Let me tell you a little about Bobby Messano. His name should be a household word but often it is not.
Messano is a legendary musician with now six modern blues albums under his belt. He has had songs featured in network and cable television shows, he has been heard on the MTV Jingle and on Benny Mardones’ smash hit “Into the Night” (which made the Billboard Top 20 in 1980 and then again in 1989). He has written songs for himself and for many an artist, including the likes of Eric Clapton. His guitar has been heard on over 50 major and indie labels.
He has appeared on records with Clarence Clemmons, Franke & The Knockouts, Joe Lynn Turner and Starz. He produced, appeared and recorded with the 60’s hit act Shadows of Knight for a long run that intermittently continues even today. He has toured with and been the music director for Steve Winwood, Lou Gramm and chart topping Country artists Jimmy Wayne, Rodney Atkins and Steve Holy.
Bobby has played or headlined dozens of major festivals and events. His last four CD’s, Holdin Ground, Bobby Messano Live In Madison ,That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues and Welcome To Deltaville have made it into the Grammy first round balloting 19 times. That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues was on the American Blues Scene’s Blues Top 5 Chart for 24 weeks and was named 2012 TOP BLUES/ROCK ALBUM (USA) by Blues Underground Network and Welcome To Deltaville was named #3 In the American Blues Scene BEST of 2013 list for U.S. Blues Rock CD. His latest release, Love and Money, hit the market on April 15, 2015 and he was recently recorded and featured on Sirius XM’s BLUESVILLE. On December 22nd 2012, Bobby was inducted into the “BLUES HALL OF FAME.”
I have talked with Bobby over many a good meal (usually Italian, both of our favorites) and a bottle of wine or two (also usually Italian and also our favorites). We recently hooked up to discuss his latest CD. I took the opportunity to interview him.
What started his interest in playing the guitar, writing songs and singing?
“I grew up listening to the Detroit and Philly Soul acts and the Four Seasons, but I also was hearing Freddie King and Chuck Berry,” he said.
“I REALLY started playing guitar after the Beatles, Stones and Yardbirds came on to the scene. I would sing at home and church, and I think that’s when I started paying attention to “THE SONG.”
The song is what people remember and Bobby recognized that without a good one even the best performer and artist is lost.
Messano often mentions seeing Jimi Hendrix in Flushing Meadows when he was 14 years old. Sometimes he even talks about that at his shows. How did that show impress and influenced him?
“Oh man, it freaked me out. What a show! August 23, 1968: the bands were Singer Bowl, Soft Machine, the Chambers Brothers (who I LOVED), Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company and Jimi. HOLY COW! I watched Jimi through binoculars and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing, and that changed me forever.”
Messano had his own rock band, toured with greats like Steve Winwood, recorded and toured with Lou Gramm and so many others. He even played a big role several times over the years in the band Starz, a proto-metal-glam band from New Jersey. They never made it to the real big time but bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe claim Starz as their primary influence. That’s pretty far from the blues. What made him focus on the blues for the last 25-plus years instead of staying with the hair/metal and rock bands of years past?
“I wanted to go back to music that I felt was more honest. I’ve always been a Blues or Blues/Rock influenced guitarist and I always sang with more grit than the Rock and Pop singers I was with. After a tour of Germany in 1990, I decided that I was tired of playing harder Rock. This is actually my Silver Anniversary in the Blues Biz. Truthfully, when I went back to doing Contemporary Blues, I was just a Rock guitarist returning to a comfort zone, but for my soul I needed to make that change. It’s tough to go from making three to five thousand dollars a week and being on tour buses, to struggling as a solo Blues artist, but I’ve never looked back, despite the trials and tribulations.”
His tone and style of playing guitar is uniquely his own. He described his approach to playing guitar.
“I was nurtured as a player on the greats of the 60’s: Clapton, Beck, Page, and Hendrix, and because of them I was turned on to the three Kings, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon (yes I know he played bass and) the older Chicago players. I loved the English Marshall amp sound and that’s where my ears still are. I’m an aggressive player. I’ve worked all my life trying to be a GREAT rhythm player. ANYBODY can play a solo, and most guitarists can’t stop soloing but they can’t, or won’t lay back and become part of the band and the music. When you can do that and play a SINGLE NOTE that brings a crowd to its feet…well need I say more”
Messano likes to be in front of a crowd and pleasing an appreciative audience. The new CD is a distinct departure from the blues rock styles of past albums. Love and Money is darker, brooding and more edgy. What drove you to take this tact and focus with the new CD?
“I have a life to write about; broken relationships and marriages, evil people that have passed through life and in my family, bankruptcy, a psychopath cyber stalker, major traumas, watching my dad get sick and die and watching my family turn ugly after my mom passed. These life experiences, I feel, have made me a qualified, true life storyteller of MY Blues. It belongs to me, but people can identify with it because the songs are about the same things that happen to them. You need to take the listener/fan along for the ride with you.”
