“I saw his stuff from just viewing some things on Youtube. I spoke with him a few times and he doesn’t do live performance very much. He said he hasn’t actually done one in twenty years, so he’s a bit nervous, but he said he’s going to join us in Pensacola.” – Dweezil Zappa discussing surprise guest Derryl Gabel.
Posters on the wall of a teenager’s bedroom.
Movie stars on some, monsters or animals on others. Most kids I know had rock stars or sports heroes on their walls. Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page were the biggest stars on my wall.
I dreamed like other kids. One day, to be like them, playing guitar for the crowd. Even crazier, I dreamed that I was one of my heroes or, at least, play onstage with them.
Untouched go the dreams. Except for Derryl Gabel.
A few days into the New Year, I interviewed Zappa ahead of his Zappa Plays Zappa concert at Vinyl for my article in the Music Matters column in the Pensacola News Journal.
Toward the end of the interview, Zappa revealed the surprise that would include the local guitarist/instructor performing onstage with him.
Happy New Year!
MS: On your website, you mentioned the challenges you have faced in 2012. With everything that has happened in the past few years-personally and professionally- how do you juggle being a father, a husband, an artist and a businessman?
DZ: It’s a challenge. It’s a balance of trying to put that all together is a constantly changing scenario. So fortunately, my wife is really great at working with me on all kinds of things, with touring and stuff with the kids, so it’s a real partnership on how to make it all work and find a better balance. That makes it more of an easy thing for me to do. But the real struggle in all that is when you’re doing all the regular things that everybody does when you’re cleaning the house and you’re doing laundry and you’re taking care of the kids and cooking dinner, somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m also worried about “Oh, I got to learn that really, hard new song that’s going to be a real challenge when I have to get up there and play it. There’s very little time for all of the things you need to do. Usually I’ll opt for spending more time with my kids and my wife than I will practicing the guitar, which uh, you know, that’s a hard choice to make, but I think it’s the better choice.
MS: What is the coolest thing about being Dweezil Zappa?
DZ: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really think about it like that. (Laughs)
MS: When did you first realize- I know that with your father’s influence-when did realize that you wanted to be a musician and you wanted to do this?
DZ: Well I listened to music, all kinds of music when I was a kid. I went to my dad’s concerts as a kid and I would listen to the music that he was either listening to at home or working on at home, but I didn’t really think about becoming a musician until I was 12 years old and at that point, I got really inspired by some of the rock guitar music I was hearing on the radio. You know, Van Halen and stuff by Randy Rhoads playing with Ozzy Osbourne, so that made me get interested in wanting to play the guitar. My father’s music-I always knew as a kid-was very challenging and difficult and that you needed to know a lot about music in order to play that, so it didn’t seem like the most obvious place to start, but it was really at 12 when I got interested in it.
MS: What are the comparisons between taking lessons and finding out music for yourself and how to compose music; how would you compare the two?
DZ: When you first start playing music, you don’t know all the steps you’ll be taking throughout your lifetime as a musician, so the first things that you get interested in are “How do you get enough skill on your instrument in order to be able to make the sounds you’re hearing in your head?” I always grew up hearing things that were very detail oriented, my dad’s music is that way, so when I heard other music other than my dad’s music, I always thought “Well, where is the rest of it?” I thought people weren’t using enough instruments, there wasn’t enough real detail in the music, so in my own style of music which has ever been evolving, you try to figure out how you can express your ideas and you need a certain amount of skill in the instrument to be able to get some of those points across, but what I’ve learned more in doing Zappa Plays Zappa is that I sort of graduated from being a guitarist to being a musician and the difference for me really is that when you’re a musician, you know more of the language that all the other musicians know in terms of fundamental knowledge of theory and chords and all those kind of things. And you’re more concerned with being able to play and how the specific role within the function of the music that you’re playing. You know, lead guitar players typically only think about playing your solo and everybody follows the lead guitar player kind of thing and so that kind of thing is less important to me and making music of my own is something that I haven’t been able to do for awhile because I’ve been focusing so heavily on this stuff with my dad’s music, but this year I think I’m going to take some time to write some new music of my own and I think it will be very different than it ever has been because I’ve learned so many more skills from all the stuff I’ve studied to play my dad’s music and also from playing my dad’s music.
MS: That kind of leads to my next question; you have your own body of work-like you said-how has recreating your father’s music affect you?
DZ: Well, the good thing about it-well, there’s no bad things about it anyway-but the best thing about it musically for me is that I had to really completely reevaluate everything I knew about music or about guitar playing and kind of relearn it from the ground up in order to accomplish what I set out to do with Zappa Plays Zappa and that was to be able to play the music as well as I could possibly play it and bring out the details in the music that I wanted to reemphasize for people in the audience because…for example, a really sophisticated or intricate melody that is written in my dad’s music, (from) an audience perspective, you can’t see over the shoulder of the keyboard player or percussionist or something, so you don’t have a very clear view of how difficult some of this music is, but a guitar, you can see the challenges that are being faced on that instrument, so when I learned a lot of these really hard things that were never meant to be played on guitar, that was a way to show-without even having to say a word- what my dedication was to the music.
MS: You mentioned the dedication and the goals for Zappa Plays Zappa, but was there a moment when you said, “You know what? I’m going to do this, I’m going to jump off this ledge and jump into doing my father’s work.”
DZ: Well yeah. It was back in 2004, I started really studying the music and changing things within my own guitar technique, so by the time 2006 came around, I was ready to do exactly what you just talked about, you know, say, “Alright, let’s go out and do this.” Now the point of it was, we didn’t really know if it would be something we would do continually on an annual basis or how long the whole thing would last. We set up a tour that we focused on material that was really my favorites from throughout his career and it was about, we had 27 songs in the show that span mostly from the 70’s, which was a period that I grew up watching him make his music and write his music, so it was really a lot of that stuff. But it was so well received that we have been able to do it on an annual basis ever since and we focused on my father’s entire career and all different styles from classical music to rhythm and blues to whatever. We even have a country song we’re playing in the show at the moment. There are all kinds of different styles that he’s written in and played, and to be able to authentically play in all those styles is what is required by all the musicians, so you always have to be on your toes to play this stuff.
MS: Of all the shows, is there one moment that stands out above everything else on these tours?
DZ: We’ve got some pretty good special things that have happened. One of the more memorable things was, we were playing in Italy, there was this venue that we played at. There was this beautiful Palazzo behind us and we were playing in this weird tent that was covering the audience, but you could see through the back. Anyway, we were playing the song “Peaches en Regalia” and-it’s an instrumental, but as we’re playing it, I started wondering if I was hearing something or if maybe I was imagining that this was happening, but it seemed liked the whole audience was singing the melody, so I motioned to the band to play quieter and then we all realized the whole audience was singing the melody to this song, but the thing about it is, the song has weird rhythms in it, not easy to sing rhythms, so we were surprised that they stuck with it and they were singing along to the rhythms of the melody and it was definitely a unique experience because it has never happened in any other location. That was pretty cool, especially considering that particular melody.
MS: When your children grow up, if they ever decide to tackle your music, what would you tell them?
DZ: Well, I could give them some pointers on where’s the best place to start getting prepared (laughs). For me, I definitely…in my preparation for it, it’s best described as getting a lobotomy and then having to train for the Olympics. I had to take what I already knew of playing guitar for more than 25 years and completely just erase it from my memory banks and start new with a whole different approach, technique-wise and a mental approach that was different and that has been the biggest challenge from the beginning is to change your habits and thought process of how you work. The best example I can give you for that is that my dad, when he was playing a guitar solo, a typical thought process or strategy of a guitarist is to use a bunch of scales that you practiced and some pre-composed guitar licks that you know kind of sounds good over certain chords, but my dad didn’t work that way. My dad was a composer and his guitar was something that he used to have a musical vocabulary with, but what he did was he spontaneously composed and reacted in the moment. He was listening to what was happening and he was making music that was reactionary to what he was hearing, as opposed to driving the bus the other way around and just saying, “Here’s my guitar solo licks from these scales and you guys can follow me.” That concept is something I’m still having to adjust to and develop enough of a vocabulary to try to play in that style. It’s something that can take a lifetime to be able to do, but I’ve certainly made a lot of giant leaps toward learning to play that way as opposed to the more traditional way and it really does make playing a live show that much more fun because, what the audience receives is something that is completely unique to that show and for that audience.
MS: On your website, you mentioned some things that I really didn’t realize as far as touring, as far as losing money, band members, etc. Why continue Zappa Plays Zappa at such an expense to you?
