(Kay Das Music)


On his 18th solo album, the 2016 release of Anima, Steel-O-Caster master Kay Das offers listeners an instrumental steel guitar tribute to the songwriting artistry of 20th Century Italian pop music. Speaking to mwe3.com about Anima, Kay adds, “I became interested in Italian pop music about forty years ago, at the time of meeting the girl I was to share my life with, Adriana, who is from Italy. I found that following and learning Italian lyrics was a great way of learning the language. I also found that many Italian song lyrics were intelligently written with a ‘scene behind the scene'." Most non-Italian speaking listeners will most likely be unfamiliar with the Italian singers and songwriters covered and honoured here but it’s clear that guitar fans, especially steel guitar fans, will enjoy the instrumental sounds Kay offers on Anima. Ever the musical optimist, Kay singles out Santo & Johnny as one Italian-American connection here. Johnny & Santa Farina were the NYC-based brother guitar team who cut “Sleep Walk” way back in 1959. Kay further explains, “Santo & Johnny in the 1960s and ‘70s did something similar to Anima in producing instrumental versions on steel guitar of a number of contemporary Italian vocal hits right up to a few years ago.” Kay spotlights their artistry with his CD closing version of “Sleep Walk”, yet Santo and Johnny never received the recognition they so rightly deserved in the guitar world, even though the same could be said about Hank Marvin and Duane Eddy and in 2016 you might want to add the name Kay Das as well. Kay Das has recorded a number of great instrumental steel-o-caster guitar tribute albums to The Shadows and to his love of Hawaiian music so, and the Italo-hit tribute Anima is yet another fascinating chapter in the ever unfolding guitar universe of Kay Das. www.kaydas.me / kaydas@me.com

mwe3.com presents the 2016 interview with
Steel-O-Caster master Kay Das

: Why do you call your 2016 CD, your 18th solo album Anima? And why an Italian music tribute album? Aside from the Santo & Johnny influences, what other Italian music influences do you have? Isn’t your wife Italian too? What were your parameters in choosing the tracks? They weren’t all instrumentals to begin with, right?

Kay Das: Thanks for getting in touch, Robert. Hope all is well with you. ‘Anima’ is Italian for ‘soul’ and also part of the title for the second track by Gianna Nannini, “Sei Nell’Anima” or, translated literally, ‘You are in my soul’.

I became interested in Italian pop music about forty years ago at the time of meeting the girl I was to share my life with, Adriana, who is from Italy. I found that following and learning Italian lyrics was a great way of learning the language. I also found that many Italian song lyrics were intelligently written with a ‘scene behind the scene’. All the tracks, with the exception of “Sleep Walk”, have lyrics in their original versions.

Santo and Johnny in the 1960s and ‘70s did something similar to Anima in producing instrumental versions on steel guitar of a number of contemporary Italian vocal hits right up to a few years ago. Italian Being Served was one of their last albums released in 2009 containing some very popular Italo-American hits. I would like listeners to think of Anima as a tribute and a continuation of a genre originated by Santo and Johnny.

The tracks are a collection of tunes recorded over the last few years with different accompanists. With regard to how I chose them, there was no fixed selection criteria; simply a notion that they might sound good on a steel guitar with a 6th tuning. Many Italian tunes dive into minor progressions from major and vice versa and this can make them sit well on a 6th tuning which by definition is also an inverted minor 7th. The tunings I use most frequently are C6th and A6th, both with an E as the top string. I have used the B11 tuning on occasion too. For the acoustic steel I use an open D tuning. My method was to study the vocal tracks and then emulate the vocals on the steel guitar.

mwe3: The Anima CD starts off with a track called, “Un Uomo Senza Tempo”. Can you give some history on Iva Zanichhi and how you found that track?

Kay Das: “Un Uomo Senza Tempo” by Iva Zanocchi is dedicated and addressed to her father who has passed on. The wheel of time keeps moving but he remains dear to her heart, she who resembles him and carries his blood in her veins. Many of us baby boomers would, I am sure, relate to those sentiments too.

Iva Zanicchi, still popular today, and now having entered the world of politics, distinguished herself with a soulful mezzo-soprano voice that could have done well, if given the chance, in some of the early R&B recordings. She is popular on both Spanish and Italian contemporary music scenes. This has to be one of my most favorite tunes. I first listened to it on an old vinyl album.

mwe3: Track 2 is by Gianna Nannini called “Sei Nell’ Anima”. That has the title of the CD in it? Is that the title track? Where did you find that? It has a definite Shadows feel to it! Instro or vocal original? It sounds like an out take off of Steppin’ To The Shadows.

Kay Das: Gianna Nannini is a hugely popular contemporary star with a number of hits including “Sei Nell’ Anima”. She has also recorded an English version of this tune called ‘”Hold The Moon”. Any resemblance to tracks in ‘Steppin’ To The Shadows is purely coincidental. I try to give listeners the opportunity to listen to a steel guitar with a more modern timbre than the mainstream one. I first heard the tune while driving and tuned in on a FM radio station while in Italy and the moment I heard it I knew I had to make my own version of it.

mwe3: Track 3 is “Che Fantastica Storia È La Vita”. Whew that’s a mouthful. That track seems a little more low-key than some of the others. There’s some sweeping strings on that song. For some reason, the guitars sound different on that track. Did you use some different guitar approach on that track? Sounds like there’s multiple guitars on the song.

Kay Das: “Che Fantastica Storia È La Vita” translates to ‘What a Fantastic Story Life Is’ and I used several guitars, electric and acoustic. It is sometimes difficult to “instrumentalize” songs with repetitive words, but I hope to have not lost too much in the process. Seemed an attractive tune to me. I used a Johnson J Station for some of the lead work. Antonello Venditti is a much-revered contemporary male singer in Italy today.

The lyrics talk of the lives and aspirations of four human beings. Starting with himself, he wanted to be a singer and songwriter against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to become a professional. In the case of Laura, she got a degree but having only found employment after thousands of applications as an office-clerk, lives with her only love, her son and with her parents who live on a single pension. He then draws a picture of Jesus as a fisherman and lastly of Aisha, an immigrant who risked her life to escape and to land on rocky shores. In all four instances life’s challenges brought ups and downs. And, when when it all seemed over, just then began another climb.

mwe3: How about track 4 “E Salutala Per Me”? Rafaella Carrà sang the original ? Does that track have more of a real “Italian” feel to it in your opinion? This track has a very early 1960s feel to it!

Kay Das: You are dead right, this track has a distinct Italian feel to it with major and minor runs as I have alluded to earlier. It was a big hit for Rafaella Carrà. It translates to ‘Wish her for me’. It can be classified as an Italian ‘torch’ song. I love the composition.

mwe3: What made you choose Zucchero’s “Diamante” for Anima? Who is Zucchero and how would you describe his music and influence? There’s a great hook in that song. When did you first hear it? I was going to say, it also has a kind of George Harrison influence too. What are your other favorite Zucchero songs as far as possible other covers?

Kay Das: Zucchero Fornaciari is one of the current big names in Italian pop and is something of a folk hero. He has his own vocal imprint which has a lot of blues influences. I am intrigued that you found a George Harrison influence, and I think you are right. A very talented performer, he has also sung songs in English. “Diamante” was one of his biggest hits, much loved and remembered today by the Italian public at large.

Zucchero also made a famous version of the Giuseppe Verdi composition for the opera Nabucco , “Va Pensiero”, which is probably the most likely composition to bring an Italian to tears. He did a pseudo-pop version with Luciano Pavarotti.

Anyway, back to “Diamante”, it has lyrics with a ‘meaning behind the meaning’ sense that I referred to earlier. In the original vocal recording you can hear the real voice of his mother calling him by his real name. ‘Diamante’, or ‘Diamond’ refers to her. The lyrics speak of the end of the war, presumably World War 2, when soldiers reunited with their loved ones.

mwe3: Track six, “Vorrei Che Fosse Amore” by Mina is much more of a real Italian song right? Sounds like a singing advertisement for Italy! Did you pick that because it’s really Italian sounding?

Kay Das: Mina’s “Vorrei Che Fosse Amore” which translates to “I wish It Were Love” is a quintessential Italian tune, and I think you are right about the singing advertisement!! Mina is one of the most successful Italian singers of all time and a dominant figure in Italian pop music in the sixties and seventies and continuing. She possesses a three octave vocal range.

mwe3: Track 7 is the I Pooh track “La Ragazza Con Gli Occhi Di Sole”. Wow, that’s a mouthful! Any translation on that title? What kind of guitar sound were you going for on that? I heard the name I Pooh but never heard the artist. Who were they or is it one person? Great guitar contrasts from the fuzz to a more near nylon string sound or are those synths that sound like acoustic guitars?

Kay Das: I Pooh is a four-man Italian group that reached their peak in the 1970s and are still famous and sought after. “La Ragazza Con Gli Occhi Di Sole” translates idiomatically to “The Girl With The Bright Eyes”. My Italian friend and keyboard artiste, Nando, did all the backing on this one and chose to have a synthetic guitar timbre to emulate the Ovation guitar tones in the original. The lyrics speak of seeing a girl on a train and the quest of seeing her again, even though she never got to know him. A tale of unrequited love.

mwe3: How about the Andrea Boccelli cover of “L’Appuntamento”? What’s the Boccelli influence?

Kay Das: The Andrea Bocelli version of this tune, which translates to ‘The Date’ ( as in ‘dating’) is itself a cover of an original sung and artistically executed by Ornella Vanoni. Andrea lent his special warm male voice to his version and I have tried to capture it on steel. I would classify this tune as another, which is quintessentially Italian contemporary.

mwe3: Track 9 is “Canzoni Stonate” by Gianni Morandi. It has a kind of “Killing Me Softly” effect to it. There’s some quite sonic guitar sounds on that song.

Kay Das: Gianni Morandi is also a big name in Italian contemporary music, much loved. He started out as a shoeshine boy. Translating to ‘Songs Out Of Tune’, this tune laments the absence of a loved one, a singer in a group. Yes, maybe a bit of “Killing Me Softly” but quite unrelated. I also play normal guitar on this track.

mwe3: Some hot acoustic guitar sounds open track 10, “La Bambola” written by Patty Pravo. I was going to say it has as much drama as a Del Shannnon track. Del would have loved it but who is Patty Pravo? Must have a made a great vocal track! Another kind of Shadows-esque ‘80s track?

Kay Das: Yes, I remember Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and the rhythm guitar run at the beginning makes you expect a Hank Marvin solo to follow! “La Bambola” translates to ‘The Doll’. Patti Pravo was an Italian singer. She was most popular in the 1960 and throughout the ‘70s. She experienced a career revival in the mid-1990s and reinstated her position in Italian music charts. Her most popular songs were "La Bambola" and "Pazza Idea". She did make a successful comeback in the ‘90s.

mwe3: Track 11, “L’Emozione Non Ha Voce” is different sounding. It has a kind of Hawaiian music sound. Written by Adriano Celentano? The name sounds familiar…

Kay Das: Adriano Celentano is probably the most loved Italian male singer in the baby boomer generation; his career has spanned more than two generations. This tune, which translates to ‘Emotion Has No Voice’ was a challenge to record instrumentally and I tried to capture the emotion behind the words. The lyrics speak of a declaration of unconditional, eternal love. Without her he feels incomplete in spite of their differences.

mwe3: Track 12, “Ti Fa Bella L’Amore” has a real Italian sounding title. Nicola Di Bari wrote it? Any history you can share on that? It has a kind of ambient feel to it.

Kay Das: This translates to ‘Love Makes You Beautiful’, another emotional song that I tried to capture the spirit of. Nicola di Bari, who also started from very humble beginnings, became one of the most loved Italian contemporary singers in the 1970s with his characteristically warm voice. He also rose to fame in South America. The lyrics comprise words to a woman who is advancing in years, still beautiful to the singer’s eyes; his memories of their intimate moments together would never fade and his love for her would never diminish.

mwe3: Track 13 is “La Mia Solitudine” by Iva Zanicchi. That’s the second Zanicchi song on Anima. Are minor to major key changes a signature sound in Italian songs? Any other Zanicchi songs or albums you could recommend?

Kay Das: You are dead right, Robert, a mix of major and minor keys so typical of Italian pop of recent decades as mentioned before. It translates to ‘My Solitude’ as maybe you can guess.

mwe3: Track 14 “Non Credere” is another track by Mina. What else can you tell us about Mina and that track? The drums sound great on that song!

Kay Das: I used a third party backing track by Alta Marea and augmented it with live rhythm guitar tracks and others; the drums originate from the Alta Marea stable. ‘Do not fix anything that is not broken’ was my guiding principle here. Speaking of which, I have found playing with various groups here in California, that the drummer makes an enormous difference to a band. So thanks to Ringo Starr of The Beatles and Brian Bennett of The Shadows and many others. Drummers do not always get the drum roll of honor!

Mina returned and recorded this song, which translates to ‘Do Not Believe’.

mwe3: Track 15 is “Luglio” by Riccardo Del Turco is another real Italian sounding track. It has a kind air of familiarity to it. Sounds like you really went to town on the Hawaiian-esque guitar sounds and what about those pizzacato xylophone sounds? Must have been a fun vocal track to begin with!

Kay Das: You may realize the this tune is actually an Italian version of “Something Is Happening” by Herman’s Hermits, called Luglio, which is Italian for July. Not so sure about any intentional Hawaiian influences. This is another Alta Marea accreditation. The lyrics speak of a love born during a summer holiday and a promise that it would never end.

mwe3: Track 16 “Il Cuore È Uno Zingaro” originally sung by Nicola Di Bari, his second song on this album, has a kind of Morricone effect on it. Which brings me to ask why no Morricone covers on Anima?

Kay Das: Translates to ‘My Heart is a Gypsy’. No Morricone covers simply because I was running out of track space. I have a Morricone cover, “Chi Mai”, on a previously released on CD, so felt no need to repeat it. Maybe more of Morricone on a future album, he is so talented a composer, top drawer!

mwe3: Track 17, “Soli” is another Adriano Celentano cover. What else can you say about “Soli”. Nice accordion effect on the track, which gives it a very Euro sound. Is that one of the more upbeat tracks on Anima?

Kay Das: “Soli” has some very nice words… the accordion effect is by me, played on a Roland E-09 sampler. The lyrics speak of a couple in love, longing for togetherness, far from everyday routine. The singer tells everyone not to call as no one will answer the door, the phone has been thrown out of the fourth story window, and the TV has been kicked aside leaving just the two of them finally alone without their parent’s knowledge.

mwe3: Which brings us to the CD closing cover of “Sleep Walk” by Santo & Johnny. Is this your first cover of “Sleep Walk”? When did you first hear it and why did you choose the close the Anima CD out with “Sleep Walk”? Did you cover it this time in the style of Hank’s more recent versions of “Sleep Walk”? Did you set out to do it in a unique way?

Kay Das: I have made a few versions of “Sleep Walk” over the years and some informal/impromptu versions of are available on Youtube. It is such a simple but lovely tune and I play it with small different nuances when in public. On disc, however, I try to remain more constant as this is what the public expects. You may notice a few different influences, including Hank’s on this track, the uniqueness being that I was playing a steel guitar and not a normal guitar.

mwe3: Did you spend more time on certain tracks on Anima than others? How long did it take you to pick and choose the tracks and then how long to produce and record the CD?

Kay Das: As I might have mentioned during a previous interview for a previous CD, Sweet Sound of Beautiful, I have had this production in mind over a long time, and felt it was time to put things together, package it and put a ribbon on it. Yes, depending on complexity and start point the time spent per track was variable. I have just one mantra and that is that I work in detail on only one song at a time although I may have a dozen buzzing in my head. While recording I try to be as simple as possible and to fix things rather than “comp” them. All my recent tracks over the past ten years have been recorded on 24 bit audio. It takes me about 6 months to produce and record a CD.

mwe3: So now with 18 solo albums out under your name, how soon before you have to issue a kind of CD box set? Are you happy being the man of mystery of the steel guitar? Have you had albums out in India or even Italy? Where do you think your music is most well accepted?

Kay Das: “Man of Mystery”, I like that, being a Shadows fan and that tune being one of my favorites! Hmmm… a CD box set… No I have not had albums out specifically in any one country. My distribution channels are the usual ones…cdbaby, iTunes, Amazon etc for both, CDs and individual tracks. This album requires a slightly different approach I feel as the main target is Santo and Johnny aficionados and also the Italian public at large and also anyone who likes a pretty tune irrespective of country of origin.

mwe3: Any new insights into Hank Marvin and George Harrison in 2016? Would you say those are still your two biggest influences as far as your guitar sound and songs go?

Kay Das: Hank Marvin, Jeff Beck, Chet Atkins, Mark Knopfler and a few notable steel guitar players, Buddy Emmons, Jerry Byrd, Alan Akaka, Bobby Ingano to name just a few have been major influences. George will continue to be a guiding influence.

mwe3: What was it like working with your son David Das on Anima and did you and David introduce any new production / recordings ideas to the sessions?

Kay Das: David is always my guiding light when he can spare time for me from his very busy schedule. He did the mastering. The recording ideas are mostly mine.

mwe3: Any news on what you’re listening to these days? Seems like you’re still carrying the torch for what I call 1980’s era Shadows style instrumentals. What’s your take on new music in 2016?

Kay Das: I have recently become more proactive in Internet Radio and produce a weekly show on Sunday nights 9 to 11 pm West Coast time. The show is called ‘Instrumentally Yours’, and features instrumentals and vocal tracks, which have notable instrumental intros, riffs, “middle eights” and/or outros. As you may guess, there is somewhat of an emphasis on Shadows-style music but I do feature a large number of other performers too/ Regarding new music in 2016 I do wish a return to more structure and less repetition than in much of the music of today. There are a myriad new sounds, techniques, and timbres available today and so the means of producing music have never been more available.

mwe3: You were just in Italy in June. Tell us more about your trip. Gotta be more than coincidence you’re in Italy and you release a guitar tribute to Italy. What do you like best about Italy? What did you think of England leaving the EU in June 2016? Is Europe as strong as it was?

Kay Das: I have just returned from Italy, and yes, the visit coincides with the release of Anima. I am on a quest for marketing innovations. The steel guitar is not well known in Italy but there are a few good performers, which is quite remarkable as there is not a lot by way of medium of instruction. There are not many teachers or institutions promoting this art. In general the standard of musicianship in Italy is quite high. And, of course, summer is the season of performance, music, and dance. That is what I like best about Italy.

I was not in favor of the UK leaving the European Union. I was living in the UK at the time it became a member and this seems like a retrograde step no matter all the reasons for exiting. To me, it makes economic sense joining hands to lower trade barriers and markets congregated. I recall John Lennon’s lyrics in “Imagine”.

However, there has been a democratic referendum and the UK will need to live by it. Such a difficult and multidimensional issue should never have been decided by Joe Public but by those elected to make such important decisions. I am a little doubtful, however, that it can really be executed. It is difficult to dig up roots of a tree that has been growing more than forty years.

mwe3: In the liner notes for Anima you talk about Santo & Johnny with reverence. When did you first hear Santo & Johnny and what are your favorite albums of theirs? Why do you think they weren’t more popular? Were they truly a part of the 1950s? When you think of 1959 it’s hard not to think of “Sleep Walk”! Is “Sleep Walk” still the most famous guitar instrumental of all time?

Kay Das: I first heard Santo and Johnny in 1959 on a radio program from the then Radio Ceylon which used to broadcast quality music to the S.E. Asia region and I well remember the first tune. It was “The Long Walk Home”. I loved it, but do not hear much of it nowadays. Being early in my teen years at the time I associated it with my ‘puppy loves’. The plaintive tone of Santo’s steel guitar captivated me. I was also learning the steel guitar at the time, courtesy of my mother, to whom I would have made reference in your previous interview with me.

You will not believe the number of times I have had people come up to me after I have performed “Sleep Walk” asking for the name of that tune and referring to it bringing back memories of their younger years. Yes, “Sleep Walk” is probably the most popular baby-boomer instrumental of all time. And Santo and Johnny were popular in Italy, the UK, and maybe in other countries too. In Italy more so, because of their Italian origins. I was sitting at a restaurant at the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) in Rome last Christmas-time and being pleasantly surprised to hear Santo and Johnny being played over the sound system.

mwe3: Any other developments in the guitar world for you in 2016? Have you been impressed with any new developments in the guitar world and how is your Steel-o-caster guitar? When is Anima officially released and have you given more thought to the second half of 2016 and even 2017?

Kay Das: From my viewpoint as a radio host and also my regular attendance at the NAMM show every year, I think the guitar world is alive and healthy. It is surprising how many times a steel guitar-like timbre is used (steel guitar, slide guitar, dobro), sometimes with a fuzz or overload, by mainstream artists like George Harrison, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck and many others. I could go on…

I had always wanted to get a “Strat-sounding” lap steel and the Steelocaster custom made for me by Bob Littlewood of West Coast Steel Guitars has done me proud.

I intend to continue making music on the steel guitar, seeking new avenues and re-treading old ones, some originals, maybe even some vocals. I would also like to have the steel guitar combine in performance and recording with other instruments like woodwind, brass, strings etc. So much music to make and so little time...


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