Italian harpman Marco Pandofli talks about Richard Ray Farrell, Paul Oscher, Bob Corritore, & the Italian blues scene

"You have to play music (and blues) if you like to play music for yourself. You have to try to do it in the best way and with respect."

Marco Pandofli: More than a feeling

Marco Pandolfi’s presence on the Italian Blues scene goes back twenty years. He has been playing in the most important events on the peninsula, winning the respect of the greatest Blues Musicians in Italy and abroad.
Marco Pandolfi is the only Italian Blues musician to have participated twice at the Internationak Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN: in 2006 with the band Marco Pandolfi & the Jacknives and in the last edition of 2011 in the category solo/duo. Pandolfi has performed with some of the most famous Bluesmen worldwide, such as Richard Ray Farrell, Paul Oscher, Bob Margolin, Harvey Brooks, Preston Hubbard, Bob Corritore, Willie King, Tom Walbank, David Lee Durham, Paul Cox, King Edward, among others.
Marco has also played in Europe and the United States in a variety of clubs and has participated in important International Blues Festival. In 2008 He was the only European musician invited to the third Delta Groove All Star Blues Revue held at the Groundzero in Clarksdale, MS and the special guest at the 2nd Rocky Mountain Harp Blowdown in Denver, CO. On February 2011, after an outstanding world-wide tour as Blues Harmonica solo player, Pandolfi returned to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in the category solo/duo surprising the Beale Street IBC goers with a stunning guitar, harmonica and voice repertoire in the purest Spirit of Low-Down Blues.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Marco, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues, what does the BLUES mean to you?
First time I met the blues I was a teenager. I remember my first blues record was an album of Muddy Waters, a musician who still represents to me the greatest source of inspiration. To me Blues is feeling and an exciting form of expression, at the same time simple and rigorous. If you want to play the blues you have to know the tradition and the old-school musicians.

What were the first songs you learned & what was the first gig you ever went to?
I don’t remember the first song. About the first blues gig… I think BB King.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best moments were my two times at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis (2006 with the band and 2011 in the solo category). And it was great to be invited to the 3th Delta Groove All Star Blues Revue at Groundzero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. The worst one? … sometimes for a musician the life is not easy, but it’s the life I prefer!

Difficult question, but who of the people you have worked with do you considers the best friend?
I had the chance to meet Richard Ray Farrell in 1994. We played together in Europe and in USA and we recorded a cd “Stuck On The Blues”. I can say Richard is one of my best friend and I’m honoured to keep playing with such a great musician.

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
I’m not a showman. I mean I don’t try to attract attention with special effects, but only with my performance. The first thing I have to do is doing all my best. I always hope that people feel what I’m doing.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
I’m living an interesting period! My new solo cd “CLOSE THE BOTTLE WHEN YOU’RE DONE” just came out. I just came back from London where I’ve played at the Junior Wells Memorial Show and I’ll be back to the USA in may 2012 to attend at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Festival (California) as guest of The Mannish Boys (with James Cotton, Paul Oscher, Kim Wilson and the Fabulous T-Birds and many more).
Yes…Definitely an interesting period!

Why do you play the BLUES & what does HARP mean to you?
Mmmh… it’s exciting to try to play a music where the most important thing is the FEELING. Ok, I can achieve a high technical level but that could be nothing without feeling. And it is the hardest thing! Feeling is very personal and I can be myself even playing an old traditional blues… and people feel that.
The harp to me it’s only an instrument. Probably the instrument I can use better.. but just an instrument.

Where did you pick up your harmonica style? What characterizes your sound & your progress?
I started playing blues with harmonica listening to the masters, first of all Little Walter and all the harmonica players of Muddy Waters. Probably you can hear some Chicago blues style in my sound… maybe personalized… I hope

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
I think I’m blessed. I had the chance to play with some great blues musicians in Italy and in the States. I learned from everyone… sometimes just listening to their music, usually just playing with them. The great bluesmen often do not teach you anything directly but if they decide to let you play with them, this is a great achievement and you have to try to learn as much as possible.

Who were your first idols, what have been some of your musical influences?
Muddy Waters and all the musicians who gravitated around him.

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
From the heart, the brain and the soul.

What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a bluesman?
Aw… that’s a hard question. Actually I don’t know. I have a great respect for the blues and the bluesmen… and I don’t know if I can say to be a bluesman. I’m just tryin’ to do a good job!

