ThaWilsonBlock Magazine Issue75

Mistah Wilson's Exclusive Interview w/ Phil Gates on Touring, the Music Business, and Founding the Los Angeles Blues Society


"...my advice is to stay original. The world desperately needs new good music. Be yourself." @Phil Gates

Mistah Wilson: Greetings, Phil Gates! What a tremendous honor it is to have you here with us for this exclusive interview with ThaWilsonBlock. How have you been?
Phil Gates: I’m good. Making it happen all the time.

Mistah Wilson: Respectively, you are arguably the most experienced musician we've interviewed to date. But, for our younger audience reading this, could you hit us with a quick background on yourself?
Phil Gates: A quick one? LOL I’m a musician who taught myself guitar, and singing. I’ve been very fortunate to have been included on some amazing projects. I am involved in session work as a guitarist, I am also a recording engineer, Mix Engineer, Producer and Author.

Mistah Wilson: First and foremost, we MUST talk about your founding of The Los Angeles Blues Society. In what in ways are you working to preserve and evolve and the genre?
Phil Gates: I founded the Los Angeles Blues Society because I believed that there was a need for the many different types of Blues Artists and fans to get together. They could experience a wide array of Blues. From Traditional Blues, to Contemporary Blues to Blues/Rock, etc. So the membership is extremely diverse both in music and fans, yet united under the umbrella of the Blues. It doesn’t delineate between the types of Blues as one being more authentic, or better than another type. All types of Blues are welcome and appreciated. The goal is to be inclusive, and invite all styles of Blues. To preserve the legacy and history. And at the same time move it forward, just as the originators of the blues did from Slavery Blues to Delta Blues, to Chicago Blues,Texas Blues, Los Angeles Blues,
Contemporary Blues and everything in-between to whatever is next.

Mistah Wilson: You've worked with heavyweight musicians from Deniece Williams and Teddy Pendergrass to Brian McKnight and Ruben Studdard! You've also performed at some of the industry's most esteemed venues. What have been some of your most memorable experiences thus far in your career?
Phil Gates: I’ve performed at super small clubs to the Halftime of the NFL Superbowl and I’ve had great times at so many places. Memorable is obviously the Superbowl. 85,000 people there, and 110 Million watching world-wide. That was fun.  Recently I performed four nights at a really cool Jazz Club in Athens, Greece. That was really cool. Great audience. Honestly, each performance is cool for what can be many different reasons. The Audience, the venue, the material, how the band played that night, the sound, it varies. As a front of house sound engineer, working with Jazz’s greatest was such a cool education. Dizzie Gillespie, Buddy Guy, and so many other greats. Amazing. I have also worked with some great Producers like Preston Glass.


Mistah Wilson: What current and upcoming projects and events do you have in the works?
Phil Gates: I’m on the way with my band to Tulcea, Romania at the end of this month (August), and Skopje, Macedonia in September then back here in Switzerland in December. During that time I’m also working on my tenth record. So it’s been pretty busy these days…

Mistah Wilson: Tell us about the members of the Phil Gates Band...
Phil Gates: In my Los Angeles/Stateside Band, it’s Ron Battle on Bass, Larry Houston on Keys and Keith Williams on Drums. In my European Band, it’s Tom Wagener on Drums, Stephan Hug on Bass, and Uwe Rodi on Keys. All of them monster players and cool cats.

Mistah Wilson: Which do you prefer over the other: performing or producing and why?
Phil Gates: I actually love both equally. As long as it’s fun, interesting and inspiring music, I’m cool. Performing live is cool. Each performance is different. Each audience sees that particular performance once, even if they see multiple shows of the same tour. The next night, it’s can be completely different with a different audience, and vibe. What I do on one show may not happen on the next show the very next night in the same venue. Being in the studio is a balance of being creative, and in the moment, yet realizing that it will be THE SAME every time someone hears it. You want it to be able to have a longer life. You have to think about it more, as you want yourself, and the listener to like it every time it’s heard.

Mistah Wilson: You have a ton of music and performance footage readily available. If you could only share one song and one show, which ones would they be and why?
Phil Gates: One Song? Wow! That’s a hard choice. It depends on whether I want to be nostalgic, musical or business. Each song comes from a different place and time. That’s what fun about it. Each record is a moment in time. Each song a day. Yet right now, as an Artist and Businessman, “New Kinda Funky” off of the current CD “The Twelve Rhythms” is the song, and the show would probably be a gig at Club Fenix Live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet there are so many cool shows I don’t have footage of. I have a record “Live at the Hermosa Saloon” but no video except for one song.

Mistah Wilson: What would you say has been the largest crowd you've performed for?
Phil Gates: The Superbowl Show I mentioned earlier by far. 85,000 people.

Mistah Wilson: Tell us more about your endorsements...
Phil Gates: Endorsements are a symbiotic relationship between an equipment manufacturer and the
Artist. They support me with the equipment that I really like to use all the time in the hopes that by my performing to lots of audiences, musicians in the audience might be inclined to buy what I use because they like my sound. It’s been very fun and appreciative to have these relationships with great companies like Roland, BOSS, Ernie Ball/MusicMan, Mesa Boogie, Xotic Pedals, Lunastone Pedals, and others.

