Gary Wilson is an experimental musician/composer who is originally from upstate New York. His father was a moonlighting musician who played standards on stand up bass for many years in a hotel house band. After experimenting with his father's bass, Wilson became a self taught multi-instrumentalist who can play a variety of instruments that include: guitar, bass, drums, piano and cello. In his youth he was exposed to the teen idols but when the Beatles invaded, he jumped right on the bandwagon and saw them perform at Shea Stadium. Like many other adolescents, Gary proceeded to form a band to be just like The Beatles. After a while Gary started taking an interest in more adventurous music having discovered progressive bands such as: The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Fugs, as well as early modern classical composers like Varese, Schoenberg and Boulez. When Gary discovered John Cage, his music developed into a more avant garde style. In 1977 Wilson released the album "You Think You Really Know Me" and it soon became a cult classic. He considers playing live more than just a music concert and always puts on a highly theatrical show when he performs. He has just released a long awaited new album titled "It's Friday Night With Gary Wilson" and it features the funky avant garde style that he's known for. I recently asked Gary a few questions about the new album and his career.
R.V.B. - Hey Gary... Congratulations on your new album release. The album cover... sure looks like a good place to spend a Friday night! What's behind the title of the album?
Gary: Thanks. Friday night has always been my favorite night. When I was a young teenager growing up I always enjoyed going over to a friends house and ordering a pizza and watching a horror movie on TV. Especially when the girls were there.
R.V.B. - Does the love song references go back to the teen idol influences of your youth?
Gary: Yes. When I was 8 years old I was a fan of Dion. My father, who was a bass player would take me to the local record stores and buy me (vinyl) records. All the teen idols were around at that time. I liked Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, etc. This was before the Beatles made the scene in America. Most of their songs were about girls, etc. My favorite was Dion's song "Runaround Sue".
R.V.B. - Who were some of the people who helped out with the album and how did they contribute?
R.V.B. - How did the writing process proceed with this album? Did you build off the theme of love songs? Do you match words to the music or music to words... or both?
Gary: I usually wait to be inspired. It might come from watching a movie like "A Summer Place" with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. Perhaps a dream about a former girlfriend. A memory of a date from the past. It doesn't happen everyday. Usually I will record the music first and then add the lyrics later. It all has to meet the Gary Wilson criteria.
R.V.B. - What was it like growing up upstate New York and how did you get involved with music?
Gary: My father played stand up bass at a local hotel lounge. Thus, we had some instruments laying around. All the Wilson children had to take up an instrument throughout our school years. My instruments were cello and string bass. I was in the youth symphony when I was 12 years old. I wanted to be like Dion when I was 10 years old. My mother would wake me up to go to school and curl my hair to look like Dion. I wrote my first song when I was 10 years old. Then the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan show. I was in 6th grade at the time (11 years old). That opened up a whole new world of music for me. Now I had to be in a band. I taught myself how to play guitar when I was 11 years old. You had all the British bands coming to America like The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Zombies, etc. My dad bought the family a Farfisa Combo Compact organ and I joined my first band in 7th grade. I was from Endicott which is a small town in upstate N.Y. I had my core group of musician friends. We were considered the weirdo's in that town. I was jumped by 30 people outside of a public pool because they didn't like my long hair.
R.V.B. - How did The Beatles influence your life and what was your experience like seeing them at Shea Stadium?
Gary: When the Beatles came out all the kids wanted to be in bands. We all wanted to be like the Beatles. They talk of garage bands now. Back in the mid 1960s every neighborhood in Endicott had a band rehearsing in their garage or basement. My brother, sister and I took a bus to New York to see the Beatles at Shea Stadium. It was very exciting.
R.V.B. - The 60's and 70's had a lot of experimentation in music and the arts. I see you spent some time with John Cage. Can you describe what it was like working with him and how he may have helped you with your music?
Gary: When I was still in 7th grade (12 years old) I started to become interested in the weirder bands. I was listening to The Mothers Of Invention and Frank Zappa mentioned John Cage. I had been listening to modern classical music like Edgar Varese, Schoenberg, Boulez but nothing prepared me for the music of John Cage. I went to a local library and played a John Cage piece called "Concert For Piano And Orchestra" with David Tudor on piano. I was hooked. John Cage became my idol. I was still playing in the school orchestra and began writing avant grade music for our orchestra and chamber group. I began to apply avant grade situations in the local rock band I was playing with. When I was 14 years old my violin teacher said I should try to get some of my music to John Cage. I went to a Manhattan telephone book and John Cage was listed. I called him and Mr. Cage gave me an address to send my scores to. After two weeks I followed up and called Cage again. He invited me to his home in Haverstraw. My mother drove me up from Endicott. N.Y. to Haverstraw, NY to John Cage's house. He lived in a wooded area outside of New York City. My mother and I became lost near his home and I called Cage from the local Haverstraw general store and Mr. Cage came down in his car and picked me up and drove me to his house while my mother waited at the general store. For a few hours John Cage went over my scores with me, correcting musical notations, etc. He was my hero. Later on after I moved to San Diego I had the pleasure of seeing John Cage again at the local University. My girlfriend was a graduate student at UCSD at the time and John Cage was an artist in residence at the University. The school was having a John Cage show and I went up to Mr. Cage and asked if he remembered me from so many years ago. He smiled and said he did and I handed him a copy of my album. John Cage passed away shortly after.
R.V.B. - Would you consider your music a mixture of avant garde and pop?
Gary: That sounds about right. I've had avant grade bands since I was 13 years old.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy recording at Bearsville Studios?
Gary: I consider Bearsville studios the best studio I have ever been in. Such warmth on the drums, etc. I submitted demos to a singer songwriter from Woodstock named Robbie Dupree. He invited me to Woodstock to record "You Think You Rally Know Me" at Bearsville Studios. This was around 1976. When Robbie's career started growing he wasn't able to finish up the album. We recorded at the studio four songs. "6.4=Makeout", "Chromium Bitch", "Lose Control" and "Groovy Girls Make Love At The Beach". I spent 4 days at Robbie's house in Woodstock. I then decided to go back to my home studio in my parent's basement and record the whole album ("You Think You Really Know Me") there. The Bearsville tapes had the drummer from the band Orleans ("Still The One") playing on my tapes. Someday I might try to get a hold of those tapes and release them as "Gary Wilson: The Woodstock Tapes"
Gary: Being influenced by John Cage I became interested in modern art, theater, etc. My favorite painter was Robert Rauschenberg. Thus I started at 13 years old incorporating the avant grade situations into my music and band.
R.V.B. - What were some of your favorite live performances?
Gary: While still in high school (around (16 years old) I had the chance to see Captain Beefheart perform in Ithaca, NY. I borrowed my brothers ID. When I was growing up you only had to be 18 years old to go into bars. My friend Frank Roma (he was two years older than me) and I drove from Endicott to Ithaca to see Beefheart. We arrived early and hung out near the stage. Before anyone else came into the venue Beefheart and his manger arrived to check out the stage and venue. I had a Gary Wilson demo and we approached Beefheart and his manager and started a conversation with him. I gave Beefheart my demo and Frank who played sax with my band at the time (Dr. Zork And The Warts) gave him a reed for Beefheart's sax. I also had the pleasure of seeing Frank Zappa in 1968. The Fugs in 1970. When I turned 18 I would often go to New York City to see shows. I saw Keith Jarrett with his quartet. Herbie Hancock, Pharaoh Sanders, Don Cherry, Chick Corea and many more in small club settings.
R.V.B. - Do you think the current album is a natural progression to the music of your past or a whole different animal?
Gary: Yes. It's all Gary Wilson. All my music has to have the Gary Wilson personality imprinted into it.
R.V.B. - What are you most proud of in your career?
Gary: Seeing the Gary Wilson documentary (Michael Wolk's "You Think You Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story") premier at Lincoln Center in New York. Playing at CBGB's numerous times in the 1970s. Going to Europe twice to a receptive audience. Performing on the Jimmy Fallon show with The Roots backing me (Questlove has been a big supporter of mine). Playing with Earl Sweatshirt (Odd Future) on The Jimmy Kimmel show. There have been so many special moments in my musical life. I am so grateful for so many opportunities.
R.V.B. - What are your current plans to support the new album? Thanks for considering answering these questions.
Gary: Going to be doing some shows in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, etc. in the next few months.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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