Veteran guitarist Arthur 'Arti' Funaro talks about the Blues, Alice Cooper, BB King and The Rhinestones

"There is no Political Correctness going down around it and Black, White, Green, Purple or whatever kind of people that sing and play Blues, we think it’s just a pain in the ass. Shut up and play!"

Arthur 'Arti' Funaro: The Art of Blues

Veteran American guitarist, Arthur 'Arti' Funaro born in Connecticut on July 18, 1950 and studied in Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. He's also well-known as Devlin 7, or Johnny Dime recorded and shared the stage with Alice Cooper, Lloyd Perna, Bobby Bland, Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Kat McCord, Happy Traum, Garland Jeffreys, Janis Ian, The Rhinestones, Eric Andersen, Kane Roberts and many others.

Arti says: “I am a musician. Always have been, always will be. Since the entertainment industry does not have a 401k or good health insurance, I did straight jobs for the last 20 years. I truly apologize to all my fellow musicians, writers, performers, crew members, engineers and most of all to my own Soul for losing my way. But I have returned to you, my true musical passion and creativity. I solemnly vow, never to leave you again. I can play most everything, although my hands always lead me to the guitar or keyboard. I can write everything from hip-hop rap to circus band music and everything in between. Need a song for a funeral? I'm your man. Need music for when you enter a room? Need a theme song for your doorbell? I can do it. Fast and reasonable. I have written for major motion pictures, student films, porno movies, cartoons, video games and anything that requires a "unique and unusual" approach. Music is my first language. I could read music before I could read words. It is what I do. It is what I am.” Known as Devlin 7, or Johnny Dime, Arti played and toured with Alice Cooper's as a guitarist and actor. In 1983, Arti Funaro and Artie Traum released the book “Chicago Blues Guitar”, a story of Chicago blues guitar in words and music.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture and circuits? What does the blues mean to you?

I was thrust into the professional Rock & Roll circuit when I was 14. However, I was inspired beyond belief by it, since age 4. I did not want to be Elvis Presley. I wanted to be his guitarist. Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis were my icons of rock.  They incorporated Rockabilly, Blues and my favorite, Boogie Woogie into their song arrangements. I used to stand outside the window of the black Baptist church up the street in the wintertime just to hear the unusual and addictive rhythms and harmonies. I froze my ass off until the pastor caught me one night and invited me in. The piano and organ players would just knock me out! The price of admission was having to listen to a passionate and sometimes violent sermon from the Preacher. He sang sooooo good. I don’t like church choirs much. The harmonies are too simple and their vibrato could melt wallpaper. I made my own guitar out of a cigar box and two yardsticks glued together, and would play along with the radio. Then, when I was old enough, my Dad would let me play his and eventually he bought me one of my own. The rest is history.

The Blues is everything to me. It is like blood to a vampire. I lived a most unfortunate lonely life as a child, getting bullied and beaten daily. I was always sickly and weak. My Dad was an out of work musician who worked as a security guard to clothe and feed us. He became an alcoholic before I was born so that was unfortunately, my reference point. My Mom worked in a factory most of her life. I was a “latch-key” kid who was alone most of the time. I had no protection going to and from school. Always had bruises or cuts of some kind or another. I was a dirty, smelly unwashed kid so the girls didn’t like me much either. I never went out on a date until I was 20. I was introduced to “Straight Blues” when I went to music school. My dad died when I was 13 so my Mom had to work 2 jobs to put me there. My roommate had an Albert King album, “Born Under a Bad Sign” on Chess Records. It changed my life. For the first time, I heard music that expressed how I felt, right down to my soul. After that I couldn’t get enough of it. I learned, I practiced, I learned some more. I took gigs that didn’t pay just to play the Blues. To this day, my favorite gigs are when my bar tab is greater than my pay for the night and when I get outside I have a parking ticket on my car. I would not listen to anything else for years. I would play other gigs for money and then, as tired as I was, go to after-hours clubs to sit in and “make my bones” and “pay my dues”. I was accepted into the Blues World but not without a fight. I am white. Sometimes I couldn’t get in to the clubs. Sometimes I was threatened with my guitar being stolen if I didn’t go away. But finally, after I was given a chance and took my ax out, everything changed. Some blues cats said that I played like an old man and that I didn’t play very “white”. This was due to all the Soul Bands I played with in my teenage years. James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Isley Brothers, and on and on. The Blues made me friends where I had none. It got me women and I gained experience with them. They say the Blues is just about a good man feelin’ bad. Nothing could be closer to the truth. I have lived the Blues man’s life, all my life.

"I would love to go to the Mississippi Delta and play with those old Blues Dudes, the kind that encourage everyone in the group to play and play their best. To be part of something that doesn’t suck." (Photo: Arti jammin the Blues in his home, California 2015)

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your sound and philosophy?

