Posts Tagged gene bertoncini
I was contacted via Twitter by Brad and had a listen to his Youtube channel and loved what I heard; tasteful, in the tradition but not in anyway painting by numbers if that makes sense- check it out. I was glad he agreed to an interview. Thanks Brad!
What/who were your initial influences?
My very earliest influences were stacks of 45 RPM records my parents owned. Scotty Moore with Elvis Presley was a big one, Steve Cropper with Otis Redding was another. At 12 I was exposed to Hendrix, and at 15 to Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. Then I started going out as a teenager in my hometown of Memphis to hear Calvin Newborn at least one night per week— this was in the late 1990s. But my single biggest guitarist-influence, to this day, is Charlie Christian— such an incredible sound and conception, and true, deep feeling in every note. His influence exploded out in every direction— through Wes and Benson obviously, but also through T-Bone Walker into the blues, then Junior Barnard on the country side of things, and Chuck Berry and beyond into rock. Charlie Christian is truly the electric guitar’s ‘big bang.’ More than guitarists, though, I’m most influenced by any musician who delivers real depth of feeling and real, honest individuality. There are too many to list, and fortunately there’s no reason to narrow it down.
Are you gigging much at the moment and any projects in the pipeline?
I’m doing a lot of writing and producing these days, in all sorts of idioms, and a fair amount of performing. Not all of it is improvisation-centered. Last year I worked and toured quite extensively with vocalist José James, and currently I’m playing and writing a bit with artists like Kris Bowers, Cory Henry, Samora Pinderhughes, and Sly5thAve, as well as some more song-oriented projects with lots of great artists like Adesuwa, Kimberly Nichole, and more. Really just staying busy and keeping my vision very broad. My organ trio record, which features Pat Bianchi on B3 and Tyshawn Sorey on drums, comes out 4 September. I’m very excited to see the public’s reaction to Tyshawn’s organ trio drumming, which is fantastic. So many music lovers know his work in contexts very different from this, so I think a lot of people are going to really get a thrill from hearing him like this.
It was an interesting project in that we decided to do an entirely analogue capture the whole way through— we tracked and mixed to tape, and Scott Hull cut a great-sounding lacquer master from razor-blade sequenced quarter-inch reels. The LP edition will have never touched a computer at all, and I chose this way of working with a very clear musical result in mind. Rather than having the temptation to fix and edit, I wanted to enforce being true to the feeling of the moment. What was most interesting to me were all of the little things that bothered me initially. Most of those came to be some of my favorite parts of the record once it aged a bit— there’s real humanity there, and with modern recording workflows, a lot of this humanity gets eroded through little fixes, edits, and punches. I think this is because humanity and vulnerability, while engaging to audiences, can be uncomfortable when it’s your humanity and vulnerability!
What’s your ‘desert island’ guitar or have you got it!?
I have always liked guitars— I have 20 currently. I’ve always, from the very beginning, liked to have a lot of guitars around. Amps, too! So it would be hard to pick one. At any rate, things like makes, models, and vintages are purely academic to me— I have to play a particular guitar before I know if it speaks to me or not. Another of the exact same make, model, year might not strike me the same way. There are some I own that were particularly obvious to me the first time I picked them up. I have this 1953 Epiphone Triumph Regent that someone added a pickup to in 1954. It’s a carved-top guitar—it was an acoustic originally—and the pickup was bought out of a catalog, made by Carvin in the mid-1950s. I also have a blue 1962 Fender Jazzmaster that I’d never sell, and a 1944 Gibson Southern Jumbo flat top.
Most of my guitars are old; I tend to like the ones that have been played a lot. Sometimes I feel that as with any other tool that’s worked with in the hand a lot, like they can somehow accumulate personality. That probably sounds weird. But in the end, there’s music in any guitar— it’s up to the player to find out what the guitar does and how it can be worked-with, creatively. I’m a big fan of old inexpensive guitars, for instance— there’s almost always something they do that is unique and characterful. I’d be happy with almost any guitar on a desert island, I think!
Best guitar gig you’ve ever seen?
There’s one that comes to mind for me that I’ve talked about a few times since. I was about 18 years old and went to see B.B. King in Hattiesburg, Mississippi; the hall held about 8,000 people. I was young, deep into jazz guitar studies, trying to get my hands around all the technique and my ears around all the harmony. Mr. King had a second guitarist with him— a young kid playing a big archtop— and he gave this kid the first solo of the show. The kid played great; lots of notes, some bebop-inspired language, and I remember thinking “wow, I’ve heard the B.B. King records; I know he’s not going to play more stuff than this guy!” After the younger player’s solo, which finished to polite applause, B.B. King played a single note— one of those stinging upper register notes he’s so famous for. The energy in the hall immediately elevated to this transcendent place— you could feel the electricity of the whole crowd’s emotions being stirred simultaneously. It was a transformative moment for me, because it caused me in one instant to completely re-evaluate what was important to me in music. From that point on, the question was always “is this idea in service of some kind of feeling?” Because it’s not enough, to me, to just be a clever idea or an impressive thing to demonstrate. If it’s not working toward making me feel what B.B. King made that whole hall feel that day, then it’s not what I’m after.
Which guitarist(s) would you recommend for other people to check out?
Well, there are all the usual ones— the legends. Charlie Christian gets a shout-out, again. Freddie Green was always another big hero of mine, due to his deep concept as a rhythm section player. For me, there’s a whole school of Memphis session guitarists that are just my favorite lately. The late Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, Skip Pitts, Michael Toles, Bobby Manuel, Steve Cropper, and— above them all, to me— the great Reggie Young. Most of your readers have heard these players somewhere or other; as session players they were all incredibly prolific, and on some important records. There are some others that are so worth checking out that don’t get as much talk these days— Oscar Moore, George Van Eps, Gene Bertoncini… As for current players, my friend Charlie Hunter has a fabulous new record out with Curtis Fowlkes and Bobby Previte. Isaiah Sharkey is another player I’m really impressed by, as is Tony Scherr… his slide work is so full of real feeling. There are really too many great ones to name.