ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 28, 2003
Beppe Gambetta has been opening new doors for American traditional music in Europe since 1977, when he founded the acclaimed Italian bluegrass group Red Wine. In recent years his output has included Serenata, a 1997 CD of works by turn-of-the-century Italian string virtuosi, which he recorded with mandolin master Carlo Aonzo. In 2001 Gambetta and Aonzo hooked up with American mandolinist David “Dawg” Grisman for Traversata, a soundtrack for the experiences of Italians who emigrated to America in the early 20th century. He published the first Italian manual on flatpicking techniques, and has contributed to such leading music journals as Flatpicking Guitar Magazine and Germany’s Bluegrass-Bühne. He also serves as artistic director for his own weeklong guitar-instruction camps held annually in Slovenia and Switzerland.
Despite those scholarly credentials, the masterful guitarist does not come off as a six-string snob. He’s laid-back and charming as hell, and not above giving a shout-out to Jimmy Page, whom he was into as a teen. “I was doing the typical thing that every kid of my age did,” explains the 48-year-old from his home in the seaport town of Genoa, Italy. “And in Led Zeppelin I found a lot of great acoustic parts, actually. But I first started with some classical music, as every Italian kid does. After, yes, I was the Zeppelin guy, and after I listened to some Doc Watson I became a Doc Watson guy.”
The guitarist’s fondness for American roots music is evident on his latest solo CD, Blu di Genova, which sees him dueting with flatpicking innovator Dan Crary on the bluegrass standard “Shenandoah Valley Breakdown” and with banjo ace Gene Parsons on the Gambetta original “A Night in Frontenac”. He performs mainly on California-made Taylor guitars, which he endorses, along with the likes of Crary, prog-rock virtuoso Mike Keneally, fingerstyle maestro Doyle Dykes, and acoustic-jazz marvel Steven King. He raves about the versatility and sustain of Taylor guitars. “Plus, this is not the primary thing, but I love sometimes to play fast, and the neck of the Taylor guitar is really good to play fast.”
During his twice-yearly treks to North America, Gambetta often conducts free guitar clinics sponsored by Taylor. He’ll be doing just that at Long & McQuade’s West Hastings outlet on Tuesday (September 2) at 7 p.m. (Reservations are recommended; call 604-682-5288.) “The workshop is to give the people some inspiration,” he relates, “some artistical joy. So I start it like a regular concert, and from there I go to some technical description of the style, of the history, of the possibility. I give also some little homework to the people, because the time is limited. I really love to give some practical tips, some licks, some phrases, some exercises that could help you become a better player.”