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 its 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
mwe3.com presents the 2016 interview with
Steel-O-Caster master Kay Das
mwe3: 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?
Isnt your wife Italian too? What were your parameters in choosing
the tracks? They werent all instrumentals to begin with, right?
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 NellAnima
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
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?
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.
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 thats a mouthful. That track seems a little more low-key
than some of the others. Theres 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
theres 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
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 lifes challenges brought ups and downs.
And, when when it all seemed over, just then began another climb.
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
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 Zuccheros Diamante
for Anima? Who is Zucchero and how would you describe his music
and influence? Theres 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.
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 its really Italian sounding?
Kay Das: Minas 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, thats 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
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
mwe3: How about the Andrea Boccelli cover of LAppuntamento?
Whats 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.
Track 9 is Canzoni Stonate by Gianni Morandi. It has a
kind of Killing Me Softly effect to it. Theres 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
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 Shannons 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, LEmozione 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 LAmore 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 singers eyes; his memories of their intimate
moments together would never fade and his love for her would never
Track 13 is La Mia Solitudine by Iva Zanicchi. Thats
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
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!
Das: You may realize the this tune is actually an Italian version
of Something Is Happening by Hermans 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 parents knowledge.
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 Hanks 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 Hanks on this track, the
uniqueness being that I was playing a steel guitar and not a normal
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
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?
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 youre listening to these days?
Seems like youre still carrying the torch for what I call 1980s
era Shadows style instrumentals. Whats your take on new music
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 youre 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 Lennons 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
werent more popular? Were they truly a part of the 1950s? When
you think of 1959 its 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 Santos
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?
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...