This interview happened in two sections, as we were cut short by unforeseenness at Ronnie Scott’s, though it’s not the best place to interview someone, in the band room behind the stage. Al and I finished off over Skype while he was in the Ukraine a couple of days later. The xxxx indicate places where I couldn’t even guess what lay beneath the digital crackle. As with so many guitar players, Al was a most generous and patient interviewee, and I enjoyed our chat immensely.
As ever, feel free to quote from here, but please cite me – it’s only polite!
Al Di Meola, 11/15 June 2013
PL: So why is it that you suddenly decided to do this Beatles’ thing, what was it that sparked it off?
ADM: Well, it’s what started me off really. In the beginning, as a child, you know, before ten years old, somewhere between eight and ten, that whole new sound, that was quite revolutionary and very impressive to a whole generation of people including musicians and, or budding musicians, or musicians to be, a lot of us took up music, guitar, because of them and if, you know, we really did follow their evolution through the years, so right up and through high school, you know, we all anticipated like the rest of the world their next record and the development that took place, the records like Magical Mystery Tour, Sergeant Pepper, the White Album, Abbey Road were remarkable then as they still remain today. If you go back and you revisit that, even though I went through my period of, you know, exploring the inspiration and, you know, the knowledge that I gained from playing with great players like Chick and, you know, John and Paco and all those great projects (wasn’t sure of that word) that existed.
PL: So the album is called A Tribute to the Beatles and, when I’ve been listening to it, they’ve, all the tunes seem to exist on this, kind of thing that Beatles at one end and Al Di Meola at the other, and this kind of spectrum of music and I’m just wondering how the arrangements presented themselves to you, how you decided to arrange each tune?
ADM: Just by playing them and seeing what I can do with incorporating my, my syncopation and rhythmic element, in a way that you know kind of dignifies the song and doesn’t take away and doesn’t have an element of corniness. Like if certain pieces, like The Long and Winding Road, that kind of approach would not work and it would be corny and so would She’s Leaving Home, that kind of piece does not warrant that type of rhythmic balance or signature thing that I do in most of my music, so we remained with a piece like She’s Leaving Home closer to the, closer to the original, but for pieces like Penny Lane and Michelle and Blackbird there were things that I can do that would keep the integrity of the song intact, hopefully is what I, well that was my intention, and keep more true to the harmony and still have enough of the melody evident so that the things that happen in between are perhaps the original things that I can give to the music, you know, and as opposed to a jazz interpretation, where you’re changing the harmony so drastically that it completely voids all the beauty of what the piece was about.
PL: I think it’s very…
ADM: So whenever I try to use extremely altered chords to try to make it, let’s say, jazz hipper, it completely ruined completely the beauty of the music, so I tried to remain closer to the harmonic value of the song, but change it in a way that more exhibits my kind of syncopation kind of, you know, thing that I have.
PL: I noticed with Michelle that it seems to me that the song is, that you play the harmony so that it’s instantly recognisable just the harmony of it, so that the melody in some ways is almost less important, and I’m wondering how you felt you were working with the audience’s knowledge? I mean when I was listening to it, quite often I was singing the lyrics as the melody was being played, I’m also wondering whether that was something that you do when you play them to keep the lyricism, because there is a serious lyrical aspect to them.
ADM: Well yeah in certain pieces, maybe in Michelle slightly, and maybe in a few others, what is displaced rhythmically is the melody line, so even though the melody line’s there, it might not be as up and down straight eighth notes, it might be syncopated the melody, but that’s ok, you still recognise that it’s the piece, it’s just phrased differently, so it’s not so far outside of the realm, you still recognise very much that it’s the song, you know, like With A Little Help From My Friends is highly syncopated, I Will is highly syncopated, even the melody is, it’s syncopated so that it’s not so super-straight, so there’s an actual rhythmic element to it with as much respect to the song that it deserves, because these pieces are basically highly sacred pieces of music, there’s no doubt about it. That’s the way we Beatle freaks, and I’m one of them, view this music – it’s sacred music, it’s so well done, it’s so beautiful, it’s almost like, it’s almost like it shouldn’t be touched, but I wanted to bring as much respect to it as possible and it was a dream of mine only, it was just like a hidden in the back of my mind thought for a lot of years to even attempt to do something with something that’s been done already so beautifully perfect, but it got to a point where I thought I could bring something original to it with still retaining all the respect and integrity that it has.
PL: Was it difficult when you first started to actually take the jump off point when you knew that you were going to do something that was maybe a little bit more radical compared to the versions that are more faithful, if that makes sense, was it difficult to leave the first time?
ADM: Not really, because I was, when I first started to play, what was the first song, Blackbird I guess, I realised that I could do something with this that had my twist to it, I could bring in my little world of whatever it is I do, and bring something, and bring my flavour into their big world that they’ve created, you know, without having lyrics, it’s a real dangerous area to get into, because half of the beauty of this music is the great blending of voices between those guys, or individually as well, it’s so up front and so beautiful and the lyrics are totally cool, so when you eliminate a vital part of the music, you have to look at the songs that are the strongest in which they remain totally cool on their own without that element and so I carefully chose these pieces, and that’s not to say there aren’t other ones that could be done, there’s plenty, I mean there’s enough for another two or three CDs if I wanted, but there were definitely tunes that didn’t work as well for sure. If I were to do this acoustically in the same vein in which I did this record, Come Together would not have worked at all, even Here, There And Everywhere, I couldn’t make that piece work, as beautiful as the piece is, in a way that would bring some kind of originality, because it just, you know, there’s a fine line between it working really well with this syncopation approach and then the other side of it being a little bit hokey, so I decided to keep it off for reasons like that, you know.
PL: Absolutely. It’s very interesting the way the tunes do move from being more faithful to less faithful if that makes sense, the choices that you make I think are intriguing. So in what way do you think you’re presenting a new kind of aspect of your playing to people who know you and to which degree are you just playing the way you always play, if that makes sense?
