Zucchero – World Traveller

I thought when heading to London this day that I would be included in a link conversation with the superstar songwriter over in Italy. However the great man was there in person, so for a fan like me this was a fabulous chance to ask about his career, influences and collaborations. The latter because Zucchero has enjoyed some terrific pairings and with a wider range of artists than anyone that I can recall.

He reminds me of our friend Chris Rea…not really showbiz in demeanour, humble, softly-spoken AND a huge fan of other artists. Thank you, Zucchero!

Ari Michelson (Supplied by Wrasse Records)

Welcome to London, my friend

Thank you.

A few years ago, I was in an Italian café in Soho looking at some albums I had bought, including one of yours, the brown cover…

(Smiles) Chock-a-beck !.

The waitress comes over – “That’s Zucchero! That must be new! ” She couldn’t wait to tell me how great you are in performance. I say you are on tonight, Royal Albert Hall, what should I do? She says “ Get over to there, you will not regret it !!”. So two hours later I am in the Hall, surrounded by beautiful Italian ladies watching your show. Now, you did a lot of touring in 2007-8 and put out the live material, after all that did it leave you tired? Enthused?

I love touring and I don’t feel tired by it. No, not at all. The last tour, we went on the road for something like a year and a half… not constantly but over that stretch of time

Black Cat?

Yes, Pete – Black Cat based on that record

We all went to that! What an experience!

Including twenty two shows at the Arena di Verona

And the songs are often different, as you are older and have released more

Yes, exactly that. So each tour, I still enjoy touring and I don’t get tired at all – but when I go back home, I think that everything is..stopped! It doesn’t move. As you know, when you are on tour you have to be moving, you got the adrenaline about it all. You’re travelling, seeing things and places, meeting people..getting all the reaction of the crowd. That helps you as you perform, they give you energy! When you go home.everything is stopped in comparison. My house, I like my family but I miss something..(Laughs) So that’s why I keep going on tour!

Now you are lucky..no, that’s not the right word, you have a fantastic live band to tour with. I saw The Cuban Tour..

Oh yeah! I hope you liked that ..

Tell you who was there, in front of us – Tony Hadley, Spandau Ballet

(Surprised) Really?? To see us? Well, I didn’t know that. Oh great – I’m happy! I’m honoured..great singer, I think

You have this band dynamic, with Kat and Mario on guitars and that seems to give you wheels..

(Nods) That’s true, I like to have that in the sound. They support me. They are both complementary. They don’t play too much, but they do play just in the right moment. They are very good friends, they love each other. There’s no competition, between them. That isn’t there at all. The new dates, for Hyde Park soon, we have thirteen musicians aboard. Including pedal steel..

Doug Pettibone! Versatile man. I met him on tour with Kevin Montgomery. Slide, dobro..

Yeah, exactly. Then we have two drummers, one is a black girl from Houston Queen Cora..she used to play with Prince and Beyonce. And! (Proudly) The Legend on keys – Brian Auger!

To us players here, he is the keyboard player you want for jazzy material.

Yes, so good to play with, to feature

But do you realise, the horns. two drummers, two contrasting guitar players – it’s the same dynamic as James Brown..

No, I didn’t realise that..but yes, I like the rhythm, so I can see that, maybe. The rhythm section it is very important for me and what I do, it’s a combination of rhythms, truly. One drum is straight and you know, driving. The other one is more like a percussionist, with that emphasis. Like a fantasy, Afro thing. I don’t ever want to use a drum machine, especially live.

What you do can be closer to The Allman Brothers

Two drummers? I didn’t know that. I like their sound, the freedom…

How do you choose a setlist? It must be difficult now. Also, how big an influence on the young Zucchero was Procol Harum?

(Warmly) A big influence! Not many big songs, you know. In Italy, when I was maybe eight years old, the song of Procol Harum that was known was A Whiter Shade Of Pale. Then Homburg and Salty Dog. Only three, But I was living in a small village in the North and in front of me there was a church. Just a small village, seven hundred people. A church and a bar, that’s all ..and my school. So before I went to school in the mornings I used to go into the church, where there was an organ. And instead of playing the church music or hymns, I played A White Shade Of Pale. That’s how I learned to play the organ, doing that song. And Salty Dog and Homburg. So yes this has been an important influence

I thought so, but I had to ask. I always wonder why you don’t do Conquistador!

(Zucchero laughs and we both start singing the song ) Fantastic! I will do it one day.. That’s an idea I like!

Now, the people that you have worked with – how it is that you knew Miles Davis?

That was my first collaboration, way back. He was in Italy doing a small tour. After the show he went to a restaurant, in Via Reggio. With a promoter who knew of me, as I was then beginning to be successful. With an album.

He liked pop songs..he did Human Nature and Time After Time

I know! But he listened to this song, on the radio. In the restaurant and he says “Who IS this ?” He was told I was a new Italian artist. Name of Zucchero. “ I would love to play that tune!” he says. At that time he was researching around the Mediterranean. To do something with that as an influence, as an ingredient. That’s why he did Siesta..

The film score! Marcus Miller signed my copy of that when we met in London.

Now I was on holiday in the Maldive Islands, with my ex-wife. And I had a phone call from the promoter four o’clock in the morning from Italy saying you should go to New York first of April to do the recording of the song with Miles Davis. I just thought, come on you’re joking. They called me back saying “I’m not joking!”. So I opted to go to New York and we meet at The Hit Factory. Soon as I saw him he was dressed in black, all black..even the trumpet was black. Big black glasses. He didn’t say “Hi!”

He just goes ( adopts low rasp) “ Hallo”. Whew, I was scared. And I was then playing the tune of the song on the piano. And he says “ What?? Wrong key !”. So I said

“No, Sorry – I wrote the song.” I said B minor, he said B flat minor..he never smiled either! THEN I thought, he may well have listened on a cassette player and maybe the battery was low. Also B flat is easier for a trumpet player..

I know trumpet players!

I said Miles maybe you heard this with a low battery in the player and he said (hisses) “ Maybe..” so then he gets to work transposing to B minor and cueing up the solo’s and he was..fantastic. At one point I was trying to escape from the studio for a break and he said “ Where are you going? I need you here..I need your energy” ..so we sit there playing and he says “ I love your voice..” Then we went for dinner and we decide to do a tour, together. We did three stadiums together, in Italy.

I saw Miles last show in London, having begged the Royal Festival Hall to release a few seats behind the band. So we were very close to the action. He said nothing BUT he had big placards with each band member name and every now and again he would lift one up, then throw it over his head. We caught a few. But you also worked with Pavarotti!

That was in ’92..I did an album where I was thinking about a kind of crossover between pop and classical, you know ? In that period I was listening to a lot of Puccini, romantic compositions..Verdi..little pieces of opera. I was living alone in a small house, by the sea. And the only thing that made me less depressed was reading Bukowski..was that me? and that uplifting music. I was driving one day and I felt that these melodies were still very beautiful and modern.

Yes, Bach sounds modern to me

So beautiful, yes

And Bach was a hero to a late friend, Jack Bruce of Cream.

He liked Bach?

You can hear it on Wheels Of Fire, for sure..

So I did a song in five minutes the day after..I did this song called Miserere and when the record company came to listen to the material before actually going into the recording studio, I didn’t play that song . I suppose because it was something different from the songs on the album. They’re saying oh we’re sure you have something you don’t want to play til last and I said “ No, I’m finished now ”. I said I had the extra song but nothing to do with the planned album. “Ah but this is amazing ! you have to put this on the record ! ” So I put this condition that if I was to include this new song, then I need a tenor…

“A tenor “ …Pavarotti !?

(Now we‘re both laughing) They went to Pavarotti and he said No. Because he said I never did that, in my life. Then I called him. He grew up in the same area as me. So we can speak in dialect. I make the phone call and so there was the daughter. “ Hey Daddy – it’s Zucchero on the phone ! “ She was a fan of mine, I think. He comes on the phone, very friendly. I said I would like to meet him. If he would like that. “Come tomorrow to my house – we’ll have a fantastic lunch together ! ”. I went there and played the track and he said he didn’t have time then to do the song. But we ended up recording through the window. He was sitting on the sofa. The orchestra recording was the English man, brilliant person..

Michael Kamen. The late..

Yes, he did that.

A new culture for Luciano, that way of recording..

Yes!! Outside his world. But he could do it. With encouragement

But a world where he sounds fabulous

(Ponders) To me, there’s no labels in music. No barriers between types. There is good and bad music in all types. Rock, opera…

I always say if you like it, it’s good

Yes, exactly.

How do you look after your voice?

I don’t. Not really

Neither do I. I drink tea

You drink tea, I like wine. Sometimes some whisky. That’s all.

How is it that you are an Honorary Citizen Of Memphis?

(Grins) Ah, that’s a story. I went to Memphis to do some recording in 1989. You see Rufus Thomas was a friend of an Italian guy who used to do festivals in R&B and soul. “Sweet Soul Music” and he used to invite all those original singers to come and perform. Memphis Horns and all. I used to go to this festival and we became friends.

Rufus said I just had to record over in Memphis. So I went there, for one month to do some sessions. With Clarence Clemons on sax. Jimmy Smith, Stevie Ray. Rufus would come every morning to pick me up, in a convertible with the leopard skin, you know. Trying the soul food, seeing gospel choirs. One day he came with the Mayor of the town. He says “ Here are the Keys of Memphis, to honour you as a guest “.

You seem to actively help Multiple Sclerosis causes

Yes. Because of my brother in law, that was a great guitar player and we grew up together, starting up a small band in early days. He went sick, he was the one that taught me to play guitar. So from that time, every album I encourage support for charities in that sphere. So that’s the reason.

(We are looking at the latest album artwork) Where did you get this twelve-string?

That was in the studio, in Los Angeles. It belongs to Brendan O’Brien the producer, that guitar.

I’ve asked what my head could summon..except about Mark Knopfler

Oh yes! Another great musician. Such a pleasure to work with him. It’s not work

Are you looking forward to Cornbury Festival?

Oh yes! I have to work out what to play..

Well include Salty Dog, they will love that

Do you think so? In Italian

Yes, include that the way you do it, it will go down well

OK this I have to think about…

Pete Sargeant



(Many thanks to Wrasse, Sacha and of course Zucchero)

Zucchero Live Performance Screen Backdrop Photo Credit: Angelo Sartori http://bit.ly/2MD3Trm

Zucchero Band Photo Supplied By http://bit.ly/2NfE7L2

Procol Harum Live Photo Credit: Kieran White/KW Media

Feature Image Photo Credit: Ari Michelson

All other Photos Supplied By Wrasse Records

You can watch ‘Zucchero & Luciano Pavarotti – Miserere (Royal Albert Hall 2004)’ in this article.

Zucchero’s new album ‘Wanted: The Best Collection’ is out now on Wrasse Records.

For more information visit his official website here: http://bit.ly/2KoyL2i

In addition, Zucchero will perform a select number of shows in the UK in July 2018 at the following venues and festivals: 

Sunday 8th July 2018 – Barclaycard British Summertime Festival 2018 (Special Guest To Eric Clapton) (Sold Out)

Monday 10th July 2018 – (Headline Show), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2qwHN1A

Tuesday 11th July 2018 –  (Headline Show), Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/2sAnLnq

Friday 13th July 2018 – Cornbury Music Festival, Great Tew Park, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom http://bit.ly/1SslWkz