- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Photo Credit: Al Stuart
I don't think I have ever been as impressed as I am now in looking at Fabrizio Grossi's portable agenda. The amount of Rockstars' phone numbers present on Grossi's personal devices is as impressive as the one that a Prime Minister of a world country may have. From Billy Gibbons to Stevie Vai, Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, the list goes on for hours.
Fabrizio Grossi, originally from Italy but now an American citizen, has become in the last 30-plus years one of the most acclaimed producers worldwide, working side by side with the cream of the music establishment. Among his many talents, Grossi is also an excellent bass player and he has been involved in several music projects, in his career for many years now.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Sometimes, although, sadly, not very often in the music business, there are music stories that have an happy ending. When that happens, especially when it comes to recognizing the artistry of special musicians like JD Simo and his band, it makes one believe that there are still people within the music industry that understands and encourages broad talent.
Simo is a collective that has got the attention of the worldwide music press, thanks to the powerful combustion of blues, rock and R&B that this band is able to generate, live or studio. Let Love Show The Way, their new album recently released via Provogue/Mascot Label Group, clearly demonstrates the excellence of their music message and the band's incredible eclecticism.
Bluebird Reviews are absolute prvileged to talk to JD Simo, band leader and the driving force of Simo, about how Let Love Show The Way is an album that captures the sound of a band at the top of their game and how pleased JD is, on the outcome of this excellent record. "I am very happy. To me, it is indicative of the kind of music, regardless of genres, that the three of us in the band gravitates towards. I feel that we were able to capture some really good performances and I feel it's a genuinely honest record. The songs were written in a very spontaneous, organic way. No sitting down, no premeditation, it's just happened very naturally. I would say that the whole record is very organic and deeply truthful on what we are, as a band. I don't feel that anybody that buys this record will be disappointed, because it's honest and we are all very happy about the way the album sounds and shows who we are".
Simo is a band whose core word is definitely "improvisation". It's so impressive how easily the band is able to switch to different music styles with such natural ability and still maintain their signature sound. Among all tracks present on Simo's new album, Ain't Doing Nothing is, undoubtedly, a key song of the album that truly defines the creativity of the whole collective.
"That particular song is a jam, and it is indeed pure improvisation. We just started to work, on the second day at the Big House in Georgia and that song was the first thing we played that day. Adam (Abrashoff, drummer of the band) started to play that groove then I walked into the room, put the guitar on and away we went. That was exactly as it happened. It wasn't composed previously. There were several jams, many improvisations like that which we recorded while we were making the record but that was the one that I enjoyed the most. I guess, because I thought it had a very nice flow. That particular song is truly the core of what we do, definitely. It's what the three of us do naturally, whether it's a soundcheck or a rehearsal or a live performance, that spirit about us going where the music is taking us at that moment, is something that we love to do and it's the true representation of the band's spirit. And believe it or not, the only reason why I didn't start playing until a minute or so in, on that track, it's because I simply wasn't in the room yet! (giggles) I was in the kitchen, which we transformed in our control room, during the recording and the minute Adam started playing I said "Hey, I wanna play that!". So I ran in and off we went".
The Big House in Macon, Georgia, where the band created most of the album, is truly an iconic place, with beautiful high ceilings inside. The Allman Brothers Band used the place to write some of the best music of their career, many years ago. Given the fact that JD Simo loves to let the amp determine the sound of his guitar, one wonders how JD managed to catch the marvellous feedback and reverb that one can hear on the album, in such an unusual location with such structure. "Well, it wasn't that difficult, really, if you have a bit of recording experience. The three of us have a lot of experience in that respect and we didn't have any real problem at all. For the guitar, especially, it was just a matter of putting an extra microphone and moving around the room, trying to capture that natural ambience. That extra microphone, in the end, became the guitarist's echo chamber. That's part of the appeal, to me, of working in places that aren't proper recording studios. The reason is because, when things like these happen, they add a special ingredient, a special spice to the whole recording experience and that was certainly one of them for me".