ADM: Well I think the vast majority of this audience grew up with the Beatles, I mean how can you not like or love, even, the Beatles, but there are probably a lot of them that maybe haven’t listened to them in some recent years, or not as often. But it’s just like myself, if I go back and I listen to Sergeant Pepper in current time, it’s mind-blowing, it’s nothing less than incredible and nothing better out there, at all, I haven’t heard anything from any new band that can compete with anything as great as that by far.
PL: Did your, the way that you view the Beatles’ music, did it change while you were doing this project, did you get a new appreciation of what they were doing, or were you just kind of retrenched in your…
ADM: What now you mean?
ADM: A new appreciation? Kind of, yeah, I mean, yeah, for sure, because there was that period after, let’s say Let It Be, and then Paul went off and he did the Wings and I wasn’t particularly a huge Wings fan at all and I wasn’t a Yoko and John fan almost at all and I wasn’t a huge George fan but I was a huge Beatles’ fan, so I think when the break up happened there was some dissipation that occurred for a lot of the fans that we all kind of like went off into other areas and, as a player, I went off into a jazz area and then I became known from this fusion thing and it was a whole other world of music that the explanation of that was that I think a lot of people that were loving Led Zeppelin when they came out and The Who and all of these kind of groups that I was a big fan of as well, they were looking for the next thing and the next thing for a lot of people, not all, but for a lot of the let’s say progressive-minded people, they were looking for the next exciting thing and fusion did that in the beginning in the mid-70s, early to mid-70s we were like the next thing because we were bringing in elements of jazz, elements of classical, elements of Latin into a rock form that never was before ever, so there were three major groups that were pioneers of this movement: that was Return to Forever, mahavishnu and weather Report. So there was a new movement going on and, although I remained a Beatles’ fan, certainly I was immersed into this whole new world and I was kind of at the forefront of it, being with one of the top groups, and then I was, just I emerged into it and then was given the opportunity to record my own records and here I was becoming a writer in this realm of music and it’s not like the Beatles influence ever went away or my liking ever dissipated, that never happened. I always loved it, so I heard it on the radio I’d go “Oh man, that sounds great”, it could be as early as the first or second or third record, still great, and the thing that happened in the whole middle of that, making those 25 CDs of mine, I did get a lot from the Beatles, I did have a sense of melody that probably came from my early inspiration of liking them so much. I was always melodic-minded, even though there was a high technical aspect to my music which was probably at the forefront of why people liked what I was doing and then there was the production side which was totally the Beatles, because I was really influenced and that did carry over into my records and how they produced their records. I was really into the production and that came from listening to the Beatles.
PL: I was interested when I was listening to it earlier, that you do the same kind of mix that you were doing with the trio, where you’ve got…
ADM: That was me…
PL: Two guitars on either side and one in the middle.
ADM: That was totally me and totally because of the Beatles, it was totally because of George Martin and the Beatles and because of how they separated things and I still love that. Even on my last record Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody right before this Beatles’ tribute record, if you listen to it, I have the drums on one side on a lot of tracks, I have the percussion on the other side, nobody does that, nobody would ever think of doing something like that, but the Beatles do it and I always loved, I loved when they had Ringo on one side and I loved when they had the cello coming out of one side and John’s voice coming out of one side, that was so hip, because what it did was it created a separation and evoked a kind of, it just evoked a kind of imagery that was like so, so unique and powerful and it was big. Why was it big, that was partly due to the fact that they were recording a very small amount of tracks of analogue which completely blow away anything modern in the digital world, even to this day.
PL: I mean how did you, what was the recording process for this and what kind of geeky gear did you use, what was your rationale behind the recording?
ADM: My rationale was, well first of all, this whole concept started in my mind years and years ago but it wasn’t until last May of 2012 that while we were on tour and I was in Prague, I had four days off before playing Ronnie Scott’s and I was taking the days in Prague and really I was all alone because the band had gone home, most of my band is European so they went home on the days off and I was by myself going through a difficult personal time in my life and it just dawned on me that this might be a good time to start this idea, this project, so like a lot of artists, we dream up things and then the make it happen is really the whole point of being a musician, so the thing that was a surprise and not intended was an Abbey Road thought, that came to me at the last moment like a momentary thing and I said you know, I’ve always dreamt my whole life to go to Abbey Road as a tourist, just to see the studio, take a picture, you know, I would love to do that, but then I said but I wonder if that’s still an operating studio, I have no idea, so I called up a friend of mine who I’ve known in London for years, a musician friend, his name is Mo Nazam, so I asked Mo and he looked into it for me and he said yeah man, they’re still happening, so I said you know I have this idea Mo and I would love to maybe come there, like a few days earlier before Ronnie Scott’s and see if I can get in, can you check it out? So between him and my secretary they looked into it and there was a day that it was open and I said my god, you know what, let’s do it. So I called up my daughter and I called up a friend of mine who acted as co-producer and we booked it and it was beyond magic, it was the equivalent of like I said on my liner notes, it was like a five year old going to Disney World for the first time, it was that kind of awe that I had never experienced since I was a kid and it wasn’t just because of the nostalgia, because that was great, we saw all three rooms, the rooms were exactly intact as when the Beatles were there, same floors, same walls, same microphones, and the discovery of not just the nostalgia but the discovery that the sound was incredibly good, really played a big part in the inspiration behind the performances. I never get sound that good in any studio and I’ve been in the best studios. So I recorded these first three songs which were Blackbird, Because and then If I Fell and actually we did it over the course of three days, we got two extra days open, and I thought after that I would go back to the States and finish the record, so I tried to finish it in my studio in New Jersey, I tried to then finish it in New York, and we couldn’t come close to the sound quality that we had at Abbey Road, not even near it, even though we used a small amount of tracks, analogue, same configuration, there wasn’t any comparison to the quality of Abbey Road and everything they say about Abbey Road being the greatest studio in the world is true, it’s the best sound that I’ve ever heard.
PL: How much of that is because of it and how much is that because it inspired you do you think?
ADM: Probably because these guys in white lab coats years ago that walked round were rewiring that whole place and God knows what they did, so you have these old converters that they don’t make any more, these old tubes that are these Russian tubes, you have old Neumann microphones that go way, way back, you have the acoustics of the room that the minute you walk in, even before you play an instrument, and you just go, and its the most amazing sound, you know right off Holy Jesus Christ, is this great? (Laugh) It was that amazing and all played a part so we wound up going back two other times to finish the record there and it was, it was a project, the first project in my whole life that I paid for myself and it was the most enjoyable, even though I paid for it, and very few artists record there, it’s mostly motion pictures, big budget soundtracks, commercials, but for me it was a dream come true and a lifelong dream project completed that I made happen and when I finished about half of the record, I found myself, well, you know, I did the three tracks.
ADM: So as it turns out he was my next door neighbour and I got to meet him and we got to talk about the project and that was really, really an amazing moment, just a total fateful situation.
PL: Good shows, have you done any shows since Ronnie’s?
ADM: Yeah, these last, let me see, the one in Germany, was it one or two, no just one, that was with the string quartet, as this one will be with the same combination, the one here in Lviv, so it’s a little bit more orchestrated as they say.
PL: I quite liked the feel of the Ronnie Scott’s gig, they way it that it all just kind of mosied it’s way however it wanted to feel like going really, which was quite nice, if that makes sense. It was good to see you again, I first saw you in 1993 in Torrence in Los Angeles, some shows there. You were talking about Abbey Road and living next to Paul McCartney in the Hamptons.
ADM: Oh yeah, well, the actual recording happened at Abbey Road which was really beyond a dream because I only imagined visiting it as a tourist something I always wanted to see was where all those records took place, I wasn’t even sure if it was still a working studio, but last May 2012 I was sitting in my hotel room on some days off and wondering what I should do with the days before playing Ronnie’s and the thought came to mind to actually just look into seeing if there was still an operating studio. So a friend of mine, musician in London, checked it out and gave me the information that it’s fully operational, all three rooms. So I booked Studio 3 and that began the recording process that eventually wound up becoming a product. So after the recording only three pieces I continued with my tour and when I finished in August I had this idea to go out to the Hamptons and rent a house and it was just one of those, like winning the lottery, the chances were like probably one in a billion, and then I found out that my next door neighbour was Paul McCartney, which was the whole reason I was going out there was to arrange the rest of the music to be recorded back at Abbey Road and here I was pulling up the driveway and seeing McCartney standing there in his driveway and it was a mindblower, the whole experience of recording at Abbey Road and connecting back to all these Beatle pieces that I loved when I was a kid and still love now and then meeting Paul McCartney the day that we were there, that was just, I still can’t get over it.
PL: Did you speak about the project with him?
ADM: Me do a project with him? That’s even beyond a dream. I spoke to him that I was recording his music at Abbey Road doing a version of it. I’m not so sure that he even grasped who I was and I wasn’t about to, because I kind of stopped him when he was driving, when he was pulling out of the driveway and he was all by his self so it wasn’t like there was somebody there to say Paul, this is Al Di Meola, you know the guitarist Al Di Meola? There wasn’t anybody really to enlighten him and you know for me to drive the point home was a little bit weird, you know?
PL: No, I can imagine that.
ADM: Not so sure if he got it, who I was, or if he even knows. So it was just cool to say that I met him and we talked a little bit about, you know, being neighbours and a little bit about my recording at Abbey Road, in fact a little bit of you know places I’ve played in London and people I’ve played with, but he didn’t seem to get it right off the bat, so it was all a matter of two or three minutes that I wish were more like an hour.
PL: Did it change the way you thought about the project, meeting him like that?
ADM: No, it was a dream come true to meet him, it was like my bucket list, top of the bucket list would be to meet Paul McCartney, and I got to meet him. He was very friendly, so it wasn’t like I had a weird meeting or anything that changed my view of him at all. I think if somebody was with him it might have hit them as to who I was and then that might have rung a bell, you know?
PL: Have you ever met anyone like that who has disappointed you, who you’ve respected?
ADM: What you mean like Paul?
PL: Well yeah people that you’ve respected for years that have disappointed you or, you know, they’ve disappointed or…?
ADM: No you know I wasn’t disappointed, I really wasn’t. I wasn’t disappointed, if it was a longer conversation, it would have been really better, but I’m going to rent the house again this summer and by that time I’ll have the whole CD I’ll just give to him a copy. He might at that point get it, you know. Whoever I’ve met, I’ve had nothing but good vibes about.
PL: So you’ve worked with some of the greats, I mean you’re obviously one of the greats of guitar playing but you’ve worked with some of the greats in other aspects of music and who have been the people you’ve really wanted to work with again and who have been the people you would really like to work with if you get the chance?
I’m just wondering, because you’ve obviously worked with some of the greats of various styles of music and who are the people that you really want to work with again and who would you like to work with that you haven’t worked with.
PL: If you see what I mean.
ADM: Well, yeah, it would be great to do something with Paul, I did something with Stevie Winwood that was really nice, that I remember as a great project. Let’s see, I did something with Paul Simon, that, I always admired tremendously his work. I have a new appreciation for Billy Joel now, realising that a lot of what he had written is largely inspired by Paul, even though the music’s quite different from, you know, what they do, from what I remember doing it’s still, I think it’s melodic inspiration had been brought over into the way that I compose, because I’m always, you know, concerned about the melody and composition. So if Piazzolla (just after 09:44) was still alive that would have been a project for sure that we would have done, in fact that was planned as the next, that was going to be his next project right after his completion of this opera he was writing. Unfortunately the timing that, you know, unfortunately he passed away after a stroke. I’d like to work with Ralph Towner (?), I admire his work I think he’s the greatest XXXX (10:27), him and Egbeto Gismonti, those are a few.
