An Interview with Salvadore Poe, Formally Known As Paul DiBartolo of Spread Eagle

Images courtesy of Spread Eagles’ Official Facebook Page

The late 80s and early 90s was a particularly fertile time for Hard Rock, and Heavy Metal, especially when it comes to the guitar. With a scene that was bursting with talented shredders, who could write fantastic songs to boot, it was no small feat to stand out, and still, that was just what Paul DiBartolo (now known as Salvadore Poe) did, with his band, Spread Eagle.

Rising from the ashes of popular Boston band, Bang, DiBartolo formed Spread Eagle, which was initially comprised of a lineup featuring Ray West on vocals, Tommi Gallo on drums, Rob DeLuca on bass, and DiBartolo on lead guitar. The mighty Spread Eagle hit the ground running in late 1989, and looked to be on track for megastardom.

Looking back, Spread Eagle wasn’t just another Rock band, no, they were the epitome of late 80s and early 90s New York Street Metal. This was a band who was to be the east coast’s answer to Guns N’ Roses and then some. Spread Eagle’s ballsy, sleazy, and hard-driving sound was one that would come to define an era.

As far as DiBartolo was concerned, his songsmith and first-rate guitar skills ably guided Spread Eagle through its early years, which featured two albums, Spread Eagle (1990), and Open To The Public (1993), and multiple runs of soaring live performances lynchpined by genre altering, explosive tracks such as “Broken City,” “Switchblade Serenade,” and “If I Can’t Have You.”

Retrospectively, these two albums are looked back upon as some of the best, if not the best to come out of the era. Still, large-scale success eluded the band, despite its unprecedented talent, which was flanked by the two should-have-been-monster albums.

A combination of label indifference from MCA Records, and the sweeping changes which came with the era of Grunge, effectively buried Spread Eagle, relegating them to cult status, when in reality, they should have been topping the charts, and packing arenas worldwide.

In 1995, Spread Eagle amicably disbanded, which found Paul DiBartolo officially transitioning to the next phase of his journey, and formally becoming known as Salvadore Poe, and as the 90s wore on, Poe made a name for himself in the world of film and television scores. As the 90s closed and broke dawn as the 2000s, Poe began a stylistic shift, and a spiritual journey, which would alter his course from that point forward.

Present-day, Poe resides in India, where he’s been for the last fifteen years. While he’s left the world of Hard Rock, and Heavy Metal behind, and does not see himself taking the stage with a now reformed Spread Eagle, Poe is still an active musician and is still playing guitar on his own terms, how he sees fit, and in a manner which speaks to his soul.

In this rare, and career-spanning interview, Salvadore and I, among other things, dig into his origins as a musician, the formation and early years of Spread Eagle, his stylistic, and spiritual transition, his newest music, and a whole lot more.

If you would like to learn more about Salvadore Poe, his spiritual work, and his forthcoming music, you can head over to his webpage, and dig in.

Andrew:
What were some of your earliest leanings which gravitated you toward the guitar?

Sal:
I heard [Jimi] Hendrix when I was twelve. That was it for me. The first song I learned was “Hey Joe” by listening to the record. That was how I began. After that, I spent all my time learning guitar from records — Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, The Allman Brothers, James Taylor, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, among others. When I was nineteen, I heard Pat Metheny and Alan Holdsworth and was blown away, and I then learned some Jazz guitar from them.

Andrew:
As a burgeoning musician, how would you say you developed your style early on?

Sal:
From listening to all the amazing music from the 60s and 70s. And as far as my later Heavy Rock style, from hearing Eddie Van Halen, of course.

Andrew:
Before the formation of Spread Eagle, what were some of your earliest gigs where you cut your teeth?

Sal:
Before Spread Eagle was Bang, my band from Boston. We had a big local hit with a song I wrote called “Summertime,” which got a lot of play on the regional radio station, WBCN, and also, a video of that song on MTV. We became regional Rock Stars, so to speak, and gigged around New England, and New York City.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagles’ Official Facebook Page

Andrew:
Take me through the initial formation of Spread Eagle. How did you meet Ray West, Rob De Luca, and Tommi Gallo?

Sal:
I met Rob and Tommi when I was putting together Bang in Boston. I met Tommi, and asked him if he liked Van Halen, he said, “Yes,” and I said, “You’re in.” [Laughs]. Rob was a guitar player going to Berklee College of Music at the time. I asked him if he would like to play bass in Bang, and he said, “Yes.” They were both cool guys too, so I liked them. When I moved to New York, after I left Bang, I met Ray. I thought he was a great singer, and frontman, so I stole him from the band he was in at the time, and he and I created a new band, which became Spread Eagle. I called Rob and Tommi in Boston and asked them to come to New York, and join us. They moved down very quickly.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle’s self-titled debut is retrospectively looked upon as one of the best of the era. Take us through the writing, recording, and reception of that record.

