Sandro Oliva and his band will be backing Essra Mohawk for a performance at Zappanale #22.
Andrew had a fine conversation with Essra.
So I thought I'd ask Sandro some questions.
UniMuta : Hi Sandro, the last time that I saw you, was probably some ten or fifteen years ago when you were part of The Grandmothers. You did a couple of tours, and you also recorded some great albums. How did you become the guitar player in The Grandmothers?
Sandro Oliva : A couple of tours? I did 7 European tours and one extensive US tour with the guys!!
I happened to know Jimmy in early 1993 when he was living in Vicenza, Italy. His second wife (Husta Landers) had a job there as a teacher for children of the US troops. Jimmy had been booked as special guest by a local Zappa tribute band, YAHOZNA (you should remember them, they've played at the Zappanale too). I was in the area for business, so they invited me to sit in with them. I put together a quick HELP I'M A ROCK on the spot, and Jimmy was rather impressed by this (check out the video on YouTube, he was TOTALLY drunk!).
One month later he came to Rome to visit me, and we spent a few days in my studio recording songs for a project that should have been called "THE BLACK OLIVE". That project never happened as the story developed in a very different way (but I've completed those recordings, and I have included in another project).
When Jimmy moved to Germany and Muffin Records asked him to reunite The Grandmothers, he called Don & Bunk plus his Austin bandmates Ener Bladezipper (bass) and Roland St.Germain (formerly his keyboard player and kind of musical director, who moved on to guitar). I booked them two gigs in Italy, and opened for them in Rome. As the band was obviously underrehearsed (they were also playing a lot of pop rubbish from Jimmy's Austin pub era which Don and Bunk hated) I proposed them to stop one week in my studio to rehearse properly.
They would have paid me back recording something for my new CD (WHO THE FUCK......).
During that time Don and Bunk came to know me and my music rather well. So, at the end of the tour, they fired Roland and asked me to join as guitar player AND COMPOSER. After a while I became Don's assistant in putting the show together (Assistant Musical Director), and co-produced "WHO COULD IMAGINE" with him.
When Don quit in 1998, I became the Musical Director, and we hired my keyboard player Mauro Andreoni, plus my drummer Stefano Baldasseroni to let Jimmy concentrate on singing. I produced the "ASTORIA" CD out of the 1998 tour (but I found out so much more material from the Paris concert from the same tour, that I could put out an "ASTORIA AND ELSEWHERE" double cd!!
UniMuta : Touring with original Mothers Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston and Bunk Gardner must have been quite something. How do you look back on it? Can you share some of the best moments with us?
Sandro Oliva : It's been a magic experience, but after a while I could understand WHY FZ was so stressed that he HAD to disband the Mothers in 1970 (Pamela Zarubica confirmed that it wasn't easy to work with them even for Frank ; and I wasn't HIM, I mean THE BOSS!).
You know, great artists have to have their ways, which sometimes come to conflict with yours.
And I'm an artist too (born bandleader, after the Grandmothers project, this Zappanale with Essra will be my second time in 43 years in music that I will not be THE BOSS, though the band's director).
But Don and Bunk are great people, and Jim has been one of my best friends.
Also, working with Don is an amazing experience, as his knowledge of music (and music related machinery) is even broader than people can imagine. And Frank himsef has learned a lot from him, both BEFORE and DURING the early Mothers era).
As for Jimmy, he had become a dear personal friend, and I still can't believe he's not with us anymore, mostly because I can hear his voice almost every day when I work on one of the hundreds recordings I have (live or in the studio).
The most memorable gig with the Guys must have been Frank's Memorial in Amsterdam the night the press gave the new of his passing. The venue sold out since the afternoon, every european TV, radio or newspaper wanted to interview us (even me, who had joined since one month), and we did an incredible 3 hour show with a lot of guests (that was when I started to propose Mother-oriented craziness to perform).
Another one was the first time in Paris next year, big sold-out theatre, stuffed with people screaming Beatle-style (we also had to run out Beatles style, fromthe back door!!).
Or the final US tour (52 gigs in 3 months, and in S.Francisco we had Motorhead with us on stage. All of a sudden I realised I was conducting BROWN SHOES with 4 original Mothers on stage waiting for my hand signals, and a lot of original Mothers fans (with children and even grandchildren) in the audience!! And after those oldies, they even enjoyed my songs a lot.
