"Gary Allegretto is one of the classiest acts in the music business today, working only with the best backup musicians and taking the time to craft music noted not only for its quality but for its authenticity, ...Intimately honest, and what's best about his genuineness is its completely offhand quality. If someone complains to you that they don't make "real" blues records anymore - albums that sound like lost classics yet retain the freshness of an individual - play (Gary's new CD) Many Shades of Blue for them."
-Robert Fontenot, Blues Revue, June/July 2008
~ Gary has been honored with a prestigious 2011 "Keeping the Blues Alive (KBA) Award" by the Blues Foundation!
~ Gary has been honored with the 2010 Artists for a Better World "Spirit of Youth" Award!
~On Sept 10, 2010 Allegretto will be contributing his services to set a GUINESS WORLD RECORD for largest music ensemble ~ by teaching 10,000 to play the Blues on harmonica in Houston's Minute Maid Ballpark during an Astros/Dodgers game!!!
~ Allegretto's song "Four Day's Late" (written for the victims of the Katrina disaster and recorded in New Orleans with Ivan Neville and featuring Janiva Magness) has WON FIRST PLACE in Alternate Root Magazine's "Songs for Social Change" contest beating all other entries by 20%! The contest had over 500 submissions for songs.
(See more rave reviews from prominent press outlets and musicians under "Discography" below)
A down-to-earth guy with lifelong wanderlust and more than a few stories to tell, Gary Allegretto’s resume reads like a men's adventure wish-list: back-country forest ranger, forest firefighter on a "Hotshot" crew, LA city firefighter, bouncer in a couple rough honky-tonks and a Blues bar, cowboy and ranch hand, beach lifeguard, white-water rafting guide… and traveling Bluesman. He’s also the founding director of Harmonikids, an organization that gives music therapy with harmonicas to special needs kids worldwide. Through it all, Gary can barely remember a time when Blues weren't a powerful part of his life, and playing harmonica wasn't as natural as his own voice. He started playing upon receiving his first harp at age 5 from his woodsman grandfather. Soon after, while attending a cultural festival he carelessly wandered away from his family… and into a Big Walter Horton performance. As the loudspeakers blared something about a lost child, he knew he’d found his calling… and he followed.
Down the road, the self-taught Allegretto has performed on stages worldwide and his music has been featured on film and television. He recently scored music for the Johnny Depp film "Rum Diaries". His songs can be found on the soundtrack of the national PBS television program "Roadtrip Nation". Gary was recently filmed and interviewed for the harmonica documentary film "Pocket Full Of Soul" (see www.pocketfullofsoulmovie.com). He has performed nationally & internationally either acoustically or with his all-star electric back-up band. His captivating performances never fail to catch the intrigue of his audiences, often including and prominent musicians and occasionally celebrities. He has received awards for his harmonica playing and is endorsed by Hohner, the world's top harmonica manufacturer.
Renowned for his songwriting, riveting performances, and versatile technique, Allegretto has earned respect as Bluesman on thousands of stages worldwide. In addition, he has taught harmonica in prestigious workshops including the "Cruisin' For A Bluesin'" Blues Cruise 2010, Augusta Heritage Center's Blues Week, Telluride Blues Camp, Riverfront Blues Festival, California Traditional Music Society's Folk Festival, & John Gindick's Harmonica Jam Camp, the Folk Alliance Conference and Stax Music Academy in Memphis. He is supported as a Blues educator by the Blues Foundation's "Blues in The Schools" program, and was invited to teach students in Memphis area schools as part of the 2008 International Blues Challenge. In addition to his captivating performances, Allegretto offers concert promoters the unique option and opportunity to provide entertaining harmonica workshops at their venues. Gary's workshops include new harmonicas & lessons for folks of all ages and ability levels ~ a rare opportunity to learn from a professional.
(SEE PRESS FOR WORKSHOP INFO)
Of special note, Gary is also renowned for his humanitarian work as the founder and director of Harmonikids which is a 501(c)3 non profit charitable organization that provides music therapy with harmonicas and lessons to special needs children internationally. Allegretto has provided aid to thousands of children from the Tsunami refugee camps of North Sumatra, Indonesia, to the Katrina evacuee trailer villages of Louisiana, to earthquake ravaged Port Au Prince, Haiti and many points in between. Harmonikids has recieved widespread acclaim in the media including The Today Show, Blues Revue, and Living Blues Magazines. Gary recently was presented an "Artists For A Better World" award for his work, and the Blues Foundation's 2011 prestigious KBA (Keeping the Blues Alive) Award in the Education category. For more information about his unique charitable work visit www.harmonikids.org.
Among the many Blues legends Allegretto has had the honor to meet and perform with, he recorded with 2005 Grammy Life-time Acheivement Award winner and Blues legend Pinetop Perkins on Rich Del Grosso's Blues Music Award nominated CD release. At the conclusion of the CD release gig Pinetop gave Gary the ultimate personal endorsement exclaiming that he "can really blow that harp!", and then as he left the stage he turned and deliberately pointed directly to Gary saying "You keep the business going." In Gary's words, "This was from an idol of mine, a legendary man who played with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, and many other ultimate legends of the Blues. My heart stopped and I just said...yes sir."
Allegretto's first CD release “Throwing Heat” has been heralded by prominent blues critics, calling it refreshing, edgy, and honest…with original writing and virtuoso performances that transcend the blues stereotypes…a testimony to the “many shades of the blues”.