PL: So tell me more about Ástor Piazzolla because I really enjoyed the concerto that you played at Ronnie’s.
ADM: I think that, you know, meeting Piazzolla in ’84, in 1984, in Japan, was the turning point for me because even though I had heard about him I wasn’t aware of his music, I had heard about the music but I wasn’t aware of. When I met him and his band they were very much knowledgeable about what I was doing and they were all kind of fans of my stuff. So they so friendly, they were so warm and that it kind of encouraged me to enquire more about their stuff. So Ástor said look I’m going to send you some music, and I’m going to stay in touch with you. He actually wrote me letters, I mean long letters of his admiration of me and I think I got two or three of them which even then it was a period in time when I would never write a letter, you know? And I wound up doing the same, and he had sent me this long piece of music called Tango Suite which when I looked at it, you know, I though there’s no way I’m going to be able to play this, but it wasn’t until he had his stroke and we knew it was pretty much the end of Ástor that I said from now on I’m going to now devote a portion of my show to his music doing my own renditions of it so I think that it’s just all, you know, just part of my repertoire until the end for me because it’s, I feel very close to it, but what changed everything for me was, you know, I come from the world of, you know, the fusion world, the jazz fusion thing and he was really a very strong awakening and I had been feeling it in my bones for years that the fusion movement and all the guys that are doing it were doing music that was primarily a, if it wasn’t energetic, it was definitely technical, but for the most part I hadn’t got moved in the region of my heart. I was never really moved to tears because of the beauty of the music like I had with Piazzolla’s music, with his group, playing his compositions. And, but at the same time, analysing that emotion that you felt, that depth of whatever, that really bought you to tears, the music was still very challenging. So for me, it just kind of inspired me tremendously to move, or try to move, in a direction that had elements of both, where the melodies kind of, you know, move you to that level of sentimentality, you know. A lot of the fusion prior to that was never really going there, I was never really touched and moved. So the Ástor part of the inspiration was pretty heavy and it definitely changed me, it was the most influential of probably my whole career, so I’m glad that that happened. But you can go all the way back to the Beatles, they were also very inspirational so now I’m kind of like doing everything that I love, you know?
PL: Do you dance the tango?
PL: Have you been tempted to?
ADM: I never attempted to because it’s quite a beautiful art form and it really requires lessons and practice like anything else, but it’s super amazing, you know?
PL: I dance it bit, it’s a very interesting dance to dance.
PL: I enjoy it a lot.
ADM: I would love to learn someday.
PL: So, thinking back to your time at Berkeley, what’s your take on the kind of music schools, so you’re talking about the technique and emotional, the different ways of getting emotion across, what’s your take on the music schools these days and whether they’re affecting the ways that music’s being produced?
ADM: I really don’t have a clue. I’m so far removed from being the kind of musician that goes to Berkeley, and what they’re into nowadays, I really, I’ve lost touch with that because I’ve also lost touch with pop music, or what popular music is doing, because the little bit that I’ve heard, it just doesn’t compare to what was inspiring us when we were xxx (time: 16:07); that’s just my humble strong opinion, you know.
PL: Yeah – that’s fair enough. Going back again, I’m just thinking about one of your best known projects over here or certainly generally, is the trio that you do with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin and I’m just wondering what it was like to play with two guys who were such masters of their own craft and you’re such a master of yours:
ADM: Well it pushes you to greater heights, no doubt about it. It pushes them to greater heights because we’re not in our own groups where we feel comfortable in a cocoon, and it’s like, you know, you’re pretty much the guy, and when you’re playing with guys like that you’re trying to reach for something new and different and, you know, it became, I use the word competition, but it only ended up really kind of in a creative way because it was, it was the healthy competition when we first got together because we each had solos in every song and each solo was outstanding from those guys, so when it came time for your solo you felt like you really had to come up with something that was going to impress them, just like they were trying to impress me, you know, or whatever. We were trying to impress one another and I think through that the audience was really getting off on it.
PL: Did it kind of take you back to being a kid, in the way that you behave like that when you’re a kid, always trying to impress people, was it that kind of feeling?
ADM: No, I really felt like I was thrown into, you know, an arena of giants and you had to fight, you had to fight, it was either sink or swim as well, you know? Doing the Beatles’ rendition is really bringing me back to being a kid again.
ADM: And it’s a beautiful feeling, you know? But John and Paco, that was, you were thrown into the arena of giants in a sense and you had to immediately rise to the occasion, in fact you had to kick some ass sometimes too, because it was really like, ah man, it was hard, it was just plain hard, you know, you had to be totally on your toes. It’s not quite the same when you’re the only guitarist in the group or you’re leading the guitar share, you know.
PL: You’ve done a bunch of different styles, I mean, in your time, what’s the kind of heart of Al Di Meola as a player do you think? What are you most comfortable doing? What do you do when you pick up the guitar?
ADM: What do you mean? Say it again.
PL: When you just pick up your guitar, what’s the thing that you naturally gravitate towards playing, you know, where’s your guitar soul at, if you see what I mean? Because you’ve done so many different things.
