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.
Meeting Grossi is a real experience, not only because he is a larger-than-life interlocutor but also because he is a raconteur like very few out there. That is when really his Italian DNA unleash all its beautiful angles. "I have great memories of my childhood in Italy. The first music memory I had, as a child, was when I got as a present a Geloso Record Player and the first two singles I played on were Obladi Oblada by the Beatles and The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction. That was the awakening music moment for me. And although, years after, I have been working on the cutting edge of genres like blues, heavy rock or hard rock, I never considered myself as a metal rock kind of guy, despite working with many artists involved in that genre but more a universal one".
The Italian-born producer and musician has been living, in between leaving Italy for the States, for few years in the United Kingdom. A period he considers very formative for his musical education. "Despite living and working in the United States, my biggest music influences come from the UK. I guess that, having been listening as a child to bands like Beatles or The Stones, I was naturally driven to listen to UK artists such as Queen, Led Zeppelin, Marc Bolan's T-Rex, Bowie, Pink Floyd, etcetera. The list would go on for hours. I do love the music coming from the States very much but there has always been something special about the music coming from the UK, something that I may unconsciounsly relate to myself that I cannot explain but it is just there".
Since Grossi moved to the States, his stature of first class producer has increased with each passing years. One missing ingredient though, in Grossi's career, was not to be able to expand some ideas he had for some time about a new musical project, aiming to translate his personal background, influences and years of experience as a musician. "It goes far back six years ago. I was in tour with Kenny Aronoff, Steve Lukather, Steve Weingart in 2010. At the time, we were known as a collective called Goodfellas and when we finished that mini-tour, Kenny and I started to develop few ideas we had in mind. There has been, since then, a lot of talking between Kenny and I about putting together a project, which would showcase our influences and experiences but we never somehow followed it through. Then came the moment when I got to know Lance (Lopez) and we started not just a great friendship but also a solid musical collaboration (Fabrizio is currently collaborating on Lopez's solo album, due to be released later this year). As a sort of chain reaction happening, a year and a half later I met Lance, then came the call from Billy Gibbons, asking to get together and work on a song that he was thinking of recording, Running Whiskey. When we got together, I told him about Lance and all the ideas I had in mind and discussed with Kenny years before. Billy said to me: "Well, why you and Lance don't work together and actually do what you have in mind?". That really opened my eyes. Lance and Kenny were very happy to get on board of the project and that's how it started. We pretty much had it all along but I guess I just needed a good kick in the butt, which came by the wise words of Mr. Gibbons (chuckles)".
The result of Gibbons' involuntary kick is the brand new project called Supersonic Blues Machine. The band, which include Grossi, Aronoff and Lopez, has recently released their debut album called West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco, a timeless blues/rock capsule in which the band express in full their artistic depth. "We like, jokingly, to call ourselves as a band nickname 150 Shades Of Blues, as a little mock to the book and the movie. The reason is because we cover a lot of different blues stuff, even though, at the end of the day, we simply are a blues/rock band with a lot of soul. The record is about our personal music influences and it's a chronicle of everything that happens since I came here, that's why it's called West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco. I drew in my mind, through the album title, a sort of geographic musical triangle, starting from Flushing (Meadow) in New York, which was my neighbourhood when I was living there before moving to California, going to South Of Frisco, because I felt that part of the States is the one where all the relevant music facts where happening for me. And because there are references, on the record, to the 1960's Hippie period, that Californian sound so close to my heart that might also explain why I live in California".
(Supersonic Blues Machine. Left to right: Kenny Aronoff, Drums - Fabrizio Grossi, Bass - Lance Lopez, Guitar, Vocals)
West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco is a straight-to-your-face album, packed with many Special Guests of the calibre of Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule), Walter Trout, Robben Ford, Billy Gibbons, Chris Duarte and Eric Gales. In an album able to incorporate many different musical elements belonging to several genres, it must have been a bit of a dilemma for Grossi and the band to select the songs that ended up on their debut album. "Truth to be told, there were no special selections to be made. The songs came out just like that and after a year and a half spent collecting ideas, sketches and songs, recording them and archiving them, it was more a matter of deciding what material was fitting the album better. Fundamentally, though, we did not want to put the album together in a way that was trying to please anybody in particular. It was just us choosing what was more right for ourselves and for the sound we wanted to achieve on the record".
