At 29, after years touring around the U.S. and
Canada, Gonzo has returned to Hawaii, the island paradise he calls home.
Recently Gonzo sent us a 6 song sampler of his bass playing. A sticker on the
album proudly states 'no guitars or keys'.
Frankly, the guys simply doesn't need `em.
Thoroughly talented, this man that he produced what was to be nothing more than
a musical calling card, designed to find work.
Instead what he actually finds is that people are
writing and calling in droves to buy this thing, something he not only never
dreamed of, but also never intended. It has motivated him to spend a bit less
time looking for work in other peoples bands and focusing instead upon his own
career as a solo musician.
After being distracted by alcohol and drugs for
years, with the help of his family, Gonzo has returned to his priorities and is
thoroughly focused on his family and career. The 'sampler' is a densely filled
wall of melodies, strong musical themes interlaced with some seriously above
average playing. Gonzo joins us this issue and talks about his journey home,
home to his family, his music and to Hawaii.
Global Bass: This album, self titled, actually is a pretty revealing musical picture of where you
are in your life at this point.
GONZO: I hope that the songs reflect the inner peace I feel in regard to where I
am in life right now and also the satisfaction with who I have become as a result of a lot of painful introspection and self-modification I have done
lately. My life has been very blessed in the past few years since I've taken more control over it and made some vast and very difficult personal changes
to it. I also made a few good decisions in my life regarding my family a few years ago, when it sure would have been easier to turn and run, and I believe
that my recent good fortune has been a direct reward for that. I know that somewhere, someone is smiling over me saying "Good boy, congratulations".
GB: So it's these Spirits that you dedicate a song to.
GONZO: I dedicate 'Etude' to them. I just feel that so many things have changed
for me. Until recently I never had good luck. My life was the way it was. I was using
liquor, I was smoking pot, I was smoking cigarettes. Then I had the kids and changed
my ways. Since then everything just fell into place for me. Good things started to happen
for me. I have been protected from situations sometimes when it just seems like good things
fall into my lap. All I have to do is try and I succeed. I really feel like someone is watching over me. I've
been clean and sober for six years and it is something I am really proud of. It was very hard for me to do.
GB: Your picture on the album cover has you looking like you're a cast member for
Conan the Barbarian, no sarcasm intended, you're just one big guy! And yet the music shows a
profoundly fine bassist with a light and subtle control of the strings, deftly able to coax a lot of emotion from your bass.
GONZO: Yeah, I've been told by more than one person that I look like a WWF
wrestler or something in that picture. (He laughs) Who, me? But seriously, I did
quit a handful of self destructive habits in the summer of 1996, ALL AT ONCE, and suddenly found myself in possession of quite a bit more energy than I
had ever been accustomed to having! (laughter) It was about at this time my wife Cathi bought me a weight bench, so I found my center and focused a lot
that new found energy and free time into lifting weights. It was very therapeutic for me at the time and now it has become a symbol of my sobriety and
something I am quite proud of....but I'm really a big teddy bear. I quit every thing at once. One
systematically after the other. I quit the drinking first. I knew the beer would cloud my judgement
and there would be no way I would be able to quit smoking. Very systematically I quit drinking,
then I quit smoking pot and then I quit cigarettes. Cigarettes were actually the hardest part.
All of a sudden I was getting a lot of oxygen. I had been 'sedated' for over 20 years! My metabolism
was so changed that I had way too much energy. I was so frustrated sometimes and I needed an outlet.-----
GB: First the obvious question: Where does the name Gonzo come in? Is it
a variation on your real name, or a nickname and how did you come to using it?
GONZO: That's a name I acquired during a period of self discovery while I was
attending Art Institute of Pittsburgh in my teens. At the time it was an alter ego, my way of being someone that I wanted to be, instead of who
I was, I'm sure of that, but it's been around for so long now, that it has become who I am, and I'm afraid I'm stuck with it...I mean, that's what my mom
calls me and it IS tattooed on my right shoulder. (laughter)
GB: It's mentioned on your website that you have done many things, worn
many musical hats, so to speak, including street musician. Please tell us a bit about this musical journey you have been on, when it started, how it
started, some of the jobs you've found yourself doing, and some of your crazier and more memorable experiences.
