Vinyl Treasures: Santo & Johnny

Santo & Johnny's “Sleepwalk” is examined in this edition of "Vinyl Treasures."
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Although I own more than 12 Santo & Johnny LPs, the Farina brothers’ 1959 debut album made its biggest impact on me. Santo was 21, and Johnny 19, when these Brooklyn boys conceived a perfect instrumental, “Sleepwalk”—a timeless composition that successfully conveys innocent romanticism like no other, and that now seems part of our musical DNA.

Prompted by their father, who found a steel-guitar teacher for both boys, Johnny ended up playing standard guitar with Santo playing steel. “Sleepwalk” was written during a late-night jam, when the brothers couldn’t sleep after a gig. Around 1985, I started studying the song as if I were writing a master’s thesis on it, spending more than a month of eight-hour practice sessions focusing on variations on the “Sleepwalk” themes. I applied 6/9 chords, doublestops, harmonics, volume and tone swells, steel-guitar bends, behind the nut bends, and chord melody. I also viewed the amazing IV minor chord as a ii chord—Dm7b5—which opened up another avenue of approaches. Finally, I discovered the potential of the Fender Telecaster, and the endless techniques and sounds it offered.

I’ve written more than 100 instrumentals, and it has been a major effort—possibly futile—to try to write something as perfect as “Sleepwalk.” This album has more than one gem, though. “Caravan,” “Summertime,” “All Night Diner,” “School Day,” and the others all have simple, vibey approaches that simultaneously convey naiveté and profound wisdom. Santo & Johnny is a little masterpiece of an LP, and “Sleepwalk” is its crowning jewel.

The Farina brothers went on to record music for decades, and rumor has it that they eventually didn’t get along. Too bad. When I look at the LP cover on this Canadian/American release, I wish I could freeze that moment in time, because it beautifully displays innocence and youth.

Jim Campilongo’s new live album, Live at Rockwood Music Hall NYC,is available now.