Mistah Wilson: What have been some challenges you've faced on your journey as a musician?
Phil Gates: I say this all the time. Injuries. They are always unexpected and can really mess with your work. I had carpal tunnel syndrome in my left (fretting hand) that pretty much kept me from playing for over a year. That was a drag. Yet it also got me into audio engineering because I still wanted to work. The other unexpected stuff like gear not at the venues, hotel reservation problems are problematic, yet it’s the injuries that really take it out of you. Especially if you have to cancel shows that you’re contractually bound to. Luckily, I’ve not had to cancel any shows. I don’t believe in it, I believe the old saying “The Show Must Go On” yet, it does happen to people where there’s no option. I’ve played with carpal tunnel, concussion, fever, heartbreak you name it. And a ton of other touring Artists have gone through the very same things.

Mistah Wilson: What have been some more of the rewarding things?
Phil Gates: I did a show once, where afterwards a couple waited to come backstage, and they told me that they had been having problems in their marriage, yet for the ninety minutes of my show, they got to just have fun with no drama. And they wanted to thank me. That was awesome. That they got to escape for a bit and just have fun.

Mistah Wilson: What is your creative process when composing new songs and material?
Phil Gates: The process is to write what’s in my heart and soul even if it’s just an observation of another life. Sometimes it comes music first, and that in turn inspires the music. Sometimes I have a very specific story to tell and the music is the vehicle.

Mistah Wilson: Where do you find inspiration to constantly re-invent yourself? In other words, what techniques might you use to maintain your ambition for making music?
Phil Gates: No matter what you love to do, once it becomes your profession and your livelihood, things change. Staying inspired and ambitious comes from within. I wish I had a better explanation
for you. But if you have the drive inside you, it’s there. The work is to maintain the focus. Not to get distracted. I like to listen and get inspired by listening to all kinds of music. I’ll sometimes pick a country, or city and go research the music from that area. See how those people approached the same twelve notes(for the most part) that I use. So it can be West Africa, or Iceland. Chicago, or New York, South America, or Jamaica. Listening to one kind of music is boring to me, and limits your creativity. It’s like a library with only one book. The best artists have a super-wide collection of music genres that they listen to and play, even if it’s not on our records. There are subtle influences that come into play. It’s cool. Sometimes that’s the point. To cross culture and experiment. The biggest excitement for me is to have an idea that I put on a blank musical canvas (Like using a voice recorder to capture an idea I sing.) Then get the other musicians to put their vibe on it and watch it grow. That’s where the real magic is for me.

Mistah Wilson: Who would you say have been the most influential musical figures in your career?
Phil Gates: I have a lot of influences. My spices in my music spice rack. I would say Buddy Guy, or Hiram Bullock are some spices. For other ideas I’ll add a touch of New Orleans, or Jimi Hendrix, and a touch of Prince, or Stevie Wonder. Throw in some Carlos Santana, or George Benson and a heavy dose of me. Mix it all together, and it’s Phil Gates. I like the options that my musical spice rack gives me. And I’m always looking for new spices or combinations to add from Blues, Jazz, Latin, Rock, Pop, New Orleans, even Classical. That’s the fun part!

Mistah Wilson: Do you enjoy teaching music (instruments, stage presence, etc...) at all?
Phil Gates: Yes I do. I have written a book called “Recording the Guitar” for Mel Bay publishing, and make lots of instructional videos. I teach recording, mixing, guitar, bass, and stage performance. If the student is fairly serious, it can be a lot of fun.

Mistah Wilson: In your own words, where does Blues music stand amongst relative genres such as (neo) Soul, Funk, and contemporary R&B?
Phil Gates: Well Blues was the root for all of those. So I would say that it stands firmly in the center.

Mistah Wilson: In your opinion, who are the Top5 Blues musicians of all-time?
Phil Gates: I don’t like these questions because people can be the best for different things. Let’s see: Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Ruth Brown, Jimi Hendrix

Mistah Wilson: Let's talk about your outreach efforts and your involvement in the James Marshall Hendrix Foundation. How important is giving back and in what ways do you like to do so?
Phil Gates: I give back in educating, and with the Jimi Hendrix Foundation, helping Artists find their originality. Their own voice. Founding the Los Angeles Blues Society which is over 400 members strong and still growing. I’ve taught music industry classes at ASCAP, BMI and at the Grammys
(NARAS), and also at USC (University of Southern California). And also online. So I try.

Mistah Wilson: What positive, encouraging words do you have for aspiring musicians and young artists interested in pursuing Blues music?
Phil Gates: Well for ANY kind of music Blues, or otherwise, it’s the MUSIC BUSINESS, and you can never separate the two words. The Creative Music part is amazing, yet the Business side must be handled as well. Work on your craft as an artist, and also know contracts, accounting, budgeting, banking and the rest of the Business half. Musically, in my humble opinion, my advice is to stay original. The world desperately needs new good music. Be yourself. Everyone says it, and it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. What drives each artist in a particular path can be determined by the artist asking themselves “What is it that I REALLY WANT and WHY?” Do they want the money, to prove themselves to themselves, someone, or a group of people, the independence to go their own path, the freedom to choose from any path or to change it at any time, the fame, the respect of peers, the love and admiration of the fans, the pure pleasure and love of music? All of the above? The important thing is to know the answer to that question for yourself FIRST, and follow it with unwavering passion and dedication. The danger is NOT knowing the answer, or following someone else’s answer. That can be problematic.

Mistah Wilson: Hey, Phil Gates it's been such an honor having you here with us for this exclusive interview with ThaWilsonBlock Magazine.

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