Yeah, I was what you’d call a guitar nerd growing up. I wasn’t into comic books or sports, and D&D went over my head. I dug horror movies, but I wasn’t in my bedroom creating bloody special effects with latex and corn syrup. And while I admired skateboarders I was too much of a goof to attempt it. I started playing guitar the summer before middle school so when I hit the halls of Warsaw Middle School in August of 1986 I had an identity: guitarist. And having an identity in middle school was important. You wanted to create an identity before those big galoots in the dirty jean jackets and furrowed brows did it for you.
Sunday mornings my dad would head into town to Reader’s World and grab a South Bend Tribune. If I was lucky he’d take me along and I’d get either the newest edition of Fangoria or Guitar World(and if I was really lucky we’d stop and get a dozen donuts from Tom’s Donuts.) I’d hit the tablature page at home and teach myself whatever I could find. It was a dialogue between my brain and fingers that would sometimes be cohesive; sometimes just a cacophony of “Dammit, fingers!”
There were so many guitarists that I’d admired over the years. The big ones were Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Nuno Bettencourt, Jimi Hendrix, Yngwie Malmsteen(yes, Yngwie Malmsteen), Billy Gibbons, Eric Johnson and Vinnie Moore.
And of course, Paul Gilbert.
While the rest of those guys always seemed like adults to my teenaged fandom, Paul Gilbert felt more like older brother age(he was in fact, just a year older than my actual older brother.) I discovered him in Racer X, which while I was blown away by his playing I wasn’t all that crazy about Racer X. But then he joined Mr. Big and everything changed. He locked into a band that played pop music on speed. “Addicted To That Rush” was just an unbelievable song. The guitar/bass interplay between Gilbert and Billy Sheehan was mind-blowing.
Out of all those guitarists I admired and attempted to emulate, Paul Gilbert was the most inspiring. I think because he always came across as down-to-earth. He could’ve been the guy working behind the counter at Paradise Music selling guitar strings to punks, or some dude blazing thru “Highway Star” just for fun at Woodwind and Brasswind discreetly trying to draw little attention to himself. He was approachable. But he was also an absolute beast of a guitarist.
In the last couple years I’ve been attempting to work the dust off my fingers and get back into playing. I don’t want to change the world, or write the best song ever. I just want to rip on the guitar in my basement for the sheer enjoyment. Of course Youtube is there to both inspire and show me I’ve lost my touch. Watching clips of guys like Greg Howe, Guthrie Govan, Nuno Bettencourt, and Steve Vai are simultaneously jaw-dropping and soul-crushing. I wish I’d kept up on the modes, scales, finger techniques and whatnot, but hey sometimes being an adult means two-hour guitar sessions go by the wayside. Still, I’ve loved those moments of inspiration.
Of all those guitarists, Paul Gilbert has retained a certain ‘growing old gracefully’ vibe. His hair is short, he wears glasses at times, but he can still blaze a fretboard like nobody’s business. Every video I watch of him he still looks and sounds like a guy that absolutely loves what he does, and in guitar clinics and lesson videos that he does he always comes across like a guy that both is still learning and a guy that loves to share his knowledge.
A few months ago I’d read where Paul Gilbert was recording an album with legendary producer John Cuniberti(he of Joe Satriani fame, as well as so many other amazing musicians and bands.) Cuniberti had been doing these ‘OneMic Series’ recordings where he records whole bands with one stereo ribbon mic in the room. He and Paul Gilbert had come together to do the same. It didn’t quite turn out as they’d hoped, so they instead shifted gears and it became a more traditional recording situation, albeit one where the songs were recorded all in one take with no overdubs. The results of this session will come to fruition on May 17th with the release of Behold Electric Guitar.
It’s been a minute since I’ve been this excited for a mostly instrumental guitar album, but man am I excited for this album. Gilbert and the solid crew of musicians he brought together to create this album, as well as the expert production of John Cuniberti, are absolutely on fire. First single “Havin’ It” is a mixture of fretboard dexterity and soaring melodic heights. There’s also a hell of a lot of tasty guitar(in case you were wondering what fretboard dexterity meant.) It’s pure musical joy. Blow By Blow on an espresso rush.
Check out “Havin’ It” below, and preorder Behold Electric Guitar here. Cause you know, buying the album is the single most significant way to show an independent artist you dig ’em(and yes, got my preorder in.) Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play some guitar.