As he approaches his 64th birthday in July, guitarist Al Di Meola remains a road warrior.
Last fall, he went out with his electric group as part of the Elegant Gypsy 40th anniversary tour to celebrate his explosive 1977 sophomore outing. In May, he begins the second leg of his Opus tour, hitting the road with guitarist Peo Alfonsi and accordionist Fausto Beccalossi in an all-acoustic setting to mark his latest rhapsodic recording on the Hamburg-based earMUSIC label; Elegant Gypsy Live is expected to be released in June.
“It’s no relation to Opus,” said Di Meola over the phone from his Miami home. “It’s all fireworks.”
After a performance of Di Meola’s acoustic trio in February at Infinity Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, where he played tunes from Opus—like his tango flavored “Milonga Noctiva” and the tender “Ava’s Dream Sequence Lullaby,” as well as Astor Piazzolla’s “Double Concerto” and “Cafe 1930”—he talked about the new album, new label, new marriage and new lease on life.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve said that Opus is the first album that you’ve recorded when you were really happy.
Yeah, the record before, Elysium, came during a dark period, when I was going through a long and difficult divorce.
And you were also coming out of a contentious split with Return To Forever, following your 2008 reunion tour.
That was brutal as well. So actually, I was going through two divorces at once. And it was like being in a dark tunnel. But just sitting with my instrument and writing whatever came out of my head was a deterrent for the gloom I was in during that period. And Elysium came out of that.
With this particular record, Opus, I had already been on the other side of that dark period when I began working on it. I had met someone new and now I’m in a really great marriage and have a baby daughter. And I was actually afraid I couldn’t write anything at all unless I was kind of like a little bit pissed off or upset over something. In the past, I did really well with all those records when I was in relationships that were less than perfect. So, you know, I disproved that whole theory with Opus.
The centerpiece of Opus is “Cerreto Sannita,” which is the name of the village your grandfather’s from, near Napoli, Italy. You actually visited there?
Yes, my wife, Stephanie, arranged with the town council of this little village a visit last June, the day after our show in Napoli. And I had zero expectations, only a curiosity to see where my grandfather grew up … a man that I had never gotten to know, because he died before I was born. I only knew of him through all these stories that my father told me hundreds of times.
So, we went up into the hills of Campania and when we pulled up to Cerrito Sannita we saw both sides of the street loaded with people, and there was a sign hanging down that read: “Welcome Home.” Police were holding the crowds back and I was like, “What? This is not for me, is it?”
I get out of the car and people are going crazy and then one after another, people are coming up and hugging me. And almost everyone was a Di Meola! I found out that my grandfather had 16 brothers and sisters, but only two—him and his brother—went to the United States to start a family. The rest of them stayed behind and had kids, and those kids had kids. So, of this village of 3,000, at least half were somehow related to me.
I received an honorary citizenship, which was a ceremony in the town court that was not to be believed. Then they had a big dinner in my honor that night and an Al Di Meola tribute band played, and I got up and played a little bit with them. And to have my wife there and my baby girl running around, I felt like I was in a scene from The Godfather.
The next day we had a tour of the village and they took me to where my grandfather actually lived. And on the door of this place was this amazing coat of arms, which had been in the Di Meola family for generations. Symbolically, this was the door that my grandfather had left to go catch the ship to Ellis Island and start a family in New Jersey. So, we took a picture of that door, which became the back cover of Opus. And that Di Meola coat of arms is on the front cover in gold against a black background. It’s stunning.
You seem to be thriving with earMUSIC.
It’s really the greatest artist-label relationship I’ve ever had. Usually, I’m at odds with the record company for one reason or another, but not this time. This record company is really on the case. I have a six-record deal and judging from how they’re treating Opus—the video shoots and photo shoots, and other promotion they’ve done for the album—they’re going to get behind each one. I haven’t seen this kind of concentration and commitment from a record company since the CBS days back in the ‘70s. It’s like an old school approach of taking care of an artist. You don’t see that anymore.
You’ve landed in a good place.
It’s better than I could have ever dreamed. The label is great, Stephanie and I have been together for five years now and every day it’s been pleasurable … no stress at all. And I’m loving being a dad again at my age.
We do a lot of things together as a family, and they travel with me a lot. In fact, we just came back from Dubai. So, a lot of good things have happened since I’ve been married to Stephanie. She’s a great team player and she helps out a lot with my career. She does all the Facebook postings and organizes and schedules things for me on tour. It’s nothing like what I’ve experienced in past relationships. I always saw that kind of thing happening from afar with other musicians who had wives that got involved in their husband’s career, and I was always kind of envious of that. So, it’s just the way it should be now. It’s beautiful. DB