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Gilby Clarke: The Original Guitar Hero

Gilby Clarke
 

August 1, 2008

In his youth, Gilby Clarke was not that different from you or me. He was a kid with a dream and a undying love for rock n' roll. When Clarke was 17 years old, he decided to make that dream a reality. He left his home in Cleveland, Ohio with his sights set on California and never looked back. Almost three decades later, he has amassed quite a resume to say the least. He has played guitar alongside such musical legends as MC5, Nancy Sinatra, Heart and even a little band called Guns N' Roses. Never content to be pigeon holed as a guitarist, Clarke has thrown his hat in the ring as producer for The Bronx, L.A. Guns, The Alarm and Alice Cooper. As if that weren't enough to keep him busy, he has even produced his own critically acclaimed solo efforts. Not shabby for a mid-western kid with just a guitar and a dream. Jason Price of Live-Metal.Net recently got a chance to sit down with Gilby Clarke to discuss musical roots, his upcoming musical endeavors, his new role as a "Rock N' Roll Fantasy Camp Counselor" and even a little Chinese Democracy.

Live-Metal.Net: How did music first come into your life?

Gilby Clarke: Well, when I was a teenager, music was always around. I saw a poster of Jimi Hendrix and that is what really got me going. I wanted to become a guitar player. I just started discovering music through that. I was listening to some early Jimi Hendrix and then I got into some current stuff which at the time was Led Zeppelin, KISS, Aerosmith and stuff like that from the mid-seventies that was popular at the time.

What drove you to make music your career?

I've got to tell you that I didn't ever really make a decision, it just kinda happened. When I was in high school, I was playing in bands that were playing high school dances and things like that. I just always knew that I wanted to play guitar in a band, so when everybody else went on from high school to go to college or whatever, I just kept playing music. I went to Hollywood and got a gig with a band and it just kinda kept going. It was more determination than anything.

What has kept you inspired through the years?

Well, it's tough! [laughs] I think that what is great about music is the variety, I like all kinds of music. I like hard rock, I don't know that I can say that I like Top 40 rock, but I like classical music and I like blues. I seem to be able to find good about a lot of different types of music. If I hear a good song or a good band that definitely inspires me a little bit.

How do you think you have evolved as an artist since starting out?

I think as an artist, that my craft has evolved. I think I have become a better guitar player over the years. More than anything, I never accept my playing as being "finished." I still see other guitar players and learn from them. I might see them do something and go "Wow! I've never tried that!" So as a musician, I feel like it's a work in progress and that it is always evolving. I am always trying to learn something new, to get better or find a different style that you like. As far as music that I like, it really hasn't changed too much. I really like the classic definition of rock n' roll, something that is really loose and you hear the drum beat go with it.

You have put a lot of music over the years and even put out a retrospective album last year. Looking back on your career so far, did you think that you would be still going strong all these years later?

Well, I gotta tell ya, I never thought I wouldn't be! [laughs] The thing about a music career is that it is all hills and valleys. You can't be on top all of the time. You just have to find ways of making the downtime fun and that is what I do. I can't sit around and wait for every arena tour to come around once every five to eight years or so. I try to find other things to do that I think are fun like taking up a residency at a club where I can just play music once a week to keep me fresh. So, yeah, I guess I did think I would be going strong. No one ever thinks that they are going to be on top forever but you just have to hang in.

Gilby Clarke
 

Are you currently working on material for a new Gilby Clarke solo record?

I am always writing. I am always writing songs because I don't really know what they are going to be for. Where the songs will be, I don't know. Is it going to be a new band? Or will it be a solo record? Usually I don't make a decision until I have a good records worth of tunes. If I have ten tunes that I am happy with, then I have to decide to either do a solo record or to seek out a band, so writing is always a process.

What is the typical songwriting process like for you?

For me it always starts on guitar when I am sitting around noodling, playing or if I am just at a sound check and I come up with something that I haven't heard before, whether it is a riff or just a chord change that I haven't tried before. It usually starts that way. Very rarely does it start lyrically. I think as I have gotten older it has been starting lyrically a little bit more, if I have different ideas that I want to write down, but usually it does start with guitar first.