Are there any memories from INTERNATIONAL BLUES CHALLENGE in Memphis, which you’d like to share with us?
International Blues  Challenge was a great experience. These days all the blues music world is concentrated in Memphis and you are on the stage. It’s incredible. I met people from every american states and from all over the world.
I have a lot of new contacts and friends from everywhere.
I have to thanks MOJO Station (the blues society from Rome I represented) and the Blues Foundation, they do every year a great job.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Paul Oscher & Bob Margolin?
When I was starting my performance (with the Jacknives band) at my first International Blues Challenge in Memphis (2006) the announcer said “Ladys and Gentlemen two great legends are coming in the house Mr Paul Oscher and Mr Bob Margolin”. Can you immagine? At the end Paul came to me and said “My name is Paul Oscher” and gave me his card…I just said “I KNOW!!!”.  When I started playing blues I heard everyday the Muddy Waters album “Live at Mister Kelly” with Paul on harmonica and I always considered Paul one of my favorite.
I played with Bob Margolin the day after in Memphis and then in Europe.
With Paul I played in Italy and I met him in the States where we bought together the guitar that I still play.

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your gigs with Harvey Brooks & Preston Hubbard?
I met Harvey in Tucson, Arizona and we played together thanks to our mutual friend Tom Walbank. We even recorded something at  Harvey’s studio. I couldn’t think He was the same musician I heard in such important albums (Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Electric Flag…)… and He was so humble and nice with me! He’s great and we planned to do something together in Europe with Tom Walbank. Hope to do that next summer.
My experience with Preston is incredible! I met him in St.Louis in 2008 thanks to a mutual friend and he invited me to stay at his house for two weeks. And He didn’t know me! He just saw something about me on the web …and He invited me to play with his band in St. Louis. It was a blast! Preston is a giant to me… one of my heroes!

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?
Inspiration comes from everything. From what’s happening and what is not happening to me. From what I live or only what I think.

When it all began for the blues in Italy, who is considered the "godfather" of the blues in Italy?
One of the first blues musician in Italy was Fabio Treves from Milan in the 70’s. He still plays and He always did his best to promote the blues in Italy playing in clubs, festivals, hosting radio program and writing in different magazines.

Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Italy
There are a lot of blues band nowadays in Italy and a lot of great musicians! Someone plays all over the world like Enrico Crivellaro, Pietro Taucher,  Luca Giordano, Roberto Morbioli and many others. Probably the problem is to play music in Italy because of the crisis… it seems that in times of crisis the first thing they cut is the culture. They do nothing to promote and encourage the music. They keep to put taxes on live music and this does not help!

Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?
Also today, the period is interesting for the blues scene but the problem is that there aren’t opportunities to play, to express themselves.

What mistake of Italian blues scene you want to correct, do the media help the blues?
Yes, I believe the media can help the blues… but usually in Italy the media confuse the blues with something else. I’m not talking about the different ways to play the blues or the different styles… I’m talking about some “pop star” confused with a bluesman because of his hat. That’s weird.

Do you believes it has the possibility of someone musician to live only with the blues in your country?
I’m doin’ and I’m happy… but would not recommend it to anyone.
Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?
First of all Muddy…

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your gig at the Way of Blues Revue in Jackson, Mississippi?
The Way of Blues Revue are King Edward, Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry, Mickey Rogers and Dr. Alphonso Sanders. Four of the most important bluesmen in Mississippi. They have traveled the Blues Highway from Mississippi, to St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, throughout the world and back to Mississippi. Dr. Alphonso Sanders is director of the B.B. King recording studio and a great sax player. These musicians have been noted on Mississippi Blues Trail Markers and honored by Mississippi Blues Festivals for their life work. I played with them last year and it was like to be at the University of the blues. The people at gig in Jackson were fantastic, like a family!
I had the chance to record some tunes for the next cd of Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry in Clarksdale, I’m really proud about that.

Who are some of your favorite blues musician of today? What was the last record you bought?
Paul Oscher is definitely one of my favorite, and Steve Guyger and Kim Wilson. The last record I bought… Big Pete “Choice Cuts” (Delta Groove)… this guy is great!

What’s the best jam you ever played in?
Me and Bob Corritore at Rhythm Room in Phoenix, AZ.

Tell me a few things about your experience in the 3rd Delta Groove All Star Blues Revue at the Groundzero in Clarksdale
It was in 2008, the day after the Blues Music Awards. All the blues world was at Ground Zero.
I remember Bob Corritore introduced me on stage and I started playing with a super band, Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass and Tony Braunagel on drums. I will never forget that night…and then all the jams outside the club!

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the blues craft?
Probably you can’t plan your life in this way. You have to play music (and blues) if you like to play music for yourself. You have to try to do it in the best way and with respect. You can’t play three months and decide to have your own blues. You have to know the tradition… maybe one day you could have your own sound.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?
Probably because the blues is folk music, it’s about life. The fads have always walked around the life of a man.
A man can change his hair cut but remains a man. So… the blues always remains.

Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?
Too many songs… I just can not decide

What are your plans for the future & do you have a message for the Greek fans?
Playing my blues around and promoting my new CD… it seems like a good plan to do in Greece also!!!

Marco Pandolfi - Official website

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