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The Many Styles of Slim Gambill

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Slim Gambill has played for years in one of the most successful country bands ever, yet his background is not country…  In addition to playing in Lady Antebellum, he is now recording and performing contemporary jazz at a very high level.  And we congratulate him on this!

Top Photo Credit: Chris Owyoung

JGT:  Please tell us a little about what motivated you and how you decided to take the contemporary jazz world on?

Hey thanks! This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. The first album I ever made was funky jazz-informed instrumental music with a horn section. So the album is really kind of circling back around to when I was 19 and just jamming with my buddies. I’ve had the opportunity to do just about everything you could name musically since then, but oddly enough this particular music still comes out the same way—as a big mashup of everything I’ve ever listened to. Which is a big part of why I started messing around with some tunes like this again—I hadn’t been doing that for a long time, and needed an outlet—a “side project” if you will. Playing for Lady Antebellum is amazing. It REALLY really is. But the one consistent thing about sideman work is that at the end of the day, you are there to serve someone else’s music and someone else’s vision. Being charged with that task is something I truly enjoy and I’m glad that in my case I get to add my playing to Lady A’s music, because their voices and songs are just incredible. They also give us a fair amount of space to express ourselves on their stage, so it’s an ideal situation for someone like me. Because at the end of the day, I’m a writer and a composer and a creator. That’s what I do, and what I’ve always done—I make stuff up! I’ve always been the guy that would rather write tunes and parts than learn what someone else did. And I mean always—my very first band in high school loosely knew maybe 2 songs and the rest was just complete improvisation. So, to get back on point—my chronic need to write and invent is what really led me in this direction. I’ve written a lot of songs with a lot of people over the last 20 years, but at the end of the day the music that I hear in my head—the music that is 100% “me”—is what’s on “fake Jazz & Theme Songs.” 

The initial genesis came out of an invitation I got from an old high school buddy named Kevin Moreman. Kevin is a high school band director in Las Cruces, NM, and every year he hosts a Jazz Festival for Middle School, High school, and College Big Bands and has a couple pro “mentors” that give the bands constructive criticism on their performances. Kevin was one the horn players on my first recording project ever–The Juices Of Brazil’s legendary release (cue sarcasm) “We Never Sleep”—so he knew I was into jazz and had explored it in the past, and he asked me to be one of the mentors. With that there would also be a performance every night. When I asked what I should play, he asked, “well do you have any of your own stuff?” At the time I didn’t. But now I had a deadline, and more importantly a REASON. So I started writing. And since I wanted to have a recording to send the house band, I started recording. Well, me being me, I have a hard time doing anything halfway, so some quick song demos turned into 7 songs fully flushed out. And I had an acoustic guitar idea so I put that on there. And I had a weird abstract avant-garde guitar idea. And I had this tune I wrote with my friend Candace Devine. And they all ended up done, so I put the music out there, and it just kind of caught on. It has turned out to be EXACTLY what I needed—a way to express myself musically, and as it turns out people seem to dig it! Long answer to a short question. I could go on ha ha ha ha.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Pitas

JGT: Anything to add about the motivation to get into the jazz field for your solo career?

I was obsessed with jazz and blues in high school and college. I was also obsessed with old R&B, old funk, classic rock, singer songwriters, guitar music. . .you name it, I listened to it like it was trying to get away. My music isn’t strictly speaking “jazz” by any means, but I guess we have to call it something hahaha. I put it in the contemporary jazz/instrumental/jam/rock space. Ha!

JGT:  Can you tell us about your new record.  What was the philosophy and how did you choose the material, the players, etc.?

The overall philosophy of the album was to chase whatever idea I had. No particular genre, no exact approach to writing. 75% of it came from melodies I hear in my head and then I sit down with the guitar, and the other 25% started me sitting down with the guitar and then hearing what might sit over the part I play. And in some cases the melody would be something funny I was singing to my kids. . .that’s become a common thing. I sing something to make them laugh and then go, “wait—that’s a great melody!” and sneak away to sing it into my phone! “Lyla Marie” was the first one of those. . .

Date Of Release – September 6th, 2019.

Track by track:

Last Time Thing:  First tune I wrote for the project. Started with a big guitar riff and I actually sent the idea to a buddy of mine to write with Mindi Abair. That never happened, so I kept it! Like so many of these, I just heard the melody in my head and figured out how to play it. The B section fell out of nowhere, but I heard this Beatles melody over one part of it, so I threw that in there. As with most of this stuff, the chord progression followed the melody, so the chords don’t make a lot of sense if someone really wanted to get technical, but it’s the benefit of being a halfway-educated musician… you know what you’re doing but can easily ignore it! 

Levitations:  Based on a tune from the Juices Of Brazil Album. Wrote this when I was maybe 18. I couldn’t find a copy of that album to reference so I had to go on memory. Couldn’t remember how the melody wrapped up so I found a new one. This is the only true up-tempo “jazz” tune on here. I remember at the time I was really into modal jazz, so that’s where it came from. Sort of my version of “Mr. P.C.” And I liked having the opportunity for all the guys to solo. Some insane players on here and I dug it when they all go to show off.

