Strumming, Picking, and Shredding:
An Oral History of Guitar Player Part 6: Joe Gore
Joe Gore always seems to make half his living playing music and half writing about it. His studio and touring credits include Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, PJ Harvey, Courtney Love, Aimee Mann, DJ Shadow, John Cale, the Eels, plus many movie and TV soundtracks. He has also composed music for such clients as VH1, HBO, Intel, Universal, and the American Museum of Natural History. For better or worse, his music writing work has drifted from consumer magazines to corporate clients, though he still pounds out a guitar story once in a while. He’s deeply involved in music software, particularly Digidesign’s Pro Tools and Apple’s Logic platforms. He does editorial and audio work for both companies, and he created the hundreds of guitar tones that ship with Apple’s recently released Logic 8. His fave project is Clubbo, a megalomaniacal music-fiction experiment he’s developed with composer/producer Elise Malmberg (AKA “wife”). It’s a mammoth web hoax that alleges to depict a legendary indie label with a checkered 45-year history, complete with downloadable music, album covers, photos, bios, and miscellaneous cultural debris. It’s all fake, down to the copyright info and “external” links. He recently completed a Clubbo novel, and he and his wife are currently planning more and better fakery for 2008. There’s additional info at joegore.com.
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“I regret being too self-serious more than I regret goofing off…”
“I was about to turn 30. My almost-was band had tanked. I was sick of teaching guitar, which I’d been doing professionally since my early teens. I pitched Tom Wheeler on a world music guitar column for Guitar Player. He declined, but offered me an assistant editor gig at the mag. I filled out my first W2 and joined the staff in the summer of ’88. Later I became an associate editor, then senior editor. During the latter period, the mag had no actual editor. I reported to Dominic Milano of Keyboard, who managed corporate affairs, salaries, personnel reviews, and the like, leaving me and my colleagues to screw up the editorial all by ourselves.
“Tom Wheeler was an ideal mentor, unfailingly supportive and upbeat. No surprise he’s prospered in academia. Equally important was Jas Obrecht, with his lifelong commitments to reportorial accuracy and lean, effective prose. Jim Ferguson was a true authority on jazz and classical guitar. And Tom Mulhern managed production with a theatrical pessimism that failed to mask his his warmth and generosity.
“Later I worked with Andy Ellis (a fine player and educator with a teen’s passion for the instrument), Matt Resnicoff (another great player, painfully smart and funny), Art Thompson (a real sweetheart, and a sorely underrated writer), James Rotondi (perhaps the only editor who played and looked like a rock star) and Chris Gill (who knows a fuck of a lot more about guitars than I ever will.)
“Most of the best stories are ones I heard from Jas. I wouldn’t presume to repeat them, since many of the activities detailed therein remain illegal in most red states.
“One memorable episode: Matt Resnicoff and I were trying to pin down an joint interview with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck. They blew us off in NYC, but offered a rain check for Worcester, MA. ‘Just rent a car one-way,’ advised the Sony publicist. ‘You can ride back to Manhattan on Double Trouble’s bus.’ Naturally, they neglected to tell Stevie Ray and company. Incredibly, we talked our way onto the vehicle, and SRV was a genial host. But we still had to chase the fuckers all the way to Cleveland before bagging the promised story.
“I laughed hardest when we poked fun at the guitar community. Like dressing James in a heavy metal wig and photographing him for the reader’s submission column. Or encouraging Art to write blurbs for manufacturer giveaways that surreptitiously mocked their crappy gear. I regret being too self-serious more than I regret goofing off.
“I have no sentiment about guitars. They’re hammers and nails to me…”
“To me, GP‘s mission was to expose readers to things they might not otherwise encounter, be they artists, albums, techniques, gear, or attitudes.
“At the same time, there was increasing pressure to compete with the other guitar magazines, which were slaughtering us on the newsstand. My plan was to the feature younger, edgier stuff the other mags missed alongside the older, more serious stuff they ignored, all at the expense of the mainstream middle. The approach reflected my own tastes (and still does), but it was an economic failure. We never won the serious younger readers I sought, but then, how many serious younger readers were there to win? The guitar audience seemed to bifurcate into youngsters with a fanzine mentality, and oldsters who wanted their preconceptions comfortably confirmed. Current GP demographics are firmly in AARP territory. Not that I have an attitude about it or anything.
“In retrospect, I was probably a bad fit for the gig. I hated the music industry. I hated guitar heroism. I hated guitar collectors. My passions were music and culture, where guitar occasionally plays a role. I love making music on guitars, but I have no sentiment about them. They’re hammers and nails to me.
“What we lacked in suave prose, we made up for in practical value…”
“Compared to the Rolling Stones of the world, our writing was weaker, but our music journalism was stronger.
“They’re apples and whammy bars. The other mags provided fans with a window onto a lifestyle. We taught people how to do shit. What we lacked in suave prose, we made up for in practical value. More thoughtful and stylish things may have been written about the musicians we covered, but we communicated how they did what they did. And since our passions were the players’ passions, we often glimpsed things that non-musician writers missed. I can’t count the number of interviews that commenced with words like, ‘Thank god — this is the one conversation I’ve been looking forward to!’
“We seldom sailed as high as Rolling Stone‘s best prose. But we rarely sank as low as the inconsequential celebrity crap they usually run.
“Megamedia murdered the music industry…”
“In 1994 I joined PJ Harvey and took a year off to record and tour. After that I started getting more music work and more lucrative writing gigs. I’m still listed as a GP consulting editor, but my usual counsel is, ‘Great work, guys!’
“The magazine hasn’t declined–the world around it has! Everything is more corporate and conservative. The walls between editorial and advertising have crumbled. Megamedia murdered the music industry. Print is hurtin’. Kids aren’t playing. Guitar isn’t uncool, exactly, but it’s not the Everest of Cool it once was.
“But human passion and creativity are inexhaustible. There will always be great sounds. As Columbia Records famously declared in the ’60s: ‘The Man can’t bust our music!’