"E La Storia Continua..." is the title of the record that Dodi Battaglia (June 1, 1951) released in October 2017, a double live record cut during the summer tour that took the Bolognese guitarist back one more time, to roam around Italy. But I’m not here to talk about the record (which, one must say, complies 30 lovely songs, with the best of Pooh and a handful of pieces from his personal repertoire). I am here to talk about how I met him, in his house in the middle of Bologna, for an interview that was supposed to be ‘short’, a meeting expected to be quick and hasty...after all, we are talking about a “star”: Dodi is the guitarist for the Italian band that has made pop music history in the country. Just to put out a few numbers, in their 50-year-career together, Pooh has released 32 studio records, 8 live ones, and 20 anthologies. How many groups, international or not, have sold more than 100 million records? Well, Pooh are the only Italians on the list. And Dodi has been their lead guitarist since 1968. That same year, among other things, at a gig in Bologna, young Dodi had the idea, -put in his own words, “A mix between unconsciousness and courage”-, to play Foxy Lady (written by Jimi in 1966) on the same stage where, just moments later, Hendrix himself was going to perform.
Chosen best European and Italian guitarist (in that order) in the 80s, Dodi has launched 4 solo albums in his career including one, Dov’e Andata La Musica (2015), in the company of Tommy Emmanuel, the master of the acoustic guitar, who shares the stage only with top level artists, including Chet Atkins and Eric Clapton, to name a couple. But back to Dodi. The Star...in capital letters. I thought I was before a ‘typical’ virtuoso guitarist, distant, and maybe a bit ‘vain’: with a resumé like that, it’s what anyone would have thought...
But no. Dodi wasted no time in making me feel at home. Before going into his studio and beginning the interview properly, we started chatting for a while, like two friends who haven’t seen each other in a long time, looking and finding things we had in common: we both have a daughter of the same age, among other things, we’re both divorced (Dodi beats me 2-1). We spoke about the meaning of being a father, about hard choices or wrong ones that, sometimes, is one makes in life. Before me was a man who was reasonable, kind, polite, humble, sincere, especially about all the past mistakes, sweet and affectionate with his wife and daughter - whom he adores - which ultimately is “normal”...and is the last thing you expect in a person who lived 50 years in an Italian pop band which had sold the most in history.
And then I saw the guitarist in love with his instrument, in love with music, incapable of stopping because if there is an ‘elixir’ that creates a healthy addiction, well, that would be music. With him the guitarist, we recollected not just his time with the Pooh, together with Robi, Red, and Stefano, but also, and especially, the 50 years of music led by experience and elegance which always was his 6-string trademark. We had time to talk about his ‘guitar heroes’ (George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, and John McLaughlin), his essential favourite records (Sgt. Pepper's by the Beatles, Are You Experienced? by Hendrix, and Birds of Fire by McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra), and of course, his guitars, the Fender Stratocaster Sunburst 1960 (his #1), the ‘71 Gibson Les Paul Custom, the Junior from ‘54 and the black Strat from 1957...
But before we leave you with the video of the interview (which the reader will find in the video gallery), we present you the two letters mentioned in the title, the last of which is the final point to an open tale that, here and now, remains closed.
This article and the attached videos, come after a (long) delay compared to when we recorded the interview. It’s by no coincidence that they will be published at the start of spring 2018, after 50 years have passed since your beginnings in the professional world of music.
Thank you. Thanks for the time you took with me on that sunny Bolognese afternoon. Thank you for the way you told me about part of your life, with such simplicity. Thanks for the notes you gave me, guitar in hand, while we chatted. But especially, thank you for the music. That music which has always had the time-machine effect on me, a trip down memory lane, making me feel again and again like the small kid who had the great wish to play and fall in love. Because music and love have always gone hand in hand.
Thank you. Because normally it’s the artists who show appreciation at the end of each concert, but this time, however, it is you who will hear a sincere and honest appreciation. In a world where music changes at a rate, perhaps too quickly, and the way to make it, unfortunately, is very different from the past, your music carries on, and will still be an example of beauty, preparation, professionalism, and artistic genius. Thanks on behalf of millions of fans that have followed from generation to generation (Remember the Elvis album cover “50,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong”?).
May music and history go on, Maestro, and may your fingers never stop strumming the neck of your Stratocaster, seeking the perfect riff, the score, the chord, the melody will witness the tears and loves, regrets and smiles form “normal” people, like us. May your art and imagination keep giving those great solos, the ones that make you want to pick up a guitar (today more than ever), which is what happened to me years ago.
Dear ‘Big Brother’:
At long last, I got to talk about music and guitars with one of my childhood idols…
I was 12 more or less, and you almost 15 when we began to listen to music, and we both strictly had ‘our own’. And let’s face it, you weren’t a good model to follow...not then, at that age at least. Your Jimi Hendrix back then, made my head ache. I even found Led Zeppelin a bit ‘noisy’ and ‘annoying’ with those “rooster” crows by Robert Plant. I admit: it took me nearly 20 years to “understand”, study, and fall in love with Jimmy Page (among others). But before hard rock, there was your summer trip to England, a real revolution...and the black Sony stereo, the first in the house. The money, the family “endowment” in case of need, ended up in the pockets of the record store owners (the best investment ever made, I admit). You came back with Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, with Suzanne Vega, Def Leppard (including the t-shirt I always was dying for)...those were the years. For you.
I, on the other hand, was listening to Italian music. Because it was (more) melodic and because I understood it. I especially listened to the Pooh. They had already released a lot of records and I had to get up to date: goodbye to several months’ wage! The Pooh were with me for years: they always had the right song at the right moment. The Pooh were there for my first love, The Pooh in the afternoons with friends (singing a full-throated “Notte A Sorpresa” was priceless). The Pooh were there to keep me company when my heart was broken to bits. The Pooh were there for my ‘first time’ and they were there with “L'Altra Donna” when my life with another woman, was serious.
Shortly afterwards came Queen and the Eagles. The Pooh and Dodi, Queen and Brian May, the Eagles and Joe Walsh, near the end of the 70s. My three “guitar heroes”. I owe them, as soon as I became a “teenager”, for the love of the most beautiful instrument in the world. From a guitarist’s point of view, I have always found Dodi and Brian May quite similar; in their way of colouring each song, with their perfectly refined sound, regardless of the genre they were playing...not to mention the symphonic touch, the technique and the virtuosity (Joe Walsh filling what was missing with heart, soul, and instinct like few others). And if you have the desire, the patience and the luck to learn a few chords and play a few guitar riffs, then the duos of Dodi, Brian, Joe, Jimi, and Jimmy can be put together anytime.
You always teased me about my love for The Pooh. And I always took it well (did I ever tell you what I thought about Jethro Tull and his flute, which you loved so much?), turning up the volume on my Walkman and thinking of my ‘loves’, which at that age made me sigh and lose my appetite, those which at a certain age, disappeared to make room for other things. Music was and is this: the best travel companion you could ever want. Because we choose it, because there’s enough for everyone, for all tastes and for each moment. Because music isn’t a competition to see who are the “best”, “most intense”, or the “fastest”.
‘Big Brother’, to make me forgive you, I ask you to listen to “Parsifal” that Pooh wrote in 1973. It’s a song in two tempos and lasts 10 minutes, between melodic, pop, and symphonic parts (think of Italy in those years!). Listen to Dodi’s final solo (recorded with a Les Paul Junior from ‘54 which he picked up in New York at a shop on 48th St.), he was just 22: technique, passion, heart...the perfect combination when speaking of the 6-string.