Exclusive Interview with Quebec's Walter Rossi

by David Cordeau

 

After 20 years away from the stage, Walter Rossi released his latest album: Intimate Sessions Vol.1 Secret Sins at the Montreal Spectrum, this past March (2004).

I met Walter Rossi at his home north of Montreal in mid may. Since this was a first for me, I was extremely nervous and excited at the same time. After about half an hour into the interview, I realized that I was sort of off track with my pre-cooked questions, and that I was going to learn a lot about the man himself and the emotions involved in playing an instrument in such a way for all those years. I hope you will enjoy as much as I did.

   

CGPA:

I know that you took very few lessons and you are self taught. What are the pros and cons in doing this?

W.R:

Well. The first and only lesson I took was with this big guy who would fill up a tiny room with cigar smoke and wanted me to practice a ďCĒ chord for a week. So that was the end of that. (laughs) Sometimes, I wish I could have sat down with an old wise man and ask him the questions that I wanted to ask on how to play guitar and not just learn what he wanted me to learn.

 

CGPA:

Do you read music? And how important do you feel this is?

WR:

No I donít read music even at my age. If I would start over I would probably learn.

 

CGPA:

Do you now feel somewhat limited because of this?

W.R:

When I write my own stuff absolutely not, but if I am asked to fit in with others, sometimes I wish that I had more schooling.

 

CGPA:

Who were your major influences when you started to play guitar?

W.R:

Steve Cropper, Howard Roberts. They werenít fancy players but they made things fit so well. They knew what the song needed and didnít overplay.

My friends were into B.B. King, I was into Albert king. He was a little rougher and I liked that.

 

 

CGPA:

For the thousands of guitar players out there, how was it to jam with Jimi Hendrix?  And did he realize what impact he was having at the time?

WR:

No he didnít realize it. He was a shy regular nice guy. He didnít seem happy in life, and just loved to play.

I was very good friends with Buddy Miles and I would hang around him and jam with Jimi! You know. If you walk downtown, you will see a lot of people who think they are stars. A lot of times the real stars are regular people like you and me.

 

CGPA:

Can you name a few musicians you really would or would have enjoyed playing with?

WR:

Phil Collins. I have a feeling we see a lot of things in the same way.

John Bonham. He was such a good drummer. He was so good live it was unbelievable.

 

CGPA:

What was your first guitar?

WR:

It was a Coney or Cooney or something. The neck broke after 2 years soÖ.

 

CGPA:

What made you chose a Gibson Les Paul as you main guitar for all those years.

WR:

It just felt right. Thatís about it! It basically comes down to two guitars - the Les Paul and the Start. They are both basically the same but totally different, do you see what I mean? You donít play the same when you play with a strat than with a Les Paul. In the studio I like to use the strat, it seems more versatile.

 

 

CGPA:

I didnít see your original white custom at the show. Is it in safe keeping?

WR:

Itís right here (shows me a red burst on the couch).

Itís a 1959! What happened was that, when I got it I had a few more pounds on me (laughs) and it was black. I thought it made me look too big (laughs).

So I had somebody sand it down. That was stupid but it seemed to make sense at the time.

 

CGPA: How many guitars do you currently own?

WR:

Only two, the Les Paul and a strat.

 

CGPA:

Have you ever sold gear that you later kicked yourself afterwards for selling?

WR:

Yes lots. I used to have them all, ES335ís, old strats, Esquires you name it!

I had bought three Marshall stacks back then and sold every thing except the Les Paul and a Marshall half stack. If I would kept every thing I would be rich (laughs).

 

CGPA:

As far as guitars, effects and amps, would you agree that ďthey donít make them like they used to?Ē

WR:

Very true. There is a lot of garbage out there these days. Too many pre-sets and gadgets.

 

CGPA:

What is your current ďfavorite gear?Ē

WR:

Itís pretty much the same as it was: an old Marshall, a chorus, a delay, and a wah.

CGPA: Thatís it?

WR: Yes thatís it! I play pretty much ďstraight pipe.Ē

 

 

CGPA:

 I have read  that even professional musicians, still tweak around with there gear here and there, trying to find the ultimate tone we are  all after.