DZ: There is a whole thing that is a challenge for people to understand, that when you do something and you have developed a particular organization that relies on you as-I’m an employer, you know-I have a band to employ and a crew to employ and these people rely on this work to make a living. Now, they enjoy their jobs, but to keep this going, you have to keep re-investigating different places and how you can play. Most bands do not play on an annual basis. Most bands tour every couple of years and so what really happens with a project like this one is as you are touring consistently all the time, some people get a feeling like, “Oh, well I can see it next time because they’ll be back.” So sometimes, you’re not really getting the exact same audience that you got the last time, so you might play one place on one tour, you have 2,000 people come to a show and on the tour the next year, it’s not conventional thinking to imagine that you’re actually going to increase your audience. It’s more conventional thinking that it will decrease because if you’re doing it annually and sometimes people, their entertainment dollar is competing for by other bands that haven’t toured every year. So you have this little strategic planning that you have to do. On this particular run of shows we’ve been playing in markets that we’ve never played before, so we’re going to some new places. We recently played in Montana-my dad’s never played in Montana, yet he has that song, “I Might Be Moving to Montana”. That was actually another one of the highlights of the whole project was actually getting to play “Montana” in Montana because everybody knew the lyrics to that song as if it was the most famous song from childhood or something like…every single person sang it and it was fun to play that one, but we’re going to places like Mississippi and stuff like that were my dad never played. We have the opportunity to reach some people that are very thankful that they are getting a chance to see and hear the music that they thought they would never get a chance to see because even when he had the chance to tour through there, he didn’t go through there and now that he’s not able to tour, people thought, “Hey, well there’s no way I’ll ever see this come to my town.”, but then, here it is. It’s those little options and opportunities that we’re always looking towards and we also find other things to do, like I’ve made this music school that we do, that is happening on the July 4th weekend, it’s called Dweezilla and that’s another thing we do; we teach and, so it’s a constant game of strategy to create more work opportunities for everybody and keep it so it’s something that is a sustainable business and it’s really a very small scale kind of grassroots touring thing, but it’s a rewarding job of playing the music and when you’re a musician and you get the chance to play music that challenges you and is also rewarding for being able to make you a better musician, that’s a job you want to keep.
MS: Along that same note, what would Dweezil Zappa of today tell a young Dweezil Zappa starting out?
DZ: Well, you know the interesting about that is, I try to mirror some of the things that were impactful for me in my musical upbringings in this project and what I mean by that is, I had the opportunity to see great musicians play up close and I got to meet a lot of people that were musicians that inspired me; from players like Edward Van Halen to all sorts of different guitarists, Warren DeMartini and Steve Vai was in my dad’s band. Over the years, I got to work with a lot of different guitarists and play with different people and seeing them play up close is hugely inspirational, but one of the things I’ve done besides making that music school Dweezilla, is that when people are at the shows, sometimes I’ll see certain people that seem like they’re there with a purpose, for example, anytime I see young kids that are under 15 and they’re in the front row, it seems like they’re there with a purpose. So recently, there was a kid in Boise, Idaho and he had his finally crafted musician’s book that he had developed for himself and he had a special hat on and he was there in the front row and he looked like he meant business. This twelve year old kid, and I saw him immediately, and after we played our first song, I started talking to him from the stage and I asked him if he played any instruments and he said he played the drums and I said, “Come on up here.” And so, he came up and he was actually really good. We put him on the drums and we improvised playing and the kid didn’t have an idea that he was going to go to the show and be part of the show. It was the kind of thing where as a kid, my dad asked me to play onstage a couple times and I got to play with some other people that were heroes of mine and it makes a big difference in terms of, if that becomes a real career path for people, like if you’re a musician and you get a chance to do something that really makes an impact and makes you that much more inspired to become the best that you can be at something, I love to be able to create that opportunity for someone and I’ve done that kind of thing dozens of times since we’ve played shows. I’ve seen kids and brought them up and I’ve had kids that don’t even play guitar and I put my guitar around them and then I make them play certain things even though it’s the both of us playing the guitar at the same time. It’s just something I’ve enjoyed doing because it’s something that reminds me of what it was like for me when I was a kid and I was so inspired by seeing great musicians.
MS: That’s something they’re going to carry with them forever. Let me ask you something, Dweezil. This is a crazy question; do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
DZ: I like them both, but I probably prefer crunchy. It’s just a little more sustainable.
MS: 2013. What is going to be in store for you?
DZ: I don’t know. I’m hoping I’ll find a little bit of time to work on some of my own music and develop some stuff with my own music again because it’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to focus on that. One of the things I’m interested in also is potentially doing some music with orchestras; maybe playing some shows with orchestras where we either play some of my dad’s orchestral work with rock band and orchestra, but I don’t feel like I could write my own music for the same purpose. Eventually, down the road, I’d like to do film scores and stuff. It’s different things that I’m sort of working towards, but there aren’t enough hours in the day.
MS: That’s the truth, I know. My final question for you, Mr. Zappa; is there anything else you would like to add for the fans coming to see you at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, Florida?
DZ: One thing I know we’re going to do is, I’ve invited a guy named Derryl Gabel who is a guitar teacher who lives in the area to join us onstage and I have found his teaching to be very helpful. He makes instructional DVD’s and he does Skype lessons and thing like that, but a lot of people say, “Why would you be taking guitar lessons” and for me, I constantly try to learn as much as I can on guitar and if other people have a way of imparting information that’s helpful, I’m looking for that stuff all the time. I saw his stuff from just viewing some things on Youtube and I spoke with him a few times and he doesn’t do live performance very much. He said he hasn’t actually done one in twenty years, so he’s a bit nervous but he said he’s going to join us in Pensacola.