JD's reputation and artistry as a guitarist has not gone unnoticed, especially by fellow musicians. The Blues/Rock Titan Joe Bonamassa, in particular, has always been one of JD's greatest admirers. "The two of us met in two different incarnations. The first was about 15-16 years ago, originally, when he was first starting out on his solo career and I was a teenager at the time, playing in bands and touring around. Our paths went in separate directions and we were re-acquainted about 6 years ago, through e-mail, because we had some mutual friends and he reached out to me when our group first formed. He was really nice to me, saying things like "I really enjoy what you guys are doing" and he kinda opened the door for a friendship to happen. Since then, we have been communicating a lot via e-mails, text messages, phone calls for a year or so, until we finally hung out for real and we became very close friends, as we have been now for several years. We manage to hang out together fairly often and he has always been an incredibly supportive figure for us since, pretty much, the very beginning. He is genuinely somebody I admire and love very much, a bit like an older brother to me. We are due to start the Blues Cruise again with him, for the second year in a row and I can't wait to jam with him, because I know we always have a lot of fun when we get together. It's easy to say how talented and great with guitar he is, but I gotta tell you that he is really a good guy, he really is and trust me, that is not a common thing, especially in music business".
(Simo - From left to right: Elad Shapiro (Bass) - JD Simo (Guitars & Vocals) - Adam Abrashoff (Drums)
The story behind Let Love Show The Way is very singular. JD had the album pretty much ready, prior to the Big House sessions, which were meant to just add bonus tracks to complete the album. Then, suddenly, something happened. "We indeed had a whole record finished, before we went to Georgia. The master was ready to be released and the Big House session was intended purely to record, as you were saying, some bonus tracks, as agreed with our record label. To be honest, the realisation of how much we accomplished when we were in Macon, came a week later, after the recording in Georgia. I had all this material and I thought that some of it was good, some was really good and when we got to do the mix with Nick, our engineer, after we mixed a couple of the songs, it was pretty obvious to me that I had to re-think my original plan about the album. I salvaged few of the songs from my original draft of the new record and add them to the stuff we recorded in Macon. Then, I re-sequenced the album, because I thought it was going to make a much better souunding one. Likely, our record label and our management agreed, which was a blessing for us. In retrospective, thinking about the time we had at the Big House, although I was very focused on the recording of the album, I think we all had a lot of fun and a great time. While we were there, I had the chance, for few moments, to stop and drink in the whole experience I was living at the House, thinking about the fact I was recording an album in the communal home where the Allman Brothers Band, some of my biggest music heroes have been recording. And to top all that, getting to play Duane Allman's Les Paul (very few guitarists had that privilege, ever), during that time, has been an extra special cherry on the cake".
Simo's new album is not just a true masterpiece from a sonic point of view but also when it comes to lyrics. Some of the lyrics, though, get a darker tone, when the subjects move towards losses or separation, like in tracks like Long May You Sail or Today I'm Here. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether JD needs to be in a particular place of his soul or state of mind when writing lyrics. "Not a particular one, no. For me, whenever I am writing, I don't feel I need to be somewhere spiritually. As per many people on this planet, I believe that there are equal parts of light and darkness in my consciousness. I like to think of myself more as an optimist then a pessimist, though. When I am working on something, it's just wherever my head is at that particular moment and it's usually not about anything necessarily in particular either. Few things that I write lyrically are about something really specific, I guess. The ability to write, for me, it's more about the immediacy, whatever it's coming out at that specific moment. I just let my subconscious flow with whatever comes to my head and I don't challenge it, I just let it flow, because I feel that my subconscious is telling me to write about that specific subject, at that moment. So I guess I let myself be myself, subcosciounsly. Hank Williams used to say: "God writes the songs, I just hold on to the pen". And that is a very true statement that mirrors my experience, while writing songs".
