TOULOUSE ENGELHARDT
Mind Gardens
(Lost Grove Arts)

 

Guitarist Toulouse Engelhardt doesn’t make a lot of albums but when he does, it’s certain to be of interest to music and guitar fans. Toulouse was part of the “Takoma 7”, a group of finger style guitarists who recorded instrumental guitar music for Takoma Records back in the 1960s and 1970s. Other guitarists that were part of that group were label head John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Fans of both of those legends will catch a buzz upon hearing Mind Gardens, the 2014 studio album from Toulouse Engelhardt. The 13 track mostly acoustic instrumental CD is filled with 6 and 12 string acoustic guitar excursions that runs the gamut from instrumental Americana, New Age, Spanish style classical guitar, jazz, folk and more. Enthusiastically, Toulouse admits Mind Gardens is his finest album and in the following interview he tells mwe3.com, “Mind Gardens is my best effort to date simply because it encapsulates all of the above ingredients and captures the essence of my musical expression and maturity at this time in my life. I have always said that the guitar is a universe onto itself. The longer I play the more I realize that I really don’t know anything at all for the perpendicular and parallel lines intersect to form wondrous sounds just like the endless combinations of nucleotides inside a DNA molecule create wondrous phenotypes.” From a guitar perspective, Mind Gardens is quite diverse in its scope but sonic diversity and daring fretboard maneuvers is the beauty of the Toulouse Engelhardt guitar sound. The state of the art for instrumental 12 string guitar music reaches new heights of sonic excellence with Mind Gardens. It is quite rightly one of the finest acoustic instrumental guitar albums so far in the 21st century! www.ToulouseMusic.com




mwe3.com presents an interview with
TOULOUSE ENGELHARDT



mwe3
: What’s doing in California? I can’t believe another year over and a new one, 2015 just beginning. You live pretty much near where you grew up right? Where are you living these days? What year did you move from Wisconsin to California?

Toulouse Engelhardt: I have spent the majority of my life living in Southern California beach culture. My folks moved to San Francisco from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the early 1950’s and then we migrated south to Hermosa Beach, finally ending up in Palos Verdes in 56’. It was here that I experienced firsthand the “Gidget” scene, waves, overdoses of UV light and was first exposed to the driving “wet” sounds of instrumental rock and its reverb soaked tribal thunder.

mwe3: Guitar fans will freak out when and if they get a chance to hear your new Mind Gardens CD. Is there a story as to when the Mind Gardens recording sessions took place and when the album fell into place? You don’t release a lot of albums, but when you do it’s a very memorable event! I think it's safe to say that Mind Gardens is your best album yet.

Toulouse Engelhardt: The concept of my new release began to synthesize about a year and a half ago. I have a fabulous sound engineer, named Mark Smaniotto who has a very cool studio about two blocks away from where the “King of the Surf Guitar” Dick Dale used to live back in the early 60’s. I would just called him up when I was ready to lay down a track and say “lets go” and the rest is history. As we finished up one tune the “Domino Effect” would initiate and before we knew it we had a killer project in the can! After much experimentation, I decided to return to the “Toullusions” formula that captivated guitar fans many years ago. I used a Spanish guitar work to open the album as an evocation and another to close out the record as an epilogue kind of like bookends. Then place all the high energy, free form 12 string solos and ensemble works in the middle.

You’re right... it’s a big deal when I release a new record simply because I put so much thought and quality control into each of my compositions. So what if it takes me 10 years between releases? For that I’ve been called the “Zen Cat of Acoustic Guitar “because I just float around in a timeless void putting out 5 star albums about once every total solar eclipse! For me it’s all about art not commercialism! Lets face it folks, to pursue a career as a solo acoustic guitarist you have to be a little bit crazy because there are little financial rewards in this field no matter how gifted you are. The big labels won’t touch you unless you can move 25,000 copies in the first week of release. And nobody and I mean nobody in the field of solo guitar has ever done that! For me I just do it because it keeps my sanity or I would have probably gone off the deep end many years ago. It’s cool therapy and speaking of psychology, one of the biggest mental hang-ups that some recording artists including myself have is … Can I make a new record that is even better than my debut album?

It’s especially difficult when your first album was an instant classic! When my first album Toullusions was released in 1976, by Fahey and Takoma Records, no one including me expected the huge amount of accolades and praise the album was going to get! So you have the tendency to always want to challenge yourself more and more with a new project and that is probably good in the end! You want to demonstrate your musical growth as a guitarist and composer, whether it’s in your new found technical prowess, composing skills and invention or just an aggressive willingness to explore uncharted worlds of sound.

Mind Gardens is my best effort to date simply because it encapsulates all of the above ingredients and captures the essence of my musical expression and maturity at this time in my life. I have always said that “The guitar is a universe onto itself. The longer I play the more I realize that I really don’t know anything at all for the perpendicular and parallel lines intersect to form wondrous sounds just like the endless combinations of nucleotides inside a DNA molecule create wondrous phenotypes.” It all seems so strange to me now, for I remember so well what Wes Montgomery said to me that night at the backstage door of the Lighthouse Café in 1966’ “Kid don’t get into this crazy music biz. Stay in school and study hard you won’t regret it” Well sorry Wes, I didn’t take your advice!

mwe3: What about the cover art of Mind Gardens? (lol) Who designed the CD packaging and artwork? It’s good to see that recording artists are still designing cool album covers! Are you planning to use the artwork on larger vinyl LP releases or how about in a video?

Toulouse Engelhardt: The album cover design comes from my intensive library collection of Sci/Fi first editions and other memorabilia. The original artwork was taken from an vintage Sci/Fi pulp magazine published in 1929 entitled: “Marooned On Andromeda”! Oh yeah there is a video in the works as of today. I don’t want to announce anything just yet, but we are in the process of making a full-on Hollywood production music video of my version of “The Wedge” - one of the hottest tracks on the new record. Look for that and the reissue of my entire music catalog on audiophile vinyl in 2015!

mwe3: I remember you said that Roger McGuinn, back when he was Jim, and his 12 string was a big influence on you and you even said that The Byrds got to play your high school back in the 1960s. Do you remember that show? I guess McGuinn was really the first rock star to become famous for his 12 string guitar and you also followed in a similar yet distinctly different way, except what other 12 string instrumentalist is doing what you’re doing today?

Toulouse Engelhardt: Do I remember the show? It was a turning point in my career! The Byrds had been at the “Top of the Pops” for sometime when they came to my high school in October of 1966. When Roger McGuinn walked on stage and began picking that Rickenbacker electric 12 string I was sold. I dug the “power of the twang”. I remember saying to myself... Someday buddy you are going to be doing that and believe it or not, seven years later almost to the day, I got my first really big break in the “biz”. I was asked to join the “Byrds” on their final American tour as their support act in 1971. How cool is that?

mwe3: So what guitars are you mostly playing on the Mind Gardens CD mostly and what other gear did you use to help you get your sound on the CD? Can you tell us something about your finger style approach? Do you use guitar picks or mostly finger picking techniques?

Toulouse Engelhardt: Each song has its own signature sound just like each guitar has its own personality which fits the message of the tune that I am trying to bring to visual imagery. On the album I switch back and forth between a couple of custom axes. I play in numerous tunings schemes... whatever it takes to achieve my compositional goals. I have three 12 strings lying around my pad so my options are many.

My finger picking technique is as diverse as my compositions. They’re all here, alternating bass, contrapuntal bass lines interwoven with fast thumb movements over a palette of “Shotgun Guitar” - a term that was first coined by my friend Denny Bruce, who was Leo Kottke’s first manager and agent and got him his big deal on Capitol Records. I can’t speak for most of my “Takoma 7” contemporaries but I know Fahey, Kottke and Lang used National Steel finger picks at sometime as I still do today! Most of the endless array of contemporary finger style guitarists out there today prefer to use their nails, because it gives them more control, but that’s impossible for me to do when you play the 12 string as ferociously as I do! I show my guitars no mercy! Every time I pick up the guitar I would end up giving myself a manicure if it wasn’t for those brass picks! (lol)

mwe3: You left the music business for a while just as the CD arrived. Why did you leave music and recording I believe you said in the mid 1980s?

Toulouse Engelhardt: No regrets! It was a personal decision to pack my bags and split. There was a lot of collateral damage from all angles; record companies, management, agents and other demons. I never stopped playing, I just stopped performing “live”, touring and recording. The pressure of Santa Monica Blvd., “Hollyweird”, huge egos and jealous back stabbers and the fact that if you wanted a real record deal and a legitimate agent you would have to crank out 2-3 albums per year. It was just too much pressure and insanity on this twenty something punk kid! So I vanished…

I knew if I stopped performing that I would lose all my momentum and I did for a decade. Then the pendulum began to swing back in my direction when Hollywood Records; a Walt Disney Company signed me in 1996.

mwe3
: Who else was involved in the making of the Mind Gardens album including engineers, studio people, sound people? I know one track, the closing number has a guest artist but for everything else it’s a solo guitar album right?

Toulouse Engelhardt: I decided to produce the album myself. That would insure that I would had complete quality control over all aspects of the production and mix. Just little ole’ me and my trusty sound engineer. No backseat drivers here. I knew what I wanted and the sound I had to achieve!

Besides all the solos on the record, I have always wanted to write a composition or two for an ensemble so on this project there are two pieces. The “Lady Of The Light”, a tone poem about a famous lighthouse ghost, where I used musical forms to create visual imagery like Claude Debussy did during the 1880’s. The palette for this tune is a series of Neapolitan layers of 12 string guitar where for the first time ever I overdub a melodic line composed only of harmonics on top of the 12 string finger picking measures. This idea was used very effectively back in 1960 with the instrumental hit “Apache” by Jorgan Ingmann.

My second ensemble work here was “Dialogue With An English Rill”. This was my first attempt at composing a duet for 2 different instruments, the alto flute and Spanish guitar. The flute parts were performed by award winning flutist Mary Palchak and the score was a transcribed for the alto flute by a twenty year old string bass prodigy, Tim Jensen. I was very pleased with their professionalism in the studio and beyond and the results speak for themselves! For more info on each tune spec. go to my blog at www.toulousemusic.tumblr.com

mwe3: What was working with John Fahey like and how did you meet him? You were part of the “Takoma 7” guitar scene spearheaded by Fahey. What do you consider to be the definitive Fahey album and can you tell us something about John Fahey that we might not know about him? In what ways would you say you were influenced by Fahey and the others in the Takoma 7?

Toulouse Engelhardt Fahey was a very strange cat. I first met John in the early 70’s after I returned to Hollywood from the Byrds tour. I must have walked through 10 piles of turtle poop before I actually talked with him. We had submitted a demo to him through my first producer maestro Chris Darrow of Kaleidoscope/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band fame and “Mr. Bluegrass” himself, John DelGatto who was a close friend of the Byrds’ fabulous guitarist Clarence White. I still have Fahey’s crazy letters he wrote me after he heard my recordings. One day he would say he thought my music was a bunch of crap and then the next day he would write again and say my solos were some of the best stuff he had ever heard in his life! Strange cat?

His criticism of my work was a hard pill to shallow, but as the years went on I began to realize that he was trying to help me reach my potential! I remember him saying to me in his funny high pitched vibrato voice;” You are the next guy… the next gunslinger who will enter the OK Corral. You need to develop your own style so experiment with more odd tunings, slide, minor keys” In the end he was right and I appreciated him as my mentor. I have no idea who came up with the catchy “Takoma 7” concept, but it had a nice hook to it and it has stuck around for years now. Actually it should be the “Takoma 8”. They forgot one of my fave Takoma guitarists, Fred Gerlach who played sea chanteys, cowboy hymns and all kinds of other weird stuff on 12 string too just like me!

mwe3: Leo Kottke, was another member of the Takoma 7 who became pretty well known over the years. You and Leo have a similarly eclectic guitar approach in some ways.

