It’s the time: Giovanni Pelosi and his Fingerstyle guitar

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World-renowned musician, cap in hand, reveals us the details of his awesome musical carrier.

“There isn’t music without a listener, there isn’t concert without an audience, there isn’t communication without addressee” Giovanni Pelosi

Giovanni Pelosi, born in Rome in 1952, is an acoustic Fingerstyle guitarist, arranger, composer and excellent teacher. Berben musical edition published his arrangements in 1983: Beatles for fingerpicking guitar.

He has played with Giovanni Unterberger, Stefan Grossman, John Renbourn, Duck Baker and many other Italian musicians. He has performed at great guitar venues: Soave Guitar FestivalAcoustic Guitar Meeting (in Sarzana, thrice on the main stage), all the editions of the Acoustic Franciacorta FestivalGalliate Master Guitar, Frankfurt Muzik-Messe, twice at the C’est ist d’best (in Zagabria), Madame Guitar, thrice at the  ADGPA Meeting, at the 11th editions of the Ferentino Acustica Festival, he is the Artistic Director of it.

Discography

Fretwalkin’ (Fingerpicking.net, 2004)

Train-ing (Fingerpicking.net, 2007)

It’s The Time! (Lizard, 2007)

Your Smiling Face (Taylor) in the 36 album (Fingerpicking.net, 2004)

Parole parole parole in the compilation 34 volte amore (Fingerpicking.net, 2010)

He arranges Birland (Joe Zawinul) and plays in Just The Way You Are (Billy Joel) with Rodolfo Maltese and In My Life (The Beatles) in the album Five Guitars Clan (Fingerpicking.net).

He plays in the compilations produced by Peter Finger: Christmas Unplugged (Wonderland Records; 2008) White Christmas, Oh Happy Day, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, Christmas In New Orleans e Silent NightWhile My Guitar Gently Weeps (Acoustic Music Records; 2009).

 

Interview

How did your passion for music start?
I belong to a numerous family: three brothers and three sisters. At home two sisters of three and the brothers strummed away on a guitar, my elder brother and two of my sisters studied accordion. There were some LPs. It seemed to me that music would be the best thing in the world… and now I know.

So, a family of talents. What kind of music did you follow first?
Well, my sisters used to listen to crooners like Dean Martin and Pat Boone, but one of the brothers got home with some LPs by Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis… I would say the Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Fantastic! Have you ever established a kind of a rock ‘n’ roll family band?
Yes, I have. I used to play with my rocker brother. We played guitars: he did the melodic lines, I accompanied him. But it wasn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll. That was the time for the Shadows, Santo & Johnny, among others. (Do you know the early days?)
The Shadows I do, and the rest, I swear, I’ll read up! 

How did you experience the transition from rock ‘n’ roll to the rock of the ‘60s?
Just imagine an historic moment when LPs were spreading a little, especially in the villages like the one I moved to follow my dad’s work. Once someone got home with a vinyl record, Please Please Me, by a British band… the Beatles. On the jukeboxes you could listen to Love Me Do by the Beatles, Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones, etc.
It was heavy blow for that time. 

I can imagine, what a beautiful period of time! I wish I lived those moments of true musical revolution.
So do I, I’m kidding. I lived them, but with the disadvantage to be 3 or 4 years too young to understand completely what was happening. Love Me Do was released in 1962, I was 10 years old, not an adolescent, a kid. 

The Beatles have left an essential mark in your music. You have devoted lots of your arrangements to their music. Which song of them do you have deep down in your heart?
It’s hard to say, there are a lot of pieces. However, the day I listened to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,
I remember as it was yesterday the effect that A Day In The Life and Getting Better made me.
My best-beloved album is Abbey Road, the first one I bought in my life… some years later, in 1969.
Of course, talking about The Beatles, it’s hard to choose the best piece or album, each album has its peculiarity and it’s phase of them musical growth.

The sixties were a time of musical revolution, meant as transgression, peace and love, freedom, flower children, Woodstock Festival, etc… What did they mean to you?
I don’t know. The communication system wasn’t the same as the current one. We knew wrong or a little about what was happening in the world. We used to read children magazines, we saw some photos, miniskirts, flower shirts,… Some time later I saw the same even in Italy.
I can’t lay down the lay about that time, but I remember the huge unrest, great expectations and the crisis of relationships, which was till that time too much hierarchical both in the family and at school.
I see… those moments developed slowly in Italy and not with the same emphasis.

Let’s now talk about the proposal by RCA Records, which asked your band to accompany Nada (second position at the Sanremo Music Festival ‘69) during the Summer tour. Why did you give up?
It makes me smile, because I was the oldest of the band and was not even 17 years old. The reasons, that took us to deny the RCA proposal, are the same of my decision to take musical profession not as my single job. The lack of freedom that this job negates: you can choose your fit job, ok, but then you MUST do it. You can’t give up your job because there is just a tiny field you like, which is not in demand. Of course, it concerns my relationship with music. However there are people who prefer to keep a musical instrument in their hands independently from the kind of music they play and they like this job the most.

