Q&A with New York Blues Hall of Famer Vito Liuzzi, a veteran musician/producer, who spans all forms of music

"The Blues is all about the human experience. Blues is really the foundation of all music past and present. It gets to the heart and soul. Tells stories of joy and pain, loss and recovery, enlightenment, frustration, cheating, stealing, unfaithfulness."

Vito Liuzzi: Music with Power & Emotions

New York Blues Hall of Famer drummer, vocalist, producer, and engineer, Vito Liuzzi have worked with Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Warren Haynes, Elvin Bishop, Dr. John, The Allman Brothers, Leslie West, Low Rider Band, Los Lobos, Hubert Sumlin, Honeyboy Edwards, Tommy Castro, Kim Wilson, Blood Sweat and Tears, Kim Simmonds, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeshi, Sonny Landreth, Ronnie Earl, James Cotton, Robin Williams, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Keb' Mo, Kenny Neal, Joe Louis Walker, Slam Allen, The Uptown Horns, Taj Mahal, Michael Bolton, Michael Allman, Latoya Jackson, Papa John Creach, John Scofield, Alvin Queen, Earl Slick, Lee Rocker, James Montgomery, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Vivino, Dickey Betts, Stephen Stills, Ian Hunter, Phoebe Snow, Angela Clemmens, John Paris, Stars on 45, Howard Stern, Davey Jones, Mickey Dolenz (The Monkees), Lester Chambers, Harvey Brooks, Lou Reed, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Chaz Palmenteri (Streets of the Bronx), Eric Sardinas, Bill Perry, and many more spanning all forms of music...                                                                      (Photo: Vito Luizzi)

Vito says: "Music has the power to evoke a vast array of emotions. Personally I favor music that tells a story of emotions and positive messages. It can span Blues, hardrock, pop, jazz, classical. Vocal or instrumental. In performance or recording I always dig down deep to give my most heartfelt performance. This is the goal of any true artist!"

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues/Rock music influenced your views of the world? How do you understand music, and the meaning of life?

I have traveled to many places on this earth and the one constant I found was when people saw you as a musician, they welcomed you as a person that would raise their conciseness level to one of a shared experience of peace and love. The Blues is all about the human experience. Blues is really the foundation of all music past and present. It gets to the heart and soul. Tells stories of joy and pain, loss and recovery, enlightenment, frustration, cheating, stealing, unfaithfulness. The best songs are the ones that the artist has actually lived thru. So in my 55 years of playing Blues/Rock around the world, my view of the world is that music is a common denominator for everyone. We (most of us) all want to sing and dance and love.

My understanding of music is it is a personal form of expressing ones emotions and feelings and transcending them to an audience to share.

How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Music has the power to evoke a vast array of emotions. Personally I favor music that tells a story of emotions and positive messages. It can span Blues, hardrock, pop, jazz, classical. Vocal or instrumental. In performance or recording I always dig down deep to give my most heartfelt performance. This is the goal of any true artist!

Balancing technique and soul is an art form itself. There are many that think a vast array of musical knowledge and insane performance chops is soulful. Not so, that only impresses for a moment and does not evoke soul. Soul is truth not flash! People listening to you want to feel your soul. Jeff Beck would be a perfect example. He could mesmerize an audience by bending one note or amaze them with his masterful technique! Either way he shared his soul with the audience. This is what I strive for every nite.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Back in the ’70’s I was working for Blood, Sweat and Tears driving and setting up equipment. It was an incredible opportunity to work for some great musicians. Bobby Colomby was the drummer and co leader. Meeting and working for him was very influential to me. I was right behind him every nite learning from one of the greatest drummers! I learned the business of touring with them and road survival. I can’t thank them enough!

"Blues will always be around. People need it! It takes different forms and interpretations." (Vito Liuzzi / Photo by Lancelot Purdee)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Very early in my career the band I was with started to play nite clubs. These were long gigs back then starting at 9PM and going to 3AM. We got a gig at a club in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. We played steady 3 nites a week for a few months. Always paid in cash. Everyone there was always well dressed in suits. We always wondered why these guys were always going down to the basement with the owner. This was a mob joint! But they were always cool with us. One day my girl friend comes home and says the bank says the money I gave her is counterfeit! So I go to the club and get the owner. “Tony, the bank says the money you gave me is counterfeit“! He says, “Of course it’s counterfeit, you guys suck do you think I’d give you real money”!

Jams! Unless I was out on tour I was always involved in a house jam band, and still doing them now. One thing that you must always be open to is you can learn something from anyone. Nobody sucks, they are just in a different place in time than you are! I can’t tell you how many different little things I picked up from watching players that were beginners or pros. The beginners had a fresh untrained approach to their instrument which was refreshing to see. All about attitude! One example was going to a club called CBGB’S to hear a band called the Ramones. “They sucked, but they were Great”!

On one tour in Warsaw, Poland our opening act was a 3 piece Russian blues band. They could hardly speak English, but they covered Stevie Ray Vaughn perfectly! The drummer sat behind me every nite for our set. He wanted to see and learn the real Texas shuffle. We did not speak each others language, but we understood each other thru our love of music and blues and vodka! On the road one must remember that there is 2 hours of playing and 22 hours of hanging out! With the right combination of personalities this is your extended family who you care very deeply about. You all have each others back. So if you are an annoying person, this is not for you. Unless you like being stuffed in a road case and shipped back home!