WR: I think I found ďMEĒ a long time ago.

Itís pretty simple. If you can play a strat without an amp and make your own sustain - now you are on to something. Your amp is not your sound, you are your sound.

 

CGPA:

Do you play just for the sake of playing, and how often?

WR:

Yes but not regularly. I donít play to stay in shape. I just play when I feel like it. Itís kind of like riding a bike for me now.

 

CGPA:

What do you think of ďmodern toneĒ with all these modeling pods and amps compared to the sought after ďvintage tone?Ē

WR:

I donít particularly like it. Like I said itís all pre-sets now. Everybody sounds the same. Everybodyís got a strat, a hat and wants to be Van Halen or Steve Vai. Itís not just about scales and speed! It has to be real.

We already have Eddy Van Halen, and Steve Vai. Find your own feel.

 

CGPA:

Is there something out there that you like these days?

WR:

Britney Spears!! (laughs) No really. Everything fits, everybody knows what job he or she has to do and they do it, and very well too.

Limp Bizkit! - because itís authentic.

And when I want to get frustrated I will listen to Steve Vai (laughs).

He has a lot of knowledge. Itís incredible. Even though I feel that he hasnít reached the 100% mark yet. He may need to look inside for that.

 

CGPA:

What do you think of people criticizing Eric Clapton?

WR:

I donít think itís fair to judge him for what he is not. Clapton is Clapton. Hendrix is Hendrix, thatís all. It isnít a competition on who plays the most notes in 8 seconds. He should be seen for what he has accomplished. And for whom he is.

 

CGPA:

How do you go about writing a song? Do you start with music or lyrics?

WR:

It all depends. It may start with a phrase, a thought, an emotion. There is no set way.

 

CGPA

Your latest album ďsecret sinsĒ is it a compilation of lifelong experiences or is it another chapter in your life?

WR:

Itís were I am right now. Things I have recorded during a certain period of time and was told that I should release.

 

CGPA:

Are you planning live performances in the near future?

WR:

We are in negotiations for this summer but nothing is concrete yet.

 

CGPA:

What is next for Walter Rossi?

WR:

Interviews, shows. Vacation on a yacht in Italy (laughs).

I am still planning right now. We will see what happens. The business is very different than what it used to be. Everybody has got a studio at home, the record companies are afraid to sign contracts for more than a year. The artists have to literally pay to make there own albums. The companies will basically distribute it for you. Itís all a big mess right now. Something has got to happen soon to reset everything.

 

CGPA:

It took me 22 years to ask you this question. What advice can you give to young starting musicians who dream of playing music for a living?

WR:

One of the most important things for those who want to play guitar I would say is. Learn how to play without an amp and all those gadgets. Again, itís not about scales or speed. It has to be real. It doesnít matter what kind of strings you use. Strings are strings, an amp is an amp. Itís not you.

Be open to your feelings. If you canít offer what you have inside it will show. You would be better off selling shoes or something (laughs).

 

CGPA:

If you could, would you have done something different?

WR:

I would have taken up drums (laugh); Iím a pretty good drummer.

 

CGPA:

Walter, thank you very very much for your time.

WR:

Thank you David.

 

 

I met one of the guitarists who a couple of decades ago, gave me the urge to play the guitar. I wasnít expecting a ďrock starĒ for say but, somewhat of a high profile guy. What I got was the wise man he spoke about earlier in the interview that, after having politely answered my pre-cooked questions started chatting with me like a friend, not once looking at the time.

 

I had been sitting with him for three hours when I noticed what time it was. I could have talked for easily another three hours. There are no words that can explain how much this meant to me. It was good to meet a regular guy who has always had the urge to play the guitar and who I have been listening to for 20 some odd years. Maybe one day I will be able to write a song about it!

 

You can learn more about Walter Rossi and the many projects he has been a part of at his Web site: http://www.walterrossi.net/

As a start I would recommend his 1983 album All the Best. Itís a great CD to get a taste of what he has done over the years. His latest CD, Secret Sins will give you an idea of where he is at the moment. And donít forget, buy it, donít copy it!

 

 

David Cordeau

CGPA member

 



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