Can we look forward to some more performances in the near future or a tour behind the new record?
Yeah, well we’re going to be doing a show up in Los Angeles on November 29th at a place called the Rec Center. I guess it’s in the Echo Park area, and that’s coming up and I guess I got kind of propositioned from a New York place. I was telling them that my new album is coming out it looks like around February of 2019 which is called King of Endicott. Anyway, so matter of fact, it’s funny, a half hour ago I saw the cover they’re going to do for Cleopatra Records, real nice cover.
So you’ve been on Cleopatra for a few years now?
Yeah they’ve released my last five albums, plus my Christmas album along with that.
I loved the last record, Let’s Go To Outer Space. It’s funny, the way I first got into your music was I heard your debut record years ago.
You Think You Really Know Me.
Exactly. I heard the debut record. I really liked it. At the time there was so much other music I was getting into that it slipped by my radar. Then years later Ross Harris posted the video to Gary’s in the Park, and we’re friends on Twitter, so I clicked it and I was like wow this is something else: the single really connected. Then after, I saw Dam-Funk tweeted about the Let’s Go To Outer Space record. It was probably the first time I clicked someone’s Bandcamp album and was just blown away.
I’m glad you liked it, you did a nice write-up. Dam-Funk I guess really liked that album. He was talking quite a bit about it. But anyways, yeah so this new one I’m kind of excited about myself. It’s kind of an homage to my hometown in a sense. My tribute to Endicott so to speak.
I did some research about Endicott and wanted to talk to you about that because I think it’s really interesting how autobiographical your music is. Endicott is like a character on each of your albums. The upcoming album is called King of Endicott so I looked up some of the places I’ve seen referenced in a lot of your songs like the North Side Park, Johnson City, so what’s the significance of the North Side to you?
Well the North Side Park and where I was born, a town of 12,000, there were different sections of town. My mother she was Italian, and my father he was English, so when they were young my father would come to the North Side to date my father because my father lived in a different part of town. And all the Italian people would chase him out of the North Side. They didn’t want some English guy messing with an Italian girl I guess. Back then that was the way it is. So I was brought up on the North Side of Endicott which was the Italian section of Endicott.
My grandmother lived a block away and my relatives. I guess I lived through a good time in Endicott. IBM was a huge employer back then, I even worked for IBM when I worked out of high school, and my father worked for them for 40 years: pretty much everyone in the Wilsons worked with IBM at some point. I should have stuck with them; I was 18 at the time. So Endicott you look back at it, and they used to call it the town of the Square Deal, one of those early towns that had better working conditions for the employees. The companies would build houses and communities around. Supposedly Endicott had the most merry-go-rounds in the nation because IBM went out of their way to build parks for the people who lived there. And you know Rod Serling was from Binghamton and Binghamton was 10 miles from Endicott. Some of the original Blind Dates are still back there. I talk to them periodically.
I was going to ask you, how consistent was the Blind Dates throughout your first creative or rock period?
Well, my father, he was a bass player. He played with a band at a hotel gig with a quartet so he was an IBMer in the day. I often tell people I’m a wimp compared to my dad. He’d work six days a week and then four nights a week at this hotel playing in a band. So I started early in music. I got into Dion and the Belmonts and Bobby Rydell, the Troy Donahue sort of thing, this was before the Beatles. Because my dad was a musician he would buy me records like The Coasters, late 50s-early 60s. So anyway, my friends, Carmen Petrino especially, my friend since probably 5th grade, one of the original Blind Dates, he ended up playing with me in my first band Lord Fuzz when I was in 8th grade.
Matter of fact, Cleopatra put that record out. That was kind of a shock to me that they were interested in that record. It was nice that that got resurrected. Maybe I’ll resurrect the band Lord Fuzz at one point. So anyway my father being a bass player all the kids had to play an instrument, so we started in grammar school, and I was playing bass and cello and looking back I won medals at different schools. My teacher and I would do some classical piece or something.
I continued playing in the school orchestra cello and bass while the whole 60s kind of exploded into rock and roll when The Beatles came out. So here I am, kind of playing in the classical sense, and then getting into rock and roll, plus being a Dion and the Belmonts fan so I was already curling my hair to look like Dion when I was in 4th grade. Then The Beatles came out when I was in 6th grade and I actually went to the see The Beatles in New York at Shea Stadium in 7th grade. That was a crazy night, that was like Beatlemania at their height. People talk about garage bands, they really wanted to be like Beatles. I guess they sold the most electric guitars at that time. so that kind of exploded and I got into a psychedelic band at the time and we were good actually our parents would take us to the gigs and I was probably 13 or 14, and we played a lot actually because we had a good chemistry.
