YeeHaaw! Interview, in English:
Y: First time you came to my attention was in 2015 when Steve of Rydell Records send me your album "Twang Kitchen". But besides the other album, "Roadhouse Stomp", also released in 2015, I tracked you as a member of The Adels. So how did everything started for you playing rockabilly?
DD: I started "working" as a professional musician almost 30 years ago, July 1994, when I finished the school and was at the fork: going to the University to become a lawyer or focusing on the music, you maybe know the answer. At that time I was mostly playing blues; my heroes were people like Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulos Thunderbirds. I realized that the audience was captured by the songs with that fast and groovy beat we all call "Rock and Roll". A friend of mine told me "maybe you gotta listen to the Stray Cats" and gave me a cassette with a sort of Best Of, it was a revelation for me! I definitely discovered a brand new world and it was like an epiphany for a 20 years old guy in Sicily. Thanks to that band I learned the meaning of the world "rockabilly" and also discovered that this music is a perfect combination of blues, country, western swing, a twang mood and many others music genres. I soon realized that I needed to delve deeper into these elements. To be honest, discovering rockabilly music has been the most important goal of my musical career.
Y: Playing with your band "The Don Diego Trio" is one thing, supporting other acts another. Which one do you prefer, own band or supporting others?
DD: I obviously love the both sides of my job. I get bored and tired when I play only with the trio because I need some inputs from working with other artists, but, at the same time, when I play with other artists, supporting their music in a respectful way, I count the days until the next Don Diego Trio show because I want to feel free to play without any fences. Backing and supporting other artists is like going back to school: you always learn something new and you gotta force yourself to put your "ego" back behind. When I'm backing some other band leader, I try to simply feel like a member of the band, helping that guy feel safe while doing his show. I'm lucky because they usually leave me some room to demostrate who I am and what I can do, but I don't demand that, I love when it comes out naturally. Other times they give me specific tips, like when Mack Stevens told me "Diego during my show you don't have to play any Grady Martin or Bakersfield guitar lick", initially I felt lost. Grady and the Bakersfield twang is the 90 percent of my style, but I didn't feel disappointed, I took it as a challenge to learn something new or different. When I played with Bobby Wilson, my role was 10% that of guitarist and 90% that of "musical director," who had to take care of every single detail of the rest of the band; it was something I had never done before, but I spent a month listening to and studying his songs to absorb his style.
Y: I think it must be diffucult to support other artists, especially with such artists as Brain Setzer or B.B. King. But when I see you on stage you're having so much fun and it looks and sounds like as it's supposed to be. Which act was the hardest for you?
DD: When I opened for Brian Setzer or B.B. King I really felt the pression. You go onstage, in front of thousands of people and they are there not for you but they are there for the Rockabilly King or the Blues King. I took a breath, started smiling and started doing my job in a honest way and it was always appreciated. Perhaps it is because people who go to these kinds of events are not only big fans of the main artist, but also music lovers and supporters. Talking about the hardest experiences for me, about playing with other people, I can mention the time I backed Dale Watson. He sent me a list of 20 songs I learned in a very meticulous way, but when he jumped onstage he decided to change the setlist, playing only a couple of songs from that setlist. I was really scared but Dale did it only because he had the feeling that we were able to follow him. When I backed Bob Wayne we jumped onstage, for a festival, without any rehearse and I never played with him before. But the show was great, he conducted the gig in a perfect way and the music machine was rocking and rolling and, at a certain point, the people in the audience started asking for songs that weren't in the setlist, you gotta know that Bob is the kinda guy who never says "no" to his fans. Fortunately we all knew how to manage this and the show looked well prepared. I tell you the last one: I just finished a tour in the States with this Johnny Cash's tribute show, called "The Church Of Cash", and every night a group of people asked for songs I never heard before! Mostly patriotic numbers. The guys in the band knew the songs and conducted me but it was like walking on the lava every night. They laughed at me when I told that, replying "welcome to the USA".
Y: Not so long ago, Rockabilly and other music from the 1950s and early '60s was hardly known in the USA. I remember when DJ's had displays showing the artist and title of the music on the turntables. Since the first "Viva Las Vegas" in 1998 things have changed. Europe brought this music back to attention. Do you agree?
DD: I totally agree with you and I can also say that it happened not only with the rockabilly music. It happened the same with the blues, back in the 60s. That kinda music was completely forgotten in the States and came back only thanks to the British blues invasion. On the other hand I have to say that hearing the word "rockabilly" in America is very rare. They usually use "American Roots Music", a definition that embraces a lotta styles. I was talking with Deke Dickerson and he told me "I don't like when somebody defines me as a rockabilly musician, because I feel more an American Roots Musicians", and it is a point of view that I actually respect. Maybe here in Europe we have a kind of obsession with getting the definition right, and sometimes it is not functional, but it has been the fortune of rockabilly artists of the past, who have found, thanks to the European revival, a new audience.
Y: You are also supporting the Ameripolition Awards and you were nominated 3 times for the award. What is your personal view on this event?
