An Interview with
The Blues Rock Legend
that took place on 4th May, 2019.
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan.
Glenn: How are you doing Gywn?
Gwyn: Hey, how's it going mate?
Glenn: It's good. What have you been up to since I last saw you at El Cid in Los Feliz?
Gwyn: I went back to Sydney after that. I was halfway through an Australian Tour. I went down and did that. I went to New South Wales, Victoria and went back to Adelaide. Then I flew over here (to the UK). I've released an album in that time.
Glenn: Yeah. Basically you have not stopped.
Gwyn: No. I'm still writing as well. I've got plenty of material. I've got another three albums worth.
Glenn: Awesome. It's your love. It's your passion as well no matter what.
Gwyn: Yeah. I love it.
Glenn: Your new album: Sonic Blues Preachers. Why did you decide to call it 'Sonic Blues Preachers'?
Gwyn: I wanted a bit of a quirky name because it's a pretty quirky album being a power duo. It was originally.... I've got a songwriting partner back in Australia. He was actually going to be the frontman of the band but he's got other commitments. I decided to re-record all the vocals myself. It was going to be this weird little trio. A guy out front and then the drummer behind it. That was the original plan but that's okay. It's turned into my own project now. Instead of a collaboration it's my own thing. I think that's how I want to sell it if you know what I mean? I don't have to worry about people not being able to tour.
Glenn: You've got nobody else to answer to. You can please yourself on it.
Gwyn: Yeah exactly. I pick up a good drummer wherever I go and I can do it. I don't have a regular drummer over here of course because I am in and out of the country. It's so hard to keep a band together these days anyhow unless you find people that are really committed. But I do have a guy, Geoff Britten who used to play with Paul McCartney & Wings.
Glenn: He's a legend!
Gwyn: He's going to be doing a whole bunch of gigs with me.
Glenn: That's awesome. I'm a big Wings fan and Paul McCartney fan anyway.
Gwyn: Yeah. He's on 'Junior's Farm'.
Glenn: Yeah! That's one of my favourite Wings songs.
Gwyn: Yeah. Me too. I love that. I was watching it today. I whacked it up on my Facebook saying, “Hey, this is the drummer I'm touring with” blah... blah.. blah (We laugh) It's really good because the drummer on the album played with Bon Scott before AC/DC.
Glenn: Yeah. John Freeman. How did you originally meet John Freeman?
Gwyn: Well Gary and I, he's my songwriting buddy, we were writing in Melbourne and we just thought, 'We ought to get JF because we love JF'. He's a legend. We knew he was in Adelaide. We were both from Adelaide originally so we a drive over there.. a 10-hour drive, hooked up with him and said, “Hey, we've got these songs, we'd love you to play on them”. We got together in his garage and bashed them out there on the spot. There's no rehearsal or anything. I recorded it and that was it.
Glenn: Wow! I guess because you guys are seasoned pro's, you don't need to rehearse do you? You've got the vibe and the songs...
Gwyn: Yeah! We've never played together before. John was in a band called 'Mickey Finn' back in the late 70's/early 80's. They were an Adelaide band made up of Fraternity members without Bon of course or Jimmy Barnes. Jimmy Barnes also joined Fraternity back in the day in about 1973. Bon left to join AC/DC and became a legend. Mickey Finn were a pretty tough rock 'n' roll band back in Adelaide. Jim Barnes used to get up and sing with them when Cold Chisel were back in town. They were an Adelaide band. We used to do a lot of gigs with them, open for them in these loud seedy Rock 'N' Roll dives back in the late 70's. It was a lot of fun. I always wanted to play with John. Of course, the scene has changed a bit these days. Everybody is a bit older so he was easier to get hold of.
Glenn: Yeah. It's weird. As you say, it's hard to get drummers these days as well as musicians. Of course, now they think, 'How much money can I make off this?'
Gwyn: Exactly. It's all money orientated and that's not why I play music. I want to make a living of course – we all do. He's got such a great backbeat and he doesn't play too much. He doesn't complicate things. Where he puts a snare drum is perfect. Its slightly behind the beat or just a little bit in front of it if you want. He's just a perfect drummer.
Glenn: Yeah, he had the perfect frontman in Bon Scott too before he joined AC/DC. There you go. But Jimmy Barnes ain't too bad either. An absolute legend like your good self.
Gwyn: It's good to play with people that have been around a bit and understand the genre. A lot of young guys come out of music school. They learn all these licks and chops. They want to fill every hole with a beat or cymbal crash. JF doesn't really hit anything unless he really has to. (We laugh)
Glenn: It's a case of knowing the craft. It's not always about the playing. It's about the heart, soul and emotion in it as well.
Gwyn: Oh yeah.
Glenn: It makes a big difference. I suppose you have got the same thing happening with Geoff as well.
Gwyn: Yeah! He's fantastic. He's a lovely guy. He's 60-something and he's like a kid. He's got a lot of drive and energy. He's still ambitious and motivated. I was doing a tour of Spain a couple of years ago. He was down there. One of the guys I was playing with said, “Geoff Britten from Wings lives down the road”. I said, “Introduce me to him” and he didn't really want to do it but I eventually got his phone number, I rang him up and said, “Oh I'd love to play with you”. We met up for a meal, I went round there the next day and we played. He was the perfect drummer too. There's not many drummers that are that guy. He's one of them and (Alan) Sticky Wicket's another one. Sticky Wicket lives up the road not far from me – about an hour away. He played with Steve Marriott just before he died, Bryan Ferry and all sorts of people. He's another one of the guys I got. He's an old fella too. He's got a 17-piece swing band. He played with Chris Barber – another Jazz guy.
We got together because I ended up with a drum kit from a local music store that used to belong to Bill Ward.
Gwyn: Bill recorded the first 'Sabbath album with it. Sticky was a friend of Bill's back in the day and he rang me up. I'd never knew about about him. He rang me up one day. He said, “Is that Gwyn Ashton?”, I said, “Yeah”. He said, “You've got Bill's old kit”. I said, “Yeah, I do” and he had the snare drum from it. He said, “Can I come round and take pictures?” He was supposed to get that kit when Bill sold it but his drum tech sold it. He didn't know anything about it.