The Chicago-born guitarist has been travelling quite a lot, throughout his life. When he moved away from Chicago, he went and lived in Phoenix for few years until finally landing in Nashville, the place he now calls home. It is rather difficult to capture, in his guitar sound, which of those places might have inspired him the most, artistically. " I would say Chicago, just because of obvious reasons, given all the amazing years I spent there and the influences that originated my sound. That being said, any place I have ever lived had an impact on me in different shapes and forms. Nashville, obviously, was a very formative place for me, playing the clubs with different bands and working as a session musician really refined a lot of the musician I am today. But if I was forced to give a definite answer, I would certainly say my birthplace Chicago. I am very proud to say I come from that part of the world".
Let Love Show The Way feels like the culmination of the band's musical experiences of the last 10-15 years. The album has got a definite blues depth, to which the band adds cleverly some powerful rock layers. Bluebird Reviews wonders whether this is indeed the arrival point of the band's hard work throughout their career or, perhaps, the beginning of a new musical journey. "It's probably both. Anything that you do, artistically, is a reflection of your past, no doubts about it. For us, at this point in time, in the last year, which would include the one we are in now, we have been afforded opportunities that we only dreamed of for years and years, so, in some ways, it feels like a new birth. And it's very exciting to be in the middle of it. In regards to blues and rock, Black American Music is what truly captured my attention when I was a little boy and it varied my musical tastes. It has always been the type of music I tend to gravitate towards in terms of default setting, although my personal music tastes are now predominantly directed to White American rock music. But I always relate to Black American Music in terms of emotional content. I could listen to black artists for hours, because of that emotional content they are able to infuse to me but in the context of what we do, if it is true that we play primarily blues, I wouldn't necessarily call ourselves a blues band but more a rock band".
JD is an eloquent interlocutor and our conversation flows in a very natural and spontaneous way. But who really is JD Simo in everyday life, when he is not playing guitar? "I consider myself a quiet person and maybe somebody may find me even a bit boring, sometimes. I try to express myself more through my music, when I am playing, because I feel it reflects who I really am. In the way I play, I can sometimes whisper, some other times scream and that shows maybe a bit more about who I really am, rather than engaging myself in casual and maybe boring conversations".
There is no doubt that JD Simo is a true Rock'N'Roll heart, living for music 24 hours a day. Since 2016 begun, JD has released a fabulous new album with his band, recorded a session in Nashville with Jack White and his guitar playing has received many accolades by the music press worldwide! Before parting company with JD, we cannot avoid asking him where is the next stop on JD's train ride to stardom. "A venue near you! No, really, all that I hope from this business is to be given the opportunity to continue to express myself as a musician and try to do the best that I can, through my music. Really, above and beyond that, is really not up to me but to external factors. I am just grateful about the opportunity that we have been given so far as a band and I can just promise to do my very best as a musician, not just now, but hopefully in the years to come too".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Let Love Show The way is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. Follow Simo on tour through the band's Official Website
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Laurence Harvey)
When it comes to the definition of Guitar Heroes, few names crop up in Bluebird Review's head and Michael Schenker is definitely one of those. Throughout his long and glorious career, Schenker has been at the forefront, through his unique style and guitar technique, of the success of bands such as Scorpions, UFO, Michael Schenker Group and, currently, with his latest project, Temple Of Rock.
Just before the starting of the Temple Of Rock Tour of the United Kingdom, we had the pleasure, at Bluebird Reviews, to meet Schenker and talk about live touring, his latest record Spirit On A Mission and his fabulous career.
BBR - The 2015 record Spirit On A Mission is the natural step on to that splendid album that is Bridge The Gap. Does your latest studio album, in your opinion, capture in full the vision you have of the sound of Temple Of Rock as a music project or will there be further musical developments on your next album?
