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Virtuoso Guitarist Knows How to 'Play for the People' (Jan 25, 2013)

Frank Vignola’s widely-renowned speed and technique on the guitar are only part of what makes his performances enjoyable.

He knows how to have fun and understands the critical importance of connecting with his audience.

The 47 year old Long Island-native grew up in a musical home. His father played banjo, his mother - accordion and his older brother played trumpet.

“When I was 6 years old my father bought me a guitar,” Vignola says. “I went for a lesson and it was then that I knew I wanted to play guitar - at the age of six. Believe it, or not”.

Vignola’s star rose quickly, and by his late teens he was already touted as a master of jazz guitar and earning great respect from his idols, including the pioneering Les Paul.

“I met Les Paul in 1985,” Vignola says. “I was 19 years old and Les had just come out of retirement and was playing a little jazz club (The Iridium) in downtown New York City. He had me down for dinner and I sat in that night. He just loved what I was doing and we were friends for 25 years.”

In 2000, Les Paul took ill and asked Vignola to fill in for him. Weeks later when Les returned to the bandstand, he asked Vignola to play regularly with his group.

“That would be amazing!” Vignola told Paul. “Just the fact that Les was one of my first influences - and the “father” of the electric guitar and (multi-track) recording - it meant so much to me to have support from such and icon like that.”

Vignola says Les Paul mentored him in many ways.

“At times, if I wasn’t working a lot, I’d call him up and he would say, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing. It’ll pay off. Just believe in what you’re doing. You’re a great guitar player. Just play for the people.’ That’s what he would always say, ‘Play for the people. Play songs the people know.’”

Vignola took these words to heart. In fact, he and his musical partner and fellow guitarist Vinnie Raniolo just released an album titled Melody Magic which consists of some of music’s most recognizable songs.

“Melody Magic was kind of the coming together of the realization of Vinnie and I that we love to play great melodies, and we love to play classic melodies. And we also noticed that people – the audience – they love to hear these classic melodies,“ Vignola says. “So, we started by saying, ‘What’s the most famous song that everybody knows… all ages?’ And we came up with Beethoven’s 5th, of course!”

Vignola and Raniolo continued from there, eventually culling eleven songs from a variety of genres of music spanning some four hundred years.

“We have a couple of guests here and there - a great accordion player who played on a couple of songs, a great violinist - but, mainly it’s Vinnie and I just playing classic melodies which we really love to do,” Vignola says.

Another lesson Vignola learned while working with Les Paul was how important it is to engage with the audience and have fun.

“Oh, we have so much fun when we do our show,” Vignola says. “We do a little dancing and tell a few jokes. We have sing-alongs. You know, working with Les Paul - he was the master at making an audience feel so comfortable through his inviting way of speaking to them and through his music, to say the least. I think it’s important to entertain people and we’re kind of like high level music-meets-Vaudeville.”

Frank Vignola and Vinnie Raniolo intend to deliver on this promise tonight at 7 p.m. at Oklahoma City Community College’s Bruce Owen Theater.

(KGOU's Jim Johnson produced the following interview segment which aired during today's broadcast of Here & Now)

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