Sal:
I wrote the music for that album very quickly. When Rob and Tommi came down, I had five songs ready. Ray and Rob wrote lyrics for them. We were in a basement rehearsal space where we practiced and did demos’. Our manager invited some A&R guys to see us. Most of them knew of me and Bang already from Boston, because we had showcased for many of them already. They came to our basement space, and MCA Records signed us right away, with only five songs, and no gigs. I had to write the rest of the music quickly. Ray and Rob wrote most of the lyrics. I contributed very little lyrically. On the second record, Open To The Public, I wrote a bit more of the lyrics but they did the bulk of that also. When we released the debut record, the scene had changed dramatically, and quickly because of the great bands from the Seattle Grunge scene. So, there was little interest in what we were doing. We were really over before it even started.

Andrew:
Your guitar tone and soloing on Spread Eagle’s debut are iconic. How did you achieve the sound, and what sort of gear did you use? What do you recall about the recording of the solo on “Switchblade Serenade?”

Sal:
The amp on that record was a custom-made amp that I had built for me by Bob Gjika. I only used it for that record. On tour, I used an early 70s Marshall. It was a good-sounding Marshall, and when I was in LA on tour, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar tech called me and said that Ed was not satisfied with his amp at the time. This was before he designed the Peavey 5150 Amp. He asked if I could bring my amp over to Ed’s studio. So, of course, I was more than happy to do that. Ed used it on the song, “Top Of The World.” I was there when he recorded it. It was such a nice moment for me. Ed was really a very nice guy, the few times I met him, always. I don’t recall much of recording the solo on “Switchblade.” I just know that I was trying to tear it up, as always back then.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagles’ Official Facebook Page

Andrew:
Despite its pedigree, advanced songsmith and musicianship, and fantastic live shows, Spread Eagle did not seem to hit in the way that some may have hoped. In your opinion, despite the quality of your debut, what went wrong?

Sal:
As I mentioned, the scene changed and there was little interest in what we were doing. We played to very sparse crowds in bars, while bands like Alice In Chains were packing theatres on the other side of town. Maybe, if we had come out two years earlier, we would have had more success. But who knows?

Andrew:
Spread Eagle toured heavily in support of its debut, and waited a full three years to release its follow-up, Open To The Public, which came at the very tail end of the era. Why did the band wait so long? In retrospect, do you regret that decision?

Sal:
I don’t recall it being that long. I don’t know why. But after we toured, I spent all my time at home with my four-track cassette player writing and demoing songs. Then we went into rehearsals, and again, Ray and Rob came up with most of the lyrics. I wrote the lyrics for “Faith” and “Preacher Man,” Ray also wrote lyrics for that one. I don’t regret anything, all is as it is.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle initially disbanded in 1995. What was the sequence of events which led to the fracture?

Sal:
Honestly, there was no fracture. I saw that nothing was happening with what we were doing, as did Ray. He and I met one day at a bar, and both felt it was time to end it.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagles’ Official Facebook Page

Andrew:
The 90s was a particularly difficult time for 80s rockers. How did you ride out the remainder of the decade?

Sal:
I was on to other things. I did a film score for The Basketball Diaries with Leonardo DiCaprio and did a lot of music promos for VH1. I made an album with my friend Adam [Flax], called Massive Internal Complications. Our song, “Strawberry Wine,” was in The Basketball Diaries. You can find that record on YouTube. In 1997, I had an epiphany and moved into spiritual work. I continued to do some music projects but was moving more, and more in the direction of my spiritual path.

Andrew:
What led you into the world of film and TV scores, and how is writing within the confines of a movie/show different than writing for an album?
 

Sal:
The person who directed the Bang video for “Summertime,” Scott Kalvert, went on to direct The Basketball Diaries. He wanted me to do the film score, but I had no experience in that, so they hired a famous scorer to work with me, and create music that was in my style. I was credited with playing guitar, but actually co-wrote much of the music. Writing songs is just your own creation coming out as its own independent thing. Scoring is music created to support the movie or visual, so it has that purpose and has to be created with that in mind.  

Andrew:
You famously scored VH1 Behind The Music and wrote its theme song. How did the composition of that come about? 

Sal:
I had already done another show for VH1, Rock ‘N’ Roll Picture Show, because my cousin was the director, and hired me for that job. Then, I got a call from VH1 one day saying that they had a new show, and they didn’t like the opening music the person they hired had created and asked if I could do it. I said, “Yes,” and they said, “Good, we need it tomorrow.” That was always how it was with that work, I only ever had one day, it seemed.

Images courtesy of Spread Eagles’ Official Facebook Page

Andrew:
Spread Eagle did reform in 2006, but you were not a part of the reunion. Were you asked to return? If so, what led to your decision to decline?

