“We are back!” Al Di Meola plays live for the first time since his onstage heart attack, returning to the songs – and the Gibson Les Paul – that first made his name

When news emerged of Al Di Meola suffering an onstage heart attack at his show in Bucharest back in September, we thought it could be a long while before we saw the fusion master onstage again.

At the time, the guitar hero was quick to pay tribute to music as “a source of healing and strength for me” – and that has clearly proven to be true, as Di Meola was able to make his live return on Thursday (January 18) at the Heights Theater in Houston, TX.

The tour, dubbed The Early Electric Years, sees Di Meola performing a rare all-electric guitar outing, pairing a new band (consisting of Philippe Saisse, Gumbi Ortiz, Luis Alicea and Elias Tona) with his oldest material. 

Fan footage has now emerged of the event and it shows the virtuoso in sharp form, with neither band nor leader seeming to miss a beat or fluff a note across clips that include challenging tracks like Egyptian Danza and Señor Mouse.

As is made plain by the tour name, the set includes some of his earliest material with Return To Forever – the fusion act in which he first caught the world’s attention – plus his first solo albums Land of the Midnight Sun, Elegant Gypsy and Casino

The setlist, posted after the show, also confirms the inclusion of the latter’s title track in the show – notable as it is not something he’s ever previously played live.

Alongside returning to early material, Di Meola says he has also returned to his early guitar, pulling out the 1971 Gibson Les Paul Custom that featured on many of those songs.

“It’s a guitar that I used on the first Return To Forever records when I was 19, joining the band,” explains Di Meola in an Instagram clip. 

“This was also on the cover of Elegant Gypsy. I used it on Land of the Midnight Sun. It’s kind of an iconic guitar at this point, but I haven’t played it since the ’70s. This will be my stand-out guitar, my first choice guitar on the tour.”

In the footage of the Houston show’s encore, Di Meola again comments on the guitar saying, “I’ve been playing this thing. It’s been sat in my studio for the last 45 years. I never thought I’d pick it up again, but it’s been a blast. Thank you very much.” 

He later took to Instagram to post an image of the band alongside the words, “We're back”.

In a recent interview with Total Guitar, Di Meola shared the origins of his iconic Les Paul.

“I ordered it from Manny’s Music store in New York when I was in my last year of high school,” he said of the instrument.

“I originally ordered the guitar with a Bigsby tremolo arm and a Varitone switch. After years of playing it, I wanted the Bigsby taken off. There was a guy called Tom Doyle who was a very good friend of Les Paul’s that did a lot of guitar work in the New Jersey area – he repainted it after taking those items off. The whole guitar looked cracked and had all these crazy marks over it.

“Everyone thought it looked so cool. I ended up adding DiMarzio pickups and a coil tap. I used it on most of my early records… The sound of that guitar going into my 50-watt Marshall is one of the punchiest tones I’ve ever heard.” 

There’s still time to catch Di Meola and band’s remaining five dates of the US leg beginning in Atlanta, GA tomorrow (January 23 and 24), while more electric shows have been announced for April and May.

For the full tour and ticket details, head to AlDiMeola.com.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Matt Parker

Matt is a staff writer for GuitarWorld.com. Before that he spent 10 years as a freelance music journalist, interviewing artists for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.