DD: I do love the Ameripolitan family. And when I say "family" I truly consider it like a family. Thanks to the Ameripolitan society I found a spot in the States for my music. I found promoters, friends, radio djs, supporters, audience. When I wanted to start a tour in the States the first thing I did was asking for a help to the people in the Ameripolitan scene. And I also started backing many Ameripolitan artists here in Europe just because we all created a connection. The motto of the Ameripolitan movement is something I will always support: play your music and respect the tradition. Isn't it fantastic?
Y: In 2017 you had the opportunity to record the album "Greetings from Austin". In this project Chris Casello, Teri Joyce, Krystin Harris, Mike Maddux and John Whittemore were involved. How long took it from the idea to getting everyone into the studio?
DD: It was easy, we all were there for the Ameripolitan week and I decided to book Dale Watson's studio for a couple of days, then I asked these guys to join me for a session. Everything came out so naturally. We recorded everything in two days and that album is a turning point in my music production. The funny thing about the realization of the album is that I booked the studio before having the songs. When I received the ok from Dale I said to myself "damn I have the studio but I really don't know what I'm gonna do there". Fortunately the inspiration, coming from the excitment, popped up fast and I wrote a bunch of songs in a week trying to follow the Texas inspiration. Basically I told to myself "ok I will write songs in the style of my Texas music heroes".
Y: You are an editor of a guitar magazine. Does this help to open the doors for your projects?
DD: That it something I do for my own pleasure and because I'm a guitar nerd. Maybe it helped me to be recognized as a decent guitar player, but that's it. I love to stay close to the "old school" guitar community and I also love doing clinics and guitar talks during those events. I always focus the attention on names that are totally unknown in Italy/Europe, I'm talking about people like Merle Travis, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, James Burton, Cliff Gallup, Grady Martin and many others. If you're a country/rockabilly fanatic you already know these names and you're familiar with their music and their stories. But if you are just a guitar player who reads and gets information on the most common guitar magazines it is very rare you start digging in the pre-history of the guitar. That's what I like about staying in this guitar nerds world, it's all about spreading information, trying to create curiosity around something that's old and new at the same time.
Y: Can you give me more details about "The Million Euro Quartet" album "Rocking in Memphis", recorded at SUN studio? I know Mario Monterosso had a leading hand. Is there a physical album out or only a digital one?
DD: We were in Memphis, always for the Ameripolitan Week (was the first year they moved from Austin to Memphis) and Mario Monterosso, a longtime friends, we met together in the Sicily of the early 90s, asked me to join him at the Sun Records Studio for this project. The album is the Don Diego Trio, plus Mario Monterosso on the guitar and vocal, Antonio Sorgentone, an Italian killer piano player, on piano and vocals, and Greg, an Italian actor-comedian and singer, who sang a couple of songs and played the acoustic. There's also Gina Haley, Bill Haley's daughter, as a guest on a couple of songs. The idea of course was to follow the Million Dollar Quartet concept, but on a different direction, more rocking than gospel. We did everything from 6pm (when they close the studio to the tourists) to midnite. We reharsed in Mario's house in the morning, went to lunch and then we went straight to the studio. No overdubs, everything was completely live. We wrote a few songs especially for the project and we did only two takes for every track. It was a fun experience, I felt the vibe of the room and the pressure of the history that happened back in the days in that building. The album came out under an Italian label, Area Pirata, and it is also available on CD through their website. Everything happened so fast that day and I didn't realize I was recording there. After a couple of weeks I was telling to myself "OMG I did it!". This is something that "money can buy" but for a RnR fan is something more, it's like living the dream and feeling the history.
Y: Working with so many artists and traveling the world (around 200 gigs a year I suppose) the must funny things happen. Would you share some stories with us?
DD: Oh man! I have a bunch of funny stories to tell, you need a specific article about this. Anyway I can tell you a couple. Like the time that Deke Dickerson, Bobby Wilson and I arrived at the airport literally five minutes before our plane took off. We played at the Firebirds Festival and immediately after the show they drove us to Berlin to catch a flight to Brussels for another show, but we got into an accident on the highway and were bloody late. Once we got to the airport we started a challenge, running through the terminal. Deke, who has long legs, won and told the guys on the plane to wait for us. It was embarrassing, we looked terrible (we didn't sleep and we were sweaty), but we did it!
I can also tell you the story when, at a festival in France, a band started playing a song I wrote and I was in the audience. They called me onstage to join them but when they finally started the song I realized that I had not played it in the last 10, or more, years. I couldn't remember any notes or even the main theme. I stood on stage like a statue trying to figure out what to do and those guys were so proud to have me, maybe they changed their mind after that performance. The last one: the last year we were playing at a festival in Sardinia, was an amazing festival and we did a great show, the audience went crazy for us. During the last notes of the last song I tripped on a stage monitor, falling on my shoulder. People thought I did it on purpose but of course I didn't. My shoulder, after months, still hurts and reminds me every day to watch my step if I wanna be sure to continue with this routine.