always.

Are there any memories from Garth Hudson, Augie Meyers and Rob Paparozzi which you’d like to share with us?

They were heroes of my youth (and still they are). When I was sixteen and I was in my little room in a little town in northern Italy listening to their records I didn’t imagine that one day I would play with these men.

There are not enough words to explain those moving moments.

I still have goose bumps talking about that. It was amazing.

Great artists and wonderful human beings.

"The blues is a always changing music that is why it can survive through years and years." (Photo: Sara & Augie Meyers with Angelina & Fabrizio Poggi) 

And would you like to tell your best memory about Blind Boys of Alabama and Charlie Musselwhite?

To record and play live with them was another sort of a miracle. Really having the opportunity to sing with the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama is one of the highest musical privileges in my life. Every time I listen to my recordings with them I still sit in humble disbelief when I hear my voice singing with theirs. And what can I say about my hero Charlie Musselwhite? He’s a living legend, also. So, I’m on my way. I’m not alone, they are with me. Forever. And Jimmy Carter the oldest of the Blind Boys calls me brother, and every time I move to tears.

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had? It must be hard to pick, but which meetings have been the biggest experiences for you?

This is a thing that happened to me during one of my tour in the juke joints of Mississippi. A thing that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. More than anything else. One afternoon I was playing in a place in Greenville, Mississippi. It was an open space and there were people of every age. From children to old men and women. All blacks but my wife Angelina, my guitar player and me. I was a little bit scared but everything was fine. After the first set an old black woman (she was probably 80 years old - the age of my mother) came to me, close the stage. She softly and gently grabbed and squeezed my arm whispering to me :"Hey man you touched my heart".  It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my whole life. That woman probably didn't know that I was from another country, because probably she never went out  not only from US or Mississippi, but neither from her little town, a woman who probably had listened only to blues music for all her life; well that woman made me cry. I was shocked and speechless. During the ride back to the motel I realized how big that experience was to me and I started to cry. If there would be a “University of blues music" that old sweet woman that afternoon gave me a DEGREE or better she will never know but that day she gave me "the right to play the blues".

"Blues is the mother, the root. If blues one day will fade away all the modern music will change forever." Photo by Agostino Biella

Do you know why Harmonica is connected to Blues and what are the secrets of?

There are no secrets. In the early days of the blues harmonica was cheap and easy to travel with. And also this little instrument can play like a human voice making you cry or laugh, imitate trains and animals. The African Americans were really genius: they understood very soon that they could have a full orchestra in their pocket and that it was perfect for the blues.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?

Because blues is the mother, the root. If blues one day will fade away all the modern music will change forever.

When we talk about blues usually refer moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Oh yes, absolutely. The blues world sometime it’s a little too busy and sometimes there is a little misunderstanding about what is the blues and what isn’t the blues, so it’s no easy for young artist to find a place in it.  But real blues is brought everywhere by my friends Eric Bibb, Otis Taylor and Guy Davis. With Guy I just released an album called “Juba dance”.

I’m sure that a new John lee Hooker or B.B. King is just around the corner.

"The blues is not just those I/IV/V chords, the blues is not just long guitar and harmonicas solos, the blues is culture, a way to live your life and much more…" (Photo: Fabrizio and Charlie Musselwhite)

Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues?

Oh yes a lot of “misuse”. As my friend Charlie Musselwhite often says: “A lot of people think that they are playing the blues but honestly (and I’m sorry to say that) they don’t… At all…”. He’s right: the blues is not just those I/IV/V chords, the blues is not just long guitar and harmonicas solos, the blues is culture, a way to live your life and much more…

Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?

This is a beautiful question but also very difficult to answer. I don’t know. I think that every song you listen and every book you read are like painting that you create in your own mind. And everyone has is personal paintings. I have a story that could become a painting or an illustrated story. It’s a story about a song I wrote called “Jesus called me in heaven”. I wrote this song for a friend who one day flew away forever. He was a great bluesman. He played guitar and sang as if he was born in a shack in Mississippi. He was the best of us all. We played together often. When he sang he was a force of nature. Then, one sad day, some like 25 years ago, a train struck him while returning from work, ending his life forever. He was only 25 years old. That morning, the morning of the tragic incident, we had met; or rather we'd seen one another. Neither of us wanted to talk to the other at that hour of the morning, so we just said hello. That evening someone phoned me with the tragic news. I stood stunned—I could not believe it. I had seen him that morning and I could not have even imagined what was going to happen—as if one could predict that someone you care about is going to leave you forever. At first it was pain, then despair, two feelings that soon became regret. The regret of not having spoken with him that morning. Of not sitting together, talking about the blues and the artists that had stolen our hearts. The years passed. I felt that there was a score I had to settle with Alessandro. I was sure that he was one of those guardian angels who saved me in many bad situations and helped me to achieve the amazing moments of joy that music has given me the privilege to experience. That is what I owed to him. That song. I imagined that morning—the morning of the incident. My friend and I talked a lot. He was saying with his eyes full with joy: "You know Fabrizio, I have to confide in you something. I'm leaving. Jesus has called me to go and play with all of our heroes who are no longer with us in his band in Heaven. So please, tell all our friends not to cry and to not be sad, because soon I will fly away to be alongside Johnny Cash and Mississippi John Hurt. There will be also Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Blind Willie Johnson...So as I sing in the song I know that someday Jesus will also call me to Heaven to play in his band, and finally we will meet again.

"May the BLUES keep on healing our sorrows and uplifting our spirits until the end of this world." (Photo: Fabrizio in Leland, Mississippi)

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your music DREAM? Happiness is…

I love a lot to read books and to play just to entertain me like I did in my early days. I had most of my musical dreams come true so what ask for more. Happiness is to be in good health with the people you love living day by day… Nothing more than that.  And it’s not always easy to achieve that.

Make an account for current realities of the case of Italian blues scene and what characterize the local sound?

I don’t think there is an “Italian sound” for the blues. As I said before the great miracle of the blues is that has become an international language; so nowadays you have great musicians playing great music all over the world. It doesn’t really matter where that musician come from.

The important thing is the vibe, the connection, to be honest and sincere.

If somebody show me the moon, I don’t look at the finger, I look at the moon.

Give one wish for the BLUES

May the BLUES keep on healing our sorrows and uplifting our spirits until the end of this world.

Fabrizio Poggi & Chicken Mambo - Home

 

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