The above photo is from 1984-w/ Dave Weckl and Tom Kennedy - 7th
Ave. South, NYC
Bill played Pensa Guitars on Assembler click here
Go to Bill's ECM page click here
Info on a video Bill played on from May 19, 1978 click here
View Gilbert Isbin's transcription of Folk Song by Bill Connors click here
"It's hard to overlook the early Return to Forever or the Stanley Clarke debut solo recording, but.. again sentiment has taken over...but here is truly the FIRST guitarist to play fusion with a KILLER 'rock' guitar sound". - Steve Kahn
Bill Connors Equally adept at acoustic and electric guitar, he has successfully played jazz-rock, free and fusion material in the '70s and '80s. His best solos have been in the jazz-rock mode, where his use of distortion and electronics has been balanced by fine phrasing and intelligent solos. His great moment of fame occured when he was with Chick Corea's Return to Forever during 1973-74, recording the influential Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. His decision to leave RTF to concentrate more on acoustic guitar may have been satisfying artistically but it cut short any chance he had at commercial success.
Previously he had played electric guitar with Mike Nock and Steve Swallow in San Francisco but his post-1974 work has been primarily acoustic, particularly in the 1970s when he recorded a series of atmospheric albums for ECM (including with Jan Garbarek). In the mid-'80s for Pathfinder Connors' music became more rock-oriented but those releases did not make much of an impact despite his talent. - Scott Yanow, All Music Guide
The liner notes to Bill Connor's "Assembler" re-release on Evidence, takenfrom an interview by Bill Milkowski in Down Beat, c.1994, state "Connors has not toured or recorded since 1987 and has no plans to undertake any serious projects in the near future." At this time, he was teaching and satisfied with his lot.
Recordings as a Leader:
1974 Theme to the Guardian (ECM)
1977 Of Mist and Melting (ECM)
1979 Swimming with a Hole in My Body (ECM)
1984 Step It! (Evidence)
1986 Double-Up (Evidence)
1987 Assembler (Evidence)
Also Appears on:
1949 Corea, Chick - Music Forever and Beyond: The Selec
1970 Garbarek, Jan - Works
1971 California Earthquake - California Earthquake
1972 Corea, Chick - Compact Jazz: Chick Corea
1972 Corea, Chick - Return to the Seventh Galaxy
1973 Return to Forever - Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy
1974 Clarke, Stanley - Stanley Clarke
1974 Bley, Paul - Quiet Song Guitar
1977 Konitz, Lee - Pyramid
1978 Garbarek, Jan - Photo with Blue Sky, White Cloud
1986 Gravine, Anita - Welcome to My Dream (Photography)
1991 Garbarek, Jan - Places
1993 Corea, Chick - Compact Jazz: The Seventies
1995 Piccolo, Greg - Acid Blue (Percussion)
By Frankie Nemko
(Reprinted from Guitar Player magazine: October 1974)
"The reason I use a Les Paul is because it has a function. It doesn't have a traditional sound, but it's rapidly becoming a tradition."
So says Bill Connors, the dynamic young guitarist formerly with Chick Corea's Return To Forever. Bill says he uses an electric guitar as a whole other instrument. "Even when I'm actually playing it," he states, "I don't think of it as a guitar, because the sound I like to get from it is really more powerful than a guitar is capable of."
Bill uses his Les Paul almost exclusively, but he also has an Ovation acoustic-electric which he employs with and without amplification. The strings he chooses for the Ovation are D'Angelico acoustic light gauge, and the ones he favors for the Les Paul are Ernie Ball regular Slinky; he substitutes a .018 for the G string.
When asked about his amplification equipment, Connors smiles and says, "Oh, that's a question I get all the time. You see, I have a Hiwatt top -- which is really half an amp, the electrical part -- and then I use a Hiwatt bottom with four 12" speakers. I also use a Fender Twin Reverb. I don't have them running into one another, however, I just mix the sounds. Some of my other equipment includes a volume pedal, a phase shifter, and a four-range booster."
Bill is a Californian, raised in the San Fernando Valley. Though he has never studied guitar formally, his education in the instrument has been extensive, beginning when he was fourteen spending many hours accompanying records with his first guitar. "I was very inspired by electric music at that time," he says. "I was a heavy Rolling Stones glutton; that sound really captured me. So, right away I was learning all Keith Richards' solos."
