Paul Gilbert is an American guitarist. Well known for his guitar work with Racer X and Mr. Big, as well as many solo albums. He has been voted number 4 on a list in GuitarOne magazine of the “Top 10 Greatest Guitar Shredders of All Time,” as well as a spot in Guitar World’s 50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time list. Paul’s talents go beyond just that of a shredder. Well versed in both Jazz and blues Paul also has a great sense of humor in his playing, something that is missing in many of his contemporaries.
Last together in 2003, Mike Portnoy, Paul Gilbert, Neal Morse and new member Kasim Sulton reunited for 3 tour dates in February 2011, as cover band Yellow Matter Custard — paying tribute to their greatest influence of all: The Beatles! Paul Gilbert, regarded internationally as a guitarist’s guitarist, released his third all instrumental CD Fuzz Universe in August 2010. I talked to Paul Gilbert about The Beatles and his job as a musician.
What are your top five picks of classic muscle cars?
PG: 1. Marshall Vintage Modern 2. Marshall JMD 3. Marshall 2061x 4. Marshall 1987x 5. Marshall 2245. Oh wait, those are amps. Sorry, I don’t know anything about cars. But my friend has an awesome muscle car website.
Who or what inspired you to pick up your first instrument, and how old were you?
PG: My parents had most of the Beatles albums, and that made me want to play. I had a toy guitar, and I used to spend a lot of time jumping around with it pretending to be a Beatle. I gave up the guitar at six because I had lessons with a boring teacher, but in the back of my mind I knew that I would play someday. So at nine, I started playing by ear, and I’ve kept going ever since then.
Remembering back to your first time in front of a live audience, what comes to mind?
PG: I played “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent at my school’s talent show when I was eleven. All the girls ran up to me after I played and asked me if I could play some Bee Gees. I didn’t know any then, so I couldn’t really take advantage of the opportunity. I can play some Bee Gees now.
What has been your biggest triumph as an artist? Greatest challenge?
PG: For 25 years: I’ve been able to have a job as a musician, doing exactly the kind of music that I’ve been inspired to do. The greatest challenge? Maybe, playing in situations that I’m not familiar with. I tend to play well at my normal live shows, but if I have to do something on TV – My vibrato will go to hell and I’ll make stupid mistakes. I’m sure if I did TV everyday, I’d get used to it. But since it doesn’t happen so often, it’s still challenging.
If the whole world were listening, what would you play? And why?
PG: That would be a tough audience, because everyone has different tastes. I love playing for a rock audience, but the whole world includes countries that listen to entirely different kinds of music. “To Be With You” might be good. Lots of people liked that one.
As your music has evolved, what do you think has been the most significant change and do you consider it a positive or a negative?
PG: I just keep learning about music – Even simple things that I just missed along the way. When ever I learn something new, there is sort of a digestion process where I have to mentally and physically make the new information soak into my my brain and fingers. It can take months before I really feel at ease with new things that I’m working on. During this process, I sometimes play some things that aren’t quite “ready.” This is the price of growth. I could play the same phrases over and over again with finesse and ease, but then I would sound the same forever and I would get bored out of my mind.
What do you want fans to get from your music?
PG: I’m fortunate to have fans that listen very closely to what I write and play. I don’t have to worry about them at all. They’re perfect.
What is your favorite song to perform live? Why?
PG: I just learned the whole second side of the Abbey Road album by The Beatles and played it with Mike Portnoy, Kasim Sulton, and Neal Morse. That was a blast. Of my own music, I enjoy anything where I can improvise a solo and do some harmony singing. I’ve been rehearsing with Mr. Big recently and there are a lot of songs that I really enjoy. “Around the World” from the new What If… album is a blast.
If you could, is there a band or artist that you could recommend (Who they may not know about, but you think they should.) to our readers?
PG: Melody Gardot. Her album My One and Only Thrill is stunning. It’s also very quiet, but that’s good sometimes.
What do you value most in life?
PG: That’s a big, wide question. And I tend to spend most of my time focused on details. I would say that I value the freedom that allows me to spend so much time working on the details! And I’m thankful to my parents for encouraging me to follow my passion as a kid.
More specifically, I really value blues guitar. I can survive just about any situation if I just play some blues guitar. It’s medicine. Or food. Or something. But it’s very good.
I would like to thank Paul Gilbert for his participation in this interview.
~Denise Smith (interview 2011.04.01)