Q&A with Italian blues musician Riccardo Grosso, found a magic connection when hit the stage with his band

"The fact that music can save lives is true, but not more than a baker when you are starving or a doctor when you are sick, so be grounded, kind and respectful to others giving them the best music you can."

Riccardo Grosso: Blues On The Road

Italian musician Riccardo Grosso is playing harmonica for a living and has been around since early 2000s, sharing the stage with Blues Brothers Band as special guest, Johnny Sansone, John Fhol and taking his music and his harmonica all around Europe and in USA. He won rave reviews and respect of Blues artists, media and Blues legends thanks to his mature style on the instrument. While he is in love with the great harmonica players he stays away from imitating them: that took him to carve his own style, both musically speaking and on the harmonica/vocals side. The band has been reviewed in the past as "tremendous" by Charie Musselwhite, bringing "real strokes of genius" and "fantastic atmospheres" all around Europe since the band started touring the continent both in festivals and clubs. Riccardo Grosso’s new album “The Road And The Room” is a triple treat album for Blues lovers. December 15th, 2021 is the release date set for “The Road And The Room” the new post-covid album by Riccardo Grosso and his Blues Band. Surviving an abrupt stop with a calendar filled with gigs all around Europe, Grosso and the band stayed silent, calm and armed themselves with patience.

(Photo: Riccardo Grosso)

But that does not mean they weren’t active: Riccardo started to dig in the audio files of the band’s live concerts tracked before the lock down and found some music and tracks that once together, made it to a live session of 6 tunes. Adding a couple of studio works, he decided it was worth publishing for Blues lovers and music aficionados. So, this is a three part CD: the first is played live with Flavio Paludetti on guitar and the former rhythm section (Cocco Marinoni on bass and Federico Patarnello on drums). This is a selection about what the band does when performing on stage: there are different grooves, atmospheres and energy all of them coming from the same live show. Then you get as deep in the Blues as it gets, with “Fattening Frogs For Snakes” from Sonny Boy Williamson’s repertoire that Riccardo took in a more intimate dimension: the song features vocals, harmonica and a misterious percussive sound only. All of them played by Riccardo. Closing the album there is a real “lock down” testimony, in fact Til The Money Runs Out (written by Tom Waits’ – one of Riccardo’s heroes) was recorded with Flavio (as guitarist and bassist on this take) and Cristian Cecchetto (on drums), when the lock down was going on. This song is now part of the band’s live set.

Interview by Michael Limnios                         RGBand, 2015 @ blues.gr Interview

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

It opened my eyes on the different sides of every story and to pay attention to the “forgotten ones”, the people who are less lucky. It’s matter of luck to be where you are in the first place. If you think about it, if somebody was born few hours of flight from Italy, for example, that could mean dealing with some really rough reality where starving, riots, bombing are happening every single day. That’s what the Blues taught me: never underestimate how lucky we are and that “everything’s gonna be alright” for real. And to be really respectful for the music. It may sound crazy, but if you treat music right, if you are really honest with it, music is going to pay you back, but you have to be true at heart. It’s going to pay you back even if you treat music bad and use it for your means. And that’s going to be hurtful.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

That’s a deep question. First words coming into my mind about my sound: “a scream to the people to get together and do something”. It may be everything between having a good time together without the electronic devices filters or start a non-violent revolution of ideas. I think about music as the nowadays “Polis” (being Greek you know what this means): you get together, you talk, discuss, evolve because you learn from each other. Music is life, you have to live it no matter if you are playing it or listening to it, you should get up, move to where it’s  happening and dig it. That’s what I think about music: World’s glue. And it’s magic: you don’t need to speak any language, you just need to let the sound happens. And everybody can get the feeling and the meaning.

My songbook is a hand selection of songs that are telling a story. I really don’t like to have grooves to improvise over, like I see happening too many times. I don’t like to play it safe with tunes that are overplayed with the excuse “that’s what people want”. I think it’s musicians’ responsibility to give to the listeners some new alternative to listen, may them be from the great artists’ repertoire (for example in the new album there are cover songs only that we played with a twist) or personal views on different subjects when writing original songs. For example, I can’t sing the “baby I love you so” stuff if I’m writing songs. I want to explore the other sides of love, the dark sides, where nobody would go. We are writing new original songs and in some of them I look into depression, the disease of modernity, or I’m writing about how some relationships are built on not so strong basis. I can’t lie, you know? That’s my creative drive: move prospective of the same subject and – to quote that Johnny Cash movie, when he was auditioning to get that record deal – “sing the song you would sing when dying”. What a light answer, huh?

"I’m finishing a 500 pages handbook about the harmonica and even if I know I’ve pretty much written all I know about it in the simplest form as possible, I feel I could write more and more every day. I think I’m in an endless, wonderful journey and I know I’m lucky I can enjoy the ride." (Photo: Riccardo Grosso)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I think more. I edit more. And I write music sheets now. Sometimes for the whole band. Not that I feel like I’m a music director or anything like the great music composers, but now I have a wider vision and when I got an idea in my mind, I try to develop it for the whole band, so musicians I’m playing with can figure out better where I want to go. And I think I’ve improved putting a frame around my way of writing. In the beginning I was more “everything can be played as Blues” (and I still think that) so I’ve tried to push the borders with results I liked, and I didn’t. Today I still experiment that way, but I can hear when something isn’t right for what I want to do. I’m more Bluesy now, less afraid of making it sound as Blues as possible, even if I leave the doors opened for every influence I can get into my music. The way I write isn’t change: a song come into my mind every now and then, sometimes I’m more creative, sometimes I’m not creative at all, so I write the lyrics down as I used to do. It used to be like “these lyrics are definitive” when first were written down, today is more “these lyrics are a good starting point” and then they get into editing process that can be endless, so I’m learning to give me a finish line: when they are ok with the music and they are musical, when they are telling something cohesive I have to say to myself: “Ok. Stop here and move on to the next song”.