For three years Connors was a "bedroom" guitarist, moving through all the then current influences -- Hendrix, Clapton, and many of the blues artists of the time. But eventually he found the confidence to go out into the world, and began gigging a little around the Los Angeles area.
Then a strange thing happened: "I'd been playing for about four years," he explains, "and suddenly had an overnight change. I didn't want to be a blues guitarist anymore. I began listening to people like Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, [bassist] Scott LaFaro, Miles Davis, [John] Coltrane -- anyone who had a 'jazz' label. Django Reinhardt really got to me. The first time I heard one of his records, I thought that was just what I wanted to be. He had all the fire, creativity, and energy that rock players have today. And the amazing purity of his melodies -- you just knew they came from a totally instinctive place."
He and Django differ however over the matter of electronics with Bill preferring the sound of the electric instrument. "I always wanted to use the electric guitar in a sophisticated context, like with Chick. I like to play jazz with that electric-rock sound. For me it's a lot closer to a horn than the traditional guitar, and that's what I love about it; I can sustain notes, get into different kinds of phrasing -- do things other instruments do naturally, only the guitar does it with the aid of technology. Electronic instruments are still very new and complex. People are still trying to figure out why a string, when amplified, sounds a certain way. And then again, every electric guitarist sounds completely different. That can be due to the kind of strings they use, or the pick. But the one redeeming factor about the uniqueness of electric guitar players is the musicians themselves."
One might suspect that since Bill is only 25 years old he is a part of the electric era and therefore has no difficulty relating to that sound, whereas some older musicians have trouble listening to, let alone playing, electric instruments. "Actually, I went through that phase, too," he counters. "Even though when I started out I was heavily into electric sounds, I gradually learned the other side of my instrument. For a while I was even in the same place of putting down electric musicians and rock music. But that was before I started tuning into the whole cultural meaning of this musical evolution in which we're involved."
Bill Connors is committed to the belief that music is meant to be *heard* to be enjoyed by the audience as well the performer. "It's much more rewarding to me to have other people take an active part in my music," he explains. "Most musicians who are developed to the point of being accepted artists have heard everything they play so often that it only begins to have meaning for them when it's put into a context where something else happens, like when other people are grooving with it."
Bill likes to look at music philosophically, to understand what is involved besides just sound. "People today are looking for more meaning. Of course, there's a spiritual trend right now, and musicians are very involved in it. I even see some older jazzmen changing, adapting themselves to the current ethos. I even think that the single element that I dig most is the strong desire to share the *feeling* of music. I can hardly believe how much music has matured for me, personally. Even before I was aware of it, I was playing in a spiritual way. I always heard it that way, only then I didn't know what the word 'spiritual' meant. All I knew was that when I had a successful venture with my music, I freed myself, became more extroverted. I'd be just smiling and laughing, and didn't know why. Sometimes when that would happen on stage, people would come up and compliment me. All I wanted to be was humble; as far as I was concerned I wasn't doing anything incredible -- I'm just God's musician."
Even being as young as he is, Bill has seen changes take place in the world of music. He recalls, "There was a time when a performer couldn't just be a person. When I first got into the rock scene, the whole business was somewhat akin to a Hollywood movie star trip. But like everything else in life, there are many stages of development, and that was just one; now we've moved on. People intrinsically understand that music comes from the level where we're all one -- rather like a catalyst. And it isn't just the music; there's a feeling that fans out from the stage, and it's really the audience that's creating this activity and feeding it back to the music. The thing that blows my mind, and keeps me totally absorbed in music is that there aren't that many people who really *understand* what's going on -- they just feel good. I consider myself blessed to be a musician, because I can take a hand in what's happening and keep it spreading."
Another of Bill's reasons for playing is just as spiritual. "Music gives us all an excuse to be what we really are. To me, it's like using drugs, only my fix is playing music. Sometimes, when I'm up there on stage I feel guilty, because I know I'm almost playing a trick on the audience; they think I'm doing something for *them*, but actually they are setting up a situation for me to have a giant excuse to totally leave my body."
Bill Connors is best known today for his stint with Chick Corea's Return To Forever. But he almost backed out of the audition because of fright. In 1971 he left Los Angeles with a band, studying Joe Pass books and listening to "every conceivable music and musician." After five months working in Sacramento, Connors returned to San Francisco. "Almost immediately," he remembers, "I found myself a part of The Fourth Way [the group that had been backing up saxist John Handy] -- my first real jazz band!"
The noted bassist Steve Swallow joined the group after Bill had been with them about five months. The two started jamming in each other's homes, then eventually formed a trio with drummer Glen Cronkite.
And then pianist Chick Corea came to town.
"A miracle!" Bill claims. "Chick was my hero. I wanted to be Chick Corea on guitar. I didn't know him, but whenever I really wanted to get off on music I'd play some of his piano solos and Return To Forever songs. I heard that Chick was looking for a guitarist. Steve encouraged me to call Chick, and though I was very nervous, I did, and he invited me to come over to the club where he was working and sit in. I was so scared that I almost turned him down. But after running around and saying to everyone, 'Guess who I'm going to play with tonight,' and everyone telling everyone else, all this energy was formulating -- and I took to my room and practiced my ass off."
That night, the fright totally disappeared. "The minute I got up on stage I had this feeling like I'd been preparing for this all my life. I was so relaxed that I felt as.though I was in my own living room. Chick and I played musical games -- he'd play these real simple lines and I'd be giving my interpretations of them, then go off into the Chick Corea 'outness.' I ended up in New York two weeks later."
But there is often a problem when wishes come true. Last April, after the band's tour of Europe and Japan, Bill quit the group. The musical direction seemed to him to be changing from what it was when Connors joined. He explains, "Everything started getting less aesthetic, more rock. Just too much like Mahavishnu (John McLaughlin). I was having trouble expressing myself the way I wanted to in that context."
Bill still considers Corea "one of my favorite musicians and greatest influences," but he admits to preferring the band's earlier direction, a direction that he says was evident even before the guitarist became a member.
Now living in Brooklyn, Bill Connors works occasional gigs with New York tenor player, Horace Arnold, but spends the bulk of his time writing music, practicing, and otherwise preparing for his first solo album. The record, unnamed as of this writing, should be released soon on the ECM label, and consists primarily of original acoustic guitar tunes.
Switching from Return To Forever to solo recording, switching from an emphasis on electric guitar to the sounds of the acoustic, switching from a high-powered public presence to the relative seclusion of his home, are all facets of the complex and highly talented young guitarist, Bill Connors.
"I'm Just Pulling Together Eric Clapton And John Coltrane"
By Gene Santoro
(Reprinted from Guitar Player magazine: March 1985)
"SOMETIMES I FEEL like I deserted my own boat," Bill Connors explains, surrounded by guitars in his loft in New York's Chelsea district. "When I got out of Return To Forever in 1974, I threw the concept of fusion out for myself -- I figured by '76 or '77 it'd be totally dead. But then all these guitarists came up sounding like me, doing things that I was trying to do. In the last two years, I've decided that there was something about what we were trying to do that I want to do again, that I *feel* again. Bad timing, huh?"
Whatever his sense of cultural timing, Bill Connors has been admired by aficionados and fellow players for his finely developed musical sense since he first broke on the national scene as a member of keyboardist/composer Chick Corea's pioneering fusion unit, Return To Forever. But although Bill's reputation was established on electric guitar, most of his work over the last 10 years has featured him exploring what is best termed third-stream guitar music, combining classical motifs with acoustic-oriented improvisation. However, with the release of his most recent album, "Step It", Connors has firmly committed himself to a rock beat and the searing, processed sound of his Charvel solidbody. "It's funny in a way," he adds. "It's like I came full circle."
For Connors, the first point of the circle lies in southern California, where he was born 34 years ago. Although initially drawn to music through blues-oriented rock in his mid teens, he eventually became aware of more complex musical forms: "Eric Clapton with Cream was just *so* inspired -- listening to him is like falling in love. His phrasing and sound just kill me. When I first heard [pianist] Bill Evans, I realized that a musician could *learn* about music. I got the impression that he really knew all the notes he was playing. It had a big impact on me because ever since then, I've been serious about my music. After hearing Joe Pass, I realized that sophistication could be applied to the guitar. It made me start dreaming about what it would be like if I knew as much about music as Joe Pass but could play it with a sound like Eric Clapton. It was another one of those impressions that I'm still trying to live up to."