Anyway, that was the snare drum back in 1970. The guy died that bought it. His widow took it into a local store and I stumbled upon it. I said, “Wow, what's that? That's old.” So I bought it. Anyway, I said to him, “Yeah, come round and take some photos”. Then I checked him out on YouTube. I rang him back and said, “Hey, I'm playing this Wednesday night. Come down and play.” I said, “I'll bring the drum kit down”. So I brought the drum-kit down and he brought the snare. I met him at the gig and he played with me all night.
Glenn: Wow! That's an absolute golden moment. How many times do you hear about the reunion of a drum kit?
Gwyn: I know
Gwyn: Yeah. I've got a thing about 70-odd year old drummers at the moment.
Glenn: (I laugh) The thing about is that these guys have been there, done that, they've bought the t-shirt, toured everywhere.. There's nothing these guys don't know.
Gwyn: No. There's a lot of great players but a lot of them just don't really know how to get behind that groove. It's predominantly blues what I do but it's got a bit of energy to it and a bit of a bite and sting. It's not heavy rock or anything or though I play rock and roll stuff. A rhythm section has to be sympathetic to what you're doing. As I've said before, at music college they don't really teach you all that stuff. They get you technical ability. But then you really have to work out what not to play any more. You've just learned all this stuff and suddenly you don't want to play all that stuff – not in a song. I saw this thing on Instagram yesterday – a female bass player somewhere – I don't know where she was. She was slapping and ripping the crap out of this bass guitar. It was like 'calispanic gymnastics'. I thought, “Where in the world are you going to put that in a song?”
Glenn: You're not are you? (I laugh)
Gwyn: I just want to hear the route notes. The greasy, dirty, low end.
Glenn: Plus after a bit I think, 'You've shown me you can do that, now do something properly with it so you can put it into a song. Otherwise it's just tedious and just cause for the sake that you can do it.' I think, 'And...?' You know?
Glenn: I mean, it's not a NAMM event is it. It's putting in a proper albums worth of material.
Gwyn: I know. It becomes not music. It becomes technical and that's not music. It's just notes and millions of them.
Glenn: I mean, when you see people such as Marco Mendoza, that's a different calibre because they are actually creating proper songs, grooving it in from wherever and it flows. It's not, “Let's play Jaco Pastorious or whatever just because I can” or something like that. It just gets ridiculous.
Gwyn: Yeah there's different flavours of taste.
Glenn: Yeah. Exactly. What would you say the best times have been recording this album 'Sonic Blues Preachers'? It comes across very authentic and organic. It's like you've recorded it all in one go. It's like you said (in true Dr. John style), “Cut me while I'm hot, press record and let's do it”.
Gwyn: We set up and John said, “Okay, what have you got?” We started a song and he played along. Then we said, “Okay, let's stop and record it”. We did it in two afternoons so it was in 1st take or 2nd take.
Glenn: Yeah! It comes across that way. Every song sounds so fresh.
Glenn: With albums these days you can tell it's all been layered up. There's no passion and feel or nothing. Everything is in the right place but it's like it has come out of a calculator or a computer.
Gwyn: Yeah. I think that the thing is to write songs that maybe people can sing along with. They have to have hooks. They still have to have a bit of zing to them but they need to go somewhere and tell a bit of a story. Gary Allen who is my songwriting partner is very good at lyrics. I throw riffs at him and that song 'Take Yourself Away', I didn't even have the riff in my head. We walked out into his garage. It was one Saturday lunchtime. I got there and got my guitar out. I started playing a riff and that was it. We had a song on the spot. In ten minutes we had the whole song.
Gwyn: Then I said, “Next...”
Glenn: That's what you want isn't it?
Glenn: You're not pulling teeth.
Gwyn: No. No.
Glenn: Because there's nothing worse when you get that. I was going to ask you about various influences from where parts of the songs came from such as 'She's What I Like'? Who is it about or is it like a general thing overall?
Gwyn: I'm not sure who he wrote that about. It was probably a general sort of thing. Songs don't have to be about a particular person. Even if they are, you've got poetic justice with a little poetic line. You change things around and you can alter reality.
Glenn: Oh yeah. You don't want to get sued by someone do you?
Glenn: You've got to be really careful. Hence the 'All these characters are purely fictitious. If they bear any resemblance to anyone that's actually real then it's pure coincidence' as you know (I laugh)
Gwyn: Yep. With 'She's What I Like', he said, “I've got this song. I don't think it's very good”. I said, “How's it go?”, He hummed it to me and I started (sings the riff). It sounds a bit like 60's 'Mission Impossible' on amphetamines. A big slide. The whole album is slide guitar really.
Glenn: It is yeah.
Gwyn: I play bass with my thumb. I've got an octave divider so that's the low end. It sounds like there's a bass on the record but it's all done at the same time. Everything was live. There's no overdubs apart from the vocals. I re-did them.
Glenn: Nice. It's absolute old-school isn't it.
Glenn: It's like an old Canned Heat or Savoy Brown album. It's real like Humble Pie or something. You can just tell its been done like that.
Gwyn: Yeah. There's only three mics on the drum-kit too. Two overheads and a kick. It gave it that old Bonham sort of thing.
Glenn: Yeah. If in doubt, just record in someone's garage.
Gwyn: Yeah it was in his garage (John Freeman's). I do all my albums in unoccupied rooms.
Glenn: Yeah? So you've got that big spacious sound – that live sound. There's nothing in there that's going to suck the sound in?
Gwyn: No. It was John's practise room that he's got.
Glenn: Yeah. That's awesome.
Gwyn: As well as my engineer. I tracked it on my laptop and my engineer mixed it. He had a lot to do with it. He works with Robert Plant and all sorts of people. He's got a lot of analogue studio gear. His mixing desk was on 'Ziggy Stardust' or one of those albums.
Glenn: Holy Hell!
Gwyn: Rick Wakeman's desk as well. He had that.
Glenn: Do you find now it's easier to record stuff than what it was then? Or do you prefer to go the analogue way?
