In my conversation with Raphael Rogiński I said „it’s interesting that you mentioned 4 days exactly. I was on a road for 4 days as a tour manager and after that it took me 2 weeks to get back on my feet again”. And here is my way of coming back to those times – first of four interviews which I did during those 4 days.
He was the last person I saw before I went to sleep (sometime between 4 and 5 am) and first one I met after I woke up. I had to make myself alive so I immediately jumped to the lake and when I managed to get out of it we sat at a table and started talking. After 40 minutes we realized that we were hungry so we continued in a dining hall – it was a pleasant morning and we had time…
Conversation with Gerry Jablonski / 24.06.2017 / OW WRATISLAVIA, Radzyń
I would like you to look a bit into your past… I’m really interested if and how your solo gigs influenced the gigs with the band and what were the solo gigs for you – are they different than those with the band?
Right.. (laughs)… solo acoustic thing was I guess… I think… I’m not sure – a lost. Departing from in on. I’ve been in bands for so many years and various situations came up… So I’ve had enough of the bands, I’ve had enough of the whole thing and I’ve wanted to still play and still play music I enjoy and I write. My template for doing this was the music of John Martin, Richard Thompson, Paul Brady, so there were folk elements, there were jazz elements and rock obviously. And I did an album called „Man who lost a moon” which was all acoustic. I did all the drums, percussion. I was trying to be inventive and when I think about it, probably I was too ahead of the game. I was the first person in my country that I knew of, that used a loop pedal and octave pedal, a whammy – it is called digital whammy, so you can drop the note or make it high or get different, you know, E flat B flat harmonies. So I had the acoustic guitar and I could do a whole band thing almost, I mean by tapping, hitting one acoustic rhythm, looping that, looping the chords, than looping the base. I would explore certain things, I would do funny things as well. I used to do a solo acoustic version of Stairway to Heaven and do the vocal at the end just to let people know that it’s still Stairway to Heaven. And Anybody grew from there, the song, and then I wrote Black Rain along with it. I had some good gigs you know, but unfortunately I was just a musician so I had to make money. That meant I had to play in every shithole you can think of, and some times had to make allowances by doing more covers than I would have liked. I did it for seven years and I think seven years was enough. But the basic thing that you can think of from that period till now was, it totally changed my playing style. That I didn’t realize at the time. I was just playing acoustic and I played the best I could. A really good acoustic guitar player, and I knew some of them, have this beautiful delicate way of… and I was not delicate… I was threw it all, boof! Which in itself was original I suppose, but it changed my playing style. That’s when Dave got in touch with me and I ended up in a band where I had to fucking re-learn how to play electric guitar again…
And that’s what I wanted to ask about! Is playing acoustic and electric guitar totally different story for you?
And where do the differences lay?
So many differences… where do I start? Well… when it comes to doing mad runs it’s not gonna happen easily, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. Your strings are heavier, so they ring, so they cut into your fingers. It takes some while to get the power and that’s when I started using my fingers to pick the notes on my other hand and did bounce techniques and lot of tapping. When I eventually went back to the electric guitar, I mean, if you listen to the first album and second album you can actually hear I’m trying to reel down I’m not quite there. Especially in the first album, I shit on it you know… second album kind again really. Twist of Fate is probably the album where I start to feel more comfortable and I sorted the sound. Because I forgot what electric guitar is all about – it’s all about the amp… guitar, any pedals you have, it’s more intricate and your touch has to be different because if you’re playing at certain volume you can practically blow any string as I demonstrated many a time. So your touch has to be fucking on a ball sensitive and precise, but at the same time… there is also connection with the amp, speaker, guitar you know. Space of air in between all that – that you have to control and if you’ve forgotten how to control it, means it’s gonna be fucking tough, and it was to start with. The good thing was – unusually – I’ve tried to play with a pick to start, I couldn’t do it…
And you still don’t play with it.
I don’t. I’m happy now I don’t play with a pick whatsoever, and that’s why I went for the Gibson to start with, because it’s more acoustic shaped. I could get used to that again, the pickups are separate, so there’s a part in the middle of the pickups that you can pick and go flying and that’s why I went for Les Paul. That wasn’t actually my main choice, my main choice, playing all these years – you didn’t see me – I was a Strat cat. That was my main squeeze for twenty years and for all that love hate relationship between both those guitars I knew them both…
So when you talk about the way of playing… yesterday you said about hitting the instrument. That is important, can you say something more about it?
Yeah, what does it give you? Because you look like you are fighting with the instrument during the show.
