Guitar Pioneer Debuts Sexy New Collaboration to San Diego

Monday, April 30, 2012 13:38

An Interview with Frank Gambale

by Casey Pukl

This is one of those interviews that is absolutely damn near impossible to write an introduction for. Why? Because simply put, Frank Gambale is the man. Not only is he a joy to interview, but his list of accolades could very well take up this entire article. Let me give you the short version:

Frank Gambale is a Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso and educator with over 200 published songs over 20+ records, the creator of the Sweep Picking technique, Gambale Tuning, former member of the Chick Corea Elektric Band, Vital Information, and has had numerous custom guitars designed in his name. There’s no way one could ever truly grasp the amount of technical discovery that this man has contributed to guitar players around the world.

Not bad, eh?

Gambale’s latest project is a collaboration with his wife, and incredibly sultry singer/songwriter, Boca. Read on to find out what it was like working with his wife, what highlight of his career came recently, and just what his latest contribution to guitar technique is…

CP: I have to admit, I’m a big Elektric Band fan, so this is pretty exciting right now.

 FG: So am I (laughs). Those were amazing days.

CP: Absolutely. And I know you were also on the most recent Return to Forever tour with Stanley Clarke and the rest of the gang, right? 

FG: Yeah, that was all of last year! Wow, was that a trip around the world. We played all the best stages on the planet, and that was just incredible fun with what I consider to be an iconic group. That was a complete blast.

Being an Australian as I am, one of the highlights for me was playing the Sydney Opera House with all of my family present. It doesn’t get much better than that in Australia.

CP: It has to be amazing to continue to have those highlights after so many accomplishments over the years. 

FG: Yes, indeed. It was a real highlight in my life, and it was such a memorable evening among many (laughs).

CP: Tell me a little bit about this latest record— I know you worked with your wife, who explains the super sexy vibe behind the first single, “Forbidden Kiss”. What inspired you guys to start this project?

FG: Well, this is music I’ve wanted to do for a long long time. It’s been on the backburner in my head for quite a long time. I’ve always loved vocal music, and many of my albums have a lot of vocal music on it. My albums have had a touch or at least some sort of indication that this was on its way. There have always been vocal tunes on my records. While I haven’t done anything vocal in a long time, and that was the seed. When I was younger, all the groups I was ever in in Australia were vocal groups where I was the singer, and I always loved vocal harmonies. I’m a huge fan of vocal harmony.

It was just a matter of the right timing and a number of different things. Boca entering my life and her incredible talents as a songwriter, as a performer and singer, it was just the right time had finally arrived. So it just happened. We started writing, and the chemistry was great. The music just evolved, and everything just felt better and better until it finally culminated in this record that we’re very excited about.

CP: What was it like writing together?

FG: I’d love to say it was all smooth and peaches and cream (laughs), but we had our troubles. The point it that we’re both very passionate musicians and we’re both very strong willed. WE had a lot of beautiful tunes that came out smoothly without a tremendous amount of effort, and others were more difficult. That’s just how the writing process is a lot of the time. The point is we’re both passionate, and we were both putting the music first. Our desire to make the best possible music together was first. We didn’t take it personally, but we sometimes tried different things. I may have been resistant or she may have been resistant, but in the end, the music prevailed (laughs).

CP: (Laughs) As we always hope it does!

FG: Yes! But we certainly still love each other, so that must say something for the writing process that we just went through (laughs). It was a challenge at times, but I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I will… but we don’t need to mention that at this point!

CP: That’s exciting! Tell me a little bit about working with vocalists— do you feel like you take a very different approach to your playing style when working with a vocalist?

FG: Well of course. One of the biggest changes is just to play softer (laughs). As a guitar player, we’re always accused of being too loud. It’s usually the guitar player that has to turn down. So there’s that, and I love playing softer. My ears have been thrashed enough over the years.

What we try to do is have a real nice dialogue between the guitar and the voice. That’s something we really tried to achieve. It’s like the voice and the guitar are really dancing together on top of the song. That’s what we tried to do in most cases. I know where the melody is, so I try to be in the spaces and around it, and even sometimes supporting the harmony to the vocal part in my line. I find it enjoyable. I love listening to her sing, and she’s an incredible singer and performer, as you’ll see.  To me, it’s just a joy to have that little dialogue going all the time. I don’t find it that difficult. I find it enjoyable if anything.

CP: I think listening to the single, it definitely sounds like you playing, but it’s also nice to hear the interplay between her vocal and your guitar. You’ve laid back a little bit, and it’s neat to hear.

