Gary Willis is an American bass player, who has performed with Allan on the albums "Metal Fatigue" and "None Too Soon", and also on Allan's cover of "Michelle".
- 1 Allan Holdsworth (Guitarist 1985)
- 2 "...Where No Guitarist Has Gone Before..." (Cymbiosis 1986)
- 3 Legato Land (Guitar Techniques 1996)
- 4 Allan Holdsworth Interview (richardhallebeek.com 1996)
- 5 A Conversation With Allan Holdsworth (Abstract Logix 2005)
- 6 No Rearview Mirrors (20th Century Guitar 2007)
- 7 Gary on Allan
What are you doing at the moment?
Well, we’ve got a new album coming out soon in the States, called ‘Metal Fatigue’, on the Enigma label. I understand it’s going to be released over here, unlike the last one, Road Games’, which was on Warner Brothers, but I don’t know which label it will be on. Warner Brothers took an awful tong time to decide whether they wanted us to do another album or not, which is why this one’s taken such a long time to come out. The majority of the recording was actually done quite a while ago, and there are two different sets of personnel. On side one it was Chad Wackerman on drums, Jimmy Johnson on bass, Paul Williams on vocals and myself on guitar. On side two Gary Husband, (an original member of the IOU band) played drums, Gary Willis was on bass and Alan Pasqua played some keyboards. The first line up is the one we’re touring with at the moment, and we’re just off to Japan. Hopefully, we’re going back to the States to record the next album, which I’m really hoping will feature the SynthAxe.
Cymbiosis: You’ve gone away from keyboards in the past, especially after your U.K. and Bruford days.
Holdsworth: They were basically keyboard dominated situations, and I wanted to reverse the roles and use the guitar. For example, with Bill [Bruford], he’d always use the synthesizer above the guitar for a chordal section, just because he thought the synthesizer sounded better than the guitar. I needed to get that out of my system and escape from all the synth things. So we did the I.O.U., Road Games, and Metal Fatigue—three trio albums. So I’ve had four or five years of trio and I really felt that I wanted to do something else.
Cymbiosis: And so you recruited Billy Childs.
Holdsworth: Yeah. Originally, Alan Pasqua was the guy I first thought of in the band, because I just love the guy. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s an incredible musician.
Cymbiosis: You’ve worked with him quite a bit in the past?
Holdsworth: No, I worked with him with Tony Williams, which is the only time. (I was definitely suffering from novice behavior in those days). And it was nice to get back together to play with him again. So I asked him to play on Metal Fatigue. He played a solo on " The Un-Merry- Go-Round". On "Atavachron", because I’d written and recorded most of the music on synthesizer, I wanted to get somebody else to come and play solos. So Gary Willis, the bass player on "The Un-Merry-Go- Round”, introduced me to the piano player, Billy Childs, and he sounded great. And through working Bunny Brunei, I met Kei Akagi, who’s fantastic. He’s the guy who’s in the band now.
Cymbiosis: He’s the one we saw you with at the Roxy [L.A., 14 March 1986].
Holdsworth: That’s right, and Kei was actually going to play on some of the album, but he wasn’t available at the time. We couldn’t coordinate it, and so I asked Alan and he played on two tracks, "Atavachron" and "Mr. Berwell". Billy Childs played on "Funnels."
‘None Too Soon’ is an unusual Holdsworth album in that none of the tunes were penned by the man himself. It features compositions by jazzers such as John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Bill Evans instead.
"It’s not a trad album. It’s a bebop album, but with a wrench or two in there. I’ve got Gordon Beck on piano, and there’s Gary Willis on bass and Kirk Covington on drums. I think it turned out pretty good and we’ll probably end up doing another, but we’ll use real piano next time, as poor old Gordon had to deal with a digital one -something he’s not used to at all!"
-On your new album, the band exists of Gary Willis-Bass, Kirk Covington-Drums and Gordon Beck- Piano. This is a different band than you normally use. Why didn’t you use your own band?
I did a compilation album a few years ago where guitar players did their rendition of Beatle Tunes. When they called me I had two days left to prepare something. Coincidently, Gordon Beck, a good friend of mine and a great piano player was staying for a few weeks at my place. It was his idea to do a rendition of ‘Michelle’. Now, I’m a big fan of Gary Willis. Especially when he plays swing, he sounds fantastic. I know the conflicts that may arise between bass players and drummers, so I asked him with whom he liked to play and he said Kirk Covington. Funny, because that’s half of Scott Henderson’s band Tribal Tech. We did the song pretty fast and I really liked the way things turned out, so I decided to ask them again for my new album. The problem with my own band is that they’re living spread in all corners of the world. Chad Wackerman is currently living in Australia, Gary Husband is living in England, Skuli Sverison in New York and Steve Hunt in Boston. I can only get them together for a longer tour.In th e past things turned out pretty OK, but the last tours we didn’t make a dime. I cannot keep asking these people to play for next to nothing. That’s why I have been looking for some musician’s in the neighborhood for some time now. I’m on the right path with Kirk and Gary, but at the same time I realize it’s impossible to find a replacement for somebody like Gary Husband. It’s also about finding a soul mate, somebody who’s on the same wavelenght.’