Gwyn: Oh now. I mean, I don't know what I'm doing but I've made my last... I started with 'Two Man Blues Army' 'Radiogram', 'Solo Electro' and now this one. So I've recorded four albums. In fact five. I've got a roots acoustic album coming – World Music. Totally different. It's got tablas and and all sorts of ethnic eastern percussion.
Glenn: Awesome. And why not? Why typecast yourself to a certain style of music? Industry likes to do that so they can brand you and sell you a certain way but you don't have to be like that as a person do you?
Gwyn: No. I like music. I've got a whole bunch of new songs that are like Small Faces meets Tom Petty. I will put a band together with a Hammond Organ in it. I'm constantly in a state of confusion. I've got all this stuff going on in my head. I'll get it all out.
Glenn: Yeah. Maybe get Jerry Shirley out of retirement and get him to drums on it.
Gwyn: Yeah that would be really cool.
Glenn: Yeah because I read he's retired. You talk about all different types of music, what was your musical influence behind 'Soul For Sale' because I listened to it and it's almost got like an Eastern feel to it.
Gwyn: Yeah it's got like and Indian Sitarry thing. Gary again, wrote the lyrics. It was on the 12-string. I tune it to some weird tuning – C7th or something. It's a pretty dark song. I played it to him and he came up with the lyrics. I really like a lot of delta stuff. It was a deep phase – Blind Willie Johnson, Leadbelly and guys such as that. I'm trying to modernise the blues a little bit. It's not really a rock album but it's pretty rocky.
Glenn: When I played it straight away I thought, 'This is perfect'.
Gwyn: The thing about blues stuff is that people immediately think of BB King or Muddy Waters but there's a lot more to it than that. If you go really deep into it and your start with Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson and then you've got all the other guys – the ragtime stuff – stuff that I can't even fathom out how to play.
Glenn: I remember when I first went to Rotherham Library which was back in the day when you could borrow tapes, albums and whatever from there. I remember picking up this 'Blind Willie Johnson' album and it was just mind-blowing when you've got that deep voice and the female backing vocals going on as well. It's incredible.
Gwyn: Oh yeah. Then there's the New Orleans style. Then there's Ry Cooder. A lot of really good stuff out there. I try to get in-between. I've got a Ry Cooder bootleg from an old Radio Show back in 1970. He's playing mandolin, a guitar, acoustic guitars, slide – it's one of the best things I've ever heard. Not very good quality but who cares?
Glenn: Right. Totally agree. I have loads of bootlegs myself. Love them. Anyway, I could talk to you for ages about bootlegs (we did actually) but back to the album. On the 'Soul For Sale' when you mention about the 12 String, I thought, 'This has got like a Roger McGuinn Byrds style but it's 12 strings so it's going to sound like that. It has that style and focus on it isn't it somewhat from the listener.
Gwyn: Yeah. I love The Byrds. I played in David Crosby's living room which was kinda cool.
Glenn: Yeah I was reading about that. How did that happen? Did he invite you over?
Gwyn: No a friend of mine is his Guitar Tech. He said, “Come over and I'll introduce you to Dave Crosby. We'll probably get there. He'll probably just say “Hello” at the the gate and will probably disappear and we'll have to go home”. It was a two hour drive there and I said, “Oh, I'll just do it for the lark”. So we go all the way out there and his wife is watering the grass or something. She said, “Hello, don't stand here, come on in. Who's your friend?” He'd been working on David's acoustic guitars. We went into the house.
She said, “Come on in and meet David”. I went in there and chatted with him, checked out his guitar. He turned around and said, “Do you play?” I said, “A bit”. He said, “What do you think of this?” It was his McAllister Guitar. It was handmade and acoustic – made in the US. I picked it up and played a couple of things. He said, “Oh you are a player!” I said, “Oh thanks!” We sort of ended up sitting around for about half an hour playing guitar. He said to me right at the end, “You know why I let you stay here and not cut it off short?” I said, “Why?”, he said, “Because you didn't ask me about Woodstock”. I didn't even think about it. I was talking current stuff. He said, “You wouldn't believe over the last 50 years, how many people just focussed in on that. About playing Woodstock, asking about Hendrix....
Glenn: You've actually done something similar to me. You've actually sat with Graham Bonnet in his living room.
Gwyn: Yeah. What was funny is that we were playing Beatles songs on guitar. We were playing 'Here, There and Everywhere'. I was doing all the falsetto high harmonies to Graham. He said, “Oh this is great. We should do something.” That never really turned into anything.
Glenn: On a couple of tours back he was playing 'Eight Days A Week' . He told me in the interview we did that after a bit he dropped it. But it sounded great. It was in the middle of his own material, his Rainbow stuff and whatever else like Alcatrazz stuff but it worked great. It was an acoustic section they were doing I think. It was brilliant. I was surprised that he dropped that.
Gwyn: Yeah. He's pretty versatile.
Glenn: Yeah. He's a really nice guy.
Gwyn: Yeah people see him do his Rainbow thing or his Alcatrazz thing and think he's just a screamer but he's not. There's a lot to those guys. People from that generation are inspired by a lot of that sort of stuff like The Beatles, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley of course.
Glenn: It all comes through in your playing. I guess you don't mean it to but subconsciously, some of this style just finds its way into you, the way you're playing and how it comes across out the speakers.
Gwyn: Yes. If you ingest a lot. It'd going to come out.
Glenn: Exactly. Yeah.
Gwyn: The more you play, the more you understand where something comes from. Then the more vocabulary you have on an instrument.
Glenn: Exactly. It makes sense. There are a couple of lines that really grabbed me that Gary had wrote. One line was, “I sold my soul and stole it back again”. I thought, 'What a great line that is?'
Gwyn: Yeah. Again, Gary wrote all the lyrics on the album and I have nothing to do with that.
Glenn: I know.
Gwyn: He's a great writer. He's not even a Pro! He's a Schoolteacher but he understands language.
Glenn: It's almost corny and quirky but it just works. It sounds very real. I thought, 'Yeah! I kinda get that!'. It's not your typical, 'I sold my soul to the devil to play the blues'. It's something totally different. He put a different spin on it altogether.
Gwyn: Well our thing is, you can't be predictable. We don't want to write stuff that's been said before. There's got to be another way to say something.
Glenn: Yeah. That makes sense.
Gwyn: Otherwise you're a cliché.
Glenn: Oh God yeah and some people become a cliché of themselves which is even worse. (I laugh)
Gwyn: Oh yeah. It's really difficult when you're writing your own stuff all the time and that's all you play, there's going to be times where....
Glenn: You're going to do it. It's inevitable isn't it. You try not to.
Gwyn: Yeah it's inevitable but once you start....
Glenn: What I like about what you've got on your album is that it's got that real authentic sound like stuff sounded like in that time.
Gwyn: I like the way it sounds. I really don't like modern production very much for a lot of stuff. I kind of lost it towards the end of the 70's. I couldn't stand all these big snares and reverby things. I thought, 'Oh that's horrible'.
Gwyn: I thought, 'What is it about the old records that I like? You can hear the wood in the bass guitar.' It wasn't perfect. Even though I do track digitally, I do use some things to try to make it sound analogue. The people I have mixing have analogue outboard stuff and they know how to use the plug-ins too. There's a lot of good plug-ins now that warm things up and make them sound like that. I like all my stuff to sound like a tape recorder.
Glenn: Yeah. That's the whole point. What you've got there, you would think that it was all done analogue but as you say, you've got the plug-ins. The sound is just like it has been recorded in 1971 or before. That's what I really like about it. It struck me straight away. I know I keep saying this but it really did.
What would you say the difference is in your part of Australia compared to being across here? Is it similar in ways or is it totally different again?
Gwyn: It's similar. There are a lot more people playing original music over there. A lot of writers that are doing some real dynamite. There's always been great players in Australia and per capita as a ratio, it's quite high in Australia for killer musicians of all types. There's some great guitar players over there. I don't know. People over here seem to want to do covers and tribute gigs. There will be a couple of bands come through here and there.. a few young bands that are ripped off by shonky promoters – 5 bands a night and everybody gets a peanut.
Glenn: I hate that when you walk into a venue and they say, 'Which band are you here to see?' I think, I've come to see some f*ck*ng bands not anyone in particular.
Gwyn: The bands are not even being paid by the venue to be there.
Glenn: It's like the band I may mention gets a couple of quid and the rest get nothing? Hang on a minute?
Gwyn: I know. It's terrible.
Glenn: It's disgusting.
Gwyn: You shouldn't put five bands on a night. Then you've got to pay them all good money for being there. People aren't going out like they used to and when they do they get bored to death by cover bands. I don't know what it is. I can't work it out. There are lots of cover bands in Australia too. I go in and do my solo show. I love doing my solo thing. That's pretty rocky stuff like on 'Solo Electro'. That's a similar sort of thing. Just me and a kick drum. I play everything all at the same time.
Gwyn: At a venue they are quite long gigs. I'll do a bit of a roots and blues thing to start the show, then acoustic, then 12-string... there's eight guitars on stage – all sorts of different sounds. It's all original stuff. I'll go into places and people will say, “Oh we want covers, we want covers and don't play too loud”. Every time I start off a bit quieter, get a bit rockier... then they're all clapping along and singing along. I get them having a good time and what-not. Before you know it, it's three hours later and I haven't played a cover yet.
Gwyn: And I'll play twice as loud as the guy last night played. No one is really complaining. They've really had a great time and they're giving a lot of it back.
Gwyn: I think it's not a case of those places definitely only wanting covers. They just want to be entertained. The easiest way out in entertaining somebody is with some familiarity but if you can write good stuff and still something that people can identify with.. that's the story about playing music. I don't think you just have to do 'Sweet Home Alabama' all night just because they know it.
Glenn: Yeah. Exactly.
Gwyn: So some of it is similar between Australia and the UK but some of it is not. UK is more Rock orientated. Australian musicians are kind of a little bit more... Take the blues scene for instance.. there are lot more traditional sorts of guys over there. There's a lot of swing players, 50's Rockabilly stuff, They're all pretty serious about it. They're good. There's a lot of good bands there.
Gwyn: That's kind of the vibe. You get a lot of.. there's some good players here too.. don't get me wrong but not around here.
Glenn: Yeah. There's some good venues. Is it Kidderminster you are phoning from?
Gwyn: Yeah. This used to be a real thriving hotpot of original sorts of music and now it's all covers. Everybody wants to be Bon Jovi or something. As a country that gave the world what it did...
Glenn: I know. It's incredible. Now look at it!
Gwyn: It's pretty sad.
Glenn: That it's gone that way.
Gwyn: X-Factor and you know?
Glenn: I was just going to say that. It's people like Simon Cowell that are to blame for it all. Everyone wants to be famous for 15 minutes regardless if they're singing a cover by Phil Collins. I think, 'Oh God... Britain's Got Talent'.' I don't watch it at all. It's become a sad safety net and it's not real. There's some cracking venues up and down the country that will have proper artists on like yourself. There's 'Real Music Live' in Chesterfield, Corporation in Sheffield. Everything seems to be up North more.
Some venues have a lot of tribute band on, but these tribute bands seem to pay the way for the smaller more original bands that don't seem to pull as many people sometimes but they can still put it on because they've made money on the tributes. The Boardwalk used to do that quite a bit. You know yourself. I think you've played there a few times in the past in Sheffield. It's shut down now but the venue is still there thank god. Are you going to doing any UK dates for the new album?
Gwyn: I've got no UK dates.
Glenn: So what places in Europe do you really look forward to playing and why?
Gwyn: Well they take good care of you over there. You've got accommodation and meals. You are paid well. You get looked after when you get to the venues. Britain is really difficult. In most of the venues, you don't get treat as an artist.
Glenn: You are just a way of them making a few quid?
Gwyn: Yeah. You know, you are just some scumbag getting in the way of peoples conversations.
Glenn: Yeah. Which is never good is it?
Gwyn: No not really.
Glenn: Especially not from a musical point of view. I was recently talking to Lesli Sanders from 'Prophets Of Addiction'. We were talking about the fact that he has gone out acoustic. He hates it when he's played somewhere and people are just sat there talking while he's trying to put a good show on. He's there in the background. There's no doubt you feel the same way about things like that?
