Talk about your evolution from a little boy in Italy to the international godfather of Rockabilly. How did you get started with this music? Is there a particular musician that really inspired you to play rockabilly? What's the rockabilly scene like in Italy?
DDG: “Music” was in my parents’ house all the time in my childhood. In fact, my father was a music fanatic. He played jazz, swing, blues, folk at every hour, bringing me, since I was a young boy, into the record stores he frequented, and I attended a lot of concerts with him.
I always considered the music not as a hobby but a real job, and this was considered “weird” in the Sicily of the late 80s early 90s. When I put together my first trio, it was 1994, and I was playing Texas blues. The people started dancing, and so I discovered that the music I was playing was more “rock and roll” than classic blues. A friend of mine, at this point, said to me “did you ever listen to the Stray Cats?” This was the turning point! Nothing was the same for me after I heard that amazing trio with its minimalist approach to the music and an incredible guitar player. The rockabilly scene in Italy is not bad; rockabilly music is pretty “fashionable” now, but the problem is many rockabilly musicians don’t know what’s behind the rockabilly music. I mean the components of this kinda music: the early country, the Western swing and the blues.
What's the first rockabilly song you ever recorded? Do you remember the circumstances around that recording?
DDG: My very first rockabilly recording was in early 2000 with a band called “The Blues Boppers.” I was playing with these guys mixing the rockabilly music with some jazz stuff. We recorded a rockabilly version of a Johnny Mercer’s hit of the fifties. Was fun and the final result was completely different from the original recording.
We recently saw you for three shows in Chicago, and we are naming the one at the Montrose Saloon as an early consideration for A Shot Of Honky Tonk's Show of the Year. We were around a bunch of veteran musicians who were marveling at your technique in various styles whether it was rockabilly, honky tonk, cowboy jazz, western swing, or Dick Dale surf music. Did you have a guitar guru growing up? Is it all self-taught? Where does your technique come from? We know you always cite Bill Kirchen as a major influence.
DDG: Rockabilly was the best thing ever happened in my life (talking about my career). It’s like the “outta water” part of a big iceberg. If you wanna be a good rockabilly musician, you need to learn what’s behind the language of this, apparently, simple kind of music. Rockabilly music is a melting pot of country, blues, Western swing and a lotta twang. I started practicing all these styles, and I completely fell in love with these components. I really wanna be able to play all these “shadows” that create the rockabilly authentic sound. I practice constantly, and I listen to the “godfathers” of this music every day! I often mention Bill Kirchen as one of my mentors, and I wanna explain why. I play in a trio, and I often play some songs that are supposed to be played by big combos (four or five pieces usually, with fiddles, pedal steel guitars, piano and more). Bill always plays with his trio, and he is definitely credible when he plays a honky tonk tune with just a bass and drums behind him. His way to do the rhythm, his way to do the solos, his way to draw between the spaces of the voice is something incredible. Of course, I can mention tons of other guitarists from whom I take inspiration, but Bill remains the best example for a “working class musician” like me. You asked me where my technique comes from, and I tell you that I never stop practicing, even when I’m on tour. The guys of the band literally hate me, because I’m always searching for an acoustic guitar to improve my skills on the acoustic. And when I’m not on tour, especially in the morning (my wife is out for her job and my kids are at school) I’m able to stay 5 hours with the guitar by my hands. Sometime, I sit on the couch to watch a movie and keep the guitar with me to practice in an unconscious way. I took this trick from the great Tommy Emmanuel: he told me that the guitar is the best way to spend his time!
You have a beautiful signature guitar that you take on tour wherever you play. Where did you get it? Who made it? Could you tell us a little about the-one-and-only DonCaster?