It’s a horse… the guitar is a horse… a great white stallion that has been roaming free and you have to jump on a fucking motherfucker and try to hold it down, so it would take you where you want to go. And it’s not fucking easy but certain people can be so cool, that’s why I’ve always loved Erick Clapton. Because that’s why he’s a god – he’s so cool, he takes his time, he never rushes – to the point that people miss the fucking point. He plays a phrase so delicate and lovely and in a blink of an eye he’ll do a mad dumdeedeedum – what the fuck?! And then he’ll stop! And phrase something else. His phrasing is godlike, immaculate… he’s not the greatest guitar player in the world, but he touches you even if you’re not a fan. If you see the right clip or hear the right song or see the right gig, than it becomes clear. And people slug him off for being slow hand you know: he’s too slow, he’s too this, too that, can’t play anymore – it’s all bullshit! One of my favourite DVD is Steve Winwood with Eric Clapton and he plays brilliant on it. And there’s no difference between 1969 and 2011.
How much knowledge and the inspiration of the other players help to make your own kind of sound and how much it can confuse you?
I mean the band dynamic is a totally different thing…so let’s leave that for the moment, let’s just talk about me. I would say – cause I practice every day more now, than when I was young – and I’ve learned so much more in a last month than I did in four years of playing. How is that? I don’t know… it’s like I’ve found out a realisation of how I play and I’m happy with who I am, and what I do on the instrument, regardless of if it’s weird or not. That’s me and that’s it. What’s changed for me is that I listen to everything now, so I’m more understanding percussion, bass, even harp so harmonies and stuff. I’m more in the zone than I used to be, also I’m better in using chords. Chords are such a fucking fundamental thing… You’d think a normal person would know that. But if I’ve met me as a kid back in a day, I would slap myself under fucking ear and say: learn your chords, learn chords, learn where they go, learn what fits, what chord with the next chord. Then pick out the notes that mean the most out of the each chord to make your line that you’re gonna play and before you know it you’ll be… melodic, tuneful, occasionally erratic but in control. And I know that now, but it’s like too fucking late, cause when I was a kid all I wanted to do was the fucking body thing. There’s a specific thing, like when Pete Townshend was holding the note hitting the guitar with his knee, it’s Jimi Hendrix, it’s Barkley where he’s doing Johnny B Goode. The whole solo sections are fucking amazing, cause it’s Jimmy obviously, but there’s one part that blows me away every time I hear it and see it. It’s a part in a song where he’s using the whammy, he’s using his body, his shoulders contorting in animalistic way and the whammy goes woowoowoowoo. Just that one bit, I was holy fuck amazing, but his body made that sound and that was important.
Is it more important to have connection just with yourself while you are playing or with all that surrounds you? How it was with the solo acoustic and how it is in the band?
There was a difference. Because my acoustic playing was not on a great standard, not to me anyway, the vocal had to be. That’s where the big change happened to me, cause it really opened up my vocal ideas and I learned a lot and that’s there… but when it comes to the guitar playing in general, there’s a saying from Carlos Santana. I remember reading this and I just thought you know: good old Carlos, freaking out being the hippie that he is… Just saying shit you know. And I read this phrase and I didn’t truly understand it until quite about when I was still playing in my first blues band. His saying was “your note has to be like a bullet penetrating paper”. I couldn’t understand what the fuck is all about and what I think he meant is, you’ve got to take everything that is happening: you’ve got whole playing bunch of guys who are happy and playing very well, you’ve got lots of people in front of you –hopefully they like what you’re doing. There will be some who won’t, there will be some at the back… and really grasp what’s happening. So my main intention is I’m going to play a note, or a few notes depending, and I’m gonna aim it straight at you and I’m gonna hit you…
The ones in the back?
The ones in the back, the ones in the front… you get everyone somehow.
So more outside.
Yeah. I mean, if you’re totally inward all the time, then you may as well just play at home. Because I wasn’t a great integrator with people and I was probably seen as a dick, maybe a lonely boy, something like that, my own way of normality I suppose was to play guitar and in that, in it, this is what I am… You know, that’s years of that, and that’s how I get in contact with people. That is the bottom line – that you take your music, you write your music, you learn to play as best as you probably can. You have a bunch of guys who are willing to go with you all in that route, you have an audience and you have to give them directly and give it all. The whole heart and soul. That is what music does, that’s what it is supposed to do. Music should be a point. At this day and age, you should be able to have a group: a white American, a black American, a Chinese guy, a Pole, someone from Norway, Scotland, England all around the table and listen to… I don’t know, it doesn’t have to be anything, as long as it has some kind of meaning and content. I want to reach someone’s heart if I can, if I can get someone to cry, I’m fucking happy.
Is music for you a language?
