For many, "Fusion" is the buzz word of the day on our scene. It seems that everyone and their dog spend their days shreding over Am7 to Cm7 vamps and thinking their part of this new wave of player. Sadly this isn't the case, fusion has a LONG rich history dating back over 40 years (Miles David "Bitches Brew" anyone?). One of the biggest names on the fusion scene is Chick Corea. Chick's first real foray into fusion was with his band "Return To Forever" before making real waves with his "Elektric Band" which would eventually feature Frank Gambale.
Frank is a true legend of both guitar, fusion music and even education. Many of you will have learnt the 80's triadic sweep picking approach to technique that you hear from players like Jason Becker and Jeff Loomis but Frank had turned this technique into a fully fledged art form in the early 80's. For any player wanting to push their technique to the limits I think that you should look no further than the economy picking techniques laid out in the DVD Speed Picking and Monster Licks or one of Frank's fantastic books. It verges on guitar porn!
Check out the above lick which moves between a D7 and F#m7b5 to imply a D9 sound before moving down a series of triads outlining a D lydian dominant sound (A melodic minor)
I recently caught up with Frank to talk about his past, his future and to see if he could pass of any of his pearls of wisdom to the aspiring guitarist.
Hey Frank – It’s great to have you here on Live4Guitar and an honour to get to talk to such a legend.
Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.
We should kick off by talking about all your latest goings on, so what can you tell us about your new project "Soulmine" with Boca?
This is the album I have wanted to do for 30 years! It’s funky and soulful and rocks out too and has jazzy overtones. I love songs and wanted to do an all-song album for so long. The missing ingredient was Boca. We collaborated on all the songs, co-produced and arranged all the music together. She’s a huge talent and it was a delight putting this cool album together. I love the way the voice and guitar interact throughout the album. I think it’s beautiful music with very strong, positive messages and I think people are going to love it. We’re almost ready with the website too which will be at www.frankgambalesoulmine.com.
How did the writing process for that happen?
We got together and hammered it out. Some tunes came easy, some were less forthcoming…but the process was always about what makes the song the best it can be. We worked hard on each and every detail meticulously. We usually started with a groove we liked and built up from there. I wrote a lot of the music on the piano and I usually write melodies while I’m writing. Boca would take the melody and write a lyric to it. I guess I am heavy on the music side and Boca was heavy on the lyric side but it was certainly not exclusively like that. Boca sometimes had a melody that I would harmonize or I would have a lyric idea etc. Boca comes from a pop background and me more from a jazz background and we learned a lot from each other. There was one song that I thought wasn’t going to work and she insisted and had a wonderful idea to add a vocal line and it turned out to be an awesome song “Open Your Mind”. It was real solid collaboration with some tug-of-war sometimes, but in the end, the best result for the song was always the priority.
You're also finishing up work with "Return To Forever" again right? Chick Corea is such a huge name on the fusion scene and it’s a great band to see you with - do you know if there are plans for some sort of video release?
We recorded video in two great locations, one is Montreux Jazz Festival and the other was at Austin City Limits. I am not sure if there will be a DVD of the live performances. We also recorded audio every night so there’s plenty of great performances to choose from if it is decided to release a live album.
As for the tour, it has just finished. I did the last show at the beginning of November at the Blue Note jazz club in New York. It was an unplugged set and really fun to play that music on a jazz guitar! It was a great year and next year on tour with Soulmine will be just as fun!
You're obviously using your stunning new Carvin on it right? How did that come about, and more importantly could you talk to us about your evolution from the early days of solid body guitars, to this beautiful 335 style hollow body - have you always loved that sort of thing?
I just love guitars…I have about 80 or 90 in my collection. Many are my signature models right back from the early days with Ibanez, my Yamaha model and now the beautiful Carvin FG1.