Your recently produced an album with Crash Kelly, what was that experience like for you?

Actually, last year I did four back to back records! I did a Crash Kelly record, I did a Silent Rage record, a band called Motochrist's record and I just mixed The Alarm's record. So I always producing. If I am not performing live then I am producing. A young band like Crash Kelly, at this point they are definitely seasoned musicians and they know how to play. It is more about getting to the arrangements or the songs. With Sean (Kelly), who is the lead singer and guitarist, it is more about making sure he is hearing back what he has.

Is there anyone else that you are currently working with that we should be on the lookout for?

Like I said, the Silent Rage record, which was a band from the mid to late eighties just put out a record. That record just came out, and I am really proud of the work with the band The Alarm. That record also just came out and I am finishing up their next record. It's like that late seventies Clash, Sex Pistols rock n' roll. It is some really good songwriting and it is a record that I would buy even if I had nothing to do with it.

Rock Star: Supernova reunited back in May of 2008 for a benefit. Is there any chance we might see you all back together again sometime soon?

It is kind of funny because we never officially pulled the plug on it. It was a project and Tommy (Lee) and I will always be friends. I just don't think it is anyone's priority at this point. I think we gave it our best shot and there were some things that were successful about it and some things that weren't. I don't think it will ever really go away but over time we may forget about it. At this point, you never really know what will come up.

Currently you are on tour as a counselor for the Rock N' Roll Fantasy Camp, how did you become involved with the program?

Actually a bunch of my friends have always been a part of it. Teddy Andreadis who used to play keyboards for Guns N' Roses, and Bruce Kulick have done it. Whenever they talk about it they always have great things to say about it and how it not only gives back to people who aren't professional musicians and the way it gives back to the musicians themselves. They get a sense of accomplishment working with people. I went down to Los Angeles to audition and I had a great time! I thought that the people were really fun and I just really enjoyed the whole process.

Obviously this is a little different from a tour you would normally be involved with, how are you adjusting to life as a "camp counselor" this summer?

I actually just did my first one yesterday. It was a really good experience. You are working with people who have followed your career, they are excited to be in the room with you and you get to play some music together. So, yeah, I had a great experience.

I would imagine that having experience on the production side of things probably lends itself pretty well to this project by putting all your expertise to work in a classroom setting.

Yeah it definitely is a good experience for everyone involved.

What are you looking forward to the most about the Rock N' Roll Fantasy Camp tour?

It is mostly about just talking to people. As a musician, you surround yourself with other musicians, so it is very easy to lose touch. What is really great about this is that you are one-on-one with people and get to hear what they are inspired by. I have never been one of those musicians that follows a trend. It always bothers me when I hear other artists saying "Do this for the fans. Give them what they want." I just don't think that is really an artist. Being an artist is creating something original and you get fans from that. So it is always nice to get a little feedback, some honest feedback. That is another thing that is really great about this.

Gilby Clarke
 

Being in the music industry as long as you have, are there still surprises?

Yeah! [laughs] There are definitely still surprises out there. I mean, the people that survive are the people that adapt. You definitely have to learn to adapt because times are much different.

What do you consider the defining moment of your career so far?

I think that joining Guns N' Roses was my defining moment. It was an extremely successful band at that time and I really believed in it. As a guitar player, it was exactly what I was looking for. It ending up not lasting as long as I would have hoped and I didn't get to do any writing with the band. So it was definitely a defining moment but certainly not the final defining moment.

You have worked with a wealth of really terrific artists over the years and probably have a tale or two to tell. Will we ever get an autobiography out of you to share any of those stories?

Yeah, I think that I definitely have an opinion and a Guns N' Roses opinion. I think that would make an interesting book, so it is something that I am definitely thinking about a lot more lately.

Are you still in touch with any of those guys from your days in Guns N' Roses?

