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Though he was born in Monfalcone, in Gorizia (near modern-day Slovenia and Croatia), as a young child Gino Paoli moved across Italy to Genoa, and it was that city with which he was associated and that he called his home. In the 1950s he worked as a porter and a graphic designer before realizing it was music at which he was most talented. Singing in local bands (one of them with friend Luigi Tenco), Paoli was discovered by Ricordi, and soon he was recording tracks for them. In 1960 he released the first single written by him, "La Gatta," and in the next few years the songs that would come to define him — "Il Cielo in una Stanza," "Vivere Ancora," "Sassi," "Sapore di Sale," "Sassi," the latter of which 300 versions were eventually recorded — came out. He also spent his time working as a talent scout, helping the careers of both Lucio Dalla and Fabrizio De André get off the ground.
Despite his success, the '60s were tumultuous years for Paoli. An attempted suicide (that left shrapnel near his heart) and the suicide of Tenco sent him into a deep depression, and he took a break from music for a while. He returned, however, in 1971 with Due Facce Dell'Amore, and 1974 saw one of his most beloved albums, I Semafori Rossi Non Sono Dio, a tribute to Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat. A prolific composer, Paoli continued releasing nearly an album a year well into the 1990s, including 1988's L'Ufficio Delle Cose Perdute, 1991's Matto Come un Gatto, and 1994's King Kong. In 2002 he returned to the San Remo Festival with "Un Altro Amore," also found on his album Se. Two years later he released Ti Ricordi? No Non Mi Ricordo, a collection of 12 duets with onetime flame and longtime friend Ornella Vanoni.