Internationally acclaimed Italian superstar Adelmo Fornaciari, known more commonly to his legions of fans as Zucchero, has thrilled audiences worldwide with his pop and blues-infused style for nearly 25 years. He has sold millions of albums in his native country, throughout Europe and beyond, and has received numerous awards and accolades. He has also become a favorite singing partner to some of the most popular artists in the world, from Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, and Sting, to B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, and Sheryl Crow. American audiences first heard Zucchero’s thrilling vocal talents in a televised performance with Luciano Pavarotti at the 1998 GRAMMY® Awards.
For his Concord Records / Starbucks Hear Music™ debut, Zucchero & Co., the multi-platinum pop sensation delved into his deep catalog of stunning duet performances and then rearranged, reproduced, and, in some cases, resang them for a fresh, contemporary feel. The tracks include an historic recording of “Dune Mosse” with Miles Davis from 1988, and a new version of “Senza Una Donna” (Without A Woman) with Paul Young that originally topped the charts in almost every European country, as well as the U.S., when it was released in 1991. Other collaborations to make the cut for this new, “best of the best” CD include: Solomon Burke, Vanessa Carlton, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Cheb Mami, Maná, Luciano Pavarotti / Andrea Bocelli, Dolores O’Riordan, and Sting.
Zucchero and a few of his friends―Eric Clapton, Dolores O’Riordan (of The Cranberries), Solomon Burke and Pavarotti, among them―celebrated the release of the CD last year in a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Critics from the Sunday Express wrote, “The audience would have gladly partied with Zucchero all night,” a sentiment no doubt often expressed in Italy where he’s widely credited with introducing his countrymen to the blues. “In Italy, rhythm & blues and soul music was not very popular in the 1960s, when I was growing up,” explains Zucchero. “Fortunately, there was an American from Memphis who was studying at the University in Bologna that lived close by to our house. He introduced me to Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, and all the Stax recording artists. He played guitar, and we spent a lot of time playing together. Discovering that music was a shock to me―it was like a light. I’m Italian so I love Puccini. But I love the blues, too.”
Zucchero’s first instrument was the organ, which his local priest taught him to play in exchange for odd jobs around the church. A longing to be part of a band led him to the guitar and eventually to singing. Soon, Zucchero, whose name translates to “sugar” in Italian, started his own bands to introduce others to the wonderful music that had so inspired and excited him. At first he was dismissed by Italian record labels as having the “wrong kind of voice,” but, by the mid-1980s, he was touring and recording with such well-known musicians as Randy Jackson, David Sancious, Brian Auger, Narada Michael Walden, Corrado Rustici, Joe Cocker, Al DiMeola, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ray Charles, and others too numerous to mention. In fact, Zucchero’s entire musical trajectory reads like a “Who’s Who” of the music industry―culling just 14 cuts for Zucchero & Co was a major feat and took over two-years to complete.
Miles Davis first heard Zucchero’s tune “Dune Mosse” on Italian radio while on tour. “He had never heard of me but liked the song so much that he wanted to do a duet. I was in the Maldives at the time and got a call at 4 a.m.,” explains the singer. “It was in the middle of the night so I didn’t believe them at first. It was such an honor and such an amazing opportunity. I was in a studio in New York the following week.” He continues, “When Miles arrived, he didn’t say hello, he didn’t smile. He just went into the studio where I was playing the piano, waiting and said, ‘Yeah, show me the key of the song, play the key.’ Then I tried to escape and leave him alone, and he said, ‘Where are you going, you have to stay here. I need your energy.’ So I was just sitting there and was a little bit scared. He played like an angel.”
The late blues icon John Lee Hooker is featured in one of his last recording sessions on “I Lay Down.” “I was writing this song and thought it needed a very ancient blues voice. I immediately wanted to work with John Lee Hooker, but thought it would be impossible. So we moved on,” says Zucchero. “I was recording in Sausalito, where the manager of the studio just happened to know Roy Rogers, John Lee’s guitarist. We called him and he called John Lee to ask him to listen to the song. The next day, he came to the studio in a big limo, dressed very elegantly. He was old and thin but he still played fantastically. I just let him do what he wanted. Two months later, he passed away.”
Another blues legend, B.B. King, adds his unmistakable flair to “Hey Man – Sing A Song,” and one of the fathers of soul, Solomon Burke is featured on “Diavolo In Me – A Devil In Me,” although he insisted on rewriting some of the lyrics. “Solomon said to me, ‘I can’t sing this song, I’m a Bishop now,’ and I said, ‘OK, but listen to the song before you decide,’ and then he sent me some beautiful lyrics. Instead of ‘I got a devil in me,’ he wrote, ‘go out of me devil.’ It works fantastically. He’s still dancing and he’s got the face of a child,” says Zucchero of his long-time friend.
The gospel- and opera-influenced tune, “Miserere,” was first recorded with Luciano Pavarotti in the early 1990s. This song―along with “Senza Una Donna (Without a Woman)”―are two of Zucchero’s best known and most often covered tunes. The session with Pavarotti came about after a moment of artistic high drama when the pop star threatened his friend. “I told him, ‘If you don’t do this song, I will burn the tape, because without you on it, there is no reason for it to exist,” says Zucchero. “I made a move to the fireplace and he said, ‘But I don’t know how to do this song. I have never played with a pop artist.’ I threw the tape on the fire and Luciano, not knowing this was only a copy, agreed to record the song.”
Zucchero has often been credited with discovering the now great Andrea Bocelli. The tenor was an unknown artist when the Italian superstar asked him to record the demo for “Miserere.” The song became a big hit, but with Pavarotti unavailable to perform on tour, Zucchero invited Bocelli to accompany him. “I told everyone about him. I said to PolyGram, ‘You must sign this guy,’” he recalls. “I couldn’t get anyone interested in him, so I asked my manager to help.” Bocelli is now a multi-platinum artist and one of the world’s most popular singers. Zucchero didn’t think twice, therefore, about reproducing the track for Zucchero & Co. to feature both tenors.
“A Wonderful World“ (featuring Eric Clapton), “Blue” (a song co-written by U2 front man Bono and sang with Sheryl Crow), “Pure Love” (with Dolores O’Riordan), “Muoio Per Te” (with Sting), “Like The Sun – From Out of Nowhere” (with Macy Gray and Jeff Beck), “Cosi Celeste” (with Algerian artist Cheb Mami, who gained fame when Sting featured him on “Desert Rose”), “Baila Morena” (with Mexican pop-rockers Maná), and a popular 1980s pop tune by The Korgis, “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” (with Vanessa Carlton) round out this eclectic and exciting disc. Each tune on Zucchero & Co. offers a different facet of the superstar’s long and interesting musical journey, and the caliber of each artist is testament to how widely regarded and admired he is worldwide.
Perhaps most indicative of Zucchero’s not-so-underground “cult” status among music lovers is an anecdote in an article written last year in London’s Sunday Express. Sting invited Zucchero to a house party where the star-studded guest list included Peter Gabriel, Tom Hanks, and Dustin Hoffman. Upon meeting the vocalist, Hoffman, it is reported in the article, fell to his knees, commenced singing one of Zucchero’s songs in Italian, and finished by exclaiming, “Zucchero, you are God!” before confessing he owned all of his recordings!