Playing guitar again in my early 50s saved my life
We should name our band the Colesterock, the Old Timers, the High Pressure, the Arythmics. But we are the “Music Box”. And me, former geologist of an oil company, family man, what am I doing here?
I didn’t even dream about this anymore. Me in a rock band? That’s for teenagers! My guitar would have always been with me even if I rarely played it, so to remember the passion of my youth. But nothing more. I have other things to do now.
Famous last words…
In February 2016, I lost my job. A bad blow when you’re a little over 50. In our country, in particular, it can be the end of your career. It had been a while that a friend of my sister’s renewed me the invitation to join him and some other friends to strum a little, despite my age. I had other things to do, “I teach Aikido, I have a kid in elementary school, a job…” – Then the job disappeared. Dark clouds were looming on the horizon. My wife also pushed me to accept the invitation at that point, perhaps in the hope that it would help me not to lose my head in that bad moment.
So I found myself dusting off the trusty PRS EG4 and the small 15W Peavey Blazer 158 amp and trying, although a bit rusty, a couple of solos to and attempting to recall the lyrics of the tracks to play. Something was stirring inside me. Something that had been dormant, perhaps suppressed, deep inside my being was now slowly pushing itself to the surface. It literally exploded that night in February 2016 when I joined the Music Box band.Rehearsal room: the living room of my neighbor’s drummer’s riding stable. That evening there were three guitarists, a singing pianist, the host as the drummer and a young bassist, definitely out of age. We started with Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. I played it “when I was young” with the band I had with my sister; we had never left the rehearsal rooms in Rome. I still have the recordings we made in the ’80s and I listened to them occasionally. The guys left me the part of the soloist and the part of David Gilmour’s singing. It was a bomb. Not so much for the quality of the performance, but for the emotion that had invaded me. We rehearsed other pieces, then I discovered that the tradition was to sit down at the table together, set it up with something that everyone had brought, and chat about music, projects and various “fuckin’ around”. I’d been captured… These were the Music Box, born from the ashes of a previous band in the ’80s and I’d listen to them now and then. They left me the part of the soloist and the part of David Gilmour’s singing. It was a bomb. Not so much for the quality of the performance, but for the emotion that had invaded me. We rehearsed other pieces, then I discovered that the tradition was to sit down at the table together, set it up with something that everyone had brought and chat about music, projects and various “fuckin’ around”. I’d been captured…
These were the Music Boxes, born from the ashes of a previous band also from the Sacrofano area, just north of Rome, in the beautiful countryside of Veio Park. The pianist Sàndor Muller, who had invited me, and the drummer Antonio Fiumefreddo didn’t want to stop playing and together they insisted on keeping the musical activity alive, involving anyone who might want to. After a few months, playing sometimes even only in two, they started to form a band embryo. Sàndor, a well-known restorer active in the area, a skilled pianist and singer, of Hungarian father, has a total passion for music, preferring Brit-Pop among all, from the Beatles onwards; he also plays bass and double bass. Antonio Fiumefreddo, the host, equestrian instructor and owner of the stables, is a formidable drummer, with a past as an instrumentalist and producer alongside the likes of Francesco Bruno, with whom he opened the concert of Sting and Gil Evans in Perugia. The evening I joined the group was also the first time for Raffaele Papale, a multi-instrumentalist of notable musical culture (a high-profile civil engineer in life), who presented himself with a beautiful Fender Stratocaster “sunburnt” American Standard with which he played the rhythmic parts. A few months before Paolo Marinucci had joined the band, “the architect”, guitarist and singer with excellent harmonic and musical bases, a Beatles fan, with an active past in his youth in a band that covered the Fab Four. Soon we lost the young bass player and Raffaele bought a bass guitar to try his hand in his place.
For a while the formation was: Keyboards and vocals: Sàndor Muller, class 69; Guitar soloist and vocals: myself, class 64; Bass: Raffaele Papale, class 58; Rhythmic guitar and vocals: Paolo Marinucci, class 50; Drums: Antonio Fiumefreddo, class 53. Rarely, a friend of ours, Alessandro, class 70, came to help us at the mixer.At the end great dinner at the stables. Evenings of great pleasure. Good times…
We spent some nice evenings together until Antonio, the drummer, offered us the possibility to make our first “live” outing there, in his riding school, in front of relatives and friends. While chatting with a neighbor, bassist of a rock band in which the Roman singer Massimo di Cataldo plays drums, his interest in participating in the project came out. So Piero Cassini, class 74, joined the band a couple of months before our first performance, in which Raffaele Papale became keyboardist/effectist and saxophonist in one of the songs. Piero, a great wine enthusiast, an acoustic guitarist who had switched to bass, a lover of rock and prog, immediately got in tune with us, both musically and non musically (I’m referring to the “various “fucks”).