It was a group of Italian kids who lived within a couple blocks radius. And I was playing Farfisa organ with the band at the time, and we played every weekend almost, against bands that were older than us, and we could hold up against them. I started getting into experimental rock music via The Mothers of Invention in that 13-14-year range, with Zappa and his music. I started getting into the weirdest bands, the weirdest art, the weirdest music. 12-tone music; weird European music like Edgar Varese. Around a year later the whole thing exploded when I got to hear a John Cage record. My oldest brother was going to a local university and I put this record on and it really changed my life in a sense. I’d been listening to weird and electronic music that was coming out of Europe, but I really tuned into John Cage at that point. I thought, “wow a true American in the sense, he eliminated the European influences and just went his own way.” And you probably know the history that I actually got to go to John Cage’s house you probably know that.
So here I’m in a rock band and into weird music at this point. Now I’m starting to write avant-garde classical music for our chamber ensemble we had at school. My teacher was very encouraging, my violin player teacher, so she would play my pieces along with the quartets and stuff after school. Then one day she says, “why don’t you send your scores to John Cage?” I’m probably 15 or 14. So lo and behold his phone number was listed in the Manhattan phonebook. And I’m from upstate about 150-180 miles away. I called and he gave me a post office box to send it to. And then I called him two weeks later and he invited me to his house. My mother had to take me and we drove up through the woods.
I look back at it now and think years later, “jeez here’s this little boy, this little teenager from upstate New York, here’s John Cage who Julliard grad students would give a lot to spend a one-on-one with John Cage. And here he invites me to his house and we go over my scores.” He would ask me, “okay how would you think the trombone’s gonna interpret this or the tuba?” And I would say glissando, or slide up from low to high. I wish I kept some of these scores. John Cage was my hero so somehow John Cage music got into my rock music. But it took me awhile, I often tell people, to find out who really Gary Wilson is in a sense I remember. It really kind of came about during You Think You Really Know Me and maybe two years before with ‘Chrome Lover.’ That was right before You Think You Really Know Me. It’s funny my first records when I got out of high school like ‘Another Galaxy’ and I did a single called ‘Dreams’ and ‘Soul Travel,’ especially the single Soul Travel, that’s actually more happening for me now than a lot of my music.
I was watching the Golden Globes show a couple years ago and Meryl Streep was crying about Trump or something and Questlove was DJing the TV show and all of a sudden he starts playing ‘Soul Travel’ a record I made when I was 18. I guess what I’m trying to say is it took awhile before I could be happy putting my name on something saying this is Gary Wilson. So I try to continue with focusing on Gary Wilson.
It’s really an incredible musical journey you’ve been on from everything I’ve read. Listening to the music, you can really hear a progression through all your albums. The ones from the 2000s I feel like go for not an entirely different sound, but starting with the Mary record you did for Stones Throw your sound started to change a bit, and then starting with these last few records, Lisa Wants To Talk To You and Electric Endicott, I feel like they’ve gotten more pop in certain ways.
You’re right, I think a lot has to do with my feel for like Dion and the Belmonts, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, some of these people who their songs are right to the point, two and a half minutes, three minutes: happy songs, a solo here. Sometimes people drag out too many solos, they keep going on. And that was one of my big things even when I was a teenager.
Sometimes I would go to these John Cage shows but it would always leave me a little empty because I thought it needs something in front of this John Cage performance, let’s say Tony Bennett with a bucket of flour over his head singing about girls, or Dion in front of John Cage. And so I think maybe that’s what I evolved into in a sense, and especially my live shows get pretty wild. A lot of the shows we base on You Think You Really Know Me, and then we mix other songs with the album.
When I was growing up you only had to be 18 to go to bars and drink, so as soon as I got out of high school I got in with this band and they got the best gigs but they were like jazz-pop and I was playing bass. The keyboard player Lenny Corris used to play with Frank Sinatra and all these people. I learned a lot from him. He had this arrangement style with standards that was incredible. I used to play with this conservative band and you know one time the rock band did a show in Binghamton in a park in the middle of the day and I was into avant-garde art like Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage. So we had smashing and electronic tapes and bales of hay and paint, just real wild. Then I went home put a tux on and went to go to some sophisticated restaurant and play really straight Sinatra type music. But anyway, that always kept me balanced, and it’s funny I still do that. I play with a guy named Donny Fennell, and I just play piano and bass behind him and he lead sings.