DERRYL GABEL INTERVIEW
MS: When I interviewed Dweezil Zappa, he mentioned that you would be a surprise guest. He said that he found you through lessons and asked you to join him during his concert, but I wanted to hear it from you; what did Dweezil say to you and what was going through your mind when he asked you to join him onstage?
DG: Here’s kind of how it all happened. Dweezil found me on Youtube. You know how you go look for certain things on Youtube? He might have been looking for Allan Holdsworth possibly, I don’t know, but just browsing Youtube for guitar players and he found me and watched my videos and was really impressed with my approach on guitar and the things that I was doing. He contacted me and I could tell you what he said. I put this quote up on my website here of what he wrote me. He says,
“Hi Derryl, I just wanted to reach out and tell you that I just discovered your playing literally moments ago on youtube. I’m an instant fan. It’s so crazy that we live in an age where you can see something that inspires you and reach out and contact the person almost instantaneously. Anyway, many of the concepts that you are teaching in lessons on playing outside are precisely the kinds of things that I have been gravitating towards lately in my own playing but I don’t have a jazz background and have found it hard to really incorporate these concepts naturally. I am quite inspired to check out your DVDs. Out of curiosity are you local to LA? If so I was wondering if you might be willing to get together and play a little for fun. If so feel free to contact me at this e-mail. It is legitimate. It is me. My website is dweezilzappaworld.com – that is also another way to reach me if you like. I hope to hear from you. Great playing!”
So when I read that, I was like, “Woo! That is so cool that Dweezil Zappa is a fan of my playing and has contacted me.” So I emailed him back and we were talking about my DVD’s and he bought all my DVDs and then we got together on SKYPE, did a couple of Skype lessons and he’s like, “You know I’m going to be going on tour here shortly. I’ve got to rehearse with my band and get all these songs of my dad down, and we’re going to be going on tour, and if we happen to come close to you, would you want to sit in and play?” I’m like, “Aw man, I’d be so nervous because I haven’t played out in such a long time.” And I said “You know, possibly.”
So we fast forward to two years later, he happens to be playing here in Pensacola and so he emailed me, he said, “Hey, man. I’m going to be playing in Pensacola; I think it’s near you. You want to come sit in on a tune?” and I’m like, “Yeah!” Actually, I was hesitant about it because I haven’t played out in so long, but I thought, “I need to take this opportunity to do this and I can’t let this opportunity pass me by.” So I just took the plunge and committed and said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” And that’s how that happened and I asked him “What tune did you want me to play on?” and he’s like, “How we’ll do it, so we won’t have to rehearse or anything, I’ll just call you up for the guitar solo.” And I’m like “Ok”. That’s kind of how that happened.
MS: What was going through your mind when that moment was there?
DG: When he called me up there to play, I was already somewhat relaxed because earlier in the day, when we got together and played guitar together; our personalities really gelled. I kind of got to know him a little bit before when we were on Skype together, just talking to him. Just kind of helped me calm down and not be so nervous. I thought whenever I get up there to play, I won’t look at the crowd, I’ll just look at him and my guitar and that’ll probably help too. And I would tell myself, “Hey, you’ve been playing for so long, that you just got to have some confidence in yourself and do it.
MS: That concert was amazing in itself, but seeing you onstage was awesome. Dweezil talking about it in our interview months ago; hearing it and finally seeing it was a highlight this year. I know that you’ve played with other musicians as well, but could you tell me the George Lynch story, Mr. Scary.
DG: Ok. So what happened with George was there was a contest in Guitar for the Practicing Musician magazine, later they changed the name of that magazine to just simply Guitar Magazine, and back in 1991, I believe it was, there was a contest being promoted by Elektra Records and the magazine for George’s solo album because George has never done a solo album and, during that period of time, George Lynch had become really well known and really praised for his guitar playing; he’d won a bunch of Guitar magazine awards and stuff for his playing. Everybody was excited about this new solo album because, before, they only heard George playing with his band Dokken. There was this contest and you’re supposed to send in your demo and they would listen to all of them and take what they thought was the best.
