"Life gives you the Blues: then on, you must have the strength and the ability to tell it to the people."
Dario Lombardo: Walkin with the Blues
Dario Lombardo is one of the most representative musicians in the Italian Blues scene. He is a guitar player, a singer and he writes his own songs. He is professionally working since 1979.
Dario Lombardo has been part of well known Italian bands such as Mean Mistreater Chicago Blues Band, Blues Shakers and Model T Boogie. He leads the Blues Gang since 1989. He started working with Phil Guy in 1987, and his roster is filled with many other cooperations (Johnny Copeland, Luther Allison, Albert Collins among others).
He has played all around Europe (France, Spain and Switzerland mainly) and he has visited many times US, playing in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and New York. In May, 2007, he has probably been the first Italian blues musician to play in Africa, with a series of shows in Melilla. In 2007, he has played the Chicago Blues Fest as part of Phil Guy' s Chicago Machine.
Dario Lombardo' s discography includes two LP with Model T Boogie (edited in 1986 and 1989), one CD with Phil Guy (Working Together, 1999) and two with The Blues Gang (I don' t want 2 lose, 1998, and Searchin for Gold, 2003). Many of his songs are included into compilations, last to be published has been Rack of Blues (2006), edited by the well known American Blues Magazine Big City Rhythm & Blues. Lonesome Blues (2007), is the first official video for an Italian Blues band, using as soundtrack songs taken from Searchin for Gold.
Dario Lombardo teaches Blues Guitar since 1987. He has been part of the Centro Jazz Torino Music School from 1987 to 2012. Following the school' s shutting down in June 2012 next year' s classes they will be hosted by another school.
Dario, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues?
I kept on playing guitar when I was 15 years old. It was September, 1972. I didn't know anything about the Blues. During the '60s, my sisters were listening to The Beatles or Elvis Presley among others, so I grew up hearing their 45s during parties at home. Probably the first blues song I have heard has been the orchestral instrumental included into The Graduate's soundtrack. But sister' s friend they brought Bob Dylan' s and Pete Seeger' s records into the house, and I kept on listening to something different...But the turning point it happened in 1970, when one of my schoolmates arrived with a complete different sound...it was Jimi Hendrix' Band of Gypsys... I kept on listening to that LP each and every day...! Another one on the hit it was Pendulum, by CCR: these two records were the main ones for me. Then on, I discovered the British rock blues sound, and this means The Stones and The Cream, mainly. So, when a couple of years later I found myself trying to play a guitar, I had in mind a confuse mix of rock, country, folk and I didn't even knew the word “Blues”...! During the following 4 years I kept on playing with some friends, listening to West Coast groups, mainly CSN&Y, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna (Blues was on the way...!), and then on Eric Clapton, with his solo records. I had to wait until 1976 to meet The Blues, and to understand that it was a complete different music than the British Rock Blues...: this happened when I met Muddy Waters in Turin and, for the very first time, I listened to the Chicago sound. That was the Blues!
What does the Blues means to me? The Blues they are made of stories, they are stories. Sad, bad, but sometimes good, and maybe funny too... we have heard lots of different stories into the Blues lyrics during the years... most of times the blues they told us about men and women trying to make a living, trying to survive into this world of troubles. So, a Blues musician must know the way of telling these stories to the people, telling them with his/her voice and instrument. He/she must know the way to write them down on paper, to create them in the best possible way. Sometime you must show them your soul, sometime you must play what their souls feel... (Photo by Carlo Chiavacci)
What were the first songs you learned & what was the first gig you ever went to?
First Blues song I've learned..? Man...! It's really a hard thing to remember, let me see... it could have been Rambling on my mind, or maybe Key to the highway... yes, one of these two. They were both in Eric Clapton's records, I had them on the shelf... the first Blues gig I went to? I told you, Muddy Waters! Yes, it was November 11th, 1976. If you ever should find the video of that show you should see a young Dario under the stage, watching at the show with no words but with a lot of thoughts... I tell you, that was the turning point.
