‘Just listen to this album and thank all the gods that you’ve got ears.’ So ran the MetalTalk review of The Dio Album, the latest release from Paul Gilbert, which will be released tomorrow. In a wide-ranging interview, Paul also spoke about Mr Big, Hendrix, Yngwie and his early days from learning with one finger to The Guitar Institute.
You can read part one of the Paul Gilbert interview, where we celebrate the re-telling of the Dio story at the hands of Paul’s genius, here.
Mr. Big have announced The Big Finish, a final worldwide tour in which the band’s set will include the entire Lean Into It album. With the passing of drummer and co-founder Pat Torpey, who lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease in 2018, Gilbert, Eric Martin and Billy Sheehan will be joined by Nick D’Virgilio.
“We formed in 1989,” Paul told MetalTalk’s Mark Rotherham. “That’s a long time ago, and I think we all sort of came to the idea together. I think it just felt right. To me, the way I think about it is, I think we have enough energy and ability to really do it right one last time. And I love the idea of doing the whole Lean Into It record, which is going to be challenging, but I think we can do it.
“I love the drummer. We got Nick D’Virgilio, and I think he’s the perfect choice. I was able to jam with him at Sweetwater about a year ago, and it just reminded me of the groove that Pat Torpey gave to the band. Plus, he’s a lead singer, which was something that Pat Torpey brought to the band as well. So, to me, everything is coming together in the right way for it.”
“I’m excited because I want to try to do one thing that I haven’t done in a long time, which is an ’80s-style shred guitar solo,” Paul says. “Billy Sheehan is really good at that. Billy has this bass solo that he’s been doing for years, like the ’80s style, going crazy, free-form. In the previous Mr Big tours, I’ve been like, well, I don’t really want to do that. I want to have more rhythm or try to do it bluesy or something.
“So I thought, I wanted to go back in time on this one and just shred, and kind of remember my heroes that did it, like Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Akira Takasaki, you know, that kind of ’80s style of just going for it. I’m a little rusty with that. It’s not what I work on every day. When I teach at my school, I really try to get everybody to play with structure and rhythm and melody, but I’m gonna give myself license to throw off those shackles and just tear up the place. So, I’m curious to see what, given that assignment, I can come up with.”
Paul started playing the guitar at a young age. “I had no idea how to play when I was first playing,” he said. “I didn’t even know how to tune. My solution for that was to only play the low E string. Basically, I just thought that was the coolest-sounding string. It was loud, it was low, and it just resonated the most. So I had one finger, one string, and I worked out the riff in 25 or 6 to 4, the Chicago song, and I played just that riff.
“I made myself practice for an hour, which is almost unbelievable because to play a riff that lasts five seconds for an hour, that’s like torture. So much repetition. But I somehow did that, and then I think the second one I learned was a Cheech and Chong riff. I think the song is called Earache My Eye. I figured that out on one string.
“After that, I don’t even remember, but it was all just these one-string riffs, and that was great training ground for the Dio album because a lot of the vocal melodies I was doing on one string with one finger. So, as much as sometimes when I look back in my early days, I felt like I had wasted time, like, oh, if I only had had a good teacher, I would have learned more techniques sooner, but having that ability to play with one finger, and play horizontally, that gave me kind of a superpower, because normally you wouldn’t do that. Normally, you go right to the Pentatonic scale, and so I’m kind of glad that I spent time doing that because it really paid off with vocal abilities.”
Paul would go to The Guitar Institute. “I went a long time ago,” he says. “when I was a student in 1984 and 1985, and it was great. I had mainly learned hard rock and Metal on guitar, but I went there, and there were so many amazing players of different styles, both teachers and students, and a really high level of students.
“Jimmy Herring was in my class, and he went on to be a totally great professional musician. The picking that revolutionised my whole first instructional video I got from a student. But, the thing about the teachers, they had so many different styles. They were jazz fingerstyle teachers and funk teachers and blues teachers and fusion teachers and all these styles, and when I heard them play, I would hear it, and I would go, I know there’s not enough time in my life to go that deep, but I can still get something from it, and I can kind of feel the magic of that style because that person has gone deep.