I have always loved semi-hollow guitars because they are so versatile. String them up with .09s and you can play the sweetest tones overdriven for Blues, Rock and Fusion, R&B, Pop…really anything. If you put heavy flat wound strings on it, you get the sweetest jazz clean tones. Very versatile. I love different guitars for different things of course, but for versatility, the semi-hollow does it for me. This Carvin FG1 is so beautifully made, all the finest materials and highest grade woods, no cheap veneers. We haven’t reinvented the wheel, but it is indisputably a phenomenal instrument.
I was fortunate enough to get to try that guitar out at the Musik Messe in Frankfurt this year, its a great axe. While I was there I also got to see you playing with Alain Caron which really blew my mind! He writes some great tunes too, some of which you've played on. Are there any other great projects like that that you've played on?
My discography is pretty lengthy. You can see a selected discography on my website, which by the way, if you haven’t seen in a while, do yourself a favour, it has gone through a major reworking, it’s a very cool sight/site…hahaha…
We can also see this beauty in action on your new youtube channel "Frank Gambale TV" - that video of "Little Charmer" is just incredible - some of your best soloing ever in my opinion! What made you decide to launch the channel? and what does the future hold there?
Thanks…hopefully one gets better with age. I feel that is true for me. I believe the Soulmine album has my most mature playing to date on it. As for FGTV the FrankGambale Channel on YouTube, the intention is to release over time the huge archive of video and audio that I have that has never been seen. We’ll be releasing a little bit at a time. The first two I released were from my fusion trio live in Mumbai. Stay tuned for more.
What other gear are you using at the moment?
I am using my new Frank Gambale Signature Series amps and speakers by DV Mark. They are an Italian amp maker and they are in roughly 60 countries and coming on really strong. They are entirely made in Italy, no outsourcing. The quality is amazing and the tone unbeatable. Plus everything weighs about half of everything else out there. They make their own speakers, without the usual heavy magnet so the boxes are very light. The Return To Forever roadies were constantly amazed. I was using two FG Signature series vertical 2x12 cabs with slant top speaker and the new FG amp head prototype. The head will be available very soon. In the Signature Series there is also a 4x12 slant cab, and a 1x12 combo (150watts) and a 2x12 combo. So it’s a full range of product. I am very excited about these amps. We worked long and hard to get the tone right. The concept was to combing tube and solid state…tube preamp and solid state power. It works so well guitar players will be amazed at the amount of clarity, even with tons of distortion. The new head has effects built in so it’s all right there in one place.
I used the Carvin FG1 for the last RTF tour. During the tour Carvin came up with a trem version of the guitar. That guitar will be made available soon in the FG1 range. It’s very cool having the Wilkinson bridge on the hollow-body guitar…
Are there any plans for a solo instrumental record in the pipeline?
I’m thinking of another album. Right now it’s just formulating in my head. It’s a cool idea for an album. It’s another something I have wanted to do for a long, long time, much like Soulmine and it will be a pleasant surprise! I will leave it a mystery for now. I hope to have time to write and record it in 2012 although 2012 will be full on with Soulmine touring for most of the year.
Your incredibly influential Alfred DVDs have just been re-released and are available on your store, where there’s also a complete discography, backing tracks and even transcriptions (which I just grabbed a couple of) will there be more coming is this department?
All my future albums will continue in the recent tradition for the benefit of the studious guitar players out there. That is, to make the final mix available minus, guitar, bass, drums, keyboards as play-along tracks and the song transcriptions as pdf files. There’s a lot of stuff up on the site already, I even have the Raison D’etre album transcription up which features the ‘Gambale Tuning’, my latest invention which only took me 40 years to discover!
I also have a website coming that will reflect a multitude of play along tracks. I did them in various tempos and styles from Blues, Reggae, R&B and Rock to Jazz Standard chord progressions. There will be links to get to this site fromwww.frankgambale.com . Look for it on my site, it will be there soon.
You yourself are a GIT graduate (around the same era as one of my teachers Iain Scott, he sends his warmest regards), I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the importance of formal training in music?