Anyway, my mother takes me to John Cage’s house, and we get lost since he’s out in the middle of Haverstrom, New York in the middle of the woods. I remember we stopped at a little General Store in the nearest store and I go, “hey Mr. Cage we can’t find your house.” So he comes down in his car and my mother waits for me at the general store, and John Cage takes me back to his house in his car. I remember I’m making small talk with John Cage in the car, and I remember him saying him to me, he says, Gary you know I never really made enough money on my music until I was 50 years old. And then he talked about irritating the audience. But he was my hero John Cage, so how do you get John Cage with pop music, and put it into something that you can call your own. That’s what I tell younger bands: if you can somehow, get your personality embedded into the music. It takes time, you go through your inspirations and trying to sound like somebody else, but that’s just part of your musical growth, you have to be inspired by somebody to start you off and you try to find your own path if you can.
I ran into John Cage years and years later. My girlfriend was a grad student at UCSD here, and he was a visiting artist for a short period of time. Being a grad student, her advisor at the time was Alan Kathrau who was part of the happening scene in New York, and he was friends with John Cage, so he brought Cage to one of her shows I was in and I went up to Cage with my album actually. I gave him You Think You Really Know Me and I said to him, “Hey Mr. Cage you inspired me.” I don’t know if he remembered me from that, but he said he did, and took the album, but anyway then I got into all kinds of weird rock and roll. It took awhile. I always thank God. I call it my resurrection I guess. Around 2002 was where everything kind of turned around for me in a way even though it took awhile I always thank God things turned for me in a sense. I mean, I come from where they used to pull the plug on me all the time and now all of a sudden they like me so it’s great.
Yeah so the critical resurgence must be really rewarding after all the years.
You know you get used to the situation, and think well, I guess this is the way its gonna be, but you kind of adapt to it. It totally took me by surprise actually. Even when Beck was talking about me with his Odelay album, it still took five more years before everything really turned around. I was working a midnight shift at a bookstore, my sneakers were half-falling apart with duck tape, and I’m jumping on a bus everyday. So anyway, I get a call: somebody’s interested in redoing the album. And you know, the album was repressed in 1990 by a label called Crybaby records out of Philadelphia, but it really took another 12 years before it turned totally around. I had certain people who liked the album, but it took until 2002 and then I guess when the New York Times did that article everything went wild. It was a magical time in a sense because I wasn’t too sure what was going on in a way, but it was a wonderful time.
So you were saying a big influence on a lot on your music is Dion and the Belmonts, Bobby Rydell, the pre-Beatles rock and roll?
Yeah so that was probably we’re talking when I was in 3rd 4th 5th 6th grade, and my mother would actually curl my hair when I was in 5th grade to try to look like Dion, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian. But my father would buy me their records: that was our regular thing, he would buy singles. That’s what’s funny: I did a Coasters record. I ended up playing bass with The Coasters for a little bit. And I remember this was probably 1980. There’s a whole other story there people don’t know. When I moved out to San Diego in 1978, a band called The Big City Blues Band approached me. They needed a bass player and they had a lot of gigs so I said, “eh ok I could use some money.” I wasn’t into blues, I was never a blues fan, but anyways so now I’m in a blues band playing four-five hours a night of blues. It was a very good blues band. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Big Rockin Tonight. I was just talking to one of the Blind Dates, and him and I both agreed Roy Brown was doing these songs in 1949.
So anyway William Morris, some agent from William Morris that was booking these guys contacted me; they were trying to make a comeback around 1980. We were the most suitable band for the back-up band, so I ended up playing bass with Roy Brown. I always talk about that being one of the most electric moments playing. And these guys were the real thing. There was one electric night we were playing the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. It was probably 1982 and Sir Douglas Quintet were opening for us, and the place was just so loud. Everybody was there to support Roy Brown and…they talk about The Blues Brothers: this was the real thing.
All the old-timers were coming out and watching to pay their respect to Roy brown and the young guys were there too like The Blasters and these type of guys. I had a real blues lesson I’d have to say. But anyway that led to me playing with EJ McNealy, Charles Brown, Percy Mayfield, and The Coasters a little bit. I remember the bass player of The Coasters showing me the bass part of Charlie Brown. I said, “jeez I had that record when I was 8 years old.” I said, “my father bought me that record” so things happened, and they still happen, so that’s the magic of the music is you never know what’s around the corner. I’m surprised sometimes that I’ve had some magical moments that I’ll probably treasure for a long time. I try to stay on track for what I do. I have to self-edit when I make these records. A lot of takes don’t make the grade. But anyways, it’s a good time.