Music should be able to do all this things, but I don’t think we understood it enough yet to challenge that. We did use sound for destructive reasons – I’ve heard about that, we use some frequencies that can fuck you up entirely and kill people you know… so why can’t we use it for good vibrations? For people? To connect and not be dickheads and blow each other up? That’s my view… sounds a bit like political, sorry.
That’s OK. You said the word: road… does the road, being on a road also gives you something extra? Or maybe absolutely not and being on a road is not good for you?
Well to me it’s kind an easy question and the answer is this: I love to play guitar… I love to play in a band, I love to do a gig, that is all… but I hate travelling, I hate air planes, I hate vans, travelling for fucking miles and miles and miles to do the gig. I enjoy playing, but I do enjoy the food and I do enjoy the people! But I hate being away from home, cause I miss my wife and I miss my doggies and don’t get me wrong, I love my music, I love what I’m trying to do, I love music in general but to me it’s not everything. I think friendship is huge thing and having someone to love in your life is the bottom line. If you haven’t got that, you haven’t got fuck all, you’re just a shadow, kind a lost passion.
What you’ve said about your wife and doggies it’s connected with how personal your lyrics are because all your lyrics are personal…
Just some of them… oh I can write outside the emotional box, you know like Heavy Water isn’t personal. It’s more a disaster chain…
But the emotional things… yeah, as I get older I have less emotions to kind of worry about, because I’ve reached a point when, hey, fuck it, who cares… And I forgot how to write sad songs, because I don’t give a shit anymore and I am actually happy. I think happiness is sometimes not as good and rocking roll in music in general, but at the same time I like to play, I quite enjoy it… My wife, she laughs at me all the time, watching television, something, it doesn’t have to be fucking strong movie, it can be Toy Story and I’ll be crying. So I cry a lot. I like crying.
I know there are songs right now that you don’t want to sing…
You’re talking about I Confess.
Which is one of my favourite songs…
It is one of my favourite songs as well, but at the same time… You know, I don’t hate myself that much anymore, so I find it really hard to do it, because it’s quite a sad song and not on a good side. It’s more of a bad side song, it’s kind of: oh fucking man get a grip! There’s nothing wrong with you! If you know what I mean.
So I’m kind of embarrassed with it in a way, because I was feeling bad about myself… all my life is shit, you know, and I don’t feel like that… There is lot of reference about Dave, but primarily it is me calling myself a dick you know… I’m not a dick, really, I can be and I used to be but I’m not anymore…
It’s a good ending… I’ve got more questions but it’s a good ending. How much do you improvise during the show? What it depends on and why do you like jam sessions because I hate them!
Oh.. OK! Improvisations in the band, well it’s not like we totally go off in the tangent, there is structure.
Yeah but it’s sometimes pretty much open…
Usually in the middle of things, because some songs I stretch them occasionally, it’s just because it is fun to do. And if you’re inventive enough it can be like… you know… like in the middle of Black Rain…
Yeah and High on You…
High on You, well it’s already kind of there. The real interesting one is when you just take at that different, for instant the Angel of Love. I always play this song for solo because I specifically wrote it for that parts, and I like it so I’m gonna keep it. And then Peter has his solo, and then I’m wide open, so I just play whatever comes in at a time. There were two or three different ideas happening last night… and I think good improvisation is when you have no worries, like everything is gonna happen, Lewis isn’t gonna let you down, Grigor’s gonna be there with you and Peter’s gonna be there, there’s no worries.
Is it what defines a cool gig? And why do you like jam sessions?
If you’re relaxed… I think you can’t be too relaxed because, you know, I’m all shitting myself at the beginning of the gig. First ten minutes I’m always on edge, then after that I’m fine. But then I shouldn’t really worry because the rest of the guys either are feeling the same or not so bothered you know, so if you got backup you can do anything you want, anything. And if you have to get them a signal that something’s gonna happen make sure you make it pretty bold. Jam sessions… I love jam sessions mainly because they can put you in a weird situations and make you a better player without even thinking about it. Because if you got a base player and a drummer who got what you’re playing but can’t play, then you have to play something that can put them all together in some shape so we don’t look like dicks.
And then you get other side of jam session – there are fucking really good players and you’re up against them, so you got to get your shit together for that as well… My father, he would say “are you gonna play a tune yet?”. And what he meant was playing the chords, the base line and the melody together, like Chet Atkins, Chet Atkins was a great guitar player, along with Steve Howe who got stuff out of sheer accident and that’s really how you should be able to play guitar.
So what matters?
Projection of the person emotion. Whatever reaches and fires up imagination, that’s what’s important.
That should be the end of the interview!
I’ll still stick with dick (laughs).
Photos: Lesław Kopecki