Star Scene: Gilby Clarke (Ex Guns ‘n’ Roses)

Gilby Clarke‘s scene is a “positive” one. The guitarist, singer-songwriter states: “I’m always pretty positive. I don’t like to focus on the negative. I’m a pretty positive person. I try to see the good, it can make me blind sometimes, but I definitely am positive.”

Clarke’s music career spans three decades though he is best remembered for his three-year stint as rhythm guitarist for Guns N’ Roses in the early 90s. His reason for picking up a guitar is a rock god moment. He explains: “It’s this funny story, I actually saw a poster when I was really young of Jimmy Hendrix, I was in a head shop and I saw a poster of Jimmy Hendrix, it was from the Monterey Pop Festival, where he had the blue outfit with the white Stratocaster. And I saw that poster and I go ‘Oh my God, that’s the coolest looking human being ever’ and, strangely enough, it wasn’t from hearing the music, it was a visual that connected me. And from that, all my friends were getting into music, and it clicked from there but It was really that poster of Jimmy Hendrix that made me want to be a guitar player.” It wasn’t easy getting his first guitar however. Clarke states: “I was about 12 or 13. Of course I said to my parents, I want to play guitar, but at that time you had to start with acoustic guitar, you had to learn folk songs and it was such a long drawn out thing, but what it did make me do, that summer I got a job, working, washing dishes and stuff, I had to buy my own guitar, my own amplifier and everything. It really made me kind of focus, which was nice as a young fella.”

Clarke’s influences vary and “changed a lot.” He states: “When I first started, I grew up in the late 70’s so it was bands like Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, things like that but then it changed. In the late 70’s, early 80’s, I really stated getting into more punk rock stuff. Like I really loved The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and even bands like Generation X, and stuff, was a huge influence on sing writing. So I did go through changes, even in the 80’s like I was never a metal guy, never like into like metal, but I liked rock. I liked playing loud and I liked that rock n roll, that almost classic rock n roll i guess is what it is now. I loved Billy Idol. I love Billy Idol. Especially like Steve Stevens brought to Billy Idol going from Generation X. I think he really did a great job modernising that punk rock.”

However, Clarke attributes his main influence as being T Rex’s Slider. He expands: “What really changed me, and actually this was in my very early years. Because when I, so when I first started, I kind of liked cock rock, I liked Zeppelin, I liked Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, kind of like all the stuff that was Lynard Skynard that was coming out at that time. But then one day, a friend of mine played, Slider by T.Rex and granted that record came out a good five or six years before I heard it, but when I heard it, there was something about that record that just clicked in me, it’s like there was such great guitar tone, there was such a unique melody, there was such a way that he sang, that it really changed things about me. It just really made me start broadening my horizons, which strangely enough made me get into bands like The Stones, The Clash and stuff like that; it just made me dig a little deeper. It was T.Rex, Slider, that really changed me.”

Fast forward to 2017 and Clarke is that image he once saw in that head shop. His image may also have inspired a few pre-teens, and his sound, like Jimi’s, is loud. He states: “You know what I always say I’m loud and proud. My guitar is always loud, even the GnR years there was a time when they came up to me with the sound meter and said you know the loudest person on stage. And I actually laughed about it and I’d go ‘really?’ I know we aren’t as loud as we use to be but somehow my guitar always cuts through. I like to say ‘I’m just loud and just proud’.”

Clarke’s belief in his style of music, his rock n roll, was “exactly the reason” behind the tv show, Rock Star Supernova. He states: “You know, I had worked with the producers of the Rock Star show before and I really liked the producer Mark Burnett, I really believed in him. Obviously he is incredible successful, and I really liked the way he talked, and obviously tv shows are to make money, but I liked the way he approached it. He was just very honest about it, I felt he was very real, and these situations with producers they can be extremely phoney and they will tell you whatever you want to hear. And I never got that from Mark, I just really got that he really had a love for rock n roll music and he really wanted to do his best of making it a true honest rock n roll Tv Show, with singers that could sing rock n roll, not just the pop hits of today.”