A highlight in my life was meeting Ringo. I’m never really ever starstruck by anyone but this was Ringo! I told him the night I saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show I thought he was the coolest cat in the universe, and that he was my main inspiration for playing drums. He gave me a big hug and took some pictures. I’m sure he does hear that story a lot because at that moment thousands of people worldwide became musicians. He was so gracious and made you feel like that's the first time he’s heard that story. Thank you Ringo! I am blessed for having been given the opportunities to travel the world and experience many different cultures and lands. It has made me a better person. All these experiences thru a pair of drumsticks, amazing!

"Music has the power to evoke a vast array of emotions. Personally I favor music that tells a story of emotions and positive messages. It can span Blues, hardrock, pop, jazz, classical. Vocal or instrumental. In performance or recording I always dig down deep to give my most heartfelt performance. This is the goal of any true artist!" (Photo: Vito Liuzzi with Ringo Starr & Edgar Winter)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Τhere are vast differences of the way music was created then and now. In the past you had to learn an instrument to play music. You would practice your instrument for hours day after day, trying to get a musical sound from it. There are some musicians who will never say they are masters of their instrument, even after 50 years of performance and practice. You get together with others who share your passion, you connect on a non verbal level, seeking to reach a higher level of musicianship. When all players were on this vibe they were incredible!

Recording studios then were a secret sacred mysterious place. My first time in the studio was a humiliating experience. I was in awe of how things sounded so much better on tape than they did live! But, I could not play with a click track and didn’t know how to get the best sound out of my drums. I went and worked hard to get all that right cause this is what I wanted to do.

Βack then you had to be good to make a recording or you would be replaced by a pro studio musician. All recording was done on tape machines with 2-4 tracks. The band all played the track together, if one person made a mistake everyone had to do the track again. There were many times this turned into 40 or 50 takes of one song!

Everyone came to the studio ready to give their best performance with passion ! That’s why the past records will always be great. They were made with an urgency of “ Hey man you gotta listen to this”! There were mistakes yes, and that’s where the difference is. Music isn’t supposed to be perfect, it should be human, and humans are not perfect! Also songs, they got to all the cool progressions and words first. So there’s not too much left to come up with for something new without copying.

Jump ahead to nowadays, there are many good players, but not good songs. Recording is done in bedrooms and on your phone while sipping a latte in Starbucks! Loops were created by sampling sections of other artists music. Computers are the main recording device so everything is “clean and perfect”! They are not called recordings anymore, they are files. Sad, however I do see interest in many of my students seeking knowledge of those records and the players and engineers of that time. Maybe there’s hope.

"I learned respect for the many different cultures of music there are in this world. Music is universal and the method of delivery is the only differing factor. The feelings and emotions that are generated by an audience are universal no matter language barriers. We can all understand each other thru music." (Photo: Vito Liuzzi with Johnny Winter, Scott Spray and Paul Nelson)

What is the impact of the Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Thinking back to the time of Robert Johnson, he spent his life traveling on freight trains from town to town playing his music, which was blues. He played on street corners and speakeasy’s, just to make enough money to get to the next town. Many people heard him play, he was singing music for them, music about them and their situations. All while trying to bring them hope and happiness in their time of despair while I was touring for many years with Johnny Winter we used to talk about all the bluesmen and their impact on people. Johnny used to say “Blues is like food, people need it”! I agree, and when Johnny came to town he gave them a buffet of the best food you could imagine!

Even when the Beatles came to America, they were asked what did they want see? Paul said, ”Muddy Waters”! So even the most popular people in the world wanted to meet a real Bluesman. Rolling Stones named their band from a Muddy song! This music does not know rich or poor, it is for everyone’s soul. Blues music is, to me, a spiritual music. It has seen me thru bad times and good. It is there for us all to get back in touch with our soul. Bring it back home for all people!

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

“Success is Earned”! This phrase was written in my 8th grade graduation book by my Father. It has remained with me my whole life reminding me to never give up and always keep trying! I always will, thanks Dad!

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

I learned respect for the many different cultures of music there are in this world. Music is universal and the method of delivery is the only differing factor. The feelings and emotions that are generated by an audience are universal no matter language barriers. We can all understand each other thru music. These are only my observations after traveling the world and always connecting with people of different cultures thru performing or listening to my music or their music. Mutual respect.

"My understanding of music is it is a personal form of expressing ones emotions and feelings and transcending them to an audience to share."

(Vito Liuzzi / Photo by Lancelot Purdee)

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Blues will always be around. People need it! It takes different forms and interpretations. It is not necessarily 1, 4, 5 forever. Many people don’t know that they are hearing it, but they sure can feel it. Jazz and blues are the purest form of music because they are open to interpretation. The music yearns for you to inject yourself into it. Many nites playing with Johnny Winter he became one with his instrument. You could not separate them, it was incredible to see and feel. The same with John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, many, many more. BB King could play one note and people would feel it!

Young players will come up, and there are some now, that will attain this level of intensity. In doing so they will draw their audience closer to this music.

Many don’t realize that many pop artists are blues singers. Lady GAGA is a blues singer, Bruno Mars, Bonnie Raitt etc. Young audiences are already listening and enjoying blues music without even knowing that its blues. So have no fear, for Blues will always be here!

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