Let me bend yours for a second. The rate at which knowledge is discovered is greater than the rate at which a single human being can intake new information. Thus, regardless of the amount of learning, listening, or thinking one does, one is getting progressively more ignorant by percentage as time goes on. I find it liberating. But it also means that we miss things. Luckily, other people find things you missed.
It seems to happen all the time. Music gets rediscovered, or maybe simply discovered. With movies like Searching for Sugarman and A Band Called Death supporting artistic resurgences, it seems like the next big thing is always lingering in the discounted used-record bin. It goes to show that a lot of influential (or simply good) music gets glossed over. My recommendation is to keep the ol' ear to the ground and refrain from sudden movements.
Gary Wilson is one of those who was passed over. When Gary's first album You Think You Really Know Me came out in 1977, not many people paid attention. Gary released a handful of EPs and singles in the 80s, but was relegated to playing as a backing musician in other bands and working odd jobs. In 2002, however, this album was re-released, promoting a new found fascination with Gary's music.
Since, Gary has released several full-length albums, played on the Late Night Show with Jimmy Fallon supported by the roots, and been a source of inspiration to many people. His music is a combination of all things pop, but also all things weird, as Gary illuminates in his love for both the Beatles and the Avant-garde below. Gary stands tall as one of the pioneering examples of home-recordings as well along with R. Stevie Moore and others, a movement that seems to become more inspiring and common today as music and other artistic mediums are readily accessible today.
Jordan: When did you first begin making music?
Gary Wilson: I wrote my first song when I was 10 years old. My family had a large organ and several instruments around the house. I was also trained throughout my school years on cello and string bass. My father was a bass player with the local quartet. At 11 years old, I taught myself how to play guitar. This was when the Beatles came out. I played in my first rock band when I was 12 years old. I was playing Farfisa organ at the time.
J: Did any artists or movements in particular inspire you?
GW: When I was 10 years old, I was into Dion and The Belmonts, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, etc. When the Beatles came out I was into the whole British invasion mode. Then when I was 13 years old I got into avant-garde music. My hero was composer John Cage.
J: How did you decide to make your first 7" Dream(s)/Soul Travel? What was the response to it?
GW: I was 18 years old at the time. I put an ad in the local newspaper asking for a backer for a record. A doctor from Binghamton, NY answered the ad and put up the money for the single. I did get a publishing deal with a NY music publisher. It was during a time when a lot of jazz artists were putting out instrumental disco singles and albums. The single recently appeared on an Adult Swim TV commercial.
J: What was the process of writing and recording You Think You Really Know Me, your first full-length record?
GW: In 1975 I sent demos of my album YTYRKM to a music publisher in Woodstock, NY. He passed the demos onto singer-songwriter Robbie Dupree. Robbie invited me to Bearsville Studios near Woodstock to record YTYRKM. Robbie's career took off so he didn't have the time to finish the project. I went back to my home studio and for about 6 months worked on the album. I finished it in late 1976 and pressed it in 1977.
J: What did people initially say about that record?
GW: My friends liked the record but some others thought it was too weird. I had a manager at the time in NYC (Seth Greenky). He shopped the album around to the major labels in NY. It was always the same story. They liked the album but could not figure how to market it. It's funny. I have recently heard from some of those same A&R people and they tell me how much they liked my album and still cling to the original YTYRKM album. Not sure why they thought they couldn't market it. A few radio stations also played the album, but only a few.
J: Has perception of it changed since you put it out?
GW: When the album was re-released in 2002 everything pretty much changed. Now everyone wanted a copy of my album. I am very happy that things have turned around.
J: You kind of retired after putting that record out before more recently coming back to performing live and recording. Why did you do that?
GW: I didn't really retire, but just accepted my fate. It was that people weren't paying attention or were not interested. I put out a couple of singles and EPs in the early 1980s and did some live shows. My girlfriend Bernadette Allen was a grad student at UCSD so we did a lot of experimental art, music and video. Ended up in the early 1980s playing bass with Roy Brown, Percy Mayfield, Big Jay McNeely and others and even played bass with Coasters.
J: Did you ever want to put out more music?
GW: Yes. I tried to get labels interested but never got a bite. Bought a 4 channel Tascam cassette machine and recorded things. My album "Mary Had Brown Hair" was recorded on my Tascam 4 channel cassette.
J: What has the response been to your new musical endeavors?
GW: It seems good so far. I have a new album coming out called Alone with Gary Wilson. A single from the album has just been released in San Diego on a label called Rita Records.
J: You have also been performing live. What are your live shows like? Is there anything that you like to do in particular?
GW: Every show has its own dynamics. A lot of times I don't know what I look like before the show because I like to “transform” in private. I may end up in the backseat of a car changing or “transforming” for the show. I guess I try to turn myself into a living canvas.
J: How was it playing in shows with R. Stevie Moore?
GW: I had a good time playing with R. Stevie Moore. The two shows were sold out. I asked Stevie if he remembers us trading albums in 1977. We will be doing more shows together in the future.
J: Does it make you happy to be making and playing music again?
GW: Yes. Who would have expected things to turn around for me after so many years? I’m very happy and humbled by the whole experience.
J: What have been some of the highlights of your career in your opinion? Are there any moments that stand out in particular?
GW: The Joe's Pub gig in 2002. The showing of the Gary Wilson documentary at Lincoln Center in NY. Playing CBGBs in 1977-1979. Going to Europe and playing 8 countries in 10 days. Having The Roots back me up when I appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. There have been so many exciting moments that have happened to me since 2002. I have met many creative people along the way.
J: What is in the future for Gary Wilson?
GW: More live shows, more records and more music.
J: Anything else you'd like to say?
GW: Do unto others as you have done to you.