At first, I wasn’t even going to enter, but a student of mine, he’s like, “Man, you ought to enter. I got your demo tape. If you don’t send it in, I’m going to send in the one you gave me.” I’m like, “I’m not going to win. There are so many amazing players out there.” Anyway, I sent in my demo and the time for the announcement had come and gone, so I’m like “Yeah, that figures. I knew I wouldn’t win.” And one day, I come home from work and the phone rings and I pick it up and he’s like, “Hi, Derryl. This is George Lynch. We got your demo tape and we’re really digging it. Man, you play great.” And I’m like, “I cannot believe this. Who is this?” He’s like, “No, this is really George Lynch.” And my wife’s in the shower and George Lynch is on the phone and after I calmed down and everything, he’s like, “We want to fly you to LA and record on “Tierra Del Fuego” and I’m like, “Wow. Yeah, that’s great.” George mailed a tape of the backing track to me and I worked out my solos, because I knew that whenever I got into the studios, I would be really nervous playing in front of George and the producer and all that, so I worked out those solos that I was going to play and whenever I got over there to record, we recorded two solos that were around the middle of the tune, and George showed up, and he’s like, “We ought to do outro solos.” And he asked me to do outro solos. I had nothing planned out so I just improvised those, but what ended up happening was, out of my four solos, they only kept one. In other words, originally it was supposed to be him and I dueling solos back and forth, but it ended up that they only kept my first solo that I played, but I do have the original recording. It’s also up there on Youtube. Somebody had posted it and it gives the times of when I played. George was a really cool guy, down to earth and it was quite an experience to go out there. It was almost a dream. Just like, “Is this really happening?”
MS: That’s insane. I’m a guitar geek myself. I’ve always loved the guitar and I started playing as a teenager, but as far as you, what kind of music did you listen to growing up and when did you start playing guitar?
DG: When I was growing up, I was listening to The Beatles and Elvis and The Ventures, my dad’s albums and stuff. The Allman Brothers and I would sing along to these albums and stuff, but I didn’t play any instruments and one day, I think it was for my eighth birthday, my dad got me a guitar for my birthday, an acoustic guitar. And he tells me-he didn’t tell me at the time-but he told me he actually found that guitar in the Dempsey Dumpster. He showed me some chords and stuff, but at the time, I wasn’t really interested in playing guitar. I just wanted to sing along with the songs, go ride my go-kart, and play with my friends. I didn’t want to learn the guitar and stuff. It wasn’t until later, whenever I was around 13 years old or so, when I saw Van Halen on MTV, “Jump” and “Panama” and I’m like, “Wow!” it’s just like magic when Eddie plays, “How does he do that?”. That kind of got me interested in guitar, so I took my old guitar out of the attic-I really didn’t know what I was doing – I would try to figure out melodies that I was hearing on the radio and just play them on a single string on the guitar and then my little sister broke that guitar, the bridge came off of it, so I didn’t have a guitar to play, so I had friends like my neighbor, he had a little miniature classical guitar and I’d go over to his house and play that and I had some other friends that had electric guitars and I’d go over to their house and play guitars and just noodle around on it. Eventually, I bought my neighbors guitar and I got a microphone and taped it inside the guitar. My dad had bought me a Peavy backstage amp and that’s what I used for awhile and then saved up my money and my mom helped me buy a replica of Van Halen’s guitar, what they called his Frankenstein guitar, but it was made by Wilkes, it was basically a red guitar with black stripes and maple neck. I played that guitar for awhile. Van Halen had a really big impact on me, but by the time I had the chops to somewhat play Van Halen’s music and I could figure it out, I had already gravitated towards Yngwie, a friend had turned me on to Yngwie Malmsteen, so I was wanting to figure out Yngwie licks and solos and then the guys coming out of the Shrapnel music label, Vinnie Moore, Tony McAlpine and Paul Gilbert, so I started figuring out all that.
What fascinated me about that stuff and it even goes back to Van Halen is these things that you would hear these guys play and it would sound impossible to do on guitar; “How did they do that?” And it was almost like a puzzle trying to figure out how they do these impossible sounding things on guitar and they come up with these clever ways of creating these techniques and sounds. I read these interviews with Tony McAlpine-he had a big influence on my playing-and Tony McAlpine would be like, “Man, who I listened to was like Alan Holdsworth and Scott Henderson and these jazz and fusion players. And Eddie would say, “The best guitar player in my book is Alan Holdsworth.” So I’m like, I gotta check out these guys because if Eddie is saying this guy is the best, I want to hear what this is all about.
The very first time I heard Alan was, I think around 86 or 87, and the first time I heard him was in Guitar Player Magazine. They had these floppy sound pages and it was this tune “Devil Take the Hindmost” and when I heard him play the solo, I didn’t get it at first. I’m like “What?” cause he plays all these jazzy lines and what we tend to call “Outside Playing” and I didn’t really get it back then and it wasn’t until later when I was in my early 20’s.
