We had the good fortune of connecting with Joe Franco and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Joe, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in Granada, south of Spain. My Dad was an immigrant from Honduras, Central America, which in the 80’s in southern Spain was not common. In my school years he was still studying, so it was my Mum who brought the money home. That was even more uncommon for the place and time, and I always felt a bit awkward about it. For instance, when we needed to fill out a permission from our parents for the school to take us out on a trip, there was normally only one box to fill: Father’s Occupation. Or when the parents of some of my friends asked, “what does your dad do for a living?”, there was always some level of surprise on their faces after my answer. My hair showed my heritage, and this also was addressed by my classmates, that gave me the classic nick names for kids with curly hair where nobody else had it.
Aside from being a Law student, my dad was a heavy drinker. I am sure that this influenced me at the time to become a musician, but I’m not sure how. I am the only artist on the Spanish side of my family, and the only musician overall. I don’t have the memory of actively using music as an escape, although obviously I spent hours and hours learning how to play and listening to records. Perhaps I was looking for approval somehow.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My Dad introduced me to Rock n’ Roll music in my teens, which eventually lead me to the Blues. That made me decide to play guitar. Blues guitar might sound like such a common thing in USA I guess, but it wasn’t common where I grew up. There was probably a guitar in every home in Spain, but not in mine. I found one at my Grandad’s house, although it was a 30-year-old nylon string guitar, the kind of instrument you use to play Flamenco or Spanish folk just not one you’ll use to play along with Eric Clapton’s “Just One Night” album.
But I did, I went to my Grandparent’s every day, telling my parents I was going to study there- in the end I was, just not maths or physics-and tried to play along with all types of records.
I set myself the goal of learning how to play. It wasn’t very easy, since in my city, Granada, Spain in 1986, there was no such thing as rock or blues guitar lessons, and if there were, definitely not at the reach of the 12-year-old kid that I was.
So, I learned how to tune my guitar from a book and tried to figure it out from there. After a few years digging deeper into the Blues my next goal was forming a Rock band, which I did at the age of 16. Next was recording a demo, then gigging, then recording an album and kept gigging. That was the path. Perhaps a common teen journey in America, but not very typical in Spain at the time.
After a few years rockin’ as much as we could, I felt like I needed to keep learning and progressing in my musical journey, as I started to listen to different styles – at this point we were in the 90’s, so there was a lot going on – and felt that I needed to explore beyond the ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd’s style I was playing then. There wasn’t any other way to learn music at the time in my city other than good old classical training courses where the starting age was 6 to 9 years old.
So there I was, aged 21, trying to learn how to write and read the Do Re Mi surrounded by 9 year olds (luckily, there was another fella my same age, but it was still pretty embarrassing!).
Up until then, I was self-taught. I didn’t know what a scale was, a chord, a bar or tonality. I didn’t know it then, but this caused me a lot of insecurity.
Those classical guitar studies opened my mind and my ears. I learned to read and write music, to value the quality and diversity of different genres in different years or centuries, and to understand music out of the frame of the rock guitar, and out of guitar in general, allowing me to play several instruments, and enrich my knowledge and enjoyment of music in general.
Since then, I’ve founded and been involved in all types of projects, from Soul-Funk ensembles to Gypsy Jazz combos, through Flamenco performances or acoustic duos, playing different instruments, teaching, and carrying out duties as music director, producer and arranger.
Now, I’m ready to continue a new path in music for film and advertising and anything else that comes my way bringing either lessons to learn or challenges to overcome.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In my trips I’ve always tried to explore outside of the typical tourist spots, and find places that the locals love. In London there are lots of places like that and also unique locations. The former are well covered by guides and literature, and for the latter I would say that a visit to the City of London on a Sunday morning or at night time would give the visitor a different view of that area, and you’ll have the time (and space) to appreciate the unique architecture that blends new with ancient in some spots. Don’t expect to find many places open to eat or drink, though.
In Granada, Spain, you don’t need to worry about anything. It doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll be stunned by beauty.
Specially during Spring. It’s famous for their Tapas culture, although like everywhere else not all places are awesome and some are really tourist oriented and therefore more ‘standard’, let me give you 2 tips that would identify a place with good food and drinks not only in Granada but in the whole of Spain: if they have old people amongst the customers, and the floor is filled with napkins and looks like a mess, don’t miss it!!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to shoutout all the people that helped, supported or inspired me since I moved to London. From the buskers on the London Underground, to the bands I’ve been involved with, and the people I met along the way, they gave me the opportunity to learn, grow and discover new paths and ways of doing things. In one way or another, all of them helped me to find my path.
Personal Photo: Blake Ezra Photography