In the early '70s, Connors moved to San Francisco, where he teamed with numerous top-flight musicians, including pianist Art Lande and bassist Steve Swallow. These efforts brought Bill to the attention of Corea, who was abandoning his Latin-flavored jazz in favor of something completely different. Before long, the guitarist was signed on with Return To Forever, which also featured bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White. But although his career took an enormous step forward, Bill's memories of the trailblazing fusion unit are bittersweet. "We were burning then," he recalls, "and getting into that band was one of those wonderful acknowledgements that you get once in a lifetime. But I was young and couldn't take certain disappointments, and Chick wanted the music to go more into a rock thing. It made me want to say to him, 'Look, I've got this idea about playing sophisticated music with the sound of Eric Clapton.'"
Bill continues, thoughtfully, "Chick had a lot ideas that were part of his involvement with Scientology. He got more demanding, and I wasn't allowed to control my own solos. I had no power in the music at all. Then, we'd receive written forms about what clothes we could wear, and graphic charts where we had to rate ourselves every night -- not by our standards, but his. Finally, we had to connect dots on a chart every night. I took all of it seriously because I had a lot of respect for Chick, but eventually I just felt screwed around. In the end, my only power was to quit." After leaving Corea, Connors explored the New York jazz and session scene, performing with people such as guitarist John Abercrombie and keyboardist Jan Hammer. "It was great,"he states, "because it wasn't this contrived thing in order to communicate to the audience. We were *playing* again and *learning* again, and it felt real good."
During this period, record dates with artists as diverse as vocalist Gene McDaniels and Stanley Clarke kept the guitarist's creative impulses occupied with a variety of challenges -- but not for long. "Around 1975, I'd decided to become a classical guitar player," he muses. "I did my first solo album in 1974, and just decided on the spur of the moment to do it all on acoustic. That was just such a contrast from blowing people's ears off with my 200-watt Marshall that it really started to capture me." A further impetus came with Connors' discovery of classical artist Julian Bream. "I was sitting with his album "20th Century Guitar" [RCA, LSC2964] -- a real classic -- and it has this piece by [German composer] Henze that I really loved. It was just getting to me, so I sat down for a couple of days and transcribed it -- on my steel-string guitar, with my funny pick-and-finger technique [laughs]. When I got it, it gave me so much pleasure that I said, 'Okay, I'm going to be a classical guitar player.' And that's what happened."
The *way* it happened, though, tells you about the kind of dedication Bill Connors has: "I bought a bunch of books and a classical guitar, and started with the C scale, playing 'i m i m' [index, middle, index, middle], etc. For about three years, I practiced eight hours a day: up early, play for five hours, take a break, and play for three more hours. I'd throw in some extra hours if I could. My reading sure improved after that. You've got to understand that I come from an unschooled background -- all my schooling is self-inflicted [laughs]. I like scales, technique, and intelligence, but they weren't *natural* for me. Being a blues player was natural for me, but it wasn't enough."
Frustrated by having to pay high New York rents while he tried to find time to woodshed, Connors moved to the West Coast. But as he intensely honed his classical skills, the limitations of his classical training became all too apparent. As he sums it up, "I'm not a good memory player at all. By the time I'd memorize something, I'd already be sick of it. Besides, I always kept wanting to improvise on it [laughs]. But I love the classical sound, and the technique is so intense that you just can't put it down."
When he finally did put his classical guitar down to pick up an electric again, it was only due to circumstances -- at first. After a year or so of totally improvised concerts "so draining you wouldn't believe it" on his nylon-string Hassenbachers and Velasquezes, and some performances with "new music" composers Luciano Berio and Cathy Berberian, saxophonist Jan Garbarek asked the guitarist to join his band in 1981. "I just assumed I had to play electric," says the bemused Connors, "so I picked up a Les Paul -- right where I'd left off in '74." However, transferring his recently acquired classical technique to his new solidbody was not so easily accomplished: "I embarrassed myself for the first two weeks. When you play classical guitar, you lose all respect for the electric. But having to hear myself play crummy for a while shook me out of that attitude. It wasn't until over a year later, though, that I began to feel really comfortable on electric again, and I started to use a pick. I had to repractice and redevelop."