ADM: I really, really kind of, when I just pick it up I usually start playing things that, well first of all I should say like this, I love to read music, and that could be any music, but I’m usually working on a whole bunch of different things or I have some music with other composers that I like to play, but reading music is like my form of therapy and meditation, it’s the one thing that takes me totally away from all of the issues and problems that everybody, you know, has and in my case I have so many things going on at once that I get overwhelmed. But as soon as I pick the guitar up and I’m either practicing it or, even better, being something, totally pulls me out of all of that stuff that was really like messing my head up, you know, or it can actually pull you out of a depression, you know? So it’s really therapy to be able to do that and there’s plenty of things that I’m writing that I just have to keep perfecting or it could be some of the Beatles’ stuff that the way that I’ve arranged it is still kind of challenging and to play it with ease you just have to keep playing it, or there’s some new stuff that I’m still reading from other artists that I love to play. I love to get it to a point where it’s just ease, it sounds like I’m at ease with it, even though I’m syncopating it, and so…
PL: Yeah. Tell me, do you practice technical things or the music that you play is technical enough to give you the practice when you’re learning it?
ADM: Depends on the piece really. It doesn’t really have to be, well it usually is technical actually, but super simple really doesn’t require that much practice.
PL: Yeah. So you are,well, probably best known for your kind of technical ability and certainly when you first came into the Return of Forever you were known as being this astonishingly quick guitar player and you’ve influenced an awful lot of rock guitarists as well and when we were talking at Ronnie’s you were saying how you like Led Zeppelin and all this stuff. I was just wondering how it makes you feel to have influenced all these heavy metal guys?
ADM: Say the last part again?
PL: I wonder how does it make you feel that you’ve influenced all of these heavy rock players and have you ever thought about doing anything like that yourself?
ADM: Well maybe not now, no. I hadn’t really thought about doing a heavy rock record, specially now.
PL: But you might have done before?
ADM: Not really, you know, but what set me apart was that I was doing something maybe with a rock sound but it was the music far more important and beyond for me to weed out all the complexity and interesting parts to make it rock palatable, you know? I mean there were plenty of people that were doing that and maybe plenty of people doing that with vocals and I didn’t see myself in that kind of context, I really didn’t. My whole thing was about, you see I’ve been very influenced by great composers like Chick after a few years, where the compositions take me on a journey and they’re really kind of, those rock guys don’t read one note. They’re stuck, you know, so they’re really limited most of those guys that I liked growing up, I mean, it’s not like they can sit down with a chart of music and play it or read it. They can’t. So how are they going to remember something that has 5,000 notes in it in one song? So they’re kind of limited to a degree, you know, but then again in the end you might have a more commercial appeal in the end. That’s certainly not what I was going for. I wasn’t going for some kind of big comerciality thing, I was just really trying to make music that impressed me first.
PL: So what do you think if you’re a young guitarists, what do you think a young guitarist whose just staring out could take from this most recent album or indeed any of your albums? What do you think they should take from it when they’re listening?
ADM: I don’t know. You have to find what you like and you have to try to copy it, by copying is how you learn and then usually or eventually you develop some of your own voice hopefully after trying to do that and you have to really want it badly because we’re in a whole different type of music scene these days, some of it good where brand new artists can be viewed on the internet and get some exposure, and then a lot of it bad. There’s no record stores anymore, so in some ways it’s the worst time to be a musician and in other ways, it’s all on how you view it. I mean, I remember the ’70s when records were selling ridiculous amount everywhere, there were stores everywhere, and they were real records, they were vinyl records, it was the greatest time to be a musician and to be known, and if you made it then, you could probably still have a career now. Now it’s much harder, so you have to really have a passion for what you’re doing and find your influences and just, you know, hope for the best is really what I would say. It’s rough. I know a lot of main players who don’t have many gigs at all.
PL: So who were the guys who influenced you that you copied when you first started playing?
ADM: When I first started playing? My guitar teacher was a big, big influence because he was into guitar players like Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, so I really like admired his knowledge and skill of jazz chords and all that stuff, even though I was into the rock and pop thing. So having both merged together in terms of what I was learning from him, but what I wanted to, what was influencing me at home playing on my record player and going to shows in New York laid the perfect ground work for my being able to get the gig at 19 years old with Return to Forever, which at that point was probably the best electric guitar share anyone could ever have, because it was probably the most interesting electric guitar music written for electric guitar at that time, and it was one of the three pioneering groups of the whole new movement and when you really look back at it, which is easier for me to analyse now, there was a reason why that movement had to happen and it was largely due to audiences that were just getting a little bit bored with the standard rock thing, they wanted something more, and we were the answer to that. We weren’t the answer to everybody because still the mass majority wanted the heavy thing with the vocals, you know, vocals reigned far above anything instrumental, but we definitely filled in a new, well, we paved a new path let’s say for people that were getting a little tired of the same old same old, we were the next new thing for some years there.
PL: What was your favourite tune that you played from the Return to Forever? What did you get off most on on stage?
ADM: Song to the Pharaoh Kings was really cool, Beyond the Seventh Galaxy was pretty cool, yeah, oh I loved Señor Mouse, I did my own version of that piece on Casino, my third record, and they’re still great pieces that should be played but with my acoustic xxxx group (29:14) it became a different type of mixture of music. I tell you what, we have far more, the difference between fusion music and what we’re doing now is fusion music had no female girl fans, not one, not even one, and what we’re doing acoustically with this blending of influences and the way that the compositions have been influenced by my influences from Piazzolla to the Beatles to whatever, I would say more than half of the audience in countries that we play in are appreciated by women, it’s great because that’s all kind of new in the last, let’s say, at least eight years.
PL: If you had to pick three tunes that would, to show somebody what you’re about as a guitar player from your entire catalogue, what would you pick?
ADM: What I’m about, what I’m about, what I’m about. Too many tunes to mention. I’d pick something from Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody, Siberiana, I would pick That Way Before is another piece, I would pick something from the latest record, of course, All Your Life, the Beatles tribute, I would pick something from, I don’t know, it depends, it depends who, you know if you were talking to a young person like electric music you would probably pick something from Casino or something or Elegant Gypsy. It’s very hard to know, when you have 26 records…
PL: It’s an unfair question, yeah.