Gwyn: Yeah. It's a tough one out there.
Glenn: At least you're not getting that sort of treatment where you are going to be playing which is a good thing.
Gwyn: Well they expect you to play your own thing as well. They don't want you to play covers. You're not an entertainer there. You've got to be entertaining obviously – you've got to involve the crowd but they're there to listen to you. So yeah, it's a bit different which is nice. The last proper tour I did here (in the UK) was with Magnum. We did all the O2 Academy's. That was a lot of fun. But I don't want to shuffle around the pubs – lugging PA's.
Glenn: Yeah it's not good.
Gwyn: Which is kind of what you're expected to do here.
Glenn: Yeah it sucks really doing all that stuff.
Gwyn: Yeah. I was more of a one man band here than anything else. If I get something for a tour for this album I'll be using a drummer.
Glenn: How did you originally meet Happenin' Harry?
Gwyn: I got introduced to him years ago. I was playing with a bass player in L.A. He was in Studio City. His name is Dan McCann – he lives in Austin, Texas now. He said, “Give this guy, Happenin' Harry a call”. I called him up and he said, “What do you do?” and I told him. Anyway, he was having a party on a Wednesday night in Beverley Hills – a bunch of rockers there. It was Dizzy Reed's birthday party. He said, “Oh, I'll get you up to play with Dizzy”. I said, “Wow, Great”. Dizzy's from Guns 'N' Roses of course. It was fun. I got up and played with them. Me and the drummer did a little set. A couple of songs. Harry is a nice guy. He's a good fellow and he's a good singer.
Glenn: He is yeah. He told me he has been a trained singer in the past. He's been in a choir and all sorts of stuff. His voice is unbelievable. I am really impressed when he gets up. I met him back in '09. I thought, 'This guy is great'. I went to The Cat Club and had a good night hanging out with Bjorn Englen, Jon Hyde from Detective. It was a cracking night and I've been mates with him ever since – 10 years on.
He mentioned to me about the night he had got going on for one of his Benefit Nights at El Cid in Los Feliz on Sunday 27th January. Then I get to meet your good self and the rest is history so to speak. He seems to bring the most incredible people to his nights. He has a list of all these big names and they all come out as well. He is an amazing person.
What things are you looking forward to in your career in the future?
Gwyn: I just want to get making good music again. I want each album to be a little bit better than the last one. That's my ambition. Get better at what I do. Better at singing. Better at playing. Writing songs. Of course, I'd like a little bit of the recognition to go with it. That'd be nice. A bit more work.
Glenn: Yeah. Exactly.
Gwyn: But music's a funny old thing now. The end of it's kind of devalued a lot. It's hard to make a living out of it but I kind of almost do. I don't want to go out and play something I don't want to play. I don't want to make dishonest music.
Glenn: Yeah. You want to go out there and get appreciated.
Gwyn: I'd like to sell millions of records and drive a nice car. That's be nice.
Glenn: You're getting work so see how it goes you know?
Gwyn: Yeah. That's not my main priority. Exactly when I was 12 years old I just wanted to music. I wanted to get good at it. I'll keep pushing myself. I'm finding as the years go by that the song is the most important thing. If you've got something that people can latch onto and sing along with. It's intelligent and makes sense. I'm a big fan of 60's British Pop Music as well as American – and Australian really.
Glenn: When it was very real?
Gwyn: Yeah. Guitar music.
Glenn: I like it when it got away from the poppy side in the late 60's.
Gwyn: Yeah. I'm a huge Badfinger fan. I love them. I could listen to them all day. In fact I did yesterday.
Glenn: Nice. I've never seen them.
Gwyn: A welsh band. Tragic – all the suicides in that band. They got done by the industry. I like Budgie too. I like that Welsh thing. But I just love a good song and a good melody. Tom Petty is one of my heroes. Mike Campbell is one of my favourite guitar players.
Glenn: Yeah. He's a nice guy.
Gwyn: The combination of those guys – the whole band. They knew how to craft a song and make it perfect. That's my thing really.
Glenn: Yeah. I think that's what's missing these days. All these 'Big I Am' major labels – they just want the hit and they don't give the chance for an artist to record an album's worth of stuff. You can pull one out that can be made into a hit. But they are making them into a machine to write songs. It's going to die on its arse because you are just pushing it too much as opposed to doing it natural. It doesn't seem right. That's what guys like you or guys from way back. They weren't actually working on making a hit. They were working on crafting a great song.
Gwyn: Well yeah. I'll always go back to The Beatles – that's the template as far as I'm concerned. You don't get anything more filthy heavy than 'Helter Skelter' or as pretty as 'And I Love Her'. It's everything in-between. They're the whole template of writing songs, music, integrity – the whole lot.
Without George Martin, I don't think they would have been nearly what they became. They had the luxury of going to Abbey Road studios every day, improvising and messing about until they came up with a song. You hear all those bootlegs and you say, “They're f*cking about. They're not doing anything. They are just... What are they doing? Then you hear the record and you think, 'That's what they were doing.' So to have the luxury of being to go into EMI Abbey Road – though it wasn't called Abbey Road Studios until later on – it was EMI. Some of those bootlegs are pretty bad – until they locked onto it and there was nothing better.
So when you listen to your demos and say, “Oh that sounds like crap, just realise that The Beatles did too. You stick to it instead of saying, “Oh bugger this, let's go down the pub and play covers”, you say, “No, no – let's work on this and make this work'.
Glenn: Those who actually worked on it created something special if they were given a chance to at the right time.
Gwyn: Yeah. As I said, the luxury of being able to go in there and do it. There were no real home studios like we can all do now. I mean, I've got Abbey Road in my laptop. Do you want the the ADT or the 20-foot plate reverb. Which one would you like on this track?
Glenn: It's incredible. Technology is just vast. I mean, what's it going to be like in 10 years time. Everything's been done now or has it? It's like, let's do an album and make it sound like Wembley Stadium or choose your venue and have the sound and acoustics coming through. Who knows? It's nuts.