In fact, Gary's remarkable new release of both electric and acoustic original material is entitled "Many Shades of Blue". It debuted at the top of the Blues Charts, has received rave press reviews, and was recently under Grammy Award consideration for Best Contemporary Blues Album. As the title suggests, it's all here: rockin', swampy, greasy, Piedmont ~ delivered with inspired musicianship & engaging songs that tell stories ~ featuring prominent artists including Ivan Neville, Janiva Magness, Doug Macleod and some of the last recordings of the late, great Bluesman, John Cephas .
*Please see "Discography" below for testimonials.
Gary Allegretto ~ Harmonicas & Vocals
Gary accompanied with acoustic guitar, National steel guitar, and/or mandolin.
Gary with all -star backup band consisting of guitar, upright bass, piano & drums
TESTIMONIALS AND PRESS REVIEWS ~
Gary has released 3 critically acclaimed CD's. His most recent "Many Shades of Blue" debuted at the top of the Living Blues Radio Charts, also charting on the Roots Music Charts. Further, Allegretto recently enjoyed the honor of consideration for two Grammy Awards: Best Contemporary Blues Album and Best Traditional Folk Album. Here's some of what folks have said:
"That boy can really blow that harp!"
~ The Legendary Pinetop Perkins
"... I listened to (Many Shades of Blue) often for musical and spiritual pleasure. Gary's Blues tells stories of soul, wit, and humanity and I got to know him real well because he gives everything he is to his music. This is honest music crafted from inspiration, talent, and skills, delivered at a high level of accomplishment. I'm really impressed with the maturity, facility, and depth in Gary's harp playing. He could sure teach a lot of harp players about tone, phrasing, and getting the most expression out of a very expressive instrument. His songwriting, singing and arranging are very accomplished too. No wonder (Many Shades of Blue) is being well received... Gary's music made me feel good, and that's a very attractive quality."
~"Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin, Renowned Bluesman, Muddy Waters Band Guitarist, and Blues Columnist
This superb album by the American singer and harmonica player is under consideration for a Grammy Award as Best Contemporary Blues Album. It is mostly self penned and several name players appear including Ivan Neville. The sound quality is brilliant, so warm it feels as if you’re in the room with the band playing. You can truly appreciate the amazing empathy of the musicians who have obviously played together many times. This highlights a very special musical gift.
Allegretto has a rare and distinctive quality as a bandleader. The same gift that Miles Davis was noted for; that of being able to conduct, lead, draw together a band with just a slight gesture musical or physical, it seems almost telepathic as, after a chorus or two of ensemble playing, the harmonica just draws all of the musicians back to the main theme. The solos are economical, and the instrumental interplay is faultless. The harmonica playing is exemplary. Every track is good... a brilliant piece of work. Allegretto captures the feel and sound of John Lee Hooker’s early Chess tracks and marries it to a new song. Most styles of city and country blues are explored and the album gets better with every listen.
~Vicky Martin, Blues Matters Magazine
"Full bodied with a sweet aftertaste... Some of these songs sound like instant classics and should be covered just as often as Muddy Waters. This album is a standout in the releases in the Blues markets." (BluesWax rating: 9 out of 10)
~ Kyle M. Palarino, BluesWax
" A warm, diverse outing... impressive... Allegretto is not only a fine harp player but an all around good guy too... Many Shades of Blue is just what the label says, many shades and all done well."
~Living Blues Magazine
"... Allegretto is one of the best harp players you'll hear. In an instant he can switch gears from smooth to sassy. The reeds jump at his command! Don't miss a rare opportunity to see and hear this fine blues veteran."
~ Rich Del Grosso, Blues Revue Magazine
"Allegretto's heady brew ranges from Piedmont style acoustic Blues to hard rockin' electric numbers. He has put together a stunning package that marks him as a compelling songwriter, a masterful harpist, and a strong singer. While his more famous friends make significant contributions to this project, it is Allegretto's vision that burns the brightest. It's hard to believe that he has not garnered more attention up to this point. This recording, which has received Grammy consideration, should finally get him the recognition he deserves. This one is highly recommended!!!"
~Mark Thompson, President of Crossroads Blues Society
"Gary Allegretto is a blues singer, songwriter, and harp virtuoso who does a good job covering many roots styles on his latest CD release Many Shades Of Blue. He includes tastes of swampy, greasy, and rocking flavors in both acoustic and electric formats and has the chops and the all-star backing band to make it all happen.
Special guests on the album include heavyweight champs like Ivan Neville, Janiva Magness, Doug Macleod, Rich Delgrosso and John Cephas and their appearances contribute to both Allegretto’s music and his credibility in the blues scene. He has also lived quite a life and has many experiences from which to draw music from... these experiences populate Allegretto’s original songs and elevate him over the many acts out there that continually re-work standards.
Allegretto’s songs are authentic and individual at the same time, and... he's certainly a hot hand on the harmonica. It is a tough juggling act to remain true to one’s inspirations while finding a unique musical voice, especially in roots styles, but Allegretto makes it look easy.
Those who are searching new blues material that sounds like the “real” stuff will find Many Shades Of Blue to be an excellent choice to keep their speakers warm on cold winter nights."
