Friday, September 13, 2013

Ten Questions with.......Phil Gates

Phil Gates has been around music all of his life, coming from a family who loved music of all styles.  That diverse range of musical influences combines to form his own unique vision of the Blues.  His recent release, Live at the Hermosa Saloon, puts that vision on full display.  Gates shows himself to be an excellent songwriter, a guitarist of impressive range, and a soulful vocalist.  Backed by a tight three-piece band, He puts on a great performance in front of an obviously appreciative audience.  This is what a live record is supposed to sound like.

In addition to his solo career (his Addicted to the Blues release made FBF's Top Discs You Might Have Missed list in 2010), Gates has also worked as a producer on several blues and R&B releases, as a session guitarist for multiple albums, and he also scored the AFI movie, My Normal Life.

Mr. Gates agreed to sit down and answer Ten Questions from Friday Blues Fix.  We appreciate his time and his talents.  Check him out.........

Friday Blues Fix:  You come from a musical family…..did you always know that you wanted to have a career in music?

Phil Gates:  Yes, I've always wanted a career in music for as long as I can remember. By that, I mean constantly being involved in as many aspects of music as possible. This would include things like: writing, recording, audio engineering, performing, touring, playing guitar on other artist’s projects, Co- Producing, and Producing.

FBF:  Besides your family, who were your musical influences (composers and performers) and why?

PG:  The ones who were direct influences on me musically were Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Roy Buchanan, Al Di Meola and Rory Gallagher. I liked how they articulated the instrument, by picking, palming, and slide guitar techniques. And how they applied effects. They didn't just HAVE effects on their tone, they APPLIED effects to specific phrases.

Then I got to cats like Albert King, and Shuggie Otis, Fred McDowell, B.B King, Johnny Winter, and Buddy Guy because they had a WAY of saying things on guitar. With just a guitar.

Later it was time to stretch with cats like Larry Carlton, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour, Robben Ford, Mike Stern and John Scofield, because they play the changes, and could play inside, or stretch outside.

For Composers, especially for film, I’m a James Newton Howard fan, or Ennio Morricone. Go listen to the score for Grand Canyon, or The Legend of 1900. Amazing.

FBF:  What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?

PG:  My dad used to play a lot of Jazz records, so the first melody I believe I ever knew was John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, first song with lyrics: Ray Charles “Hit the Road Jack”. There was a lot of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Cannonball Adderley, Eartha Kitt. My mother was a classical fan, so Wagner and Beethoven were there, as well as great R&B singers like Sarah Vaughan and Gladys Knight. My sisters were playing everything like Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye from Motown. Also any thing from Wilson Pickett to Isaac Hayes from Stax records, and my brother brought in everything from Bill Haley and the Comets, to Albert King and Freddy King, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Carlos Santana. I’m also a fan of Rock bands like Rush, Robin Trower, to Sting, Peter Gabriel, Papa Wemba and Jerry Douglas. I like variety.

FBF:  When did you realize that you wanted to play the blues?

PG:  When I started playing guitar. I had taken Violin, and Clarinet in school, but when I heard the stuff from, Hendrix and Roy Buchanan, I was done.

FBF:  You've produced or co-produced several recordings, including Zac Harmon’s The Blues According to Zachariah…..what drew you to that part of the music business?

PG:  I dig all of the aspects of the creative. I like helping an artist develop a project with a sound as close to what they hear in their heads as possible. That’s always fun. I used to mix live music for a lot of great Jazz artists, I learned a lot from them. I can apply many of those lessons to help other artists. As a Producer, you have the freedom and responsibility to make the artist sound and perform the best that they can. Which makes for a better finished product.

FBF:  You've also done a lot of session guitar work over your career….are there interesting stories that you can share about working with some of these musicians, or any life lessons you've learned from any of them?

PG:  Humility. There are SO many great guitarists out there that I’m very honored to just be asked to perform on a session. I did a session with a huge artist once who asked me to play some guitar harmony parts. They asked me what harmonies I heard that could work. I knew instantly that they already knew every harmony possible, and they were just being gracious so I’d feel more comfortable. That was cool.

