It was Asleep At The Wheel themselves who broke the news via the social media confirming that our Flavio Pasquetto will be the band’s new steel guitar. An Italian will therefore be the steel guitar of one of the most famous bands, not only in Texas, but on the entire international country scene. Great news, one of those so-called fairy tales that only music can still offer. Being chosen by a band like Asleep is certainly a source of great satisfaction, both from an artistic point of view (you have to be really very good), and from a personal point of view. But this choice also represents an opportunity for growth in terms of credibility for the entire Italian “country” panorama.
We met Flavio and asked him a few questions:
- Flavio, first of all congratulations for this new, great adventure. The first thing I wanted to ask you is why you chose to play the steel guitar.
Thank you so much for the compliments Gianluca, and for inviting me to do this interview: there are very few times when I get to talk about my life as a musician. I started out at the age of eight as a “traditional” guitarist going on to then eventually explore the instrument in its different applications and musical genres, including classical music. This was, in my opinion, decisive because I think it gave me an open mind, maturing the awareness that nothing is easy in music, or rather, there is no more difficult genre than another. I learned, at my own expense, that before being able to master a musical instrument – especially such a particular instrument as the Steel Guitar – or a musical genre, you must study it a lot, assimilate it, and this is a process that requires time, consistancy and dedication. Faced with this, many give in, and it’s at this point that willpower comes into play. This attitude is still part of me and feeds my desire to learn and improve myself. Also from a musical-professional point of view, I have had different experiences: for example, I have worked in the past, for many years, in the pop music scene and I have spent the last six years studying and playing traditional Jazz. I got to know the steel guitar relatively late, at 32. It is an instrument that I have always loved to listen to on records, starting from when I heard George Harrison use it; for example on the album “All Things Must Pass” it was played by Pete Drake, a talented pedal steeler, and a great country music producer. However, it took a long time before I started with Steel, also because it’s not an easy instrument to find here, many don’t play it, and it is difficult to find in a music store. The day I managed to get my hands on an old Fender pedal steel, I immediately fell in love with it and I understood that I wanted to know more. It soon became a real obsession. More than once, in fact, during intense periods of study, I also practiced late into the nights, until I literally fell asleep on the instrument. When I started playing, I soon realized that, rather than the classic mainstream “Nashville Sound” of pedal steel, it was the use of the steel guitar in musical contexts closer to jazz that interested and intrigued me: the key, or rather the gateway to understand the use of steel in these musical contexts is certainly Hawaiian music (The Steel Guitar was born in Hawaii) influenced by American Swing and of course Western Swing. So, just as when I decided to be a professional guitarist, studying the classical guitar, once I started playing Steel, I understood that to understand and master the instrumental technique and musical language, I would have to go back to the roots, so I went back to the 30’s and 40’s, a period in which the Steel Guitar was probably at its peak. Subsequently, in the 1950’s, there was the advent of pedal steel, which revolutionised the instrument (I’d like to point out that the first electrical string instrument was in fact a Lap Steel, in 1932).
- And now to the most exciting part of this incredible adventure of yours: tell us how you got to know Ray Benson & C.
Well, it must be said that since the early years when I was studying steel guitar I became a fan of the band: Ray Benson’s “Asleep at the Wheel” is the group that, in my opinion, has captured the spirit and the legacy of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. At that time, this music (Western Swing) was innovative, it borrowed elements from other musical genres, such as the tradition of fiddle tunes, blues, Jazz, elements of classical music, and used the rhythm of Swing as a common denominator. I immediately liked AATW because they kept that tradition alive by renewing it, reworking it without distorting it. I find this artistically in line with my way of experiencing music. Furthermore, many really talented Steel Guitarists have played with the band, and for this reason AATW’s music has been, and still is, an excellent reference. Having said that, this is how we met: during the past year, I am not ashamed to say, I was going through a difficult patch, work-wise, which, alas, can often happen in Italy at this moment in time, especially artistic professions. During this period I wrote and sent many emails to producers, concert promoters, musicians, clubs, attaching my CV with my musical projects. Unfortunately, most of my requests were ignored, even by people I had worked with in the past. One day I read a Facebook post from AATW, announcing the departure of their steel guitar player, the great Eddie Rivers, a musician whom I appreciated and studied, who as well as having played with AATW also played with Wayne Hancock.Believing that I wouldn’t have received an answer, after the many unanswered emails sent to Italy, I decided to write to him personally, sending him a short CV. To my surprise the next day the great Ray Benson himself replied! He simply replied: “Send me two songs played”. The same day I arranged two songs from the AATW repertoire, playing and recording the backing tracks on which I then played live, filming myself with the camera, and then I sent them to him. After a few days I received his reply. The songs were very popular with Ray and the Band. From there on it all began to take shape and I found myself playing with them last September, on the European tour. The tour went very well, both on and off the stage, and at that point they offered me a place in the band as the Steel guitar player, and I accepted. That’s all. It seems almost too easy to be true. Unfortunately for us who live in Italy, where talent is not easily recognised and where the working environments are closed circles, very difficult to get into, an opportunity like this can only seem strange to us. Still, if you think about it, it’s not so strange to think that this could not happen.
- How will your life change now?
This is obviously a great opportunity for me, which comes after years of sacrifices, attempts and a great deal of work on myself. It will change to the extent that I can do what I’ve always done so far, play professionally, at a higher level and on a large scale. America is a huge continent and Asleep at the Wheel travel quite a lot during the course of the year, travelling all over the States. Furthermore, this year is an important year for Ray Benson’s band, because it’s the 50th anniversary of his career and obviously there will be celebrations. Certainly the biggest satisfaction and also the biggest positive change for me, is to be able to finally do my job, for which I have trained my whole life, playing the music I like, on the instrument I love. This is no small thing. Furthermore, if up to now I have had to fight to be able to learn and propose live a musical language, and an instrument, all in all “far” from our culture, this job will allow me personally to experience a certain type of environment with musicians who have mastered the musical style I learned from records. I am very curious to see how all this will influence my individual artistic growth.
- I won’t ask you what your plans for the future will be because they seem obvious to me, but instead I wanted to ask you what your next goal will be, from an artistic point of view?
I feel that the true artistic goal of any musician is always to improve and be able to free and express his musicality, his potential. Music is a complex human activity that involves the emotional and cognitive sphere, so in my opinion musical improvement is undeniably linked to an individual personal evolutionary path. The beauty is, the more you go on, the more you grow, acquiring knowledge and skill. As for my plans for the future, of course, now I want to give AATW my best, trying to understand better the musical language of Western Swing as much as possible. In my wishes there is certainly the desire to make a second album with my Hawaiian Swing band “The Waikikileaks”, with which I released a record (Swing Luau) in early 2019. Furthermore, I would like to continue teaching and getting people to know the steel guitar in Italy. Last September, in this sense, I created “Mondo musica” for the fair in Cremona, together with the violin maker Leonardo Petrucci, an exhibition-seminar on the Steel Guitar, entitled “Sliding on the Strings”. It would also be fantastic to be able to bring AATW to Italy! I’m sure that if they had the right opportunity they would acquire many new fans here, not only lovers of Country music.
Finally, I confess that one of my dreams is to create a musical project of original compositions that sums up in a certain way my musical path up to now. A journey that has allowed me to experience different musical worlds, without prejudice, animated and guided only by the curiosity to learn. I took a “piece” here and there of everything and put it in my personal luggage, a suitcase that becomes bigger and bigger everyday, but never “heavy”. (Gianluca Sitta)