The late Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia is generally regarded as the musician who did more to advance the guitar as a respectable, legitimate art form than anyone else before or since. The ironic part is that Segovia, who died in his 90s in 1987, would have hated about 99 percent of today’s guitar players.
John Floridis is telling a story, admittedly apocryphal, about the Spanish master’s first encounter with another man forever ensconced in the upper echelon of guitar players: Django Reinhardt.
“Segovia blew him off, basically,” says Floridis. “He gave Reinhardt’s playing about five seconds of his attention and then went back to the conversation he was having to the person next to him. That’s the complete antithesis of how I do things.”
Floridis, of course, is considered to be one of the finest guitarists in the state, so it’s interesting to talk to him about one of his personal guitar idols. Especially after listening to “Andrés Segovia’s Drop D Blues,” from Floridis’ 1998 Part of the Picture CD, a song wholly devoted to recounting a tuning problem that curdled Segovia’s rendition of a Bach fugue at a Chicago concert circa 1982—and how it did nothing to detract from the man’s legendary mastery of his instrument. The song, like Floridis’ personal account of the evening, is full of Disneyland excitement.
“I got turned on to Segovia and Hendrix at the same time,” Floridis explains, “That’s at the root of my neurosis, probably.”
Segovia was the purist’s purist—and you already know what Hendrix did for guitar in the late ’60s. As an epilogue to his Segovia story, Floridis adds that a son the late Segovia sired at 78 had a taste for punk. Considering the father, it would be hard to imagine more prodigal a son.
“Andrés Segovia’s Drop D Blues” ends with a sly joke at the master’s expense: a brief run through the cursed fugue followed by what Floridis describes, with appropriate wetness, as “a splat of a chord.”
“Just a little dig at Segovia,” he says, then pauses to amend himself: “A dig and a tribute at the same time.”
Floridis has got a sense of humor, all right, although he’s candid about pointing out that it’s not always obvious in the context of his songwriting. “Pretty Boy” is the only song on Part of the Picture that could be called funny. And it’s not so much funny ha-ha as it is the odd duck, a strange ode to a high school rival that Floridis, Class of ’80, bested at football over 20 years ago. The football part is true, asserts Floridis, but the character of Cassandra Lake (see, and it’s also funny that he would just pull a name like that out of thin air) was added merely to heighten the rivalry between himself and the “pretty boy,” Julius Romero.
“Well,” Floridis chuckles, “I’ve always had a little trouble getting humor into my music. My sense of humor is darker than my music, so I’m always trying to find something to meet there in the middle.”
Which is already a lot funnier than Andrés Segovia.
John Floridis plays Sean Kelly’s this Friday, Jan. 7 at 9 PM. Admission is FREE.