DDG: This is a guitar made by the one and only Paolo Lardera. His guitars are called “BlackBeard.” He gave me this one right before the USA tour of 2018. When I plugged in this raw telly for the first time I said to myself “wow … I’m officially a BlackBeard addict.” He is a guy you gotta know before ordering an instrument. He lives in the deep north of Italy, and he takes care of each instrument he makes. I think he really feels sad when a guitar goes away from his shop. He knows me very well; he knows my music and my approach to the music. And the instrument he made for me reflects both of my and his attitude: a road dog for a road dog! I have a lot of guitars in my house, but I really can’t imagine to go over without this piece of wood and steel. Do you wanna know the way he conquers his customers? I’ll tell you. He is present at every guitar show in Italy, and his booth is full of crazy instruments, built with passion, red wine and handmade “salami.” No expensive woods, no expensive finishes, like the food he provides for his customers!
Marco Betti just recently joined the band as your new drummer. You guys are an incredibly tight trio. Tell us a little about the other musicians in your band, Marco and Luca Chiappara, and what it takes to be in the Don Diego Trio.
DDG: When Sandro, our ex-drummer, said to me (almost crying) “guys I have to quit the band because I wanna stay with my family,” I soon thought about Marco. We played together many times during my “spare time” from the Don Diego Trio in other projects. He is a touching musician, the first drummer I have ever met in my life that really loves the MUSIC and not only the things related to his instrument. And, as important, he is such a nice guy. We stay together for weeks and weeks, sharing the same room in the hotel, the small space of a car during the journeys, the same table for lunch, dinner and breakfast. We talk a lot about everything, and we love the magic atmosphere we have together onstage. He is now bringing a new flashy swinging attitude to our show.
Luca was in the band from the first minute. He is a talented musician and also a funny little boy. He and I, onstage, are like the classic comic duos: I’m grumpy and old, he is funny and young and the audience seems to love this “acting.” Of course, our musical skills are the basic point of our show, but we love to see people happy not only for the music we play.
Is there a big difference between American audiences who might be used to rockabilly and European audiences who may not be so familiar with it? Are you received differently in your home country compared to the U.S.?
DDG: Honestly, I have to say that the American audience sometimes is more open minded. The music we play is obviously part of your DNA and when I say “Buck Owens” here in the USA you say “wow,” while in Italy people say “who?” But it’s always up to me. I have to make a reaction! You really can’t expect that people know everything about your musical process. Behind this point of view, every audience is the same, and my job is to give them a sort of happy ending of a boring day. So, USA people and European people have to be approached in a different way but always with the same respect for the music we play.
Talk about your experience with jazz? Aren't you an author of a book on jazz theory?
DDG: I’m not a “jazz guy.” I consider myself a swing fanatic. Think about the lyrics of “you don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing.” That’s my motto. When I play some jazzy tune, I think about Bob Wills or Django Reinhardt, and people into the “snob” jazz scene always think about me as a weirdo. But I don’t care … I do what I wanna do and what makes me feel good. I like to mix the country music with the jazz substitutions, and also, I like to “twang” on a swing tune. No one will die if I commit these sacrileges. I’m not able to write a book. What I do is the result of 25 years onstage for almost 200 gigs a year. I can write a book about the things you have to watch out for on the road.
What does it mean to musicians who come from Europe to travel to places like Memphis, Austin, or Nashville and perform in those cities? And how did you get involved with the Ameripolitan Awards and Dale Watson.
DDG: I’m really scared every time I play in places like Memphis, Austin, Nashville, or Chicago. These are music capitals, and I come from a small town in the middle of nowhere in Sicily. But I love these kinds of challenges and, believe me, I read a lot about the story of these cities, because I don’t wanna be unprepared. I respect the sound of these cities and, if I have to play in Nashville, I wanna be sure I can play a lot of Tennessee rock and roll. And the same gotta happen in every place I go. It is an honest tribute to the culture I really love.
The first time I was nominated at the Ameripolitan Awards was like a bomb for me. I soon understood it is not only a festival, but it is a family! The 90% of the people I know in the USA come from the Ameripolitan family and all of them are giving me an incredible amount of help, both in the USA and Europe. I’m really proud to be part of this movement, and I can’t stop saying thank you to Dale for keeping us all together under his wing.