I think the only one that I currently talk to is Duff (McKagan). We live right down the street from each other and have kids that go to the same school. We hang out a little more than the other guys. The other guys like Matt and Slash, I don't really see that much.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to those who are just starting out and considering making a career in the music industry?

Yeah, I think "originality" more than anything. Music is art and I think that has been getting lost over the past ten years. If you have something to contribute and something to say, I think that you can make a great career. I think that bands like the Sex Pistols are working bands. Everybody has something to say and you don't have to be the best guitar player or the best drummer in the world to say something.

You have dabble in the world of reality TV before with Rockstar Supernova and you have been happily married for a long time now so we won't be seeing Rock of Love: Gilby Clarke!

Yeah. [laughs]

I was just curious if you had been approached for any other reality projects... perhaps something based on your producing or home life. Would that be something you would be interested in?

Actually, my wife and I have been approached quite a few times about reality shows. It's just not for us. We really don't need to air our life on TV just to make a little money. We are in a bunch of current production things for television shows but it is not really about our lives. TV is a new avenue of marketing and you have to use it. If The Beatles would have had TV like this, they would have used it too. It is just like radio was, a new tool.

What does a lifelong guitar player like yourself think of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video game craze we are currently having?

I haven't played Rock Band yet but I have played Guitar Hero. I have a fourteen year old daughter that smokes me on it! [laughs] I think it is great. I think that it is great that it is turning a whole new generation on to some great music. My daughter came up to me and asked if I had a Rage Against The Machine record. I think it is really, really wonderful that these kids are getting to hear some classic songs that inspired a different generation.

Gilby Clarke
 

Has the digital revolution of music (downloading, iPods, iTunes, etc.) been positive or negative for someone like yourself?

I view it in a positive way. My recording studio is all Pro Tools now and it has certainly made it a lot easier. I can't say that it has made it more productive but it has made easier. I don't think that we can judge it really, not quite yet, what it has done to music. I think it is still in the beginning stages right now. It's going to be interesting to see how much it changes and more than anything, what kind of quality music that we are going to get from this new digital age. Right now, for me, the jury is still out on it.

Music runs in your family. What was it like when your daughter took the stage with you for the first time?

The first time that she performed with me was actually in London. We had such a great time! My wife was in tears watching it. I think it is fun when your children have the same dreams that you had. With my daughter, her being a girl, we don't have as many things in common from a father/daughter relationship. So having music as something in common gives us a language of our own, that her and my wife don't have. It is a really special relationship.

After this tour, what’s next for you?

Just getting back to some writing. I have been in the studio producing last year and then this summer, I have been doing a lot of performing. I think more than anything I just really need to get back to the studio, start writing and get some songs cataloged.

I have a habit of throwing this one in here. When do you think that Chinese Democracy will be released?

There was point there, I have to tell you, that I was absolutely sure it was coming out but at this point I have no idea. I am just like every other person and I am a fan of GNR's music but I have no idea. I have heard a couple songs just like everybody else and I am just as curious as everybody else. I am really curious to see what kind of music you break up a really good band for.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I think that is about it. I think there is a really interesting vibe right now, we just have to be patient and hopefully we will get some good records out of it.

Thank you very much for your time Gilby!

Thanks man, I really appreciate it!

 

Related Links:
www.gilbyclarke.com - The Official Site of Gilby Clarke
www.myspace.com/gilbyclarke - The Official Myspace Page of Gilby Clarke
The Gilby Clarke Forum - The Official Gilby Clarke Forum
Here Today Gone To Hell - An Unofficial Guns N' Roses site
GNR Source - An Unofficial Guns N' Roses site
Frankie B. - The Official Site of Frankie B. Premium Denim Jeans (Fashion by Daniella Clarke)
Redrum Recording - The Official Site of Gilby Clarke's Redrum Recording
Guns n' Roses Online
- The Official Site of Guns N' Roses
Rock N' Roll Fantasy Camp - The Official Site of Rock N' Roll Fantasy Camp