ADM: There’s too many, I’m proud of a lot of it, so, you know, I don’t know.
PL: So what are you playing at the moment, what’s your current guitar?
ADM: It’s a Conde Hermanos, a Spanish flamenco/classical custom-made, you know, named as an Al Di Meola model, so it has a cut away and it’s rosewood model, great sound. And I have an RMC pick-up on it which activates through a foot pedal a few different sounds that I favour, one being an electric guitar sound, one being like a base sound and ones like a 12 string sound and I always combine them at certain points within the composition with the actual nylon sound. Do you recall hearing that?
PL: Yeah I recall hearing that absolutely. I was also thinking that you use, do you use any other kind of guitar types? I recall that you used the SynthAxe at one point, I remember you using one in albums.
ADM: I never used a SynthAxe ever, never tried it.
PL: Didn’t you use it a guitar synth on one album though?
ADM: Yeah, yeah it was a Synclavier.
PL: Oh Synclavier. Sorry I’m getting confused it was a long time ago.
ADM: That was a mid-’80s type of direction that I was going in so I got this real expensive very heavy Synclavier thing that became obsolete due to the weight of it and the fact that it was not xxxx (33:09) stuff and it was very complicated, you needed three or four people to lift it up, very expensive. It was a really ridiculous period in which every time they came back with a new little update for it, it wasn’t like 300 bucks or 3,000, it was like $30,000 just to get one little add-on, you know, so spending more than $150,000, you know, it just didn’t prove to be something that, you know, you could afford to take on the road. So it was an interesting period because guys like myself and Metheney were so kind of knocked out with the sounds that the, you know, the sounds that the sample set down as well, you could take a sample sound and play it on a guitar, but then we were almost, and I see we because he was doing a lot of the same thing, we almost forgot about the sound of the guitar, you know, and that was not a good thing, that was a real bad thing because people, no matter how cool the sounds were, they want to hear the guitar.
PL: So what was your first electric guitar?
ADM: It was some kind of Japanese guitar with a name that was called a Segovia, but it was an electric guitar, very cheap.
PL: Was it a kind of Strat style or a Les Paul style or which?
ADM: A what?
PL: Which kind of style was it? Was it a Fender type or a Gibson type or…?
ADM: Yeah, it was a solid body like a, the closest it would look like is more a Strat like than Les Paul like. It was really a piece of junk, but the first good guitar after that when I became known, when it became know to my parents that I was a lot more serious than they thought about being an instrumentalist and studying it, through my guitar teacher acquired a Guild Fire Star 3 and that happened to be probably the greatest thrill of a lifetime because it was, you know, one of those Christmas gifts I knew about way before Christmas came and I just remember, you know, looking under the bed and pulling it out when my parents weren’t home and playing it every now and then, that was just an amazing, amazing gift. So that was my first good guitar.
PL: So what was the last guitar that you bought, apart from the Conde Hermanos?
ADM: Guitar that I bought?
ADM: That’s a good question, I don’t know. I think I bought a 175 about eight years ago, the last time I bought a guitar. It’s an old one, it’s probably like a 1940-something 175 Gibson that I’ll probably wind up selling, I don’t need it so much.
PL: So what was your epiphany for the guitar, what was it really made you sit up and take notice and say this is what I must do?
ADM: What made me want to?
PL: Yeah, when was the light bulb moment when you just knew that you had to play guitar?
ADM: Well the first time I picked one up which was when I was probably like eight years old, seven or eight. Friends of my sister had brought over a a Fender guitar and a Fender amp and I remember picking it up and, you know, just placing my hands on the strings and making a sound was enough to get the wheels turning and fired up my curiosity. So that’s when I expressed a strong desire, after failing miserably at accordion lessons which I hated, that was something my parents wanted to see me do, then I switched to do the guitar lessons, and I just happened to come across, or someone that was assigned to me was this jazz enthusiast, Bob Aslanian, and he was my teacher. So I had a really good start and then it was during lessons that I said to myself this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, so I knew exactly where I stood and I even showed my daughter, like 30 years later, this spot where I made a vow to myself that I’m going to make it.
PL: So what would be your three tips for beginners, someone who’s just picked up the guitar for the first time, what would be the three bits of advice that you would give them?
ADM: Listen to your favourite players and try to copy them. Learn how to read music, number two. Number three, get a good teacher.
PL: OK, cool. How about three ways to really get your technique fizzing, what are the three most important things that you think a guitarist needs to now technically, as in to make it work? What are the three things that people miss?
ADM: OK I got the last part of what you said. What’s the most important thing technically they need to know?
PL: Yeah, I think so, three things technically.
ADM: Three things technically.
ADM: They have to first, more importantly than anything in the whole world is rhythm. And they have to learn how to tap without moving the time and play against the time and that’s something that 99% of guitar players are horrible at. So think they have good sense of rhythm but most don’t, you know, and if you can tap into that inner clock that we all have, or hopefully we have, and your upper body that’s playing the counter-rhythms or the rhythm on top, if you have a good sense of playing against a rhythm or syncopating without the time being your foot tapping quarter notes, without that foot moving, that’s your goal. That’s a whole lesson that could go on for months, just that, because most guitarists foot will move and if your foot moves, you’re really in trouble. You don’t think you’re in trouble, but you are in trouble, because your sense of inner time, your clock is off and you really have to rely on a drummer or a rhythm machine or a metronome, you know, but if you can open up that whole world of rhythm and what you can play against the time, without the time moving, is where you want to try to go, because if you realise you have the ability to do that, and not everybody does actually, a whole new world opens and you can take harmonies of any kind and just change the, invert them rhythmically and play them syncopated, in a syncopated fashion by inverting them and create something new from something simple. It’s sort of like the approach I did with the Beatles. Some of the Beatles music was far more simpler than Piazzolla or my music. My stuff is like total rocket science, it’s just hard, so I have to write everything out, it’s really hard to play. That’s why a lot of people don’t play my music because it’s hard to play. The Beatles music is simple to play but what I wanted to do was bring my own thing to it, not necessarily make it hard, but I wanted to make it interesting as I do in my own world, so I meeting them, if you know what I mean.