“I don’t sing about getting drunk, picking up women, my Ferrari, growing up in the Depression in The Dust Bowl or living like a millionaire. That’s fake, dishonest writing. It’s not the Blues that I know. You might as well write some plastic pop song. I write about what happens to me. It is very honest and to me, that honesty sometimes brings out the ugliness in people; those who think that they know about you but who are mired in their own self-importance and sad existence. But THAT also makes for some great songs.”
“April Showers” opens the new CD. It sets the tone for the CD when Bobby sings, “April Showers don’t bring no flowers when the rain is mixed with snow.”
What with the dark opening to this album?
“April has always been a tough month for me. In April my Mom was born, my Dad passed away, it was the beginning of a divorce and the last time I saw someone very dear to my heart. It’s supposed to be a time when life begins anew, but I’ve felt that it had mixed blessings” “the rain is mixed with snow.” Love & Money is just what we live our whole lives struggling for. David Michael Rose, my co-writer, and I always try to write humorous, but true lyrics. I mean isn’t that what life is about to most people?? We live and die for Love and Money.”
What inspired him to do a samba-like tune like “Boddentown” that is quite a different sound from the rest of the CD?
“It was originally a slower, more melodic song, but when we were in the studio it started taking on a new life as an acoustic samba. It is such a happy song and Boddentown, Grand Cayman is one of my favorite places on the planet.”
The new CD is dedicated to Messano’s father, Albert Francis Messano with a picture of his Pop in his WWII Army uniform on the cover. How did his father influence his work ethic and career?
“My dad was in the 101st Airborne (same as Jimi) He was a worker bee and worked for the US Postal Service for pretty much his entire life as a Supervisor. He was Mr. Happy, a tough boss and he owned a few bars on the side. He was so proud of me and all of my accomplishments and always said I should follow my heart. I loved the guy and while he was dying, I was there constantly for him. I would like to clarify what a stalker has said in some vicious web attacks on me. My dad was dying in my arms when I was with him, but I wasn’t with him when he died. I had just flown home to Florida for a brief time and woke up to the news of his passing on April 15th, hence the release date.”
Steve Winwood is one of Bobby’s heroes. Messano’s last album featured a Traffic song, “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” The new album has Blind Faith’s “Had to Cry Today”. How has Steve Winwood influenced him?
“Steve was, and still is one of my idols and the fact that I got to be his guitar player will always be one of the highlights of my life. Geez, just the first jam with him would have been enough. I love his writing, attitude, a voice that came from the heavens, everything. Doing a few songs of his, and hopefully doing them justice, is just my way of showing him quietly how much I appreciated what he did for me as a musician and paying homage to one of the greats.”
Sirius XM Radio took great interest in his new CD. Messano recorded in their Bluesville studio in April, and now his music seems to be all over their rotation. It is expected that the new CD to also be all over Bluesville too.
How did that start and how is that working out?
“I am so thankful to XM/Sirius BB King’s Bluesville for everything that they do for me and ALL the artists they play. I have been on XM channel 70 since it started in September of 2001. They were playing recurrents of my Ichiban CD Dominion Roads and when I released Holdin’ Ground in 2003 they were on it as well as every CD since (Live In Madison, That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues and Welcome To Deltaville). I’m one of the Contemporary Blues artists who has been on the Channel since its inception and they appreciate recognize my music. It’s hard for an Indie artist in any genre, and Bill Wax, Tony Colter, Pat St. John and Lou Brutus were always in my corner and I am forever thankful.”
Bobby’s new band is great. So how did he hook up with them?
“They are amazing, aren’t they? Freddie Gasparini joined me on an as needed basis in the Fall of 2013. I met Freddie 30 years ago when I auditioned for his band, but we lost touch. We reconnected in ’13 when I saw him play at Brian’s Backuard BBQ, a great club that’s my home base when I’m in NY State. I was blown away and he starte d playing with me when I could use him. I made a last minute bass player change in January of 2014. These things happen when you’re in business and I had played with Suavek Zaniesienko at a jam, and found out that he had played with Todd Wolfe for years. I was so impressed that I called him at the last minute to fill in and it was like he had played with me forever. He is without a doubt one of the best players I have ever had the honor to play with, and I have played with some killers. Dave Hollingsworth also played for years with Todd Wolfe and he also jumped in at the last minute when my drummer suddenly left. He is the perfect drummer for me…He listens to everything, and just locks it down with Suavek and Freddie. What a BAND!!! I am blessed.”
If Messano could play live on stage with one person, living or dead, who would that be and why?
“OK…this is going to sound strange, especially as a guitar player…READY?? Jimmy Smith! I LOVE Hammond organ, and I just LOVED his amazing playing, and the rhythmic quality that he played with.”
“He also left AIR in the songs…It would be, as someone used to say that I knew…”Like Butter”.
Visit Bobby’s Website at: www.bobbymessano.com
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.