Exclusive Interview with Riccardo Grosso

Riccardo Grosso How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ It was a strange meeting. I always loved that "Blues Brothers" movie (the first one) and at some point, at age of 16, I could afford to buy a VCR so I could play a videocassette of that movie that I always wanted to see on TV (they used to air it on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve here in Italy, when I was a child). At that point, figuring out there was an harmonica in that thrilling music, I said: "well, you know what? Dan Aykroyd plays harmonica there? I will play the harmonica as well!". That was my first time figuring out what an harmonica could do. Then - thanks to who was more into the Blues music of me at that time - I've discovered Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Paul Butterfield. Then James Cotton. And a new, wider and different world opened in front of me.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ The first name came into my mind reading this question is Sonny Boy Williamson II. I could listen to him for years without stopping and still finding some details, some nuances, some note I didn't hear the first time that make me want to grab my harmonica, figure out what he was doing and - once I've figured it out - jumping joyful like a child with a new toy!

What is your favorite bluesharp brand / type and tell us why?
~ I'm still working with Hohner Marine Bands. I play really strong so I think for my pockets Marine Bands are the option to go: I like the sound I get, I love the fact they "forgive me" for my hard blowing sometimes. I had the chance to try some customized harmonica and they are great, but I think somehow "too fragile" for me: when I'm on stage I'm not thinking about being gentle on harmonica, I focus on what I want to play...they would be wasted in my hand at this time (maybe in the future?). On Charlie Musselwhite's suggestion I've been using Seydel 1847 (stainless steel) for a while and I have to say they are pretty good instrument. Lately Jason Ricci gave me one of his Suzuki Manji harps. They are very reactive and loud. Probably that's going to be my next choice even if I know I'd better work to control my breathing better with them, but as far I'm getting little by little into overblow...they would be my option in the future, probably.

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ First of all learn how to breath. That's where sound, tone, technique have their foundation. Then learn the techniques as a pro. Learn your chops and then forget everything and start to find your own voice on the harmonica. Be yourself, knowing what you are doing. Don't imitate anyone and learn from everybody. Oh, yes...some music theory is needed to be serious on harmonica. You really don't need that much of music theory to begin with, just the basic to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it: this will help to get a personal voice on harmonica.

Whisky wine beer or ...?
~ Whatever is good for you. I'm Italian, I've been living in New Orleans. They taught me how to drink. I'm not that big drinker, honestly. I love good wine, good beer and Scotch whiskey but I don't need them. Drugs, alcohol, etc...they all are personal choices. And as far as they are not ruining your music and your persona, please help yourself. Ha ha ha.

How do you clean your harps?
~ I take them apart and soak them into warm water, white vinegar and baking soda. Then clean them with a piece of clothes, some cotton swab (the comb), and a teeth brush. The result is they look like new...they taste like vinegar if you don't rinse them well and let them dry properly, but not so much to be bothering.

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ There are few of them, actually. I think one of the most interesting would be "how should a band play when there's an harmonica player there?". Playing Blues music with an harmonica in the band is another story than "just playing Blues". It's important to understand that every instrument it's working into a range of sounds and frequency and they all need space to get "a sound" and to be heard. Is not just volume, it's the choice of notes and chords. When you are playing with an harmonica player you need to know where an harmonica can move, at least and - especially if you are a guitar player - let that room for the harmonica, so picking the right chord, groove and riff is a must. If we listen to the great guitar players backing harmonica players, they play chord in a way that let the harmonica fit in and, somehow, complete the sound. That would be something to focus on, when you are putting together a good band.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ If I can let my fantasy and desire go it would be a studio like where you have different rooms where you can play, so you get different "room sounds" and so results. A studio where you can really experiment with different mics, where you can find some good old amplifiers (like the old Gibsons, Fenders etc...) and some equipment an harmonica player may need as well (old delays, pre-amps, ...), but most important where you can "disappear" for quite some time focusing only on the music and not on the time running so fast! To complete the dream? The sound guy loving the music you love and knowing the sounds you are looking for. Instead of having - like sometimes happens - a sound guy who just want to get the sound "right", a sound guy who want to get the "right sound".

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves.
~ Always. I'm worried about everything: are my band members feeling alright? Are people gonna like the music? Is the show ready to kick ass musically speaking? Then, once on stage, I turn into a sort of "in the zone mode" and let the music happen. I don't have any rituals to calm down, depending on what's going on I can have a smoke or a bottle of water or joking with the guys in the band.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career and tell us why.
~ Playing in New Orleans, spending time with Musselwhite, Sansone or Ricci could be the answers, but I think what really hit me was when I met a guy I used to play with at the beginning of my musical career (when I was starting with harmonica) and the first thing he told me was that he recognized my harmonica playing when he was having a beer somewhere. He went to the owner and said: "Hold on a second! I recognize this style...ain't this Riccardo Grosso?". It meant a lot for me: hopefully I'm finding a personal and recognizable style.

Riccardo Grosso

Pictures by Diego Feltrin

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Answers given on January 5, 2016