Tasmania Live
(Gillazilla Records)


Florida-based guitarist Richard Gilewitz has long been on the musical radar of guitar fans for years. Richard’s 2004 album, Thumbsing drew praises from the guitar community and he has returned in recent years with several new albums including a 2011 album called Tasmania Live. Inspired by the 1981 album, John Fahey Live In Tasmania, Richard’s Tasmania Live is very much rooted in the Fahey style of finger-style acoustic instrumental guitar music, jazzed-up with a liberal dose of Ragtime-flavored acoustic guitar magic. Recorded live at the old theatre at the University Of Tasmania in Australia, the 22 track CD features covers some of the most famous guitar music of all time with many of the tracks penned by guitarists with huge names like Kaukonen, Fahey and Kottke. Along with a sprinkling of originals, Tasmania Live is a good example of the Gilewitz live concert experience. More recent from Richard is his latest single called “Fuschia Circle North” released in 2017 through CD baby. There’s a definite Irish music lilt to the track, which features Richard’s guitar performing a duet with fellow guitarist Stephen Housden along with some excellent flute work by Margaret Kennedy. In addition to his inspiring acoustic guitar work, Richard Gilewitz is also a renowned music instructor and his latest book on Mel Bay is called First Lessons: Fingerstyle Ukulele. An easy how-to book for aspiring Uke fans, the 40 page book includes plenty of easy to read sheet music featuring Uke transcriptions of song classics from “Bicycle Built For Two” to “Waltzing Matilda”. Guitar fans could also learn learn something from the easy to read, melody lines that accompany the chord transcriptions as well as the song histories of each track. With so many albums and music books to his credit, Richard Gilewitz is a true renaissance man of the fretboard world. presents an interview with
Richard Gilewitz

mwe3: We haven’t spoke in several years. I remember featuring you in 20th century guitar magazine. So tell us about your current tour in Australia. You’ve played there before because you have some friends down under right, so when are you returning to Florida?

Richard Gilewitz: I believe this is my 6th or 7th tour to Australia and I've actually been to New Zealand about 15 times. Funny enough it all started with a pig… didn't that happen also with the Hatfields and McCoys as well? My wife sent one of my CDs to an agent with Flying Piglet Productions in New Zealand who primarily worked with singer songwriters. Since her husband Pete, a well to do pig farmer, was a big fan of my style she took me on for a try and the tour went well. Soon afterwards Australia being in the reasonable proximity of a 4 hour flight, wound up in the touring scheme. I have made so many friends in both countries and we always stay in touch. I will be returning to Florida after 3 months on the road in Hungary, Austria, Germany, New Zealand and Australia the end of June 2018. Touring that long is simply put, weird. It's almost like we live on a planet.

mwe3: Seems like you’ve been focusing more upon issuing single tracks rather than full length CDs these days. You have recently released a new single called “Fuschia Circle North”. Funny how it was inspired by your first home in Florida yet recorded in Ireland with fellow guitarist Stephen Housden from the Little River Band. How did you meet Stephen and what else can you tell us about “Fuschia Circle North”?

Richard Gilewitz: CD's will sell periodically at shows and I believe the reason they do is because people either want to have a memory of the night, support the artist, or gift someone. However everyone knows that sales are down in that arena and many artists do seem to be going digitally on line. I still try to respect the recording process and try to offer the best quality possible but singles can achieve nearly instant international recognition and so the need to put out an entire CD release doesn't grab me as much as focusing on a particular tune.

Funny thing about this tune is that the initial lick or motif began in Australia. I had just finished a tour, had three days off, and as I noodled around I came up with a little pattern that stuck and developed over time. When I was at the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival in Ireland I played it for Stephen at his house and he couldn't seem to get it out of his head. I had met Stephen at this same festival many many years before and we've become great friends. That evening he asked me to stick around, have dinner and record the tune in his studio, which we did in a straight shot between 9pm and 3am. I borrowed one of his guitars, played it straight through with a couple of sequence changes by Stephen, put on the headphones, and using my original take as a sort of click track, grabbed a different guitar in his studio and played the entire piece note for note. I still don't know how I did that! Stephen created somewhat of a natural chorus effect with the two guitars with somewhat of a panning process but there were actually no effects used.

He then invited his flute player, Margaret Kennedy over to listen to the recording and create a melody. A bit later after I had flown home Stephen added some little bits and riffs here and there and the tune was born. It was one of the most fun times I've ever had in the studio. Normally it's an incomprehensibly nerve wracking experience for me but this felt like a true team effort and although exhausted I was very proud, honored to work with two world class players, and I had a blast.

mwe3: I’m glad to have heard your Live In Tasmania album, which goes back to 2011. Was the 1981 album by John Fahey also called Live In Tasmania a big inspiration to go there to record? What is Tasmania like? I thought it was in Africa. I heard it was the coldest day of the year there when you recorded? Funny how it’s winter there when it’s summer here. Steve Gadd wrote the liner notes to the CD. I thought it was drummer Steve Gadd but it’s a different Steve Gadd right?