So when you’re making a record, do you usually leave songs off, and write more than you need?
Sometimes I’ll think there’s a finish product and pull one out of there because it doesn’t quite make it. Maybe it hasn’t even made it that far. But I’ll do stuff sometimes and it doesn’t feel right, and I’ll do it all night long. When I play with this jazz-pop guy I play with, I have to compose instrumentals so it’s a nice little trio. So I can doodle all night long but it’s got to meet the Gary Wilson criteria or else it doesn’t cut it for me.
That’s what difficult sometimes with albums because you’ve got to come up with enough music, especially cause you’ve got to start from scratch so you go: here’s song 1, here’s song 3, then you have to perfect each song as good as you can do it. I don’t use a computer. I have a standalone it’s called a Tascam 24/88 which is a 24 track standalone. And then I have a standalone Tascam CD recorder so I mix down the digital outs from the digital ins for my mixdowns.
Well Mary Had Brown Hair was recorded on a 4-track cassette. I remember tape recording; I started off with mono tape recorders. You’d borrow a friends stereo recorder and mix down back and forth so I still play with the development of trying to find consumer recording equipment. I always considered myself an amateur audiophile. I was interested in fidelity and always tried to keep with what was going on. All the stereo stores knew me and let me take equipment home. So I tried to get the best sound.
So your new record, you didn’t do any recording on computers?
No, sometimes, I’ll compile songs on iTunes to mass produce CDs but I don’t use a computer.
So the 24 track is an analog and then you convert it to digital?
Well, yeah because then I send it to the CD recorder I have, but you know I have to go back, I did use a computer one time when my 8-track broke down. So then I used it for Electric Endicott. That was recorded on a computer. But the other ones were all recorded before and after on tape. I still do have a couple of my reel to reels, but they’re deteriorated in the backroom, you know the motors start going. I still have my Farfisa organ sitting out in the patio here. I’m waiting for that magic moment. I’d like to smash it or cut it in half or something. I was thinking on a TV show I’d do it when they allow me to do something like that.
That’d be awesome. Something like The Who on The Smothers Brothers?
Oh yeah. Well that was the thing when I was growing up, bands would smash their equipment: the teen bands trying to be like The Who and even Jimi Hendrix, so when you’d go see a psychedelic bands they’re knocking over something doing some cover song, basically Gloria that was a big one they could go wild in the middle of it. But anyway, I was talking to some guy yesterday, a good article would be when Gary Wilson met Captain Beefheart, and that happened when I was still in high school.
Yeah and I actually gave him a demo of my stuff at the time. And Frank Roma helped him put a reed…It’s funny we went to Ithaca and were under 18 so I had to borrow my brother’s ID to get into this place. Frank Roma was a little older than me, a year or two, so he had a car before everybody else. We drove to Ithaca him and I, and its about 50 miles from Endicott, so we got the venue and nobody’s there. We get there early I guess and we’re in there, and all of a sudden Beefheart comes in with his manager and they’re looking at the stage so Frank Roma goes up to him and starts chatting with him, and next thing I know I’m pulling out a demo cassette. And so Frank Roma was a sax player and had an extra reed, and he helped Beefheart put his reed on. I was still trying to find who Gary Wilson was. But anyway, there are lots of little stories I probably have.
That’s amazing that you met Captain Beefheart. His first record Safe as Milk I got really into right after I graduated high school. I discovered that record and spun it a lot. And for me, Zappa was one of those artists I heard in middle school, the first one I heard was We’re Only In It For The Money.
Oh yeah that’s one of his best
It totally changed everything I knew about music to that point because I come from a classical background.
I actually had a picture with Frank Zappa too. I saw Zappa numerous times. I thought they were the best when I saw them in Rochester. I was in junior high or something: it was the original members, you had some of the guys like Jimmy Carl Black. I enjoyed them and they were doing at that time, Absolutely Free, a lot of the music from that album. But I agree with you. Even with Beefheart, for me my favorite albums for me were Trout Mask Replica and Lick My Decals Off Baby. I saw Beefheart three times actually and it was very rare to see him, and when I saw him he was doing the music from Trout Mask Replica and later I saw him do music from Decals. Then I saw him getting booed in New York City. I guess they wanted to hear Trout Mask Replica. That was always an odd one because New York City was always one of the cities that always gave me good reviews and New York could be crucial.