PL: Yeah, absolutely. I know exactly what you mean about the foot as well, about the time. It’s something I used to try and teach my students all the time, because you’re absolutely right, people just don’t get that bit.
ADM: Most of them have great time. But, you know what, I have these clinics every now and then, and I love doing them, in fact I’ve got one tomorrow, it’s very rare that I do them, but I usually ask the whole class to tap their foot whilst they’re playing a simple syncopation. Everybody’s time goes way off and that’s the killer, that’s the hard part. you have to try to get them to discover if they have the ability to tap into their inner clock or not. It’s not an easy thing to teach, it’s like trying to teach someone feel, you can’t teach them feel, you’ve just to see if they are able to do it, you know, you can teach them everything else. You can teach them harmony, you can teach them certain rhythms, but you can’t teach them feeling and a sense of time, that’s hard.
PL: Yeah, so true. Is there any a tune, either of yours or of anyone else’s, that every time you hear it you are knocked out by it still?
ADM: Ah there’s plenty, I’d like to think about it. You know, if you go to jazz there’s Giant Steps, if you think of the Beatles I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields, a whole slew of stuff from them. Right now my heads really into the Beatles because I’m on tour with this project and the record’s just released. There’s just probably too much to mention. Yeah. You name some stuff. It could be even some of Hendricks’ stuff is pretty cool, you know. There are a lot of older recordings you listen to and you go man! The focus that people had back in the ’60s and ’70s, you can’t have that anymore, that cannot exist. What I mean by that, it can never happen again, I don’t care who it is. They can tell me that they do, but they don’t. And how can they? We’re completed consumed and inundated with texts and e-mails and voice mails and when we get home instead of going to the stereo we go to the computer and when we get in the car instead of turning on to hear a CD we more than likely turning a call on our cell phone or getting a call or whatever. It’s out of horrible control and, if you’re working with musicians in a studio, no matter how good that music might be that is written that you need to get recorded, just take a look around you and watch all the musicians checking their phones every five seconds because everybody is networking to death all over the place and it’s become a sick and horrible thing that we’re all addicted to and we can’t go back. So there is no way that records are being made to day that sound as unbelievable as what was coming out in those periods because it’s just harder to focus because of all these distractions due to modern technology, that’s a fact. And unfortunately there aren’t any budgets to make great records like there were back then, so you got a two-fold problem: 1) you don’t have the money to spend a year in the studio like a lot of those wonderful British bands that made those great records. Nobody can afford to be in a studio that long, maybe your home studio, but still you got the problem of everybody checking their voice mails, checking their texts, sending message, oh my god, e-mails up the wazoo, and it’s almost to the point, if you’re going to have a band in the studio, I don’t know, if you’re employing them you’ve got to pretty much have them sign a contract saying leave your stuff at the hotel or at home. And you know what? Nobody will, nobody will.
PL: No I know exactly what you mean.
ADM: Nobody can separate from their phone and nobody can be so disciplined to not look at it for six days out of a period so but, man, back in the ’70s it was total focus, I would even say in the ’80s, total focus, and when I go back and I listen to those records, that’s exactly what I feel. I feel as though, wow! Not just my own records, you know, records of people that I love. It sounds like it was total focus.
PL: Do you think also part of it that the technology is such that everything can be chopped up into little bits, whereas before you much more had to do things live or closer to being live and recording was more like a live performance than it is now, now it’s like piecing stuff together. Do you think that also has affected it?
ADM: I don’t know, I mean, maybe. I mean certainly there’s far more lesser talented musicians making records in their living rooms, you now, on little computers and half the time you don’t know if they did it or some programme played it. And does it sound good? Yeah, it could sound good, but you don’t know what your listening to nowadays. Is it the real drummer or is it the SAP (? Time 49:13), you know, what is it? Thank God for wired concerts because, where the whole record industry went down the tubes, totally down the tubes, the live thing went up and the live thing if you have a name, that’s really good, that has been, I should say, over the last 10 years. That’s been better than 20 or 30 year ago, but the recording end of it has been a disaster, you know.
PL: So what outside of music do you, what do you do to relax outside of music, what stuff turns you on outside of music?
ADM: Outside music, not much, not much. I mean I enjoy just going to a restaurant and things of that nature, you know.
PL: But the rest of it, you’re just pretty much just focused on your music and the guitar playing?
ADM: Yeah, I mean I like to ski, but I haven’t ski-ed in years, you know, I like to go down to my place in Miami and ???? (Time 50:33) beach is phenomenal and I got some friends and that kind of thing. But I’m not an avid fisherman or an avid scuba diver or a golfer or anything like that. I don’t have any hobbies – maybe I should, maybe I should.
PL: Do you consume any other art forms? Do you like paintings or galleries, that kind of thing, books?
ADM: I missed that, say that again.
PL: Do you consume any other art forms? Do you read literature, do you look at paintings, do you go to galleries, theatre, stuff like that, or not?
ADM: I love reading books on artists’ lives, whether it be motion picture, music people, a lot of biographies, autobiographies, this kind of reading I love. Magazines, I check them all out. Movies, I love, anything from Woody Allen, you know, any de Niro movie, Will Ferrell.
PL: What’s your favourite movie?
ADM: My favourite movie? There’s a whole bunch, you know, The Godfather, Goodfellas, Apocalypse Now, this new movie that came out Will Ferrell is in called The Campaign, extremely funny. My list goes on. Woody Allen’s movie To Rome with Love, it’s great, his last one. Stanley Kubrick’s movies, of course, were great. You know, it wasn’t until recently I always thought Stanley Kubrick was British. He’s actually from the States.