MS - Spirit On A Mission is certainly a step on in that respect but I like to think that the album is just a natural progression of where we were with Bridge The Gap. The next album, which we hope to release in 2017, will move again the sound of the band to a new level and from that point on, I believe that we will be able to get what we want to achieve, a truly unique sound. Once we will get to the third or even fourth album, the shape of our music will reach what we want to achieve, in creating a distinctive sound for Temple Of Rock. Once we have finished our Tour in February this year, we will also be looking for a new record deal. So, there will be few things happening this year but our fans will get adequately entertained due to the release of our live DVD. Hopefully they will not miss us too much (chuckles).
BBR - What impresses me the most on Spirit On A Mission, besides the fabulous quality of the musicians within the band, is the growing chemistry between you, Wayne Findlay's artistry on the 7-strings' guitar, Doogie White's vocals and the roaring sound of your guitar. With such platform, to record the new album should not take too long, what do you think?
MS - I wouldn't be able to give you a precise timeline, right now. The way I tend to put an album together, is by doing what I like to call "treasure hunting" or "play and discover". Those words mean that I play my guitar and I come up with new melodies or riffs, I then collect them all together and use them as sketches or basis on which to build our new songs. At the moment, there is so much going on with us, between having our new album to promote and been out On The Road touring since February 2015 that I struggle even to remember when Spirit On A Mission was precisely released! Last album took about eight months in preparation, the next album may take longer or maybe not. Time will tell.
BBR - You will be starting the english portion of your European Tour in support of the Spirit On A Mission album on January 20th. How thrilled are you and the band to come back and perform in a country like England that loves and supports you enormously?
MS - Very thrilled. Touring the United Kingdom means a lot to me, on many levels. England was the country where I "escaped", at the time I was with the Scorpions. I remember, at the time, I think I was 17-18, I told the guys in the band "If ever any English band would ask me to join them, I would leave the band straight away anytime, I wouldn't care how famous our band would be". I always had an attraction for the Uk, because, to me, that was the place in the world where people would understand my music style. To go to England was like a dream come true for me. I remember coming there for the first time with the UFO in places like Sunderland, Newcastle, Glasgow etc. Wonderful times. We saw our fan base, back in those days, growing and growing, year after year and I feel like my contribution to music history started right there at that time. With this in mind, you can imagine how excited I am to come back and tour in England again. For me is like home. I have been living for so many years in the States and in England that Germany has become the least of my living places through all these years.
BBR - Bluebird Reviews is aware that a Temple Of Rock Live DVD, which you mentioned before and recorded in Spain last year, is due to be released sometimes in 2016. Which are your immediate memories of that live recording and is there already a pre-planned release date for the DVD?
MS - The DVD will be released in April 2016. When we made the decision to record the DVD in Madrid, we had to focus on the stage size. The whole camera crew was almost squashed on the wall, when they were filming. Despite being a big three-storeys venue, size wise it was a challenging experience for the cameramen but they did really well. We were so close to the crowd that I barely remember, in my career, to have done so many high-fives in one night in a show as I did in Madrid! But we really wanted to capture the immediacy of the moment and the warmth coming from our devoted Spanish fans and I am happy about the way the DVD succeeded in showing so. Spain is always a special place for us, I love the way the Spanish people celebrate their joy through our music. They have got this inner happiness inside and they are truly fantastic. We would have loved to film a live DVD also in England but, due to budgetarian issues, we decided to postpone it. But a live recording in England is definitely on the agenda, in future!
BBR - Michael, you have been playing live since you were 11 years old. Which were your biggest musical influences at the time?
MS - Truth to be told, I started to have the real hang of it when I reached 14 years of age. I started to play at the age of 9 and my first gig was age 11, but on stage, I was just playing very plain kind of guitar music, purely charts stuff. When I started to dig deep into the late 60's music style of guitar players such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher and so on, that was the moment in which I understood what direction my music style was going to take. Then, when I joined forces with Klaus Meine from the Scorpions, I wrote my first song, In Search Of The Peace Of Mind, which ended up on the first Scorpion's album, Lonesome Crow. The song was attributed to all the member of the band, on the album but, in reality, I wrote it. That was very naive of me, at the time. They were a little but older than me at the time, so perhaps a bit more clever than I was at that age in convincing me to share the rights. I was so focused on playing my guitar that all I wanted was to play my music. I guess I was just misguided by my inexperience, back then.