Gwyn: It's all kind of faking it a bit. But if you use the tools moderately and use them to get the good sounds for the songs... don't let the technology over-run the song because you can't polish a turd. You've got to have something good there to start with. When you use that technology thing, you enhance it and make it sound like a record. I can justify that. But all this autotune stuff – no hit it right – get another singer.
Glenn: To me, it's making people out there thinking they can sing really well but when you give them no safety net they're atrocious. I sing a bit myself and prefer to be real and sing a song correct. I don't understand the fakeness of it.
Gwyn: Yeah, The emphasis of it is on being a star and not being a good musician. That's why people have got a limited attention span and they give up really quickly. Autotune can make out that you actually sound like that. It's all reality TV, Big Brother, X-Factor and the whole bit. It's dumbing down intelligence level of people. As far as I'm concerned Tribute bands do that too. They are just impersonators living off somebody else's hard work. They are too lazy to do it themselves. There's always going to be a market for it.
Glenn: Some don't even like the bands – they are just doing it for the money as well since the band is big at the time. They can get a thousand bucks for the show.
Gwyn: Yeah. It's all about getting likes and hits on YouTube and all this sort of stuff. I have to do that but I want to go out and play.
Glenn: Yeah the piles of hits on YouTube aren't the be all and end all. Just because you get a thousand hits, it doesn't mean you are going to get a thousand people turning up your show does it?
Gwyn: Right. I don't know any of those people that have done that. Half the time it's not real anyway. You are buying hits or buying likes.
Glenn: Yeah. What's the point?
Gwyn: It doesn't mean anything.
Glenn: No. Not at all.
Gwyn: It doesn't work for it. It's like downloading stuff or finding it in the record store when you weren't expecting it.
Gwyn: Then it's far more valuable.
Glenn: Oh god yeah. I agree with you because that's what I miss. You've played and jammed with so many. Your biography is like a who's who in Rock and Blues and some more.
Gwyn: Yeah. Well I'm a music fan to start with. I love the history of I. I certainly don't know everything about everybody that ever played but I have a deep admiration and respect for the people who did it and I've got their records. I ended up in Tim Bogert's living room playing with him. He was from Vanilla Fudge.
Glenn: Which is pretty awesome. It's not even pretentious – the things that happen. It's not like you force your way into do it. You just meet people don't you? It's how it works and it naturally progresses no doubt?
Gwyn: Yeah. I met Tim on Facebook. I said, “Hey I love your playing.” He said, “Thanks”. I said, “Can you do something?” and he asked, “What can I do for you?” I said, “Have a listen to this”. I sent him a song and he said, “Oh that's great. What are you doing?”. I was in L.A. And he said, “Come around to the house”. I said, “Okay”. So I took my Strat and a little pro-junior amp. I said, “Shall we get a drummer?, he said, “No, no – let's just have a jam – you and me in the living room”. I said, “Okay”. So we played for about five minutes and he stopped and said, “Let's get a drummer!” So that's kind of cool.
Glenn: It is yeah.
Gwyn: I said, “What about Carmine Appice?” I'd love to get those two guys...
Glenn: ...Back together again?
Gwyn: Yeah. Carmine's out there doing it.
Glenn: Yeah he's out there doing 'Appice Brothers'. He's a manager of various bands these days as well.
Gwyn: Yeah I keep running into him at the NAMM show. He probably wouldn't remember me from the year before. I've never had more than a 30 second conversation with the guy.
Glenn: Yeah. I've met him a couple of time and Interviewed him. He's such a down to earth guy. You think, 'This is the Vanilla Fudge/Rod Stewart Drummer and he's just a normal dude'. I think the problem with the media and fans is that they put people on pedestals.
Gwyn: Oh yeah. They are just humans like anybody else.
Glenn: Exactly. It's all bullsh*t. Especially when you are sat talking away with them. It's normal. Due to you playing and jamming with so many people, would you say you have personal favourites or have you enjoyed it all for different reasons?
Gwyn: The first person I jammed with out of the blue was Mick Fleetwood. He was the first reputable dude. I thought, 'Oh wow. It's him'. I've played with a lot of good players, don't get me wrong but he was the first one that I thought to myself, 'This guy's a bit famous'. He was great. There was a guy in the 60's and the 70's in Australia called Billy Thorpe – Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs. I don't know if you have heard of him here but he was quite a prolific guitarist/songwriter in the Lobby Lloyd style. Lobby Lloyd influenced guys like Thorpey, Rose Tattoo and all those guys. If it wasn't for Lobby Lloyd there wouldn't be any of Rose Tattoo.
Anyway, he was playing with Mick in a band called 'The Zoo. They were touring around Australia at the time – Bekka Bramlett was singing. She came along as well. I was doing this midnight to 6am show as you do on a Friday night. They'd just done a gig in town and they came into my gig. I saw Billy Thorpe walk in on the break. I went up to him and said. “Hey, how are you doing?”. He didn't want to know me. I said, “Oh, okay”. We got up and played then at the end of the set, he grabbed me off the stage and said, “Mate, can Mick get up and play with you? He'd love to”. I said, “Yeah sure”. He got up and played.
We all talked afterwards. I think we finished about 5 in the morning. It was getting late. He said, “Have you got your passport?”. I said, “No”. He said, “I can't really say what it is but there's a pretty big gig coming up and I need a guitarist. Get your passport together and you're on the shortlist”. I said, “Oh okay”. But it never happened unfortunately. But he did invite me to their gig the next night. I got out there and said, “I'm on the guest list”. The guy said, “Are you the guy that Mick was talking about on the tour bus on the way here?”. I said, “Oh wow!” (We laugh)
Gwyn: I thought, 'That was nice'. I didn't sleep that night, I was just too uptight.
Glenn: An adrenaline rush?
Gwyn: Yeah. He's one of the best drummers I'm every played with. He's great. Love that old Peter Green stuff. I've played with Brendan and Gerry from Rory's band.
Glenn: Was that 'Band Of Friends'.
Gwyn: Yeah. Well before that we made a record and then I joined 'Band Of Friends' after that with Mark Felderman and Lou Martin. Lou passed away. Ted McKenna passed away too.
Glenn: Yeah just recent.
