gene-guitarsReaders may recall that I wrote about Gene and his friend Matteo two months ago in The Tale of Knutsen Symphony Harp Guitar #HGT1. You also met Gene’s friend, Yodeling Dick.

To shed more light on the two men I met that fateful day in 1988, we’re back now with some wonderful memorabilia – and music!

Dick sent a news clipping and a shot of his LP album he was given by Gene. This started things rolling…

First, Gene’s given Sicilian name was Gino di Michele. The partner that Dick had remembered only as “Mateo” was Matteo Casserino.

With names now in hand, I then checked in with my accordion-playing friend Sheri Migano in San Francisco (the author of three historical mandolin books who has supplied with many images and information, and most recently wrote a piece on Calamara for the site). Sure enough, she used to gig with Gino, Matteo and Rudy Cipolla in San Francisco, adding:

“I met Matteo and Gino in the early 1980s and we gigged together at weddings etc. They’d come down to Caffe Trieste on Saturdays in San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood and I’d go listen to them during lunch hour at the Embarcadero. Gino’s shop was directly across the street from Rudy Cipolla’s Book Nook. It was a slow slide in the 1990s. It was very, very sad to watch him lose customers and not be able to pay rent. The night Gino closed his store, he called me in the afternoon and said ‘get down here’ and buy stuff. He really was just giving away everything. He gave me a Sicilian pearl-inlaid guitar and a ton of ballo liscio sheet music (a style of northern Italian 19th century Viennese-influenced music – GM). As I recall he took in about $4K on that final night and bought a one way ticket out of San Francisco. He didn’t take anything with him. Whatever he didn’t sell that night, he just left to the Chinese landlord who must have sold everything or just took to the dumpster after he gutted the store. Gino was never sadder than when he exited the store. I never saw him after that night but we’d talk after he resettled. I dedicated my Mandolin Heroes book to Gino, Matteo, Rudy and others.”

Yodeling Dick dug up this news clipping from October 8th, 1982, in which Gino told the interviewer something of his background. Combining that with the LP liner notes, it sounds pretty damn colorful.

I don’t know what I’m more impressed with – that he and Matteo played at private Italian parties for the likes of Pavarotti, or that Gino and his friends spent their Greenwich Village years jamming with Felix Pappalardi, originator of Mountain, one of my all-time favorite rock bands. Note the Gibson harp guitar he’s playing. Sheri says this photo was taken in Matteo’s home.

Matteo also sounds like a treasure, with his encyclopedic memory of Italian songs. Sheri told me that Matteo jumped ship while in Mussolini’s army, and that “he almost always played plugged in!”

I subsequently went and re-read portions of Sheri’s groundbreaking book Mandolins, Like Salami, which includes a whole chapter on Matteo. I include here two images from her book.

Yodeling Dick also sent me a scan of the back of the duo’s original 1984 LP Silent Fountain (Sheri then scanned the cover and back again for me). Thinking that it would be nice to hear their arrangements and this instrumentation, I was thrilled to receive a Dropbox of MP3s of the entire album from Sheri. We can now hear Matteo on mandolin and Gene on guitar. Make that twice. On most tracks, Matteo appears to be expertly double-tracking his mandolin. His tremolo is so consistent, it sounds at times as if it was one track doubled via delay to the opposite stereo side, but it’s not, he was matching himself without a click track. Gino typically played two completely different guitar parts on left and right. A quiet upright bass is present as well. Then there’s mandocello and mandola on about four tracks. The whole thing becomes quite lush at times!

The album liner notes also lists Gino playing harp guitar, but upon listening, I was getting it confused with the mandocello. So I sent the tracks to Matt Redman, my plectrum-style Gibson U playing friend in the U.K. He determined that Gino played his Style U (also plectrum style) probably just on Side A, Track 4 which you should definitely listen to: “Baciami Forte.”

Matt says the mandocello (actually an old Gibson archtop guitar that was converted to a ‘cello, I learned) appears on Side B on Tracks 1, 3 & 6 and was played by legendary Italian musician Tom Marion (misspelled on the LP), of Janet Klein’s Parlor Boys and a hundred other local L.A. pickup bands. I knew Tom back in the Los Angeles Mandolin Orchestra in the ‘eighties, and run into him from time to time. He told us he was only at the sessions for the three or four tunes he played ‘cello on. The LP also lists him playing mandola (which Tom does not recall). Matt believes someone is playing something in octave mandola/Irish bouzouki tuning (GDAE) on Track B-2 and B-3 “Creola” and “La Romanina.” Take a listen to those as well.

Bassist “Gasparo Dasalo” rounds out the group, but it turns out that’s actually the name of his instrument! Tom says, “My friend Alan Lochhead played bass. He preferred to have the name of his bass in the credits.” Alan told me he was playing in the Oakland Symphony when he first met Gino, who was twenty years his senior. By the time of the album (Gino’s project, who directed and paid for it), the four of them were gigging in that quartet configuration. Like Tom, Alan didn’t see Gino record the harp guitar piece, nor he or Matteo do their second tracks on the recordings.

Matteo also composed new tunes; the album contains his “Mazurka Per Catarina.”

Of course, Sheri was great friends with San Francisco’s famed mandolist Rudy Cipolla. The other guys played with him as well, as seen below in 1988.

Matt Redman’s review of the album included these comments: “It’s a sweet album and I can imagine a lot of people of a certain age and taste in the USA really enjoying this record at the time it came out. The thing that I enjoyed the most about it is hearing various edit points (“punch-ins”) and slightly contradictory passing notes and fluffed notes. Such a rarity in studio recordings for the past 15 years. Feels way more human, and being a fan of music from the very earliest recording technologies, I prefer it.”

Thanks to Yodeling Dick, Sheri, Tom and Matt! I hope this brings more fond memories to the San Francisco community and all you other Italians out there.