“And to be able to sit in close proximity and go, okay, well, I might not be able to go that far, but I’m going to get something from it and work it into my own style. And I did that with Mr Big, with the finger-picked intro to Just Take My Heart. That was totally a technique I learned at Guitar Institute for Technology from a country player. There are so many things that I got from the teachers and students.”
Paul is known as a very fast guitar player. Was that always the plan? “It was a slow evolution,” he says. “I slowly became a fast guitar player and I think I was very patient about it. I could hear fast before I could play fast.
“All of this was before the internet or anything. I was connecting with the local musicians, and I would try to join a band. When I was eleven I joined a band, and I remember my first encounter with a fast guitar player. I was twelve and I was playing in a band, and the guys in the band said, we’ve got a friend who’s a really amazing guitar player, he’s going to come over and we want you to hear him.
“And so, this guy they were talking about came over and could play really fast, but I could hear that although he could play fast, it was fairly messy. He was moving his hands fast, but it had a lot of rough edges, and I didn’t want to have rough edges, I wanted to be in control of it. One of the metaphors I use for playing guitar, it’s like driving a car. It’s pretty easy to just put your foot down on the gas pedal and make the engine go, but the steering is the tricky part because you don’t want to be running over children and small animals and crashing into a tree.
“So I would hear other fast players and go, man, they’re running, they’re just hitting everything, and it’s chaos. I thought I want to get my steering and my brakes together before I go pressing the gas pedal down. And so that was why it took me longer to get it under control. But when I did get it under control, the fast part came easily because I could steer. So that was the thing. I never really felt like I had a natural twitch that I saw on some of the other players, but just had an ear that had very high standards. I wouldn’t let myself run into that tree.”
Paul Gilbert wrote Viking Kong with the hope of performing a duet with Yngwie Malmsteen, but that is yet to happen. “But I’d love to,” Paul says. “I’m a huge fan. If we did, that, to me, would just be fun. I would just play rhythm and listen to him play. I’m a fan, so why do I need to play? I’d rather listen to him.
“But it’s interesting with guitar players playing together, whoever it is. I think guitar players tend to be competitive. We tend to want to have all the space for ourselves. And so to get into a situation where we’re willing to trade off, or we’re willing to share or listen to each other, that’s something you have to really try to make happen.
“To me, that’s one of the things that was really a great lesson from Joe Satriani’s G3 tour. Joe is really good at organising that, setting that up, where us selfish guitar players can suddenly realise, like, hey, it actually can be a really gratifying experience to listen to the other guy and to have this conversation. It’s something that I think we have to be pushed into it a little bit, but once we’re in that situation, it can be surprisingly rewarding.”
Jimi Hendrix very famously took a right-handed guitar, flipped it around and played it left-handed. Has Paul ever been tempted to do the same thing with a left-handed guitar? “Oh, sure,” he says. “I’ve got this left-handed Strat. And you have to put a new nut on it and get the notches filed so that it works when you flip the strings around. I also had to have the knobs modified with a rubber washer because you keep bumping into them because they’re under your arm.
“So I had those stiffened up so they won’t move easily. But the thing about that is it’s really hard to play high notes because the lower horn stops your hand. And it made me realise nobody has ever listened to Hendrix and thought, oh, there’s not enough high notes, like somehow it’s okay to not play those really high notes.
“And that was a good lesson. The upside-down guitar has a certain Hendrix style. The thing about it was just when I play that upside-down Strat, it’s one step closer.”
Would a tour with Mr Big and Racer X together on the same bill be a good thing? “I’d love to be in the audience for that,” Paul says. “But to be a player for that, I would just be tired out. That might be more physical exertion than I can handle.
“But I’m certainly proud of both bands, and I keep in touch with the Racer X guys as well. It’s not only a band I’m connected to musically, but the Racer X members are some of my best friends in the world. So I’m always happy whenever I can hang with them.”
For Paul, The Big Finish is intended to be just that. “My intention is that this is the final go, and just give it everything we got,” he says. “That makes sense, feels right, and that’s my intention.
Now, you know, the world is full of surprises, but to me, it feels good to plan with intention and to accomplish what you set out to do.”
Paul Gilbert, The Dio Album, is out tomorrow. For more details, visit https://lnk.to/PaulGilbert.