Toulouse Engelhardt doesnt make a lot of albums but when
he does, its 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 dont 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!
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Whats doing in California? I cant 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 1950s 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
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 dont release a lot of albums, but
when you do its 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 60s. 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
right... its 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 Ive
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 its 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
wont 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.
Its cool therapy and speaking of psychology, one of the biggest
mental hang-ups that some recording artists including myself have
Can I make a new record that is even better than my debut
Its 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
its in your new found technical prowess, composing skills and
invention or just an aggressive willingness to explore uncharted worlds
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 dont 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 dont get into this crazy music biz. Stay in school
and study hard you wont regret it Well sorry Wes, I didnt
take your advice!
mwe3: What about the cover art of Mind Gardens? (lol)
Who designed the CD packaging and artwork? Its 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 dont 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
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 youre doing today?
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?
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. Theyre
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
Kottkes first manager and agent and got him his big deal on
Capitol Records. I cant 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 thats
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 wasnt 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?
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
its a solo guitar album right?
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 1880s. 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.
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 70s 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 Faheys 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!
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 dont
listen to other finger style guitarists much anymore. I dont
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.
Tell us about your initial interest in surf-music back in the 1960s
and how did you get the Segovia Of Surf moniker? We didnt
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 90s 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 wasnt 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
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 wasnt long, and playing by ear
only that I pretty much mastered all the tracks on the recording!
Ironically, Ive 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 Dont 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
Toulouse Engelhardt: Good question. Basically Im pretty
lazy. I play when I feel like it! I just dont 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 cant stop until either I lose interest in the work
or it starts to drive me crazy! If I dont 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?
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! Its all about momentum so there is already
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