I guess I should write a book to tell all the stories which happened on the road. And I should put out many bootlegs with all the weirdness whe have performed live (I think the 1994 band was the closest thing to the M.O.I. that has been around after 1970). I have recorded most of the gigs (and a lot of bus and dressing room conversations!), so I'm playing all the time with those tapes (as well, of course, with my own stuff; well, in a way THAT'S MY STUFF TOO!!)
UniMuta : You released some great music as a solo artist. Your third album, the exceptional "Who The Fuck Is Sandro Oliva?", came out in 1995. I also have the very fine "Heavy Lightning" album that you released in 2004. Your website (http://www.sandroliva.com/obvious.html) does mention a lot of other releases and includes some titles that sound very interesting. Is the website up-to-date. Are all of these releases still available? Will you be bringing some of these to Zappanale with you?
Sandro Oliva : HEAVY LIGHTNING was born as a solo album, then Jimmy and Ener recorded all the songs that we included in the 1998 Grandmothers shows, so we were almost putting it out as a Grandmothers album. After the band split-up, I went back to the original project. I have now mixed a beefed-up edition, which includes ALL of the recordings from both versions. I have made more, but unfortunally there's no record companies that want to handle that kind of material anymore, so I put part of it on the web. I have ready "OSSI SACRI", a kind of Electronic Contemporary Music work, with Jimmy's vocals. Then "SERGIO'S HAREM", a collection of live and studio recording with Don, Bunk, Jim, and other guests. And my new one (in Italian) that I will finish mixing as soon as I will find someone intersted in it. And a double CD "bootleg", BIRRA & SALSICCE in limited edition, which I will bring to Zappanale.
UniMuta : You somehow vanished from the scene after the 2000 Grandmothers Tour. What have you been doing the last ten years?
Sandro Oliva : After the US tour the band collapsed, and Jimmy and I decided to go on without Don & Bunk. We had booked a big Europe tour in 2002 with Candy Zappa as special guest. Right before buying her plane ticket to Europe, we found out that a booking agent was selling in Europe another "Grandmothers" band, with Don, Bunk, Roy and Napoleon. Promoters started to cancel our gigs, afraid to get into legal trouble. That year, THEY couldn't get gigs for a tour, and we had to cancel the one that we had already booked.
So I told Jimmy I had enough of the Grannies (I had spent MONTHS to put together the new repertoire and my new studio where we should have rehearsed).
Jimmy and I stayed in touch anyway. He came here on holidays a few times, and I called him to perform with my band on special occasions. But basically, this GM thing had made me sick of the music business. I decided to go back on the road only two years ago, after Jimmy passed away. I felt that I had to carry on what we had started.
My combo is now the closest thing to the Grandmothers show that we had in the end (less FZ stuff and more originals, which people seemed to appreciate). No FZ cover band here. And if we play Zappa songs on special occasions, it is the ones that I used to perform with the guys (and which I have proposed them to keep out of the closet, like BROWN SHOES and SLEEPING IN A JAR).
UniMuta : I was very happy when I heard that you would be coming to Zappanale with Essra Mohawk. Have you worked with Essra previously? How did she get to contact you, and who are the other people in the band? You mentioned that the London gig is being rescheduled to 2012. Does this mean that a tour is in the works?
Sandro Oliva: I met Essra in Nashville in 2000. We (The Grandmothers) rehearsed there for 10 days before hitting the road, and she guested us at her place. So we became friends, and decided that one day we would do something together (she also opened the first and the last gigs of the tour in Nashville, so I also had a chance to jam with her way back then).
Yes, the London gig has been canceled for now. Essra will have a DVD out next year so it looked better to do it then. I will open with a set of my of music, an then we will turn into HER band.
The band at Zappanale will be a part of my group, minus the sax player/lead singer (Essra doesn't need one). And on keyboards we have Mauro Andreoni, who replaced Don in 1998/2000 (except for the US tour). He's a great jazz player.
UniMuta : I know that you have been to Zappanale before (as a GrandMother). Do you remember what it was like?
Sandro Oliva : I remember we all had a wonderfultime, but I know that the event has grown up quite a bit, so I'm curious to see what it is like now.
We might even play one of my songs (with Essra Lyrics) if we'll have time to rehearse it before the show. We will even recreate a short GARRICK TEATHRE flashback with us playing a Mothers medley from that era, with Essra as backing vocalist the way she used to do back then!!
So, guys, that's all for now.
SEE Y'ALL AT ZAPPANALE!!
Thank you Sandro. And, yes, we're looking forward to see you at Zappanale.
Essra Mohawk is scheduled to perform on Friday, August 19, 2011. Better be there.