Toulouse Engelhardt: In the beginning, I was heavily influenced by all of my fellow label mates one way or another and a lot of other fabulous finger style guitarists that never got the credit they deserve and have disappeared into oblivion! Now after all these years, I have moved on in a completely different direction. In fact, I really don’t listen to other finger style guitarists much anymore. I don’t see any point to it! I would much rather listen to John Coltrane or maybe a Poulanc or a Debussy concerto because my tonal explorations send me on a different sonic odyssey now. A place where I set my own standards for my playing and composing. I think you can sense that I am in my own “orbit” when you listen to Mind Gardens.

mwe3: Tell us about your initial interest in surf-music back in the 1960s and how did you get the “Segovia Of Surf” moniker? We didn’t get a lot of surf music back in New York City so I always envied the west coast musicians! Why do you think surf-rock instrumental music has maintained such a high interest level over the decades?

Toulouse Engelhardt: The press tagged me with the moniker “The Segovia of Surf” back in the 90’s when the editor of one of the major surfing magazines saw me perform! I was drawn to instrumental rock like a magnet because it has simple melodic lines that are transfixed upon tribal rhythms buried in a tsunami of reverberation. I was always good at writing melodic lines, but had no interest in writing lyrics.

It wasn’t long before I discovered The Ventures, Dick Dale and the Deltones, the Astronauts, and all the other fab garage bands that began multiplying across suburbia here in Southern California back in the early ‘60s. These bands sprouted up everywhere, in fact the band Eddie And The Showmen, who were signed to Liberty Records, used to rehearse on the next street over from my folks house in Palos Verdes. It was so cool standing in my parents patio, next to burning tiki torches and funky rattan furniture hearing “Squad Car” on the next street over blasting out of a pair of blond Fender Duel Showman amps!

mwe3: How big an influence was Wes Montgomery? The story of you meeting Wes and letting you play his guitar when you were 13 is pretty amazing. Is that amazing meeting still fresh in your mind? What do you think Wes would have thought about Mind Gardens? What is your favorite Wes track or album?

Toulouse Engelhardt: That story of our meeting has now officially entered the annals of jazz folklore. I was a young 13 year old punk eager to learn anything I could about the instrument. By this time I had already outgrown surf music and wanted to explore greater technical challenges so I turned to jazz. The first album I bought was Movin’ Wes which blew my mind! It wasn’t long, and playing by ear only that I pretty much mastered all the tracks on the recording! Ironically, I’ve only had 2 guitar lessons in my life, the first was from jazz great Larry Carlton who came to my parents house and taught me how to play “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures and then came that infamous meeting with jazz great Wes Montgomery at the backdoor of the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach back in 66’
when his album Tequila had just been released by Verne Records. In fact, my good friend Bob Knight who was the sax player in Eddie And The Showmen just sent Larry Carlton a copy of Mind Gardens last week as a Xmas gift from me to show him my respect and gratitude!

mwe3: How much do you practice to keep in shape? How much time is spent between practicing guitar, writing and arranging music and recording as well as promoting yourself and trying to stay healthy and active?

Toulouse Engelhardt: Good question. Basically I’m pretty lazy. I play when I feel like it! I just don’t have the discipline it takes to rehearse 6-8 hours a day. I take it one gig and one day at a time! Composing comes in waves... no pun intended. Once I get on a roll I can’t stop until either I lose interest in the work or it starts to drive me crazy! If I don’t get “goose bumps” when I finish composing a new piece, I put the melodies back in my mental vault until a new metamorphisis occurs and the idea regenerates itself in another composition.

mwe3
: Looking ahead, what musical plans are you planning for writing, producing and performing new music in 2015?

Toulouse Engelhardt: My goal for the New Year is to hit the road, have lots of fun promoting Mind Gardens and focus on entertaining my fans new and old! It’s all about momentum so there is already a huge publicity and radio campaign in the works for Mind Gardens in 2015 so lets see what happens... Cowabunga!



Thanks to Toulouse Engelhardt @ www.ToulouseMusic.com and www.toulousemusic.tumblr.com

 


 

 

 
   
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