Latest Release: Californisoul (Mascot) Website: http://supersonicblues.com/
When American based Italian producer, mixer and bass player Fabrizio Grossi sets his mind to achieving something, he doesn’t do it by halves. Having played alongside numerous top level international virtuoso guitarists over the years as well as adding his bass playing skills to a variety of other mainstream acts plus producing some very fine albums from rock veterans such as Glenn Hughes, he has also made time to put together a three piece band that celebrates blues, rock and soul music. That band is called Supersonic Blues Machine consists of songwriter Grossi on bass guitar, seasoned Texan guitarist, vocalist, co-songwriter Lance Lopez and legendary drumming deity Kenny Aronoff whose CV of huge selling artists he has played with is eye wateringly exceptional. The band it is a malleable entity which is made all the more impressive by the long list of guest artists on board such as Steve Lukather and Billy Gibbons whose contributions add spice to some already solidly constructed sounds. Their debut album West of Flushing, South of Frisco in 2016 generated some outstanding live performances. Now with their second album Californisoul recently released, Loud Online caught up with the friendly Fabrizio Grossi via phone to discuss the continuing growth and success of Supersonic Blues Machine.
So much stuff is going on within the latest album Californisoul. You’re crossing a lot of genres.
Well, it is blues based and is blues, rock and soul. That is pretty much what it is. On the first record [West of Flushing, South of Frisco] I like to say that we did fifty shades of blues because everything is blues based but we tried to dash all the colours. There was some Texas and southern rock, some rhythm and blues [R&B], traditional blues rock and the Chicago sound. This one [Californisoul] is pretty much the same thing with more of a focus of our attention towards soul music and funk and old school R&B which are the sons of the blues. However, as a British journalist pointed out recently, you might find our style of music to be California soul. I think that explains it very, very well.
Fair enough. The album has a stack of blues legends on it. Also, overall guitar and session guitar giant Steve Lukather appears on the song ‘Hard Times’. It is quite incredible.
Yeah and I’m not saying this to diminish any of their achievements but Supersonic Blues Machine is not really like a band per se, it is more of a community with a rotation of elements. Even though it might sound like this is the former this, this and that, every time we play live, it is just a different set up. Also, with the set list, even thought it might be the same night after night, every song gets played in a different way because there are a variety of people. These are all our friends our colleagues at some point in our life who we have worked with or recorded with, toured with or played with and so there is a very great personal relationship with these people. So, of course, Billy [Gibbons] is a legend and so is Luke [Steve Lukather] but it is just that I’m really not looking at it that way. I love the guys and they are motivating us even more with Billy being fundamental. He is actually the one that gave me the suggestion to start this whole thing. It ended up since Kenny and I always wanted to put together a jam band and to continue the experience we had with Steve Lukather when we played with him in Goodfellas about ten years ago.
That makes sense. Robben Ford played on the song ‘Somebody’s Fool’. When he came in to play, did you feel any trepidation to direct a player of that calibre? How do you manage that?
Ah, not really because the thing that I’ve learned the most in my work is that people do their best when they are free to do their thing without bounded. I mean, the bound of this kind of music, I guess, is the key and tempo but other than that I cannot say that I know who somebody like Robben Ford writes because that would be diminishing. The guy is a freaking genius and he can play everything from blues to jazz and to rock and whatever within the same four bars. So, saying I know the way he plays sounds kind of like cocky and disrespectful but I don’t mean it like that. I know what he can do and what he does so actually the more freedom you give to somebody like him, the better it is and just to give you an idea, when we are playing live, there was a song on the first record titled ‘Let It Be’ and when we recorded that song it was the first Supersonic Blues Machine song that we did even though the first song from the record was ‘Running Whiskey’ with Billy Gibbons. That song didn’t have any special guests on it but when we played it live, we’ve always played it with Robben. That song live gets the gold treatment with the solos being a little bit longer and with the end part as a long, long jam. Well, with Robben, he always brings this vibe which is very West Coast but is kind of like a Steely Dan meets the Grateful Dead kind of vibe and it is a trip. But then we’ll end up playing the same song with Eric Gales and he goes ‘completely’ elsewhere. So that is what makes us special and again, I’m saying this in the humblest way but it sets us aside from the other bands where the usual recipe is to know and expect everybody to play a particular way. That is absolutely not what we do. That is why in Supersonic Blues Machine there are all these different colours in what would otherwise be a very simplistic form of music. If you start to not let the regular standards bound you and when it comes down to the lyrical content, it is the same thing, you might get something better or worse than anything else but at least you’ve got your own thing. So there is we like to use that term and say there you’ve got that California soul sound.
