Life Lessons From Gil Parris

Life Lessons From Gil Parris

You’ve managed to reach what most people would call success. How close are you to your goals? 
The goal is always changing. Like my pal Randy Brecker says, “It’s strange sometimes; you always feel like you’re just starting out and looking for that next lick.” I’ve had major deals, toured with big acts, a Hot Licks video, TrueFire videos, a signature guitar etc., and I’m thankful, but excited about what’s next.
 
What is your typical creative approach to writing; how do you get from idea to finished recording?
My ideas always start with the guitar plus an imagery or theme. I’m very big on melody and there are a lot of crappy sub-par writing and melodies floating around these days. Listen to Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach and you’ll hear what I mean by good quality. I’ve been playing with Bobby Caldwell lately (probably best known for “What You Won’t Do For Love“) and, man, some of his tunes are a deep lesson in modulations and weaving melodic lines through them.

What’s your take on the independent-player’s scene today? 
Oh, well… it’s sad. I’m lucky I caught the very tail end of the years when music wasn’t [pirated]. 10 years ago I had about $100,000 from RCA/BMG to make a record. I called David Sanborn, Bob James, Will Lee – even flew in Harvey Mason, but stuff like that happens when you have a big label behind you. Songs get placed on TV overseas, gig support, ads, and reviews in magazines etc. Now major labels have really tightened the belt. Bottom line, it’s hard to make money if someone can download your music for free. I think a big misconception about making a living making music is that it’s a popularity game. The reality is that you can’t buy a car or a pack of gum with MySpace hits or Facebook friends, but you certainly can with mechanical royalties.

On top of that everybody can make their own CD now and that makes the gigging and touring process more cluttered and confusing. Eventually cream rises to the top, but I don’t see things getting any better. It was a lot easier 10-15 years ago.   

What’s the recipe for a great album?
 I’ve done records in all different genres: blues, straight-ahead, jam band, smooth jazz. I think that the record should have a theme and stand up as a whole. An album should be a complete thought. (check out “Blue Thumb.”) 

Four bands every guitarist should know and why?
The Blue Nile have venerable writing and a cohesive sound, and Paul Buchannan’s voice is haunting – they’d be bigger than Coldplay if they got the right push. The Doobie Brothers – I tend to like things that break down genre walls and the Doobies, (thank God for Michael McDonald), were able to successfully combine rock energy with R&B soul – it sold like mad! The Brecker Brothers combined jazz and funk with their virtuosity and sense of humor; their 70’s records are so cool. Led Zeppelin, they were like one guy. Enough said.

You once said that your goal has always been to fit your playing into a variety of settings and styles, yet still have your own unique stamp. In a world where everything has been done, how do you pull that off? 
With years and years of listening to a lot of music and developing my own vocabulary. I love music, so that part was easy, but I spent a lot of time [playing] alone and still do.

You’re known for putting on a great live show – not only with fantastic playing, but also very entertaining. What are a few tricks you’ve picked up that you know audiences respond well to?
Be genuine and a tad upbeat. My father is a stage actor; I grew up around the whole “show biz” thing and I love it. It has an underlying humor that cracks me up! I totally think of myself as an entertainer and not just a guitarist. I want people to leave my show with something more than just being impressed by a skill; I want them to be emotionally moved and to have a good time. I’ve been fortunate to have done a bunch of national TV appearances, and I’ve grown very comfortable being in front of an audience.

What is on the horizon for you?
I am finally making an all vocal, pop and rock record. I’ve had this music and these choruses dancing around in my head for a while so I’ve been collaborating with a mega-talented vocalist and drummer friend of mine, Josh Dion. This record is going to knock your socks off!

Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
See things through, because most people never do.

As a young, bright-eyed guitarist, Gil Parris boldly dropped out of Berklee to go on a world tour with the stage show Jesus Christ Superstar. He has since worked with nearly every top player to grace a stage, released a chain of acclaimed albums, and got a Grammy® nomination in the process. Parris makes a living as a musician in New York City. Read his whole story here.