Lou DiBello Six String Sensations!

By Jeb Wright

Lou DiBello is not a big name in the world of rock guitar…by choice! Sure, he has been around…and knows his way around a fretboard…but he does it in the Midwest part of the USA instead of either Coast.  He has opened for many huge stars, knows a few—they even appear on his latest album titled Heat Wave—and he has given thousands of guitar lessons.

In the interview that follows let me introduce to you a guy you’re going to want to check out. Lou doesn’t just show off…it is not all instrumental.  It is not all flash in the pan…there is a butt load of melody and a lot of smart ‘outside of the box’ soloing here. Lou is the real deal. 

Read this interview and then check out his music at the end links included at the end.

Jeb: I will be the first to admit until I heard Heat Wave I was not aware of you. It is a solid outing. I dig the instrumental tracks…or the mostly instrumental tracks…way more than the traditional songs with vocals. You’ve heard that before I bet! I think you’ve heard that because you have a solid voice in your solo.  

Lou: Thank you, Jeb! Actually with Heat Wave the response has been pretty evenly split between people who like the instrumentals best, and those who like the vocal tunes better. I would say that maybe even a little more like the vocals…or at least they are drawn initially more to the vocal tunes.

I have released three previous albums, all independently, that were entirely instrumental. Heat Wave is the first time I have released vocal tunes with a solo project. I have done several full length, or demos, with other bands as well.

I am not new to writing vocal material. I approached this record a bit like the first George Lynch solo record, or a Michael Schenker record, with both vocal and instrumental tunes. I do like to make a strong melodic vocal-like statement with my instrumentals, though. I think that element is one thing that makes them stand out a bit.

Jeb: The opening track, “Heat Wave” could have been on Surfin’ With the Alien.” Are you influenced by Joe?  I think Joe is more melodic than guys like Malmsteen and Vai.  I think he is more of a meat and potatoes guy with mad talent…I think that about you as well.

Lou: Thanks again, I appreciate that. I’m not super influenced by Joe, but I was certainly very aware of his early work with his first few records. I agree, he is a little more melodic and straightforward in his approach, and a little more varied too.

One of my favorite Joe performances is actually the set he played with Sammy Hagar, Denny Carmassi and Bill Church at the first Ronnie Montrose tribute show. Those guys sounded so good together. Joe killed it on all the old classics and didn't overplay at all.

My approach to instrumental music was actually more influenced by my affinity for a lot of jazz artists that I listened to as a ten to fourteen year old. I like sax players like Tom Scott, guitarist George Benson and others. Even some of the Jeff Beck fusiony instrumentals like “Freeway Jam,” and the tune “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter. I always loved so much music that did not have vocals that it was always a natural thing for me.

Jeb: Before jumping into more I have to ask why you have stayed in Illinois when you were a grad of the Musician Institute in LA?  You cudda been a ROCK STAR man!

Lou: In LA in 1989 there were so many amazing guitarists that it was guaranteed some weren't going to get the big gigs. Although I had some early pro/semi-pro experience before going to LA, my playing was still really developing at that time. In hindsight, I believe my playing was much better and I was much closer to playing what I heard in my head a few years after finishing MI.

I did a few auditions, but nothing that was of any significance. I did not want to try to juggle various part time jobs just to try to eventually get in a band out there so I returned to Illinois and have made a pretty decent living ever since playing and teaching guitar. There has always been an active live music scene as this is a large college town and the home of REO Speedwagon, Head East and many other notable artists.

Jeb: I have heard you’ve played over 2,500 concerts.  True?  What is the best and what is the worst?

Lou: I’m probably approaching 3,000 now! I play about 130 nights a year, and of course that includes many smaller shows/performances, but if I get paid it counts! High points would be some bigger openers. I had a really great show last year opening for Slaughter. The worst is playing to an empty house when it's also really cold outside and you have to load out and freeze while you're doing it.

Jeb: You also have also given an amazing 25,000 guitar lessons.  Dude…that is sick! I mean that’s a lot of showing people how to play “Crazy Train.”

Lou: Yeah, that number keeps going up too! I do teach a lot of rock, but I also teach general theory, child beginners, blues, acoustic fingerstyle, basic classical, and more. And being able to do that, being so versatile, is for sure what has allowed me to gain, and keep, so many students. I have many students who stay with me five years or more.

Jeb: What do you love about teaching?  Compare it to performing?  The vibe…the payoff as a player…

Lou: First off, I really love and enjoy so much about music that I am always appreciating something new, or a new way of looking at something, even with many fundamentals related to beginning guitar. And I also enjoy the physiological aspects, the mechanics, of guitar playing, as well as the aspect of mental focus required, especially for an aspiring player. So even after so many students and so much time, I still really enjoy it and it is never the same thing every day.