A song like ‘The Stranger’ has a tight rhythm section. Is that a good example of how you and Kenny work together in a live situation?
Oh, that is an interesting question. You know what, the whole record is Kenny and I so the whole record is like him and I are. The thing is, with Kenny, whom I’ve gotten to know through Luke and I’d hired him for a bunch of records that I produced and so we ended up playing together on so many different records. It is kind of that I got to understand his style of playing and his approach and again, he is another one that the more you invite him to let loose, he’ll go and I like that. So there are some, hmm, guidelines but then there is a lot of things that comes out in the spur if the moment. We have kind of studied and know each out that well, I am not saying it is predictable but you that when Kenny is doing something or a particular type of thing then you know that you can go there because eventually he is going to go even higher or more advanced or right up and then after it is going to break down or something like that. So it is kind of like, you don’t know exactly what he is going to in terms of the past or the fills but if you look at the half time change and increase the level or intensity and all that kind of stuff and that comes out a lot in more like a spur of the moment. Obviously, recording might be a little bit cleaner than what it is live but you know, again, this record was recorded very, very loosely so yeah it could be, it is definitely one of the types of patterns or grooves [in that song] that we like to get into, that’s for sure.
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the lyrical content and the kind of mood it might set?
No, actually, for me the lyrics could come first or they could come last. So, if it comes first, then I wrote down whatever it is and the ideas that are there and if there is a song there, if I can recall there then I’ll start to work on putting those things together. However, the majority of times there is an idea for a song that is parked and as aside, I might mumble something in the demos or just me on my own, just kind of like coming up with a working title and then it could be a bunch of things, kind of like singing the Yellow Pages. So anyway, there might be one phrase in there or one word that catches your attention and sometimes it fits with the delivery method or like has been happening a lot, especially with this record, all of sudden you wake up and you’ve got this idea and it is just right there so you write it down and it is done. It’s not the usual method but it has been happening a lot like that. Considering that maybe minus one song on the record, ‘Broken Heart’ [with Billy Gibbons], it is kind of like not a happy song but it is kind of like a fun song, everything else has a common denominator it is a very much like a concept in that sense so it is not that difficult once you’re in the part like if you’re in a movie and you’re the actor and once you’ve studied and once you know the part, it is not that easy to get into it if you are already doing the movie and you keep taking like a three month break then it might be kind of hard to care to get back into it again, ha-ha.
Looking at the model of guitar [Gibson Firebird] Lance uses, I’m curious if Johnny Winter is a big influence?
Well he was actually very good friends with Johnny Winter, not that everybody in Texas knows everyone but they had that connection and Lance opened for him a lot of times. I know he was one the guitar players that he liked a lot. I mean, I cannot really tell you exactly but it depends, I think all of us; Kenny, myself, Robben, Walter, everyone, there are so many reference musicians and artists who pretty much have their own style there because everyone has got a particular thing that makes you think in one way or another and you learn from everyone so it is very important to get a big lot of respect. So obviously with Johnny it was a personal connection that made the whole thing a little bit more special but he was playing that guitar before Johnny’s departure so I guess he just really liked it.
You’ve also engineered a few things for Glenn Hughes including a cover for a Gary Moore song [‘Nothing’s the Same’]. How much of an influence did someone like Glenn Hughes have on you as a bass player?
Oh well, when I really got seriously into playing bass it was Glenn. We became friends working on Soulfully Live in the City of Angels when the label asked me to produce the record and then I met with Glenn. He didn’t know me personally but he knew some of my work so we sat down to have a talk to see where we were going ideas wise and I think that within ten minutes we were already married so, you know, we had a couple of great collaborations; we did that record, we did Soul Mover and we did a bunch of different singles and other collaborations other than studio records and still, to this day, even though we don’t talk that often, we have a very good friendship and a lot of respect. How can you not respect somebody that plays bass like that and he is by far the best living rock singer at the moment?
