Video: Al Caiola with Frank Vignola at the Sanctuary in Chatham, January 2015
By Kevin Coughlin
Way back in my teen years, late-night TV was filled with “special offers” for records by people you never heard of.
One of them was The Best of Al Caiola.
At 94, Caiola still coaxed tuneful sounds from his electric guitar. The evening’s featured artist, jazz virtuoso Frank Vignola, attested to the man’s greatness.
Al Caiola, it turns out, was every bit as legendary as the old TV commercial insisted. The Jersey City native, a Marine who served on Iwo Jima in World War II, scored hits with instrumentals of the Bonanza and Magnificent Seven themes.
Over a career spanning more than 50 albums, he recorded with everyone from Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett to Buddy Holly, Glen Campbell and Simon & Garfunkel. I asked his advice for budding guitar- slingers.
“Just practice!” he said with a laugh.
The presidential election drowned out news of Caiola’s death, on Nov. 9, 2016, at an Allendale nursing home. He was 96.
How good was Al Caiola in his prime?
“Al’s tone was the sweetest I have ever heard. It’s like butter. He also was one of the sweetest people I have ever met,” Vignola said via email.
Vignola ranks Caiola among the greatest guitarists of the last 100 years, “right up there with Les Paul, Tony Mottolla and Charlie Christian.
“He could read music like a champion. My first experience with Al was in the studio for the NJ Guitar Mafia recording, and he sight-read the two-staff piano part. A great lesson.”
Caiola gets bonus points from Vignola for his instrumental success.
“Very few artists as instrumentalists without vocals were able to achieve commercial success,” he said.
Guess I should have bought that album.
Al Caiola is survived by his wife, their son and daughter, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Video: Fretboard fun with Frank and Al
Video: Frank Vignola, Al Caiola and friends celebrate Django Reinhardt
Video: Getting cheeky: Audra Mariel with Frank Vignola and Al Caiola