I was also on a session tracking (recording) to 2” analog tape once where the artist needed eight bars of pre-roll to punch in (correct) a bad vocal line here or there. If there are say five spots to fix per song, and ten takes on each, do you know how much billable time that is in a 12 hour session date?

I learned to be fast, and if I have to change something, I need only 2-4 beats to punch, not bars. Producers like people that can get in, get them what they need, and get out. I’ve been very fortunate that most times I get hired for session work, it’s to be me. I get to play what I hear when playing parts or improvising, and not have to play what’s written on a chart.  Though those sessions can be fun as well.

FBF:  Can you tell us a little bit about how LiveAt The Hermosa Saloon came about?  What made you decide to do a live album?  What are the challenges to doing a live recording?

PG:  I’ve recorded many of the shows we’ve performed at various venues. That way, the band gets used to all of my extra gear that I bring. There’s no “Oh man, we’re RECORDING tonight!” anxiety factor. The show that got captured on Live at the Hermosa Saloon was great because there’s SO MUCH unscripted, off the cuff, one off vamps, solos, and everyone was loose, and just having a blast.

The reason I decided on a live record, was that the energy we have on stage, is different than the energy of the CD’s I already have out. I dig those prior CD’s, yet I knew that a live CD would be much more representative of who we really are on stage. I wanted fans, and also industry professionals to be able to get a sense of what the band is like live.

The challenges recording live are pretty minimal. As long as I can get everything recorded well, I’m cool. I paid a lot of attention to make the mix more present, and not like you’re in say, row 20. I wanted to invite the listener IN to the show.

FBF:  If you were compiling a Best of Phil Gates album, what songs would you put on it?

PG:  Wow. All of them of course!!!!! OK for the sake of this interview, and in no particular order:

“Summer In the City”, “End Of Time”, “Evening Train”, “I’m Lost” and “Get Around To Me” from Phil Gates Live at the Hermosa Saloon

“It Doesn’t Matter”, “Unfinished Business”, “Mo Better Blues”, “Away I Go” and “Old School” from In The Mean Time

“Take It Out”, “Back It Up” and “I’m Lost” from Should I?

 “Sexy Little Cool”, Used Me Up” “Evening Train”, “My Babe” and “Addicted” from Addicted To The Blues

“Salina’s Smile” and “Querida” from ThisSide of Me

All available on iTunes mind you…

FBF:  Musically speaking, is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you would like to do?

PG:  I’d love to perform on stage with Buddy Guy, or Jeff Beck. That would be insanely cool.

And as arduous as it can be, I did a sixteen-country world tour in the military in the U.S. Air Force’s “Tops In Blue” show. I’d like to perform another world tour with the music and band I have now.

FBF:  Can you give us a list of a few of your favorite albums or songs?

PG:  OK, You asked for it! It’s pretty eclectic:

"Mary Ann" - Buddy Guy
"Midnight Train" - Buddy Guy
"Goodbye Porkpie Hat" - Charles Mingus or Jeff Beck
"Country Preacher" - Cannonball Adderley or Roy Buchanan
Live in ’74 - Rory Gallagher
Moonflower - Carlos Santana
"Phone Booth" - Albert King
Talk To Your Daughter Robben Ford
"Tipatina's" and "Common Ground" - Mike Stern
Second Winter - Johnny Winter
That’s What I am Here For - Roy Buchanan
Sean Costello - Sean Costello
"After The Fall" - Hiram Bullock
"Universal Peacepipe" and "Blue Misty Morning" - Eric Gales
"Bounce" - Jerry Douglas
"The Crisis" - Ennio Morricone

Bonus Question:  FBF:  What is your favorite part about being a musician?

PG:  Working with other creative people, and the professionals associated with that process. Sharing and learning from each other. Meeting and performing for so many cool fans, and music lovers.

Having a random music idea in the car, or out somewhere. Then taking that idea, putting it on a blank canvas so to speak, then the process of everyone adding their vibe, and energy to it, and being able to show this once random idea to others as music.

That process of creation from idea to fruition is exciting to me.

And of course, playing guitar.

Visit all of these Phil Gates sites for more information and music.....

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