Agreed, I saw him live again recently and it was a fantastic show.
It is ridiculous, the older he gets the better he gets. I tell him all the time, ‘you piss me off, man, who the hell do you do it?’ and you know, it is funny when we started working together he was in a time where he was almost questioning to really push him that hard, kind of reining in the vocals on the records and I was a big instigator of, ‘dude, you know what, I grew up listening to, ‘ahhh’ [sings falsetto], that is you man, you don’t have to do it exactly but do it in a good way, you’ve got Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett and Donny Hathaway and all the other rock guys that influenced, you know, show people what you can do in that sense’. We saw him doing it as the crazy metal singer but you’re coming from a soul school and we really went that way a lot in that direction. We kind of speak the same language when it comes to stuff like our music so it is very easy to communicate and to work with him.
In some instances of working with artists like Glenn, do you feel like you are participating in a second wind of success for some artists?
For some of them I guess you can call it like that. For some, you might not because they never really went away. Maybe they did mainstream wise but for the fans, it never really made any difference at all where they appeared on the Billboard charts. Once you’ve got an audience like that, whether it is Glenn or Luke or Frank Zappa just anyone from that era from the seventies that meant something and at that level obviously it is very particular but in some cases yes. I think it was actually Glenn that gave am e nickname once, he called me The Healer because for some reasons I always ended up working with artists how were kind of like big but for some reason, they had a fall down or a whatever, a small level of obscurity in their career whether it was because of the music industry or if they were really crazy and out of control with substances and everything, I always managed to encounter and funnily enough guitar players that liked singing in a very crucial moment, almost like living that moment together and generate one or two records that were really important in that point in life. Obviously, every record is great for me and is something that gives me a lot. But knowing for example somebody like Glenn really cherished the work we did together and with Soul Mover being considered one of his best so records, knowing how much his life has meant to me is just ridiculous. Same thing with Leslie West and George Clinton and a bunch of other guys. It is always good when you get the chance to work with somebody like that. They’ve also been around. These are the guys that made the music when you grew up a lot of which you like so it is kind of a major personal satisfaction. It is probably one the biggest paybacks to be able to experience.
Finally, being a producer and engineer you’ve got to be up to speed with the latest gear and software, whereas some of the older artists may not be interested. So, do you find you have to be a liaison between analogue and digital worlds?
No, actually I am very unorthodox when it comes down to these things because I am more of a producer than an engineer. Engineering comes from necessity and that taught me how to approach creating a mix for which I am really happy for it. I don’t care much about being a recording engineer, I don’t consider myself one because I know a very good recording engineer and I am definitely not in that league. However, being a songwriter and being a producer, you kind of have a tendency to listen to things in a different way sometimes than an engineer. An engineer needs to capture a sound and to hear the lyric in the most pure possible way that the client needs. A producer is somebody that gives the client the right words or helps them writing the speech, like a director in a movie. So you are kind of approaching that in a different way so I am kind of drawn by the sound of where the song takes me or needs to go more than the actual tools to get there. For me, being a producer, it has always been more important what you record then how you record it and for that I think I am coming more from the George Martin school or Don Was that it is more important that the song, the arrangements, the performance mainly of the band or the artist, whatever it is, that for me is the main thing. I guess I am not like Steve Vai, he can write down a book of everything, scores, you know, you breathe between playing and he can just include that into the charts and then prepare charts for the whole orchestra and beyond. I am not one of those musicians or producers, however, I guess my gift is that if you play me song or just two or three parts of the song with a piano and a vocal or an acoustic guitar and you sing me the line, I can hear the song within it that makes it lasting. So everything that it takes to get there, I can make it in my own way, you know, you cut through the forest with a machete or you drive your SUV over the rocky road but whatever it is, you know where you need to go and you know there is a tree in the way or a rock in the way or whatever it is to be the obstacle. You might kind of figure it out along the way but it becomes like an instinct and I’ve been doing it all this time and it has never let me down in that sense.
It usually comes after playing music and if you want to step into other territories then yeah, we might have a longer conversation.
Thanks for having a chat to us.
Thanks for doing this and please remind people to follow us on FB and Twitter [SuperSBluesMachine (@SupersBluesMach)]. The support keeps coming for us so hopefully we can come down there and play for you on another tour.