I started Blues Research for money. A folk singer from Woodstock, (go figure) got a book deal and the books were to be all about guitarists, blues, rock and etc. He knew very little about this genre and was looking for an expert to write with. I really didn’t want to do this, because it was like writing a book about breathing or eating. Unnecessary and insulting. Who was gonna read this stuff, spoiled and bored children? Who could possibly learn about the Blues from a Goddam book? Then he told me I’d have half authorship and half the royalties and my attitude changed. I had to eat, Man. My job turned out to be transcribing guitar solos (blues and rock) into music notation and in fucking TABLATURE! Tablature represents laziness to me. I do not approve of it. Now I saw where this was going. Kids that had acoustic guitars, that couldn’t read music were going to have little diagrams on where to put their fingers. I felt I had sold out. So...I picked the hardest, most difficult solos you ever heard for the books. Stuff NOBODY could play. It was my own private joke. I actually wrote out the intro guitar solo from Johnny Winter’s “Be Careful With a Fool” I don’t know anyone but me that can play it note for note, but I smiled to myself thinking how the little bastards would even try. Maybe ONE would “get it”. That is the student I was looking for. I got more writing gigs out of that book, including “Chicago Blues”.  I had no creative say, except what I could con them into thinking was good for selling more books. I tried my best to keep the quality high, but books like this are bullshit. All of them. You can’t learn Blues from a book. You learn the Blues from life.

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

I met Albert King in a baseball field dugout once. It was like meeting God to me. He was the opening act for the Young Rascals and the concert got rained out. It was in a baseball field and the only protection was in the dugout. He was a nice man.

Jaco Pastorious was an acquaintance of mine that reminded me to take it easy with the drugs and the booze.

Not many acquaintances for me in the Blues world. I don’t get along with people too well and I never cultivated working or personal relationships with other blues musicians. We just showed up to our gigs and played. 

I SAW blues greats all over though. Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Eric Clapton. These were my teachers.

The best advice I ever received was from B.B. King. The Rhinestones were opening act in Atlanta for him and I met him backstage when he arrived for the night’s show. I was practicing in the dressing room on my Gibson 355, just like his, and he stopped to listen a bit. He said, “I’ll tell ya son. I’d rather hear 1 note that you mean than a thousand notes that you don’t” I slowed down. He also told me a very dirty story about his youth on the farm, but we won’t go into that.

"Blues is everywhere. As soon as you flat the 7th in any melody, you got Blues. Almost every rock song is based on some Blues progression or another. Hard to tell these days with all the disposable music." (Photo: Arti Funaro & Harvey Brooks on stage, The Rhinestones c. 1970s)

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

Few, since I was more concerned with getting my notes out than who I was with.   

I played Blues gigs with Lloyd Perna, Bobby Bland, Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and many others, at the black I.B.E W. hall (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) in Waltham, MA. There is where I cut my teeth and made my bones. I played with hundreds of blues musicians from all over the country. There was something magical about that hall. One night, out of nowhere I played a solo during Bobby's RAUNCHY version of "Heartbreak Hotel" and I got a standing ovation. Bobby said that I had made time stand fucking still.

The rest of my musical life has been just gigging, Man. Work, plain and simple.

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

Now you touch on a sore subject for me. I come from the 50’s. Songs had melodies that you could remember and whistle on the way home. There were lyrics that touched your heart, as if they had been written just for you. The music of today is (mostly) disposable. It is dominated by yodeling women that all sound the same. They all sound like pissed off chicks to me. Their men must suck, given that our society has tried repeatedly to cut off our balls. The songs have the same chords, just mixed up and I can’t tell the difference. Male singers sound like girls now and that’s a shame. This world worked better when men and women were very different from each other. Just a shame.

My fears for the future are that with so much social media and so many mobile devices, young people don’t have time for anything meaningful in the way of music. They are not easily distracted from their phones. The stuff out there now is just crap, like toast without butter, and it’s getting worse, not better. No flavor. No emotion. Plain toast, Man. That’s OK. I still have my guitars.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

NO MORE YODELING, PISSED OFF WOMEN ON THE RADIO!

"One of the only saving graces of the music industry (which I despise) is that it seems to be color blind. I never gave a thought to what race, color or creed someone I worked with was. Let’s just play, OK? I knew white guys that could really hammer it out." (Photo: Arti with Jonas Por, 1971)

How started the thought of Chicago Blues Guitar (Book)? What are the legacies of Blues music to music nowadays?

The Chicago Blues book was the idea of my publisher since he knew I was a Blues Man. I am not a fan of Chicago blues. I like Albert King, not B.B. King. I love TEXAS Blues, although I think Stevie Ray Vaughn was a thief of Albert’s and he NEVER should have sang. His voice was awful. I am a Mississippi Delta fanatic. Not this Robert Cray crap that America buys hook line and sinker. Johnny Winter was the last authentic Blues Master I know of in America. I took his passing very hard. The book was just one of those gigs I did when I was down and out and needed money.         

