Walter Rossi, Juno-winning guitarist, dies at 74
The Italian-Canadian has performed with Wilson Pickett, Buddy Miles, Influence and many more
Posted on May 03, 2022
Walter Rossi – the Juno-winning Italian-Canadian musician who played guitar with Wilson Pickett, the Buddy Miles Express, Charlee, Influence, Luke & the Apostles and more – has died. A social media page run by the late artist’s friends confirms that Rossi died Friday, April 29, following a battle with lung cancer. He was 74 years old.
Born Rossignuoli Rossi in Naples, Italy, in 1947, the artist began playing guitar in his early teens after moving to Montreal with his musical family, indulging in the playing styles of Elvis Presley, of Little Richard, the Ventures and Duane Eddy.
As Rossi would tell in a self-written biography“The guitar became the only thing I could think about, after school, on the weekends, at the table, anywhere, anytime and anytime. Imagine if you will, eating at a table with someone holding a fork in one hand and a pick in the other, it was dinner at the Rossi’s!”
In the late 1960s, Rossi was performing on the Montreal club scene with a band dubbed the Soulmates when he met Buddy Miles, the American artist and drummer best known as a founding member of Electric Flag. and a member of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies. The quick friendship led Miles to recommend Rossi as the new guitarist for Wilson Pickett’s backing band, and he recalls his stage audition at Massey Hall in Toronto as follows:
The band went through an instrumental warm-up of a Pickett standard called 99 ½, and it was obvious the guitarist didn’t have the skill set. Then the Wicked Pickett, as they liked to call themselves, came along and the band hit the song for a full run. No sooner had they started than Pickett stopped rehearsal to chew on the guitarist and call me onstage. After a somewhat chaotic and intimidating introduction, he then ordered me to play the opening of the song! I took a deep breath and let it tear. I was barely halfway there when he stopped the song and, turning to me, he simply said, “Welcome to the Wilson Pickett band. Be in New York next week.” These two sentences changed my very existence.
Rossi spent two years on the road with Pickett’s band before returning home to Montreal. Back in Canada, he joined the psych rock group Influence, releasing an eponymous album in 1968 and backing bands like the Doors, Procol Harum and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Before the decade was out, Rossi would leave Influence to join the Buddy Miles Express and, later, Luke & the Apostles. When the latter group disbanded, he would form Charlee, releasing a self-titled debut album with the group in 1972.
The decade also saw Rossi become a sought-after session guitarist, lending six-string skills to recordings by Michel Pagliaro and Nanette Workman. He would also launch his solo career, with an eponymous LP from 1976 which would be followed by 1978 Six strings nine lives.
The fruitful ’70s also earned Rossi two Juno Award nominations for Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year (now Breakthrough Artist of the Year). He was beaten for the honor at the 1978 awards by David Bradstreet before capturing it himself in 1980, beating a young Bryan Adams.
“From shows to studios, to bars after hours – I had friends all around me and I never knew what it was like to spend time alone,” Rossi explained. about his career. “You know, life is so unpredictable. So full of surprises.”