Richard Gilewitz: After a couple of more trips to the region, someone in Tasmania Australia caught wind that I was fairly close and invited me to do a repeat effort of what my guitar hero John Fahey had done 30 years before... do a live recording in Tasmania. Turned out my friend Steve Gadd, not the drummer, was at John’s show and knew of my connection with him since Fahey and I did a couple of short tours together and my ex-wife was his booking agent, briefly.

John Fahey's recording was actually called Live in Tasmania! and so when I did my recording I didn't have a lot to work with in the way of titles so I simply said, Tasmania Live! I believe you're thinking of Tanzania... maybe I'll play there one day! To go further back, I'm friends with Melody Fahey who was with John at the time and she told me that the original inspiration for their trip over was because they had an argument as to whether or not the Tasmanian Devil was real. I think he wanted to prove it to her, or was just looking for an excuse to go… and I believe he won that bet. Very interesting thing about the Tasmania Devil is that I understand they not only have the bite strength of a crocodile but also have a transmissible mouth cancer which is threatening the species.

mwe3: Does Tasmania Live album really represent what you do live best? Some great covers on there too including Leo Kottke covers. How would you describe Leo’s influence on your music, and besides recording a live album in Tasmania what about Fahey’s influence? I heard you opened concerts for Fahey and Kottke too.

Richard Gilewitz: Yes, I would have to say that the Tasmania Live recording is very representative of what I do during a show. A few original tunes, a few by my mentors, a couple of arrangements by my teacher David Walbert, a couple of my arrangements, and a few pointless stories and bad jokes. Gotta add in the human element.

Both John Fahey and Leo Kottke were huge influences on me obviously but I also came from a background in classical guitar, music studies in college with an abundance of lessons over the years with my guitar teacher David Walbert, who by the way is one of the three inventors of the board game Trivial Pursuit, the Beatles, J.S. Bach, Andres Segovia and a plethora of other classical guitarists, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode and loads of percussion...the list goes on. Plus a lot of touring and the experience of meeting so many musicians worldwide.

I have done a show with Leo before and a few with John. Glad to call them both friends although John has been gone for awhile.

mwe3: You also opened concerts for California Guitar Trio and I saw several pics of you with Bert Lams. Bert is kind of a neighbor of yours. Funny how both of you live so close to each other in Florida. Your music and the music of CGT are quite similar in that you each have your own style yet you also sound inspired by similar guitar styles.

Richard Gilewitz: I originally met the CGT in Oregon since we had the same sponsor, Breedlove guitars. We met up at the Breedlove Guitar Experience in Bend and were part of a special weekend where individuals were allowed to meet the builders, tour the factory, and select the woods of their choice to have an instrument taylored to their liking and built before their very eyes, at least initially. The CGT happened to be in the audience when I recorded my CD Live at 2nd Street Theatre. I have since done a couple of shows with them, one recently down in South Florida at the Kravis Centre. I believe my style was for the most part developed before meeting them. I understand they come from the world of Robert Fripp, which is how they met each other. I have become closest to Bert and we may hopefully wind up doing a few shows together at some point. We'll see how the wind blows.

mwe3: How about Ragtime guitar? With your fingertyle and thumb bass picking, Ragtime sounds right up your street, musically speaking. Would you say Ragtime guitar is very central to your guitar style and technique?

Richard Gilewitz: I'm glad you mentioned Ragtime. When I was naming influences I forgot to mention Stefan Grossman and his instructional tablature books. That is really a big part of my foundation and to this day I still think that stuff is hard to play! The Kicking Mule label from the 1970's played a huge role in my formative years. Another book I recall working out of at that time was Aaron Shearer's Classical Guitar Technique Vol. 1 which as a book is still live and well today. I think my style is a real morph of classical guitar, ragtime, blues, folk, pop, Kottke, Fahey, another fellow named Peter Lang, and a few thousand hours of simply instinctive playing as I plunked around.

mwe3: Your cover of “When I’m 64” sounds very inspiring. Never enough Beatles covers on acoustic guitar right? What makes Beatles music so perfect to cover for guitar instrumentals and are there other Beatles tracks you play on guitar?

Richard Gilewitz: There are a zillion guitarists playing Beatles covers on acoustic guitar but I prefer the arrangements of my teacher David Walbert. Just stunning what he can do. His voicings, chord choices accompanying such beautiful melodies and accuracy is just astounding. He will also incorporate in some of his own little creations in the midst of the tune and it's just magical. I've been working on his arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” for over five years now. I have played it in concert many times but that is just part of the development of the tune. Performance helps to bring a tune to life in a way you can't get any other way.

I also play these covers of the Beatles… just off the top of my head. "I Will", "If I Fell", "Here Comes the Sun", "Eleanor Rigby". I'm sure there are a couple of others but they are not clicking into my head right now. I recently realized that I have over a five hour repertoire of tunes memorized at performance level and they often blend together. I have to take time to differentiate what goes where. Something that helps is to compartmentalize the Open D tunes, the Open G tunes, Open C, Drop D, tunes using a capo, tunes on the 12 string, slide tunes, original tunes. These little groupings help when I'm trying to pull something out of the hat. But the Beatles? Absolutely! Some of my favorites.

mwe3: You’re also a guitar teacher and author of instruction books on guitar and ukulele. How did you start with Mel Bay on the production of the book. How many instruction books have you written and how does a book compare with doing instruction videos, say on you tube for example? I read your story in the Ukulele book and you didn’t really plan to do the Uke book but your friend in the U.K. talked you into it right?

