Luigi Venegoni

Luigi Venegoni was born in 1951 in Bergamo, Italy.
My father was graduated in electrical engineering and went very soon to become a department director in many companies, first in Bergamo and then in Turin that is one of the most important industrial cities in Italy. Being “middle class” in those times did not mean that we were rich but I sincerely admit I don’t remember any particular financial problem in my family. Post-war in Italy surely was a tough moment but we managed to run very soon towards a miraculous “economic boom” that led to the disastrous financial problems in which we are living now!

I never took part to a single hour of musical education in my school life! It was considered obsolete in Italian school so the decision to learn music or to play an instrument was left to personal initiative. In my family music was popular so I was exposed, since I was four or five years old, to such delights as Gershwin, The Platters, Pat Boone, and Paul Anka together with Beethoven, Stravinsky, Tchaikowsky, and Debussy. In church there were some traditional religious chants that I always find so basic, musically speaking, that I was very annoyed! When finally I heard “Jerusalem”, when I was thirteen, I eagerly thought, “that’s really wonderful church music”!

I was blessed to discover Radio Luxembourg when I was maybe fifteen years old . That was the revelation. Italian radio was very old fashioned and young people looked for other airwaves to find the music we wanted to listen to. My infatuation with music started when my parents came back from an holiday with three Beatles singles. It was 1964 and my life changed: I took the awful guitar that my auntie had given to me as a Christmas present and it never left [my hands] for ten years!

My musical inspiration was very mixed: classical music gave me a taste for a very structured form of composition, while songs and instrumental rock such as The Shadows helped to form my strong melodic instinct. There were The Shadows and The Beatles but very soon also The Byrds, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix. My main fountain of inspiration for guitar technique was Eric Clapton; he became my “rolemodel” for many years to come. There are two American artists that have also inspired me in a special way (It may be strange to some hardcore progressive fans!): Joni Mitchell and James Taylor: I love so much their incredible harmonic and melodic skills and I evaluate them as some of the most original guitar players in music. Then it was King Crimson! In the Court of The Crimson King was such an intellectual earthquake for me! So at the end of this long learning period I was ready to form Arti & Mestieri.

Yes I use to play any Beatles song with a quartet of friends: we used to do silly things like playing the whole Abbey Road album just five days after it was released! I started to write very early, around 16 years: I was obsessed with tape recorders and I invented my own special overdubbing system with two recorders and a small mixer. This way of doing overdubs was [already] heavily used by George Martin with The Beatles but, at that time, I didn’t know it and I figured out that it was an invention of
mine! At that time the “sound” was as much important for me as the composition. And the sound is still so important in any prog record. To be honest, I was much more attracted to the idea of being a composer/ producer rather that a guitarist! In fact, that has been my main profession for the last 35 years.

To be precise Joe Vescovi is from Savona, Liguria. Turin is a place full of very good musicians, and there was a “scene” in 1974. We had some good prog Bands like Circus 2000, Dedalus, Esagono, etc. but maybe Arti & Mestieri was the one that really made it. We played for two hundred thousand people in six months and we collected a strong following of fans. Our LPs were released in Japan and France, and exported elsewhere. Il Sogno di Archimede (Archimedes’ Dream) was a group put together by me and Giovanni Vigliar to play the music we had produced over the previous two years of sessions at my home with the two tape recorders We first hired drummer Arturo Romano and great pianist Massimo Artiglia.
Next we recruited sax player Arturo Vitale and bassist Marco Gallesi. We used to play in a jazz club called “Swing Club” as openers for some great musicians such as Enrico Rava and John Abercrombie. In our set list there were many of the songs that would be included on Tilt. Then came Furio Chirico who picked up the four of us (Venegoni-Vigliar-Vitale and Gallesi) added Bepe Crovella and it was Arti & Mestieri.

The owner of Cramps, our first label, wanted us to compose songs in Italian so we changed the lyrics of “Strips” (“The Tale”) from English and started to write with Italian texts. My attention was more focused
on music and my British influences were augmented by strong American inspiration by such groups as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Return to Forever. I tended to prefer jazz-rock more than I did to progressive music and my next records with Venegoni & Co. prove that. There was a strong identity in Italian progressive and one of the main ingredients was the original Italian lyrics and a strong Mediterranean influence in the melodies. I think that the Italian Opera tradition was a good influence for Italian bands as much as serialism and classic tradition was a good inspiration for German bands, especially regarding the electronic wave of groups like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Can.

I was in University (Philosophy and Psychology) until 1974, then I quit for music. My father wanted me to graduate but I was too busy with music to bother. Il sogno di Archimede played no more than ten gigs in six months and then it turned into Arti & Mestieri. I survived with pocket money from the family and a few coins from concerts (200 in two years) but I starved until I opened my recording studio in 1976. Right from the start I saw hundred times more money working in the studio and composing jingles than playing with the band. Furio was giving drum lessons, the other were family-supported . To be honest I never saw a coin from the Arti & Mestieri records (more than 30,000 sold in 40 years) so I
always committed myself to “commercial” work to have a life.

Turin was at the center of the great “student’s movement”. There were these big clashes between students and working class and the police to protest “Fiat bosses”. There were also many riots between extra-left and ultra-right parties, with violence and many arrests. All this stuff influenced music a lot, not only ideologically but also practically. In many of our concerts we were engaged and protested by people who wanted free music and called us “sold to the majors”! We used to support the group Area, a wonderful bunch of musicians with one of the best singer in history, Demetrio Stratos, who sang very hard political statements against establishment. A & M was more concerned with music than politics but
we were otherwise affected. There is a rumor, never officially confirmed, that I want to tell you: we (A&M and Area) had two managers: Gianni Sassi for records and Franco Mamone for gigs. In 1975 Greg Lake of ELP came to listen to A&M and Area at a concert in Bergamo, my home town, to choose one of the groups to release in Britain and USA. He liked both of us, but he said that Area were too political for British market and opted for A&M. Mamone was happy but Sassi, who liked Area so much more than us, said “No, you take Area or nothing!”. Politics took us out of a big chance!

Italy was the first place in the world to send groups like Genesis and Van Der Graaf to No. 1 in the charts: people were desperately hungry for new magic sophisticated music, tired of the exhausted melodic tradition of Italian pop . Italian musicians grew up with progressive. We had Genesis
touring Italy two times a year and I personally could attend to five or six of their concerts. So it was natural that Italian musician would be attracted by this way of composing and playing and many bands turned from pop into progressive.

We were the first generation in history without wars (well, Americans had their conflicts!). We could concentrate on creating our way of life, on culture, on love and peace while previous generations had to take the weapons to fight and risk their lives. We had economic booms, money to spend on records and instruments, time to waste trying to become a star in music. These were the seeds that have generated so much good music. I think that the best thing for music for the last 100 years has been the incredible melting pot of blues, classical, folk, country, jazz and avantgarde created by people coming from different roots to play together. Just look at the Miles Davis groups: Blacks, Whites, North Americans, South American, Europeans, Africans, Rock and Jazz musicians all inventing a new language: this was a true miracle! I am so grateful to have lived through this musical wonderment.