De Gregori, from “Rimmel” to “Calypso”: the prince of songwriters is 70 years old

Francesco de Gregori, the ‘prince’ of Italian songwriters, turns Sunday 70 years and almost 50 career, since his first album, ‘Theorius Campus’, written with his early friend Antonello Venditti, is dated 1972. Born in Rome on April 4, 1951, De Gregori had already started performing at the Folkstudio in Trastevere in 1969, venturing into the cover of Leonard Cohen and above all Bob Dylan, with whom he will establish a relationship of mutual esteem and to which the Roman artist has dedicated more than one record work. The title of De Gregori’s first solo album is ‘Alice doesn’t know’. The album was released in 1973, well driven by De Gregori’s participation in ‘Un Disco per l’Estate’ with the song ‘Alice’.

Although the piece ranks last, the disc divides the criticism between those who find it too hermetic and those who appreciate its poetry and writing (among the songs on the disc a masterpiece such as ‘La casa di Hilde’). The following album (which also marks the transition from the IT label to the Italian Rca is simply titled ‘Francesco De Gregori’ suffers the same accusations for complex and introspective lyrics (and on the other hand the most successful song of this album is’ Niente da understand ‘), but in the meantime the artist begins to conquer his hard core of admirers.

The great success comes with ‘Rimmel’ of 1975, which becomes one of the best-selling records of the decade, with songs such as the title-track, ‘Pablo’, ‘Four dogs’ and ‘Pieces of glass’. In that period the collaboration with Fabrizio De André was born, first for the translation of Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’, then for the realization of the album ‘Volume 8’, with unpublished songs partly written in tandem. And the one with Lucio Dalla is consolidated, who also collaborates on the subsequent album ‘Bufalo Bill’ in 1976.

But just that year something happens that will forever mark De Gregori’s career: on April 2, during a concert at the Palalido in Milan, he is challenged by activists from the extra-parliamentary left who accuse him of practicing a luxurious lifestyle and of exploiting the issues dear to the left to enrich himself. When De Gregori, after having sung some other song visibly bothered by the climate, closes the concert, he is forced by armed militants to go on stage again to undergo a ‘trial’ in which he is also asked to leave the proceeds of the evening. The arrival of the police interrupts the evening and according to the press reconstructions of the time De Gregori, leaving the Palalido, declared: “I will never sing in public again. Tonight there was only castor oil, then the scene would have been complete” .

That episode even inspired songs by colleagues, such as Roberto Vecchioni’s ‘Vaudeville’, Edoardo Bennato’s ‘Era un festa’ and also the recent ‘Nel tempo’ by Luciano Ligabue. Around the committed but not aligned De Gregori, the debate was open. And he returned to the stage already in the autumn of 1976. He took the break the following year, to work on a new record. In 1978, after marrying high school partner Alessandra Gobbi (wedding witness was the then secretary of the FGCI Walter Veltroni), the album ‘De Gregori’ (the one that also contains ‘Generale’) was released. On 8 July of the same year, De Gregori held a concert with Lucio Dalla at the Flaminio Stadium in Rome, with forty thousand spectators, which is the prelude to the successful ‘Banana Republic’ tour, which the two artists will hold the following year, after having released the single ‘Ma come i marinai’, and which will also become a live record.

1979 is the year of ‘Viva l’Italia’, which contains the homonymous song destined to become one of the most famous by De Gregori. Also this record sees the collaboration of Dalla. In 1980 De Gregori had his only experience (as an author) at the Sanremo Festival, one of the Italian rituals that he makes no secret of very willingly evading: however, he wrote the text of ‘Mariù’, to music by Ron (whose disc ‘ A city to sing ‘had also collaborated with Dalla), which is presented at the event by Gianni Morandi.

(He follows…)


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