I don’t know what happened. It was like a light bulb came on I finally got it. I remember 91’, I went to study with this jazz guitar player and he was like, “Man, you got to get into Charlie Parker and Coltrane and listen to those bee bop sax players. That’s where it’s at.” So I studied with Rich Madell for a year. I studied jazz guitar, the whole chord melody thing. He taught me about melody and how to analyze jazz standards, but I went and bought a best of Charlie Parker and when I listened to it, I’m like, “Man, this is kind of boring, I don’t really get it.” because at the time, I was listening to Jason Becker and Marty Friedman and so I was expecting to hear that type of playing, but on the saxophone.
I didn’t really get it and it wasn’t until a year later that I was working at a retirement community and one of the residents there, this old guy, he said, “Man, we got to talk about music.” And he said you got to listen to Bird and Coltrane and stuff. So he let me borrow these record albums and so I recorded them and while I was recording them onto cassette tape, I wasn’t listening to them, I brought the albums to the guy and then later, I was listening to them and the recording sounded so dry, so I ran them through my guitar effects processor and added some reverb and stuff to liven them up and I was listening to them and it was almost like I had an epiphany or revelation and I’m listening to the Essential Charlie Parker album and I’m like, “That’s the most incredible playing, improvising ever.” It was just like a revelation or epiphany and I’m like, “I’ve got to learn how to do that. I got to learn what he’s doing.”
From there, I immersed myself into the jazz world of listening to all these different jazz players and then I could listen to Holdsworth and go, “I get it now.” From then on, I had the jazz and fusion bug and that’s all I listened to was all that type of music to learn and understand it. And when I got the Lynch gig in 91’, after that Guitar for the Practicing Musician, they had a record label at the time and they’re like, “Where interested in signing you on to an eight album deal.” They sent me a contract and stuff, but I didn’t accept it because, one, the budgets; they started out really low and at the time, I was working 8 to 10 hours a day outside doing irrigation maintenance and I’d come home really exhausted and I didn’t have, even though I won that contest, I still felt I had a lot to learn about music and guitar and I didn’t want to commit myself to do these albums because I felt I had so much to learn, one. And two, I don’t want to put out a rock shredder type album. I want to learn about jazz and fusion and put out a fusion album. I turned it down, just continued to study jazz and fusion on my own, just learning stuff from books, instructional videos and friends.
MS: That’s amazing. I didn’t know that aspect about the label offering and everything. Do you have plans to put out an album of your own music now?
DG: Around 97, 98, around that time, this guy Mick Trammel, who was a really close friend of the late Shawn Lane had heard a demo tape of me, and I forgot how he heard about me, but he contacted me and told me who I was and was like, “Yeah, I heard this one song that you did.” I was on “Guitar on the Edge” Legato Records, which was very similar to Schrapnel Records but more of a fusiony version. Mike Varney’s brother, Mike Vareney owned Schrapnel Records; his brother Mark was the Executive Producer of Legato Records and he would put out these compilation albums of the best unknown guitar players, so I was offered to play on a couple of those compilation albums and I believe that’s how Mick heard about me, so he’s like, “Could you send me your demo?” He was really impressed with it, he let Sean hear it and Sean had a lot of positive things to say and I put that on my website, but anyway, Mick’s like, “Man, you need to put out an album.” And I’m like, “I got so much more to learn.” And he’s like, “Man, you know enough right now. Just put out an album already.”
With his encouragement and Sean’s positive comments, I ended up putting out an album in 2000 called “Visions and Dreams”. That’s an album with eight original tunes and in 2002, I put out a second album called “Giant Steps” and that has mostly cover tunes and guest solos and things like that on it. The “Giant Steps” album, I do Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and “Countdown” and then I add the original version of “Teiarra Del Fuego” and it’s got two live versions of me playing tunes from my “Visions and Dreams” album and some other tunes on there. Those are the only two albums I’ve put out. In 2005, I started putting out instructional DVD’s. A long time ago, I had been writing down all these special guitar techniques that I was coming up with and in 98, whenever I got a computer, I found out about this software called Power Tab and I converted all my writings and transcriptions of my guitar ideas into this Power Tab software. Whenever I put out my album in 2000, or shortly thereafter, a friend of mine helped me put up a website and I started selling my album and guitar technique book at my website. I get a lot of people telling me these guitar ideas are really cool, but what would be great is if you could make some instructional videos showing exactly how you’re playing this stuff. I got up with this website, this guy Chris Brungardt of Chops From Hell, which, I don’t really like that title; I’m a Christian, but I understand figure of speech there. He said, “Hey, man. I’ve been selling these guitar instructional DVDs from different guitar players from around the world that are really good and they’re really helping them make some money. Would you be interested in making a instructional DVD for me and we’ll”-because he was having all kinds of traffic to his website-and I said, “Sure.” I asked him to send me some of the product that he’s been selling and most of these guys were making these instructional videos of just one lick after another with no chords behind it, like ok, here’s this super fast lick and another one. I was like, what would be cool is if I played a few of the tunes from my album “Visions and Dreams” and transcribe the whole thing; the chords, the solos and then take some of the highlights from the song as far as the different licks and stuff and they would have easy access right to those fancy licks and stuff. They could look at the whole transcription or they could go right to the crazy licks and stuff. I put out that CD-Rom and that did alright-not as well as I thought it would do and I think one reason is because of the music; it was in the fusion vein and I think the other guys that were selling better than me, they were doing heavy metal and stuff. I thought, “Why don’t I do like a lick type DVD so I put out “Cool Legato Phrases” in 2005 and that did really well and so I’m like, “I got to put out Cool Legato Phrases Part 2” and that did really well and I just started putting out one DVD after another and when I had time because I was working at Walmart.