Clarke is currently in the studio completing his fifth solo record, his fourth being fourteen years ago. He states: “The record for the most part is pretty much finished recording so I’m in the mixing stages right now. I think it’s my fifth solo record. It’s kind of hard to keep track to be honest, because, I know how many US releases I have, but sometimes in different territories they release more. I haven’t made a record since 2003.” He continues: “Actually, I had not noticed that it’s been that long since I made a record because I’ve been doing other things in that period. I haven’t been idle, but I just haven’t made an actual solo album in all that time. I just thought it was time. We all go through those creative processes. For me, as soon as I started writing, it just started flowing. I just had a lot of good guitar riff ideas, good lyric ideas, titles, all that kind of stuff, all the kind of stuff that is just supposed to be, it just started flowing, and it started working out nicely.”

Gilby’s work does not follow a theme or a concept. He writes about different doubts and issues, stating: “I’ve always written songs from an observer point of view, I’m not really one of those kinds of people that writes about myself, I feel that my point of view comes across in the way that I observe. The song may be about me, but it is always from the observer’s point. I always like to ask questions in my songs, they always start with ‘Do you?’ or ask another question. It’s just kind of been my thing that I’ve always had over the years.”

The questions Clarke writes in his lyrics are quite profound, as found within the songs he is mixing at the moment. He explains: “While I’ve got you on the phone, let me look at the titles and I’ll see, because I don’t know unless I look at the titles. I’m not one of those people that writes thirty songs and puts ten on a record. If the song is something that I don’t like, I don’t finish it.  After all these years I can tell if I like a song, or if I don’t like a song, or if it’s not working. So I usually only write 10-12 songs for a record. One of the new songs is called ‘Rock n Roll is Getting Louder’. And that’s really just about, you know, Rock n Roll, at least in the US it’s not in its most popular phase right now. And so, I just wrote a song about that; you know it’s more about yourself, when things are hard, don’t let that stop you. You got to keep going and try to do the best that you can. So, it’s just my way of turning things around. I don’t care if it’s popular or whatever, it’s what I’m good at and ‘rock n roll is getting louder’ meaning it’s back.”

The challenges seemed “a lot” when Clarke began thinking about the new album, but he started with a vision, and the final product was rewarding. He states: “On the new record really a lot of them. It’s kind of funny, because I’m doing the business part of the record right now. I’m mixing it and I’m talking to some labels and things like that and all my records, my solo records are strange because they are definitely rock n roll records, but they have so many different sounds and different influences, you know it’s not just consistent guitar bass drums. There’s a different drummer on every song, different bass player. The consistent is me playing guitar and me singing and writing everything. But a lot of them really came out the way that I thought they would. One thing is, as I’ve been around for a long time, I’m a pretty good visionary; I can tell if it’s going to work or not. And as I said early before I don’t write a million songs, and put them on the record. If I don’t get a feel, if it doesn’t feel good, or its fighting me too much, I know when to walk away.”

Clarke continues: “A lot of these songs did come out exactly the way I wanted them to. There are a couple of them, there’s a new song called Tightwad. It’s kind of a funny story, when we are racing our motorcycles with my friends and we are going out, we always laugh when the bill comes, ‘Why are we always short?’ and some us, I’m not saying any of us is cheap, because we are not cheap, you know, but it’s always funny how it’s always short. I wrote a song about that and it’s called Tightwad – us guys just always being short on the check and things like that, but the song really flowed well. It started with the guitar riff, the lyrics weren’t really that important, and I wrote this really cool riff, and I got Steve Perkins, from Jane’s Addiction to play drums and then I got Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue to play bass, so it’s quite a strange band that recorded the song. And we did not record the song together. I recorded the guitars and the bass and I had Perkins play drums and then Nikki came in and played bass. We didn’t play it together, but man the song just really flows, and it’s really a tight song, and it just really represented exactly what I thought it was going to be.”