Richard Gilewitz: Yes, the Uke book was a rather interesting endeavor. I almost took it on as a dare, or a hobby, but became intrigued rather quickly. I began to realize that about 90% of what I did on the guitar worked out just fine on the uke. The hardest thing for me was learning how to hold it. I couldn't seem to find a comfortable stabilization point for awhile. I thought about slapping some velcro on the back and then just slamming it against my chest!

The first book I did with Mel Bay was the Fingerstyle Acoustic Guitar Workshop Book, which was based on the fact that I kept getting the same questions at clinic after clinic in music stores around the country. When I approached Mel Bay about an idea to put out a book with all of the most popular questions and my answers they went for it.

I have done several projects with another company called TrueFire which includes "Guitar Foundations", the basics of guitar for finger-style, "Fingerscapes", an exploration of open tunings, "Acoustic Slide Guide" for the slide guitar player, and "Fingerstyle Narratives", which details some of my more complex originals. The Mel Bay Ukulele book for beginners and finger-style players has also been released in German by a company out of Vienna called Doblinger.

The biggest difference in the youtube lessons and these projects is that the book and DVD projects entail a lot more production, camera angles, PDF's, and a very structured approach. The YouTube ones I'm thinking are a bit more one offs on a particular topic, exercise or approach.

mwe3: What do you make of the way things have evolved for artists considering that you tube makes it so easy and affordable to hear music these days? Has the internet and streaming services and you tube made it easier or more difficult for artists to survive? I also see your Ukulele book is also on Kindle. What do you make of Kindle?

Richard Gilewitz: I have very mixed feelings about what youtube has done for ... and to the player. On one hand players have access to so many musicians worldwide that they would otherwise not have a chance to see and hear. And if you're lucky, you can find an original performance that allows you to observe fingerings and feels from the originator of a piece. On the other hand, there is not a filter to keep out massively inaccurate renditions by players. These inaccuracies are spreading like wildfire and there seems to be quite a dissipation of what was originally intended. I also recall a guitar teacher in Missouri telling me that 25 years ago students wanted to really read and understand standard musical notation and understand music. Now he says that a lot of his students come to him and say "if you don't help me figure out this YouTube song I'll just go find another teacher." Wow! That one was disturbing. I even sometimes run across students who had no idea you could tune a guitar without a guitar tuner! Double wow! So, I don't know… I could go on a lot longer about this subject but I'll leave it to that for now - pros and cons. I am grateful that it has been an avenue for me to get my music out there so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

mwe3: By your account, how many albums and singles have you released so far and are all your CDs still in print? Would you consider a CD sampler to present a cross-section of your music and if you could present a best of, what tracks would you say represents the best of Richard Gilewitz?

Richard Gilewitz: I believe I have one LP - Somewhere In Between out but not currently available, 7 CD titles, a guitar and ukulele book with Mel Bay, a concert DVD with Mel Bay, and 4 or 5 previously mentioned works with TrueFire.

Everything seems to be available on itunes, Spotify, etc. In other words I'm not sure about actually doing a CD sampler but I suppose if I did I should gather up all of my originals and pay close attention to the sequencing of the tunes which is a whole 'nother art form.

Seems like my open G minor 12 string tune "Dirt To Dust" is a big hit because it's so unusual but still very accessible to the general public. I also wrote one for the Blue Penguins of New Zealand called "Have You Ever Seen a Rainbow At Night?", that gets a lot of attention. Another is probably the tune I wrote and originally called "Echoing Wilderness", which gained the retitle "Echoing Gilewitz" when Leo Kottke recorded it back in 1986 on his Private Music release A Shout Toward Noon.

mwe3: When are you planning to return to Florida and what other events are upcoming? You were telling me about a live show planned in September with Tony McManus and Mark Russell. What will that show be like?

Richard Gilewitz: Although I'll be back the end of June I have several more tours already planned that include Alaska, Wyoming, Oregon, Indiana, Michigan, possibly Texas and back again to Australia. That's just this year. Sometimes I feel like a 'ground astronaut'. I don't know what that means but it sounds kinda cool.

The show I'll be doing in Jupiter in September with Tony McManus and Mark Russell should be a real special one. Tony who is from Scotland and currently living in Canada is probably one of the greatest Celtic
style players on the planet and a terrific entertainer. Mark Russell, from Australia, a world class fiddle/violin player, was head of a band that toured 50 stadium concert dates with Dire Straits during their "Brothers In Arms" tour in Australia. I have done a few shows with Mark over the years and he's hilarious as well as a jaw dropping player. If I play my cards right I'll just sneak off the stage and watch these two players during the night. It really should be fun. I don't think any of us know what's going to happen either.


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