GONZO: WOW!...As a child, the house was always full of music. There was a piano in
the living room and my Mother and Father both played trumpet, so consequently that was my first
instrument in 4th grade. In fact I played MY MOM'S
horn. I can still remember running scales on it, the smell of the brass, and toting that tweed case back and forth to school. My Grandma was a concert
pianist and would always play piano at the Christmas parties. That was my first
real exposure to the power of classical music- Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein and especially to Beethoven, (who's emotional depth reached me in a big,
big way). I never thought twice about playing music as a special talent...I thought it was just something you DID!!! I mean everyone in MY family
did...(shrugs) Growing up, there were quite a few records in the house to listen to on my mom's turntable, too. My old man was a southern
redneck, so there were his old school, country & western albums, and my mom's
Broadway show tunes and Elvis albums, and growing up in the islands I was exposed to reggae, slack key guitar, and just so many other styles! ...but I think
one of the more influential moments I can remember from my childhood was the time my dad came home with the contents of a jukebox, I mean just a shit
load of 45s!!! ...God only knows where he got 'em, he was a salesman and was always doing SOME sort of deal, but there were SO many of them, and all
different artists and styles. So, my childhood was this great, sampler of a
musical education, very diverse. This led me to be very open-minded when it comes to music and gave me an appreciation for the art form as an incredible
medium for emotional communication. I've always answered the question of "What style of music do you
play like?" with the analogy that it's all
music, just like they're all women....why limit yourself to just one kind? (laughter)
(...sorry, Honey) But I think it's this "all good" attitude, a positive
outlook and a sober vibe that lets me work pretty regularly and with equal conviction as I switch from situation to situation, while still
sounding like "me". I mean, after High School I was playing in the stage band in
college doing Jazz Standards from the Fake Book during the day (with my mom on trumpet and my two brothers - younger Aaron on drums and older Danny on
guitar), and then would work the bar circuit in Waikiki playing top 40 at night, and then go home, where my brothers and I had an original band
playing late eighties/early nineties style Heavy Metal (with lofty dreams of Bon
Jovi-size MTV success!) and in between I was teaching all sorts of requested music, from Hawaiian to Filipino Cachi-Cachi songs, and doing recording
sessions. Like this one Japanese guy who played folk acoustic guitar and harmonica Bob Dylan style...he didn't speak a word of English and my
Japanese is about rude, so a chord chart and the music were the only communication going down in the studio. Music as the universal language, absolutely
In 1989 San Francisco was a boom town riding on the heels of
Metallica's success with clubs popping up and bands getting signed left and right.
So my brother's and I, having saturated the market on our little island, decided on the Bay Area as a new base of operations, choosing there over the
insanity of the LA glam and make-up scene, and we relocated to take a shot at the
big time playing my older brother's original material under the name Life & Death.
I took the summer off and went to travel around Europe first, where I did two sessions for an English guy who sang and played guitar and had
a percussionist from West Africa. These tapes were my first producer credits!!! The result was released under the name Napoleon, which promptly went no
where, and I left to meet my brothers in California. We had marginal success there, thanks to my older brother's leadership, headlining our own
showcase gigs and opening for some of the bigger rock bands that came through town like, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, as well as a lot of the big heavy
metal names of the day like Armored Saint, Savatage and Forbidden. We had a lot of fun and I've got a great photo album and scrap book to show for it. All
in all, a very interesting chapter in my life. I'm sure it will be good to look back on one day. But toward the mid-nineties the scene moved on to
Seattle when Nirvana had their hit. San Francisco turned to high tech jobs and the yuppie crowd moved in, forcing the property values up and the
clubs began to shut down. I was lucky to be playing the bass (there were two out of work guitarists everywhere you turned!) and was fortunate enough to
find work, eventually backing a Jimi Hendrix impersonator for a while, which I brought my younger brother in on to play drums, (the closest we'll ever
get to backing Jimi!) while my older brother followed the death metal scene to Florida with little luck.
About this time I was expecting my son Nicholas to be born and Henry (Jimi) wanted to go to Japan to tour for a month,
which I just couldn't do at the time, so we parted ways. The hard rock/heavy
metal conduit was never really quite big enough for me to play all I wanted to play on the bass, and I guess you could say I was guilty of the tendency to
overplay back then...so much so that my older brother, after watching me at rehearsal one day, ramming away at a million notes a
minute with both hands on the neck, was prompted to make the comment "Yeah, that's really cool you can do all that, but what are you going to do with all
that, go out and play all by yourself?" So this primed with this idea, coupled with the motivation of seeing Stanley Jordan playing out alone at a club one
night, I decided to take all my notes and try them on the street. Just to see what would come of it, an acid test of sorts, and there I learned what
stops traffic and what doesn't, and more importantly, what makes people put money in your hat!!! This
information came in very handy when the club-to-band ratio was at such an imbalance in San Francisco, that pay-to-play became the
norm. I learned to make my money on the street in just a few hours and go home. With the birth of my daughter Kylie in 1994, and my dreams of
rock stardom satisfied (laughter), I began to make plans to make my way back home
to Hawaii with my new family, put my education to work and settle into the musician role. That was when the solo CD came about. I find it ironic
that, here I was, ready to basically, semi-retire at this point, when this CD seems to have started a whole new beginning and serves as a launching point for a whole new chapter!!!