The period of time from 1971 to 1980 you stopped playing for several reasons. The Guitar Manual by Giovanni Unterberger was a revelation to you. What sparked off to make you restart playing?
Of course the wealth of sounds I listened out of a single guitar. That book includes beautiful exercises and awesome studies and it has an important educational value. Not secondly, I could have the chance to play with others.

Besides being a great artist, you are also an excellent teacher. Tell us about your experience at the prestigious “Scuola Popolare di Musica”, in Testaccio.
Let’s say I had this experience… I asked that school to attend classes, but the teacher Mario Fales considered me more useful as teacher – he smiles. The impact was very difficult, all the students knew the “classical” repertoire for fingerpicking guitarists better than me and they wanted me to teach them pieces like Blue Finger by Jerry Reed, Genesis by Jorma Kaukonen, Foxglove by Bruce Cockburn,… So I had to learn all of them soon. Of course I’ve learned more by them. At the end of the first year of teaching the students gave me a present: the complete discography by The Beatles.
These are words by a very good teacher and person.

You played with Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn. How was the collaboration born? And what did it mean to you?
I went to Stefan, who was living in Rome at that time, to take some lessons. He gave me twice, then he said me: ‘I won’t teach you anymore, ‘cause you play very well. However you don’t know anything about music, come here and listen to my albums.’. So I did from 1981 to 1987.
Stefan had one of the few specialized records: the Kicking Mule. At his home you could meet well-known musicians, it was well frequented… For example, I met there John Fahey and Dave Van Ronk.

It would be the dream of all of us.
It was a real dream. I will always be grateful to Stefan for this chance. We were used to chat, to speak about musical tastes, to play the guitars…
So, a day, in 1986, he told me: ‘We’ll play at the Folkstudio with John (Renbourn)… Would you like to play with us?’. What would you have replied?
‘Of course, let’s play these guitars!’

I was scared stiff. Each evening before that performance I used to change all the strings ‘cause all of them were useless after 30 minutes of playing… and I don’t like replacing the strings.
Stefan knew me very well as a player, but I didn’t want to look bad with my other model, so I played different playlists each of the four evenings. At the end of the last performance I was surprised to hear Stefan inviting me to take part at their Summer tour and John astonished saying: ‘You have played different pieces each evening!’. The diligence was honored more than I would have hoped and more than my resources, because I couldn’t join them.
For sure everything was deserved. You must be proud of you. A great satisfaction even if you couldn’t join them on tour.  Congratulations for the diligence about the several set lists.

At the beginning of the XXI century, almost 70 of your arrangements were published on the American website “Fingerstyle Guitar Resource Center”, managed by Larry Kuhns. Musicians from all over the world follow your teaching. It must be a great pleasure, what do you think about it?
Dear Elisa, it’s awesome to receive an email from Russia with the message ‘I consider you my real guitar teacher’ and tracks enclosed with my arrangements played better than me and unreleased songs thought as I would have thought. It’s awesome to see a Chinese guy filming himself at office playing one of my early original pieces.
Actually, thanks to this website I’ve known a lot of people and set a true friendly relationship with most of them. For example, last time in New York City I was at Jack R. Baker’s home, he is a Fingerpicking Guitar at the New York City University, I’ve known him thanks to the website you’ve mentioned. Boris Bursaç is another contributor of Larry’s website, I’ve played lots of times with him in Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Larry told me that the downloads of my arrangements were more than 10 thousands in just one year.
Really true that music is the universal language, it has no borders and creates good friendships.

What kind of message do you want to send with your compositions?
I usually write pieces by a single emotion and I try to present it hoping that the listeners would feel the same emotion that has created the piece… or something like that, but something positive.

What kind of emotion did you feel to write Lovin’ that woman, piece included in the album Train-ing (fingerpicking.net, 2007)?
It’s one of the most strange things ever happened to me. I wrote it watching a scene of a short film, of which I wrote the soundtrack. That scene was showing a girl’s face behind a green curtain. I preferred that the emotion would have come from the imagination of the music in that precise moment. To be honest the soundtrack was already done before watching the movie, I did it after reading the script.
I couldn’t imagine such a pic and I wasn’t so attracted by her face in an exciting manner; it was just the scene.