Sal:
Rob contacted me several times, around 2006, about coming back to the USA, and reforming the band. But I was far removed by then from that. Besides the film and TV music, I had also written the songs, and recorded an album (Sings Salvadore Poe) of Bossa Nova/Jazz music in Sweden around 2000, with my wife (Lisa Ekdahl) at the time. She is a famous singer, so we had a lot of success with that record, and it went Gold in France. We toured all over Europe as well as Jazz festivals, and theatres. Plus, when Rob contacted me, I was living in India and had begun writing, and recording my songs, more like 60s and 70s inspired music. I was going back to my roots, so to speak. So, Spread Eagle was well in my past by then, and I declined Rob’s invitation and suggested they find a great guitar player, which they did. I am happy they are doing what they feel inspired to do.

Andrew:
As you’ve alluded to, you’ve taken your career in a vastly different direction, which led to you becoming known as Salvadore Poe and creating music entirely different from the past. What events prompted these changes?

Sal:
When I was in Sweden, I wrote that Bossa Nova album (Sings Salvadore Poe), and wanted a non de plume for it, so, I took that name, and it stuck. It’s my name today. My life has been about change since the beginning. I have never stagnated into one form of myself, even my name changed. That’s just how it has been. Heavy Rock music was one period, only around eight years, of my life ride, a very brief period, actually. Before and since then, there have been many other styles and influences, as well as places I have lived, and things I have done. I do understand that people who love those records by Spread Eagle can perceive me in a fixed way, meaning, they see the musician I was then as who I am now. But that is only a small part of the whole of this person.

Andrew:
You mentioned Pat Metheny earlier. That aside, where did your love for Jazz develop from, and how do you feel it affected your writing in other forms of music, if at all?

Sal:
When I first heard George Benson on the radio, probably in 1975, I thought he was an amazing player. Then, I went to the Berklee College of Music, which was all Jazz back then. I heard Pat Metheny and fell completely in love with his first record, Bright Size Life, with Jaco Pastorius on bass. So, for a couple of years, I was learning Jazz guitar and the complex harmonic structure of Jazz music. Because I did that, I was able to write that Bossa Nova/Jazz record twenty years later.

Image courtesy of Salvadore Poe

Andrew:
As an author, and musician who is more focused on the spirituality which comes with Indian culture, do you still feel a connection to your former life as the guitarist of Bang and Spread Eagle? How did you reconcile those two parts of yourself?

Sal:
I don’t reconcile. Everything comes and goes, everything changes, including me. I’m the sum total of all that I have done, but not fixed on any particular aspect of it. I don’t hold on to anything, I let life flow where and as it does. Why I am as I am, I have no idea. But it’s all good and I am content.

Andrew:
Do you ever plug in your electric guitar and rock out these days, which begs the question, will we ever see you take the stage as a member of Spread Eagle again?

Sal:
For the last two years, I didn’t touch my guitar at all. A month ago, I picked up my guitar, and in one week, nine new songs came. So, I bought a new Strat and amp, and have been playing, and writing songs. I don’t play as I did in Spread Eagle. I don’t foresee playing live with Spread Eagle, I’m happy for them, and I like their new guitar player, Ziv Shalev, and wish them well. Rob is doing a great job guiding the new Spread Eagle and producing the records.

Andrew:
You mentioned you’ve got a Strat now. What sort of guitars were you using back in your Bang and Spread Eagle days?

Sal:
Back then, I played hybrid guitars I put together or had Bob Gjika make. They were standard for that time, Strat-like, mahogany bodies, maple necks, humbucking pickups.

Images courtesy of Salvadore Poe

Andrew:
Are there traces of your former self in an album such as Songs Of Freedom? When you look back on your music with Bang and Spread Eagle, how do you view those records, their message, and your contributions to them?

Sal:
My whole being is in Songs Of Freedom. There are traces of my musical self since I was twelve in it. I think the Bang and Spread Eagle records were great, and I had a lot of fun making them. I’m also very happy that many people still like them.

My new record, which I am writing now, will bring in even more of my roots. I added an external building to the house for a recording studio. I’m buying all new equipment to create a pro home studio. When it is ready, I plan to make my new record. It will be in the style of my current music, which I would call new Classic Rock, my root music.

Andrew:
Can you tell me any more about the recording of your new album, and what your full vision for your new studio looks like?

Sal:
Yeah, for the last sixteen years here in India, I haven’t had a very good recording studio. I didn’t even have real guitar amps. I’ve been recording with virtual amplifiers but this studio will be different — it’s going to be a real studio with acoustic insulation, and a separate room for my guitar amplifiers. I had my favorite amp shipped from America recently, it’s a custom Fender 1957 Deluxe style, boutique version. And I have some other good stuff as well, guitars and amplifiers. I will also have some better microphones, preamps, etc., so I think this new record is going to be a better production than my music from the last sixteen years here in India.