Do you have any interesting and fun stories about the making of the new album The Road And The Rood?

The Road And The Room has been a wonderful journey for me: as musician I feel I got better than the earlier works. I sing better and I play harmonica with more musical sense. But the great part, for me personally, was this challenge with myself of being in charge of producing, mixing and mastering the album. These are all sides of an album production that I never cared too much about, but I was never really happy with the final results of the recording I’ve been part of. So, when Covid hit the World and forced everybody to stop I’ve started to dig more into mixing, mastering and how to do it “in the box”, without going to a studio. At the beginning it was for personal interest, honest. I wanted to know how to make that harmonica sound good when mixing, or how to have a snapping snare, or get some kind of sound. Then I’ve started to work on the material I had and when Flavio Paludetti said: “let’s record Til The Money Runs Out” I was like: “Ok, I would mix it so I can see if I’m able to do that”. The result weren’t bad and I had a lot of fun being on somebody else’s shoes: it makes me have more control on every aspect of productions, so it’s all good and, I’m sure, will improve in the future.

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I don’t know if that life changing, but I can tell you it was wonderful, magic and somehow a milestone in my personal career. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been so lucky to be the Italian professional harmonica player and harmonica teacher (with students from all over Europe e from US too! One student is from Athens as well!). I’ve been performing in places I’ve only dreamed about, but the following is – to me – a milestone. I’ve been playing with the Original Blues Brothers Band. It was in Italy on 2019 New Year’s Eve. Rob Paparozzi invited me to join them, and it was because of the Blues Brothers movie I’ve started playing harmonica. It’s like closing the loop. During that night and the performance, I was really relaxed and enjoyed the music (I was on stage with awesome musicians that are part or have been performed with legendary bands and artists, spanning from Earth, Wind and Fire to Paul McCartney!) but the morning after the show I was on cloud nine! And I was joking like “I’ve started because of them; I’ve played with them. Now I can stop play harmonica. The loop is closed…”. Of course, I couldn’t stop play harmonica and music: once you are in, you aren’t quitting.

"I’m more Bluesy now, less afraid of making it sound as Blues as possible, even if I leave the doors opened for every influence I can get into my music. The way I write isn’t change: a song come into my mind every now and then, sometimes I’m more creative, sometimes I’m not creative at all, so I write the lyrics down as I used to do." (Photo: Riccardo Grosso Blues Band)

Are there any memorable moments with people that you’ve performed with either live or in the studio?

I may be naïve, but every moment when music happens is somehow memorable: when you have musicians like “Blue” Lou Marini telling you sounded good, like Rob Paparozzi confessing that he “stole some licks” from one of your songs, Johnny Sansone complimenting with “harmonica sounds amazing” it’s all great. But what I think it’s really memorable is when you are making things happening and see new faces, new people in the audience of the events and concerts you are doing. New blood and life in the Blues scene. That’s what I think it’s more important and memorable: knowing you are putting in your two cents on keeping this music alive and delivering it to people who are finding out – thanks to your efforts – that they love Blues music. That’s, to me, is the greatness of the music.

What were the reasons that started the harmonica research? What touched you from the sound of Mississippi sax?

At the beginning I just wanted to be the next Elwood Blues, that’s it. Then I’ve discovered all the great harmonica players and I’ve figured out how this wonderful instrument can really sound. It’s the closest instrument to the human voice and you can get all the microtonality out of it, so quarter tones are all there (and to my ears even something more). Once I’ve found all these potentialities out and how personal this instrument can be I’ve started to fix some method, rules and a way to make it musical and don’t get lost into it. What keeps me interested and makes me get deeper and deeper into knowing this instrument in my way is how easy it seems for the casual player to make the harmonica sound, but how hard is to play it properly. I’m finishing a 500 pages handbook about the harmonica and even if I know I’ve pretty much written all I know about it in the simplest form as possible, I feel I could write more and more every day. I think I’m in an endless, wonderful journey and I know I’m lucky I can enjoy the ride.

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

The fact that being a professional musician doesn’t mean anything: there are a lot of awesome musicians out there who are working day-time jobs due to different reasons and that maybe they’d deserve to play full-time more than a lot of so-called professionals. The fact that music can save lives is true, but not more than a baker when you are starving or a doctor when you are sick, so be grounded, kind and respectful to others giving them the best music you can. You can learn from everybody, and music isn’t about how many technique or theory you know, it’s about what you sound like. Be humble and open: you never know when and where you can learn, get better and make progress. I’ve seen a quote from Luther Allison once: “Leave ego, love people, play the music” or something like that. That’s a good summary of the lessons, right?

Riccardo Grosso Blues Band - Home

(Riccardo Grosso / Photo by Paola Viola)

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