Clarke is positive that the recorded songs will translate well live. He states: “Well, the thing is the music is really straight forward, it’s really guitar, bass and drums.  There is very little keyboards on it, there are horns on one song, I got a really cool long Stones’ horn part. But it’s pretty much like a live record, it really is just kind of like guitar, bass and drums.”

With touring, Clarke states: “Well, I mean I still enjoy myself out there. Like when we are doing these shows, I like to have a good time. I really do have a different approach than I did when you I younger. You know, it’s like even though it is a business and we are a little more focused in the business, I do take the time to smell the roses, you know like I do get to go out a little more than I use to. You know I don’t have to lock myself up in a hotel room. I can sit at a pub and have a glass of bourbon and talk to a local and stuff. That’s what I get to do now, that’s what I didn’t get to do before.”

Clarke definitely didn’t have many of those moments when he was with Guns N Roses. He states: “I remember a lot of things, I mean I really believe that it was a positive influence on my musical journey. I really do. I learned so much from those guys in such a short amount of time. You know years later, I like to look at the positive things because to be honest I really don’t remember a lot of the negative stuff, like all that silly drama, I don’t even remember most of it, unless somebody like brings it up. I only remember the good things, I remember the great shows that we did. This band: we really were like a band of brothers going to war every night, you know there was an angst to it, it’s like all the guys, whatever their personal demons were, when we got on stage, and we looked at each other, we fucken played great. And that’s what I remember – some of those great shows. Thank god there are a couple of videos on YouTube that you can see some of those shows, because I really felt like, and that’s why I was brought in, I was brought in to be the live guitar player, we were hoping it would have gone a little bit longer but that was my part. I really thought that we delivered. I can’t remember any shows where we didn’t deliver.”

 

Since then, as well as his solo projects, Clarke has been working on other interesting ventures, including working with Nancy Sinatra, MC5, and Kings of Chaos. Of the first two, Clarke states: “Those were, both of them were such, different projects. I can understand why people would say ‘Gilby you’re such a rock guitarist, how do you go from Nancy Sinatra to MC5?’ They are at completely extreme ends. The funny thing about it is, I don’t really change the way I play or what I do, in either project. You know I pretty much am always playing a Les Paul or a Telecaster through a Marshall amp, and at Nancy Sinatra, I played my Les Paul, my Telecaster through a Marshall because Nancy’s stuff, you know she has such a wide variety of stuff. She does have that classic rock n roll sound, but she also does like Jazz stuff and some catalogs from her father, but she has done duets with Lee Hazelwood. Which is really just very roots rock n roll and that’s where I come in. That’s like my specialty. Definitely my specialty is not the jazzy stuff, there will always be two guitar players in the band who cover that. But the MC5, I always say is one of my favourite projects I’ve ever done, because to me as a guitar player that’s exactly the guitar I grew up and I always wanted to play. That style: it’s got the blues in it but it has the punk rock edge in it. It really is like right up my alley.”

Clarke enjoyed working with Kings of Chaos and maybe they will come back to Australia. He states: “Kings of Chaos, is a really a fun project, it’s always the best way to describe it. Because when you get guys that have been in bands like that that have had that kind of success, what I found they all like playing for each other. Nobody just phones it in, they all want to be good, because they don’t want anybody going back to their group saying “oh my god so and so played terribly, or sang terribly”. So I did find that everybody loves playing for each other again. and I enjoy that. And I also like the way it changes, the band does change, there are different guys going in and out, Matt Somers the only consistent person that has been at every single show, all of us have kind of come and gone over the years.”  Another reincarnation is looking likely. “Oh yeah, they still do Kings of Chaos shows, I haven’t done a show with them for about a year now, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t. You know, they still do shows all over the places, it really depends on availability, you know and what the show is. But the last few times that Matt has asked me, personally it was my fault, I couldn’t make. We definitely will have more shows in the future. I love doing it.  It’s one of the most fun shows to do.”