The album means a lot for Grossi, from a personal perspective. A good chunk of West Of Flushing.. contains references to the Itaian-born artist's personal life, unveiling tough moments of his upbringing. Some might say that music can be therapeutic in unleashing personal demons and Bluebird Reviews sincerely hopes that this record helped Grossi, in that respect. "Absolutely. Big time. As a producer, my job is to give voices to people, forgetting sometimes that I have one of my own. This last couple of years have been a real musical rollercoaster for me and, although not planning in the first place to take the role of songwriter on board on West Of Flushing.., I guess that some stuff of my past came out, while writing the lyrics just like that, spontaneously. The method I follow when I am working is that I get the music first in my head, then some jamming follows with the band and eventually the tune developes to the next stage. When it comes down to lyrics, there is no pre-planning for me, it's immediate, like waking up from a dream and writing down what the dream was all about. As a consequence, on West Of Flushing... you are able to hear lyrics sometimes with different level of intensity, some other times with lots of humour, like on Running Whiskey, for example. Humour is important for me as it is for Lance and Kenny. On a personal level, coming back to your original question, when the time came for me to talk about some of my inner demons through the songs, I hope that, at least, talking about a particular time of my life and my inner fights with my personal demons might have been beneficial for some. Because good and bad things happen in life and when it's time to face the bad ones, you just have to face the music and deal with it. What truly matters to us, though, as a band, is that people may find joy and fun through our songs and our music. Because we had a lot of fun in making this record and we hope to pass the good vibes we had to our fans too".
The record contains a lot of inspired moments, either when Supersonic Blues Machine are playing as a collective or when they are playing with their Special Guests. One of those moments is certainly Let's Call It A Day, a smooth, velvety and masterfully executed Americana slow song, with a chorus that gets easily stuck in your head. Bluebird Reviews hopes this song is one of the possible singles to be released off the album. "Difficult to say, because we have not made any particular plans about picking singles to be released for the album. Let's Call It A Day is an Americana slow song that, together with Ain't No Love (In The Heart Of The City), helped us to turn down the tempo a little on the album. That song and Ain't No Love, which is a cover, are the only one in which I was not involved at all, but it is a song written by a very good friend of mine. The themes of the tune are really interesting. It's a love song about fighting with your companion and, although is a song that doesn't share my personal belief, lyrically, it still pulls in brilliantly the same message we profess in all our songs, like the power of forgiveness. When Robben (Ford) came to the studio to listen to the whole album prior to its release, the minute he heard Let's Call It A Day, he said: "Hey Man, you have got to let me play on that tune!". Which was truly fantastic, because I firmly believe Robben is one of a kind. Both as a musician and a friend. He is an absolute gentleman and I couldn't find a better artist to play on that song. I get a lot of kudos from that song and although it doesn't strictly showcases our style as a band but I really like it, perhaps it won't be one of the first singles to be released but one day certainly will".
(From Left To Right: Aronoff, Lopez, Robben Ford, Warren Haynes, Grossi, Walter Trout)
Whenever there are Special Guests on an album, it is always difficult to cut the time to record a song together. That is the moment when modern technology plays a vital part, by allowing artists to share instrumentals or vocals via file sharing. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether this was the case for Grossi and the band too, on their debut album. "All the recordings were done together, therefore there was no sending files, recording parts and then sending the parts back to us. The only time when there has been files exchanging, especially with Warren (Haynes) or Chris (Duarte) and given the distance that separate all three of us, was when we played our parts as a band to Warren or Chris through internet platforms like Skype. Due to the fact that personally and musically we know each other so well, it doesn't really matter if we are in the same room with these guys or not. In answer to your question, every artist has added an extra dimension to each of the tracks, undoubtedly. On Can't Take It No More, for example, Walter (Trout), with his majestic tone in his voice and his guitar playing added a complete new approach to the dark theme of the song, through his unique style. Every artists brought so much to each songs and I would say that, more than impacting the structure of the songs, they added through their great artistry, their personal tocuh to elevate the tracks on another level".
Before we part company with the volcano of sympathy and talent that is Fabrizio Grossi, we have to ask him to use three words to define a superbly eclectic record like this. "Buy It, Please! (chuckles). No, seriously, all I can think to describe West Of Flushing.. are the words Blues, Rock and Soul at least, musically. To describe the intensity and the passion we put into making this album, I would choose instead Let It Be".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Photo Credit: Al Stuart