And in June 2016 there was the first little concert, in the green of the “Maneggio Fiumefreddo”: in front of a fair number of relatives and friends, we presented our setlist that since then opens with Shine On You Crazy Diamond and closes with the apotheosis of Comfortably Numb, by Pink Floyd. There were the necessary “cues”, the inevitable uncertainties, but all in all it went well and we were satisfied. Above all, we enjoyed ourselves and had fun.
Then there was the summer break and in the autumn we prepared for an event in a club in Sacrofano, the “Terra di Ocram”. I was so taken by the thing that I was studying at night both the songs and solos, and even the technology concerning the pedals, the effects… I was more involved than when I was young and thanks to the video lessons on YouTube, I was improving every day, definitely exceeding the skills and knowledge I had when I was young. By now the guitar was inexorably part of me again. This, I said to myself, was the real me. I also fulfilled my boyhood dream of having a Fender Stratocaster: I sold my PRS well and bought a beautiful Stratocaster Classic Series 50s, Made in Mexico in 2006, the year of the 60th anniversary of the model that was replicating it, in beautiful “surf green” paint.
In the meantime, pushed by the harsh winter that prevented us from rehearsing in the open countryside, we moved our base to a hall on Sàndor family’s property, improving our acoustics problems in a restricted environment with live drums.
Unfortunately, our exhibitionist ambitions didn’t please Raffaele Papale, who abandoned us; as he didn’t think neither the repertoire nor the choice to do perform events, the direction the band had now taken, was any more fun to him.
On December 17, 2016 we invited friends and relatives to the restaurant venue to hear us play. We amazed them with a rather energetic performance that also included Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water and Bad Love, by Eric Clapton, which I introduced with a Jimi Hendrix-style Italian national anthem (which made someone think it was the American anthem!).
It was an unforgettable evening, unfortunately also because we remember it as the last time of Paolo Marinucci, who sadly passed a few days later, killed by a heart attack at the age of 66 on December 30. This was a hard blow.I had just lost my uncle, my father’s young brother, who started me and my sister on guitar when we were 11 and 9 years old respectively. The funeral had been celebrated on Christmas Day. Five days later our Paolo, one of the people I had started playing guitar with again, would be gone…
We went ahead anyway, as we were convinced Paolo would have wanted. Sàndor, in agreement with Paolo’s family, began to mature the idea of a new performance to be made in memory of Paolo as soon as it was possible. In the meantime he spoke with a guitarist friend who, coming from a progressive band that seemed to have to break up, might be interested in joining us. So he did, and Alessandro Badii, a classically trained guitarist and progressive enthusiast, joined the Music Box (he too perfectly tuned in to the “various shenanigans”). The local administration of Sacrofano offered us the possibility to organize a show in the historical square of the village, a really fascinating scenery. Also other friends of Paolo’s who played in various bands in the area expressed the desire to participate.
So we ended up being 4 bands that would alternate on the small stage set up by the City Hall, each playing 6 or 7 tracks. We, Paolo’s band, would have closed the evening with a special guest, Paolo’s son, Andra Marinucci, great voice and great spirit and strength for his young age. It was decided to organize the event for April 25th, Paolo’s birthday. As everything was happening and the date was approaching, the emotion grew stronger and stronger and would then explode at the beginning of our performance. We made most of our equipment available for the other groups. We helped each other to set up the stage, while the association that preserves the historical centre of Sacrofano prepared the seats, the decorations of the square, the dinner tables. And so it began, opening the performances with Alessandro Badii’s group “Go to Heaven”. The atmosphere was warming up and the boys had the burden of breaking the ice. Then followed the excellent Galleria d’Arte”, with their remarkable guitarist and their interpretation of Europe’s The Final Countdown, at first strangely slow, like a ballad, and then exploded in a metal key. Before us, the Area 73, former band of Sàndor and Antonio, who saw on keyboards the late Maurizio Zarrillo, brother of the most famous Italian singer-songwriter Michele, who also passed away recently. With them we have several overlaps in the setlist, but they opted to leave us the Pink Floyd songs, to which we had recently added Time. When they played Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, Piero couldn’t help it and threw himself on stage to sing with them.