54321:  Started with a guitar riff. I didn’t realize it was in 5/4 til I sat down with it because it just fell out naturally. But I heard this melody over it and figured that out and then thought it might be fun to play the main riff in 4/4, and then in ¾. . .and then see what happens! This track seems to be a favorite for people, which surprises me since you cant really bob your head to it until the solos. The one element that really drives it home is definitely the soprano sax, courtesy of the great Jeff Coffin. I’d always thought that would be the ideal instrument for the melody, and he killed it. And his SOLO. Wow. . .it takes it INSTANTLY into Bela Fleck Jam Band land. Jeff has such a sound. You ALWAYS know it’s him.

Over Getting Over You:  The only track with vocals. I wrote this with Candace Devine and we cut it for Candace’s EP, “Here We Are.” I produced that EP and as it happened its all the same players too. So I had the idea of doing kind of a “duet”—a back and forth between guitar and vocal, like what Santana has been doing since “Supernatural.” Excep instead of Santana it’s more like Larry Carlton ha, ha, ha. So I threw a bunch of extra guitar stuff on there and voila!

Silly Time:  Wrote this for my son River. “Silly Time” is what my wife and I started calling the hour before bedtime, because that’s when River (and now my daughter Lyla too) would just go OFF THE RAILS and start just running around and getting CRAZY. It’s like this wild second wind. Like, it’s the most energy we see in a day full of energy. Guessing all toddlers do the same thing but ours are definitely extreme. So, I wanted this tune to just be fun. The guitar solo is like when they catch their breath, and just when you think it/they are winding down BOOM! It modulates and gets crazier! And then. . . .BOOM AGAIN! Another mod! Because they JUST KEEP GETTING MORE SILLY!!!!

Cop Show:  My tribute to the 80’s. Lethal Weapon, Miami Vice, Beverly Hills Cop… great movies and TV and even greater music. Little known fact is that early on—ad to this day—Id say that probably 90% of my guitar practice has been while watching TV. No kidding. So that’s where this came from. Again, Coffin…this was the last thing I had him on because I couldn’t see where a sax would fit in and I didn’t have a part written. But then he was so fast with everything else, I just asked him to try doing some total 80’s David Sanborn/”Baker Street”/”Careless Whisper” type verbed out ridiculous growly 80’s sax. And so he did. Dude is just amazing.

Lyla Marie:  Written for the Little Lady herself! Our little girl is a FIRECRACKER. And this melody is something I sang to her as a joke when she was only a few months old and I’d have her dancing to it. There were words, but I guess they’ll stay a mystery…but anyway this was the last thing I cut with the band. 2 takes. Just one of those things that came together, and it tends to be a favorite, especially for folks who aren’t necessarily on the “jazz” train.

Also Shuffle: Big thanks to autocorrect for the title! This is a lesson in random reharmonization. This tune started with the main guitar part. I had come up with it with the intention of writing a shuffle country tune a la the Orleans tune “Still The One” or “Waterloo” or that vibe… but when I asked myself what I could do for it to fit this record, I started doing a chord melody around it. But instead of using standard changes I just started trying different bass lines and then filled in the blanks. So the chords in this tune make ABSOLUTELY no sense together. They are completely random but I think it gives it some serious sauce.

62 Victory Blvd:  Named for the bus my now wife used to take home from Manhattan when she lived on the west shore of Staten Island. We would take the Ferry across and then get on the 62 bus down victory blvd. Spent a lot of late nights on that bus! But the vibe reminds me of driving, but there’s a darkness to the B section, because driving through Staten Island in the middle of the night you go through some less than stellar spots and encounter all kinds of people. It’s a weird place. It’s the suburbs where she is from, but the place is really all over the map. Much like this tune.

4 Guitars Having A Conversation Over Cocktails:  This is my “art Piece.” Haha. Just thought about sending this single chord and loop to some buddies so improvise over. It’s EbMaj7#11. Kind of “off” sounding—Eb Lydian—so I wanted to see what a couple of COMPLETELY different players would make of it. Chris Nix is an insane shredder. He tours with Jonathan Davis of Korn and has his own project called the Power Triplets, which is basically just impossible guitar music. And of course Isaac Hanson is in a band with his brothers and is a very melodic, thought out player. And I love both of these guys’ playing for very different reasons. So I sent hem a track and they sent me back some solos. And I played a couple solos wth different approaches and then chopped it all up so it sounded like 4 people talking in a room together. There are times when they interrupt each other, and as the cocktail go down, some start to dominate the conversation and some kind of close up, but then ultimately they find their way back to what they were saying in the first place. Like I said—token art piece!!!

JGT:   You have a degree from USC in Music Production.  You are a very skilled producer and engineer.  How have those skills affected your career in music? 

My degree is in recording, and I got it right when Pro Tools came out. I learned how to align tape machines, about signal flow analog consoles, etc. So in some ways it’s knowledge that doesn’t apply as much as it used to. I learned Pro Tools on my own later, which is pretty much the way to learn: by doing. Not sure if the skills attached to my degree have much bearing if I’m being honest!