My original intention was to just use it as a demo of sorts to shop around town for work but it has really gotten more
attention than I expected, followed by a flood of requests for it, so I have begun to
expose it more via the website and through print publications. The response has been very encouraging and satisfying, so much so that I have begun
laying tracks for the second release which will hopefully show my growth musically as well as personally. There-that's my life story!
GB: Have you done a lot of studio work, mostly for people on the island of
Hawaii? Things like jingles, television scores?
GONZO: The studio work I have done was mostly demos for unknown singers and
guitar players, none of which you've probably heard of, unless any of these names mean anything to you- Christopher Rollins, Lava Jam, Joel Roper,
Napoleon, Saphyre Syn, Kiyoshi Matsumoto, Dave Andre, Suzi Kim, Hell On Wheels, Henry Duarte, The Groove, All The Rage... Ring any bells?
(laughter) I didn't think so. Nope, not a lot of fame there, but they did put a lot of
bacon on the table. Several of these names I did 2, 3, and 4 separate sessions for. I recorded with Dave Andre I think 5 times. Great writer, lyrically as
well as musically. I also did the sound track for a video game once, which I can't even recall the name of right now. It was basically doubling a keyboard
bass track they had programmed in order to get a realistic thumb slap attack. Easy money. I should have asked for residuals on that one but never
GB: You mentioned in one of our earlier conversations, you've spent time
in the US, up and down the California coast, even some time spent in Canada. Can you tell how these travels worked into your career and ultimately how
it all led to your home in Hawaii.
GONZO: I was born outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a tough steel town, and
have traveled the East Coast as a child from Maine to Florida and even to Canada twice, strictly as a tourist though, (Niagara Falls, Ripley's Believe
It Or Not and a cable car ride over a really BIG whirlpool) Not much to write about there
though. I traveled around Europe from Norway,
Sweden, and Denmark, to Germany, France, Spain and Italy. I recorded the Napoleon sessions in
Oslo, Norway. I did find the European attitude toward music as 'culture' refreshing. I felt a greater appreciation in comparison to American
audiences for some reason. Almost as if the Americans expect you to impress them
with your music or it's not effective. You know...arms folded across their chest, saying..."Impress me!" Maybe Americans are just jaded by flash. I got this impression when I toured up and down Northern California with Life & Death, so maybe it's just California audiences, or just a sign of the times.
How is As for Hawaii being called home -My children are the fifth generation of my family to call the islands home.
Hawaii will always be home to me. Paradise, what more can you say?
GB: This album has moments that almost come across as neoclassical, do
you have any formal training in any other instruments like classical guitar or piano?
GONZO: I have studied Beethoven and Bach's style mostly but have a great
appreciation for Mozart and his free spirited composition, amongst other classical composers. I do believe classical music is the peak of
musical skill both in composition and performance, with the possible exemption of true Jazz performance, not only for the strong emotions and passion it
evokes but for the incredible range of dynamics and harmonization the palette of instrumentation provides. Plus classical guitar is what beats the
Devil in "Crossroads" (...remember that movie with Steve Vai?) How cool is that?
Listening to classical music has helped my ear incredibly though...I mean after listening to say, Tchaikovsky, pop radio sounds
pretty empty!!! I do have a fairly large collection of classical CDs which includes not only numerous composers but Andres Segovia playing selected cello works by Bach on classical guitar...good stuff!!! While
in Norway I had the opportunity to hear a solo organ recital of Bach and Handel pieces in an enormous cathedral with those pipe organ lows and in such
a setting!!! I swear I was the only one in the church under 50! It was the closest thing I've ever had to a religious experience.
GB: Then has this training been deliberately brought
forward into your bass playing and this album.
GONZO: Most definitely. I included 'Etude' on the CD as a showcase for this
facet of my playing. It's my mother's favorite track.