New York’s seen everybody, that’s what I always say. The best jazz, the best classical, most avant-garde too. So, they’ve accepted me the most, though L.A. is pretty good too. I’m always kind of fascinated with these towns I end up in like a town in Iowa. And if I sit there and think, life goes on in these towns people go to school, its not eerie, but I’ll sit at a bus stop before the show and just absorb the environment of the town.
But anyway, I met Beefheart and the Fugs. I got to see them. Somebody asked me, “who did you like best The Fugs or The Velvet Underground?” I said The Fugs. I always considered them one of the first underground rock bands. I used to do covers of their music in high school. I got a chance to see them at Cornell. They went on to Sinatra’s label Reprise, and got Carole King’s husband on bass, Danny Kootch on guitar, and a real cool album, Tenderness Junction by The Fugs. That was where they got more sophisticated sounding. Being a young kid too like I said You Think You Really Know Me was released when I was 24, so 22-23 was when I really started. But high school I would often go into New York City, so we’re talking 1971 or 1972, and I would go see people like The New York Dolls numerous times: they were good live. I’d also go see people like Don Cherry, Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea: all these seasoned guys that were out at the time and coming on heavy, so all that combination of fusion all kind of mixed and turned into what I am now.
On the early stuff like ‘Another Galaxy,’ I really feel like I heard the influence of the fusion and the jazz-funk.
I was still searching for something. I still feel a little uncomfortable with my earlier records because I hear too much of this or that in the music. I was into that music anyway at the time. I saw Pharaoh Sanders and McCoy Tyner. I was into weird jazz: The Burton Greens, the Patty Waters, some of these people. That’s someone you might look up, Patty Waters. She was on ESP records. She did the original of ‘Black is the Color of my True Loves Hair’ or something. I heard it on the radio and I was in junior high at the time and it was wild. She had a trio behind her, this avant-garde jazz. But anyway, it was all molding together and now I guess I try to do with my shows what I would wanna see Gary Wilson do, and then I kind of do it. I don’t wanna disappoint people sometimes. I also think a lot of times in the 60s there were records that looked real cool but you brought the album home and there’s one good song but the rest are eh.
I guess the 60s at least in rock is where the LP came to fruition as an art because I feel like the pre-Beatles rock was all about the .45 and single.
Yeah especially the Dion times it was all singles basically. I guess Sgt. Peppers’ and some of those albums, concept albums, started coming out. There’s a band called The Electric Prunes, they have a song called ‘I Had To Much to Dream Last Night.’ They put out an album called Mass and they had like a tabernacle choir and church organ. So like you said, the bands started evolving into album format and my two favorite albums: We’re Only In It For the Money, he had better players later on but that’s my favorite Zappa record. Absolutely Free was pretty good. I even had his first one Freak Out. But again, We’re Only In it For the Money I consider a masterpiece. Trout Mask Replica I consider a masterpiece. Lou Reed had one that was a really good album.
Are you talking about Berlin?
Something about some girl overdosing and by the end you’re going oh jeez. But there were some masterpieces in rock and roll, but yeah so the album concept, and now I’m not sure what the hell’s going on.
We’re covering a lot of ground I guess. So how many bands total would you say you played in before You Think You Really Know Me because you described several to me?
Well I had a couple different things. Dr. Zork and The Warts was one of the bands. We were still in high school at the time. That’s probably around the time I met Beefheart.
That’s a great name.
Yeah, then like I said when I got into high school that’s pretty much when The Blind Dates started turning into The Blind Dates, but I was also playing with these lounge bands working and doing cover material. I used to do a lot of single stuff where people would call me who needed a bass player for the night. It could be a polka band; it could be anything. You know, I would just go out and make a couple extra bucks.
It sounds like you very lucky in that you were surrounded by music and had this jazz and classical background, but you also had rock bands that you played with as well.
Yeah, I guess my friends, we were a creative bunch at school. We had a band called The Prunes, not The Electric Prunes, but The Prunes. So these are all Frank Roma, Carmen Petrino, Vince Rossi. These guys were the original Blind Dates right from the start, and then I got in with another group of guys, and they came out to California before me. I wasn’t originally gonna stay out here, I always say I’m on an extended vacation. But, I tried to shop my record You Think You Really Know Me around Manhattan for a long time. I had connections that I’d made in Woodstock, some people at Warner Brothers. So I thought let me try to pitch my record in Los Angeles, and I want to all these labels, I even went to Frank Zappa’s manager, Herb Cohen he had an office on Sunset Boulevard. And I couldn’t get a bite on anything.
