Chatting with the ‘Tasmanian Devil’–blues musician Rob Tognoni

By José Oliveira and Rosine Alleva, Rock At Night France Correspondents

Venue: At Woodstock Guitars – Ensisheim (France)–Interview with Tob Tognoni

As a music journalist since the 70’s, I had the chance to meet a wonderful bunch of great people and musicians…it is brilliant to see how it still amazes many of them today …. Check it out with this unexpectable ROB TOGNONI’s interview at Woodstock Guitars, East of France, last 4th June..

DSC_0313-1RT: (Looking at my old portfolio Rock pictures….)

Wow… Jimmy Page, he is a gentleman ! The Scorpions, I love them ! I’ll tell you a story some other day ….Brian May ! I met him too, Lou Reed !! off man!

RAN: Lou Reed wanted to kiss me (laugh) and I was a little scared!! So, he said “Man! Don’t be afraid, just take a walk …

RT: “Take a walk on the wild side” …Crazy! What a picture!!!

RAN: Phil Collins!!! I played football with him in 1976 in the back of Särbrucken Stadium, in Germany.

RT: The Cure, Robert Smith, Chris de Burgh ! You’re a legend my friend. My God, this is absolutely unbelievable, what an impressive rock portfolio pictures you have !

Rory Gallagher, this is my weakness, Mister Gallagher .

RAN: Mother’s Finest…

RT: Wow…Blue Oyster Cult, I love their album Agents of Fortune, one of my favorite albums of all time !

RAN: Jethro Tull Drummer, Clive Bunker

RT: Did you see his Solo on You Tube? Just incredible !! I feel like a small man!

RAN: I will be honest with you. I never saw somebody playing with so much fun as you! It’s unbelievable. You love to play. Tell me about your roots.

RT: Roots, Tasmania, Australia, born in 1960. My first ten years, I didn’t know anything about music. When I was a kid it was only Radio music , Country music. To me the music sucked ! Then, this thanks to my older sister, she gave me Deep Purple, Black Sabbath albums and I loved it !

RAN : How did you come to the guitar ?

DSC_0293RT: Two years before my father was killed, I was then 12, I received a guitar from my mother. As soon as I picked it up, I began to play although I didn’t think I was. I think it was a natural thing for me. My mother taught me to play piano, I hated it as a kid, now I love it. I began to play the cords watching a rock music tv program once a week. That’s when I started to dig Rock n’ Roll.

RAN: Was Australia open to rock concerts back then ?

RT: No, no, we started to develop in festivals. The first one was the Sunbury Festival. Deep Purple came, this was back in 1972. My sister went to this festival.

RAN: Then it changed, you have many famous Rock names as AC/DC, of course but also Men At Work or Rose Tattoo.

RT: Actually Ron from Rose Tattoo was supposed to do a Tour with me, but that was 15 years ago and it never happened. Yeah now there are great festivals.

RAN : So, how is the rock scene nowadays ?

RT: Back twenty years ago, it was terrible. The 70’s- 80’s were a great time to play . Then all the pubs decided to make an easy way to make money and put gambling machines in all the clubs, cause Australians are big gamblers. It became legalized and they faced all the bands up. This during fifteen years . Now the new pub owners are music lovers and get rid of all the machines and they bring the bands back in, festivals are starting . Australia is becoming a bit of metal, blues, blues rock and roots music. I’m really proud to say that.

RAN: Talking about your influences, one of the biggest is Jimi Hendrix. Who else ?

RT: Yeah, of course Jimi Hendrix , but also Rory Gallagher was a light influence.

RAN: He was such a great man and a very kind guy…I’ve great memories of our two or three interviews.

RT: Yeah, you met him! I’m jealous man ! I saw him live in 1979 in Tasmania when I was a kid, I was 17. What happened is that I was too drunk and I missed the concert .

I forgot about him until ten years ago when I took a lot of his influence. You see, it’s never too late to listen to people and take influence. You know what I’m saying ?

Ritchie Blackmore influenced me as well.

RAN: What about Steve Morse ?

RT: I heard about Steve Morse in 1990 from a friend. He played a lot of Country stuff mixed with rock, I found him great but then he joined Deep Purple and that didn’t work for me. I saw Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple in Australia in concert in 1983, it was amazing. To me, Blackmore had something more traditional with he music.

RAN: Talking about this actual tour, I think you live in Germany. How do you explain this change from Australia to Germany ?

RT: I met a beautiful woman ! I live in Aix la Chapelle now. I was married in Australia, have a daughter and two grandkids . When I fell in love with Heidi I was separate. Heidi is the most beautiful thing that happened to me. In five years I wrote five albums!! 60% of them are written about her, this is how important this woman is to me ! She thinks I’m crazy but no, she has been an amazing influence in my life.

RAN: Germany is also a great country for Rock N’ Roll…

RT: France as well, is a good country you know.

RAN: And what about Portugal, I was born in Portugal , did you ever play there ?

RT: No, I had an agent in Spain, did a few gigs there and was supposed to play in Portugal but it didn’t work out. I would love to, give me a gig to Portugal (laughs)

RAN: I will take some of your albums with me, I’m going to Portugal in a few days and will give them to some promoters. I’m working for Florida, for ROCK AT NIGHT. Have you been to the US?

RT: No, I don’t really want to … It would be lovely but I think I’m busy enough. I had a gig in Canada and I transited through US. I love Portugal ! Heidi and I spend some holidays in Lisbon and Algarve.

RAN- It’s the first time I hear an Artist saying that he doesn’t want to go to America!!!

RT– You know, Donald TRUMP and all these political stuff, doesn’t interest me at all!

DSC_0315-1RAN: What do you think about European Audience ?

RT: Well, I’ve been playing in Europe for twenty one years now. If you don’t play good, of course there is no reaction, but if you do, it doesn’t matter wherever you play. I think that, as far as for original music, the German public is maybe a bit more open to listening to. In France, I find that the music must be more known. If you play for an open public with original music , they need to hear what they know, it’a risk and they are not so responsive. Basically discovering new Classic Blues Rock is a difficult thing, when I did I was 15. I think European crowds are more willing to listen.

As long as they know my music, it’s fantastic. If they don’t, they are very polite and respectful but I don’t expect too much.

RAN: What are your future plans ?

RT: I recorded a new album at 80%, I will be recording the vocals next week. I release an album every year, since 1995 I put out 18 albums!! And I continue to do so, otherwise you kind of die…

RAN : Do you have a title already for the new album ? And what about “Birra for Lira” ?

RT: We were on holidays in Italy in 2013, I played at an amazing festival. We were stopping looking at those beautiful places drinking beer and wine and the name Birra for Lira just came out. Most of the songs are from this holiday tour. That’s what it’s all about, it’s nonsensical really.

DSC_0305-1RAN: Do you know we have the most beautiful French music shop here at Woodstock Guitars ?

RT: Yeah, I checked it out and I was playing all the Strats ( laughing) !

Can I ask you a question? I want to interview you now ! (Rob takes the mic ….)

RAN – Me? Are you mad?

“Ok, right, this is Rob Tog here, from Tasmania interviewing the man who met FRANK ZAPPA ! “ Yeah, please tell me you met Frank Zappa when ?

RAN: I met him in 1976 at a big open festival in Sarbrucken, Germany with a fantastic Line Up: Frank Zappa, Genesis, Scorpions, Joan Baez, Ten Years After and JohnMc Laughing. It was great !

RT: How did the interview go with Frank ? What kind of a person was he ?

Jose and Frank Zappa
Jose and Frank Zappa

RAN: Well, you know for me Zappa is the “Mozart of the 20th century”. One body guard asked me what was the camera metal box, I told him I was a journalist for a Portuguese magazine (MUSICA & SOM). He looked at it, said “wait a minute” and left to Frank Zappa’s caravan with the magazine. Half an hour later I accompanied him to the caravan …. He knocked at the door and in front of me, suddenly …..Mister Frank Zappa. I was really scared !

RT: Well, I would be too!! How was Frank Zappa, man !! Was he friendly?

RAN: Not in the beginning. In a slang language, he first treated me like an idiot. He was very introverted, private and at that time, hated journalists!…. for finally tell me to sit down and have a friendly chat.

He asked me how was the political situation in Portugal (following the 1974 revolution). After my answer that there were still communists but the situation was changing, he said : have you musical questions for me ? I then asked him what his influences were. He said: Man, are you stupid, didn’t you buy my1st album Freak Out ? All my influences are written on it !! Next question ?

So, with Frank Zappa, you needed really to be prepared.

ZAPPA et la cigaretteRT: He was very private and precise, did you like him?

RAN: When the body guard opened the door and I saw him, I was facing the musical God you know..When I told him his wife was from Portugal, he was very surprised I knew this. I told him I read this. She was 3 when she went to Brazil. Her name was Gail Zappa, she died last year.

RT: Did he say anything really interesting about his music ?

RAN: Of course, I talked about music ! I had the courage – I had one thing for that interview (laughing)- I told him I was really astonished with one thing, I thought he was a bit of a tyrant with his musicians.They were playing one song after the other seamlessly.

RT: I think he was famous for this ! Sorry to interrupt but that was the thing with Frank Zappa’s music! You couldn’t jam with his music. Steve Vai transcribed all Frank’s music. When he said I’m the man for the job, he slapped the music in front of Zappa who said ok ! Cause with his music you can’t improvise. I find that interview you had really interesting, it’s great !

RAN: I also asked him why he was firing people all the time. He answered he wanted to reach musical perfection and all the musicians had to feel that way! He was afraid of people and was staying all the time in his caravan before going on stage.Specially on Rock festivals! Nobody could approach him in backstage!

With the musicians he was really the Boss. There was a backstage for him and another for the musicians, I saw the respect all around.

RT: Well, this was the man who interviewed Frank Zappa and I feel very honored to be interviewed tonight! Thank you very much, this was really cool!

Keep Cool Rob!!!

 Interviews photos: Alain MOREAU – Concert photos: José OLIVEIRA


Jose Oliveira


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