How do you describe Dario Lombardo’s sound? What characterize Dario’s philosophy of Blues?
I have heard many great guitar players during the years. B B King, Albert King they have been the first ones, together with Muddy Waters, to hit my soul with their styles. Then on Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo. The great rhythm guitar players from the 50’s and this means Louis Myers, Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Sammy Lawhorn, Robert jr. Lockwood. Then people from the 60s and 70s, like Luther Guitar jr Johnson, Fentom Robinson,... And the slide guitar players, Mud, Elmore, Homesick James. I have heard lots of acoustic guitar players too, mainly Mississippi John Hurt, Brownie McGhee, Robert Johnson, Jorma Kaukonen. My acoustic guitar master has been the late Philadelphia Jerry Ricks. Jerry lived here in Turin for a couple of years in the late '70s,, and I used to spend days at his home, drinking Italian red wine and playing together.
But obviously my main teacher has been Phil Guy, he showed me how to put all these things together trying to do something personal. We used to stay home and play guitar together, jammin...no rehearsal, I mean, just jamming, two chorus a head, without singing... I don' t like the heavy rock blues style, I prefer something different.. I like to play loud, that' s right, but I like the shuffle rhythm, that lump-de-lump, you know... to me, Blues guitar must sing simple licks, not exhibit heavy and fast falls of notes...I like that kind of staccato picking, you know what I mean... in other words, it' s not a muscle or power exhibition, it' s some that must be simple, that got to go straight to the heart and veins of people. That got to be impressive, authoritative but without arrogance. I want to play the feelings, shades and touch, the inner side I mean, not the epidermic sensations...
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best? June 4th, 1987. The worst? August 20th, 2008. And this means the day I met Phil Guy in Chicago, and the day I saw him die.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
I have been lucky; I have had the chance to live many good things in my life, both personal than musical. I am part of the second generation of the Blues in Italy, and I have played with some of the best you can find here... The Mean Mistreater Blues Band, probably the first band to play the Chicago Blues in Italy...first drummer in the band was Tony Mangiullo... then he flew to Chicago, and now you can find him at the Rosa's Lounge, his club...! Then they made the tour with Homesick James, the first or one of the first to be made by an American Bluesman with an Italian band... and then on, The Blues Shakers, with Arthur Miles, a great Soul singer... and then on, The Model T Boogie, with Giancarlo Crea and Nick Becattini... we were something! We wore up three vans in three years running up and down Italy. One of the main musical fortunes for me is that the rhythm section has been almost the same during all these years...Bass player, Massimo Pavin, he was into the Mean Mistreater line up since 1978, while the drummer, Massimo “Teeno” Bertagna, arrived a little bit later, in 1986... they are still with me in the Blues Gang. It's a family, not a band...! And we can't forget the Rooster, Andrea Scagliarini... we kept on playing together in 1979, his harmonica still blows with the band. That's the very interesting thing: a group of musicians that keeps on playing together through the years. It' s not so common, in this wold of free lancers...but, for example, I know that if I want the Chicago Blues snare sound and rhythm I need Teeno, and this is the same for everyone else in the “family”.
How was your trip in Chicago at late 80s, do you remember something funny or interesting from Windy City’s jams?
...a great experience, of course...my first time in Chicago, my first International flight...another time, we have been lucky, because we were brought in by the Chicago Blues Festival, we were official guests...we had a bus reserved, they brought us around town...first show, Blue Chicago, S.o.B. playing on stage, on tape you can hear Billy Branch telling some like “hey, now we have a band from Italy, please welcome to the stage, The Model T Boogie...!”.. can you imagine? Your first time there, jet lag still running, and Billy Branch that introduces you to the audience...??? We were up to the seventh sky, as we say here in Italy...!!! And the second gig, down at the Muddy Waters Drive, deep South Side...they introduced us to a man, “This is Phil Guy, you will play with his band in half an hour...”! We did two shows that day, one open air in the Drive, the other a few blocks away at the Checkerboard Lounge...it was filled with people, at the end they asked us to sign the wall with “other musicians”...the one on my side kept on signing, he wrote “Jimmy Rogers”...! That tour has been fantastic: we were young and many things started. We kept on understanding.
What are some of the memorable gigs and jams you've had?
One night at the Checkerboard Lounge, 1997 or '98...still in the 43rd Street location...I was playing with the John Primer Band, John was somewhere and Steve Bell, Carey's son, was leading the group...he took the mike and told “I want to call my father on stage, please welcome, Mr. Carey Bell”...two harps running, the band working hard on stage...hey, wait a minute, we got three harps on stage, who the f..k is the third dude? I turned my head to watch, he was... Junior Wells...! Then Phil Guy reached us and the floor was burning! Have you ever heard Junior and Phil together..? Man...so funky you can smell it!
What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that made you a bluesman? What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN?
Life gives you the Blues: then on, you must have the strength and the ability to tell it to the people. In this meaning, all the things and experiences in your life they contribute to make a good Bluesman... but then on you got to be a story teller, you got to be a Bluesman. And this is something you got to have inside, I think. There are many kinds of musicians, of stage performers...each one of these kinds is good, and each one gives some to the people. What you got to do is to be yourself: you can't dress another one' s dress, you can' t be what you are not... so you must know what you are, what you want to say with your music. You must know your limit, and you don't have to cross the border...you got to be yourself and tell it to your audience.
Do you know why the sound of reso-phonic and slide is connected to the blues? What characterize the sound of reso-phonic guitar and slide?
Reso – phonic guitars?... They are something! That sound is fantastic, it sticks into your ears as glue on paper! I think it is the best sound for the Delta Blues. I mean, wood it' s different, but the steel or brass bodied reso – phonic instruments they have that “something” gave by the connection between metal and resonator... The Dopyera Bros should be remembered more, I think. I play a 1979 single cone brass bodied Dobro, and then a 2000 tricone steel bodied baritone National, two fantastic instruments...The Dobro it' s great with slide, the National it' s a different stuff, I use it for everything. The Baritone guitar it's another instrument, you can have these low tunings...another planet! I play electric slide guitar too, with a homemade Telecaster-style axe. Slide makes your guitar sing like a human voice, you can use all the notes you got, not only the frets I mean, and without bending...! That's why it' s great with the Blues. I use my own glass slides, made out from Italian wine bottles... great wine, great sound...!
How do you get inspiration for your songs, what musicians/songwriters have influenced you most as a songwriter?
I believe Robert Cray, and then many others, but he is the main one, I guess. Sometime I write the music before, but it is very rare, usually when I write a song everything comes at the same time, melody, rhythm and lyrics. Then we do the arrangment. Cray's first record impressed me so much in 1978, and the same did his other works during the '80s. But we do a different thing, trying to bring the Pop Blues sound into the Chicago style. Inspiration may come from something really happened to me or from general stories, or maybe from musical canons and patterns. Sometime I wake up in the morning, I turn my radio on and I listen to the news...
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the blues craft?
Well... you got to feel it. It doesn't matter how many notes you can play in one second. You got to feel it. You must know your instrument; you must know music, because we are in 2012 and not in 1901. But you got to feel it. Blues fans they are not searching for an Olympic champion, they just need to hear some that get the right feeling: so, one more time, you got to feel it...!
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?
Music styles and genres they speak about different times, things, stories, feelings. Hard Rock hits your hormones, jazz stimulate your mind, psychedelia too but in a different way... the Blues it' s a music style that gives you some certainty, you know in advance that you will listen to that rhythm, that chord changes. This is proper of most of the popular musics. But then on, you know that everytime it will be different because everytime there will be a different performer. The Blues it's a very individualistic music, but with a common and shareable basis. That's why everybody wants to listen to a standard, Sweet Home Chicago for example, because everyone will play it in a different way. This is true for Jazz too, obvious, but it comes from the Blues. And, if you think about it, it is the same for Rock, Soul, RnB... Then on, Blues talks about everyday life.
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music? What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?
One more time, Phil Guy. He has been the one I have played, travelled and lived with for twenty one years. So he showed me tons of things. The main thing is playing together, one, two; thirty times...This is the best way to understand things, to memorize songs, licks. To live the music. And his best advice...? “No practice, no sound check, and no list!” this was his law! Out of the joke, this means “live your music second after second, minute after minute, song after song, don't let it be a sheet music, let it be alive”. And so, don' t practice every day forcing the band to repeat songs as parrots do, don' t do long and terrible sound checks, because when the room it will be full everything it will sound different, and do no songlist, because after two of its songs something in the room or in the audience will let you change your will and your fingers they will play another song, because that song will be the right one, not the one written into the list!
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory of Phil Guy? What is the feel you miss most nowadays from Phil?
Thanks for this question, Michael: you know how much Phil has been important for me and for the whole “BluesGang-ModelT Family”... as I told you before; we did the first show together in 1987. We didn't knew anything about this concert, except that it would have been an open air one, made in a place called Muddy Waters Drive, somewhere in the South Side of Chicago, and that we were supposed to jam with someone. We didn't know who. So, when Phil comes around and they introduced us each other the whole thing started. He had no songlist, we had never played together before. He played one set with his band, the Chicago Machine, and then he called us on stage... wait a minute, what stage? There was no stage, we were on the square's crete floor..!!! I remember he turned his head in Teeno' s direction, counting one, two three...and the everything started. We have it on tape. He checked us out, controlling, trying to understand what we knew. Stops, dynamics, everything. He gave me a solo, I was surprised. After that set they brought us to the Checkerboard Lounge to play another show. Same thing. We have no recording of the second show, I think. But at the end, saying good bye, we asked him if it was possible to play together again, maybe in Italy. And that's how it started: a few months later Phil was in Italy with us for our first tour together. It was Feb 1988. When Model T's original line up disbanded in 1990 I asked if it should have been possible for Phil to keep on working with my new band, The Blues Gang. Everybody agreed, and so... With the Blues Gang we did the European tours, France, Germany...and the CD, “Working Together”... someone should reprint it, it was something, it was the anticipation of Phil' s last style, the one you can heard in “Say what you mean”, for example... we did the last show together in June 2008 at Buddy Guy' s Legends. Phil was already sick, tired, but he played a great show. That June we went to the Chicago Blues Fest to watch BB King's show, Phil wanted to see him one more time. After the show we found ourselves seated on the VIP bench at Legends, all together, BB, Buddy Guy, Phil, Lisa Mallen and me... I will never stop thanking Phil for these chances he gave me, without him it wouldn't have been possible. Leaving Chicago that June, I promised Phil to come back. I did it two months later, when his manager Lisa Mallen called me telling me it was time. What I miss? I miss him, his irony, and his humanity. His musical experience and knowledge...he played with everybody, from Otis Redding to Janis Joplin and the Stones...and then with Junior Wells and, last but not least, with his brother Buddy Guy.
Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your work with “Clyde” Copeland, Luther Allison, Albert Collins?
These have been different things than working with Phil. With Phil it has been a twenty one year’s musical and human cooperation, these have been concerts, or even only jams. But of course they have left many things. Johnny Copeland.. we did this concert in 1989, a big festival here in Italy, close to Brescia...the longest sound check I remember, Copeland kept on to rehearse the whole show two times... 3 hours, maybe more! He looked grim and angry, also if music was good...after the show I asked him why, he smiled... that was his way of keeping the fire on, he said... Luther Allison.. we met him several times around the years, we were often in the same festival, especially in France...he jammed with us a couple of times. I have great memories of these jams, he was playing so loud...! Great, Hi energy contemporary Blues, my favorite sound! And talking about volumes...man, Albert Collins...! We were playing the Pistoia Blues Fest in 1992, same evening... at the end of the show he called for the jam...James Cotton, Phil Guy, him and his band...noone expected for a call, I was there on the stair watching when Phil turned his head and told me to jump there...so, me and WD Dal Pozzolo, the sax player, we jumped on stage... what a battle..! Collins was playing on two Fender Twin, connected, both on “10”... At the end he hugged me, I will always remember it.