Jeb: Have any of your student’s attained success? 

Lou: Definitely-- nobody that is a household name or anything, but quite a few who have gone on to release records with a band, tour, or do other types of real playing.

Jeb: On Heat Wave you have Ross the frickin’ Boss playing harmony solos. What songs?  How did you pull this off?  I love his playing and his attitude.  I want the scoop Lou!

Lou: Ross is great, and of course it was a real honor to work with him on the song “Blood On the Cross.” Like a lot of things these days, social media, Facebook, was a big part of that. We were just FB friends.

A friend and business associate of Ross's, Loree Hunt, actually saw a clip of me and was really interested because she knew I was friends with Ross. She had, not surprisingly, never heard of me. When she found out I was basically an unknown, she encouraged me to reach out to Ross about my music. Despite our fairly casual FB friendship, I was a bit nervous when I spoke with Ross by phone the first time. He was very cool and helpful with advice and consultation, and one thing led to another and I asked him to play on a tune with me and he agreed. We trade solos, and then play harmony together, before he plays the outro solo over my melodic line. It came out great.

Jeb: Same question about Mike Lepond from Symphony X.

Lou:Mike is a really great guy, and a killer bassist. He’s just amazing both live and in the studio. Loree also introduced me to Mike, and of course he is now playing with Ross's band. So it was all a great set of circumstances that came together.

Jeb: What is the difference in songwriting between a tune like “Blood on the Cross,” which has vocals and a tune like “Full Throttle” that is all guitars?

Lou: With “Blood on the Cross,” and most vocal tunes I write, I really start with, and focus around the vocal hook/lyric. Often with instrumental tunes I start with a rhythm riff and construct the melody based of the feel, key, etc.

Jeb: The back and forth on “Drop Deadly” is guitar heaven. Tell me about creating that one.

Lou: That was a lot of fun. The riff I originally had in the key of “E”, but changed the key to “D”…Drop D-eadly… get it? LePond is on bass here and it was just a real throw down, jam kind of tune. It has lot's of energy!

Jeb: Time to throw famous people under the bus. You’ve opened for guys like 38 Special, Slaughter, LA Guns, Molly Hatchet, Foghat, Quiet Riot, Survivor, Black Crowes and Blue Oyster Cult. Who were the best to you and who were the worst?

Lou: LA Guns were cool. The Slaughter guys were great. Black Crowes show was back in the day when they first hit real big…they didn't have much time for us [laughter]!

Jeb: Rock is dead…I mean that…or at the very least Rock is not what it once was in terms of popularity and mainstream radio. So…how does one guy in Illinois continue to make a living doing this? What other outlets are there besides the traditional that you are trying to reach out and tap into? 

Lou: It would be nice to be recognized more, and on a wider scale, for my original stuff. And I have done that. I have written and recorded my own music and will continue to do so in order to satisfy the creative fire. If, after all this publicity for Heat Wave, I can take another step or two further on the national, or international scene, then I am accomplishing what I need to.

I don't have the ability to spend a lot of money on my career. I need to make money playing. It would be easier, and I would have more money, to stick with playing covers and teaching. But, that would be difficult for me, as I have a genuine creative streak and an artistic fire that still burns deep. I put my heart and soul into every note I play. There are things that I am doing to push it along as much as I can. Between getting a live show in front of some crowds, with an American singer, and a new CD late this year…I'll be around.

Jeb: Will you be adding to your 2,500 concerts in 2018?  How much time on stage are you planning on spending this year?

Lou: I'll be doing a bunch of gigs one way or the other. I just had three this weekend! I’m working on a live group for the original material to be playing out by summer, as well as my cover gigs.

Jeb: I know you get sick of this one…but who are the influences…the biggest technical influence….the songwriting influence…the solo screeching influence?  When did they all touch you and make you realize you were born to rock?

Lou: My biggest guitar influence for me is my Uncle Dave McCombs, who is an incredible jazz guitarist.  As a kid I watched him play all the time. Of course, Jimi Hendrix, and then Frank Marino, Uli Roth, Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker, Yngwie…Seeing the Jimi Hendrix documentary at about age 14, that was a game changer.

Jeb: Last one… name three guitar oriented albums that every kid alive in America under that age of 18 should listen to at least once? 

Lou: UFO Obsession, Scorpions Virgin Killer and Jimi Hendrix Band Of Gypsies.

Jeb: Ok…really last one… Pump your sites.. Where can peeps check out Heat Wave and get in touch with you?

Lou: The CD is available on about every platform, also my website has all the links for purchase as well. www.loudibello.com. My YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/loud00. You can find me on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/Lou-DiBello-Guitar-187645251271761/.