It was also during this period that he began putting together the music and musicians -- Dave Weckl on drums and Tom Kennedy on 5-string bass -- featured on his new album. The eight instrumental tunes on "Step It" mirror the range of Connors' musical knowledge. The chorused guitar intros are reminiscent of Steve Khan (who produced the LP) and John Abercrombie; the aching blues phrases sing with the expressiveness of early-to middle-period Clapton; the sudden note blizzards strike with the stark power of a John Coltrane sax solo. "Anybody could pin me easily enough if they wanted to," peculates the guitarist. "I'm just trying to pull together, in my mind, Eric Clapton and John Coltrane. Those two guys are it for me because they have that voice that speaks to you. When we recorded 'Twinkle' on the new album, I told the engineer I wanted a sound like Clapton's on the studio version of 'Spoonful' [Fresh Cream, RSO, 1-3009]." The British guitarist's influence on Connors' wrist and finger vibrato is amply displayed on "Cookies."
Connors' adroit use of a volume pedal, producing a virtually attackless sound on "A Pedal," is reminiscent of Andy Summers' work. "Police's "Synchronicity" [A&M, 3735] is the only rock album I've bought in the last five years," declares Connors. "It really floored me, especially the drummer [Stewart Copeland]. He's so creative and so clever and puts so much emotion into it. He really thinks about the music as a whole. All of them have so much creativity in what they do -- *that's* what I don't hear from jazz. That's why I don't think of my group as a jazz band -- no way."
On "Step It", Connors and friends achieve a cohesion that eludes many fusion players. In the hands of less group-oriented musicians, tunes like "A Pedal" or "Cookies" could degenerate into free-for-all games of dodgeball soloing; instead, the trio crafts coherent, musical statements. Bill comments, "Being creative is like what the Police do: Think of a note, then another note, then another note, until you've got a song. It doesn't mean anything to just be a good musician and play great 20-minute solos."
This attitude underlies Connors' carefully considered assessment of contemporary pop formats, such as heavy metal: "Van Halen is better than the rest of those guys because at least what he's chasing in his mind is farther ahead of what he's able to do, so where he falls back is much farther ahead of most heavy metal guitarists. But he *does* fall back. I wouldn't put him in the same league as Clapton. Van Halen doesn't have that voice, and half of what he plays is throwaway stuff that impresses people who don't understand the techniques. That doesn't mean anything to me. I can do a lot of what he does without using the karate [laughs]. But at the same time, I like him because he's clever and Van Halen is a fun band." He considers, then continues, "It's hard for me to come out of the jazz world and evaluate somebody like that, though, because in jazz we expect each other to be able to play changes, have decent time, have a little bit of creativity, have a harmonic understanding of music, and read -- we just *have* to. It's different with Clapton: he speaks to me because he's a soulful guy."
In his own driven way, Bill Connors is equally soulful. "I feel like a kid again," he concludes. "I'm still chasing the music. I haven't zeroed in on what I want to do, exactly, but it's going to take time. I'm looking for something that none of us has done -- putting together some decently rich music with a pretty solid rhythm and clear arrangements. I don't want it to be what people think of as fusion -- a lot of vamps with cute, forceful solos, a lot of double time, a lot of 9ths, and stuff like that. That's not what *I* like. Electronically, instruments are doing things that they never did before, and that intrigues me. To me, the guitar is now what the violin was: the primary singing voice, the strongest voice in the orchestra. That's what I'm working on. I'm not concerned about whether it's fusion or not."
by James Santiago
Interview provided by Vitrual Guitar Magazine
How did you become a part of Chick Corea's Return to Forever?
I was really poor and living in a commune in San Rafael with
Mike Clark and Paul Jackson. That's where I was when I auditioned for Chick's
band. It was great out there. It was a wonderful scene. I had this mentor there,
Glen Cronkite. He was a drummer and the creator of the Reunion Blues Leather
Company. He let me come out and stay at his house. He pretty much introduced me
and got me around. I was playing with Glen and Steve Swallow in this really neat
trio for a while. Then Chick came to town. Steve said to Chick, "You've got to
try this guitar player." I don't know why he did that! [Laughs] That's, like,
the biggest break I ever had.