Clarke continues: “I’m extremely happy to be able to go back to Australia. Last time I was there it was a few years ago with the King of Chaos Band and we did a show, and it was just a very odd time. It was with such big bands like Aerosmith, Van Halen, Jimmy Barnes, to be honest it wasn’t a very successful show, so it kind of left a strange taste in my mouth. I really was questioning if rock was still alive and well.”

“Well nowadays touring is getting stranger, I’ll tell you that. I mean we were just laughing about this, I can’t remember the last time I was in a tour bus. It’s been years. It’s been so long since I got in a tour bus and did a full tour. Maybe about 3 years ago we did one summer tour on a bus, but now it’s all about flying, it’s all we do, is we fly in and then play. With these Australian dates, I’m not bringing my band with me. I’m going to use a local Australian band as my back up band. So, it’s much different you know than the way it used to be. You know it’s all about economics now but you still want to deliver to your audience. You want them to see the best that you can be. And that’s also part of the fun things the collaboration. You know, I’m lucky enough to be a part of. As I can play guitar and sing, I get to collaborate with new musicians who I have never worked with before, so that is a nice experience too.”

Catch Clarke, with his local Aussie band, on his Australian tour this week.

Thursday 30th November – Crowbar – Brisbane

Friday 1st Dec – Cherry Bar – Melbourne

Saturday 2nd Dec – The Basement – Canberra

Sunday 3rd Dec – Frankie’s – Sydney

With the final show at Frankie’s in Sydney being a huge party in celebration of their 5th birthday. – FREE ENTRY

Tickets go on sale now via: www.hardlinemedia.net

 

VIP meet and greets available!!!

Once in a lifetime chance to get to meet an important member of from Guns N Roses history.

Watch soundcheck, Meet Gilby, 3 personal items signed, VIP laminate, Tour poster, Only 20 VIP available at each show!

 

 

Gilby Clarke needs no introduction to rock fans. He played in both Guns N’ Roses and the MC5. Who else can claim membership in two of the most life-altering rock ’n’ roll outfits to ever exist on the planet? Clarke hit the stage with his GN’R running buds at the 2012 Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony – he appeared on the band’s The Spaghetti Incident, Live Era ’88-’91 and Greatest Hits albums, and spent years on the massive Use Your Illusion world tour in the ’90s – but his proudest GN’R moment is, he says, the Gilby rolls mode on the GN’R pinball machine!

Before joining the GN’R circus, the guitarist bounced from the great Candy to his own, heartbreakingly ignored, big-riff quartet Kill for ThrillsClarke has, along the way, toured, and/or recorded with everyone from Nancy Sinatra to Heart to Gene Simmons to Slash’s Snakepit. In between touring & recording he was making videos with not only GNR, but Michael Jackson & Slash when MTV was de rigueur.

Perhaps you saw him starring alongside Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee on Rockstar: Supernova or VH1 Honors with Rob Zombie, Slash & Ace Frehely?

Then there’s his solo career that earned him critical winks and sales for such albums as Pawnshop Guitars (including the American hits “Cure Me … Or Kill Me,” and “Tijuana Jail”), The Hangover (two songs made Bruce Willis’ The Story of Us),Rubber, 99 Live & Swag.

Clarke, who’s an old school mash-up of Keef, Johnny Thunders, and B.B. King, continues to write fist-jacking rock ’n’ roll songs with fat choruses, and appear on stages around the globe. He produces worthy bands too. He’s also one of the sweetest gents you’ll ever meet. He’s a guitar hero, certainly, but also a gentleman whose heart happens to rush at rock ’n’ roll speed.

Gilby is hitting the east coast of Australia for some intimate, sweaty, raw, totally Rock ‘n’ Roll shows! Gilby will be Will be ripping up a selection of hits from his past bands Guns N Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, RockStar Supernova, MC5 and much more with full band in tow.

About Mary Boukouvalas 700 Articles

Mary is a music photographer and reviewer.

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