I started working at Walmart in 97’ and worked there until 2010. So when I had time, I would do the filming and transcribing and whatnot and put out these DVDs and they did really well and they helped me to eventually leave Walmart. I left Walmart in February of 2010 and I could have probably left a couple of years earlier, but I was just kind of afraid to make the move because having a family and everything.
So, here for a long while, I’ve been putting out instructional DVD’s because they sell really well. I’m at a point right now to where I want to put out an album, but I’m thinking about what direction I want to take. I think I’ll probably take a direction of something that is not so far out that would give me a really limited audience. I’d want to put something out that most people could relate to and still that I would have fun playing. Try to find that happy medium. One of my favorite players is Pat Metheny and what he’s been able to do is he puts out music that, like say my mom, who doesn’t play any instruments, she really likes it, but yet I like it. I’m a musician and I understand what’s going on musically and like “Woa! That’s really cool stuff.” Yet it’s melodic enough that just an everyday person can relate to it and enjoy. That’s the kind of thing that I would want to put out.
MS: With your foundation of music, you could pretty much cover a lot of different genres. I’m a guitar geek and as far as the history of guitarists and teaching; Joe Satriani teaching Steve Vai and Kirk Hammet. Randy Rhoads teaching; is there a teacher or someone in your life who influenced you or helped you to get to the point where you are now?
DG: Yes. When I first started out on guitar, there were many people that kind of inspired me and helped me along the way. The first guy is Victor Cross. He was around here. I know for awhile, he was a property appraiser and then I think he got into the political scene around here, but Victor, way back when I was sixteen, he was probably 18 or 19 at the time, he had a really big impact on me getting started on guitar. He was playing all this Randy Rhoads, Van Halen, Journey, Neal Schon stuff and he would let me come over to his house and watch him play. He didn’t really give me lessons per se; he said “Ok, I’m going to show you just a few things. Here’s the A Major Scale, here’s the A Minor and here’s an A Major Triad, A minor triad, but that’s it. The rest of it, just watch me play and figure it out on your own.” I would hang out with him every now and then and always be inspired by what he would play and his original music was really cool and he had a big impact on my playing with me starting out playing. Another guy that had somewhat of an impact on me was Jeff Bergosh, who’s a local resident. I think he is also into the political realm here in Pensacola. I forget in what capacity. When I started out, I would always call bug him and call him and say, “Hey, Jeff! Let’s get together.” And he would learn these Van Halen songs and he would show me different parts and stuff. Jeff Bergosh had an impact on me starting out and then, later Rich Model from West Palm Beach, a jazz guitar player that I studied with for a year, he had a big impact on my playing and then this guy Derek Taylor, who lives in Corsicana, Texas. So I don’t know if he lives there now, I think he lives in Dallas now, but around 91, I met him when I submitted my demo to Guitar for Practicing Musician, not for the contest, but for it to be in there “Hometown Heroes” or “Resume Column”, the editor of the magazine called me up, he said he was really impressed with my demo and wanted to put me in the resume column and he’s like, “You remind me of another guy who sent his demo tape in, Derek Taylor. You guys sound very similar.” So, he gave me Derrick’s contact number information and I contacted him and he comes and stays with me for a couple of weeks and whenever I wasn’t working, we’d get together and play guitar and he wrote and inspired me and really pushed me to go beyond what I thought I could do. He had it made where he pretty much played guitar all day and he worked, but he worked at his parents’ theater. He’d put on the film and practice in the booth and stuff. He had monster chops going on, but he admired my playing too, but I felt he was a better player because he put in more time. But he inspired and pushed me to really go beyond where I was and help me develop my signature style. There’s elements of what I play, even today that come from a lot of the things that he showed me or that we developed together. We were into the same types of things and we would learn these ideas and concepts like the Paul Gilbert video and put our own spin on it and then we would bounce ideas off each other and develop these ideas and techniques. So yeah, Derek Taylor had real impact on my playing.