GB: You seem to have mastered the use and the power of dynamics. You also appear to
understand that leaving spaces in the music and even using the aforementioned dynamics lets the music breathe and allows the listener to shift his or
her attention to the various layers of the music and the performance. Was this technique self taught or observed in others and then implemented into
your way of playing?
GONZO: Mastered? Well, I don't need that kind of pressure...!
(laughter) One of the best music instructors that I ever had, Mr. Charles Brennan, enlightened me with this grain of knowledge- "Music is all tension and release." A simple thought but one that carries so
much weight to it!!! It can be applied to so many aspects of music, from the dynamics you are referring to, to your choice of voicing from chord to
chord, right down to the way you arrange your set. I try to use this in my dynamics to focus the listener's ear by stressing some phrases and laying back
on others. I think I get this from listening to not only the dynamic range
of classical, but Jazz as well. Miles was a master of dynamics. Listen how he comes back in after Mike Stern's solo in "Fat Time" on his album "The
Man With The Horn" He pulls you right into the song...you almost lean over,
straining to be closer to it!!! (That's one of Mike's better solo's by the way) I love the way good horn players use dynamics when they phrase
too. The way the breath is placed in a phrase as if it were a lyric and it were being spoken to you.
A guitarist who was great at this was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Give a listen to 'Riviera Paradise" on Stevie's "In Step" album. Great
phrasing. He's speaking to you with his guitar!!! Letting the music "breathe" like that seems to make the instrument "speak" to you.
GB: I wouldn't so much call it a 'somber' tone to your music, but there
is a pensiveness, a sensitivity in this album that appears to allow a window into the way you think. Has your life and it's living been a part of where
you drew the creativity needed to craft these songs. In other words, is this an album about you and your life so far?
GONZO: Well, I can't say that I've led a charmed life. And yeah, if you listen
hard you may hear some love in my music, some joy, a little pain, definitely some honesty, for want of a better word. I wouldn't say the CD is so much
about my life as it was lived in the past as much as it is a glimpse of where and who I am now. Although there would be no present without the past, so you
may be right. I've had to take stock of who I am and what I represent in the not so distant past and it brought out a lot of brutal realizations.
I can say that I am a better person for it, and I owe this self discovery and self-renaissance to my children, Nicholas Gonzo and Kylie Judith, and to my wife Cathi, I owe them my life. The CD is dedicated to them for just that reason. I can truthfully say that I don't know if I would be alive
today if it weren't for them. And my music would have died and been buried right along with me. Honest enough?
GB: So where does the next project lead, and when do you begin that
GONZO: I have tracks laid already. Oh, I have a lot more to say musically
before I leave here!
GB: You mention in your influences that Marcus Miller taught you one
night in San Francisco to 'stop trying too damn hard'. Tell us a bit about that one.
Am I safe in saying that you are an individual that demands a lot of himself?
GONZO: Listen to what Marcus does with only two notes on "Big Time" from
Miles' album "Amandla". TWO NOTES! There is a groove so deep it's undeniable. That night I watched him play, he was just so effortless. The groove was
there in the room with him and he was kickin' it around like a soccer ball! Child's play. I'm not sure how to describe it, but he seemed to get more out of
the few notes he played and the many he DIDN'T play than say, Billy Sheehan's many notes he'd play to the few he didn't. I guess it's the age old
adage of "Less is more". But I know I went home that night and played my bass for hours and hours and hours... I had seen the bass in a whole new light.
GB: Also comment from Jonas Hellborg, "Who needs a band?!?!" Great quote, with a lot of
truth in it. Do you do solo gigs at this point, and if so, with or without special effects, tape loops, a drum track...what do you do to fly solo?
GONZO: I love the statement Jonas made with "The Silent Life". I felt it was a
great step forward from his "Elegant Punk" album. Much more control and structure, compositions and songs as a vehicle for his solos and the revolution
that technique does not equal music. Thank you for that Jonas! I do solo gigs to promote the CD. Just me, an amp, and a stool. I do several of my
originals, and a few cover tunes..."Voo Doo Childe" (more of Stevie Ray Vaughn's
version than Jimi's) my own version of Bill Wither's "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone". The set is a throw back to my days as a street performer. It's a
very visual thing as well as musical. (The use of different techniques such as the funk, over and under the neck, two-hand tapping, slapping, the
punching, bending the neck, behind my head, etc.) I once had a guy sit in front of me on the street in San Francisco for over an hour watching me play, after
I finished I went up to talk with him...turns out he was deaf!!! (laughter) He was just getting off on WATCHING me!!!
GB: What does this flying solo do for you?
