I have recently come to once again appreciate Al DiMeola and his masterful guitar playing. I hadn't taken the time to listen to him for several years, actually a few decades, since initially discovering him when I was a teenager. Growing up in a small, podunk, one stop light town in upstate New York, how was a young guitar enthusiast supposed to find anything musically inspiring to listen to. In the 70's all we had was the radio, and TV shows The Midnight Special on Friday nights and Don Kirshner Rock Concert on Saturday night for our musical entertainment. None of the three ever featured any of the best musicians. Instead of Zeppelin, Hendrix, or Cream, we got a heavy dose of, Peaches and Herb, Atlanta Rhythm Section, and Olivia Newton John, who I might add, was extremely inspirational to me, just not in musical/guitar player way. But that's a story for another day. My life though changed the summer of my 15th birthday.
My mother, aunt, cousin and I took a short vacation in Montreal. The big city!! A diverse, beautiful, artistic, city where some of the residents even spoke a foreign language. Oh my God I had heard places like this existed but they were scary and far away. I was in Heaven. So one afternoon we were walking around checking out the town when we came upon a local record store. My mother knew how much I loved music, so she offered to buy me a couple of albums as souvenirs of our trip. It was a small, hip store with an ultra cool guy working the counter. He was about 30ish with long hair, wire rim glasses and he seemed to have a great knowledge of music and albums and musicians. In my excitement I quickly picked out a couple of albums that I remember didn't quite match the excitement and energy I was feeling being in such a cool store. But I walked up to the counter to buy them anyway and as the cool guy was about to ring them up, I noticed this incredible sounding music playing throughout the store. To start it was a great song, kinda jazzy, improvisational, progressive but it sounded like rock music but it was instrumental. The musicianship was off the charts, and then there was the guitar playing. Loud and super fast, with intricate lines but still there were pseudo power chords from time to time. I quickly stopped the clerk from ringing up my poor choices and asked, what was the band playing throughout the store. He proudly pointed at the album jacket being displayed on the counter: Return to Forever, Romantic Warrior. Chick, Stanley, Lenny, and of course Al DiMeola. I grabbed the albums I had picked out and asked if I could buy that album instead. Not only did my new musical compatriot get me that album but he also brought me a new recording that just came out from one of the band members. Of course it was Al DiMeola and his debut solo release Elegant Gypsy.
As soon as I got home from the short vacation, my two souvenirs become my world. i alternated listening to them day after day, for months on end, inspiring me to immerse myself into my guitar playing, with Al being at the center of my inspiration. To this day, I've never been a big fan of Les Pauls but I loved the way Al played his, shredding up and down the neck. The biggest eye-opening revelation though was his acoustic guitar playing. Never before had anyone played an acoustic steel string guitar like that. Speed, dexterity, and rapid fire picking technique, it all gave me something to emulate and shoot for.
A few years later I was lucky enough to see Al in concert with McLaughlin and Paco at a small theatre in Buffalo New York, It was magical! And then, once again in So Cal when RTF briefly reunited. Soon after though my musical taste changed as I tried to make a mark in the music industry thoughtlessly playing the flavor of the month music. It was at this time that I lost track of Al.
Now that I'm much older, I recently checked in on Youtube to listen to musicians who might give me a fresh perspective on my playing. Loh and behold, there was my old friend AL Dimeola. This time though he was different. Gone were the steel string Ovation, the blazing fast scales, the alternate picking, and the bad hair. Now there was well-crafted solo and ensemble compositions, a nylon string spanish guitar, not so bad hair, arpeggios, chord comping, and string skipping. Somewhere along the line he must have decided to alter his playing style and technique. All for the better. His writing and playing sparkle, showing off a "quiet virtuosity" while he still maintains that spicey spanish feel that we all love.
Almost like being reunited with a long lost friend, I find great comfort in knowing Al DiMeola can still do it at a high level which in turn gives me the impetus to put in the time and effort in regard to my own playing, in my quest to become the best guitarist I can be. Bravo Maestro!!