JGT: Is producing something you would like to do more of in the future?

As far as producing, I love it. I’ve produced a couple projects recently: Scott Alan’s rock opera “Lifeline” and Candace’s EP. I don’t seek out projects but man I love it when they come along. I have a blast doing that stuff. 

Photo Credit: Alex Ferrari

JGT:  You have traveled a very circuitous route from jazz to rock to fusion to blues country  to jazz.  You have blended the styles quite well in your solo work.  Can you tell us about your own thoughts about your style and how it developed?

Honestly I think just from dabbling in a lot of different stuff. I never wholeheartedly studied any of it really. Never went full on into jazz or rock or pop or any of it—I always listened to all of it, all the time.  And again I’ve always been more in to making things up than learning other people’s stuff so I never learned a lot of tunes, never really transcribed—just listened ad then played. Things would get stuck in my ear and I would figure them out but ultimately I think the “style” came out of pure laziness! Ha, ha instead of taking the time to learn what all my heroes were doing I would immediately try to do my own version of it.

JGT:  You have studied music.  At what level of understanding theory should a person looking to “break in” have? 

Depends on what music they want to play. In every genre I think it’s extremely important to speak the language. It just make everything easier to have the fundamental knowledge that goes with the territory. Both to communicate but also to be taken seriously. 

JGT:  Do you read music and if so, at what level?  How important is it to you in your career today?  

I do read, but it’s been a while. In LA, I had sheet music put in front of me all the time. In Nashville, it hasn’t happened once so my sight reading has gone out the window. But for my own project knowing how to WRITE music has been imperative. I need to be able to write down the horns section parts I’m hearing and I have to know what I’m doing in order to communicate it to other musicians, otherwise I’ll be wasting everyone’s time on stage and in the studio. It comes down to efficiency and accuracy. If I want a part a certain way I have to be able to write it down...especially with as much remote recording as takes place anymore.

JGT:  let’s talk gear… What is giving you your “voice”?  What guitars do you use the most?  Amps?

Favorite guitars live:Gibson Les Paul, Ibanez Eric Krasno, Bad Bart Custom Tele, Yamaha AES-1500

Studio Guitars:’68 SG, ’70 Les Paul, ’69 ES-355, Les Paul Special, Rich Robinson 335, Balance Custom Tele, Big Tex Strat, Yamaha AES-1500

Lady A Amps:Fender Pro Jr. Housed in Mojotone 12” cabinet w/weber speaker, Vox AC30 single 12

Jazz Amp:1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb

Recording amps:’64 Deluxe, ’60 Fender Concert, 1964 Silvertone 1484, 1961 Vox AC30, 1966 Princeton Reverb, 1963 Fender Deluxe Amp

JGT:   You have an aggressive style which I really like.  Has that always been your musical persona?  Who are your musical influences 

Early on I had CRIPPLING stage fright. Like, hands shaking. At some point I told myself I needed to either get past it or find a new passion. My first band in College, Deep Fried, was really my wheelhouse because it had all my influences and ROCK was one of them. Getting to really light it up brought me out of my shell. I had ignored that instinct for a long time, but that band made me realize that that was definitely my musical personality was the full frontal assault. SO yeah, subtlety isn’t my thing haha. But I think taking people on that journey with me is what’s appealing.

Influences? Classic Rock, Classic Soul, Early Fusion, Early Smooth Jazz, Southern Rock, Old Funk, Singer Songwriters.

JGT:  Traveling with gear with Lady A vs. your solo project?  How does the gear and on stage experience differ and maybe alike?

Couldn’t be more different. Lady A is large scale—guitar tech, semi-trucks, ALL the gear. Solo project? 1 amp, pedalboard and a couple guitars. If I’m flying I bring a tiny pedalboard in a suitcase.

JGT: You have performed at some great venues.  Are you surprised by your success?

The Birdland Theater was an honor and a privilege.  But yes, I’ve been really surprised in a really great way how well received this has been. Again it started as a passion project, just for me really. We’ve been back to the Velvet Note and the crowd just keeps getting bigger—just what you want to happen! SO yeah, it’s been a great ride, and the surprise just makes it even better. Having no initial ambition with it I love that people are responding to the music I’ve written and to my guitar playing. It’s freakin awesome, man.

JGT: OK, last question…what do you want people to know about you?

People that know me know that I LOVE music. Like, I LOVE IT. And I love playing guitar. I have no hobbies, I just play music. But music and guitar takes a VERY distant second to my family. My kids are the greatest thing ever, and I want to spend every minute I can with them. Never thought anything would trump music for me but they have. My wife and kids are the only thing that actually matters to me. But I have the privilege of getting to do something I love to support our family and then come home and be a husband and a dad. Being a dad was never my life’s ambition but I see now that it should have been, because at the end of the day that’s the thing I want to be best at.

JGT:  Thanks for your time.  All the best!

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