MS: With all the people you’ve worked with and have met, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
DG: You’ve got to find your own way as far as…you know it’s good to learn from your favorite players, but you’ve got to find your own style, your own signature. And there’s different approaches to that; one is if you have enough diverse influences, you take…I picked up this advice from the Eric Johnson instructional video, he talked about how he was influenced by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Chet Atkins, Albert Lee, a lot of different players and he took what he liked the most from each of those players and then developed his own style out of that. So that’s kind of what I’ve done is I take my favorite players and try to figure out what they’re doing and take what I like most about what they do and try to incorporate, not really their exact musical phrases, but try to look at it from a conceptual point of view and then apply that concept to what I’m doing and try to put my own spin on it.
MS: What would Derryl of today tell a younger Derryl just starting out?
DG: That’s a good question. I would have told my younger self to really work on fundamental stuff like learning the notes on the neck, learning how to site read because as I was starting out on a guitar, I didn’t really think of that stuff as important, I just wanted to learn how the cool licks and riffs and stuff like that, but later on I realized how important that stuff can be and is, and I’d also tell myself to transcribe as much as I can from different players. I did my share of transcribing, but I think that should be part of one’s routine because transcribing you favorite musicians, and not just guitar players, you know, sax players, piano players, flute, flautists and read music theory books and try to understand that stuff. The more you can learn about music and stuff, some people, they shy away from the learning aspect of it; learning scales and chords and music theory and they just want to figure out the stuff on their own, whatever.
I think if you can find a good teacher and stick with them and read as many books as you can and be studios about it, it’s only going to help you be a better player.
MS: This is my crazy food question. Do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter?
DG: I prefer creamy peanut butter. But actually there’s some peanut butter that’s in the middle of that. There’s this peanut butter-it’s funny you mention peanut butter because I like peanut butter. We started getting more health conscious and stuff and we’re buying this Smart Balance Peanut Butter and the creamy is what we were getting for awhile, but now, I switched over to this Smucker’s peanut butter, the all natural Smucker’s peanut butter and they don’t process it to the extent to where it’s like a cream type of thing; there’s a crunchiness aspect to where it’s, I hate to use sand as an analogy, because no one would want to eat sand, but it has a texture about it that I really like, so I really recommend that peanut butter. That Smuckers All Natural.
MS: You’re making me hungry, Derryl.
DG: I like that. I like to make a peanut butter sandwich with banana and put either some real maple syrup, just a little bit or some local honey.
MS: This is my final question for you. Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about you and your art?
DG: Well, that I think faith had a really huge impact on my playing in my ability. But see, I know this sounds kind of weird, but I think it was almost predestined, I was born to play guitar. If you take my name and you spell it backwards…ok…what is that? If you take my name D E R R Y L and you spell it, what is it?
DG: Ok. It forms two words; LYR and RED. In the Bible, a string instrument was called a harp or a lyr. My very first guitar that my dad gave me was a red, cedar acoustic guitar. My first electric guitar; what color was it?
MS: It was the Frankenstein Van Halen red and black.
DG: Right, red. Yep. I discovered that recently. My faith has really…you know, there was a point in my life when I wasn’t sure if this is something I should pursue or not and I prayed to God about it, and I asked him if he could give me some kind of a sign or let me know, because it’s not like you can call him up on the phone and talk to him. So I asked God if he would talk to me through His word and let me know if this is something I should do. So, I had my Bible and opened up to Psalm 33. Do you have a Bible nearby?
MS: Let me track it down. Give me one second Derryl. (long pause while I look for a Bible)
DG: I got E-Sword on my computer here, but Psalm 33, that’s right where I turned to when I opened the Bible and it said, “Rejoice in the Lord, Oh ye righteous. For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the heart. Make melody to him with an instrument of ten strings.” Ok, you’ve got the guitar, which has six strings and the bass has four strings, typically. “Sing to him a new song. Play skillfully with a shout of joy.”
MS: And that’s the verse you opened your Bible too.
DG: Yep. Psalm 33.
MS: Wow. That’s divine intervention right there.
DG: There is a website that I’ve gotten a lot of resources from; Bible teachings and whatnot is called Amazingfacts.org and I highly recommend anybody who is searching for the truth and searching for Bible understanding and to check that out because that resource has really helped me out. I help support Amazing Facts, but I think that God gave me this gift to reach other musicians because I think that there are lot of musicians out there that wouldn’t give an evangelist the time of day. There’s been so many things that’s happened in the news; these televangelists get themselves into trouble and it gives Christianity a bad name. I think that God giving me this gift of playing guitar the way I do, that it’s going to impact somebody; they go to find out about me, they go to my website, I have my testimonial up there.
-Michael L. Smith