FG: I think a lot of people, from the comments and reviews we’ve seen so far, they’re really positive about this music and this approach. I’m delighted to share the limelight with Boca, that’s for sure (laughs)! I don’t have to always be out in front with all guns blazing. I find, as I get older, I’m ok playing more subtly and melodically. Not that I didn’t in the past, but in the past I was really going for it most of the time. I don’t feel like at this point I have anything to prove. I’ve done enough records where people can hear plenty of guitar.

This being a different kind of project, I really wanted to make it where the guitar playing inside the music was appropriate for the music, you know?

CP: Switching gears a bit, you’ve done a ton of teaching, instructional DVDs, clinics, and the list goes on. You’ve made education such a priority in your career. Are there more in the works?

FG: I do all of the above, although it has taken a bit of a back seat the last few years. But I’ve been involved with many music schools and I just got back from Mexico doing some clinics at a University.

I’m working on a new book. My picking technique is quite famous, and it’s something I developed. One of the things I’ll be remembered for as a guitar player is for my contribution to the lexicon through this technique called “sweep picking” that I developed. It was like a sleeping giant. I really developed the whole method, and every other book on it I’ve ever seen on it is pretty derivative of my original work. It’s a beautiful way to play the instrument.

When people first heard me in the 80’s, they were going, “How is that possible?” (Laughs) But now it’s part of the everyday guitar players’ technique grab bag. It has to have an origin!

So I’m writing what I would consider the definitive speed-picking manual, which will be embedded on part of the Frank Gambale Sweep-picking website we’re developing. I’ve also done an interesting website which is live called playalongtracks.com. I play rhythm guitar for backing tracks for guitar players or any musician really to play along with. That has all different styles from jazz standards to reggae to rock and all kinds of stuff. That’s a cool project. There’s a whole heap of things on my actual website. 

Whenever I do my albums, I always make a mix minus the guitar, minus the bass, the drums, whatever, and people can always download those mp3’s off my website and play along to the actual recording minus one part. The actual sheet music is also available in PDF form, so it’s a real treasure trove for guitar players or fans that really want to get closer to the music. They can have the actual track minus one part to play along with. It doesn’t get much juicier than that.

CP: For sure. Once you get the technique down, it looks easy, but getting it down seems to be the tricky part! 

FG: I’ve seen some people adopt it. It’s a great way to play the guitar. It’s a huge result for the amount of effort to play. My best description for sweep picking is like you’re in a car. If you’re in a car that only has four gears and you’re doing 80mph on the freeway, the car is going to be laboring, revving high, maybe even shaking. Sweep picking is like having a fifth and sixth gear. You’re going real fast, but it’s with this ease and lack of effort. It takes a long time to get it down, but once you do, you’re in sixth gear on the freeway, you know (laughs)?

CP: (Laughs) It looks so easy once you get it! 

FG: Once you get it! It’s an important contribution to the guitar. I actually have another invention that since 2005, I did a record called, “Raison D’etre” and I introduced a thing called, “Gambale Tuning” and it’s a whole new way to string up the guitar. It could easily become another standard tuning. It’s very technical, so I won’t go into any other detail other than it’s a new tuning and I’m very excited about it. 

CP: Well, no one can deny that you’ve contributed a whole heck of a lot to the technique of playing guitar (laughs)! 

FG: (Laughs) I’m blessed to be able to discover these things and pass them on.

CP: Well thank you for sharing them with us! That’s the most important part there— sharing.

FG: It’s only as good as the person receiving, really. You can put stuff out into the universe, but if it’s not received, there’s nothing. The thing I’m most excited about these days is writing and performing. This new group, Soulmine, is really an exciting project.

CP: For sure! The single is super catchy!

FG: One review said it has more hooks than a fisherman’s hat (laughs)! I loved that!

CP: (Laughs) That’s definitely one way to put it!

FG: If you like that song, that’s really the only Latin flavored tune on the record, but the rest is very funky. It’s a very sophisticated funky groovy sound. Boca is a wonderful sage when it comes to lyrics. It was a beautiful combination of effort. I do highly recommend that you listen to the rest of the tunes so you’ll be singing along when we play (laughs)! There’s more than one song on the record!

CP: (Laughs) I do that all the time though! I hear one song that I really dig, and then I start to analyze it and digest it. It can take me a little while to move through the rest, but I promise I will.

FG: There’s a lot of music out there; I understand! 

CP: What are you most looking forward to about coming out to Anthology?

FG: I’m really excited! This will be our first show in America as a group, so I’m excited to get the ball rolling! Plus, we’ll be taping that night too, so we’ll use that to promote the album and the band, so it’s a very exciting evening for us too! We’re really gung ho and excited to present this music. 

Special thanks to Mr. Gambale for his time! Don’t miss this legendary guitar pioneer Thursday night!

Frank Gambale on Spotify

WHAT: Frank Gambale, Soulmine ft. Boca
WHEN: Thursday, May 3, 7:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$39 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile