Q&A with Italian drummer Federico Patarnello, keeping the drummers that accompanied the great Chicago 50s-60s Blues

"The blues is a type of music that is able to communicate with people and that excites in a very simple and direct way. Especially after this difficult moment, the blues and music in general will help people to rediscover the joy of being together, being close and getting excited. I think blues is perfect for this. There is clearly also a more social interpretation of blues music. A music of struggle and revenge. Personally, it allows me never to forget the great scourges that afflict the whole world even now, racism, hatred, segregation, inequality, ignorance."

Federico Patarnello: Beat The Blues 

With more than 20 years of activity, Federico Patarnello has always been committed to the study of blues drumming, keeping the drummers that accompanied the great Chicago Blues’ exponents from the ’50s and the ‘60s, as a steady reference. He honed his technique with various teachers, like Giulio Capiozzo and now Eric Cisbani. He had the chance to test his skills by sharing the stage of big festivals with the most in-demand drummers of the international blues scene, like Richard Innes, David Kida, Brian P. Fahey. Among his various collaborations, the longest and more fruitful is undoubtedly the one with blues harpist Marco Pandolfi, with whom he cut four CDs and played in many important festival and events. After a first period of activity with the “Marco Pandolfi Blues Review”, in 2003 “Marco Pandolfi & the Jacknives” were formed. With this line-up Federico Patarnello recorded two CDs and took part in an intense concert activity, as well as at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, in 2006, as the first Italian band ever to be admitted at this paramount event.              (Photo: Federico Patarnello)

With the same band he had the chance to collaborate with many important names of the international Blues scene, such as Bob Margolin, Paul Oscher, David Lee Durahm and Richard Ray Farrell. Between 2008 and 2011 Federico worked with the Italian guitar player Mark Slim, and accompanied the American guitarist Robert Bilbo Walker in the Italian leg of his tour. In 2011 got a call from Marco Pandolfi to take part in the recording of his first solo CD, "Close the bottle when you're done”.  The encounter with upright bassist Lucio Villani led to the recording of a new CD, on April 2014, called "No dog in this hunt" and the involvement in the European Blues Challenge in Riga, Latvia, as Italian representatives. He shared the stage with: Nine Below Zero, Sean Costello, Jeff Turnes, Junior Watson, Lynwood Slim, Roomful Of Blues, Alex Shultz, Big Bill Mongarfield, Johnny Mastro, Duke Robillard, Robert Cray, and others. He played with: Richard Ray Farrell, Bob Margolin, Paul Oscher, David Lee Duraham, Robert Bilbo Walker, Marco Pandolfi, Enrico Crivellaro, Umberto Porcaro, Rockin' Johnny, Hook Herrera, Hein Meijer, Greg Izor, Henry Carpaneto, and others.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music (and people of) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken? 

Everything that revolves around Blues is made of passion. The audience, the musicians, the organizers. I have learned that with a few means one can do great things. While Playing and traveling I met fantastic people who dedicate themselves with great commitment to their passion. Blues helps to get in touch with people and it helped me to be a more empathetic person and with more confidence in others. I remember my participation in the "Vache de Blues", a beautiful festival in France run completely by volunteers (like almost all blues festivals). There, it really seemed to enter a big family, but at the same time it was all extremely professional. I have lived many times this kind of experience, and it taught me that working in a team you can get great results with a few resources 

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What do you like most and what touched you from the drums? 

I’ve always loved drums for the role they play in supporting the band and the soloists. For this reason, I’ve always focused on doing the best I can. When a song turns out well and the musicians who play with me are able to express themselves at their best, it means that I did a good job. My sound was formed by listening to the records of my heroes, even if then each of us develops its own sound and is constantly evolving. Every day I discover new music, songs that I had never heard before that will surely influence the way I play. In this last period, I am working with a great Italian musician Umberto Porcaro who is making me discover a lot of new music. What struck me about the drums? Simply that it is the most beautiful instrument in the whole world! After so many years behind it I still want to play, study, and mount everything on stage every time. 

"Everything that revolves around Blues is made of passion. The audience, the musicians, the organizers. I have learned that with a few means one can do great things. While Playing and traveling I met fantastic people who dedicate themselves with great commitment to their passion. Blues helps to get in touch with people and it helped me to be a more empathetic person and with more confidence in others."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? 

It may seem like an obvious answer but all the encounters I had were important, even those of which I do not have a good memory. You learn from all experiences. Doing this job, you meet many people, each with their own character and from each you can learn something different. The people who helped me grow up, all told me the same thing: to believe in myself. A smile, a nod of approval from a musician who shares the stage with you, makes you understand that you are going in the right direction and is worth more than many words. Lately I have been lucky enough to talk and confront myself with Marty Dodson (drummer of Kim Wilson and many others) who gave me many useful tips but, above all, shared with me his vision of music. 

Are there any memories from Bob Margolin, Paul Oscher, and Robert Bilbo Walker which you’d like to share with us?

They were three great encounters. I first met Bob Margolin and Paul Oscher in Memphis during the 2006 International Blues Challenge. I was the drummer for the band Marco Pandolfi & the Jacknives, the first Italian band to participate in the Challenge. A few seconds before our performance, Bob Margolin and Paul Oscher entered the club: two members of the Muddy Waters Band were about to listen to us! After the performance they came to meet us. Then, if I’m not mistaken, the following year we had the honor to accompany them separately in two different shows. Playing with legends is incredible: you feel their whole story in every single note-note they play.  With Robert Bilbo Walker, it was incredible. They hired me to accompany him and his bassist to an Italian festival (Rootsway festival). I hardly knew Bilbo walker, there were no records, very few videos on Youtube and he had not anticipated anything of what he wanted to play. I met Bilbo Walker at lunch at the hotel and after the presentations we ate something, talking about everything but the set list. I thought we’d do a test at the soundcheck, but nothing. Once I checked that the amp and system were working, he disappeared. I found myself in the evening playing an entire concert without knowing absolutely anything about what would happen. It was amazing because the concert went greatly. The strength of great musicians is also that of knowing how to communicate with the other band members, bringing out the best from everyone and rewarding their trust. 

"I’ve always loved drums for the role they play in supporting the band and the soloists. For this reason, I’ve always focused on doing the best I can. When a song turns out well and the musicians who play with me are able to express themselves at their best, it means that I did a good job. My sound was formed by listening to the records of my heroes, even if then each of us develops its own sound and is constantly evolving." (Photo: Federico Patarnello)

You have traveled around Europe, as a musician. What would you say characterizes local European blues scenes? 

I think that in Europe in recent years the quality of the bands and also of the Festivals has grown a lot. There are many great musicians who propose their personal idea of Blues. I would like to see more European bands in Italy and more Italian bands in Europe. There are countries where the audience has a very spontaneous approach towards Blues (probably towards music in general), they do not wonder if you are playing in a certain style or if the guitarist has made an extra solo. They want to have fun and get excited, bring home a good memory and maybe start buying blues records, watching videos, reading books about this music. When I play in front of people, I always hope this magic happens. 

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

Being a musician is not an easy job, you have to have many qualities other than knowing how to play your instrument well. Many years ago (2002) I had the honor of playing before a very young and little known (in Italy) Sean Costello. He had a very fast sound check and I thought his show wouldn’t be a great show. When he and his band started playing, I was overwhelmed by the energy, class, technique and connection he managed to create with the audience. From that day on I became a huge fan of Sean Costello and still today I always have in my car a record to listen to on my trips. I’ve learned never to underestimate people and situations. From other artists the desire and curiosity to listen to a lot of music and the ability to listen to each other musicians while playing on stage together. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that you always have to have a bathing suit in your suitcase. 

What is the impact of Blues music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?             (Federico Patarnello / Photo by Raffaella Vismara)

As I said before, in my opinion blues is a type of music that is able to communicate with people and that excites in a very simple and direct way. 

Especially after this difficult moment, the blues and music in general will help people to rediscover the joy of being together, being close and getting excited. I think blues is perfect for this. There is clearly also a more social interpretation of blues music. A music of struggle and revenge. Personally, it allows me never to forget the great scourges that afflict the whole world even now, racism, hatred, segregation, inequality, ignorance. 

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

I have no doubt! In Chicago between the 50s and 60s to attend a concert of Muddy Waters or Little Walter. Maybe get into Chess Records during a recording session, to see with my own eyes how the masterpieces that are still listened to by millions of fans were born. 

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