"Greetings from Austin" is your latest CD. What track should people who are not familiar with the Don Diego Trio listen to first on this CD to get a handle on what you guys are about?
DDG: OMG! I can’t answer! I really love this album. I wrote the songs in few weeks, I recorded the album in two days, and I still love to play the songs from the album every night. I don’t wanna choose a song because each song is a tribute to one of my Texan heroes. So, please take your time and listen to it from the beginning to the end.
Also, tell us a little about the documentary "Greetings from Austin." Why did you make it and who's it for? Where did you come up with the idea? Who is involved in the production of the documentary?
DDG: It’s Vittorio Bongiorno’s idea. He is a writer, a movie maker, a photographer, a good friend and a funny guy. Of course, he is crazy! Only a madman would make a documentary about a Sicilian cowboy trying to conquer the real cowboys! It was supposed to be a drama, but it is actually a fun movie. I “act naturally” during the movie (I always wanted to use this sentence).
(Above) Two-time Ameripolitan Award nominees, The Don Diego Trio ripping through a three-hour rockabilly eruption at the Montrose Saloon in Chicago.
There are so many levels along the way to musical mastery, and the godfather of Rockabillly, Italy's own Don Diego Geraci is clearly a rare talent, whether he is playing rockabilly, honkytonk, cowboy jazz, western swing, or Dick Dale surf music.
Check out Don Diego Trio's latest album, Greetings from Austin.
I didn't Walk the Line
I didn't walk the line
for a long, long time
Flying like a bird from place to place
I didn't walk the line
for a long, long time
Living my life at night
Being drunk all the time
Too many hours in a roadhouse
Too many beers in my brain
Too many calls at the phone
Trying to explain
I didn't walk the line
for a long, long time
Since I found you
in a lonesome place.
The Don Diego Trio, Greetings From Austin
To keep up with all the news and updates from the Don Diego Trio, check them out online at :
Click below for the trailer to the documentary, Greetings From Austin, which features The Don Diego Trio.
Tell us a little about how you grew up. You are from Michigan, correct, and had a childhood steeped in gospel and folk music? How did you get from there to what you are doing now in New Orleans?
ER: My journey to New Orleans began when I graduated high school. I was stir-crazy and began traveling. When I was living in Vermont, a friend made me a mix CD that became a sort of musical compass for me; it had Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith and other early blues and jazz musicians. I connected with those songs in a major way. When I came to New Orleans and met other young people who were in to that music and singing those songs that I knew and loved... I knew I'd found a special place.
There's a depth to your lyrics and insights offered by your music that people might miss because of the arresting nature of your voice, which we love for its sincerity and intimacy. Which singers from the past or present inspire your approach to singing? Where did you come by your sound?
ER: Hank Williams Sr. is my guy. His voice carries so much in it. It makes you want to dance, or cry; whatever he is feeling he is able to express with his voice. It's an emotional intelligence that is quite vast. Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt do it. I look to songwriters who take risks and who aren't just trying to hit the note. But my songwriter friends are my main inspiration: Julia Sanders, Max Bien Kahn, Kiki Cavazos, Dean Johnson, all the boys from The Deslondes, and so many more.
Could you tell us what it was like to work with Jack White? From all accounts, his approach to recording his solo album, Boarding House Reach, was somewhat eccentric, and you are featured on the country-soul track, "What's Done is Done," with both vocals and guitar.
ER: One of the coolest things about working with Jack is that he records with analog gear. The tape machine we used in Studio B at Capitol Records is the size of a large animal, I think it was an AMPEX 200. I love recording on tape. If the whole band is playing and you're doing vocals live, you don't want to mess up! I love that focused intensity. I think that's where the magic comes from. It has less to do with the tape machine, and more to do with the way we interact with it.
What were your impressions of SXSW 2019? From a first-timer's standpoint, what did it mean for you to play there?
ER: I don't have an opinion either way. I'd be happy singing my songs to a basket of kittens if my booking agent thought it wad a good career move. Point is, I am grateful for any chance to travel and sing and play guitar.
