I’ve always been enamored with the ripple effect of events in life. How this something lead to that something which lead to this something, and eventually lead to …
One of those ripples lead to a sweet, never-imagined friendship Marty and I share with an Italian blues harmonica giant and his lovely wife: Fabrizio and Angelina Poggi.
After a brief introduction here in Texas, Marty and I were taken in as family by Fabrizio and Angelina on a trip to Italy several years ago. As we stood in his home studio admiring the many photos of Fabrizio with well-known players in the music world, Marty quipped “You’re a real celebrity!” The illustrious roster of those who’ve shared a stage with the man would easily lead to that conclusion; but the humble, gently smiling figure in front of us belayed nothing of celebrity pomp — only a deep, in-touch, kind persona who connects to the earthly vibe of blues in a manner that is gifted. And nothing lights that fire of passion in Fabrizio more than picking up his harp and cutting loose.
17 albums to date, 2 books, numerous appearances around the globe, winner of plentiful awards and accolades — Fabrizio has earned his place alongside the blues greats; however, he remains the every-man, grounded beautifully by his own connection to the shared human conditions of struggle, darkness, and pain cloaked in redemption, overcoming, and freedom. And his music soars, taking these themes to flight.
Recently, Fabrizio gifted me with a long-distance interview. Here’s what followed:
When did you know music was a "calling" in your life?
To quote my good friend and harp legend Charlie Musselwhite, music in general “overtook me when I was a little child”. While other kids spent their spare time playing soccer or riding bicycles, I stayed inside all day long listening to records. Every kind of music. My favorite toys were a drum, a toy piano and of course an out of tune harmonica.
You play the harp in the style of a genius. Are you self taught?
Thanks for your kind words. Maybe it seems a little strange but most of the things I learned in my younger days came from records. There were not computers, Google, YouTube, and musical instructional books were very difficult to find. It took me six months to learn something that today’s kid can learn in one day. Also with the English language it was the same. I always make a joke of it but my English teachers really were Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
Who are some of the most memorable artists you've shared the stage with?
The list of the artists I've had the privilege to share the stage with and to record with is very, very long. They all were heroes of my youth (and still they are). When I was sixteen and I was in my little room in a little town in northern Italy listening to their records, I didn’t imagine that one day I would play with these men.
There are not enough words to explain those moving moments. I still have goose bumps talking about that. It was amazing. Great artists and wonderful human beings. To record and play live with them was a sort of a miracle.
Having the opportunity to sing with the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama is one of the highest musical privileges in my life. Every time I listen to my recordings with them I still sit in humble disbelief when I hear my voice singing with theirs.
And what can I say about my hero Charlie Musselwhite? He’s a living legend, also. So, I’m on my way. I’m not alone, they are with me. Forever. And Jimmy Carter, the oldest of the Blind Boys, calls me brother and every time I am moved to tears.
But one of my most memorable moments in music happened during one of my tours in the juke joints of Mississippi. A thing that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life — more than anything else. One afternoon I was playing in a place in Greenville, Mississippi. It was an open space and there were people of every age. From children to old men and women. All blacks but my wife Angelina, my guitar player, and me. I was a little bit scared, but everything was fine. After the first set an old black woman (she was probably 80 years old - the age of my mother) came to me, close to the stage. She softly and gently grabbed and squeezed my arm, whispering to me, “Hey man you touched my heart". It was one of the most beautiful experiences in my whole life. That woman probably didn't know that I was from another country, because probably she never went out not only from the US or Mississippi, but neither from her little town; a woman who probably had listened only to blues music for all her life. Well, that woman made me cry. I was shocked and speechless. During the ride back to the motel I realized how big that experience was to me and I started to cry again. If there were a “University of Blues Music”, that old sweet woman that afternoon gave me a DEGREE — or better. She will never know, but that day she gave me "the right to play the blues”.
You’ve performed around the world, both solo and with your band Chicken Mambo, but the United States seems special to you. Am I right?
In the southern United States and especially in Texas, I feel really at home. I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s the vibe, the people, the music…or maybe I was born in the wrong country. I really don’t know, but I like it. Don’t misunderstand me, I love Italy; I love my country very much and think it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. But in the US and most specially in Texas (thanks to my old friend and real brother Donnie Price - a great musician and wonderful person who started everything, being one of the first to believe in me and my music) I made most of my musical dreams come true. I really feel at home there.
In 2013 you partnered with Guy Davis on the acclaimed album “Juba Dance”. This went on to become NUMBER ONE on the Roots Music Report, as well as winner of the BLUES MUSIC AWARD 2014 “Acoustic Album” category. Wow!
My first encounter with Guy Davis dates back to 2007 when we met at a blues festival in the United States. Between us was born almost immediately a deep friendship based not only on mutual respect but also about the passion we both have for the most authentic roots blues, the one that slaves sang in the cotton fields.
Over the past six years, our close personal links materialized in live shows — Guy recorded a couple of tracks on my album "Spirit & Freedom" and now with this record “Juba Dance” that he asked me to produce artistically. This was a sign of esteem that amazes me and makes me proud because Guy Davis really is one of the last great masters of the blues, a direct heir of Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker.
Guy and I are extremely fascinated by the primitive sound of the blues and spirituals — the music that was played "without electricity" under the front porch of those shacks scattered among cotton fields of the Southern States. Also, the acoustic sound allows us to better tell the stories that are in and around this mysterious and magical musical genre.
The album is a perfect picture of the encounter, the embrace and the total and complete fusion between two musicians from seemingly distant worlds, light years away. Sometimes I think that this happened just because probably in another life, Guy and I were brothers and already playing the blues just for fun on the porch of our house… not just for us ... but thinking about what would come next.
What projects do you currently have underway?
I’m recording my new album (# 18) it will be out in mid October. Then there will be a tour in Europe together with Guy Davis in 2015 spring and then… I hope to blow my harmonica everywhere until the day I die…
(which we hope will include more time in Texas, Fabrizio!)
What advice would you give to a fledgling musician -- besides "Practice a lot!" ?
Be yourself. Steal everything from everybody but then make it your own. Don’t act. Be simple and humble. Love and respect people that come to your show. Be nice with them. They will tell you some precious words that keep you going on when the wind of life will blow too hard against you. Play from the heart. Always.
You have a motto that you love to share... "Chi non ama il blues ha un buco nell'anima" - "If you don't like the blues, you have a hole in your soul." What’s the story behind that?
I wrote a song about that and the idea for that song came to me some years ago when I saw these words written on the wall of an old record store in Mississippi: If you don’t like the blues you have a hole in your soul.
That’s probably a motto I was looking for all my life. And it’s true. To me the blues is a miracle. The miracle of the blues is that it’s so full of power and wisdom that it touches every heart throughout the world. It doesn’t matter where you were born, what language you speak, or what color your skin is. Blues and spiritual, and music in general, are amazing gifts – many from wonderful unknown singers – to heal people’s souls. This music calls out for peace and justice. Every time… Everywhere…