What are some of the most memorable tales with Dave Myers, John Primer and Eddie Kirkland?
Eddie...he comes two times here with us. The first time I didn't join the band because I was in the same Festival with Phil Guy. The second time we did what we call “The-no-tour”... it was a ten days tour, 8 concerts... we played for 20 minutes...! All the shows they were open air, it was summer...it rained for the whole ten days, all the shows they went off except for the last one, when we finally we started to play...and it started raining again 20 minutes later...! We never saw him again after that tour. We were in touch, but anything happened. We have been very sad hearing about his death... a man of his age coming back from a gig driving early in the morning... this should not happen. I think we must quit losing musicians this way, just because club owners or promoters they don't want to pay us for hotel rooms.
Dave Myers? We met him for the first time in 1987 in Chicago, then many other times...he was always around. I remember him one time at the Muddy Waters Drive, he was trying to let his old car start after the show...and he had that big old bass amp on! Dave was like the granddad, he was always telling old stories about him, the Aces, Muddy Waters...we have a funny shot together we did at the Checkerboard, it was raining, I had my raincoat on, we were me, Phil and Dave at the desk... you should see the faces...! Then I brought him here to play one fest, one big concert...he was already sick, he was playing guitar, seated...but I thought it was necessary for the people to hear him playing the bass, and I asked him to play just a couple of songs... he wasn't so happy for that because he had to stand, but I still think I did the right thing, people had to listen to his bass: at the end the gave him a standing ovation... John Primer is part of our present, we work together everytime it is possible. We have done three or four tours together, not too many shows but we are men at work, so...! The first time I saw John playing with Muddy Waters in Italy, then on I met him in Chicago, he was in close friendship with Phil. When Phil got sick, early 2008, we had a tour to do, so I called him, but he was busy. Delores Scott come and joined the band, she is a wonderful singer and we are still working together. John and I we kept on playing later on, after August 2008. Now I keep on working with both John Primer and Delores Scott, and sometime with Deitra Farr.
Are there any memories from Muddy Waters meet and later with Albert King, Fred Below, John LittleJohn, which you’d like to share with us?
November 1976, I was 19 years old... One of my dearest friends father was involved into the organization of the Jazz Festival that year...he was a jazz lover...so he asked his son some good young arms to put the room together and to think a little about security...so we did it. The Festival's poster told us that the “Muddy Waters Blues Orchestra” was scheduled for Nov 11th ...it was the very first time I was reading that name...who is this Muddy Waters I asked me... I found myself doing security during the sound check...that wasn't an orchestra, that was the best thing I'd never heard before...! At the end of the sound check my friend's father introduces us to Muddy, nothing more than a brief greeting, a few words and a handshaking I will always remember. During the show we were downstage, I remember Pinetop playing Blues After Hours... I was close to the sound system, volume was soft...that's been the time I decided to play the Blues. It was a Saturday, next Monday I went to the record store and I bought me the only Muddy's album they had, it was the “London Sessions” one. Ah, one more thing...I still use the slide I found in the dressing room after the show...
Two years later, 1978.. I was working for a radio station, Radio Flash (it' s the same one I ' m working again now)...another Jazz Festival, this time in Ivrea, close to my hometown Turin...Albert King playing...first time I ever heard him live...what a show! He gave me one of those hand slaps...my poor bones they still remember it...! Same year, same festival...it was all around the Piedmont area, and this time the radio sent me to Alessandria... I was supposed to travel on the same bus with reporters and musicians...it was the first time I heard the Chicago black American language... coming back home I found myself close to John Little John and Fred Below, and we kept on talking... I told them who I was, and that I was trying to play the Blues in Italy...John was talking in slang, he was impossible to understand for me at the times...Fred told him not to do it... I asked John about the slide: I was very interested into it, it was impossible here to find someone who knew how to use it... so he explained it to me on that bus seat, without guitar, imitating the slide's sound with his voice and telling me the main rules... Fred was playing with his hands on the seat, doing the shuffle... I never met them again. I still got Fred's ticket. Obviously the following day I kept on playing slide...!
