Photo by Stan Martin
Photo by Ralph Arvesen
Interview: John Gaar
words by: Tamma Hicks Steam Magazine
From: John Gaar Band
Southern Roots, Southern Blues
STEAM Tell me a little about you, because I know you’re from Louisiana and spent some years in California before coming to Austin.
JG I was born and raised in Louisiana and began playing in clubs at the age of 15, because in Louisiana you could do that and this was back when the drinking age was still 18. I toured with a band from Houston, Miss Molly and the Passions from 83-87 before moving to California. When I first moved to California you couldn’t just sit in with someone, you had to prove yourself. After about a year I got in with Red Archibald, one of the best jump blues harp players that ever lived. I worked with him for an intense year and half; we worked nine or ten gigs a week. In 1993 I moved to Tulsa OK, because they have an unbelievable music scene there; then to Nashville TN before going back to Louisiana in 94. In 96 I signed on with Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band. I played with him for 5 years and toured all over the world. So since the 80’s I had been touring through Austin with different bands and I just loved the feel of the place. In fact my son’s middle name is Austin. We moved here in 2003 and it wasn’t quite a year before my first CD was released, Bittersweet Success (2004).
STEAM The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Louisiana music is Zydeco, how did you get into the blues?
JG Growing up in Louisiana there was always some sort of blues. My first real taste of R&B, Soul, Southern Roots, Americana, Blues, and Zydeco music came in 1982 with a two-year stint playing with my brother, Red Hot recording artist and amazing bass player and singer/songwriter Burton Gaar, for Zydeco-musician, Rockin' Sydney - best known for his Grammy-award winning hit crossover song, "My Toot Toot." We were the first white Zydeco band to back a black accordion player and his album, The Other Woman (1983), was the first album I recorded on. We toured all over Louisiana and parts of East Texas.
STEAM You brought up that you have toured all around the world.
JG I toured all over North America with Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band and recoded on a live album with him, Too Hot to Handle (1999). We also went to Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries. We did these trips often. We didn’t go to Eastern Europe because this was during the turmoil years. Those jobs were on the itinerary, but we didn’t go.
STEAM You have a residency gig every Sunday at the Saxon Pub in Austin, so do you want to tour?
JG Yes, I am thrilled about my residency at the Saxon Pub. It’s always a great show and it’s a really fun club to play. You know I want to tour, but it’s not like it used to be. There is less and less clubs that want to pay the money that touring acts need. Festivals are a big thing, but I have yet to find an agent that can do what I want him to do even though Brighter Side of Maybe (2011) got a lot of airplay.
STEAM I really enjoy that album.
JG To be honest, I got sober seven years ago and The Brighter Side of Maybe is a direct result of that.
STEAM Congratulations! I believe that is very important. I see a lot of young and up-coming musicians that think partying is part of being a musician.
JG You know it kind of is, but it stopped me from taking advantage of some of the situations that I had early in my career because I just wasn’t motivated enough. But you know the saying, “You’re not going to stop until you’re ready to stop.” You can tell in The Brighter Side of Maybe because of the consciousness of the songs. My keyboard player, Ron D'Argenio who has been with me through all of this, produced the record. I opened for the Doobie Brothers and then right after the record was released I stopped the band thing because I just couldn’t deal with the drama and babysitting, so I did a duo with one of my singers for a while. Consequently, I have the seven players I have now and there is no babysitting. We’ve been together for two years and they are the best group I have ever had!
My band members are Ron D'Argenio, keyboards; Jeff Hayes, bass; Brannan Lane, drums; Michael Cross, vocals; Joanna Ramirez, vocals; Deann Rene, vocals; and Paul “Buda” Mills, drums. Paul also plays for Lavelle White.
STEAM Are you currently working on a new album?
JG I am! I am in the trenches writing every day and working on new material. I plan to be in the studio this fall and I hope to have the new album out before the holidays. No, I will have it out before the holidays!
STEAM Have you selected a studio yet? Do you prefer to record analog or digital?
JG The Brighter Side of Maybe was recorded at Congress House Studios, which is one of the oldest studios in Austin. But there are so many studios in town now that it’s just a matter of finding the right fit, one that is conducive sound wise. I like to do a little bit of both, it’s a time issue. On the last album all of the rhythm bass, and drum tracks were on 24 inch tape and then brought over to Pro-Tools.
STEAM Tell me about your equipment because I believe you use some one of a kind stuff.
JG Yes I do. I just picked up a Collings 290 guitar, which is made just outside of Austin and you know Collings makes some of the finest acoustics in the world. A friend of mine went out there with me and they asked me to take one of the guitars and I did. My amp is the John Gaar model by Ace Pepper, built in San Marcos. And my speakers are handmade by Austin Speaker Works Cabinet.
STEAM So tell us where we can catch your show!
JG Well, the Saxon Pub is the best since I’m there every Sunday at the 5:30pm time slot. We will play at 2pm on the 4th of July at the 512 Fest at the Backyard in Austin. When we finish we’ll head over to the Saxon for Miss Lavelle White’s birthday BBQ and 95% of my band and I will be backing her. So that’s going to be a very busy day for us! On the 25th at 9pm it’s the John Gaar Friday Night Throwdown at the Saxon Pub, it’s going to be fun! The best way to follow me is to check the website and my Facebook page; the schedule is always on them.