Al Di Meola: An American Guitar Hero!

Al Di Meola is universally hailed as one of the greatest guitarists of our time and he’s from New Jersey!

Al Di Meola has decades of amazing guitar work behind him and much more to come. During his extensive career, Di Meola has played with Chick Corea, Jaco Pastorious, Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Paul Simon, and many other legendary musicians.

Al Di Meola was born in New Jersey in 1954. He began playing at a young age, eventually ending up at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1974 he met a man named Chick Corea and joined up with him to participate in the Jazz/Rock Fusion scene under the name of Return to Forever.

I have known of Al Di Meola for a long time, but it wasn’t until recently that I became much more familiar with his eclectic collection of work. His style consists of no legato, but rather he uses complex picking techniques, and always with such precision. I feel very ignorant to say this, but aside from his most famous electric piece, Race with Devil on Spanish Highway, I just found out about his extensive electric side.

Return To Forever is definitely a band to be reckoned with. If you like Weather Report, and other progressive fusion, you will love Return to Forever. When listening to Al Di Meola play, you’ve got to pay close attention to his picking technique. Listening to any one of his compositions is a crash course in how to properly and efficiently utilize your right hand.

Check out Return To Forever circa 1976!

After Di Meola’s stint with Return To Forever, he began his prolific solo career. Just listen to the album Al Di Meola – Land of the Midnight Sun. This album is easily in the top 5 guitar albums of all time, and a must listen to for any up and coming guitarist.

Al Di Meola – Land of the Midnight Sun

Later on, Al Di Meola proved to the world that he was definitely not a one trick guitarist. He began to play Classical/Latin inspired acoustic work. This aspect of his career is equally as amazing as his electric guitar work. Di Meola’s musical outings with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin defines what a versatile guitarist can do.

Fantasia Suite – Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia

I was browsing the local Goodwill shop here in West L.A. for a couch and other odds and ends, when I came across a VHS tape of an Al Di Meola instructional video. I immediately picked it up, ran home and watched it… twice. Below is the first part of the video.

This video, however dated it looks, is definitely extremely helpful. For one thing, it’s helping me to be more conscious of playing clean, even, and efficient, these are each important traits of our guitar heroes.

As of today, Di Meola is still producing imagination defying  guitar work, but he has also reunited with Return to Forever and is touring! I urge you and your musical friends to go and check DiMeola out when he comes around to your area. Di Meola will be forever remembered as one of the all time greats and there is so much we guitarists can learn from him.

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  • Something from Kiss My Axe came up as I was reading this. Al is a great player, and Elegant Gypsy is my favorite.

    • Hey David, I completely agree, Al is the man and Elegant Gypsy is amazing!

  • Stan

    Al’s great, no doubt!

    I am familiar with his work and his teachings on guitar mostly from posts by Ney Mello (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ney_mello) who has either studied with Al Di Meola or just friends with him (not 100% sure). Ney is a regular poster in the forum on http://www.guitarprinciples.com – and his thoughts and musings on guitar usually go pretty deep.

    • Stan, thanks for the tips. I’ll be sure to check out Ney and his posts!

  • Elegant Gypsy was my first encounter with him (I think I downloaded the CD based on the title “Race With The Devil On The Spanish Highway,” and then went out and bought it). There’s some tasty playing on Return To Forever’s Romantic Warrior, and the Guitar Trio CD with McLaughlin and de Lucia is great. Some of his later material is kind of soulless though, I think – I couldn’t get into Consequences of Chaos at all, for instance.

    I have a songbook that has a bunch of his songs in it, including most of the ones from Elegant Gypsy. Not sure why I bought it, because my chops are definitely not up to snuff! I think that’s where I read that he developed his technique trying to copy Chet Atkins sort of stuff, before realizing that Chet used his fingers and not just a pick.

    • Dan- Great to hear from you! Have you tried to learn any of his songs in your song book? How’d that work out? Should some of us other “not up to snuffers” give it a whirl? 🙂

  • It’s been a couple years, but I’m thinking of giving it another try. I’ll tweet at you if I decide to butcher Race With The Devil and record :p

  • Al is a great guitarist and one of my favorite. I can’t help but also think that he kind of looks like that dad in the movie Selena with Jennifer Lopez.

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