Brazilian born guitarist/composer Jose Piresdealmeidaneto or Jose Neto to those of us who struggle with the Latin American language, has been UK music legend Steve Winwood’s right hand guitar man since 1995. Prior to joining the Winwood band, Neto toured the world with Harry Belafonte and also releases his own material under the banner of The Neto Band, and is currently recording a new album. Winwood has been so enamoured with Neto’s Latin flavoured licks, that Jose has become a major musical collaborator with six co writing credits on Winwood’s last album Nine Lives. The Steve Winwood band featuring Jose will soon be in Australia touring with Steely Dan in October. AM’s Greg Phillips cranked up the Skype and spoke to Jose prior to the tour.
You joined Steve Winwood as a guitar player but years later, you’re a major collaborator to his music and songwriting. Was it immediately apparent that you had musical chemistry?
I’ll tell you more or less the story. We met at a club in London called Ronnie Scotts which is one of the greatest jazz clubs ever. I was with a band called Fourth World. Jim Capaldi (late great UK songwriter and founding member of Traffic) came in. He was married to a Brazilian lady. They came in during the afternoon and I was jamming with Airto the percussionist. Jim came up and played on a percussion instrument and it was just fun and he said that he’d come back that night for the gig. So he came back with his lady and he said, I gotta bring Steve to see this band! He brought Steve in the next night and that’s when I met him. We stayed in contact, went to his house, started jamming. From then on, I would visit for a week and we would play for a week, just developing a musical friendship. So that grew until he sat in with my band at a festival in Cheltenham near where he lives and he played half the show with us. He learned some of my tunes. I learned some of his, then in 2002 he called and said he wanted to start a band, a trio. It turned out to be him, Walfredo Reyes the drummer and me. Then in 2003, he picked three of my songs, worked on them, rearranged melodies, wrote lyrics and we collaborated on those first three songs. The next record was six songs.
Do you think Steve was looking for a Latin influence in his music at the time?
Now that I have played so much of his music, and have been around him for almost nine years, he always loved Latin music. Every time we would jam, he would play keyboards but then sit on the drums, then the percussion. He was into the clave and into Brazilian music as well. So he was into that and I have always been into rock. Back in Brazil I got a classical guitar degree, but I always played a lot of rock and jazz.
Were you aware of Winwood’s music growing up in Brazil?
Yeah, I was aware of Traffic. The good days of Dear Mr Fantasy and High Heeled Boys and when you listen to this music you see there is something there, that fusion, the crossover.
I can see that you have had an effect on Steve Winwood musically. Has he effected the way you play guitar?
Oh yeah, because he is such a great musician. He has been around and because of the way he thinks about music and the way he is. He has played with everybody including jazz artists and R’n B, folk, classical music. I have definitely changed and absorbed and learned from him.
There’s a Youtube clip of you guys doing I’m A Man and it has a fantastic Latin
vibe to it …
That was the gig I was talking about at Cheltenham. He came to play with us and I put together that arrangement which was a totally different approach. He likes that and always talks about that night. On the last collaboration, Nine Lives we got more involved. On About Time, it was more songs that he had already written. Steve came and repainted them. But with Nine Lives we were putting ideas together on the spot and then Eric Clapton came in so it was great.
When you’re not playing with Steve, you play with your own band and sometimes Airto Moriera. Do you enjoy mixing it up?
I don’t believe in playing with too many people. I have been fortunate to work for people who I have an appreciation, an identity and people that really like my style and what I do. That’s what is more important to me. I like doing my own thing as well. I like to write very day. I am really fortunate to have worked with Harry Belafonte and Steve and Airto who are amazing artists and musicians. I can still have my style blended with them but if you start playing with too many people, you lose a little bit of your identity. You start doing what everybody else wants.
You could use any guitar in the world but you chose the unique looking Paradis. What is it about the Paradis guitar that you love?
It’s almost like the Paradis chose me! I was playing gig at Ronnie Scotts and this guitarist Forbes Henderson came to the show … every night for three nights. I was just playing nylon guitar, acoustic with a pick up. After three nights, he said I have this instrument and I think this instrument was made for you, not for me. He gave me that guitar. That was 1990. He came in that afternoon, I played it that night and have never stopped. It’s perfect for what I do because I can do the Brazilian thing, the Latin thing, fingerstyle and kind of dig in and do rock, put effects through it and it works.
You get a variety of sounds though for a nylon string guitar. I have heard you sounding almost Hendrix-like on the Paradis.
Yeah that’s the Cyber Twin, the lead sound. I have that side to my playing. I grew up listening to Jimi. I never try to play like him but I like doing that. I like that fire, that kind of explosion. It’s great. I like the dynamic. I can play mellow. I can play hard. I can put a wah wah through it and it sounds great
Your last solo album was called Mountains and the Sea De Novo, which was mostly re workings of older material…
Yeah, that was interesting because I originally did it in 1987. There were just LPs then. After that it turned to CDs, but the label disappeared … everything disappeared … one of those situations. I decided that I was going to replay all of the songs and record them in New York. I did them all a different way, all done live and pretty much just me performing. It was nice to play the songs again and relearn. It’s a difficult process to do. It is amazing, when you’re doing record or writing songs, you get to a very inspiring place. Then you don’t do those songs for a while and when you come back to them, you think wow, how did I get to there. Then you start to get into it and you go back to that place. It took me a while. I played the songs for a few months before I felt like I could interpret them and feel it.
Have you played with the Steely dan guys before?
They have some great guys in that band too.
Is Keith Carlock playing with them?
Yes he is. I’ve met Keith a couple of times, he’s a great guy and an amazing drummer..
Oh that’s great, Keith and I workload together for a couple of years with Harry Belafonte. That’s going to be great to be on the road with him, going back to the old days.
When you come out, you’ll be playing some really fine venues at wineries. Have you done that before?
We’ve played some here in California. It will be nice.
What’s Steve playing in his set these days?
We do two or three things from Nine Lives. Usually we’ll do Dirty City and a couple of others. Then he does his hits that everybody wants to hear .. High Heeled Boys … Higher Love. He switches them around. Maybe a tune from About Time, Blind Faith stuff. We’re getting together on the 22nd of September and we’ll throw some things around. I would like to try John Barleycorn (Must Die), I have mentioned to Steve. We’ll see what he has in mind … see what the boss wants to do!