Acclaimed guitarist Frank Vignola plays at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath Friday, Dec. 6. Among those accompanying him is, at left, rhythm guitarist Vinny Raniolo. Courtesy Lynn Redmile

BATH — Frank Vignola had traveled the world, played alongside a staggering roster of luminaries and been named by famed guitarist and inventor Les Paul as one of his “Five Most Admired Guitarists List” for the Wall Street Journal, and “one of the brightest stars of the guitar” by The New York Times.

And it all came crashing down in May 2017, when the then-51-year-old was hurled from an ATV into a tree.

He suffered injuries that included a shattered shoulder, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding, which seemed likely to end the multi-genre guitarist’s career, if not his life. Initially, “they really didn’t think I was going to survive,” Vignola recalled Nov. 22.

Once he learned that he’d make it, and got past an infection that threatened to take his arm, his focus turned to recovering his ability to play the instrument that was his life and livelihood. Like two of his heroes, Django Reinhardt and Paul, who’d suffered injuries and took substantial time to reclaim their careers, Vignola was determined to do the same, through the many surgeries and lengthy physical therapy that follows.

“I never thought that I would be able to play the way I was able to play,” he said. “… But just constant work, constant practice. And sure enough, about two months ago, two and a half years after the accident, I finally started to feel whole again.”

Vignola plays at the Chocolate Church Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, returning to the 804 Washington St. venue for the first time in three decades.

He will lend his lead guitar skills to traditional holiday songs, along with pieces from a vast range of musicians that include Beethoven, Paul Simon, and Frank Zappa. He will be joined by an acclaimed crew: rhythm guitarist Vinny Raniolo, bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, and jazz vocalist Audra Mariel.

Vignola first picked up the guitar when he was 5, inspired by the records played by his father – a banjo and accordion player – of luminaries like Paul, Reinhardt, and Joe Pass. Vignola’s mother had a guitar around, his father taught him some chords, and “I was hooked from then. … I never thought of doing anything else with my life besides music.”

“Musicians who are called to play music, that’s what they do, no matter what,” Vignola added.

“I love jazz, I love the Great American Songbook,” he said. “I love Louis Armstrong and all those great entertainers who might not have been on the … improvisational forefront like a guy like (John) Coltrane was, but I enjoy listening to Louis Armstrong sing ‘Hello, Dolly.’ Call me old fashioned, but that’s what I really love. So that’s what I dedicate my life, and my musical life, to.”

The guitar is so natural to Vignola that it’s like an extension of his body.

“It’s so comfortable in my hands that sometimes I might be thinking of something completely foreign to what’s going on,” he said. If Vignola is playing “Stardust,” he might be thinking about a test his son took that day, or a call from a teacher, while never missing a string or beat.

“It’s pretty nuts, really,” he laughed.

Vignola has performed in 14 countries on three continents, in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Sydney Opera House, San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy – the world’s oldest indoor concert hall.

He’s recorded more than 30 CDs, written nearly 20 music instructional books, produced 15 teaching course videos, and hosted his own PBS special, “Four Generations of Guitar.” He reaches more than 500 students through his online courses.

Vignola has been tapped to play along with world-famous musicians like Madonna, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagan, and Ringo Starr. He admits to being star-struck when a tuxedo-garbed Paul McCartney walked in during a 2001 show Vignola was doing with Les Paul.

“He sat right in the front row, and I wanna tell you, it’s like God walked in the room,” Vignola recalled. “Actually, God could have walked in the room, and McCartney would have been bigger.”

McCartney, who knew every song they played, was invited onstage. He told a tale from his youth in Liverpool, England, where he and John Lennon were playing a pub, and the owner wanted them to play Les Paul and Mary Ford tunes.

Afterward, Vignola played “Sheik of Araby,” which the Beatles covered in their earliest days, and McCartney sang along. “He was so down-to-earth,” Vignola said. “… Even though you’re the biggest star on the planet, you can still be a heck of a nice guy.”

Les Paul, who’d sometimes stay up until 4 a.m. signing autographs and chat for 15 minutes at a time with fans, offered “a lesson in humility, and how important that audience is. It’s about them; it’s not about you.”

It’s a practice Vignola continues at his shows, meeting with audience members during intermission and after the final bow. He encourages more people to get out and see live music, “because I think it does wonders for people’s headspace.”

“I just hope people leave the venue feeling better than when they walked in,” Vignola said.

William Lederer, the Chocolate Church’s executive director, is confident that will be the case, calling him “an absolutely jaw-dropping musician.”

Given where Vignola has played, and with whom, Dec. 6 provides “a rare opportunity to see someone of his level in an intimate and unique setting like our theater,” Lederer said. “I guarantee audience members will not be disappointed.”

Tickets cost $25 in advance or $28 at the door and are available at chocolatechurcharts.org or by calling the box office at 442-8455.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: