Paul Gilbert:: Turning Penises into Flowers!

By Jeb Wright

Okay, listen up…I am not EVEN going to explain the title of this piece.  Nope, you will have to read the interview to learn about Paul Gilbert’s Flower Penis art.  The good news it that when you do read it; you will laugh, as it is funny.  Now, Gilbert may claim he is not a funny man, but he’s lying.  This guy will make you laugh.  And, even though his sense of humor and wit are razor sharp, they ain’t nuttin’ compared to his guitar playing.

After making a name for himself as the axe master for the band Racer X, Paul became a household name as the guitar player for the band Mr. Big.  Gilbert proved his worth with that band, yet if you really want to hear what this guy can do on the six-string then you have to check out his solo releases.  When Paul lets it rip, then his name automatically goes up on the wall with guys named Vai and Satriani.

However, if you REALLY want to see him, up close and personal, and even pick the mind of the guitar great, and learn a thing or two, then you need to attend The Great Guitar Escape on July 8th through the 12 at The Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, New York.

To learn more about this camp just read the interview that follows, or check out and sign up today!

Jeb:  Tell me all about the camp...this is the second year.  For those who are on the fence, why should they sign up?

Paul: The Great Guitar Escape is a camp that I organized for having the best and most inspiring musical experience possible. I always remember when I was a teenager, and looking forward to summer vacation, I would plan for it, thinking, “This is the summer that I’m really going to practice my guitar and get better.” My motivation was there, but I didn’t have a good teacher to learn from. At the Great Guitar Escape, I’ve got some of the world’s best guitar teachers to perform, motivate, teach, jam, and just have a good time hanging out in a beautiful part of the country.

Jeb:  What if someone feels they are not a good enough shredder or they are a beginner and don't want to go because they think they might be embarrassed or bashful?  What do you say to that?

Paul: I will give a chance to everyone to jam with me. I try to create a musical situation that is welcoming. It’s not a guitar battle… It’s a guitar conversation. I’ve done these jams with guitar players on every level, all over the world, and we always have a good time. I also think that I can save beginners a lot of time and frustration by helping them get started the right way. And of course, I know that some shredders may want to “do battle.” Again, the jam is very flexible, and we can take it anywhere, so I have fun hearing someone who has some years behind their playing as well.

Jeb: Lets talk instructors...Talk about what Andy Timmons is like and what he brings to the table.

Paul: Andy is one of those indestructible guitar players who can play just about every style and technique. We are similar in that we both love pop music like The Beatles and Todd Rundgren, but our fingers tend to spend more time with heavier, more athletic music. I really respect Andy’s ability to play melodies on guitar. That’s really hard for me! I tend to either play rhythm or to go nuts with the solo. Andy can go nuts too, but he can also take the place of the vocalist, and really deliver the melody on guitar. At the camp, I’m going to ask him how he does it!

Jeb:  Same question on Mimi Fox.

Paul: Have you seen her play? Wow! I just love how confident her playing is. My ears have been opening up to jazz more and more in recent years. I’m still a beginning jazz player myself, but I know just enough to recognize how good Mimi is. She’s also great at explaining the mysteries of jazz. If any rock or blues players want to get out of their musical ruts, Mimi has the best new notes to give to you. I’m going to be sitting in the back of her class with the students for sure.

Jeb:  Same about the other three dudes.

Paul: Scotty Johnson teaches guitar at Berklee. He’s also toured with me and played on my solo albums. Besides being a great player of rock, fusion, blues, and jazz, Scotty is great at explaining music theory, and getting the “math” connected to the fretboard. Tony Spinner has recorded and toured with my band, as a solo artist, and also with Steve Lukather and Toto. He has an authentic feel for blues and rock, and also plays excellent slide guitar. Tony is also a stunning lead vocalist, and I’m happy to have him sing at our nightly shows. And then there is Adam Fulara. Adam plays Bach keyboard pieces by tapping on a double-neck guitar. It looks like he must have practiced for about 200 years to play one of these pieces. But not only does he perform many of them… he also improvises with this style. The best thing is that it’s not gimmicky. He really creates music and new sounds. I can’t wait to check him out, close up.

Jeb:  And what about this Paul Gilbert dude?  What's so special about him?

Paul: Ha! Well, I’ve been teaching all year at my online school, and also in-person, so I have endless ideas for how to untangle techniques that need help, and how to just make the guitar more musical and more fun. I’ll also be performing every night with my band and the other teachers.

Jeb:  What is the Full Moon Resort like?

Paul: We had perfect weather last year… warm and sunny, in the mountains, with lots of big trees. The staff makes great breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and really takes care of everyone. If you find yourself having guitar-overload, you can take a walk around, or go fishing or swimming to get refreshed.

Jeb:  What do you get out of doing this...not talking the cash! Talking the spirituality, the payoff as the teacher...the touchy feely stuff...

Paul: From teaching at the camp, at my online school, and at my VIP lessons around the world… I occasionally have those moments when I can see that someone was really able to make a breakthrough in their playing. It’s great to see their eyes light up, and I can tell they are thinking, “I didn’t know that I could do that!”

Jeb:  Okay, now for some background material...I heard you were raised in Gettysburg...not a hot spot of Hard Rock.  What was it like musically?

Paul: You’re only a couple letters off. It was Greensburg, which is still in Pennsylvania, and still has a lot of pride in early American heritage. I remember building a replica of a Revolutionary War fort out of Popsicle sticks when I was a kid. But at the same time I was reading about the history of the Beatles, and getting started on guitar. Musically, there were actually some great people around. But it was hard to get them to show up to rehearsal. I don’t think they took it as seriously as I did. That was the best thing about moving to L.A. The musicians would show up!

Jeb:  You were featured in Guitar Player Magazine at 15 years of age.  How did you pull that off ?

Paul: That was Mike Varney’s “Spotlight” column, which featured new talent. I sent some tapes to Mike and he liked my guitar playing. He did tell me that my songwriting was horrible, but that just made me work harder. By the time I was 17, he liked my playing and my songs enough to offer me a record deal.

Jeb:  Racer X... what a band!  Dude, you played with Scott Travis didn't you?  Not a bad drummer!

Paul: I love Scott’s playing. I had to steal him from HAWK, though. That was Doug Marks’s band…the Metal Method guy. That was a paying gig, so Scott was reluctant to starve with Racer X. But after our first few shows we started getting a good audience, so we could eat, pay rent, and buy enough hairspray to have giant 80’s hair.

Jeb:  A) Should Racer X been more popular?  B) Why were they not? and C) What were the best parts of playing with that band and what was the most frustrating thing?

Paul: My ability to predict popular bands is…I’m no good at it. I remember hearing Poison when they first started, and thinking that they would never get anywhere. I’ve listened to Moe Berg and The Pursuit of Happiness about 1000 times more than Bon Jovi. I am, and will probably always be out of sync with the public taste. But, back to Racer X…I think that even Racer X fans didn’t necessary hear what I wanted them to hear. I remember being categorized as “Speed Metal” at the time. I knew that we played fast and that we were a heavy metal band, but the chords we were using were really from a different place than the typical speed metal stuff.

I was really into Cheap Trick and Todd Rundgren, as well as a lot of classical stuff. And I borrowed as much as I could from them. I could go through the tunes and show you… “That’s where I used the chord from ‘Can We Still Be Friends’ by Todd Rundgren.” Or, “That chord progression is from the bridge of ‘If You Want My Love, You Got It’ by Cheap Trick. Or, “That whole section is from J.C. Bach’s ‘Harpsichord Concerto in A.’” Sometimes I got the feeling that most people just liked it loud and fast. But growing up a Beatles fan, I couldn’t help but put some love into the chords. The great thing about the band, was that everyone got it. We all wanted the same thing, and had a great time really working together to go from unknown, to one of the biggest bands in L.A.

Jeb:  In Racer X did you show off too much on the soloing and not pay enough attention to the composing?  Not saying I think that...just want to know what you think?

Paul: I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics. But in heavy metal, it’s nearly impossible to understand them anyway. It’s more of a vehicle for the singer to sing melodies. I paid a lot of attention to the musical writing, but I was still a bit of a beginner. I had been playing guitar since I was nine, and really put in the hours of practice. And although I loved good songs and melodies, I didn’t have the same amount of experience as a writer. I still think that a lot of the songs were good. And the soloing was appropriate for that style. I wouldn’t solo that much in a Carpenters tune, but they weren’t Carpenter’s tunes.

Jeb:  How did Mr. Big form?  Did you know the guys? 

Paul: I knew Billy. I used to sneak into clubs and watch his band, Talas. My band opened up for him once, so he heard me playing when I was 16 years old. When I started teaching at GIT, Billy would often stop by my class, and we would play Accept tunes together. I think that’s why Billy wanted me to join Mr. Big… because I knew so many songs. That is really our musical language. I knew about Eric Martin, because I had his solo records, but I didn’t know about Pat until Billy invited him to play with us.

Jeb:  Did you think Mr. Big was a good deal for you at the time?  I mean, they were much more poppy than Racer X!

Paul: I remember sitting in the rehearsal room for the first record, and being a bit bewildered by what was going on. I kept thinking, “Shouldn’t there be more fills?” But then, we’d play the song, and it would sound great. So I just sat back and learned.

Jeb:  Did Mr. Big get too poppy for you? 

Paul: I really love pop music. If anything, I was probably too poppy for Mr. Big. When “Sowing the Seeds of Love” by Tears for Fears came out in the early 90s, it kicked me into a retro pop phase. I went back and got into the Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, lots of Todd Rundgren, that Eric Carmen record with all the hits, and newer bands like Jellyfish and Enuff Z’Nuff that had strong pop elements to them.

I wrote the song, “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” around this time, and I remember that it didn’t get a great reaction from the band at first. Our stated goal was to be more of a blues-rock band like The Faces or Bad Company, so my pop-influenced tunes didn’t really follow the plan. Around the same time, I heard Eric’s demo of “To Be With You,” and thought it was great. I used to make cassettes of our rehearsals for everyone in the band, and I snuck Eric’s demo in at the end. I remember everyone the next day saying, “What was that last song? It’s great!”

Jeb:  Your solo albums are SICK GOOD man.  Do you ever listen back do what you do on the guitar and just giggle like a schoolgirl at how brilliant it is?

Paul: Ah… thank you. I used to listen to my music a lot more. I barely listen to it at all now. It’s too…dense for me. I want to learn to be more dynamic. I don’t want to beat the audience over the head all night. I want to wait the right moment…to beat them over the head! Seriously, I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I don’t want to erase it. But I also wouldn’t mind starting over and doing it again…which I can do with each new day.

Jeb:  What is more important: Speed on the solo or Melody?

Paul: It takes context to answer that question. It’s like asking which word is better, “yes” or “no.” It depends on what the question is. If the question is “Would you like to be dropped into a swamp filled with hungry alligators?” then “no” is a much better word. If you are playing a Pink Floyd tune, then absolutely I’d recommend large doses of melody. If you’re playing an Yngwie tune, then some ferociously quick Phrygian Dominant scales are in order. It all depends on the context of the music. Guitar is rarely alone in rock and roll.

Jeb:  How do you find the balance between songwriting and bad ass guitar soloing?  Which is more emotional for you?  Which is harder for you?

Paul: It’s a challenge. I spent my whole teenage existence teaching myself how to play the fastest, most intense solos possible…only to discover that I love music that usually doesn’t feature fast guitar solos.

In the ‘90s, I tried to solve the problem with pop-punk. I could still use some chords and vocal melodies that I liked, and the music was loud enough to work with some intense soloing. More recently, I‘m juggling two more important elements, the limitations of my singing voice, and my hearing loss.

As much as I’d love to sing like Paul McCartney, or Ronnie James Dio, my instrument just won’t give me those notes. For years, I have been singing at the top of my range, and really beating myself up both live and in the studio to try to sing the melodies that I write. I’m finally realizing that the world won’t come to an end if I either change to a lower key, or even sing an octave down. In fact, it allows me to relax and put more emotion into the music. Also, my ears are half-destroyed from listening to so much loud music over the years, so there is another reason to learn to play with some dynamics.

Sometimes I feel like Jackie Chan… who wants to become a dramatic actor? Everyone wants to see me climb the walls. And I can still do it. But I’d rather do something more sophisticated. My challenge is to make sure that anything else I do is of the same quality as my face-melting stuff. That’s why I still practice!

Jeb:  Tell me what is coming up with all aspects of your career?  Any CDS?  Tours?

Paul: I just got home after doing a world tour with my solo band. I will be performing and teaching at the Ibanez Guitar Festival in Germany in late June and, of course, The Great Guitar Escape in New York right after that in July. But right now I’m spending most of my time making videos for the students at my online rock guitar school. If you want to check it out, the company is called Artistworks. I’ve made hundreds of videos for the students. And they are getting better.

Jeb:  Are you a better player than Steve Vai? 

Paul: Oh my goodness. We are really different from each other. I am very much a “copy tune” guy. My record collection has always been my best teacher. I learn songs and play them for fun… and to improve my vocabulary as a player and a writer.

I really respect Steve because he has a vision of what he wants to do. It comes from inside of him, and the result is something unique and great. My habit is to find inspiration from outside of myself, but as time passes, I search inward more and more. Mostly, I think it’s great that Steve and people like him are drug-free and will keep on playing and creating for many years. It’s fantastic to see how a great musician will grow, when given decades to explore their art.

Jeb:  Did you ever have any bouts with drugs or booze when the big machine was rolling?  If so, how did you survive?  If not, why not?  Were you boring? 

Paul: Somehow, my mom instilled in me a fear of drugs, or to restate it positively…a love of my brain. I don’t want to damage that thing. I really depend on it. If drug-driven drama is being “interesting”, then I am as boring as an Osmond brother. My life is certainly not without drama, but if I made all my private dramas public, I think I would just sound like I was whining. I’d rather play the guitar and escape from it all. Music is my drug, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my brain produces some good chemicals and electrical sparks when I bend a string just the right way.

Jeb:  Last one:  Dude, I heard you can actually WIN a spot in your Great Guitar Escape?  How does one enter?

Paul:  I heard the same thing! I think this could be a good place to go…

Jeb:  Okay, really the last one...Talk Uli Jon Roth?  Guitar Hero or Guitar Playing German Madman?

Paul: Uli’s vibrato, tone, and phrasing are so good. He’s got some face-melting licks as well, but I could listen to him bend a note all day.

Jeb:  Alright... REALLY, REALLY, REALLY the last one...rumor has it your are VERY funny... so the best prank you pulled on someone... or the best joke you pulled or even just a funny story that happened to you... share!!

Paul: I think most of my funny-ness just comes from having this job. It’s an unusual job being a rock musician. I love the music, but the culture surrounding it has never been something that I’ve quite fit in with. For instance, it seems that nearly every backstage room at the rock clubs in Europe has penises drawn all over the walls.

I think that penises are really good for certain things, but I don’t really like them as wall decoration. So, I’ll get out my own Sharpie and transform them into flowers. I have no special love for flowers on the wall either, but they are less distracting, and I can get back to my guitar quickly. So, I don’t think that I am particularly funny. It’s just that I’m in a lot of funny situations, and I can’t help but react.

And remember, at the Great Guitar Escape, all the walls are beautiful, and it’s even nicer outside where there are no walls at all. Bring your guitar. I’ll bring mine.