Influences: B.B. King, Muddy Waters
Gary has been playing at the State Bar since the jam sessions started and a strong connection to The Brewhouse, as it used to be.
K: When did you first get into the Blues Gary?
G: It was back in 1995 when I’d playing for about a year but the Blues started for me in 1990 at a Gary Moore concert down in a place in Camden, London called “Talk of the Town”, I think it was called and Gary Moore called on Albert Collins and Albert King at the same time and the 3 of the guys started playing and that’s when I first thought…”I want to do that!!”
K: So you said earlier that before that you were in to the Simple Minds. Fantastic band, but what was it about the Blues that switched you thinking at that Gary Moore gig?
G: It was always rhythm for me. I started as a drummer, bass as well. Still play both but the first tune they played that night was a shuffle and it got me straight away and I remember thinking…”This is dynamite!!” So I started to listening to Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan and then, like many people, I started coming to places like this (The State Bar), where you could actually stand and watch what the players were doing. And you would be standing 2 feet away and you would try and remember the way they were playing and the chords they used and then you’d go back home and try and work it all out.
I remember I’d been playing for about a year and I had a wee duo thing that we tried out at the Clutha and it went down really well and I thought “This is really good!” and it was at that time that I really started getting into it. And I remember George Gallagher from the Blues Poets…about 95/96…. asked me up at a jam and up I went. My confidence at that time far outweighed my ability (laughs) and that was me. Every time I went there for years after that I’d go up and playing maybe 3 tunes with the band. So it was him (George Gallagher) and “Rolling Joe”. These are the guys that got me started.
The next stage was when I got a call to play with the Nimmos. Alan was playing drums at that time. So it was me and Stevie out front and I remember thinking “I’m out my depth here” but I just got on with it and that was really the springboard to other stuff. Albums and other bands.
K: What was the album you did back then?
G: It was basically everyone that was on the scene at that time. I had the Blues Poets guys on it, Rollin Joe, Violet Leighton, Rev Doc, Stevie and Alan Nimmo, Al Brown…all these guys are on this album.
K: What was that album called?
G: (Laughs) Ehm…..it was a really stupid title…. I called it “Bluesville Strathclyde” (laughs)
K: That sounds amazing! Have you ever tried to get it online? There would be quite a bit of interest in that now I’ll bet!
G: The master copy is lost but I’ve got a cd and so has my sister so I’ll need to try and do something with it. Now the last track is “Sweet Home Chicago” and everybody gets a turn. Everybody sings a verse and does a solo so everybody played on this one track. Remember wee Carl Bonetti? He played harp on it as well!
K: Good times
G: Absolutely. The scene seemed a lot more vibrant back then than it is now.
K: Why do you think that is?
G: I think it was probably a drop in venue at the time. I personally think that turning point was when The Brewhouse shut. You had cracking bands on every week.
K: Did Fraser Spiers not try and make that venue into a Blues Club at some point?
G: You’re spot on, and we were standing at that spot by the bar right there (points to the bar in the State Bar, Holland Street, where the interview was done) , when he was talking about it. There was some sort of complication about what was going to happen to The Brewhouse at that time and they were being quite cagey about it and we thought it was going to be something quite special! But it urned out that when it shut they turned into some sort of Australian theme pub with kangaroos and hats with corks on the bar. It was an absolute travesty! I think that was the start of quite a decline in the Blues in this city at that time.
You could argue though that after a couple of years gap, around 2000, that the Studio One Jam sessions started to turn it back around. That place was absolutely heaving! It was a brilliant session. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! You remember yourself, you were part of Jim’s band at that time. And it was on a Thursday and a Sunday eventually. It started at 4 on a Sunday and you were done by 7.
K: Yep, I remember it well. It was the smokiest bluesiest club in Glasgow. A really fantastic time. It was dark, smokey, loud and packed to the door and I always remember walking out to dry off and cool down after the gig and was always a wee bit confused to walk out into daylight because it had such a 3am basement feel to it.
G: There was a year when I was living in Dundee studying Law and that jam was so good that I used to travel all the way back down every week just to go to that jam.
K: I think it was used as an example in Glasgow when the smoking ban got introduced. I think a BBC did an article on how “howfin” the place was (laughs)
I did some research after the interview and here is the link… http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4842380.stm
G: Oh it was terrible, too much! I knew smokers who who even thought it was too much (laughs) but what a fantastic time it was in Glasgow for the Blues.
K: So from the history of Studio One to the history of that guitar you’re holding there Gary (see picture). That’s a beautiful instrument, can you tell me a wee bit about it?
G: This was done for me by a guy down in Yorkshire. You give him your guitar, tell him what you want and he works on it and sends photos during the whole process showing you what stage it’s at and you can tell him when you’re happy with it. He takes half the money up front and the other half when it’s complete. I’ve added other bits and pieces to it…tone switch, fat neck and other bits. I did wonder if the pickups would need to be ripped out but it’s the best sounding Strat I’ve ever had. What a job he did on it! Incredible!
K: So you mentioned that B.B. King was your greatest influence?
G: Yeah, I’ve met the man 5 times and once I had the foresight to take a white Fender guitar strap and he signed it with a black marker pen and I’ve had that for years. It says “To Gary…B.B. King” and I’ve got a nice framed photo that he signed for me as well. He was an absolute gentleman, lovely, lovely man. I’ve met loads of them, Clapton, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush,…loads of them.
K: So typically what do you say to these guys when you meet them?
G: I normally just say “You’ve been a great influence in my life and in my playing…..” that kind of thing.
K: What impact does it have on you as a person when you actually shake the hand of someone that has been a life-long inspiration?
G: It makes it more real, there’s a real connection.
K: B.B. King gone, a real loss. He was, and always will be, one of the great icons of an era.
G: Did you see the Eric Clapton tribute video on Facebook?
K: Yes, it was quite powerful
G: Clapton said something that really struck a chord with me…“This music is now becoming a thing of the past and there are not many people left that play in as pure a way as B.B. did” …and I think he’s right.
K: I guess the thing about the Blues back then was that it was the passing down of songs and stories through the generations. It was folklore. Now we have a huge archive of material…old recordings, videos, all sorts of documented reports of what happened thoughout the history of the Blues and a huge amount of it is online at our fingertips, so it will never really die and generations to come will be able to tap into this legacy and carry on. I guess it’s up to them what style they choose but the greats like B.B. King will never be forgotten.
G: Absolutely mate!
K: It’s been great talking to you Gary. Thanks very much for rekindling so many great memories.
G: No thank you mate, that was brilliant. Good luck with the rest of the project.
Photo: The Brewhouse
Interview: The State Bar
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-120 f/4
Focal length: 46mm
Exposure: 1/400 sec at f/4
Time of day: 11:25
Lighting: White umbrella on speedlight 10 feet from subject