It happened in 2012, Texan guitarist-singer-songwriter Lance Lopez was planning a visit to Los Angeles to record a new album and producer Fabrizio Grossi suggested they hook up and work on some ideas. The following whirlwind day and a half in the studio resulted in three songs which became the foundation of an exciting new project before they knew it. “Lance is incredible” Fabrizio asserts “I can show him any melody line I want, but that guy ends up putting his bluesy mark on anything, he was born with the blues. It’s so natural for him.”
With a prolific career as a producer, mixer and bass player Fabrizio has worked with some of the finest musicians around today pulling into an array of eclectic styles, from Steve Vai to Tina Arena, Nina Hagen to Alice Cooper as well as Glenn Hughes, Dave Navarro, George Clinton, Joe Bonamassa, Leslie West, Zakk Wylde, Ice T, Slash and Paul Stanley to name a few.
With this huge foundation of friends you are on an ever learning curve and with this a network of contacts brings with it both enhanced abilities and a blossoming reputation. Before Supersonic Blues Machine even existed as it is, the seeds began to be sewn from a hook up with Billy F. Gibbons, “I was telling Billy about my work with Lance” explains Fabrizio before excitedly adding the ZZ Top legends response was “‘Oh, you know Lance? He’s fantastic, I’ve known him since he was a little kid’” and he went on to say that the two should seriously consider working on something together.
The third part of the core was Indiana native drummer Kenny Aronoff who joined the family next. Kenny started working with Fabrizio a few years back, thanks to a meeting with Toto’s Steve Lukather. “I was talking to Steve, who I’ve known for over 20 years, he was one of my first friends in LA. We wanted to do something fun together and I said to him I always wanted to play with Kenny Aronoff, do you know him? He said ‘are you kidding me? Kenny is a very good friend of mine, let’s give him a call.’”
Within 5 minutes of meeting the pair felt like they had known each other for ever, and Aronoff brought with him the experience of working with a huge collection of artists such as John Mellencamp, Smashing Pumpkins, Meat Loaf, Brandon Flowers, John Fogerty, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Joe Cocker amongst a host of others, and their collaboration started. “I could come up with an idea or demo of a song” he says, “but when you revisit it with him, his insight into the drums and the whole rhythm, it just comes from a higher place and the whole thing takes a different twist.”
Supersonic Blues Machine isn’t just a band; it’s a mood, a comradeship, a melting pot of ideas with likeminded people bringing their own unique talents to create something with feeling that is very organic. “I was thinking of all the people we know and thought, how about putting together something like The Who or The Rolling Stones used to do in the early 70s” he adds, “they would put together a record and bring all of their friends on board, I thought that would be cool. Bring back the spirit of camaraderie between musicians.”
Debut album West of Flushing, South of Frisco is a sprawling and emotional journey that has an emphasis on peace, hope, forgiveness and empowerment. Fabrizio’s long-time friend and co-producer, Serge Simic of hard-rockers’ The Slam also puts his stamp on the record as a co-writer with a seamless ability to flit through styles with a keen ear for melody and musical elegance.
An incredible list of collaborators gives the record added warmth and propels it on to a higher level; Billy F. Gibbons, Walter Trout, Warren Haynes, Robben Ford, Eric Gales and Chris Duarte all have a deep and personal connection to the trio of Grossi, Lopez and Aronoff. The importance was to have close friends on the record to have that natural and authentic quality to it. Grossi adds, “We could have done a record that was jam packed of famously random guests, but we didn’t want to do that that’s not the idea.” He elaborates, “It’s not a guest record, those guys are part of our family and just happened to show up on that song, these guys will always be part of our life, they are so important to the sound of Supersonic Blues Machine.”
The first song written for the record was Running Whiskey; “that was Billy” recalls Fabrizio, “he was in the studio and said to come over and we started to put down some ideas and that song came into play and within a couple of days I was telling Billy if you don’t want to use it for ZZ Top or anything I think there is something we can do with this and he said ‘please go ahead, let’s find it a home.’”
From here things began to move, files were swapped over the internet between Fabrizio, Lance, Kenny and Serge. The more ideas started to be passed around the more things developed, they were collecting moods that wasn’t straight textures of blues, rock and Americana, things took on a darker Motown vibe or a “cross between Exile on Main Street and the Allman Brothers Band” as the producer describes.
More friends started to feel the vibe and next up was Gov’t Mule main man and former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes. “I first met him during the production of Tommy Bolin’s Great Gypsy Soul, and I got to really understand Warren and the way he works, it’s a very particular system and I got to appreciate that and we ended up getting very close” he continues, “he is an incredible figure and I got to enjoy the very polite southern gentleman that he is. He has that easy going, never pissed off vibe and that suits me a lot.”
After a Gov’t Mule concert in LA the pair spoke further about the idea of Supersonic Blues Machine, a collaboration of friends and not just to release a record but something they can go out and perform. “I had this idea and I said I think it may be good with you and he just said send it over so I did and that it then we started to exchange a few things” with the laid back Americana of Remedy becoming the end result.
Tennessee guitar virtuoso Eric Gales can turn his hand to dazzling effect to a number of genres and the pair first worked together with funk father George Clinton on a cover of Hendrix Voodoo Child back in 2001. “From meeting him then, it always felt like an aperitif and a few years later doing the record and I said to Lance there’s a guy I would really like to get involved with, Eric Gales. He said ‘are you kidding me I pretty much went to school with Eric, we’ve been best buddies since we were little.’”
The friendship became firmly cemented in 2014, “he is so clever and funny” Fabrizio beams, “when he plays has a higher connection. He is incredible, he is a brother, and he’s a dearest friend in the Supersonic Blues Machine family.” “Nightmares and Dreams it was written in basically 5 minutes one day that Serge was in LA for another project we were working on. I woke up from a weird dream where there was an eerie melody played through a hospital ER’s PA system, I asked Serge to play something to support the melody I was screwing with and the whole thing came to life. One year later (give it or take), I had the same dream, but this time it involved the addition of an out of body experience and as soon as I woke up I wrote the words for it. Eric’s hunted touch on the main melody and his solo really do open that connection.”
“I’ve always been a very big fan of Walter Trout” he says affectionately. Having discussed working on a record previously. “I wanted to do something with him a year and a half ago but that wasn’t a good time, he was having a rough time and was in the hospital, and had obviously way more important things on his mind.”
“When I knew he was playing again I called his wife and said ‘hey Marie, I’m doing this thing, and I would really like to see if we could get Walter to play with us and I don’t know when he is going to be ready.’” Within 5 mins, Walter called back and said “are you fucking shitting me, I’ll bring the guitar.” A few months later they were in the studio recording Can’t Take it No More.
If you listen closely you can hear his the ghostly guitar in the chorus, “never mind the singing or the lead, it’s that haunting guitar” declares Fabrizio before adding “It’s not predominant but its mocking what we’re doing, this otherworldly sound from beyond. I said to him you’re the Supersonics’ Godfather man – he slipped into a higher level of his playing where his delivery is even more in touch with feelings.”
Chris Duarte has been friends with Lance with a long time and started to show interest in working with the Supersonic family and immediately started sending ideas to and forth with the others which became That’s My Way. “I really like his style its very sparkly, it’s a unique attack on his Strat when he plays and he is one of the few guys I know, he has a very fine ear for studio matters and you don’t find that too often they can be fine players and road warriors but not studio cats like that.”
When it came to subtle jazz-rock maestro Robben Ford, who collaborated on Let’s Call It A Day the final piece slotted it magnificently. “Robben is something else” he proclaims, “he epitomizes the bohemian open spirit that California represented in the late sixties, I’ve been blessed to have worked with and become friends with some of the most influential guitar players in the world and Robben is one of those guys, he is on a class of his own! He has got such a gentle delivery that is so perfect – I always say to him you are a rocker trapped in a jazz suit. He says he’s not that guy, but the way he knows music it takes you there. He has the perfect note for the perfect song, so musical and so delicate.”
The winding exploration through the album takes you through different emotions, themes and tones and when Lance himself takes on the lead vocals some of those are profound and some are pure foot to the floor stomp from the bar room rocking of Bone Bucket Blues to the opener Miracle Man which is a twist on the theme from Beyoncé’s Single Ladies and the even more sad “Gold-digger/Free loaders” attitude fortified by Reality trends TV shows. “If you read between the lines, the stereotype: the guy is the dog and the girl gets the short end of the stick, but that isn’t always the case, specially in LA, where there’s a lot of great decent guys out there where but, one has ever given these guys a voice…well we just did , in our “gospelly” type of way.”
The album has moments that come from a dark place and a very personal part of Fabrizio life, he lost his birth mother aged 11 and was growing resentful of God and all related to him. “Around 15-16, I got curious and involved with readings about Aleister Crowley ,The Golden Dawn , Magic or sort, he offers, “then weird things started happening which affected me quite a bit. Even though the whole “dark” infatuation, phased out by the time I was 18/19, it took me a really long time to get rid of the negative vision of matters” and it was this that fed into I Ain’t Falling.
The song touches upon how easy it is to be lured into a permanent negative mood or state when we embrace everything that’s naturally against our own wellbeing. “It’s because it’s deceivingly sold to us with what could be a “logical” explanation or way of thinking. But it also talks about how much better it is, and feels, once you shrug off the rubbish and face your demons once and for all by embracing a positive stance on what your true value and purpose in life truly is.”
Let It Be is about the power of forgiveness and regardless of what an individuals’ background is we all react positively to kindness, “if we learn how to forgive each other our differences, and use them to understand each other and work together instead of building isolation walls or collusive stereotypes, we could all truly be in a better place” he reasons.
Ain’t No Love (In the Heart of the City) is a cover of the late great Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland soulful classic. “The first time I really took the time to listen carefully to this song was during Whitesnake’s legendary concert at Castle Donnington UK in 1983. I was 13 at the time and I was in the UK for a language live in hospitality trade, but still managed to get to the concert. I was really taken by the whole experience and promised myself “one day, I will do this song too”’.
Fast-forward 30 years and Fabrizio was sitting with Lance during a recording break and told him about always wanting to play this song but in his own style, he then responded saying that his first pro gig as guitarist was at 15 with Bobby Blue, “Lance always wanted to record something to honour him. So it was a no brainer.”
Album closer Whatchagonnado is about what Jesus would say if he came back around and talked to people right now. “We’re not a Christian band, we don’t endorse any specific belief, other than what works for you” asserts Fabrizio, “but it seems that everybody embraces this figure and builds his own agenda with it, but how would Jesus really react if he would come back and see all of his teaching twisted around? And we did that with our funky mould.”
West of Flushing, South of Frisco is a reminder of an era that embraced collaborations, one that shared a vision and shared moments, both good and hard, one that put every ounce of their experiences into it, its bleeds emotion but is an uplifting and powerful listen. Now that the Supersonic Blues Machine has begun its journey, there’s a lot more to experience from it.