Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reconsidering Doug Gillard (A Guitarist's Guitarist)

Here's a reprint of something I wrote a while back about Doug's early years in Guided By Voices.  I hear Doug's playing a solo set in New York City tonight, and I wish I were there.  If you aren't all ready a fan, get there.  Doug put more classic guitar parts on Guided By Voices records than you can imagine.  Tons of great, great stuff.  Do yourself a favor.  Check 'em out.

The Gillard Episode:

MAG EARWIG, track 3….All of a sudden the band is playing in lockstep rhythm with every hair in place and an aggression previously only suggested….As close as GUIDED BY VOICES ever got to standard radio friendly hard rock….

What makes a band of gifted auteur/amateurs suddenly morph into a group sounding more like Aerosmith/Early to mid Alice Cooper, than Wire, Devo or any other latter day influence on Pollard??? Enter Doug Gillard, and the rest of his Cleveland cohorts….

Immediately the differences are very palpable and apparent….BULLDOG SKIN is perhaps the first tightly recorded, fully realized Pollard composition….It’s even got background vocals that are relatively in-tune….And, Gillard is soloing off the cuff and it’s a slashing, ripping solo that obviously Bob had heard in rehearsals, as he invites Doug to “get wild”, and indeed He does….My main wish at this point is that these solo flights had continued….

I know the need for eloquence of musicians has become as unimportant as integrity in a politician, but I miss them both….The musicianship more, but I digress….Doug entered the band playing his ass off….The heavy, insistent chording on NOT BEHIND THE FIGHTER JET sound like Gillard was definitely looking for wider acclaim and a shot at rock star dreams….Suddenly the bass and drums are in the same room, the timing is much improved and professional….Drum fills on PORTABLE MEN’S SOCIETY announce the departure of the tortured exercises of Kevin Fennell and the loops of Sprout, Pollard and Pollard….While they were always interesting, risky efforts, they’d only get you so far on the wings of an A/R department….

Doug’s playing is a cool distillation of many different guitarists and styles….Obviously a master of turning others styles and strengths into an unrecognizable conglomeration that ends up his own, DG does exactly what every aspiring guitarist should do…. He listens, he learns, he regurgitates, he mutates, and finally devise his own recipe that harkens old masters without infringing on their copyrights….Doug sounds like Doug….

Equal parts punk, prog, metal and jangle, I can never recall hearing a Gillard guitar part that made me smirk and say, “That sounds just like…..anyone”….

If this is the only thing one guitar player EVER says about another, it is the high-water-mark of praise….I hear a lot of others in Doug’s playing….I hear glimpses of Steve Howe (Yes), Elliot Easton (Cars), Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys), Alice Cooper’s guitar team and many others….I’d say Mick Ronson and Bill Nelson should also be mentioned….Yet, never have I heard a copy of any of these artists’ work in Doug’s recordings….

On my GBV wish list were always two things….One, a greatest hits package of classic Geebs tunes re-recorded by the latter day band of Doug, Nate, Tim, and Jim….I love the weirdness of the earlier efforts, but am under no illusion of the inaccessibility of the music due to the ragged productions….Bob would be among the first to say that the sonic quality of the early recordings were a result of financial strife and lack of musical education….I never question the brilliance of the native genius, I do wish that the songs had been given a greater opportunity in the marketplace by being a bit more polished….

Personally I like a well greased band playing on the more developed tunes, and Bob playing and singing the quirkier stuff on his own….Never again after MAG EARWIG was Doug to play so free and unedited on a GUIDED BY VOICES record or tour….A shame to my guitar soaked soul…..

MAG EARWIG is a near perfect transition record….Half new/half old GBV it is a great record of a band changing to fit into the pr-conceived notions of their creator….Doug didn’t change GBV, Bob did….Doug was the medium, not the message….

Fast forward to DO THE COLLAPSE the most controversial effort in the band’s discography….We jump from a record of mixed messages and styles to straight up radio ready hard rock….Gone are the out of tune guitars, the falling down the stairs drum fills, and we’re greeted with big studio synths, accurate, powerful drumming (supplied now by the incredible Jim MacPherson, ex-Breeders stickman), this had to be shocking to the ears of GBVs indie rock supporters….This, in reality is GBV as I’d ALWAYS heard Bob describe his aspirations….

Perhaps this is where we get the greatest division of opinion of the GBV opus….No longer is the band something that could only be found by the fan who claims as their own, a band so quirky, so strange that only a few could absorb and appreciate the beauty….DtC is to my thinking Doug’s greatest record….

By now, Doug is obviously the musical director, taking Bob’s acoustic demos and converting them into band songs with more fully realized arrangements, musical interludes and, yes, soloing….Listen to IN STITCHES, this is basically a new take on metal with a wonderful dose of psychedelia….Doug switches from jagged hard edged chording in effected arpeggiated sections and makes it sound perfectly natural…The use of acoustic guitars as underpinning and textures are new to a band that previously struggled to get the main idea out, though occasionally brilliantly….Listen to the solo here….This has BALLS, testosterone….A brilliant arrangement….

Moving to the perfectly timed strumming that ring in DRAGONS AWAKE….Again, a new sound for the band this is as tight as any REM tune, though much more melodic….And, then strings serve to flesh out the song that in an earlier cantation may have been another 1 minute gem…..

SURGICAL FOCUS….Jesus Christ, perhaps Gillard’s finest arrangement, I’d bet this is about 80% Doug….The playing on this is just divine….Maybe the greatest marriage of Bob and Doug’s combined artistry….This sounds like the perfect hard rock outing to me….Great song, incredible drums, thunderous bass, and a guitar part that keeps guys up late at night pissing off their neighbors with their belabored efforts to figure out each perfect fill….

I can’t bring myself to criticize anything Doug does on COLLAPSE, and I would guess that upon it’s completion the band had to have visions of Platinum and Rolls….

MUSHROOM ART evokes Rush of all bands, with its highly compressed power chords and melodic section connectors….Again, Doug’s playing is such a cool combination of influences, originality and taste….

Criticize MR. BUCKLES if you must, as many do, but not I dare you, for the guitars….I know Bob and his musical intentions well enough to say that this turned out exactly as Bob envisioned….

This whole album is a testament to Bob’s love of good arena rock….Growing up Bob was a huge fan of bands like The Who, Blue Oyster Cult, UFO, BeBop Deluxe and AC/DC (Bon era only)….This had to somewhat fulfill an ambition to make a huge, grand big rock record….

Dislike hard rock if you like, but admit that DtC is a pretty great example of the genre….Listen to Doug’s work on WORMHOLE and come away les than amazed, and I wonder what the hell you were listening to….

LIQUID INDIAN again evokes memories of stylistic moments in guitar history, without ever pandering or taking that which does not belong to you….Slightly psychedelic, somewhat hard rock, somewhat Cars-like (listen to the synth work….)….

I was always surprised that Bob never lost Doug to a better paying, higher profile gig….As a musical director/right hand man, you couldn’t ask for more….Listen to WRECKING NOW and try to figure out where to classify Doug’s playing will leave you scratching your head, but also admitting that this is one of the finest, if not the finest guitarist of the 90s….Who was better, more consistently???? No one, that’s who….

If not yet convinced….fast forward to PICTURE ME BIG TIME for more pure brilliance….If you can come up with a guitar arrangement this perfect, this creative, this well played, consider yourself a GREAT musician….

Simply put….Doug Gillard recorded more brilliant rock and roll guitar in the late 90s than any other player in the genre….Wanna fight about it?

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