Cleveland, Ohio’s Carl Baldassarre has been practising music for over 50 years and is a renowned guitarist and composer.
His YouTube channel dubs him the “Professor of Classic Rock” and focuses on guitar riffs and techniques, while his debut solo album, Grand Boulevard, sees him lead a rich and diverse set of rock, funk, R&B and pop numbers, not to mention his tribute work with Baldassarre’s Led Zeppelin Revival. This is a busy musician.
“I’ve never really thought about why I’m prolific,” he says. “But it has to do with curiosity and the thrill of trying new things. Nothing is more exciting than the next thing you’re working on – and I’m addicted to that feeling.”
This abounding creativity comes across on Grand Boulevard, a sprawling album full of ingenuity. “It was written one song at a time, so there wasn’t a grand plan,” Carl explains. “Each piece is an exploration of genre and sentiment. They’re all true stories and I wanted to capture a genre to express the sentiment of a message and then move onto the next one. I didn’t want to do it as a concept or stick to a genre, so by the end I thought it was quite a journey.
“It’s sort of autobiographical, so it’s loosely held together. It’s like going down an old street with different style houses along it, each with their own story and all aligned on this grand boulevard called life.”
A Musical Calling
Carl’s life has always been informed by music. “I started knocking about at 17 and by 19 I had a record deal and then toured for four years,” he tells us. “I was raised with an electric guitar in one hand and a composer’s quill in the other. I’ve always loved the romantic air of classical music, but I also grew up in the ’60s and ’70s so it was impossible to escape rock guitar.
“That’s why I spend my time doing progressive rock because it gives you a chance to compose and fuse classical with rock music. It’s why I liked the band Gentle Giant growing up – they were like an electronic chamber orchestra.”
With such a love for classical music and composition, we wonder why guitar became the main focus. “The first guitar I played was an acoustic and the first chord somebody showed me was an A minor. I was gobsmacked by the sound,” he says. “There’s something about that timbre and sonority that resonates with whatever wavelength I’m on, be it electric or acoustic.
“But the thing about the electric guitar is you have an amplifier, so you don’t have to overplay the instrument. In fact, it sounds more powerful if you don’t. The chords are purer because you’re not overstroking the strings, and if you look at the great players you’ll see that they often have very feathery approaches and let the amp do the work.”
The Power Of Choice
“After starting the YouTube channel and focusing a lot on Jimmy Page, I broke out my Les Paul,” Carl says. “I’ve been playing that pretty steadily for the live [Led Zeppelin Revival] shows, but at any given time you’ll see me with different guitars. I have a Brian Moore, which works really well for progressive rock…
“But then, whenever I pick up my Strat, I think I could run away for the rest of my life and play that guitar. There’s something about its humanity; it does something that no other guitar can do in terms of allowing you to get closer to your true voice.”
Carl found the ultimate inspiration in Zep’s guitarist
When it comes to Carl’s influences, Jimmy Page stands out – with Carl studying him, writing about him and forming a Led Zeppelin revival show.
“It was a case of the right person and right sound at that time in my life,” he says. “I had an older sister who once sat me down with a stack of vinyl and said, ‘Listen to this,’ and it was Heartbreaker from Led Zeppelin II. I just could not believe that solo in the middle! I didn’t know what I was hearing. Everything just came together at the moment and I was addicted to that unbridled explosive passion.”
- Grand Boulevard is out now via Carl Baldassarre.