Blues is everywhere. As soon as you flat the 7th in any melody, you got Blues. Almost every rock song is based on some Blues progression or another. Hard to tell these days with all the disposable music. Guys singin’ about just what there are going to do to some chick, and if they were really going to do those things they’d be doin’ it instead of singin’ about it. I am glad to see that Blues Clubs still exist in just about every civilized country. It will never die, never die with me at least.

Again the text in this book was written by someone who knew nothing about it. The music was all mine. I did the best I could not to embarrass myself for being involved with it at all.

What has made you laugh with Alice Cooper and what touched (emotionally) you from Fabulous Rhinestones?

I thought that the whole Alice (Heavy Metal) thing was hilarious. I laughed at myself for taking the gig, and just the fact that I was able to pull it off. One night, Jerry Lee Lewis’ daughter came to our show (and she had Dad’s prescription bottles to prove it). After the last song (and after my nightly solo) She rushed up the stage before I could even leave and said, “You don’t belong here. You’re a Blues guy. What are you doing here?” I asked myself the same question. Seems like the band was more interested in flipping their hair than playin’ the tunes. When I left, I helped Alice pick out a new band of great musicians. They didn’t last as long as I did. Even though the pay was great. Kids!

The Fabulous Rhinestones. My first big commitment. Emotional? It was all emotional. I got hired as a sideman on salary and before I knew it I signed my soul over to a .5 Million$ debt with the record company. I had to play the same songs for years since the leaders refused to change with the times. We should have just played straight Blues, which is what Kal David does best. I played rhythm guitar and it killed me. I had notes to play and I couldn’t get them out doing a dinky 16 bars of soloing near the end of the night. The last years of the band were torture for all of us. We added conga drums and we ended up sounding like a Disco band. I was stagnating. Bored and frustrated. I was relieved when it all ended, even with no gigs in sight. I love Kal, and he plays great. We got along. But I shouldn’t have ever taken that gig. Livin’ the Blues, Man.

I had been a fan of Harvey Brooks (bass) since  the late 60's when he played with The Electric Flag. My dream came true when I joined the Rhinestones. He was the reason I took the job. I spent more than 5 years playing with one of the greatest Blues bassists to walk the planet. He lives in Israel now.

"The Blues made me friends where I had none. It got me women and I gained experience with them. They say the Blues is just about a good man feelin’ bad. Nothing could be closer to the truth. I have lived the Blues man’s life, all my life." (Photo: The Fabulous Rhinestones - Eric Parker, Bob Leinbach, Kal David, Arti Funaro, Billy Curtis and Harvey Brooks, New York c.1975)

What is the impact of t Blues and Rock culture and music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Great questions, Michael. One of the only saving graces of the music industry (which I despise) is that it seems to be color blind. I never gave a thought to what race, color or creed someone I worked with was. Let’s just play, OK? I knew white guys that could really hammer it out. I knew black guys that couldn’t hold a tune if it was in a bag with handles on it. I think that music in general breaks down all barriers. It reminds us, or rather DISTRACTS us from all of the racial and political shit that we have to think about in everyday life. There is no Political Correctness going down around it and Black, White, Green, Purple or whatever kind of people that sing and play Blues, we think it’s just a pain in the ass. Shut up and play!

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better musician?

My hardest obstacles have always been the same. Lead singers. Their ego gets in the way of the music. They only care about THEIR image and fuck everyone else. Most times they are not “all that” anyway so I left more groups than I stayed with. Also, if you don’t have a good business mind, then you are royally fucked. There are so many musical vultures out there, so paranoid that something you played might lessen THEIR appeal, that they try and squash you any way that they can. It’s cut throat out there. Sucks. They play mind games on you too (or try). Keep you down, ya know? Rising above that crap, and telling yourself every day that you count and that you are valid is the cure or at least the medicine for those symptoms. To be great in business, you have to be a real dick and I want no part of that. That’s why I got out. I play for an audience of one now…Me. Has all that made me a better musician? Hell no. I made me a better musician, and that didn’t happen until I let go of the music business. I play better now than I did when I was 21 and no one will ever hear it. No biggy. Better than putting up with dicks.

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

I would love to go to the Mississippi Delta and play with those old Blues Dudes, the kind that encourage everyone in the group to play and play their best. To be part of something that doesn’t suck. A whole day of dudes just playin’ together, playin’ the SONG and supporting the focus, whether it be a singer or a soloist. The groove is king. No egos out of control, no little babies whining about their careers. No Bullshit. All day. “Heaven” I think it’s called.

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