For us, the highlights of your initial album, 2017's This Time Last Night, include the old school country sounds of "Wanton Way of Loving," the expressive, wistful longing in "Don't Blame It on the Moon," and the boogie-woogie enthusiasm of "Jump Down Baby." How has your songwriting evolved going into the second album? Or how have you evolved?
ER: People can expect more of the same: dance songs, lap steel and fiddle, more classic country. But my songwriting process has shifted. It's less spontaneous, but in a good way, because now I make time each day to think and work on music. I spend more time editing my songs and journeying into my subconscious to distill moments of truth, exploring new chord progressions, and challenging my voice to reach for new notes.
We love your new single, "Handyman," which is currently available on all streaming platforms. What inspired you to write that song? From someone who grew up in the 70s, it sounds like a modern, inverse narrative to James Taylor's "Handy Man." This time, in your version, you actually request the handyman.
ER: I hadn't heard that song until was getting ready to release mine and figured I ought to do a Google search for other songs named Handyman to see what was out there. It turns out that James Taylor covered Handy Man; it was originally written and recorded by Jimmie Jones in 1960, and it's an excellent R&B tune. My inspiration for writing Handyman is the same as my inspiration for writing most of my songs; I wanted to express my point of view to someone, and I'm not the best at talking about my feelings. Most of the time its easier for me to sing them. A line from a great song called "Try Again" by The Kernal comes to mind, "I'm so bad at words when my feelings hurt."
You just finished up recording your sophomore album, You Made It This Far. What was this experience like? What can we expect from this album? Who produced it, and who played on it? When is it going to be released?
ER: To be honest, I just finished recording my third album! My sophomore album has been finished since last summer. I was waiting to release it until I had found the right record label, and thankfully, I met these amazing people who run an indie label called Father/Daughter Records. You Made It This Far is due August 23rd.
Considering you got a relatively late start in the music business, the last couple of years have seen you really catch up to your contemporaries. It's got to be a little bit of a trip to go from composing songs in your head and taking a year off to learn guitar to fielding critically acclaimed albums, touring nationally, playing SXSW, and singing with Jack White. Can you relate a little bit what it's like to be in the heady whirlwind you've currently found yourself in?
ER: The whirlwind is fun, and I'm ready, so long as I can find the time to bust out of town every once in a while and go on an adventure and detach from emails and responsibilities. Real "downtime," time to improvise and just exist, is essential.
You've talked about the themes of "radical acceptance" that run through your work especially your first album, This Time Last Night. Are you closer to accepting yourself? Is acceptance a lifetime project? How big a part does your music play in this process?
ER: It's everything! It took me my whole life to learn to accept myself as a creative person. I think growing up in the Midwest made being an "artist" seem like a death sentence; the economy is shit, everyone is struggling, and yet I want to be an artist?? But I've been working through that, and now my direction with radical acceptance is examining moments of emotional pain. Somebody hurts you, or you hurt someone; it's essential to begin the process of acceptance. When things happen that are out of our control, the worst thing in world is to become bitter. I'm not saying we aren't responsible for our actions, because we definitely are. I'm talking about deep emotional healing and trying to better understand old pain. I'm at the beginning of this journey and it's probably gonna take more than two albums to figure out.
Where to next? Support the new album? What does the summer hold for Esther Rose?
ER: Hopefully there will be cool clear water to swim in, beautiful friends, and lots of gigs.
(Above) New Orleans gifted singer-songwriter Esther Rose performing at the Chicago Honkytonk Showcase last July.
Esther's critically acclaimed album, This Time Last Night, is available on all streaming platforms. She recently collaborated on a country-soul single with Jack White entitled, "What's Done is Done." She has a new album debuting August 23, You Made It This Far, available for pre-order, and she just released the new single below entitled, "Handyman."