Gwyn: Ted and Brendan played with the double thing for a couple of gigs. When Lou passed away Gerry wanted another original member in the band so we got Ted in. They played together which was fantastic.
Gwyn: That was really good. Then I did the album with Chris Glen, Ted McKenna and Don Airey.
Glenn: I bet that was pretty amazing.
Gwyn: Yeah. Chris is a lot of fun. Well they both were. Then for 'Radiogram', I ended up at Tim Wilson's house in California – The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He put a harmonica track down on one of the songs. Don's on that as well on another song. Mark Stanway and Keb Mo from Robert Plant's band. I went around each of their individual houses and played with them.
Glenn: Wow. Surreal isn't it.
Gwyn: It's all on the record. It's fun. I love doing it and I don't know what I'm doing. That's the whole funny thing about it. I hit record and make sure it's not too loud.
Glenn: You just naturally can do it.
Gwyn: Well no, it took a lot of work.
Glenn: Well you know what I mean? From way back yeah. But now you can just plug in and do it because you've been so used to doing that throughout your career haven't you?
Glenn: It becomes natural almost?
Gwyn: Since discovering computers and software – Yeah. The other side of the coin is, every idiot can do it. If I can do it, any idiot can. There's so much stuff out there that people have to go through to get to anything that is half decent. It's a search. That's the other side of it. On the good side of it, I can feel when I've done my best at something. Then I think, “Okay, I'll put that away”. Until then it's a bit, 'Nah, I can do better than that' or 'That's wrong – it doesn't sound right'.
Glenn: As an artist, you are never happy. You think you can do better every time. You think, 'What if I did this or I'll that or add that in?' Does it get a bit like that at times?
Gwyn: It does. When I mixed an album that was horrible. I vowed never to do that again. Mixing is another ballgame altogether. You've really got to understand compression, EQ and doing this and that. To get the tracks done it's alright as long as they are not too hard, it's all in time and you're happy with your performance. It's okay to give it somebody else to mix. You've got to be an expert at that. My 'Two Man Blues Army' album – that's my first duo album - I mixed that. Oh I went through hell. I had four people mix it. I got home and tweaked it and then I started again.
Glenn: God! Nightmare!
Gwyn: Yeah. I didn't know how to use compression and I thought, 'Well, if I get every single snare drum hit that's too loud and just bring it down a dbf out of distortion, then the mastering, engineer every hit on the album – every snare drum hit...
Glenn: God – that itself sounds like a lot of headaches and too many snare drums you've got to play about with.
Gwyn: It was. It was because the drummer got a bit excited sometimes and maybe the level was a bit high.
Glenn: And you tried to rectify it?
Gwyn: I wouldn't do it like that again. Let's put it that way.
Glenn: Leave it to the guy who dos it for a living and it's his job 24/7.
Gwyn: Yeah. Then you're in their mercy. They've got to do it when they can slip it in. Especially if you get somebody who you really want to mix it for you
Glenn: Yeah. It's all schedule isn't it?
Glenn: It's a bit like, “I've got ten minutes free, do you want to come in?”
Gwyn: Yeah. He had to delay the session a week because Robert Plant took him into Abbey Road for a week of tracking something.
Glenn: Yeah. What are you going to do? Moan at Robert Plant?
Gwyn: I know. I'm still at the DIY stage. I don't mind that because I am at the luxury of having to say, “No, I can do better than that” or “That's Good”.
Glenn: Yeah? Sweet. You'll get it. It's a learning curve at the end of the day.
Gwyn: It is really and it's good for you.
Glenn: We learn by our mistakes and everything else. It's experience isn't it.
Glenn: I have had nightmares and tantrums building my websites over the years.
Gwyn: I know. I do everything. I do all my website. I do all my graphic design. I've had a couple of people design covers but I've done the rest of it. I've done the back cover the odd bits to teach myself how to use Photoshop in design or illustrator or whatever.
Glenn: I like the various tools for photos. That's heaven using that until your eyes start burning out.
Gwyn: Yeah. Lennon didn't like the sound of his voice so he always wanted that doubling on it. It's the same with photos and video. Everything can look too real. I don't want to look that real. I want it to look a little bit Super8 or lowmo or just a little bit distressed.
Glenn: Where did you get your idea from for the cover of 'Sonic Blues Preachers' with the skull and the radiowave going through it. Did you work on that?
Gwyn: A guy in Sheffield actually did that – Martin Bedford. Do you know him?
Glenn: Not personally but his name rings a bell.
Gwyn: He used to manage a band called 'Chickenlegs Weaver'. Andy Weaver. He was great. They were a really good band. He died of course. Martin's a great designer so he designed the cover and I did the rest.
Glenn: Wow. That's cool. Who'd have thought it though? From the Sheffield area.
Gwyn: He's done a couple of my albums. 'Two Man Blues Army' and this one. I designed 'Radiogram'.
Glenn: This album is released on 'Fabtone Records'. Do you release on different labels around the world?
Gwyn: That's my own label. I'm not a great record label man. It's an outlet for my art. That's about it. I do what I can.
Glenn: Do you have any favourite songs on the new album?
Gwyn: I really like 'If I Don't Feel It'. I really like all of them because they're still fresh and new for me. Your favourite song as a writer is usually one you've just wrote. I'm in the middle of writing one at the moment. It's a beauty.
Glenn: Are there any particular moments that stand out in your career?
Gwyn: Playing with (Status) Quo at Wembley was great. I did about 15 shows with them. All big shows. That was twenty years go this year.
Glenn: Yeah. How time flies.
Gwyn: I know. Yeah there's lots of good moments. Lots of good venues all over the world.
Glenn: Any particular favourites and why would they be a favourite?
Gwyn: Well probably supporting Rory Gallagher in Adelaide in 1990. That was a bit of a highlight. There's been a few highlights. Many shows with Johnny Winter. I loved playing with those guys because I get to build up a bit of a rapport with people that you've admired over the years. If it wasn't for them you probably wouldn't be doing what you are doing now. There have been a couple of pretty horrendous things. I did a tour with Canned Heat and Fito got me up to play with them on the last show. That was the night before John Lee Hooker died. Louisiana Red gave me one of Muddy Water's slides.
Glenn: Holy! That's pretty amazing!
Glenn: Do you use it quite a bit or...
Gwyn: No I put it away. I should get it out really. A lot of it's not even playing. First time I met BB King. I found out he was staying in a hotel up the road when I lived in Melbourne. I wanted him to sign the back of my guitar because Rory had signed it and all the other guys. An old '61 Stat. It belong to the guitar player in Fraternity along with Bon and John Freeman.
Gwyn: I contacted him and I spoke to him on the telephone. They put me through to him in his hotel room. He said, “I'll be in he lobby at 12 O'Clock or whatever.” I got there and I couldn't find a car park. It was a nightmare. I got there in time but by the time I got into the hotel he'd gone. I went home and I was really bummed out. I thought, 'Oh just give him another go'. I rang and they put me through to him again. He said, “I waited round for 15 minutes. You've got to be punctual boy”. I said, “Okay”. He said, “Can you get here by 1 O'Clock?”. I said, “Yes”. I got there at 12.30. I got in the car park and got in there. He signed it for me and he told me off for being unpunctual again. Of course, it made a big difference in my life. I'm always late still. (We laugh) That was cool. I just find those moments even better than playing.
Glenn: Yeah. Those meet ups. I love those chance meet-ups with people. When you don't know they're going to happen.
Gwyn: Yeah. I did a festival in Germany, probably 10 years ago. I said to the guys, “We've got to get down early because Marc Ford's playing. They didn't know who he was. He'd just left The Black Crowes and there was a real big hoohar. Anyway, I got there. Mick Taylor was on that night. I was playing, Eric Sardinas and a bunch of other people. A guitar festival. I went up to Marc and started talking to him. Little did I know he's a gear nerd as much as I am – fuzz pedals and echo units, guitar/amps and stuff. We got on like a house on fire. He said to me, “What time are you on?”, I said, “I'm on a midnight”. He was on at 4 in the afternoon but he hung around all night to come and play with us.
Gwyn: I was doing a guitar and drums duo. He got up and played bass with us. We did a few songs and then we swapped over for a song and I played bass – he played guitar. That was good. That was a lot of fun. Anyway, before we actually played. I mean, we're obviously Rolling Stones fans. He said to me, “Do you know Mick Taylor?”. I said, “A little bit. I've played with Mick a couple of times before but we hadn't really spoken that much.” Mick's quite a quiet guy. He's a great guy. A fantastic guitar player. Love him to death. He said, “Can you introduce me?”. I said, “If he remembers me”. We were just sort of sitting there and about half an hour later this arm goes around me and says,”Gwyn, they told me you were on the bill” and it was Mick. I just thought, “F*ck! - Nice to do that in front of Marc”. (We laugh) We sat down and had lunch together.
Glenn: That's cool. It's nice moments like that that make it all worthwhile.
Gwyn: Yeah. All those things are worth more than the gigs sometimes. You're playing to people who love it obviously and that's what you want to do but the relationships you make with people along the way..
Glenn: Yeah it's more important at times. The amount of people that I have chatted with, met and become friends later. “Oh Glenn how are you doing?” Your buddy will be like, “How do you know him?” It's just how it works. That's more important than seeing shows all the time.
Glenn: The bit after when you get to have a good chat. When the work's done so to speak. Always good.
Glenn: This has been pretty good man!
Gwyn: When I did the Quo Tour, on the last show, Francis Rossi said, “Do you do all your writing?” I said, “Yeah”. He said, “I really like your songs”. He said his songwriting partner had kind of split up at that stage. He said, “Would I fancy going round to his house and do some writing”. Rick asked me for some slide guitar pointers. We all swapped numbers. I thought, 'That's wonderful'. I rang Rick up a month or so later. I didn't want to get pushy or anything. He was having trouble installing a TV or something. I went round to see Francis but at that stage I had a bit of a dry spell in writing. I was going through some funny stuff with a record company as well. I wasn't vibed up for it. I kind of blew that opportunity. But someone like that to take notice of what you do and be complimentary about it...
Glenn: Is good. It's always a quote you can use to people on a biog or whatever. I mean, your name up by itself anyway, but it's always nice to be complimented by people that have a status that other people look up to as well.
Gwyn: Yeah. Well one night, the Two Man Blues Army, the drummer was also a singer in his own band. The drummer who played in that, a young guy, was Robert Plant's Son.
Gwyn: He was 15. Robert brought him along one night to our gig because Dave was quite a good little drummer. He wanted his Son to watch Dave play – not just sing. There were 5 people in the room. Robert and his Son were two of them. Dave's parents were two of the others. There were a couple of other guys hanging around. It was just before they did the O2 thing. It was between the cancellation and the actual gig. He was wondering if John Paul Jones was going to be doing the gig or not.
Gwyn: They'd had some sort of big hoohar. Then he told me about a local bass player who he had his eye on just in case it didn't happen. I said to him, “I know what you mean, I can't find a bass player anywhere.” As far as doing the duo thing because it was an experiment. He stood up, banged his fist on the table and said, “Don't f*ck*ng get one! You guys are f*ck*ng great the way it is”. I thought that was really cool. I said to him, because I knew he was into The Black Keys. I had just started listening to them. I said, “Yeah, I've been listening to The Black Keys”. He said, “You guys are better than The Black Keys”. I just thought, 'Wow!' Okay, that's as far as that went, Nothing came out of that.
Glenn: Yeah it's all surreal moments. I mean, I could talk to you for hours.
Gwyn: Yeah. I don't use all that stuff. They're just really cool things that have happened. When you start to get a bit down and you start doubting yourself, you said, “This guy liked it, that guy liked it, I must be doing something right”.
Gwyn: I'm just not in the right place at the right time.
Gwyn: Then when I'm dead I'll be discovered.
Glenn: You'll be like one of these painters or something. Van Gogh whose stuff is worth millions when he's died. Like “Thanks For That”
Glenn: There you go. Anyway, I'm going to let you get off. It's been an absolute pleasure chatting away with you.
Gwyn: Yep. It's been fun.
Glenn: Thanks man.
Gwyn: It's been great mate.
Very special thanks to Happenin' Harry
for making it all happen!