GONZO: It shows my older brother that...Yes...I AM going to go out and play
all by myself!!!
GB: Any wish to work with others at this time?
GONZO: Yes, I miss working with my younger brother on drums immensely! After
20 years of playing together, we had a very strong, almost telepathic connection. I miss that. I haven't met anyone that gets even close to
what we had. Although I admit that I haven't given any drummer I've worked with the amount of time necessary to grow and nurture that type of bond. I guess I still resent the fact that Aaron is no longer playing, and I imagine that I keep people "out" because of that. I do miss him.
GB: Are you working with other people on their projects now or recently?
GONZO: Yes, I have several live situations going right now. I do have to pay
the rent. I recently finished tracks for a children's CD using themes such as recycling, conservation of the planet and protecting endangered
animals, which, as a parent, I thought was a great project. I also teach privately.
GB: Where did the knowledge for chordal work, harmonics, hammer-ons, the
whole library of knowledge you show on this album, come in? Self taught or through a series of teachers?
GONZO: I've never had any formal instruction on the bass other than the
general music theory and vocal instruction at college and stage band, which was usually taught on the piano. What I mean by that is, I have never taken
bass lessons. I do have a rather large music collection, I used to spend hours on end in the many used CD stores in San Francisco and would walk out
spending literally hundreds of dollars on music. I have been building a musical archive for my children, who both play, in the hopes that one day they
will need it and use it to their advantage. I constantly listen to music from morning till night. (There is NO television in my house...never has
been.) I listen to all different types of music. From Sade to The Suicidal Tendencies...from The Gypsy Kings to BB King...Marvin Gaye and Stevie
Wonder to Disney Soundtracks and The Throat Singers of Tannu Tuva!!! I have also been blessed to work with some really great musicians in my life and
had the opportunity to watch them play and ...ah, borrow.
GB: Do you teach at this point? What do you get out of that for
yourself (other than money!).
GONZO: My mother told me that the best way to learn how to do something is to
teach someone else. You must have a firm understanding of a subject to be able to put it into words and explain it in such a way that someone else can
grasp it. It makes sense to me and it works. I also get to see the spark of discovery and creation when a student suddenly "gets it" or plays
something they've never played before. That's very rewarding to me. It also give
me the chance to control the competition *laughter* ...only kidding....But the
money does help.
GB: You appear to be a strong natured or willed person that can work as
a team member but also has no problems being the captain and crew of a musical venture. You can and enjoy doing the
whole thing. Is this a valid evaluation?
GONZO: Quite valid. Robben Ford has a song on his "Supernatural" album that
goes- "No man is an island, or so they say. But if I could go there for just one day, I'd like to see, what it feels like to be, nothin' to nobody."
There is also such a thing as being strong enough to bend in my opinion, and I think my years as a sideman comes into play went I am in charge.. I
have a jam band where the songs are never the same way twice, and I also have a band where the arrangements are very tight and I am expected to play them
"correctly", then I have a third band where the demands on the bass are very minimal and the expectations are low so I am not required to play
anything fancy at all, just whole note waltzes, walking blues lines, simple root-five ... then there are MY gigs where I can do any, all, or none of the
above and interpret my songs depending on my mood or tailor them to the audience
I'm trying to reach. Again, a throw back to my street performing days --
the ability to read the audience and change your delivery. You would not describe an object in the same terms to a child as you would to a
college professor...but hopefully in the end they would both have an image in
their mind of the apple you are describing. My goal being to be able to communicate my emotions to the point where the audience is feeling what I am
feeling, no matter who they are. The fact is, I have found that I actually need both outlets, neither are completely satisfying. The ensemble performances
are as important to me as the solo release.
GB: Long term goals. Where is this all leading, how do you see your
career in 10 years?
GONZO: I really have no idea where all this is leading, and that is
what makes it so exciting!!! If you ask me, I should have been dead by now, so I am enjoying every day and every minute as a gift..."that's why they
call it the present" I am told. I know I have been given a second chance at my life for some reason, like some weird plot out of an old movie. I also
know that I have a lot more music in me. In fact, I can humbly say that this CD barely touches the surface of my scope.
It was hastily recorded as a shop-round demo (you don't have to print that) ...but the songs
themselves, as well as solos were intentionally kept short and the whole project was
recorded with a very mass-accessible, safe attitude. I mean the whole thing is what?...16 minutes!!! I feel like Sally Fields when she did her
thing at the Oscars." You mean you like it?...You really, really like it?" Well,
HOT DAMN Warren, wait till you hear what I got for you next time!!!