It takes a little elbow grease and some spit-shine
Gonna take a little more than that
to fix this heart of mine
But you're a handy man
You got the tools
won't you make it so my heart don't ache
and I ain't nobody's fool
You measure twice before you make the cut
Sharpen up the knife, so it won't hurt too much
But you're a handy man
You learned your trade
Won't you make it so my heart don't ache
Make it strong and unafraid
And I hope you change your mind
And I hope you change my mind
Won't you try
And I hope you change your mind
And I hope you change my mind
Won't you try
Esther Rose, Handyman
To catch up with all things Esther Rose, check out her web site here.
Click below to watch the video for Esther's new single
Much of your family was involved in classical music correct? Tell us a little about the musical environment you grew up in as a child.
MM: Yes, correct! My mother’s aunt, who always lived with us, was an opera singer. My father was a lawyer, but he was also a journalist involved in music deals, and he used to listen to music at home pretty often. He loved classical music, but I remember him listening to Louis Armstrong a lot. Moreover, one of my sisters, Giovanna, is a classical piano player, but she plays guitar too, just for fun. I remember so many nights in which family friends used to come to our house for dinner and then spend some time with guitars singing songs. I was particularly attracted by that joy and fun coming out from music.
Growing up in Catania, a port city on Italy's east coast, how did you get introduced to rockabilly music? Was there any single record that was particularly important and started you down that path?
MM: Early eighties rockabilly was something “trendy” around Europe caused by the great revival brought by the Stray Cats music and other rockabilly bands coming from the UK. Catania has always been considered one of the most “rock” and “musical” Italian cities. At that time, there was a huge rockabilly movement in Catania. My sister Giovanna used to hang out with a rockabilly guy that gave her lot of tapes and records. I was ten and, especially after my father died, that guy became a kind of model to me. I remember that he gave me a tape with music recorded from a British radio show called “Radio Memphis” hosted by a DJ named Roy Williams. He played mainly Memphis music coming out of Sun Records. I used to listen that tape a hundred times per day!!! Same thing about a record that was a Sun Records compilation that I listened so many times with other two albums: Gonna Ball (Stray Cats), and Chuck Berry Greatest Hits.
When you originally started playing with him, what was your first impressions of psychedelic rocker, pioneer, photographer, performance artist, tango dancer, Tav Falco.
MM: Actually, the first time I saw Tav Falco, it was late eighties in Catania. I was maybe eighteen. I remember that I remained very impressed by his approach to rock’n’roll music, I mean, with tons of other music influences. At that age, I was still attracted to the traditional r’n’r and rockabilly, so even though I bought two albums, actually I listened to them years later – also, because I never imagined to find myself being his guitarist and producer. It happened that I’ve read about him in many music magazines, and I have to say that I’ve always been attracted by his original way of being a rocker as well as a tango dancer. I started to play with Tav in summer of 2014; we’ve been making records and touring together since then. Tav was my “Train to Memphis.”
On any given night, you are expected to play old country blues, psychedelic surf, tango drenched dance tunes, and crimestory-caberet. How do you prepare to play with Tav? He has quite a catalog of albums and over four decades of music from which to draw.
MM: Of course, after five years, we have collected new material that I produced, recorded, and played, so that’s fine. At the beginning, he sent me a very long list with at least 50 songs that he wanted me to learn. Can you imagine? Also, because the real point wasn’t to learn 50 songs, but try to catch that weird attitude that he’s able to give to his material. You never know what to expect. So, I learned more to be ready to jump into places and atmospheres I’ve never been.
You wrote or cowrote several tracks off the “Cabaret of Daggers” album, and you also produced the album. Tell us a little about those sessions. Which tracks did you write? The album jumps from a cover of Billy Holiday's Strange Fruit all the way to the rise and fall of imperial glory in Red Vienna. Is there a connecting thread to the songs on this album? Also, how did you get American opera singer Kallen Esperian to sing the beautiful closing aria on Red Vienna.
MM: Even in the previous album that I produced for Tav, “Command Performance,” I cowrote a song, Memphis Ramble, but Cabaret of Daggers was totally different ever since I listened to the material that Tav had sent me. He wanted to realize such a more elegant as well as bizarre album than the typical r’n’r record; something able to drive the listeners through different worlds, a sort of a bridge between the American and the European cultures. I cowrote New World Order Blues and Red Vienna. It was a big challenge for me to write that song not being a classical musician, but something came out in a proper way, and I’m glad we made it. The idea about having Kallen Esperian in that song came to my mind while we were recording the song in Rome. Kallen was my neighbor in Memphis, so it was pretty easy contact her. She was enthusiastic about this collaboration, and she did an amazing job.
You recently played on a Rebecca Jed record that will be coming up soon. You did this in Nashville correct? When you come into recording session, does the artist plan everything that you are to play? Do you develop your own lead guitar melodies or work with the artist on the song structure? How does this work? Give us an insight to the process when you play on someone else's songs.
MM: Well, there are different ways to collaborate and operate into a recording session. There are artists, arrangers, producers, or music directors that tell you exactly what they want. Others give you any indications about the attitude that they would love to catch, others they leave you totally free to play following your feeling, and so on. Working with Rebecca was cool. One-day session in Nashville. She had sent me the songs before, but I haven’t done anything but listen to them. We recorded live during the session, and she liked what I did, and we kept it. Then we made some guitar lines overdubs and got it. I like to play for other artists trying to catch their feelings and building something together, but keeping my sound as much as I can. I do the same thing with the musicians when it’s me who produces the record.
Memphis is a world apart from Italy. How has the music scene been for you in Memphis, and why did you want to move to there?
MM: I chose Memphis because I grew up with Memphis music. Memphis has a great history and a huge energy. Everybody can feel the vibes coming out from this magic place. Memphis has been treating me great so far, like I was one of its sons. I have to say that I’m a man from the South, and I can affirm that the South has always something special, more than other places. I met a lot of musicians and artists here. I play a lot here, and I’m so proud that I can define Memphis as my new home.
We saw you on stage at the Ameripolitan Awards in February. You certainly looked like you were having fun. What's it like to play in support of Dale Watson and all those other great musicians during an awards show like you did earlier this year? There seems to be a lot of moving parts up there.
MM: I met Dale in Austin in 2017 when I participated as guitarist for my old friend Don Diego Geraci who invited me to play with his trio. Then, I met Dale in Memphis after he decided to move over there part time. I’m very flattered to be a part of the Ameripolitan Awards Production, and it’s a privilege play with him as well as in the Ameripolitan Orchestra. It constantly gives me the opportunity to meet and play with great artists. So, my eternal gratitude to Mr. Watson.
Do you have any other projects that you are currently working on -- either as a producer, writer, or guitarist?
MM: I have a 45 coming out next November on Record Store Day, for Black and Wyatt records from Memphis. I can define it as my debut album here in the U.S. More details will be announced soon.
Give us an idea of where you will be this summer. Touring with Tav Falco? Any summer festivals in the US? Where can we find you?
MM: I’ll be playing in Memphis till mid July, then I will fly to Europe. I have some festivals over there: Helsinki, Switzerland, Italy. Check it out on my website www.mariomonterosso.com or Facebook page.
(Above) Primo guitarist, composer, producer, Mario Monterosso, performing at the Ameripolitan Awards in Memphis this past February.
We've seen him pick guitar for Dale Watson, Tav Falco and at the Ameripolitan Awards, Mario also plays sessions, composes, and produces out of his adopted home of Memphis.
Well, I woke up at midnight
And I heard on the late world news
That the world is in a bind
If you ain't half deaf or blind
You can't but help see
That the new world order's
Got you in bind
So I went to the window
And I looked down on the town
And I looked out at the people
Wearing a frown
And I looked out at the people
Heads bowed down
They just don't know
We're on the brink of destruction
Orchestrated by the new world order
You may receive your instruction
Dumb yourself down
Or head south of the border
I got a feeling I can't lose
We're gonna be all crying the blues
According to a roundup of the late world news
Yeah, the world is hanging by a string
Mario Monterroso, Tav Falco, New World Order Blues
For all things Mario Monterroso, check out his Facebook page here.
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