(Photo by Steve Brinkman)
BBR - What is the biggest lesson that you have learned, throughout your long and glorious career as a musician?
MS - I don't really think I had any lessons at all! (chuckles). I like to teach myself, not to take lessons. The best part of life, to me, consists in learning and discovering yourself entirely on your own. For instance, I wanted to go skiing but I did not want to use a Ski Instructor because I wanted to learn how to ski by myself, on my own pace, step by step. This aspect, about discovering yourself, also applies to my approach in playing guitar. It's like when you sit down, improvising and put two notes together and then you say to yourself "Wait a minute!". Then you put a third note to them and you go "Wow!" and so on. It's this thrilling, daily learning curve about things you find out by yourself that really excites me. Life for me is, essentially, to be able to do any sort of things on my own steam, knowing you have to do them because it is the only way to learn and understand them. And by doing so, as a result, you will be able to figure out what works best for you and adopt this philosophy of life in all that you do on a daily basis. Perhaps, without this attitude about pushing myself so much, I would have never be able to reach the position I hold in the music business today.
BBR - You are going to be part of a very special rock cruise, in February! Taking off from Miami, the Axes & Anchors line-up will include an outstanding cast of rock artists, which obviously includes you and people like Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde, amongst many others. Have you prepared a special setlist for this very unique event?
MS - We were planning to go on this Rock Cruise but, at the moment, it's all in a limbo stage, due to the fact that David Van Landing, which was supposed to be our singer on this special occasion, passed tragically away in a car crash, last year. Due to this very sad circumstances, we are trying to work out now how we are going to deal with this special event. As it stands, we have not reached yet a decision whether to confirm our presence or not. We hope to give more precise news on the subject in the next weeks.
BBR - Are there any of your songs, coming from the songbook of your experiences with Scorpions, UFO, The Michael Schenker Group and Temple Of Rock that ultimately defines you as Michael Schenker, The Rock Meister?
MS - There are many songs I can think of. Live And Let Live is certainly one of those. It is one of those special tracks that, while on stage, gives me the chance to go off the wall with my guitar and let it loose. Sometimes, if I manage to come up with something magic when I let loose, it may work in my favour or sometimes it may not. But, hey, what a great feeling to hear the roar of the crowd, when that magic happens. Overall, I would say that any songs that allow me to get a lot of space to play guitar solos in the middle sections and show to the fans why I chose to play the guitar in my career get the thumb up from me. I remember fondly a song called Lonesome Crown, at the time I was with the Scorpions, which gave me plenty of opportunities to do guitar solos. And I love to do so not just on fast-tempo rock songs but also on more melodic ones or ballads, even, like Lipstick Traces, Try Me or Lights Out, for example. I can't help it, I just love to play guitar! As an artist, I see my whole music career as a constant development of my skills, always. I can still remember the incredible feeling of recording the first album with the Scorpions and hearing our songs played on the radio. The same radio that was playing songs from the Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. Or the happiness in recording albums with an English band in England, which I thought of, at the time, as my Promised Land of music. I like to think that, every new album I record, it demonstrates how I move on, how I develop, artistically. From the Scorpions era, to UFO, then another new music ground for me with the Michael Schenker Group and now Temple Of Rock. To experiment new musical territories, to challenge myself, that is the real buzz for me. Every new album I release will be always different from the last one, because I have taken all the new skills learned to a new level, becoming, as a consequence, a different musician. One thing I can tell you for sure is that I like this new stage of my music life and I promise I shall play my songs until I have an ounce of strength into my body. Starting from next week in England.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
2016 Temple Of Rock UK Tour Dates: