From the Delta blues to hard bop to swing, Mike DiBari has mastered the numerous incarnations of jazz and blues guitar playing. He sometimes blends these styles seamlessly to create a soulful sound all his own. Mike took a moment to talk with us about his playing and using VOX Valvetronix amps.
VOX: When did you begin your life journey as a musician?
Mike: Well, I guess I started pretty young. I must’ve been around 13, or 14 years old when I first picked up a guitar. I didn’t really get too serious about it until my later teens but I had a rock band when I was in high school and we actually did pretty well, it was a pretty good band. It lasted into my early twenties and that’s when I started getting into jazz and stuff and started branching out into different directions.
V: Who, if anyone, is an influence on your style?
M: Well, I don’t know. I mean, there are a lot of different people depending on what day of the week it is. I would say most recently, as far as me as a jazz musician, Barney Kessel. He’s been a big influence on me. Pat Martino…he’s the one I was fortunate enough to study with, so personally he’s had a big impact on what I do. As a matter of fact, the last CD that I released, I wrote a lot of songs basically on what we had discussed, and the kind of stuff that he was teaching which enabled me to write the music. So he really helped me out, he was a big influence on me. So those are the guys in jazz that I listen to. I like Kenny Burrell, he’s always been one of my favorite players. When I grew up, I was always listening to a lot of different players. I like a lot of blues guitarists. I listen to guys like Freddy King, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and of course their influence is still pretty prevalent in stuff that I do, even if I am doing more of a jazz kind of thing, I think I’m always getting the blues in there.
V: Yeah, you seem to blend the styles pretty seamlessly.
M: Well, that’s kind of where I’m at, at this point. I don’t really want to have the label go one way or the other, I think that there’s room for both. You don’t have to really gravitate towards one or the other, you can find some common ground in between, and make some good music in the process. I think there’s a lot of room in there to get it all happening
V: What current projects do you have going on?
M: There will be a new Mike DiBari Trio release titled Standards. Then there’s something that I have on the back burner; I’ve recorded a demo. The last CD was kind of like a concept album, so I’m going to be doing something that’s along the lines of…well, a suite. It’s called the Forever Home Suite, and basically what inspired me to write this music was the animals in the local shelter. So I kind of composed a movement for each animal. It’s kind of interesting. So if you listen to each movement, you’ll hear the characteristics of each different animal in there. I’ve got one for cats, one for rabbits, another one for dogs. I try to get their little characteristics into the music. I’m probably going to put that on my website soon. It’s a project that I’m getting ready to unveil, but I still haven’t recorded it officially yet, I’ve just done a demo of it. So I’m probably going to have some of the demo tracks available at some point. And then I’m doing a lot of stuff with other artists. I’ve recorded something recently with Toni Lynn Washington, she’s a blues singer. She’s pretty well-known in New England, but I guess she’s got some kind of national press as well. She’s been nominated for blues awards several times, which used to be called the W.C. Handy Award, so it’s been great to work with her and we just recorded a CD. I also play a lot with Doug James and Sax Gordon. Doug James was one of the founding members of Room Full of Blues, and we did a CD together recently and we were thinking about recording some more stuff.
V: Cool…and you’re still gigging with the trio and the Swingtet?
M: Yeah, exactly. We’ve been playing mostly local clubs. The Swingtet is sort of a favorite of the swing dancers in the area around here. We do a lot of those big dance hall-type gigs, where all the dancers show up and we get like a few hundred people, so that’s definitely a fun gig. But no recordings, that’s another thing I want to try and get happen, is maybe another swing record.
V: Ok, let’s talk gear. How did you first get into the Valvetronix line?
M: Well, it’s kind of funny, it was really by accident. I went into Guitar Center and what happened was I had a hernia operation last year so I wasn’t able to lift heavy things, so I had to find an amp that was lighter. That was my goal, to basically just get a smaller amp that I didn’t have to haul. I was playing and I still occasionally use a Fender Deluxe Reverb, which is fairly heavy, but I needed something that was really light, so I just went in to try a couple of amps and the salesman said, “Have you ever tried the Valvetronix?” I mean I had always heard about VOX and I’ve always admired some of my favorite guitar players in the past who are VOX people like Brian May and Paul Weller. I was influenced a lot by The Jam when I was in high school so I remember seeing the VOX and of course, the Beatles. But I just didn’t think, “Well, gee maybe I should give it a try.” So I plugged in and I thought it sounded great! I was amazed at how much it really sounded like a tube amp just in the store, so I just bought it right on the spot.
V: Cool. Any favorite functions or sound settings on there?
M: Well, I kind of gravitate more towards the classic models like the AC15. I think that’s probably the one I use the most, and I like the tweed model on there too, that’s nice. And of course the AC30 is another one. Those are the ones I kind of use the most. Occasionally I get into the…what’s that one called that’s supposed to sound like a 50-Watt Marshall? That’s a nice one. That kind of gives you that “Peter Frampton-type” playing. But not too dirty, just a nice, sweet, distortion sound. That’s about as extreme as I get with distortion.
V: Being that you’re a professional in styles of music that may attract more “purist,” what kind of reaction do you get from friends or a fan when you tell them what they just heard was actually a digital modeling amp?
M: Well, everyone’s always surprised. I think every time that I play I get at least one guy come up to me afterwards saying, “What’s up with that amp?” and when I tell them it’s a modeling amp, it’s just disbelief; you can see it in their face. A lot of the guys that come to see me play are like traditional, blues, purists, and people that are just hooked on tube amps, and so when they hear the sound, they’re pretty much just amazed that that’s actually happening. And I think as a result, every time I play I probably sell at least an amp I would say because there are guys that are like, “Wow, I gotta get me one of those!” and I tell them that it’s affordable, because that’s another thing that’s a plus is that you don’t really have to pay a lot to get that kind of tone. It’s a lightweight amp, easy to carry around, so everyone’s always very impressed, and ready to go out and buy one.
V: That’s great! Well, we appreciate that, obviously, and I think a lot of the reason is because the guy playing it has got some killer chops.
M: Well, that’s a big part of it I guess (chuckles). I think a lot of people just want to know, “How do you get that sound?” “What year is that Strat?” “Is that an old Gibson?” Everyone just kind of thinks it’s the instrument, where to a certain extent, it is, but you got to have somebody that knows how to use the stuff.
V: Right, and did you use that primarily on stage or was that also in the studio?
M: Yeah, I actually used it in the studio. I found out it’s a great amp for the studio.
V: Was it on Music of the Spheres?
M: No, I didn’t have it at that point. I recorded it on that record that I did with Toni Lynn Washington. And I also used it on a demo. The last two things I did, I used it, and I was very happy with how it worked because you don’t really have to crank it up to get the sound, it has that feature where you can turn the volume down on the speaker. There’s a knob in the back and I found that very useful in certain studios where you can’t isolate the amp, because a lot of times we had no choice but to stick the amp in a closet somewhere in isolation, but now I could actually play in the same room as the amp and it wasn’t an issue. You can just dial in the sound, and it’s really easy to use, so I’ve been thrilled. Everything about it has just been a positive experience
To find out more about Mike, visit www.mikedibari.com