Andrew:
You wrote most of if not all of the music for Spread Eagles’ first two albums, what was your process like back then, and how has that changed in the present day?

Sal:
I wrote the music at home, often I did full arrangement demos on my Tascam four-track cassette recorder. Then, I showed Rob and Tommi the songs. Now, because I play all the instruments and everything myself for my recent music when a song comes in my studio, I just lay down a guitar track. I don’t use a click track anymore, I like to keep it loose. Then, I sing a scratch vocal and then play drums, which I play on my midi keyboard. I don’t program drums or use any loops or templates. Then, after that, I put down some bass guitar, then add more guitars or vocals, background vocals, and keyboards, whatever is needed. I see it as a painting. I always had the image of a painter alone in his atelier, just by himself creating a painting of his own vision. When I was in bands, of course, I couldn’t exactly do that, although I was pretty much arranging the music, now I can just be basically like an artist in my studio making a painting I like.

Andrew:
In your early days, you weren’t much for writing lyrics back then, but present-day, lyrics seem to carry a deeper meaning in your current music. What’s changed in that regard for you?

Sal:
Yes, the lyrics of my songs are very important for what I’m trying to share with my music. If I don’t have a good lyric, I don’t have a song. My lyrics reflect the same message as the spiritual inquiry work I do with people, the books that I write, and the intensives that I share. My songs are about freedom and my inquiry work is about freedom as well. You can say freedom, peace, happiness, love, that’s what all of my work is about. The reason I never wrote lyrics when I was younger was that I never felt I had anything of value to say. And I don’t really like banal lyrics. I like great artists, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and others. I feel they have something to say. I don’t say the same thing as they do, of course, but there was definitely depth in their words. So, it wasn’t until about sixteen years ago, after I had finished with my spiritual path, that I felt like I had something to say. Since then, I have been writing lyrics, singing, and basically, just creating songs on my own.

Andrew:
You mentioned Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen George Benson, and Pat Metheny, do you have any other influences that might not be so obvious in your playing back then as well as today?

Sal:
Duane Allman was huge when I was a teenager. I learned every note from Live At Fillmore East of Duane and Dickie Betts. I think his playing is evident in even my work with Spread Eagle. Then also, Johnny Winter, I learned a lot of his stuff from Johnny Winter And Live and Johnny Winter And studio album. His playing influenced my Blues playing as well. So, even in Spread Eagle, when I was doing much more shredding type of guitar playing, the influences of the Blues background was always there as well. And also, when I was a kid, I learned some of James Taylor’s acoustic playing, so some of my acoustic playings are inspired by him. More currently, I’ve really been loving the rhythm playing of John Lennon, who is a fantastic rhythm guitar player as well as an amazing songwriter. Another guitar player I love is Neil Young. For one, I love his tone, and I love the very loose style he plays. His guitar playing and music are very real, and I like very real-sounding music. 

Andrew:
It’s obvious you were one of the best players of your generation, but your name is hardly mentioned in a conversation usually reserved for the likes of Vito Bratta, Vinnie Vincent, and George Lynch. In retrospect, did/does that bother you? Does your competitive nature kick in at all? Did you ever compare yourself? How do you view your accomplishments with respect to that particular scene? 

Sal:
Nah, nothing like that bothers me in the least. I am not even aware of all of that. Not to sound flippant, but I really don’t view my accomplishments at all. That’s for others to view. And if people are more familiar with those other guys, or think they are better, it’s perfect as it is. 

Andrew:
I assume you had dreams of fame and fortune in the late 80s and early 90s. Is that something that enters your thinking present day? What are your expectations for your music career as you move forward?

Sal:
Yes, I definitely had dreams of making it when I was young. All of my effort, money, and time went into that for several years. But now, I don’t think about that at all. I’m not trying to make it in anything or have a career. I just do what I love to do, and what flows naturally from me. That’s both with my music and my spiritual inquiry work. I just do it for the love of it. So, I just create the songs, and then I’ll put them out on the internet or wherever, and if some people hear them and enjoy them, that will be great, I’ll be very happy. Success!

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for you in all lanes, Sal?

Sal:
I have been busy with my other work, which is about self-inquiry, you could say spiritual teaching work, although that’s a loose description. I also write books about that work. I will begin a new two-month online intensive in March 2022. People from all over the world attend these.

My partner, Bindu Pothalil, and I are building a new house here in India. She does Breathwork and Kundalini work. We will have a huge rooftop veranda where we can both do our work when the lockdowns loosen up, and people can come again. I added an external building to the house for the new recording studio.

And I’ll keep being here in India, where I love, and enjoy what life brings.

Image courtesy of Salvadore Poe

Interested in learning more about the work Salvadore Poe and Spread Eagle? Check out the links below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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