Iain is a wonderful human being and great guitar player. As far as education is concerned it can never be considered a bad thing. In fact there’s a saying: “knowledge is power” and I believe that to be true. I spent the first 10 years of my guitar career playing by ear. It was great but I felt like I was in the dark when it was a song I didn’t know. I learned to read a little and the benefit was huge. Just to have the form laid out on paper as chord changes and bars with some repeat signs…a road map, as it were….wow what a confidence builder that is instead of guessing what’s the next chord? I took it further by learning to analyze my favourite songs and learning new chords and figuring out what scales went with these chords and what were the cool notes from those scales to play over these chords etc. I never wanted to ever be in a situation where any chord or harmony wasn’t something I could rip over!
Playing melodically through chord changes is one of the funnest things about music for me! I generally think that learning to read and learning some harmony can really open up opportunities in other areas in the music field. It really isn’t true that learning theory makes you lose your feel or you end up playing jazz…hahaha…that notion always makes me laugh…I see harmony and theory in terms of colours, the more colours on the palate, the prettier the picture I can paint.
This brings us on nicely to your formative years and when you exploded onto the scene. Your sweeping technique is well documented and you're still the undisputed master of it, what I'm wondering is, just where did you draw influence on the technique?
I was inspired by various things which pointed me in this direction. Firstly, the desire to play what I was hearing in my head and then secondly and more importantly, it was logic that was the main inspiration to get me closer to achieving this. Picking three adjacent strings seemed illogical as alternate picking. A single sweep stroke downward or upward seemed much more logical. And so, that thought led to an endless road of discovery and an incredible flow of expression for me.
Then in 1984 I wrote the first book on the subject called Speed Picking and then in 1986 my DVD Monster Licks and Speed Picking was the first video on the subject. I wanted to call that first book, Sweep Picking, but the publishers refused because they feared no one would know what the book was about because there was NO precedent and had me name it Speed Picking as a compromise. Same was true of the DVD title which was supposed to be Monster Licks and Sweep Picking. All the other material I have seen to date out there on the subject is either copied or a derivative of my original writing and instruction on the Sweep Picking Technique.
I run the risk of sounding arrogant these days by staking my claim to the founding work that I did to establish the Sweep Picking technique, but it’s the truth. Kids coming up now don’t know the history of the technique, or care because it just “is” now. Historical fact is, Alan Holdsworth = smooth legato hammer-on technique. Van Halen = two-hand tapping. Frank Gambale = Sweep Picking Technique.
It's easy for people who are new to your music to hear it and accept it as fitting nicely into modern technique players, but people need to remember that you were doing this first - where did you draw influence for your actual sound (in terms of composition and overall direction).
Compositionally, I have been influenced by many great artists. I also studied lots of compositions. I was voracious as a kid. I was into transcribing guitar parts, keyboard voicings, vocal harmonies, horn arrangements…everything that was going on to make up the song I was listening to…I was fascinated by the way it all fit together. Years and tears of doing that I eventually got to the point where I was happy to write and pursue my own musical thoughts and ideas. I reached that point when I was in my early 20s. Melody is always first for me and being able to deliver a melody from the guitar as though it was a great singer is a very important skill. Not just to be able to play fast or solo. Most of my songs have melodies you could sing - unless it was a song where I wanted to challenge myself technically as well as melodically.
I also love getting the chance to ask players like yourself who have influenced the scene so much; who are you listening to at the moment? Has anyone come out that's made your head turn?
I listen to a lot of stuff. In my car at any time you could find a Steely Dan album, Chick Corea, Lennie Tristano, Yes, Alanis Morrissette, Stevie Wonder, Lindisfarne, The Eagles, James Taylor, Earth Wind and Fire…you name it…
what one piece of advice could you pass on to the young aspiring guitarists reading this that are trying to establish a career like yours?
Two things…one, focus on being a great musician, not on being famous…if you are a good musician, people will want you and want to play with you….two…it’s not only about how you play…being on time, having a great sound, play well with other humans and get along, and take regular showers…all these things and more can be just as important as how you play.
Thanks very much for your time Frank - is there anything else you'd like to share with the community?
Check out the Soulmine album…and see you out there soon in your home town.