Some of the guys I went to high school with had bands down in San Diego, they’d moved out here before I did. And they said we’ll get you a gig in San Diego, why don’t you come down here? We got a house where we could rehearse. So then those guys turned into the band that wound up on Live at CBGB’s. The original Blind Dates were Carmen Petrino, Frank Roma, Vince Rossi, and me. That was the core. Those were the original guys, and a few other guys here and there. And those were the guys who were in Dr. Zork and the Warts. And then when we got into high school we met the guys who moved to San Diego, they were musicians too. So they invited me down here and I ended up around 1978 doing a bunch of shows in San Diego, then went back to CBGBs in 1979 for our final one there. I remember going to CBGBs in 1977 and I’d just got my copy of You Think You Really Know Me in the mail. And I’d heard of the reputation so I remember waiting in the place for about 2 hours before the owner came in. So he says, “well I’ll put you on Monday night.” He liked us after that and our final one in 1979 we headlined Thursday through Saturday. And that was The Blind Dates and who I used for a long time. I just lost a couple of them, they passed away not too long ago.
I’m sorry about that.
Yeah so now I got a bunch of San Diego guys who are playing with me now. They’re real good. They’re real wild guys, you never know when the keyboard guy’s gonna dive over his keyboard, and smash his keyboard. But these guys are good it’s a really solid band.
That’s awesome. So when you perform live do you just sing, or play an instrument for part of it?
Mostly I just lead sing; I prefer it that way because it frees me up to do what I want. There were times I ended up on keyboards. Our keyboard guy now plays with Lee Rocker, a guy
that used to play with The Stray Cats, so sometimes he goes out and plays with him. When he goes out and plays with him I’ll play keyboards. But still it locks me down a bit. I prefer to just lead sing.
We definitely covered a lot. So for Let’s Go to Outer Space, what if anything specifically inspired that. What are some of your favorite sci-fi influences, books or movies?
Well, you know me, I’m a pretty big horror film/sci-fi fan, that’s always been my treat since I’ve been a little boy I guess. I would go the theaters late 50s/early 60s when a kid could go by himself and see all these horror and sci-fi films. I’m trying to think of one of my favorite ones, It Came From Outer Space, there’s a few I prefer over some of them. Carlsson was the star I think. I’m not too sure but they were pretty well made. That’s the thing with those movies I like some of the older movies personally.
Here’s a real fun thing: in 2002 we had a homecoming and I hadn’t been home in 25 years, so after my resurrection we’ll say, they held a big homecoming show for me at the performing arts center which used to be the movie theater I would go to every weekend. So anyway, that was a real treat to do a show in the theater. Then in the basement of the theater they held a big party where all the New York people came down. All the people from my past and present came down. There were people from 80 years old to 13 years old, people like you. It was really wonderful, I was seeing people from my past who I hadn’t seen in 30 years. And they all came to this party in the basement of the movie theater I used to see horror films in. So it was great, that was a great time.
Anyway, Boris Karloff had a TV series that I always liked watching, and I still watch called Thriller. Some of The Outer Limits ones are really good, the old ones. I guess I like the black and white films mostly. Well, it takes me back, I guess that’s what it is. So I think all that blended into Let’s Go To Outer Space, it was my induction into sci-fi. My love for those movies at the time. It turned into Outer Space.
I started working on a brand new album where I only have one or two songs done. It’s going to be called The Sin Eater. And what that was, in the early days of the 17th century or 1600s, for someone to get heaven when they died, someone had to absorb the sins of that person so they would have a feast around the dead body, and they would bring in a person who was the sin eater and he would have to absorb the sins. It was usually the upper class that could afford that. I was gonna throw it on the new album but it just doesn’t fit. It’s a different idea, it’s a whole different thing. So that’s in the future but the upcoming album will be King of Endicott. My friend Butch who’s back in Endicott says, “you wanna bring religion into this?” I say, “well I’m more intrigued by that people would do that.” I don’t know which series it was a more modern one, Johnny Boy from the Waltons was in it. Johnny played the Sin Eater in it, I think it was Ray Bradbury Theater and that inspired me.