PL: So, how come your band are mainly European? What’s the appeal of the European musician?
ADM: More work over here and it just became very expensive to keep flying my guys back and forth to the States so, also my music seems to be appreciated more in Europe than it does in the States, so I don’t have much work in the States.
PL: That amazes me actually that you don’t get much work in the States, but …
ADM: You know, it’s there if I want it, but the money’s better in Europe, so I’m gravitating more here, but I’m never opposed, let’s say, to getting offers, I just done a lot of shows in the North East, I just did Virginia and a whole bunch in New York, I did a whole week in New York and upstate New York as well and a big one in New Jersey. So I do the States but just not as much. I think I’m in Europe almost every month, you know, I don’t know why that is, you know, but I think the nature of the combination of influences within the music has a greater appeal to a European sentimentality. In America they want to get bashed over the head with volume, you know, it’s a different place. I’m not saying they don’t appreciate this, they do, but it’s just a bit greater here and certainly so is the money.
PL: So, what’s your favourite European city? Where do you like to go most?
ADM: Well you know what? Britain’s not in Europe, but I love London a lot, I love coming to London. I love Munich, very fond of Munich, everything works, everything’s clean, everyone’s friendly, it’s a centre of Europe, easy to get around, best airport in the whole of Europe. There’s elements of Switzerland that I like. I like certain cities like Rome, Venice for different reasons, not to live there, it’s too much chaos, but to visit, it’s quite nice.
PL: That’s interesting actually, that’s interesting that you like London and Munich, because they’re very different cities.
ADM: They’re very different but very easy to, London’s far more vibrant, it’s really happening.
PL: Just nothing works and it’s dirty.
PL: It’s just that nothing works and it’s quite dirty.
ADM: Oh, well comparatively it might be dirtier, but it’s certainly English-spoken friendly, but so is Munich. Munich’s not as vibrant with things going on, but it’s got it’s own thing about it and the German audiences have been unbelievably warm to me, so, and I don’t know why, but I owe a great deal to Germany because of their hospitality and the way they really ingratiate themselves to this music.
PL: I think the Germans appreciate what you do, partially because they appreciate the way that you command your instrument, because, from my experience when I played in Germany, they really appreciate people who can operate their instruments very well and can have a really good physical and technical rapport with them.
ADM: I’ve never thought about it like that, I just thought that maybe the Guitar Trio when it hit, the Return to Forever had a bit of impact and then my own solo thing became huge. Actually Elegant Gypsy was on the level of like a, you know I had a couple of hit singles off that record in Germany. So my first one or two tours in Germany were like that of a major rock star and then I just turned left, then I abandoned it and went and did this acoustic thing that Columbia Records at the time which became Sony, or CBS became Sony, they were like so upset that I was going acoustic with this guy named Paco who they had no clue who he was, they had no idea and they just thought I was nuts, because they just saw me as the next big thing and the way things were going were really great, but I said well this is going to be pretty damn great, you’ll just have to see and, you know what? The thing sold 5 million records and is still going strong, Friday Night in San Francisco. It was far bigger and better than they thought and that, getting back to Germany, is what really catapulted because what that did was it opened up this giant door for me to do whatever I wanted to do, especially acoustically, because that, even in my early 20s, which was when that happened, I saw the future. I saw it and I said, this is what I want to do. I want to do interesting music that can be better done on the acoustic guitar where I don’t have to worry when I’m 70 years old, having only an electric guitar persona, standing in front of two or three Marshall amplifiers with my ears completely blown out, but having to have to do that because that’s what I’m known for, like guys like Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page or Alan Holdsworth. I mean they just cannot go out and do acoustic guitar tours, because their persona is primarily electric guitar and they didn’t want that. I really didn’t see myself as an older man up there playing super loud music. So if I chose to do what I’m doing now until my 90s I could do it if I want, I guess, it’s something that doesn’t require 10 tonnes of equipment being shipped around and me further damaging my hearing, you know. And it gives me the ability to play the kind of music I’m playing where with an electric guitar you can’t. It’s not quite the same, you can’t really do all of that stuff that requires technical gymnastics, it’s different. I do miss the electric guitar but in different ways. I have a greater repertoire to pull from with the acoustic than electric and I’ve found an audience over here in Europe and, by the way, every foreign country, that has welcomed it. It’s only the United States that still has a little of this nah nah, I wish he’d take out the electric guitar kind of vibe.
PL: Do you ever pick it up, the electric, at all?
ADM: I do but I look at it and I cringe because I have the worst piece of tinnitus like Pete Townsend and it’s not anything that ever goes away, you have to live with ringing, and it just cannot get worse I can’t live with it if it gets worse. But you can rest assured that if you play in a band with a lot of loud loud music like The Who or any of those bands, all those musicians, all of them have hearing loss, for sure, that’s easier to deal with, or easier to deal with. It’s the one out of the ten that has the hearing loss plus the tinnitus that’s really bad, you know.
PL: Yeah, no, that’s not a good thing, I didn’t know you had that.
ADM: Oh I’m the poster boy.
PL: Not a good poster to be on.
ADM: No, no, if I didn’t have it, I would be playing more electric probably but you know I was fortunate because in my early 20s I took on a persona of playing an acoustic. I didn’t switch in my 50s and say OK now you now what I’m done with this electric thing. I think Richie Blackmore tried to do that at one point, tried to switch from electric to acoustic way later and it’s hard if you, you know, no-one, God rest his soul, if Gary Moore decided to go acoustic, his fans would not appreciate it. He has such a strong identity with the electric they wouldn’t accept it, but I had an early success with the acoustic which opened up a big door for me to do more challenging things and be accepted either way, you know?
© Pete Langman 2013