Tell us about the launch of your albums It’s The Time! (Lizard, 2007), Fretwalkin’ (fingerpicking.net, 2004) and Train-ing (Fingerpicking.net, 2007).
I had probably arranged hundreds of songs till that moment and I found what I seemed to call “my style”, which, as it happens sometimes, is characterized by the shortcomings. I wanted to launch a new album, it was the time! It’s The Time! That title concerned also with my best quality and my worst shortcoming: the quality to be free by an ostinato and by an alternate bass, and to do strummings and basses with what it looked me a good rhythmic run; the worst shortcoming not to be truly in the metronome time.
So It’s the Time was the good feeling and the frustrated one of some features that have to do with the musical time.
I wouldn’t have done the album if I hadn’t met the phonic Alessandro Riva. He recorded 14 tracks of the album in two sessions of about two hours each one without any form of editing, just the best versions.
Fretwalkin’ has been the follow-up of that album, recorded at Alessandro Riva’s home, with other arrangements that I wanted to publish and that couldn’t be in the first CD.
Train-ing was the first album I recorded at the studios and that was burnt. Marcello Spiridioni made the burning of the album, he did the same with Dalla and Una donna per amico.

You are Artistic Director of the Fingerpicking.net Records, the record company of your friend and collaborator Reno Brandoni. Can you tell us your tasks?
Well, this answer is easy and short: Reno trusts in me, in my taste, I have to say what I like, so we publish on our catalogue, and what I don’t like, so we don’t publish – he laughs.

Would you like to tell us something about your next project?
It all began chatting for a long time with Riccardo Zappa, a great musician and good friend. He always gives a boost to me. He proposed himself to be the artistic producer of my next CD.
Chats were useful for both of us: few months ago he couldn’t imagine that I would have convinced him to publish his new album before mine!
Both us were sending one another musical stuff, his pieces were very amazing, but I didn’t imagine a guitar style different by mine on them, so I suggested him to launch his own album with those beautiful pieces.
I felt encouraged to write new pieces, I had already some, others were born in the last few months or even weeks… the covers are only three or four.
I write pieces that sound like arrangements of songs. So I had the idea, supported by Riccardo: ‘let’s write some songs!’.
I asked Riccardo Sonzogni, a good friend known on the fingerpicking.net forum, to write the lyrics. I asked him ‘cause I had read the lyrics of his songs: he is extraordinary.
I chatted for a long time also with him: I wanted to know all the emotions that generated the melodies.
Two months ago I recorded a track with Delia Morelli, the singer who sang with me at the Acoustic Franciacorta Festival last year.
I asked Lucrezio De Seta to play the drums, he is the owner of the recording studio and drummer who played with Alex Britti and on the 2013 tour of PFM.
He was very pleased to join us and he proposed himself to be co-producer of the album and said: ‘We should have a bassist’.
I had the right person to call, a good old classmate: Paolo Damiani. For a while he played the guitar, later he decided to play the double bass and with an excellent result. He has been the unique international conductor of the French Jazz Orchestra and the Director of the Jazz Music Department at the S. Cecilia.
However I have had the nerve to call him last August:

‘Hi Paolo, this is Giovanni Pelosi.’

‘Giovanni Pelosi… seriously? How many years have passed?’

‘almost 40… How are you?’

Ok, after short pleasantries and some memories, I said: ‘Do you remember that you asked me to record three pieces of yours with you at the studio in 1971?’

‘Sure, I remember it!’

‘Ok, it’s the time to return me the kindness’

‘It’s a great pleasure!’

So I started to send him some stuff that he liked a lot. In the meantime I asked Alessandro Papotto (excellent flautist, clarinetist and alto saxophonist of the well-known Banco del Mutuo Soccorso band), Rodolfo Maltese and Riccardo Zappa to record with me. They will do it just for friendship and passion for music. It’s really an extraordinary thing that puts me the opposite problem to the one of the last 35 years of music: to orchestrate by pieces born on the guitar. It will be a mixture of instruments, maybe never tried: an acoustic guitar, a 5 strings cello (4 as usual, plus one double bass chord. A French luthier made this instrument for Damiani), a 12 strings guitar (Zappa), an electric one (Maltese), alternately the three winds (Papotto), the drums or percussions (Lucrezio) and the voices.

A very demanding arrangement, but for sure you’ll do it with an excellent outcome!
The arrangement isn’t demanding, it’s impossible for me…
I would like all the other players to give something from their own, with their own style and ideas… we’ll probably discuss our opinions, but I don’t want an orchestra, I want a band.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have been so kind to issue this interview. It has been a great pleasure knowing you so deeply as a human and as an artist.  

We are looking forward to hearing from your new album very soon.

Contacts

Have a look at the official website and YouTube channel by Giovanni Pelosi

About Author

pianist and singer-songwriter "The Rovers" acoustic trio #pop #folk http://theroversband.wix.com/the-rovers /// jazz singer "Liza & The Brothers" #jazz trio http://lizathebrothers.wix.com/liza-and-thebrothers /// classical piano /// foreign languages