With sci-fi did you ever read any Ray Bradbury?
I was probably more into horror films than sci-fi. Again I liked Outer Limits and some of the better sci-fi movies, I have tapes of some that I like, but I was more a horror fan like Curse of the Demon. Another one is The Haunting with Julie Harris, I think that’s 1957. It has a real atmospheric feel to it. I like the Edgar Allan Poe ones: the Vincent Price ones. The best one out of all of those is I finally saw The Fall of the House of Usher again. That one was done so well compared to the other ones I thought. Everything was real pro, even the music was great.
It’s funny when it comes to film I find myself drawn to much older films in general. I guess for me it’s nostalgia for an era I didn’t grow up in. There’s something about black and white I think that captures something very different.
There’s probably some good modern ones, but yeah especially for people my age there’s that nostalgic thing about those older films. I don’t really like a lot of those slasher films, though Halloween was good. But some of those like Friday the 13th, I don’t care to see a bunch of teenagers getting murdered. I like good acting and a good story if possible. But yeah I still watch a lot of these films. I have a huge video collection, mostly on VHS. So I saved all those and Twilight Zones. Right now I have digital TV so Channels 1, 2, and 3: they’ll show old movies and series. When I was a kid I would watch Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock. Right now, every night they show that on this one channel so my midnight works this way. 11:30 Perry Mason comes on, then Twilight Zone, then Alfred Hitchcock. It’s a good couple hours there for nostalgia. I like those black and white films. Bogart.
I love Maltese Falcon.
I always wind up watching that stuff. Draws you in no matter how many times you watch them.
When I was a kid I had tapes of the old Universal films with Lugosi and The Werewolf. Would they still show them when you were a kid?
There was a magazine called Famous Monsters. There was a big thing with Werewolf, Frankenstein, and The Mummy and they’d have plastic ones you built. So yeah, those were still going strong. That was one of the fun things I did as a little boy. They had The Werewolf, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. And during the winter, I’d put a knife into the stove until it was hot and open a hole in the rubber so I could put some small item in place of the heart, and right before the snow would start I would bury it underneath my garden. Then when spring would come I’d go back and the snow would thaw.
I was telling some guy about that about how I went from toys to a teenager. They had this series called The Man from UNCLE. This is probably right when I was transforming in 7th grade. There used to be a briefcase you could buy with a toy gun with a silencer and stuff that related to Man from UNCLE. We’d go out on school nights and we were still playing but around that time it went from toys to starting to play with rock bands in 7th 8th grade. Anyways that was always kind of a fascination. I always liked House of Frankenstein, where all three, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy met. I’ll still watch them when they’re on TV.
I think the concept of Let’s Go To Outer Space really worked as a concept record. It was really cool how on all your other records they seem to be autobiographical and you have these female figures but on Outer Space it’s just “the girl from mars.”
Yeah well it kind of turned into where I started directing it towards that element. All of a sudden it’s turning into an outer space album. So yeah that’s the idea, and I think I told Peanut Butter Wolf years ago 10 years ago when I put out records I often think of them as a piece of art that has no time to it in some ways. Each album to me, I want it to sustain through time in a sense. So I kind of, somebody says they’re disappointed in the sales, you never know what could happen ten years from now. Things could turn around, that’s the way I look at stuff. You wanna create something. Like when I saw Beefheart when I was a teenager he left an impression on me or when I saw John Cage.
Is there any plans for Invasion of Privacy to get a release?
Well that one, what ended up with that one, the masters for it I don’t have, so it would probably have to be taken off of a disc. I don’t know that may come out again you never know. Did any of them make it on? Forgotten Lovers never had any of the the tracks right?
Yeah well the past week I bought every Gary Wilson record I could find and the only one I couldn’t find was Invasion of Privacy.
That had an updated version of ‘Chromium Bitch’ and ‘Cindy’ and it had ‘Debbie Knows’ which somebody has on YouTube now. So yeah, I guess when I think about it who knows that may come out again but it’d probably have to be taken off a disc which is always a slight decline in quality, but that was actually recorded on a 24 track at a pretty good studio in San Diego. That’s a whole story in itself.
