gino vannelli piano

For months the melody and chords were like pulses and waves blowing through long, narrow hallways, from a distant room in a sprawling stone house. The emotions were vivid, yet the words indistinct. I had written two complete sets of lyrics and remained unsatisfied.

One night I flipped through some old poems and came across verses I had written about a battered woman who lived in the apartment upstairs when I was ten years of age. Suddenly, the song lyrics seemed to write themselves. The sounds and images in my head were as sharp as if they had just happened the night before. I simply called it, ‘The Woman Upstairs’—exactly what the music had been pointing to all along.

When the track was complete and I had laid down my final vocal, I was thoroughly perplexed as to why it didn’t turn out as I hoped it would—perhaps the instrumentation was a might too twangy for my voice. Could be I was singing it all wrong. Disenchanted with myself, I put it aside.

One day, while playing some new tracks for my son, Anton, I happened to show him ‘The Woman Upstairs’. I asked his opinion, hoping to be inspired by any first impressions. “Don’t you dare give up on that song, Dad,” Anton replied most assertively, after we spoke for a while.

I had written the song on acoustic guitar, with somewhat of a country bent, and decided the only way to rethink it was to now try approaching it on the piano. Well, this old Schiller, squeaky pedals, sticky notes and chorused as they may be, brought a fresh new slant. A bit of gospel, blues and Chopin suddenly rushed to my fingers and within a few hours ‘The Woman Upstairs’ was reborn.  The next morning I rushed to the studio and recut the whole track; sang it the following day in one or two takes; and there it was, exactly what I had been hearing, ringing through the echoed hallways of my mind all along.

It is a true story, one still difficult to wrap my head around after all this time—now one of the twelve on the new Wilderness Road album.

-Gino


The Woman Upstairs

She had a chalk-white face and dandelion hair
T’was a wisp of a woman who lived in the tenement upstairs
Where the walls were so thin
You could hear her bleedin’

He was mountain of a man that stunk o’ brewdog ale
With a fist he swung like a curved-claw hammer on a nail
With all of his might
Most every night

Then it came one day on a cold day in July
A time to choose to either live or die
Like a low-hung fruit sprung from the Tree of Life
The moment had arrived

As he wrapped his hands around her throat
Before the kitchen lights went dark
She took hold of the butcher knife
And drove it into his heart

Soon the police came and laid her in cuffs
Threw her in the back of a black and white and sure enough
They locked her away
And there she would stay

Until such time her case was assigned
To a public defender who had ten other trials on his mind
Thus the verdict was in
Before a word was spoken 

Oh, it came one day on a cold day in July
A time to choose to either live or die
Like a low-hung fruit sprung from the Tree of Life
The moment had arrived

As I heard her shout, No way, no how!
No more blood and tears will I shed!
Then there came that terrible silence
And that mountain of a man was dead

She weren’t no newsworthy face, no lady fair
Just a hard-luck woman livin’ in the tenement upstairs
Who by a jury of her peers
Got twenty-five years