What's been their experience from “studies” with Homesick James?
First thing, I never played with Homesick. I never had this chance and I am very sorry about that. He went in Italy in 1979 to play with the Mean Mistreater Chicago Blues Band brought in by Giancarlo Crea and Tony Mangiullo. Giancarlo was the band leader while Tony was the group' s former drummer: in 1979 he was already in Chicago playing with Homesick and Jimmy Rogers among others. When in 1980 I joined the band, Giancarlo asked me to play Homesick's songs because they had them in the trunk...that' s why I play more Homesick' s than Elmore' s style... obviously the two things are very close each other, but Homesick' s way is closer to my feelings...a little bit more thoughtful and intimate than Elmore...probably it is the same difference that you can find between Phil and Buddy Guy... I met Homesick in Chicago in 1987, we did that photo at Rosa' s with me, Giancarlo and Lovie Lee, the piano player...we spent a good evening together.
When it all began for the blues in Italy, who is considered the "godfather" of the blues in Italy?
What a question...! It's a minefield...! The Blues arrived here in 1945, brought in by the American troops. Before some rich music fan or musician had the chance to listen to the Jazz, but it must be remembered that the so called “Negroid music” was forbidden by the fascist regime. So, after the war everything changed, but the interest of Italian musicians was more into the Jazz. They have told me that the first blues show in Torino it happened in May, 1945, when Big Bill Broonzy played for the American troops. We got to go to the late '60s to find the first tracks of some than can be called “Italian Blues”...it starts with the Beat, and before with the Rock'n'Roll bands of the 50s, but it' s with the '60s British Rock invasion that someone started with an almost-blues-sound... it will probably been happened where the American troops they were based, and this means Napoli, Verona, Livorno... first one I heard playing the Blues here it has been Roberto Ciotti. He is from Roma, and he kept on playing Dobro and slide backing Edoardo Bennato in the mid' 70s... he was often in Torino for shows, and we met several times. I was very young...we played together a couple of times years later, when I was in Roma with Phil. Then Guido Toffoletti.. he was from the Venice area...guitar player and singer, he was the British part of Italian Blues... we played together two or three times.. we all miss him so much. And then there are the harmonica players... Fabio Treves and Giancarlo Crea they have been the first ones to lead bands. This talking about the 1st generation.
Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Italy. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why? What mistake of Italian blues scene you want to correct?
1975 – 2012... they are almost forty years...nowadays in Italy we have many blues players...some of them are surely part of the “so-called-blues-musicians” category...talking about the real ones, I mean the ones that play Blues styles, we may say we have all the styles well represented: Soul, British Blues, Texas Rock Blues, Chicago (both traditional than contemporary), and then the acoustic styles, we can' t forget them. Maybe too many bands keep on playing standards without having a personal production, and this is wrong, I think. It is necessary to play your songs, everyone did it and it must be done. Obvious, not every musician is an author, but this is the direction to follow. To have original songs and to try to have a personal sound. Or, if not personal, at least something not so foreseeable. I mean, we all got to have Sweet Home Chicago in the trunk, people likes that, but it' s not a must to play it each and every day...we must know the old styles, the old ways, the old songs, ok, but we must have new things too. And, to me, the main thing it's to know the languages, the styles: what I want to say is that it is more important to know the way, the rhythm and patterns you must use to play a Southside Shuffle in a proper way than the exact way Muddy Waters did it, how many choruses he did before the solo, how many solo choruses etc. etc...not even Muddy knew how many choruses the guitar had to play, because it is not a rule! So my advice it try to do your songs, try to do your style, and to do this you must know the past and the present of Blues styles. I think we have many good and great players here in Italy, what we have to do is keep on playing.
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