Did you feel comfortable working with Chick?
I was very shy, and I didn't talk much at all. [Laughs] I was just really bright-eyed and extremely into guitar. The thing is, Chick was my idol. I mean, literally, I would just sit and listen to Chick. You see, my friend Glen had all the records. When I heard "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs," it really turned my head around. Chick was...I guess you could call him the fruition of what McCoy [Tyner] really established in jazz piano playing.
When did you start listening to jazz?
I started meeting more ambitious musicians, little by little. We had a nice jazz station in LA, and I would listen to that. I started in a typical way: by listening to organ trios and simpler kinds of jazz that were blues-related, because I started as a blues player.
Did you listen to the Wes Montgomery organ trio recordings at all?
Oh, yeah. I had my Wes Montgomery period where I played with my
thumb and I put flat wounds on my Les Paul. [Laughs] I had Wes on my brain, you
know. I had to go through all these things, and usually someone would tell me,
"Hey, stop doing that."
I got into these Bill Evans records, and I stayed up all night trying to play and just trying to understand what I was hearing. It really changed my life. As with a lot of people my generation who are influenced by Bill Evans, we have a particular idea about improvisation, and we tend to believe that everyone else thinks like that, but they don't. Bill is largely responsible for this ambitious sense of improvisation and being able to master whatever it is you're doing and just play freely all over it.
How much did Eric Clapton influence you?
I still wonder how, like, this teenager... I don't know what drugs he was taking, but whenever I hear that original "Spoonful" ? you know, that studio version record... I'd never heard such powerful blues. It was, like, incredible. It's definitely very distinctive stuff. Of course his general kind of playing now is all too mundane, but back then it wasn't at all.
When did you first achieve a singing tone?
Actually, from the very first recording I ever did, I think I had a really bitchin' tone. This is way back in the '60s. My buddy had this job working in a studio, and we used to be able to hang in the studio when nothing was going on. A good guitar tone was very hard to record. I mean, when you're talking about dirt [the distortion sound of overdriven guitar amps]. So I did something funny my first time. I had a [Fender] Super Reverb. That's all I had back then. It still had the old Fender legs on it. I turned it and faced it down into the ground. I was doing it for this singer, and he just wanted me to play a solo. I stuffed my bomber jacket (you know, à la Blues Breakers look) in the back of my amp. Then I made the engineer stick the mike into my jacket, more or less. Of course, he hated the idea, but it did sound bitchin'. [Laughs] It was a little muted, but it sounded really cool. I did stuff like that for a while before I realized that you're not supposed to do that. [Laughs]
I've always been odd, I suppose. I guess because I got to play with Chick. We played so loud for a while. It was a big energy thing back then. It's kind of hard to play that loud. I had a 200-Watt Marshall that I used with the band. And it wasn't an arrogant move on my part [laughs] ? it was because Chick back then played really loud. He just had a Fender-Rhodes, but he'd always play cranked. I don't know how Stanley [Clarke]... He played his acoustic bass originally. They were honking. These guys used to hurt my ears. After I did the audition and they asked me to join the band, I just came to New York with my Super Reverb. Even in the rehearsals, I couldn't play any chords, because it was totally sucked up. One of my ears is gone. So Chick, being a big-time professional, said, "Hey, go and get yourself a professional amp." I went down to this store on 48th St. [New York] and I thought, "Wow, let me get this!" I got a 100-Watt Marshall head and I brought that to the rehearsal. One rehearsal. You couldn't hear me. I remember that very well. So I took the 100-Watt back and then I bought this 200-Watt and I loved it. [Laughs] It's probably a very bad amplifier, but it had the kind cleanness that I needed. It had some punch to it. It really sounded cool. It really sang at the kind of levels that we were playing at.
Did you use anything else ?
I had that big Marshall with at least one 4X12 bottom. I had a
Maestro Phase Shifter, a Maestro full-range booster, and a volume pedal. That
was it. That was a lot for back then. When you played chords, you'd turn down,
and when you played lead, you turned it up. Occasionally, [management] would
rent me a Fender Twin. I would mix the sound of the Twin with the Marshall. I
just went nuts with that sound. It gave me a nice edge. You could still hear the
string. It gave it a little clarity. I used to play a Les Paul Custom back
That must have sounded pretty huge.
It was awesome! It was like shaking the house down. I liked
that big, old, stadium sound. [Laughs] My sound would just pervade. Chick would
end up having to take me out of the P.A. [Laughs] Yeah.
Frankly, they didn't call it fusion. They didn't have the word yet. I wanted to sound like Eric Clapton playing Coltrane. That remained with me forever. I'm always bored with [my playing] because, yeah, I can hear the Clapton and yeah, I can hear the 'Trane. There were a lot of other guys that felt like that. I maybe was a little luckier in feeling that I got something like that. It was an exciting new way to go. Then [John] McLaughlin came. He had a lot of cool notes, but he didn't have the sing[ing tone] thing. Clapton would just play like two notes and it's like you're kind of in heaven. I guess we [fusion guitarists] were hoping that we could like play a lot of notes and sound like we were in heaven. [Laughs] Now I realize that there's a certain proportionality in things that doesn't work out. I mean, you don't always eat cake.
Do you feel like you might want to get back into playing
publicly again? I've heard that you play mostly acoustic hollow-bodies
You know, as far as the guitar-guy tone thing and all... I've made my statement. Especially with my three electric albums. I mean, I did what I could do at the time. I've done other things. I did that fold-out record for Guitar Player. It was a Clapton tribute. I wasn't playing like Clapton. I guess I intended to, but I can't do that. I'm not an actor. When I play, I have to be me, for better or worse. And I wasn't that happy with my tone at the time. I started to like my tone here and there ? like on the Assembler album. But I never could get a perfect tone. Now I see it as kind of irrelevant. The tone is important if you can get to where you feel right. The main thing is that you do feel, and that you can express a feeling.
If you had to recommend an album as a good representation of
your work, what would it be?
I really have to do something new. It's been a while, and I've changed a lot. I feel almost equally embarrassed with every one of my records. So, after saying that, probably the last one. I would probably put my eggs there. When I hear certain songs, I say, "That's the feeling that I wanted." Like on the Double Up album, the song "Floor to Floor." The feeling of that I would call early-McCoy-inspired, but I didn't know that it was McCoy inspiring me. If you know that and you listen, you can hear that influence. That feeling's there, and I feel pretty good about that.
On the Assembler album, I feel pretty good about a few things. In fact, of all that stuff, the only song that I would play now would be the very last song on Assembler. It's called "It Be FM." Back then, it was just kind of an intro to a drum solo, but I like that it's very simple. I like the tune. And then, even the silly stuff like the opening track. It's kind of like a surf piece or something. I like that, too. I did feel like I was starting to suffer at that time. That's when I was really starting to become disenchanted, realizing that I'd become part of this guitar world.
Was there a point when you just decided to put down the guitar?
Well, I've been playing all along, but I haven't been
performing. I've just been teaching and playing kind of thoughtlessly for about
ten years. A lot of things led to it. I'll try and give an explanation if I can.
I went away. I kind of regret it, but at the same time I don't. I did finally
recommit myself. Now, I feel like I've finally come to fruition musically. I'm
happy with myself now.
A lot of things happened with my band, the trio. That was my first official bandleader experience. It's not in me to be a bandleader, for all the different things that it would take other than the music. But the guys were great, and they were really into it. We tried very hard ? as hard as it was for me to kiss butt and try and get a manager. We didn't have any luck. We ended up getting one of those phony guys that turn out to be a joke. We just couldn't get someone to make our phone calls and do our business. And then the record company...they were flaky, too. It didn't click.
