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Gilroy Life — John Garcia on His Music

GILROY LIFE

Friday, September 7, 2001

John Garcia on His Music

By JODI ENGLE

Lifestyles Editor GILROY

But Garcia never got swept away by the thrills of the road, always returning to Gilroy. Now, he teaches guitar lessons and has a day job, making time for his passion by performing on the side. Recently, he self-produced a CD titled “To All My Heroes” which recognizes his musical inspirations. In the album, he captures the feeling of the music he heard in the Bay Area during the late ’60s and 70s. Garcia sat down with The Dispatch to discuss his roots. Gilroy native John Garcia has been playing the guitar for over 30 years with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Paul Simon, Bo Diddley and Bonnie Raitt. He toured as lead guitarist with John Lee Hooker for five years and is featured on two of Hooker’s CDs.

The Dispatch: How did you learn to play the guitar?

John Garcia: Well, I am self-taught. It’s kind of weird, too, I was about 16 or 17 and I liked the music and I had never really thought about playing the music, but I heard this Dick Dale song ‘Miserlou’ on the radio. In fact, I didn’t know it was Dick Dale at the time. It was a surf instrumen­tal. The guitar knocked me out and I said I want to play guitar. His song just opened my ears to guitar. I remember my mom surprised me and got me an acoustic and I started bang­ing away…

D: When did you find out that you were, you know, pretty good at this?

JG: I’m still trying to be pretty good at this. I practiced really hard the first three, four years. I was just ferocious. My mother used to have to knock on the door and say, ‘Hey are you all right in there?’ I just wouldn’t come out of the room. If I wasn’t in school or I wasn’t working, I was in the room 10, 12 hours. All of my friends would come by and want to go out and I would go ‘nah not today.’ I would put records on and I would try to play the songs note for note. 1 think those three years that I spent… I think that those are the three to four years that helped develop me where I felt like I was somewhat of a decent player, but I never really felt like I was a really, really good player until I had been into it about 20 years, because I’ve been playing a long time…

D: So in those early years did you play pretty much around Gilroy, and even to San Jose and San Francisco?

JG: Yeah, pretty much. The very early years it was mostly

Gilroy, Hollister, Morgan Hill, San Martin. That’s about all you had, maybe go over into Watsonville. Then of course into the 70’s then we kind of branched out to Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Francisco.

D: You were in your 20s still when you started to play for John Lee Hooker. How did that happen?

JG: … Basically, I developed a good friendship with him. I knew him for a good year. It was not one of these things like ‘hey like let me play in your band.’ It was never about that… about a year and a half or so, he had a spot open. He hadn’t even seen me play. He had just heard about me from friends. He offered me a spot, and I took it.

D: What was it like touring? You got to go to Europe and to Carnegie Hall to perform.

JG: Oh, it was great. It was a lot of work. It was pretty hard, because we didn’t make a whole lot of money. It was pretty prestigious. We played at a lot of really incredible places. What can I tell you? It was amazing. I got a chance to play with so many people that I admired, either on the same bill or actually play with them. Behind the scenes talking and just getting to know people. It was amazing. I think the first couple of years I wouldn’t have even cared if I

D: Hooker is kind of known for, especially during live performances, for taking a few liberties with the material. How did you manage to stay on your toes?

JG: I got used to it. There was a lot of people that actually couldn’t play with him, because he drops beats in the measures and he changes abruptly. Musicians that are real schooled, that go by the numbers, they wouldn’t be able to follow him, because it doesn’t go by the book. You had to feel it. For me, I didn’t really ever have a problem playing behind him…

D: What other career highlights are there would you say, it’s kind of a big span between 1980 when you finished playing with Hooker until now?

JG: I still manage to do some pretty cool things. I got to work with Otis Rush a few years ago, he was a famous Chicago Blues guitarist. That was kind of a big thing for me, because I was always a big fan of Otis Rush. 1 worked with Bo Diddley. That was exciting. In the mid­dle to late ’80s, I worked with Katie Webster. She’s a real great singer, piano player, kind of Cajun, New Orleans style. She’s making it pretty big right now… On and off I actually work with John Lee’s son John Lee Hooker, Jr. A couple years back we went up to Alaska and played Blues on the Green Festival with Otis Rush and Bo Diddley. I might not be doing a lot of it, you know, but I real­ly wouldn’t want to be out on the road two or three months out of the year, because it’s kind of a rough life. Going out on small, little runs here and there is a lot more fun. I am still trying to stay as active as possible. With a CD out now I really want to try and push that up. Hopefully next year we’ll be playing out a lot more and doing festivals. We did a little bit of work this year but we’ll have some really cool stuff happening next year. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m optimistic that it’s going to be a great year.

D: I’m glad you brought up the CD. What made you decide to put these songs together and self-produce it?

JG: And finally do it! It was something I always had on my mind, part of it was time and money and all of the other stuff that kind of gets in the way. But it was a dream I had and I guess I never let it go. I was going to do it last year and I was going to do it the year before and then finally I said you know what now…

D: You dedicated your album to your mother on the inside cover. Why?

JG: She always told me to follow my Star. She used to come out to the early beginning, rinky dink little shows. She was always there. She used to say if you ever make it make it big, well you can buy me a nice house on the hill. We used to have these little jokes and kid around. I often thought that if I ever made any real money that would be something I would definitely want to do. But sadly enough she was taken. When she was 40-45 she passed away…

D: Do you think she’d be happy with it?

JG: Oh yeah, I know she would. I know she’d dig it.

D: An interesting thing about this CD is that it is kind of a tribute to all of the musical influences in your life, why did you decide to do that?

JG: I always felt that anybody that’s here on this planet has been influenced by their family, their friends, heroes so to speak. We all have and we’re just carrying on a tradition and an extension of those people…

D: Do you have a favorite song on the CD?

JG: I kind of like the whole thing. I guess it’s all good.

D: You wrote nine of the 13 songs.

JG: I wanted to do more covers. And then I thought well you know I have written a lot of my own stuff. I think it’s important that you do some original tunes of your own, because that’s who you are. It just kind of fell into place that way.

D: How has it been selling?

JG: It’s actually been going real good. I’m excited and people are liking it. That’s the thing, because you never know. They actually dig it. I get some calls. I just get stopped on the street… It makes me feel really good. I’m ready to do another one.

D: What kind of role have you played in the Blues community in the South Bay?

JG: I think I’ve contributed quite a lot. There’s actually been some articles kind of attributing to that, but I’m not going to toot my own horn. I feel like I’m an important part. There’s a few of us that were here doing it long before other people, when it really wasn’t that popu­lar. A good friend of mine who I feel was

The Dispatch • Friday, September 7, 2001 > D8

important is Gary Smith Blues Band out of Cupertino. Gary is still around and still playing. We’re going to see a lot more out of him. Great Harmonica play­er. But he had one of the first bands where a lot of really good players played in his band and went on to play in a lot of other really good bands that actually were well known, Robin Ford being one of them. Robin was the first guitarist in Gary’s band. I took Robin’s spot when Robin got hired to play with Charlie Musselwhite. So there’s like a circle of us. We were all kind of coming up at the same time period. You know people like Chris Cane, he’s kind of a local legend. He came up during that same time peri­od. There’s about a half dozen of us that were really out there. Then you had a few really prestigious people move to the area, like Charlie Musselwhite who actually lived in San Jose for a time and Luther Tucker, he was a great guitarist from Chicago. He played with all the greats like Sunnyboy Williamson and Little Walter, James Cotton. So there was kind of a thriving little scene. In the early 70s there were some really good players. A lot of really good musicians and we were kind of the only people doing it. There was a lot of other people who came later on because of what we were doing. So I guess we’re kind of elder statesmens of the Blues here on the West Coast. But, yeah, I do feel that I helped in some way.

John Garcia’s CD is available at Monterey Street Music, 7423 Monterey St., Gilroy or at www.harmonicamasterclass.com/johngarcia.htm.