Review Fix Exclusive: Q & A With Mr. Big Guitarist Paul Gilbert
One of the fastest guitarists in the business, Gilbert is also one of the most talented and dedicated.
Review Fix: What was the inspiration behind the Great Guitar Escape?
Paul Gilbert: Well of course my life’s passion is to play the guitar, but over the years I’ve come to enjoy teaching as well. The Great Guitar Escape is set up for me to teach at several different skill levels and also to offer to the students my hand-picked group of musicians. I think these guys are some of the best in the world at playing, teaching and inspiring people to get deeper into music. These guys are really incredible. If I have any extra time after giving my lessons, I’m going to sneak into the back of their workshops and get some ideas myself!
Also, the Full Moon Resort is a stunning place. It’s a great backdrop for an experience that I know everyone will remember. I think that every successful musician has had some crucial moments- a great concert, the right advice from a good teacher, a close-up meeting with a musical hero- these moments can be life-changing. My goal is to create a camp where these moments are happening all the time. I know that I’ve got the best people to make it happen. It’s really going to be a blast.
Review Fix: Who do you think would benefit from it the most?
PG: The camp is centered around rock guitar. But all of the teachers have their own diverse styles and areas of expertise. Kid Andersen specializes in blues and rockabilly, Tony MacAlpine has a deep understanding of classical music… He plays classical piano as well as being a world-class guitarist. Guthrie Govan can play just about anything and has become a modern fusion legend. Scotty Johnson plays great jazz, blues and rock and also has spent a lot of time playing in the orchestra pit at Broadway shows. Sam Coulson didn’t start playing guitar until he was 16. He managed to achieve an extremely high level of technique and expression in a very short time. I can’t wait to ask him how he practices. Also, I’ve got Kelly LeMieux on bass…He’s a rock veteran, both in the studio and from numerous world tours. Kelly played bass in my solo band before and he’s one of those rare guys who have the technique to do the tricky stuff, but also just loves to lay down a simple groove when the song calls for it. And Rodney Holmes will be giving some drum workshops and playing in the nightly jams as well. Rodney has recorded massive hits with Santana and backed up jazz legends like Randy Brecker. It’s a real honor to jam with him and have him teach at the camp. I’ve got pro guys giving crash courses in sound engineering and guitar tech skills as well, so there is an enormous amount of information available to dig into to. All you have to do is pick your favorite classes, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, eat some good food and enjoy the shows at night.
I should mention that I’m setting aside some classes especially for beginning guitar players. I’ll never forget the first lessons that I took when I was young. I actually quit guitar for a few years because those early lessons were so boring. Now I have the chance to have some revenge on my first guitar teacher and show my current students a way to steer through the early obstacles of guitar playing and reach their “cruising altitude” so they can keep on playing and enjoying it. Guitar should be fun and musical and I’m determined to keep it that way.
Review Fix: How is it different from other musical fantasy camps out there?
PG: I think my staff is really exceptional. The Great Guitar Escape is about guitar and music. You can go elsewhere to get your picture taken with people wearing expensive leather jackets and silver jewelry. I do have some players who are very well known and can be seen on the covers of music magazines, but this camp is a lot more than a celebrity meet-and-greet. It’s about getting deeper into your music and getting some practical tools to help you do it.
Review Fix: Are you excited to teach? Do you have any experience in the field?
PG: Ha ha! Yeah, just a little bit. After I graduated from G.I.T. (the Guitar Institute of Technology), I became their youngest instructor at just 18 years old. I taught there for 3 years, until my touring schedule became too busy due to my success with Mr. Big. During my Mr. Big years, I managed to make my “Intense Rock” series of instructional DVDs, as well as doing lengthy guitar clinic tours all around the world. More recently, I spent five years as the Dean of MI Japan, doing multiple teaching tours at their numerous schools. I also wrote an instructional column for Guitar Player magazine for several years, and currently write a column for Premier Guitar magazine. I still give clinics, my special VIP lessons, and private lessons at GIT when I have the chance. And a quick YouTube search will bring up pages of video lessons that I’ve done for guitar magazines around the world. Does a leopard have spots? Does a bear…OK, I’ll stop there. And yes, I’m excited to teach. I love talking about music and guitar and I love breaking complicated things down so that they make sense. Not only does this give something valuable to the student, but the process also helps me clarify my own thoughts about music. Some of the biggest breakthroughs in my own playing have come from teaching. At the heart of it, it’s just musicians getting together and communicating. And that’s the language that I like the best.
Review Fix: You’ve known as one of the fastest players in the world. If you had to give one tip to a young player to boost their speed, what would it be?
PG: Well, speed is not about muscle. You don’t have to build your arm into a giant motorboat engine in order to play fast. All my fast sequences are based on a few simple and easy techniques. They have to be simple and easy, otherwise I could never speed them up! The trick is to know which techniques have the potential to work this way. This is where I can really steer the student in the right direction and save them some time. I don’t know if I could squeeze all the details into a “one tip” answer, which is why a camp like this is so valuable. Lessons like these aren’t that difficult, but they take more than a few sentences to explain and if I’ve got a guitar in my hands, I can really do a better job demonstrating exactly how to approach fast playing. I guess overall, fast playing is based on a few simple things, but which simple things is very important to know.
Review Fix: You’ve been recognized as a virtuoso since the age of 15. How do think that has impacted your career?
PG: I am thrilled on a daily basis that I’m able to play guitar and have an audience who shows up and listens to what I’m writing and playing. My career has been one of total musical freedom, with very rewarding collaborations together with amazing musicians that I’m lucky to know. I think that there is a place for anyone who works hard in the music business, but I’m very aware that not everyone lands in the exact job of their dreams. In this respect, I’ve had extremely good fortune. I really love what I do. I love playing for 10,000 people at the Budokan arena in Tokyo. And I love sitting down one-to-one with a student and doing a nice relaxed blues jam. It’s all music and I love every second of it.
As far as the virtuoso “label” is concerned, it’s certainly a part of my playing and something that I admire in any musician, but athletic technique isn’t something that’s required in every song or in every style. I really enjoy just strumming through a Beatles tune. In a way, having a lot of technique gives me the confidence not to use it. But I like to have it at my side, just in case.
Review Fix: Favorite guitar solo you’ve ever written?
PG: Some solos are memorable because they are melodic. Some solos are exciting because they are athletic. Some solos are interesting because they take you on a musical journey. I’ve tried to delve into all these areas. The solo that I played on Mr. Big’s hit, “To Be With You” is very simple…I just did an embellished guitar-version of the vocal melody. But it’s very memorable and I still enjoy performing it. For athletic things, I would look to either my Racer X recordings or my solo albums. I did a few covers of Bach keyboard pieces that I’m proud of. And recently, I’ve been getting deeper into melodically following chord changes and improving my blues guitar style, so I am even excited about the bootleg footage that shows up on YouTube because it shows my latest guitar explorations. When in doubt, you can always go to my last solo album called “Fuzz Universe”. The title track turned out really well in the face-melting department.
Review Fix: You’ve worked with so many great musicians over the years. Do you have a favorite?
PG: I think that drummers are often the musicians that I feel the closest bond to. Two of my most popular instrumental songs – “Scarified” and “Technical Difficulties” – are based around drum parts. Scott Travis, Pat Torpey, Jeff Martin, Jeff Bowders, and Marco Minnemann are all guys that I’ve had a great time working with. I’m really excited to play with Rodney Holmes for the performances at The Great Guitar Escape. He has an ease and a power to his playing that are very inspiring to me.
Review Fix: What was the mindset behind getting back with Mr. Big? How are things different?
PG: We just all wanted to do it. It’s as simple as that. I was a founding member of the band, and during my first eight years with the band, of touring and recording, I have fantastic memories of all the places we played and things we accomplished together. We all felt great having a second chance to recreate what we had in the 80’s and 90’s. It was amazing to go back to Japan and play arenas again…and to play all around the world. I just got back from playing some giant venues in Indonesia. It’s actually kind of strange being…famous. I’m happy to be recognized as a musician, but over there we were on the cover of every newspaper and everywhere we’d go people would stop us and ask for autographs. It’s a good problem to have, but sometimes I just want to get back to my hotel room so I can play my guitar.
Review Fix: You’ve done so many things musically, what do you want to be remembered the most for?
PG: I hope to be remembered for making some good music. My tastes keep changing, and my standards for myself keep getting higher, so I keep hoping that I’ll do better in the future. I’m also hopeful that my teaching will open the door for a lot of guitarists to play what they are hearing in their heads and feeling in their hearts. I think that all musicians are connected by their influences, and I’m happy if I can be part of the chain…somewhere between Mozart and the biggest rock star of 2099. I don’t need to be super famous. I just want to be a dues-paying member of the club.
Review Fix: How do you think the next 25 years of your life musically will be from the last?
PG: I’ve learned one important thing over the years…and that is that my biggest inspiration comes from people. It can be from teaching a beginner, jamming with a legendary pro, or just having a recording engineer sitting behind the mixing desk with that “What are we going to record today?” look in their eyes. These are the situations that get me excited about playing music and get the new ideas flowing. So my main plan is to put myself into situations with other musicians who can help me pull the best out of myself. I know that both the students and the teachers at The Great Guitar Escape are going to keep me excited about music for a long time to come. At least for a year…and then, maybe I’ll do it again.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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