~Mike O'Cull, Blues Blast Magazine
"WOW - (Many Shades of Blue) is a SUPERB and joyous album! Every once in a while an unexpected delight like that drifts into my mailbox. I don't mean to gush like a teenager - but it's really an album to be proud of... It's a joy and an honor to play it!"
~Nick Gerard, "Nothin' but the Blues", KKJZ Los Angeles
"... Gary Allegretto shines bright on this soulful program of down-to-earth comfort... Allegretto sings with a natural storytelling appeal that’s easy to understand. His harmonica gives the program a zest that ensures magnetic forces. One listen and you’re under his spell. One listen and his audience is sold on pure blues with a message that comes from the heart."
~ Jim Santella, Southland Blues Magazine
"Gary, you're a class act. You can really play both acoustic and electric. This record (Many Shades of Blue) is done with real taste... Vocals are good... the songwriting is quite good... a very enjoyable listen. Congratulations and thank you."
~Bruce Iglauer, President, Alligator Records
"A MASTERPIECE... ALL KILLER, NO FILLER... since 2000 the "Blues world" has produced only about 50 discs that made me wish I still had a radio show, & 'Many Shades of Blue' is one."
~John "Juke" Logan, Mocombo Records
"To simply call Gary Allegretto a bluesman would be a disservice. Gary's a cleverly gifted songsmith with a wry sense of humor delivering every song with smooth vocals and a master's harp. Expressive phrasing, tone and attack ... this cat's got the goods!"
~The Blues Hound, 90.1 FM KPFT Houston
"Harmonica ace Gary Allegretto is equally fine in cowboy, Piedmont, Mississippi Delta and Chicago styles. On Many Shades of Blue he sings well, has great guests and writes good songs.
Allegretto is a seriously good, no-nonsense bluesman. By all accounts, he is also a seriously good bloke. His non-profit organisation Harmonikids brings music therapy to children in extremis, worldwide. In his own land, post-Katrina New Orleans (it prompted a fine song that Ivan Neville sings on Gary’s new CD) is one Harmonikids place he’s been. Australia and post-tsunami Indonesia are two others."
~Doug Spencer, The Weekend Planet, NPR Australia
"I have to admit, I didn’t know who Gary Allegretto was when his cd landed on my doorstep. What I do know is that I will now never forget his name. “Many Shades of Blue” (Big Fiore Records) is the title of the great new disc by vocalist/harp player Gary Allegretto. 14 solid tracks of pure electric and acoustic blues... This one shines all the way through."
~Greg “Doc” Lefebre, 90.1 WGMC, Rochester, NY
Listening to "Many Shades Of Blue" by Gary Allegretto is like looking at Italian renaissance painting, full of colors, espressiveness and sweetness. With his smooth voice, his good harp sound and his real passion for many kinds of blues, Gary has recorded a little masterpiece. Brilliant groove from the heart... Not to miss!
~Simone Bargelli, DJ for Rock n Blues Today; Reporter for IL BLUES Magazine, Umberto Italy
Many Shades of Blue is the perfect title for Gary Allegretto’s second CD. This compilation has enormous variety and each song stands on its own which makes the CD easy to listen to, over and over. Beginning with the slinky “She Speaks to Me” which lays out Gary’s affair with the harmonica all the way thru to John’s Kitchen Rag, a bad cut will not be found on this album. His original lyrics tell many tales of his life experience that well, you just want to hear about. Outstanding musicianship and vocals from all who contributed! Well done, very well done.
~Linda Kirschbaum, Houston Blues Society
"These 14 tracks leave no doubt, Gary Allegretto is a master harmonica player, up there with guys like William Clarke, Mark Hummel or Charlie Musselwhite. His technique is impressive and precise, but at the same time his playing doesn't sound forced or "from the book". Harmonica is just Gary Allegretto's natural voice. I was also impressed with the songwriting - "Throwin Heat" is very clever. All this together with a first class backing band (in-the-pocket rhythm section and fabulous guitar) create an essential CD!"
~Blues DJ Przemek Draheim "The Voice of the Blues" Radio Show, 92.8 FM
"Great songs, fat sound, real blues."
~Bernard Sellam, Radio DJ, 90.1 FM
“After a lot of pleading we’ve convinced Gary Allegretto to not leave the country just yet … with influences ranging from Sonny Terry to Sonny Boy Williamson, … don’t miss this absolute dynamo.”
~The Basement, Sydney Australia
Gary Allegretto and the Sugar Daddys - Really are "Throwin' Heat!" From the title track all the way to the end, we couldn't find a rendition we didn't enjoy! The high energy of "Throwin' Heat" starts you off. Then, "Wish I Was In Heaven Sittin' Down", done in a style reminiscent of Phil Wiggins, let's you catch you breath. By the time you get to "Blowin' Town" you're starting to think that this one has to be the encore, (definitely one of the BEST tracks on the CD and worthy of fine praise), but then he hits you with the last track, which is a real treat; "Untrainable". That can only be described as WOW! If you haven't heard Gary Allegretto, you're gonna want to hear this.
~John Francis, www.harphouse.com
Good energy…virtuostic harp performance…outstanding guitar…a solid band with an honest, good old-timey feel. Very enjoyable. (Review of Gary's CD "Throwin' Heat" )
~ Bruce Iglauer, President, Alligator Records
Allegetto kicks hard…mixing up the roadhouse sound with refreshing country blues…rocking…edgy…harmonica chops & guitar work shine brightly.
