PAUL GILBERT (Racer-X / Ex- Mr. Big)

< ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />September 1st, 2006
Interview By Celtic Bob

Racer-X and former Mr. Big guitarist takes a few moments to sit down and chat with about his new album, the past, and the future.

How are you doing?

I’m doing well, thank you.

How’s it going down that way?

It’s going very well. I did a sort of record release concert last night.  It was the first live show. Doing some of the new tunes. It was fantastic.

How has the interest been this far for that instrumental album?

It’s better than I expected.  I think the guitar fans have sort of wanted me to do this for a long time and I’ve always been rebellious against the idea. Finally I decided to try and make a guitar instrumental album at least the way I want to make it.  I normally don’t listen to guitar instrumental music that much.  I’m more of a rock fan.  I really wanted to make it where it would appeal to me, a rock fan.  So hopefully the rock fans will dig it and not just guitar players but I think the guitar players are happy about it.

Was there much anticipation for it?

During the Racer-X time there were so many great guitar players who were doing guitar instrumental records.  Like Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore and them.  Allot of the sort of Shrapnel label kind of people.  I was on Shrapnel as well but my dream was to be in a rock band.  I didn’t just want to do projects, I wanted to be in a band and be a rock and roller and ot just a guitar player.  That’s why I’ve always been I bands with singers ad always tried to stay in bands for a long time. 

How have the sales been for the new disc?

(Laughs) I have no idea.  I sort of make it a point not to pay any attention.

Will you be touring to support the album?

Yah, I hope so.  My manager is just organizing the tour stuff now.

Like some other artists, you are bigger in < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Japan than over here.  Why is that?

If I know it, I could maybe use it to my advantage and do as well everywhere.  The majority of my time I try to spend playing guitar and doing musical things.  Dwelling on why or why I’m not doing well in one place or another just has not so much to do with music.  Maybe it’s just a different trend cycle or something, I don’t know.  I think when the 90’s hit and the Nirvana/Pearl Jam bands took over in the states it didn’t really latch on, it didn’t take over and just wipe out in Japan like it did in the States.  I still managed to have a good career as a heavy metal guitar player over there.  To me I’d much rather spend time playing music than being ….  My manager can worry about those things.

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The Japanese always seem to get the bonus tracks and stuff we don’t get over here.


I did learn an interesting thing on the bonus tracks. I always wondered about that.  Obviously its nice that the fans can get another song.  I asked about it cause the record companies were asking if I had any bonus tracks so I said why do they want them so much.  It’s interesting because here in the States if you order an import record.  If you order something from Europe or Japan it’s more expensive, twice the price of a regular CD to get an import.  In Japan the imports are cheaper, which to me is almost unfathomable when I first heard it.  The reason is it’s like a government set price on the cost of a Japanese CD in Japan.  The people that import the records over there they don’t have to follow that law because it’s not a Japanese CD.  Actually the domestic Japanese CD’s are really expensive but if they buy the same album imported from the States or Europe it’s actually cheaper than the one they’d get from Japan.  The Japanese record companies have to compete with the cheaper imports and the way they do it is by putting bonus tracks or better/more ???? notes or extra stuff there so the Japanese will buy the Japanese CD.  It was really surprising answer to me.  I did put down my guitar for a minute and learn something about the business.


Are you still working with Ibanez and are you working on anymore guitars?


Oh, absolutely, all the time.  They’re chopping one out of a tree for me right now.  I’ve had a really great experience with Ibanez.  I started working with them in the mid 80’s.  I think it’s been 20 years and been playing their guitars for a long time now.


How come the PGM301 is only available in white?


It’s kind of the best color and that’s the one I usually end up playing.  I’m sure it has to do with demand as well if there were enough people wanting a blue one.  I think in Japan they do sell a blue one.  It just depends on the market.



No plans for different finishes?


Over the years they released a lot of different ones.  Mostly in Japan because that’s where I’m the best known.  The sales corresponded.  In the States I’m not as prevalent here.  There’s not as much available.  That’s the sad story of it.


Do you still teach and give guitar lessons at the Guitar Institute?


I do sometimes, I’m not really consistent with it, it’s just whenever I have time or whenever I feel like getting inspired about a guitar.  That’s the thing about that school.  I was a student there for a year and it was a fantastic year and whenever I need a kick in the pants to get practicing or to get excited about the instrument I can go there and spend a week or two.  It definitely gets me excited about guitar.



Do you think you would have gotten where you are today without the Guitar Institute?


When I think of what I learned there.  There are a couple things actually.  First of all it was a fantastic alternative to regular college because I knew I wanted to be a musician.  I was sick of high school.  I did well in high school but I was tired of studying things that were of no use to what I wanted to do for my career.  I could focus on music completely which was like a dream come true.  Besides that it was in Hollywood, CA which is still to me the best place in the world if you want to be a musician.  I learned some great things.  I was almost completely self-taught musician so I knew very little about music theory or how to put chords together or other styles of music besides heavy metal.  To learn those things really expanded my whole world as a musician.  I wish I could sneak in now and try and learn more. 



Do you still have ay contact with the Mr. Big guys?


Once in awhile.  I recently did a tribute to The Who, it was sort of an all-star lineup; Billy Sheehan on bass, Mike Portonoy from Dream Theater on drums and Gary Cherone from Extreme on vocals.  We did three shows of that.  It was really fun to play with Billy on The Who stuff because he did a fantastic John Entwistle.


He would have been a fitting guy to have replaced him.


Ya, no kidding!  That would have been great.  I’d go see that in a second.



Is there a chance of a Mr. Big reunion down the road?


I’d rather not.  I’ve got great memories of what we did and I love the music we did but I really think our best work is behind us.  The atmosphere that existed at the beginning of the band was the best atmosphere creatively and socially for us.  I think if we’d try to do that again, I don’t think we could top what we did then.  It doesn’t have anything to do with musicianship just as people we weren’t really getting along toward the end.  I think if we got back together it would be more pain and misery.



Would it be similar situation with Racer-X?


Actually I did get back together with Racer-X.  Of course we were originally we were together in the 80’s and then late in the 90’s.  We got back together and did three more studio albums and a live album.  Those were a blast.  I am still great friends with those guys.  No matter what we are doing; just hanging out our making a record we just have a great time.  I always have fun doing that.



Do you keep in contact with former Racer-X guitarist Bruce Bouillet?


Once in awhile.  He was the one guy that sort of didn’t reunite with us.  I think he just didn’t want to play that kind of music anymore.  He’s still a great friend and I love him, he’s fantastic.  I always wish him well he’s a great friend and fantastic guitar player.



On the second Racer-X album you had a track called “Heart of a Lion” which was written by Judas Priest.  How did that all come about?


That was at a time when Jeff, our singer was living in Arizona, Phoenix.  I think a couple of the Judas Priest guys lived there as well because Jeff was a big local heavy metal musician.  He got to know the guys in Judas Priest and they let him hear some of the unreleased songs that they had written.   Jeff heard that one and said “You guys ain’t gonna do this?”  They said no we didn’t use it on the last record so ….Jeff showed it to us and we worked up a version and the Judas Priest guys said it was cool to do it, so we did.


Anymore Racer-X releases planned for the future?


Well nothing specifically planned but I think we’d all love to, it’s just a matter of coordinating our schedules sort of thing.  Everybody in the bands sort of successful right down to John the bass player who’s playing with the Mars ??? who are out with the Chili Peppers.  Scott Travas plays in Judas Priest, Jeff just did a solo album and I’m doing my thing.  It’s a little tricky to coordinate the time to do it.   I love that band so I hope we can.



Would you ever consider a G3 Tour?


I think that now that I have an instrumental album out it would make more sense.  I had a couple offers before and I just thought I’m not really an instrumental guitar player.  I play fast and I do some hopefully exciting guitar playing.  It’s more of a vocal band I have.  I think now it could work.  It’d be cool.



Who would you like to have in the band with you?


If I had my way it would be my heroes like Eddie Van Halen, Robin Trower, or Pat Travers or the guys I grew up listening to. You’d never have G3 without Joe Sariam he’s the owner of it and usually Vai’s on the bill as well so those are the staple two.  I think all the G3 people have been great.  I’m not too picky. 



Who do you listen to and admire these days?


I still listen to my old heroes.  I just go the new Cheap Trick album which I love.  There’s a new version of The Cars called The New Cars where Ric Okksek the original singer is not in the band and he’s been replaced by Todd Rundgren.  I’m a huge Todd Rundgren fan so that was really cool to hear that.  I like The Darkness I think they’re cool.  I love Green Day, I like the new Def Leppard album which is all covers is great.  A little hard to get me to listen to new music.  There’s probably some great stuff out there.  I just have to get hip to it.



Was there one record or artist that inspired you to pick up the guitar originally?


My parents had a lot of great rock albums.  They had all the Beatles stuff, all the Stones, they had some Who, Animals, the cool 60’s rock.  Just listening to their records made me want to play.   I say most of the Beatles.  I started buying my own records. I was more into the hard rock, heavy metal so I was buying Led Zepplin, Deep Purple, Hendrix and those kind of records.  A little later on Van Halen and that more flashy guitar playing.  Originally just the Beatles to get into rock and Jimmy Page to make me want to play guitar.



Any plans to do the Yellow Matter Custard thing from a few years back again?


NO, those were kind of one off things.  They were really enjoyable.  I think all of us in the band had a great time doing it but we don’t want to make our careers out of being a cover band.  It was sort of a musician Halloween, a way to dress up the band.  Whoever out heroes happen to be that week and have some fun with it.



Your website is very indie looking and cool.  Do you have a lot of fun with it?

If you don’t have fun with it then why do it?



Most are pro done and used as a marketing tool.


Of course it’s a marketing tool because people look at it and find a link to Amazon and click on it and buy a CD.  To me it’s a good way to tell people if I’m doing a concert or if the new album is coming out.  In the sametime I don’t want to let somebody else make my image for me.  Actually that was one of the best things about leaving Mr. Big. With Mr. Big we tried to have an image that fit the band.  That was fine, it was cool but after I left I could really express myself as an individual more. Both musically and on my website and artistically, the CD covers, with what I wear.  I can be more myself.  I really enjoy that and the website is another way to manifest that.



Do you do it all yourself?


Yah, which is why its very lo-tech but I like low tech websites because……I don’t really want to go to a website and the text is spinning and catching on fire and its all this flash stuff.  To me that’s more annoying than impressive.  Maybe it looks good cause you can go the artist can afford to have someone who designed flash for them.  I’d rather just do it myself and have it reflect who I am and what I do.  It’s simple enough where I can do things to it if I got a bit of news to stick on there I don’t have to call up the Web Designer.  I can just stick it on immediately.  Just having that instant hands on feel as well.



Do you have a hand in the CD covers as well and do you get a kick out of designing them as you do recording them?


I think along with being a musician I’ve always drawn pictures and been a little bit of a visual artist.  I just want it to reflect who I am.  If you let someone else do it, it a be good but it’s not you, and I want it to be me.



A lot of your pictures and album covers are quite humorous and unique from most.


I was looking recently on a website called Wikopedia.  A friend of mine told me that there’s a Paul Gilbert entry and I went to it to check it out.  In the part where it’s describing me it says “Known to have a rather unusual sense of humor”, and I thought if you have a normal sense of humor is it still funny? What’s a normal sense of humor? (laughs) OF course it’s unusual!  If it’s not unusual it’s not funny anymore.



Anything you’d like to plug right now or say to the readers and fans?


My new record  GET OUT OF MY YARD came out better than I hoped and I hope everyone enjoys the direction of it.  Please go to my website and send me an e-mail and let me know what you think.


Read Paul Gilbert CD reviews