The prog community took a huge blow on February 21st, 2014, when Francesco Di Giacomo, frontman of the legendary Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, passed away in an auto accident. Greg Walker, owner of Synphonic Records and USA based prog festival organizer, was kind enough to allow us to publish some of his memories of the influential, beloved Italian vocalist.
“A few personal comments and memories regarding Francesco…
As most of you know, Francesco was the closest thing that prog had to Pavarotti. He fronted the greatest Italian 70’s prog band and his amazing voice and stage presence was second to none. I still remember as a youngster (circa 1981 when I was 15 and just learning about progressive music) walking through the record aisles of an L.A. K-Mart trying to find a third album in the 3 for .99 cents record deal they were having (ah, those were the days!) when I came across the self-titled 1975 compilation release. Looking at it and chuckling over the cover of a fat guy throwing up a shoe and then turning it over to see the same fat guy on a scale I thought, well…I might as well buy it (as a joke). I then noticed the instrumentation and thought, holy crap! This thing might actually be good. I still remember taking it home and being blown away over the music, vocals (despite the silly English lyrics) and level of musicianship. I owned every Banco record soon after and eventually rounded my collection off with the Banco Holy Grail…the original pot-shaped, gimmick cover first album.
In 2000 we invited Banco to our Progfest 2000 festival. We didn’t know that we were supposed to pay for their food while they were here as they never mentioned it in advance. I remember the sweat dripping down my forehead as I begrudgingly handed over my credit card to the band and glancing over at Vittorio (who had now surpassed Francesco in size) and thinking…ah man, this is going to leave a scar. We were already taking a financial pounding on the festival as this was just adding to it. Spock’s Beard was performing that evening at the Troubadour in Hollywood and I drove the band out there to see them. About halfway through the show they decided to go nearby to get something to eat. I figured they were just going to walk across the street to get a burger or something. About an hour later I went to check up on them and to my horror, found them next door at an expensive Italian restaurant (of all places!). The band and crew were sitting around a 12 foot table amid piles of salad, pasta, bottles of wine and everything else they could possibly order. Never seen so much food on one table in my life! They’re talking and laughing and having the time of their lives and I’m standing there just about having a panic attack. I think I’m still paying off that darn meal to this day.
The band had a great performance and we had an after-festival party at my house the next evening. I have a picture somewhere of Francesco asleep on my couch. I remember standing there looking at him and it was kind of a surreal moment. The fat guy on the 33 cent album cover that I took a chance on and bought 20 years ago (and had just about worshiped ever since) was there asleep in my living room. How weird is that! Back in the early days, these guys might as well of lived on the moon as you figured you would never see them in concert and certainly never meet them. Of course those were the days before the invention of the internet (thanks Al Gore!) and the prog music festivals which changed everything (for the meager prog community). The next day Francesco had to fly out ahead of the rest of the band. I drove him to the airport and we talked about music and art the entire way.
I was fortunate enough to see Banco perform at NEARfest in 2001. To this day, it stands out as my all-time favorite concert. It was one of those magical concerts you rarely see. Those of you who were there know what I mean.
The prog community has lost one of the all-time greats!