The breaks between one group and another were skillfully managed by Andrea Marinucci, with acoustic interludes and various jokes. I had discovered a few hours before that the last of the interludes, the one preceding our performance, would have included Wish you were Here by Pink Floyd, sung by Andrea and played by Piero, sadly suitable, given the theme, for the evening. I offered to be part of it by opting for an arpeggiated accompaniment with electric guitar. There were many people to see us, families, parents, some friends and, of course, Paolo’s whole family. The emotions were so many.
Before going on stage for Wish you were Here, imagining how heartbreaking it would be, I approached my family, kissed my wife and our little boy who had wanted to stay there with my parents, watching the other groups waiting for Daddy’s. As I walked on stage towards my Stratocaster, the emotion caused me a sort of black-out: all those people, maybe a hundred people, were gone. There was me, there was my guitar, there were my friends and there was Paolo, I’m sure. Raffaele was there too, he couldn’t miss it. He brought his Mac and a projector with which he made special effects and photos of the Music Box playing cheerfully with Paolo.
The memories are indelible: here is Piero presenting the song in question, particularly appropriate to our feelings of the moment, describing a nice memory of Paolo; his son Andrea attacks the famous arpeggio of Wish you were Here with its acoustic; on the second round I join in with the electric, gently in unison, then the introductory acoustic solo by Piero with his wonderful Taylor. No drums, just the bass by Francesco, from Galleria d’Arte. All perfect.
Then it’s our turn.
The others also get on stage, we re-set the microphones, make some jokes and then …silence.
Sàndor prepares his new Kurtzweil keyboard with a splendid effect and introduces the initial part of Shine on you Crazy Diamond, with the carpet of keyboards that increases in volume slowly, mysteriously, with the bells by Antonio and some psychedelic notes of my guitar. Sàndor has the burden of beginning with the solemn keyboard intro. Then it’s up to me to start with Gilmour’s famous solo. I wait a little longer in order to increase the tension in the audience that attends in silence, maybe even a little taken by surprise. Then comes the moment of the famous 4 arpeggiated notes, each arpeggio three times equally spaced in time, then the fourth, more closely spaced, which signals the drum input on the fifth one. I feel the stage tremble under Antonio’s blows in a dragging crescendo. The drums increase in volume dizzyingly making the emotion grow. In the end the crescendo explodes in all its power when Piero inserts the bass line, while Alessandro’s guitar responds to each of my arpeggios with a poignant scream that tears the spontaneous applause from the audience. I still have the shivers as I’m writing about it. Our emotions were very strong at that moment, they exploded with that song, the ideal beginning of a show. After the show, which ended with the apotheosis of Comfortably Numb, we were surrounded by the warm embrace of the audience, especially Paolo’s family. Unforgettable…
Probably, the loss of Paolo brought us together, united us even more, made us become a team. Playing together that evening, in that frame, in front of that audience, for that occasion, marked us and sealed us definitively. It was particularly involving and touching. We conveyed our emotions with music and with the images by Raffaele behind us. The adrenaline poured into our veins for several more days.
That summer we were invited to play on a real stage in the main square of Sacrofano. Then a few more clubs until the abandonment, for life commitments, of Alessandro. Now there are the four of us, the classic band with guitar, keyboards, bass and drums. We keep on trying, attempting to play in some clubs, we have a lot of fun and we try to extract from our limited – but not trivial – means, something good, listenable and pleasant.
We play for our pleasure but we are also driven by the desire to share it with those who agree to come and listen to us. No more, no less. Some tracks give us certain emotions. Playing them ourselves is even more intense. We like the idea of sharing these emotions with those who want to be there.
In my case, I rediscovered the love for guitar that I practically grew up with, a part of myself that I had lost and that I found again in a dark period. It gave me the strength to move forward, a focus of attention that kept me from losing my head and my hope. A way to be able to create something good, to be able to do it well, a personal confirmation that deep down I can find the proof that maybe I am still able to create and offer something.
As long as there is music there is hope…