The guy who put up the money for it, that was a long ordeal. Originally he got a bite on it from Capitol Records. He was in a sort of a strange trade, let’s put it that way, but he had lots of money. Miami Vice, they wanted to be music producers those guys, they had all this money and didn’t know what to do with. So he wound up producing Invasion of Privacy. For a year he took out ads in the newspaper, and there’s a 2-page ad, and I go holy, he’s spending a lot of money promoting this Invasion of Privacy. And then he finally got a deal with Capitol he was gonna back it, in other words they’d lose no money and he’d put up all of it. He got in trouble down in Peru and next thing he lost all his money and he had mansions all along the ocean. Jeez, that was actually when I was the blues band, I was still playing with the blues band, and the producer, you remember Miami Vice, what that whole scene what was like?
Well that’s how it was. So this producer guy, he wasn’t a producer, but he was actually a promoter. He worked for Avalon Productions for awhile who worked with Aerosmith and all these other big bands. So he was ready to produce the album from the blues band, and the guy couldn’t come up with enough original material. Mike Coyne was the actual producer of Invasion of Privacy. Mike says, “Gary you got any material?” so that’s how that came about. The guy I work with, the drummer, he bought a copy of that this week, Invasion of Privacy.
He found an original?
Yeah I’ll see a lot on eBay and say, “jeez I wish I could bid on this one.”
Yeah with Invasion of Privacy I think the new recordings of ‘Chromium Bitch’ and ‘Cindy’ were really interesting takes on them and ‘Debbie Knows’ could have been a new wave hit.
Yeah, somebody compared it to The Raspberries. Well you hope something’s gonna come from it and you get a bite. Sometimes it takes off and sometimes it doesn’t. It could get re-released especially like ‘Debbie Knows.’ ‘You Were The First’ isn’t on any of my current releases either. I never know someone might proposition me on that.
Well, I guess to wrap up the interview, what are your plans for the next year?
I like to do these kind of fly-ins for these shows. Something might come up where I might go on a tour, I might not. I like to keep the excitement up for my own personal enjoyment. I went to Europe twice. After doing that every night for two or three weeks…personally I’d probably like to perform once or twice a month, do a couple shows and it keeps my excitement going for the shows. Every now and then a string of shows will come along. Have you heard Live at Shea Stadium by The Blind Dates?
No that eluded my deep dive into your discography.
That’s an interesting band, they’re like 12-13 piece: they’ve got strings horns an opera singer, and what they do is interpret Italian movie soundtrack music, so somehow I got hooked up with those guys. They backed me in New York City. It’s out right now on an album, and we did it live on WFMU, and the album’s out on Feeding Tube Records. They put out a lot of my more experimental stuff. It’s interesting to hear violins in my music, but they also have a rhythm section, horns, an opera singer. So yeah, we have an album out. We did a show with James Chance in New York, and that’s where the album was recorded live. So I’ll probably be continuing with the shows, and Mercury Lounge called me a couple days ago to do a show there and I’m trying to think if I can…cause I hate flying, I hate to say that. It hurts in a lot of ways for me to go do things sometimes. I flew nonstop from San Diego to London. That took like 12 hours or something. Nonstop it was crazy after awhile.
You think, “how the hell does this plane keep going this long like it’s nothing we’re flying 500-600 miles an hour with two guys in the cockpit that are tiny compared to this huge massive plane behind them?” I know it’s automatic, but it’s amazing that that plane can stay afloat. I enjoyed going to Europe a couple of times and played some good shows and had a good response there. For one of the shows, Red Bull Academy was behind one of our shows in Paris, you can Google it. That was The Austin Blind Dates, that’s another band that backs me. They were a Gary Wilson tribute band before I met them called Cindy, so when I did Electric Endicott that was on Western Vinyl, and they were from Austin, so we did a SXSW show and they put the two of us together. We did a tour of the West Coast, a few tours in Europe, and then those shows with Stevie Moore up in Brooklyn, but yeah, anyway that’s history.
And I guess a final question, what advice would you give to younger songwriters today?
I always tell them it’s important to somehow get your personality into the music somehow. You know how someone hears a record and it’s Johnny Mathis or Sinatra, you know who it is. If you hear Beck, you can tell its Beck. You’ve got to go through that influence period of course. That’s what starts you off with music. Keep going with who you are in there. Try to find your own vision. Don’t get discouraged, look at me, how many years it took before I became accepted by everybody. You never know what’s around the corner, and that’s where the magic of it all is and the beauty of it all.
Classical violinist and piano player. Mostly self-taught guitarist took lessons with Vic Juris who was sampled for Gang Starr’s Mass Appeal hit. Appeared in Music of the Heart with Meryl Streep (d. by Wes Craven.) Long-time home-recording artist.