~Blues Revue Magazine
Allegretto’s latest blues venture (Throwin’ Heat) has a smoky bar room feel, and the Sugar Daddys provide a solid foundation for his homegrown vocal harmonica stylings.
~ Easy Reeding Magazine
"Every time I play (Gary's CD) "Throwin' Heat" listener response is so great that the phones light up like I was giving away hundred-dollar bills."
~Dennis Schaibly, Blues DJ, WWOZ, New Orleans
High energy, unpredictable, good old American shit-kickin’ Blues
~The Mammoth Herald
"If you like blues that actually sounds like blues, the blues your mamma and daddy might have been under the influence of when they slipped out of that frat party and went for that fateful moonlight drive that ended up in the conception of your oldest sibling, then bring your butts and your better judgment, or at least good protection, down to see Gary Allegretto and the Sugar Daddys!"
~ Darrell Hope
“The night that Gary & the Sugar Daddys played (the Mint) was the best party we had.”
~ Actor Bruce Willis
“I just want to get up & play some blues with you guys.”
“Gary Allegretto is a GREAT harmonica player.”
~ Actor Harry Dean Stanton, guest hosting on ABC’s “In Concert”
"Gary Allegretto and his work are most worthy of support."
~ Actor Dan Aykroyd
*[Allegretto's CD's "Many Shades of Blue" and "Throwin' Heat" are available for listen and/or purchase at www.cdbaby.com]
**[Allegretto's popular single release "Delawhere?" is also available by contacting Gary directly]
She Speaks to Me
Good to Go
Never The Same
Saddle My Pony (acoustic with John Cephas)
Untrainable (Live Solo)
Blues Revue Magazine, June/July 2008
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Harmonica wrangler Gary Allegretto is one of the classiest acts in the music business today, working...Harmonica wrangler Gary Allegretto is one of the classiest acts in the music business today, working only with the best backup musicians and taking the time to craft music noted not only for its quality but for its authenticity. Sure, he's a good-looking guy who aims for the ladies with his electric band, the Sugar Daddys, but his solo gigs feel more intimately honest, and what's best about his genuineness is its completely offhand quality. If someone complains to you that they don't make "real" blues records anymore - albums that sound like lost classics yet retain the freshness of an individual - play Many Shades of Blue for them.
Several tracks feature the guitar of John Cephas backing up Allegretto's unselfconscious harp classicism. Ivan Nevile & Janiva Magness guest on "Four Days Late," recorded at the Neville Family's New Orleans studio. “Good To Go” is so St. Louis it almost backs up into Chuck Berry’s coolerator, and Allegretto covers Berry’s “Back to Memphis” as if to drive home the point. Hank Williams “Mind Your Own Business” minus a boatload of twang is another surprise detour, and “Bad Man” proves that Allegretto’s got Chicago pinned down as well. Not to worry purists: You'll find plenty to love on the originals “Somerset”, “Hurry Down Rounder”, “Saddle My Pony” and “John's Kitchen Rag” all of which speak with the grace and clarity of classic Piedmont music. If a solo release is a way to stick close to home while demonstrating one's flexibility, Many Shades of Blue fits the template.
-Robert Fontenot, Blues Revue, June/July 2008
BluesWax Review, Many Shades of Blue, Rated 9 out of 10
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Full Bodied with a Sweet Aftertaste, (07/08/09) My first impression of this CD came from the titl...Full Bodied with a Sweet Aftertaste, (07/08/09)
My first impression of this CD came from the title, Many Shades of Blue. In this century the word Blues covers so many styles of music it gets crazy trying to decipher one music from another. So, as I popped the CD in for its first spin, I understood and agreed with the title of the album. You can't pinpoint one style that permeates the disc throughout. The sounds come from jug bands on up to Chicago and modern Blues. The beauty of this album is you have a talented vocalist, harpist, and songwriter leading the way with some amazing guest artists. Here is a partial list of the musicians on this record: John Cephas, Ivan Neville, Janiva Magness, Doug MacLeod, Tommy Kay, and Rich DelGrosso.
Gary Allegretto has an interesting story, which includes his own non-profit organization called Harmonikids. The organization distributes harmonicas to special needs children whom he teaches simple songs to lift their spirits. The organization has been active for fifteen years. That's a lot of giving by this individual, and now he has finally been given the chance to put out his own album. He is also involved in the Blues in the Schools program.
There is a heavy Chicago Blues influence on the majority of the disc. While all of those songs are strong and fresh without sounding hackneyed, the gems here are the acoustic numbers. "Four Days Late" with Neville and Magness handling the vocals allows Allegretto to swoon the harmonica lines into the song. Ian Espinoza has the soft touch on the guitar strings with Rich DelGrosso strumming the mandolin adding a crisp Bluegrass feel. Espinoza plucks an up-tempo beat on his National Steel on "Never the Same." DelGrosso complements Espinoza's strings again here. Allegretto sings of artists like John Jackson and the Walters and their influence on him growing up.
True beauty is on "Hurry Down Rounder" as John Cephas sounds like Mississippi John Hurt playing "Stagger Lee" from the 1928 sessions. Allegretto lays out some classic lyrics and fine Country harp. This song could very well have been written back in the 1920s, but that's just one of Allegretto's talents. Cephas is on four songs and not one of those songs is a miss, even the Hank Williams cover "Mind Your Own Business." These four songs are my favorites off the disc. They are worth the price of admission. The rest will be a treat, too.
One other song that needs mention is the "Settle Down Blues." This is a Country Blues song in a jug band fashion. It is up beat and a great romp of a tune. The fiddle and banjo work of Clint Wagner from David Evans' Last Chance Jug Band really spices up the track. And Allegretto is an excellent Country harp player. His style is very open, and he can bounce from the Country to Urban Blues sounds very easily.
The quality of songs, musicians, and production make this a very easy disc to listen to. The album was recorded at four different studios with fifteen musicians and several different styles of music, but none of those facts matter when it sounds good. Some of these songs sound like instant classics and should be covered just as often as Muddy Waters. This album is a standout in the releases in the Blues or Americana markets.
Kyle M. Palarino is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Kyle at email@example.com.
Bob Margolin's Interview with Gary Allegretto
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Riding Far And Deep And Running It Down To Bob Margolin An Interview With Gary Allegretto Part O...Riding Far And Deep And Running It Down To Bob Margolin
An Interview With Gary Allegretto
My jams at the Rumboogie on Beale Street in Memphis during the Blues Foundation's events attract fine musicians from all over the world. I try to give everyone what they want while making the best possible music for the audience. Trying to juggle who plays when, what, and for how long takes a lot of intuition and luck, and occasionally I get a solid tip I can trust.
A few years ago, Blues master Rich DelGrosso advised me to bring up California harp player Gary Allegretto, "He's really great..." I know Rich and the company he keeps and I looked over to his table to see a handsome man with a friendly smile. After a few promised sit-ins, I called Gary up and he was ready to fit in however he could - he brought his voice, some harmonicas, stage experience, common sense, and social grace. Gary listened to what we were playing, took strong solos, and led songs with easy authority. The audience loved him. Rich don't endorse no slackers.
This year, Gary sent his latest album, Many Shades of Blue. I expected it to be top shelf, but it stayed in my iPhone's iPod a very long time - I listened to it often for musical and spiritual pleasure. Gary's Blues tells stories of soul, wit, and humanity and I got to know him real well because he gives everything he is to his music. When he sat in with me in Long Beach, California, at The Cellar last summer, I kept him up on the bandstand a long time, both featuring his own songs and jamming with our friends.
I know that BluesWax's readers will enjoy getting to know Gary Allegretto too...
Bob Margolin for BluesWax: From listening, it seems you value both tradition and originality. You tell your own stories in the language of the music you carry on. What is the relationship of your life experiences to your Blues music?
Gary Allegretto: In a word they are "close... like spots on dice" as Sonny Boy Williamson once said. One of the things I love most about the Blues tradition is its storytelling - so the long answer involves stories from my life.
To start with, my life experience had everything to do with me becoming a musician. My first exposure to live harmonica music was my grandfather, Fiore Allegretto, playing for me as a child. Soon thereafter he gave me that same harmonica when he could no longer play it, having suffered a debilitating stroke in the lumberyard where he worked - loading pulp logs onto trains by hand. I idolized him. Though I was very young and he was unable to speak, I fully understood the significance of the gift. It's still a prized possession of mine.
...the harmonica has been my great ambassador..."
Later in my childhood I was held spellbound by a couple musicians that shaped the genre of music I chose. I saw Piedmont Bluesman John Jackson performing in a hayfield in walking distance to my home and Chicago Bluesman Big Walter Horton blowing electric harp at a cultural festival. Thus, I fell in love with both acoustic and electric Blues at an early age. It was a sound that both possessed me and I had to possess. Hungry to learn, I bicycled regularly to a local record store to collect vinyl recordings of the Blues masters that became my teachers on the family turntable.
Coincidentally Bob, one of my early musically influential life experiences involved you. I saw you play with Muddy Waters Band at the Tower Theater during the Hard Again Tour in 1977, the year I graduated from high school. It was a show that had a deep effect on me musically. I'll never forget the energy of the band and power that Muddy commanded on stage. Thirty years later I'm thrilled that some of the exact same live recordings from that night are featured on the recent live release Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down, that won a Blues Music Award for Historical Album of the Year. Congratulations on that and also your award for Best Instrumentalist.
I feel lucky to have had a deep well of life experience to tap into for writing. I left home for the first time on foot, hitchhiking, at 15 and have traveled ever since. Along the road, the harmonica has been my great ambassador, opening doors to meet and play with many diverse folks worldwide. Not surprisingly, my writing contains a lot of traveling themes. I've had work broadly ranging from rafting guide, lifeguard, forest ranger, forest firefighter, city firefighter, ranch hand, street musician, band leader, and more. Occupational diversity gives life insights that can become great material for songs. Further, in my early twenties I was a bouncer in a rowdy bar in Santa Fe that booked a variety of music, including Blues greats like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Gatemouth Brown, John Hammond, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, and Albert Collins. Thus, I got to study masters up close, delivering their craft on stage at the top of their game. At the end of the night I'd offer to help load their gear so I could to listen to their stories - I'll call that my night school. On top of all this, I guess I've known a few women - never underestimate the amount of Blues inspiration and material you can draw from that! I'd best stop there... but to answer your question; yes, I feel my life experience has made me a wealthy man. Much of my music has been an outlet to carry on the Blues tradition of telling my personal stories in song.
BW: Many Shades of Blue features acoustic and electric Blues styles and some of your songs would fit in a more general Americana category as well. How do you decide what to do with a song idea when you conceive it? What creative process did you go through, perhaps using an example from his album?
GA: As the title suggests, my CD is a reflection of my appreciation of the broad nature of the Blues genre. I didn't feel pressured or limited to make all of my songs fit into one category. Nor did I try to appease anyone's expectations or definition of the Blues. I just trusted my instincts and made my album, both electric and acoustic. I think some labels second-guess what folks will enjoy, making for many predictable records. Interestingly, I had one major Blues label say they loved my CD, but some of my material was, too Americana for them and another actually told me it was too Bluesy for them! That made me figure I was probably in about the right place. I am proud that both Blues and Americana fans are embracing it - charting on both Blues and Roots radio. I feel that Blues audiences are getting more savvy to the history of the music and its influences, which breeds more open-mindedness. I've always felt that Blues isn't limited to one color or one side of the tracks and I am fond of its many styles and influences...its many shades if you will.
A creative process? Truthfully, there is no single way I conceive a song idea. Maybe the closest thing I have to a process is simply changing my scenery. Songs often come to me on the road. Maybe it's a combination of the landscape and the forward motion, but whenever I'm driving my pickup in wide-open spaces, with no strong agenda, song ideas flow. Inspiration often may come from a personal experience, memory, humorous anecdote or pure imagination. It can be as simple as something funny someone said that caught my ear or as complicated as love. Generally it comes from an emotional place. In each song I attempt to choose a style, arrangement, and instrumentation best suited to deliver and tell the story.
Here are some examples from MSOB:
"She Speaks to Me" is a simple love song... to my harmonica. I wrote it in one sitting. It needed a sexy, slinky kind of arrangement so I chose a grinder with my harp speaking in sort of a Sonny Boy Williamson-meets-Jimmy Reed style.
"Settle Down Blues" is a travel song that I conceived on the road using my "pickup truck method" mentioned earlier. I came up with the first line: "Ain't but two things make me nervous about the term 'settle down'; that first word is settle and the second one is down." The rest of the song practically wrote itself in defiant answers to the judgments and pressure that others can project on a freewheeling man... or so I've heard.
"Never the Same" developed as a tribute to those whose music mesmerized me when I saw them play as a kid, from my grandfather Fiore to John Jackson to Bill Monroe to Big Walter. The diversity of these musicians led me to choose what might be called an Americana/Blues arrangement and instrumentation to capture the mood. The title of the CD came from the last line; "These were the blessings of my youth, when I learned that there were many shades of blue, and I knew that I was never gonna be the same."
"Four Days Late" came to me as I watched the government's lack of response to the Katrina Disaster in New Orleans on the TV news. Initially, I simply wrote the words of the title on a piece of paper as a way to express my sadness and bewilderment. The rest of the song unraveled with my sense of outrage to those three words. After months of fighting bureaucratic red tape to bring Harmonikids to the same folks in a FEMA trailer village, I finished it. I had never written a song like it before. I feel the reactions to the lyrics I've gotten from the people down there who continue to suffer make it credible. When we recorded in New Orleans, Ivan Neville agreed. I feel his and Janiva's [Magness] vocals, combined with my Blues/Gospel arrangement, deliver it effectively.
I don't want to give the impression that my songs are serious or heavy...that's definitely not the case. There's quite a broad range here in the 14 tracks. On the other end of the spectrum I wrote "Tattoo of Truth" as a break-up gift to a gal. Admittedly it started out as a healthy way to disperse some aggravation. After all, from my point of view, she had confused possessing the truth with tattooing the word on her body. The hook started out angrily... "She wouldn't know the truth if it was tattooed on her ass." However, as it progressed I began to see the humor in my predicament and gradually changed my tone. It ended up as a way to rhyme "aw shucks" with "buttocks." To my knowledge that's a first - I'm proud of that. I don't think she was though - haven't heard from her since.
Bob Margolin for BluesWax: You sure have a lot of my favorite musicians working with you on this album (Many Shades Of Blue). Would you like to talk about them, or tell stories from the sessions?
Gary Allegretto: Absolutely! They are some of my favorite musicians, too. I feel lucky to have them on my recording and even luckier to call many of them my good friends. At the risk of leaving someone out, I'll speak of them briefly.
The first recordings I did for this project were with National Heritage Fellowship Award-winning Bluesman John Cephas. I had written some Piedmont duo-style songs that I kept "hearing" him on. I am not only a huge fan of John's, but I am proud to have called him my friend for many years. When I phoned him he invited me to his home in the Virginia countryside saying he would be "honored" to play on my project. Of course the honor was all mine. We went over the songs in his kitchen once or twice and then spent a fun afternoon in the studio. I think you can really hear the fun we had in those four recordings. I only hope that on my next visit we'll take out his fishing boat as promised.
Rich DelGrosso is like a brother, a big brother with big talent and heart. We have taught Blues workshops and done a lot of stage shows together in band and duo settings, so studio work together was easy. Among his many impressive credentials, Rich was twice nominated for a BMA as best instrumentalist. I was proud when he asked me to record on his fine CD and he was a very strong asset to mine.
I had known Doug Macleod for years, playing many of the same venues around the Los Angeles area. I've always enjoyed his National guitar work and musical sensibilities. Doug's a nice guy who's a real pleasure to work with.
Similarly, I've crossed paths with Janiva Magness in Los Angeles for years. I appreciate her friendship, encouragement, and support. She is a very lovely and talented woman who's a dynamo, both in person and in the studio. I pretty much just tried to stay out of her way. When she arrived at the studio she first hugged and thanked me for writing "Four Days Late."
I tried for months to get the same song to Ivan Neville. I wanted his B3 organ and voice on the song - the voice of New Orleans - but he is a busy man. When he finally heard it, his response was immediate. Not only did he want to do it, he invited me to record it at the Neville Brothers' home studio on Canal Street in New Orleans. I was floored by the honor. His work was magic. While in New Orleans for the session I brought harmonicas and lessons to kids in the still ravaged Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish, giving even more purpose to the song. I'll never forget the emotion I felt at the sound of them sweetly playing "This Land is Your Land" together.
"The uplifting therapeutic effect the music had on these extremely ill kids deeply touched me."
The core band members on the project are renowned Los Angeles musicians whom I've enjoyed playing with for years at my stage shows. Tommy Kay, Ian Espinosa, Paul Eckman, Steve F'dor, and David Kida are all veterans from bands such as Roomful of Blues, William Clarke, and the Mighty Flyers. They're great friends and masterful players. They are also studio aces and much of their fine work on the album was first-take. I always feel fortunate to have them on board. I also want to mention my friend Lenise Bent for her highly acclaimed and heartfelt engineering and production work. Finally, Grammy Award winning Gavin Lurssen (John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, etc.) mastered the project.
BW: Your good reviews and airplay have made you much more recognized in the Blues World recently. Have you felt a push from this album yet, and where would you like to go with your career?
GA: As a friend of mine says... "My CD is a 'million cellar' - I've got a million of 'em in my cellar."
But seriously... It is doing well and I am honored to get the good reviews, recognition, and praise, especially from many fellow artists, DJs, and writers for Blues publications who I've admired for a long time. Many Shades of Blue debuted at number 11 on the Living Blues Radio charts, so obviously I am getting airplay and many new fans around the country and overseas. I am flattered that so many new and old listeners are buying and enjoying my songs. Recently I was also prominently featured alongside some folks I'd call "harmonica royalty" in a harmonica documentary film called Pocket Full of Soul. I humbly welcome the attention, but as I recently heard in a Jackie Payne song: if I'm am overnight sensation, it's been a mighty long night!
To accompany this "push" I welcome inquiry from those in the industry who are interested in furthering my career. So far I've been navigating the music business primarily by myself and as an artist I'm probably not the ideal guy for that job. A manager, booking agent, and publicist team would free me up to do what I feel I do best; travel, perform, and create music. I'm single with no kids and there's no place I'd rather be than on the road playing music for folks. So ideally the recent recognition will open up opportunities to perform at more gigs and festivals both across America and overseas, especially Europe and Australia.
In another direction, this week I got a surprise check in the mail from BMI for use of my music on NPR and a PBS TV show. I like that. I'd like to continue to get this kind of work and my music into more film projects as well.
I also love to teach as a way to share my passion for the music. I've enjoyed the opportunity to both perform and teach harmonica at many Blues festivals and camps around the country. This summer I was invited to teach and perform at the prestigious Augusta Heritage Center's Blues Week and the Riverfront Blues Festival for my sixth consecutive year. I'd like this new attention to provide more opportunities to give my harmonica workshops to aspiring players. Also, the more I travel to play gigs and festivals the more kids I can reach through Harmonikids and Blues in the Schools while on the road.
BW: It's exciting that you're using your music and its storytelling to inspire young folks. Tell us about Harmonikids - it sounds like a wonderful way for kids to get into the Blues, into the harmonica, and most important, the filling and soothing of the soul that music can bring.
GA: I am involved with two wonderful ways to teach children that often overlap. One is the Blues in the Schools (BITS) program that readers can read about in the Blues Foundation's website. The other is my organization, Harmonikids.
Back in the late Eighties I was living and playing Blues in New York City. My friend Chris Neuhoff, a fellow Blues player, was the director of the kid's playroom at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital. He invited me there to do a Blues jam with him and the children. The uplifting therapeutic effect the music had on these extremely ill kids deeply touched me. I especially noted their enthusiasm for the harmonica. It was a perfect fit; a small, simple portable instrument that can be played by patients on IV's or in hospital beds. The harp has a fascinating, voice-like tone that made the kids smile and giggle. My Hohner endorsement made the harps affordable. I developed a simple method to both entertain and teach them simple songs. Harmonkids was born.
Since then it's become a 501(c)3 tax-deductible nonprofit organization. I've visited many facilities worldwide ranging from children's hospitals, Ronald McDonald Houses, burn recovery centers, cerebral palsy centers, juvenile homes, gang-risk centers, underprivileged, orphanages, evacuee facilities, and refugee camps. I took 1,000 harmonicas and lessons to severely traumatized children in the refugee camps and orphanages of North Sumatra after the Tsunami. I provided the same aid to the traumatized kids evacuated from New Orleans immediately following Hurricane Katrina, and again this year, at the only school to reopen in the Ninth Ward.
Along these lines, I am also actively involved in the Blues Foundation's BITS program. This year  during the IBCs, the Blues Foundation invited me to Memphis to provide my sessions to low-income kids in seven middle schools. I've also worked with kids in Houston twice this year by invitation of the Houston Blues Society and recently taught 300 kids at once at the Levitt Pavilion's children's series in Pasadena.
The sessions have proven to be much more than just an educational and entertaining diversion for challenged kids. I have seen the universal power of music relieve stress, manage pain, and replenish self-esteem, confidence, hope, and joy into children's lives. In return, I am profoundly grateful. The children I work with are a constant inspiration to me. Harmonikids brings great joy and purpose to my life.
I could fill a book with stories. Instead, I'll direct interested readers to Harmonikids website www.harmonikids.org and mine at www.garyallegretto.com.
Bob, turning to you: It's interesting to me that Gary was inspired by the liveliness of the show he saw me do with Muddy Waters more than thirty years ago. I've seen some videos of Muddy's band where we looked like blank-faced zombies, though the music had passion in it at its best. But Gary saw shows that featured Johnny Winter and James Cotton who bring a lot of excitement to the musical experience, beyond what's heard.
I'm glad Gary saw one of those lively shows and was inspired by it, because his life story, personality, stories, and music demand to be expressed with fire. He fulfills that. You've just read how well Gary understands himself and his own interesting journey. You'll find his Many Shades of Blues to be engaging in the same way.
Bob Margolin is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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"... Allegretto is one of the best harp players you'll hear. In an instant he can switch gears from..."... Allegretto is one of the best harp players you'll hear. In
an instant he can switch gears from smooth to sassy. The
reeds jump at his command! Don't miss a rare opportunity
to see and hear this fine blues veteran."
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RE: MANY SHADES OF BLUE- "Gary, you're a class act. You can really play both acoustic and electri...
RE: MANY SHADES OF BLUE-
"Gary, you're a class act. You can really play both acoustic and electric. This record is done with real taste... Vocals are good... the songwriting is quite good... a very enjoyable listen. Congratulations and thank you."
RE: THROWIN' HEAT-
Good energy…virtuostic harp performance…outstanding guitar…a solid band with an Honest, good old-timey feel. Very enjoyable.
[PLEASE SEE DISCOGRAPHY (UNDERNEATH GARY'S BIO) FOR MORE PRESS REVIEWS AND TESTIMONIALS]
HARMONIKIDS, a 501(c)3 tax-deductable charitable organization
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"I am heartily supportive of Harmonikids...we have seen the power of music in transforming young lif..."I am heartily supportive of Harmonikids...we have seen the power of music in transforming young lifes. Gary Allegretto and his work are most worthy of support."
There are extensive press reviews about Allegretto's "harmonica therapy" work with special needs children from the Tsunami refugee camps of North Sumatra to the Katrina evacuee villages of Louisiana and many points in between. Please contact Allegretto at www.harmonikids.org for more info.
HARMONICA WORKSHOPS FOR FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
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IN ADDITION TO HIS LIVE PERFORMANCES GARY OFFERS HARMONICA WORKSHOPS. HERE'S WHAT FOLKS HAVE SAID: ...IN ADDITION TO HIS LIVE PERFORMANCES GARY OFFERS HARMONICA WORKSHOPS. HERE'S WHAT FOLKS HAVE SAID:
Gary Allegretto’s workshops were outstanding and I highly recommend him as a harmonica player/performer, instructor to any other festival or event.
Gary is a professional in every sense of the word, an outstanding instructor, and a terrific person who is easy to work with. The workshops he taught for both children and adults are still receiving rave reviews.”
Director of the CTMS Summer Solstice Folk Festival and Folk Alliance Founder
On behalf of the staff and students here at the Stax Academy, I just wanted to say thank you so much for coming yesterday to work with our students. They were very excited about what they learned and we look forward to working with you again in the future. Thanks again!
Operations Manager, Stax Music Academy
“The harmonica workshops Gary held at the Riverfront Blues Festival were a rousing success. We’re anticipating that his workshops will draw an even larger audience next year. Thanks again.”
Director, Riverfront Blues Festival
Office of the Mayor, Wilmington, Delaware
“Gary was a great asset to our team at our 2007 International Conference as he played many roles including community outreach leader, workshop instructor, and official showcase artist. We appreciate his talent, hard work, flexibility, and dedication towards creating a larger and healthier music community. Both young and old attendees left his invigorating workshops and showcase performances with happy hearts. My personal favorite is having a child ask me recently “when will the Bluesman come again?””
Director of Marketing and Outreach, Folk Alliance
"Gary is an incredible inspiration, an amazing player, performer, and humanitarian. There is nothing more valuable than bringing a smile to the face of a child, and Gary does that."
Producer of the Harmonica Documentary Film "Pocket Full Of Soul"
“I LOVED this! Gary is a wonderful teacher who offers inspiring involvement to the world through his music.”
Set lists and songs depend on the venue. Allegretto and his versatile backing musicians are sensitive to the ambience needs of the venues they play. Venues range from festivals, bars, restaurants, conferences, fund raisers, to private parties. Their clientele have diverse needs which they can accommodate. Thus, repertoires may range from soft jazz-oriented dinner sets, to down-home acoustic country or folk blues, to raucous and rocking Blues and R&B dance sets, or some combination of these. Songs are often original with tasteful versions of songs from Blues forefathers. Sets are lively, refreshingly executed, captivating, never "typical".
There are no upcoming dates at this time.