One of the most significant cult figures in the Italian singer/songwriter scene, Piero Ciampi is a typical example of an artist whose importance was universally recognized only after his death.
A romantic and maudit poet, Ciampi is often compared to another tragic figure, Luigi Tenco, with the latter ultimately destroyed by his spleen, the former by alcoholism. Born in Livorno on September 18, 1934, Piero Ciampi formed his first band with his two brothers, and took the role of the singer. During his military service in Fano, he met musician and future producer Gianfranco Reverberi, with whom he formed a quartet, and when he returned to Livorno he played double bass in some local orchestras. Then, in 1957, he moved to Paris, where he began writing his own songs and performing them in the Latin Quarter bistros, where he also met artists such as writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline and existentialist philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre.
In 1959 Ciampi moved back to Italy, and Reverberi invited him to Milan to pursue a career as a professional musician and singer. Here he became friends with the likes of Luigi Tenco and Gino Paoli, and released his first records under the name of Piero Litaliano. Ciampi's first single, "Conphiteor," was released in 1961; his most successful single, "Lungo Treno del Sud," arrived in 1963. During the same year Piero Litaliano also released his eponymous debut album, which sold poorly but revealed a strong artistic and poetic personality. It would be his last release of the decade. Due to his restless nature and a dangerous passion for alcohol, he moved around Europe for the remaining part of the 1960s, was married and divorced, and for a time was artistic director of the Italian Ariel record label. In 1967 Ciampi wrote and produced an album -- Lucia Rango Show -- for the mostly unknown singer Lucia Rango. Throughout this period, Ciampi preferred to be recognized as a poet rather than a musician.
In 1970 Ciampi met arranger and producer Gianni Marchetti, with whom he would later create his best music. The first result of their partnership was the single "Barbara Non C'È," followed in 1971 by the album Piero Ciampi, his first real masterpiece that featured some of his most important compositions, including "Il Vino," a declaration of his love for wine, both red and white. Although it is now considered one of the most important Italian records of its decade and beyond, it sold very poorly, as did its follow-up, the equally good Io e Te Abbiamo Perso la Bussola, released two years later. Collaborations with Carmen Villani and Ornella Vanoni were planned and aborted because of Ciampi's unreliability, although things went better with his fellow citizen Nada, for whom he wrote the songs included in her 1973 album, Ho Scoperto Che Esisto Anch'Io. Released in 1975, Andare Camminare Lavorare e Altri Discorsi was an anthology including two unreleased tracks, one of them being "Andare Camminare Lavorare," while 1976's Dentro e Fuori was a double LP comprised entirely of new songs. During the same year he made a famous appearance at the Club Tenco festival in Sanremo, a recording of which would be released in 1995 as a part of a collection entitled Live al Tenco '76, Inediti e Provini.
However, by the end of the 1970s Ciampi's public appearances had become more and more infrequent due to his increasing problems with alcoholism. Contrary to expectations, though, what eventually killed him was not cirrhosis of the liver but throat cancer, which put an end to his life on January 19, 1980, in Rome. From that moment on, many of his colleagues started paying homage to Ciampi and his music -- the first being Gino Paoli with 1980's Ha Tutte le Carte in Regola -- and critics and audiences alike gradually realized the importance of his works, to the extent that now his records, so poetic and melancholic, are considered milestones. ~ Aurelio Pasini, Rovi