Vinnie Zummo – Eclectic Guitar Stylist
There are great guitar players….then there are true musicians that are great guitar players. Vinnie Zummo is most definitely the latter. Just by exchanging a bunch of emails and listening to his music you get the sense that Vinnie is literally a walking vessel of music. I imagine if you handed Vinnie a few common everyday items he could create an album that would make your head spin and make producers and engineers scratch their heads….!!! Oh, but give him a guitar and watch out!!!
I first became aware of Vinnie’s guitar playing (but not him) because of the 1988 movie “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” starring Jeff Bridges. The soundtrack from that movie is absolutely killer and the artist was none other than Joe Jackson. It just so happened that Vinnie was Jackson’s guitar player at the time and he was the guitar player that I heard in the background all through the movie. I immediately went out and bought the soundtrack still not knowing the guitarists name. All I knew was the guitar playing was smokin’…and that’s all that mattered to me.
Fast forward about 22 years (gulp) and I meet Vinnie on one of the largest social platforms….Facebook. I was shocked and stunned to learn that all those years it was Vinnie Zummo on those tracks and I was now his Facebook friend….thrilling to me to say the least. One exchange lead to another and I’m reviewing his CD and doing and interview. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I love social media…say it with me now…!!
Vinnis is a super nice guy and one of the most talented guitar players I’ve ever heard. He just oozes music and can play any of it..all of it and on many different instruments! How’s that for the gene pool? His Swinging Guitar Sounds of Young America CD is absolutely amazing and if you do not have it…get it!!! You will not be the least bit disappointed..trust me on this one. So without further delay let’s get to know Vinnie Zummo. He is a great guy and if you dig the interview then friend him up on facebook and check out his music.
300guitars: Hi there Vinnie. Tell us all a little about yourself and why you started playing the guitar.
Vinnie Zummo: I don’t remember a time when I was not involved heavily in music. My Dad played, my sisters played, Uncles. There was always music around. My Dad’s band would rehearse so I never had to learn a standard. Knew them from hearing them around the house. It helped that I have perfect pitch too. I can clearly remember being in a crib and waiting for the time when I would be old enough to play! I swear …that’s true. From birth music was an overwhelming passion for me.
300guitars: What was your first guitar? And first amp?
Vinnie Zummo: First guitar? Well…I learned on My Dad’s old parlor model Gibson acoustic. A beautiful sounding guitar I still use but the first guitar I ever owned myself was a Danelectro and a small piggy back Danelectro amp. My second a Panaramic! That’s the red guitar I’m playing on the cover of my album.
300guitars: Who were some of your early influences and who do you listen to now?
Vinnie Zummo: Beatles, Beatles, Beatles,Chet Atkins, Charlie Christian, Django Rhinehardt, Clapton, Hendrix, Randy California, Pat Martino, Hank Garland, Steve Morse, Eddie Van Halen, Jimmie Vaughn, Alan Holdsworth, Billy Gibbons …And did I mention ? The Beatles. Also, Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin Spoonful. A vastly under rated cat. Played just the right note at just the right time, every time. Jeff Beck is still playing amazing! I don’t really listen to any guitarists these days. If I hear something I’ll stop and listen but I don’t seek it out. I have a heavy practice routine (4 or 5 hours a day) and I don’t want to be influenced by other players. It may sound odd but I’m not really a fan of listening to guitarists. I ‘m playing a lot of jazz and my favorite thing to listen to and study is piano trios. I’ve never been a big fan of jazz guitarists. I’d rather hear a pianist. That being said I think John Scofield is the best guitarist playing jazz today.You will notice I did not call him a jazz guitarist. He just happens to be playing jazz on the guitar. My old pal John has reached new heights on the instrument. I love Metheny, Pat Martino, Tim Miller as well, but Sco is doing amazing things with the instrument. I feel that at a certain point U have to concentrate on your own playing.
300guitars: What are some of your favorite guitars that you use most often these days?
Vinnie Zummo: I am a big Steinberger freak. I have kind of short, stubby fingers so the scale of the neck and the way things lay on the axe suit me. My main axe is an old Transtrem for most things but use a custom made Berger’ for playing with my Bop Trio. Then new Transtrem is very cool and the Steinberger Transcale is an amazing guitar! It has a built in capo as well as a seriously kool transducer. A very unique sound that’s great for layering. U can hear that one extensively on my song Aloo Bobbily. I have an Eppie Casino guitar & Viola bass that I’ve been using while recording the new album. I also have an old Gibson SG I love. The SG has some Di MArzios that Larry, an old friend, hand wound for me back in the day. I think he makes the best pickups on the planet. DiMarzios and La Bella strings are my total sound. We used the SG on Take The Cream & Photograph from Swinging Guitar Sounds Of Young America CD. I also use an old Steinberger M Series guitar for a lot of chord tracking. For any serious soloing I like to use the Transtrem tho’. That guitar is an extension of my body. Just feels like home to me. On the new album there is a jump blues song and for that one I used an old no name Japanese guitar I like to call the Beast. I have an old De Armond pickup on it and there really is not a proper bridge on it. The string guide section of the bridge is just resting on a piece of wood. That axe has an odd resonant quality to the sound and it just sounds OLD! The solos sound like they were recorded in 1953! Some of my best blues playing. I’m so proud of it.
300guitars: And how about amplifiers or are you going the direct route?
Vinnie Zummo: Yeah. I’m an oddity as far as guitarists go. I have no great love affair with amps. Going direct with preamps or using any amp that’s lying around. It’s all fine to me. That being said I use an Acoustic Image amp when I play with my jazz trio and in combination with the custom made Berger that amp has given me my own jazz sound. It has great projection. For recording I usually go direct. I’m fond of the Vox Tonelab. Sounds great! For my song Take The Cream with Graham Maby and Shawn Peltonwe got it live in the studio in two takes. I used a vintage Marshall stack and a Peanut Butter pedal and we did it quickly. When I got the tracks home tho’ I did not like 4 or 5 licks in my solo. I decided to replace the lines so I split my signal and recorded the Vox Tonelab with the intent of just using it for a reference track and for feel. One of the split signals just went dry to a separate track. I then gave the direct licks to Uber engineer Kyle Kelso to reamp. But when he heard the tracks he felt that the Vox sounded so good that there was no need to reamp! He just EQed the Tonelab trak to match the Marshall and U can’t tell the difference. Makes U wonder why we bother recording amps! For the new album I am using the Tech 21 Liverpool pedal quite a bit. It sounds amazing direct and we are going to run the Liverpool trax thru an amp as well. A cool little pedal.
300guitars: What is on your pedalboard?
Vinnie Zummo: Wow! Got a week? I am using a lot of the Pigtronix stuff, the Pigtronix Echolution is just amazing, The Glen Wylie pedals Overtron and Peanut Butter, Hermidios Zen Drive (I used the Zen Drive for the solo on Ringo and many others on my album.) The Source Audio Multiwave distortion is really cool as well. A very unique Distortion for a new era. The new Tech 21 pedals are amazing I am using the Liverpool pedal quite a bit. I recently got an Ethos pedal also which sounds fantastic for direct recording. Steve Vai sent me one of his Bad Horsie Wahs and the Gemini distortion pedal. (Thanx Steve!) and I used both for a Hendrix like song on my new album. They sound great! Suited the song to a tee. I also have a LOT of Zoom stuff and for my trio I use a Digitech multi EFXand Roland guitar synth.
300guitars: What are some of your favorite projects you have worked on?
Vinnie Zummo: I’m proud of my 7 years with Joe Jackson but I love playing with my jazz trio and I had a gig with Mike Maineri last year that was just amazing. A truly great player. There have been many projects I’ve played on that were not released that I wish had been heard. My fave thing I’ve ever done so far though is my Swinging Guitar Sounds Of Young America CD. It truly represents my playing.
300guitars: Your Swinging Guitar Sounds of Young America CD has many, many different styles on it. What made you put together an album that is so diverse?
Vinnie Zummo: Well…I had gone through a rough period where I lost 4 close family members back to back in a 3 year period. Long illnesses the whole thing…I was grief stricken. I was trying to come up with a way to get out of the grief and I decided to go back to the music that made me want to pick up a guitar in the first place. It worked. By the time I got to tracking for the song “Ringo” I was smiling and really into the idea. The album really wrote and recorded itself. The whole process was so natural. Most of the solos were first takes and I approached the whole thing in a casual manner which is unlike me. I’m usually a perfectionist. There were so many moments that just flowed. The song for my Mom Without You Here is a good example. I wrote the chords just on a whim and they were fairly complex. I gave the ruff piano and drum loop track to my wife Janice one morning right after waking. Within 20 minutes she came out with the most amazing melody and set of words! We sat in our bathrobes and sang the melody into Pro Tools just so we would not forget it. I was holding the microphone in my hand and passing it to her for her lines! When we heard it back we knew we would not be doing the vocal over. It had such emotion. U can hear us choking up while singing. I then played some drums and bass and came up with what I feel is my best solo. Pretty much one take then I doubled it. When my sister first heard the song she said she did not cry till she heard the guitar solo. All the emotion is in that solo.
300guitars: How many styles do you actually play? Or I should ask how many styles don’t you play!!
Vinnie Zummo: I just play. I don’t deal in styles. I’m all about just sitting down and doing stuff. I want to write a Beatles like song? I sit down and write one. Same with playing. I just play. If someone wants to put a label on it after the fact that’s cool but I don’t think about it those terms. I’ve always been all about making music since I was born. I never over think it. I just like to play and I LOVE to write.
300guitars: Do you play any other instruments besides the guitar?
Vinnie Zummo: Yeah. Accordion, drums, chromatic harmonica, some keys, bass and I am really conversant in the whole loop making thing due to the Hip Hop loop cds I create for Zero G.
300guitars: What are your interests outside of music?
Vinnie Zummo: I don’t have any. Pizza I guess. I really do music all day long, all week long, all year long. I love spending some time with my wife, family, and friends but really it’s all about music to me.
300guitars: What are some of the most memorable moments of your career?
Vinnie Zummo: Playing with Joe Jackson was amazing. We had some great moments in concert. Playing Wembly, Madison Square Garden., doing the Tonight Show when Johnny Carson was there. Once I was touring with Joe and we were in Nawlins’ and we were taken to a club10 miles out of town. The club had a dirt floor.They had a Zydeco band there and the band’s equipment was literally held together with gaffers tape. I sat in and played rhythm guitar for a full set. The groove was so fierce I had no interest in playing a solo. The groove made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. One of the great moments in my career. The odd thing is neither the band or myself ever stopped to think about how odd it was that I played an entire set of music that i did not know and made all the chords. It was just so natural it was just in the air.
300guitars: What plans do you have for the future?
Vinnie Zummo: Just want to make music. I am hard at work on Swinging Guitar Sounds Of Young America II
300guitars: Thanks a lot Vinnie for taking the time for this interview!!!!
Vinnie Zummo: My pleasure.I always enjoy talking about music.
Here is the video for the track entitled “Ringo” that is on Vinnie’s album Swining Guitar Sounds of Young America.
Here is another clip of him jazzing… Sophistry #2 (Outer Space Version)