There is virtuosity among all instrumentalists. Then there is wizardry. The California Guitar Trio — Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya — are a truly extra-planetary collection of highly trained and creative guitarists with a range as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.
Friends since studying under legendary prog guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson, the trio make forward-thinking orchestral music with but three acoustic guitars, using alternate tunings to achieve a range of notes more comparable to a piano than a six-string. Each plays a note or series of notes as part of a larger melody — rather than each playing variations on the melody — creating the sonic appearance of a single instrument producing sounds no lone guitarist could ever render.
Currently on tour with Louisvillian Tyler Trotter playing road dog (translation: he works for the band), the Trio stops in Louisville this Friday (look left). Richards took a few minutes to exchange e-mails (it’s the future, kids) about guitars and other, less meaningful things. Perhaps his affinity for superlatives is a technology thing.
LEO: What first attracted you to the guitar?
Paul Richards: I was first attracted to guitar because it is, by far, the coolest instrument in the universe!
LEO: Nerd question: What kind of guitars do you play and why?
PR: My current main guitar is a Breedlove Custom guitar, made in Bend, Ore. I play it because it’s the best guitar on the planet!
LEO: What do you think of modern popular music?
PR: I listen to many, many different kinds of music, even modern popular music. Occasionally I hear something that is genuinely really good, but much of the time I’m left wondering, “What is it that makes this music so popular?”
LEO: What is the weirdest cover you’ve ever played?
PR: Hmmm … We’ve played some pretty weird covers. We just started doing a reggae version of “Free Bird,” and that is possibly the weirdest cover we’ve done.
LEO: Who inspires you most as a guitar player?
PR: Robert Fripp, cause he’s the greatest guitar player in the world. Seriously now, the three of us in the California Guitar Trio met when studying guitar with Robert Fripp, so he’s obviously a big inspiration, but there are many other guitarists that I’ve received inspiration from. Anytime I hear a good guitar player live I get inspiration. Just last week I felt very inspired hearing Nels Cline playing with Wilco.
LEO: The CGT has been busy this year. How’s life on the road? I don’t imagine you guys being like typical rockers, trashing hotels and such.
PR: Ha! Well, maybe we’ll have to start throwing a few TVs out the window to help change our clean-cut appearance. And now that we’ve got Tyler Trotter from Louisville traveling with us as our soundman, I’m sure he’ll help stir up some good controversy for the band! Life on the road has been good; it’s always a special opportunity to be able to go out and travel around the country playing our music for people. I realize that I’ve got an awesome job. And having Tyler with us makes it even better. He’s a great soundman, and a good guy to have around, and he likes driving the van!
LEO: How has the guitar as a primary instrument changed over the last, say, 40 years?
PR: Wow, that’s a tough question. To try and narrow that down to an answer within just a few sentences, I’d have to say that the most significant change for the guitar in the last 40 years came when Jimi Hendrix plugged his Stratocaster into his Marshall amp and started wailing. At that moment, the world of guitar changed forever.
The career of Slaid Cleaves, a singer-songwriter who toes the line between folk and country — basically, he’s Americana — has made sloping ascents the past several years. The Austin, Texas-based songman achieved critical acclaim first with 2000’s Broke Down and then four years later, with the decidedly dirtier Wishbones.
Now he’s pushing Unsung, more a middleman between those two predecessors, with twangy country rockers like “Devil’s Lullaby” balancing folk story-numbers like “Fairest of Them All.”
Cleaves plays the Americana Caravan on Monday night. It’s a production of Blue Sky Kentucky, a nonprofit that works to bring cool shows like this one to Louisville. Selah.
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