-So you didn’t even play along while recording the basic tracks? What about the interaction between guitar and the rest of the band during solos?
It was not possible because there was just no space to place my guitar set up. Kirk hits the drums pretty loud and it appeared impossible for me to set up my stuff without getting serious signal bleed. I could have played straight in the mixing board through a Rock Man, I did that in the past. But it happens too often in a studio situation that I’m happy with a live guitar solo and then we cannot keep the take because the drummer is not happy. Or vice-versa. That’s why I quit a long time ago to work like this. In the past, I had the opinion that if a solo was not recorded live, it’s not worth listening to. But it is nearly impossible for everybody to be happy with the same take as a band in a studio situation. While recording the basic tracks, the drummer was the point of reference. If he was happy, we kept the take. Gary Willis did some overdubs here and there, at home, on his ADAT. That took approximately two days.All in all the basic tracks were finished in three to four days. If I overdub the guitar so lo I try to lock in with the music I’m hearing. In the past, the endresult sometimes sounded as if I was just not there. Lately things have been going better and better. It’s still improvisation, and that’s what’s important for me.
Bill: This particular rhythm section of Joel Taylor and Ernest Tibbs seems more interactive than others you’ve played with. Joel in particular has a real loose swing feel that seems to open the music up a bit more than usual.
Allan: Yeah, I really like playing with Joel. I started liking that approach more open approach after working with (bassist) Dave Carpenter and (drummer) Gary Novak. And then I carried on working with Dave and Joel, which was great too. And when I found Ernest, I was lucky. We needed a bass player for a few gigs and Dave Carpenter wasn’t available, and it was like the last minute deal. Gary Willis was in town so he ended up doing two of the three gigs and then Ernest came in and did the last one. He got the music from Joel, came to the gig and played really great, and we’ve been working together since then. I love working with Joel and Ernest. The vibe that they give as a rhythm section is totally different from other rhythm sections that I’ve played with. Like you say, it’s loose. And I like that. What they do together as a rhythm section also really affects what I play as a soloist, which is cool.
Bill: Does hearing other musicians have an impact on your own writing?
Allan: Definitely, yeah. For example, I went to see John Scofield when he was playing at Musicians Institute in California about five or six years ago. Gary Willis was playing bass with him and it was beautiful and incredible. Then I went home and wrote this piece of music called ‘Above and Below,’ which took me a few days to complete. And that was a direct result of hearing him play, although it sounds nothing like how he plays.
TCG: Did you like playing with some of the Tribal Tech people on the Metal Fatigue album, like Gary Willis?
AH: Oh sure! I enjoyed that record. Actually that was a funny thing because the Road Games thing wasn’t going very well and I was signed to Warner Brothers and they were trying to get me to do a bunch of stuff I didn’t want to do. They never told me before they signed me, but after the fact, because the way that the contract was written, they had to, in order to get rid of me, they had to give me the opportunity to make another demo so that they could refuse it, so they knew that they were going to refuse it, but the contract stated they had to pay for the demos the demo was Metal Fatigue, and they turned it down.
Gary on Allan
What was it like to work with Allan Holdsworth on his last album None Too Soon?
It was fun. Because of the constraints of his studio, it wasn't like we were playing with Holdsworth, because he didn't track. He added his stuff later. It was kind of a weird recording process. But it turned out fine as far as what he put on there. Part of it was his constant insistence on his mediocrity—he didn't want to be playing along, or whatever. He says he wouldn't keep anything anyway. The other thing is the size of his studio—it only had room for drums, and then me and keyboards in the control room. There wasn't actually a place to set up guitar for any useful purpose.
What did you mean by Holdworth’s "constant insistence on his mediocrity?"
He has this habit of anytime you bring up his playing in any way, especially when it's a compliment, he'll go on and on and try to quadruple the amount of time you spent complimenting with self-deprecation.
What do you think of the album?
The main problem was, we probably would have gotten a better overall vibe if we had recorded in a studio with an acoustic piano, because that's more where Gordon Beck's coming from. You know, he's an amazing keyboard player, but his whole thing is getting sounds out of a grand piano as opposed to a MIDI instrument. So that was the negative that came out of it, maybe. As a sideman, I didn't envision anything to start out with, you know. I was there to play. I can't really pass judgment on what it could have been, I don't really like to think about it that way.
But what do you think of the end result?
What it is is pretty cool, considering we were tracking without guitar and we were tracking with MIDI instead of a grand piano, which would have left it with a stronger jazz vibe, or a better feeling overall. So if you take into consideration those two factors, I think it came out pretty well.