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I came to the world of pop music at a time when a major shift was taking place on the Canadian scene. It is my hope, that in sharing my beginning experiences, I will bring you another perspective of it’s evolution. Furthermore, I hope it will underscore (once more) that there is no manual or starter kit when it comes to making a career out of a passion.



Throughout my lifetime, I have never really questioned why music has been my passion. If pressed, I would say that part of the reason lies with my parents. My mother was a Neapolitan gypsy who loved to sing, and my father was a carpenter who enjoyed playing the guitar. Whenever they got together with their friends, the wine would flow and music would fill the house. As far back as I can remember the music was always there. I would sit and watch my father’s fingers moving along the neck of the guitar- taken by the sound they produced. I never tired of listening to him. He had a limited repertoire and so he played the same four chords endlessly. That didn’t matter to me. I wanted badly to touch that guitar.

It was at the end of grade school that I finally earned the right to hold the magic instrument in my hands.It came as a reward for bringing home a medal of honour for Application and Personality. From that moment on my life changed direction. I found myself spending hours on end passing my fingers over those six strings. That old beat-up acoustic guitar of his was, to me, the most beautiful object in the world. In short order my friends, games, and my beloved Torpado racing bicycle were soon forgotten. I decided to take my first formal guitar lesson when my fingers were long and strong enough to properly grasp the guitar neck. I was almost 15 at the time. I called for an appointment and showed up to the lesson full of expectation. I walked into a 6X4 room and was met by a very large man smoking a smelly twisted cigar. The ensuing experience convinced me to learn to play by myself.

Elvis Presley, Little Richard, The Ventures, Duane Eddy – they were all over the radio at the time. The songs were fine; but what captivated me were the effects they created- especially the guitar sounds. What else! That cinched it for me. The guitar became the only thing I could think of, after school, on weekends, at the dinner table, anywhere, everywhere and any time. Imagine if you will, eating at a table with someone holding a fork in one hand and a guitar pick in the other, that was supper at the Rossi household! Halfway through high school my friends began to take notice as my style began to develop. I was into copping licks off the likes of Howard Roberts, BB King, and Albert King. I loved the blues and there were so many players out there to show me the way. Of course, this proved to have a positive effect on my social life, as I tended to

be on the shy side. Guys back then were into cars and competition, and music helped me to connect with the girls. I will be the first one to admit that, along with my guitar, women have been a constant in my life.

My mother passed away when I was in my sophomore year of high school, and I had to cope with a new way of life. It was around that time that I acquired a Fender Esquire guitar and a Fender Showman amp. My life’s routine soon revolved entirely around my playing. After school, studies and making supper for my father, I would take a bus to downtown Montreal. There I would play three sets a night in a band called The Soulmates at the Grand National or the Esquire Show Bar- at that time two of the city’s biggest R&B clubs. I got to see R&B artists like King Curtis and others live and up close- talk about a great learning experience! I was becoming a good enough player by now for people to sit up and take notice. I was also years ahead of the other guys my age in life experience. But, it was a chance meeting that gave me both a lifelong friend and my start in the world of music.

It was 1967 and I showed up early for a show at the Esquire starring an R&B artist called TV Mama. That’s when I made the acquaintance of a drummer by the name of Buddy Myles. He was in the show and we became fast friends. When the show left town he decided to stay for two weeks, and we spent all our time together jamming and hanging around with other musicians on the scene. Near the end of his stay, he got a phone call from New York. It was Wilson Pickett calling to confirm Buddy’s return for the upcoming tour. During the conversation, Pickett spoke of the need to replace his guitar player.

Impressed as I was to be listening to Buddy’s end of the conversation with a legend in the music industry, I was overwhelmed when I heard Buddy recommend me to Pickett as the replacement! Four days later, another phone call from New York confirmed my audition date for May 12th at Massey Hall in Toronto. One train and one bus later found me in a seat of the Massey Hall auditorium waiting for the band to take the stage for a full rehearsal.

The band breezed through an instrumental warm-up of a Pickett standard called 99 ½, and it was obvious that the guitar player lacked the necessary skills. Then the Wicked Pickett, as he liked to call himself, showed up and the band launched into the song for a complete run through. No sooner had they started, that Pickett stopped the rehearsal to chew out the guitar player and call me up onto the stage. After a somewhat chaotic and intimidating introduction, he there and then ordered me to play the opening of the song! I took a deep breath and let her rip. I had barely gotten halfway when he stopped the song, and turning to me simply said: `` Welcome, to the Wilson Pickett group. Be in New York next week. `` Those two sentences changed my very existence. I was 18 years old and I was going on a major US tour with one of the greatest R&B artists of all time...... There was one little problem however and he was waiting for me back in

Montreal. My father’s reaction was as expected, and after initially disowning me, he finally agreed to let me go , secure in the knowledge that other factors would prevent me from leaving. These were in order of importance: my Italian citizenship and a lack of a green card. So it was, that my first attempt two days later to cross the border in a bus, with my Italian passport and a candid admission that I was going to the US to play in a band, proved to be a momentous fiasco.

However, neither the guard who returned me, nor my father, would hold me back. A call to Buddy set me straight on how to go about things, and the solution proved to be quite simple. I simply shipped my guitar ahead and took the bus across with a bunch of weekend sightseers! I spent two of the most incredible years of my young life on tour with the mighty Wilson Pickett. We played to steady crowds of 20 to 30,000 people. Acts like Sam & Dave and Otis Redding opened for us and the fan reaction was just incredible. At first, I was just the lead guitar, but as time wore on Pickett came to use me in the act. It developed out of an incident on our first tour in the southern states. Pickett had a deep understanding of life and his profession, and he went to great lengths to take care of me, as I was both the youngest and only white member of his ensemble. So it was on our first southern show, which was in Atlanta, that Pickett decided to change the show format without warning anyone beforehand.

We were 14 strong and we all wore black tuxedoes and white shirts with black silk bow ties. At the end of the show, we were presented one by one to the audience in the form of a brief knee-bend bow to the crowd. That night he put me up front and alone. He then proceeded to speak of soul and the colour of skin to the segregated audience.

Having made it clear that it was possible to be white and have soul, he called on me to show the audience what he meant through my guitar playing. The audience reaction to my ensuing solo proved him right. It ended with the band and the fans caught up in a frenzy of dancing and singing. It became the standard closer for the rest of the tour, which went through places like Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona with California as the final stop. I must admit that it was a particularly strong learning experience. Being the only white person in the group, I quickly learned to live with the negative reactions of both white and black people from without and within my travelling entourage. Wilson Pickett saw to it that I came out of the whole thing all the better for it,and for this I have nothing but good things to say about Pickett the man. As arduous as it was touring, deep friendships evolved and Buddy and I soon became inseparable friends. We saw things pretty much the same way, and we slowly tired of the R&B scene. The constant repetition and the gruelling pace of touring wore us down. The glamour and excitement grew very thin. Things were cinched in 1968 when we played the RKO Theatre with Pickett headlining the Music Marathon.

The show was a seminal moment in Rock history, with a line up that was as impressive as it was diverse- a groundbreaking show. Imagine if you will Sonny and Cher opening with their hit ‘ I Got You Babe’… Followed by The Blues Magoos and The Mandela- with my friend the gifted Dominic Troiano on guitar…The Young Rascals and then The Cream in the first North American appearance: Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton with their 20 foot double-stacked Marshall amp set up…and to lead into Pickett we had none other than The Who. Pickett never did get over coming on after the destruction and

smoke that they left behind each time.After that experience, all I could think of was getting out of my tux and playing all out on my own terms. Added to this was another equally important factor: my father’s failing health.