I remember we had left off with that last record, Assembler... I liked the record, but everyone felt kind of weird because my wife and I decided to get divorced during the rehearsals. [Laughs] We had, like, two weeks of rehearsals, and there wasn't that much time. We didn't get to go out and play any of those tunes. The idea was that we'd do another record within a year. Then the record company said that they would have to put it off because they were struggling, but that it would happen at any time. It went on and on and on, and I just let them lead me astray there. I mean, now I realize what a joke it was. They didn't even have the dough, because they just didn't take care of their job. I know that their job was going up their noses. It wasn't because they didn't mean well. I'll never forget the one day that they brought me into the office and they made me listen to Satriani. I can't take that. That's adolescent garbage to me. It's a talented person who just doesn't chose to say anything in his music. I was very insulted by it. So I took the record company guy's guitar, and he's never getting it back. And I love the fact that it really bothers him. [Laughs]
A lot of people don't have an easy time leaving their record
It is hard. I understand that very well. I even appreciate and sympathize, and I think each guy has to make his choice. I respect you like I do any other human being, but you're not one of my church. I tolerate you and I appreciate you, but... it depends. If you feel like you've got to do what's right, then do that. I'm not innocent. I'm criticizing people for doing that now, but [on] Assembler, I fought with myself. That was the Bill Connors as a cynic, and that's as far as I'm ever going to go. I wasn't cynical in the true sense, but there was some cynicism. I played some funky stuff, and I played some stuff that just didn't have any affect on people. I thought "People will like this" or "I play this because I like it and people will like it, too" ? which is the first step in cynicism. Once you start down that road, they own you. And they know it.
What happened to me, or why I disappeared... I had the feeling in me, but it was getting tainted somehow. Cynicism can be really subtle. I used to actually advise people to do this: "Take the stuff that you know that they like, find what you like in that and express it in your own way." Now that I can see that that is wrong. You can do that as a professional, but don't pretend you're an artist when you're doing that. You have to always to rise up to your music. It has to come up from the deepest part.
Was the Satriani experience the turning point for you to get out of the business?
I didn't even realize that I was going to take a break. It was just like I was down this disenchanting road; this dark and gloomy street. I worked really hard with my trio. I had to write all the music and do everything, essentially. I carried all their equipment most times, too! I can't do that anymore. [Laughs] I would take my split of the money and divide it up, because I knew that it was pitiful money and I felt bad. That's why I can't be a bandleader ? because I'm just a jerk. [Laughs] You've got to take your third or whatever. I didn't. I couldn't do it. I didn't have the heart. The guys had babies. I still feel really bad. I feel like I let them down as an employer. We all would have dug it if we could have gotten the band out, and we know that a lot of people would be interested in us, but we couldn't get the business together. I really just don't have a business knack.
Part of what got me away was, like I said, I had a divorce and I was pretty down. I didn't know what to do. The guys would be call up and say "No, we don't know if we have a recording date yet," and nothing was clicking. I met my wife and got interested in her. I started doing a lot of speed skating and stuff like that. I was having so much fun that I kind of let my music slide. Then I broke my back and really messed up my wrist. I was letting myself get away from the music. There's something that goes. There're also nice things that happen. You put your guitar down and your body gets fresh. Your muscles and your mind regenerate. I had a lot of things happen that I didn't experience before, because I would never put my guitar down.
Do you feel your style has changed over the last few
Well I don't know what people would recognize or not, but I'm obviously going to be different because I'm not playing with dirt now. I'm just playing my [Gibson] L-5 with the heavy strings. It's just the old sound, I suppose. I feel really good now because I can think about my notes. There was way too much distraction before with all the gear. It was hard to get focused on the music. Now, I finally feel the way that I've always wanted to feel.
I just want to make music. If people like the music, that's good. If people don't like the music, that's good, too. But I'm not going to be part of that electric guitar set, because it's somewhat illegitimate right now ? like the whole fusion thing. It became a gun-slinger thing. It became a competitive boy thing. When Jeff Beck came out playing with Jan Hammer, I thought, "Well, this takes the cake." You try and find some meaning and depth, and then that becomes a joke. That's what kind of happened to fusion.
Do you want to make another record?
Oh, yeah. I do. I intend to. I am rebuilding myself. It's been really hard. I don't go to the gym all day and I don't let myself skate. I spend all my time working. Finally, I'm starting to write. I have a whole pile of songs. I didn't think I was even going to do that. Now that it's coming together, I'm feeling pretty good about it. I'll just do what I can and I'll look for an opportunity to record. I'm very interested. I feel like I have some more things that I want to say. VGM
VGM would like to thank Steve Blucher and Bill Connors.