Anthony Gomes has been a staple on the blues rock scene for years. He recently released Electric Field Holler and spoke with Blues Rock Review about the album, the Music Is The Medicine Foundation, meeting Robert Plant, his next project, and more.
Electric Field Holler has a great marriage of rock and the blues. Could you tell us how this record came about ? Was that something intentional that you did?
First of all thank you for your great review. The idea behind this album was very intentional. Our previous release was an entirely acoustic album. And the next step was, as an artist was to ask. “What are we going do?” I feel that in my heart I’m a BLUES man but I also like to rock out. I’m a blues rocker and a lot of times as an artist in this kind of genre in the blues with the blues police you’re ultimately second guessing your every move. As a blues rocker sometimes I feel like I’m the bastard stepchild, you know, and you ask yourself, “Is the blues? Are there enough slow blues?”Are there enough shuffles? And a lot of times I feel like it was important to water down my interpretation of the blues for it to be accepted as blues and I think by doing an entirely acoustic album previously, I sort of went back to the source of it and this album was just an expansion of the acoustic album hence the name Electric Field Holler. It’s really traditional blues but just jacked up to a eleven, and with a lot of youthful energy attached to it. In the song “Turn it Up” there’s a line that says. “Don’t try to stop me once I start cause I got a blues soul and a rock and roll heart” and that line to me was the mission statement of this album. I wasn’t going to compromise in any way shape or form my interpretation of the blues and I like to say that it’s, unapologetic Blues-Rock. It’s not a dirty word and I think sometimes in the small little world of the blues there’s so much in-fighting as to what is blues and what’s not that I think that we should just all come together and anyone that accepts themselves as a blues artist has a legitimate claim to that title should be accepted and loved.
I wanted to get into that topic. The song, “The Blues Ain’t the Blues No More.” I think that you were sort of exploring, correct me if I’m wrong, this idea that some people putting up their hands and saying…”excuse me, that’s not really blues.” Is that where you were going on that one?
I feel like a traditionalist at times and as radical as that sounds there’s no more Muddy Waters and there’s no Howlin’ Wolf. I really miss that style of blues. I do and I’m a big fan of it. However, a lot of blues traditionalists are sort of like civil war reenactors. They dress up and they pretend, but it’s not 1950 and in some ways we’ve lost a lot and in a lot of ways we’ve gained a lot. And I think the song is basically just saying that the world is always changing and the only constant is change and make sure you see your heroes while they are around because there won’t be another Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf. And there’ll never be another Walter Trout, so make sure you see those artists. It’s also true what you’re saying of course but I thought it would be very shocking for myself as a perceived blues rocker to write the song “The Blues Ain’t the Blues No More.” I’m seen much more as a traditional artist writing a song like that. The title just lends itself to a lot of thinking and ultimately everybody will make their own thoughts and when Otis Redding sings “Respect” it’s a lot different than when Aretha sings the same song, you know?
Well, speaking of influences, you brought up some guys but who are your influences? Where are you coming from with your guitar playing?
I started off loving loud rock and roll because that’s all I knew. I loved Eddie Van Halen. I’m talking like age 13-14. Eddie Van Halen, Iron Maiden, all these are rockin’ bands, and then I got into Hendrix. Hendrix blew my mind. Cream blew my mind, then I heard a guy, a blues guy, named Stevie Ray Vaughan who played “Voodoo Chile” and I heard it on the radio and I was like, “Who is this guy?” I’m about 18 at this point and I got really into Stevie and then that led me to BB King and then, further down the blues road. So, I always loved the blues. I just didn’t know that I did and I think that a lot of the things I loved in Eddie Van Halen when I was starting out work was what he copped from Eric Clapton and who copped from Albert King.
You have a great singing style, too. Are you conjuring anyone specific when you approach vocals?
I have a bunch of heroes in R&B and rock. My R&B heroes are Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, and Ray Charles. My blues heroes are BB King and Freddie King. I also love Junior Wells’ singing. I just think he has so much character in his voice. And on the rock side of things, Paul Rodgers is a huge influence, Steve Marriot, and Rod Stewart, too. Those are sort of my guys. I love Rod Stewart’s singing with the Jeff Beck Group. I think that is some of the finest blues singing going. So, there’s a time where I’d be like, “Okay I’ll do a little Otis Redding here, or a little Paul Rodgers there.” Sometimes it’s in the vocal infections or in the overall approach. I love Paul Rodgers as a singer because he reminds me of Jeff Beck as a guitar player. If you get ten guitar players , ten of the best in the world and everybody goes right, Jeff Beck is the only guy that goes left. And Paul does that a lot of that, too. If he sings four lines, a lot of singers might make the first line the big line but for Paul it’s the second line, and then the fourth line would be cool and laid back. So, I listen as much to singers as I do to guitar players and I try to study and appreciate more as a lover of what they do and how good they are.
Do you still practice? Are there things that you are reaching for on the guitar that you would like to do? You are very accomplished and lot of people would assume he doesn’t need to practice. He’s just automatically great. Are you working on getting even better?
Everyday… because there’s so many things I want to be able to do and accomplish. Just search YouTube for some stuff from Clapton 20 years ago and this guy is in his ’50s and he’s playin’ the hell out of the guitar. I love Cream but Clapton on that blues tour was killin’, and Paul Rodgers now at 60, and he sounds awesome! There’s a lot of hope if you take care of yourself and you really work at your craft and you can get better, and expand what you do and I’m really excited about that and that’s what gets me going. I constantly work really hard at it. A lot of people have seen us over the course of several years and sometimes I get a little compliment, “Hey man, you’re getting better!” That makes me feel really good because I’m working really hard. I wish that I could say that I was one of those folks that it came very naturally to, like, I just open my mouth and strum the guitar , and there it was. That’s not me. I work at it all the time. I think the cool thing is sometimes I can get a break from either singing or playing the guitar, meaning that I would be concentrating on my guitar then I’ll take a break and then I’ll work on singing, so I’m not concentrating on both things at once but my love for both of those things is just great. I’m also becoming more and more excited about visual arts, too, and design and all that stuff. That kind of keeps me occupied and out of trouble.
Are you on tour right now?
Yeah, we’re not doing any crazy touring right now. We’re doing two, three days a week. I live in St Louis, so that allows me to be centrally located and so, yeah, we do two, three, then come back home, two, three days, come back home, mow the lawn, pay the bills, go out.
Now wait a minute, Anthony, you’re blowing everybody’s illusions here about you being a big rock star, mowing the lawn, paying the bills, etc., what gives?
(Laughs) Well, I think that balance is really important because I was literally homeless for five years touring non-stop. I’ve done that and I think I just got burned out because I had no balance. You can’t live on 280 gigs and whisky and pizza forever. After a while it started eating up on my creativity in my art and I just needed balance. So, I try to be as boring as possible because my life is so exciting when I’m on the road playing music. I’m very creative. I love to take walks, and be alone in nature, which is very un-rock and roll but I think in order to do what I do that some sort of balance is very important. So, you don’t have to put that in the interview. (Laughs) You could say that I was up all night drinking whisky, but you know all the guys that did that didn’t live past 27.
So who is in the band now? Is it a 3 piece, 4 piece?
We’re doing a power trio, with a guy name Theo Harden, a great bass player, and then a wonderful drummer named Fred Spencer. There is a philosophy that says “Less is More” … our philosophy is “More is More.” We are really inspired by Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the power trios that just overplayed, and played a lot. I guess “overplay” is a bad word, but just filled up a lot of space with a lot of music and it’s a challenge when there’s only 3 of you to create something dynamic and musical and we really feel that we’re doing that. It’s very exciting and to me our shows really hearken back to the days of the Fillmore of the late ’60s, early and ’70s with a couple of modern twists too. That spirit is really being delivered at our shows and to some degree on the record, too.
Do you write with your band? I see that Theo is on the record. Is Fred on the record, too?
No, no… Theo’s on the album. Typically I tend to write the music and occasionally I’ll have to write with some outside writers. I am open to any cool idea and hell yeah, I’d be open to it. But I think that they’re happy backing me up and have a good time doing that.
The guitar players are going to want to know… are you a gear head?
I saw your promo video and I saw all the guitars so I thought we should talk about this.
Yeah, oh, absolutely. I have old Fenders and old Marshall amps, old Fenders and Gibson guitars. Yeah, I love my gear and I love recording because I try my stuff out. I’m a nerd.
Do you have a primary rig for touring or for gigs?
Yeah, I use two Marshalls because I love to scare soundmen! (laughs) One is a 50 watt with Greenback speakers in it, one is a 100 watt and a 50 watt with a Celestion 80s. I think that gives more like a high brittle sound the other one has a warm gushy sound and together they sort of a tone of nirvana. Then on the road I use Strats with humbuckers, Teles with humbuckers, Les Pauls, SGs , and I’m using probably about 90 percent humbucker now with the power trio just to cover the sonic real estate. I love when Clapton plays the Strat, but when he was back with Cream in the reunion, and he was trying the Strat on a lot of it I thought that it was rather thin sounding because he didn’t have the keyboards and secondary guitar, so I love the Strat and I love the single coil sound but I find that in order to cover the sonic landscape that we have to, the only way to do it is a humbucker loaded guitar.
OK, you mentioned Clapton going back to play with Cream. This brings up an interesting point. How did you know or when did you know, or how did it come to be that you said to yourself, “It’s going to be the Anthony Gomes band, it’s going to be me. I’m going to be the singer, the guitar player ; it’s going to be my own thing.” As opposed to.. “I want to go join this band, and we’re all going to be all for one and one for all, or I’m going to be a side man”
Oh yeah, and I loved doing it (being a sideman) because I learned so much. I toured with Magic Slim for a while and that was quite an education and I did a bunch of pick up gigs in Chicago as a blues guitarist sideman. It was a wonderful learning experience. There is a difference in learning to back somebody up, and playing what needs to be played for them, as opposed to satisfying myself as an artist. I’m a supporting actor in that role. I have to ask myself, “What do I need to do to make the music best for that artist?” That taught me a lot. A lot of times I had to limit my vocabulary. For instance, when I toured with Magic Slim I wasn’t going to play a lot of 9 chords or any T-bone Walker, slow blues. I would have to play the sort of stock, blues groove, all night long a lot of times or single note lines and when I tried to play a 9 chord I thought someone was going to kill me but it just didn’t work for his music. I didn’t know that when I started but I grew to learn those things. You’re playing a role and everybody’s got their position and just like a sport everybody’s got their position. When I started off, I didn’t even want to sing. I just wanted to play blues guitar but nobody would wanted to join my band because they were like, “Gomes what are we gonna do? You’re gonna solo for 120 bars and as a singer what can I do while you’re taking a long solo?” So nobody would do it. So then I said, well, I’ll sing… it couldn’t go so badly and I worked on that. I did I try some band concepts, but it seems to me that what the audience really wanted me was me as a solo act. Later on in my career I tried other band things. I love the idea of being in a band I love the camaraderie of that but at the end of the day the demand from the public was more for me as a solo act.
I see what you mean and It seems in blues especially, the singer/guitarist is a tradition. It’s Muddy Waters, or BB king . It’s not some band with BB King in it. That seems to be what’s expected.
I agree. That’s a good point and I think because the blues is such a personal thing, meaning that it’s limited to three chords and five notes it’s more of the individual’s personality that’s going to come out and so that’s why it’s a solo act but whatever works. I’m just happy we have gigs. I’m happy that this album is well received whether it was my name or was called Uncle Daddy Trio, or whatever. I’m just happy that people are coming to the shows and loving the music and it makes me a little more humbled to do so as a solo artist.
Can you talk about some of the high points of your career? What are some of the things that have happened that make you think, “My god, this is so cool! I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
One of the coolest things was hanging out with Robert Plant while waiting in line to meet BB King. He was my neighbor in my hotel and we were hanging out for hours talking about music and he was the most unpretentious guy. Then he’s waiting in line next to me to meet The King which was just so cool and how much respect he had for BB, and that music in general. To me, that WAS Electric Field Holler. Robert Plant, the king of Rock and roll, and The King of the blues together. So, I look back at that kind of experience being in awe, hanging out with BB because I’ve met him before and looking at Robert’s respect and admiration for BB. That experience and cross pollination of rock and blues really is what Electric Field Holler is. So, I think that really is a cool moment that really stands out.
Let’s talk about the foundation, Music Is The Medicine. Give us some information on that.
Absolutely. First of all, music has been so good to me personally that I felt that I wanted to do something to give back. So in 2010, with the help of a couple of friends we started a modest little foundation called Music is the Medicine and since then, our mission statement is the healing and the power of music. We believe that music can impact tangible change in the world. We’re like hippies, man! We still believe that music can do things. The average person they would say, “Really? You think music can change the world ? Are you guys on drugs?” But I’ve seen it. For instance, we gave some instruments and lessons to war veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and then one guy came up and he talked to everybody said, “I didn’t talk for years… and after I got a guitar, that opened up my line of communications “…so the guitar got him communicating non-verbally and then, he’s next to a buddy of his and he looked at him and he said, “Oh, how did you play that?” and he just started talking. Child homelessness has been one of our recent causes. We just raised $2,000 for some kids in St. Louis to get off the street and we’ve impacted a couple of lives. It’s not like we’re changing millions but we’ve giving guitars to kids with nonverbal autism. We’ve raised money for underprivileged kids to get songwriting scholarships to music schools. We’ve had State Farm and CVS give sizeable donations and the one thing that we’re very excited about is every penny we get goes to helping people. It’s not like we have a big administrative fees. We have a volunteer based group and I’m very proud of that. So, you know, that if somebody donates a dollar, that dollar goes to helping. That’s something we’re very proud of.
How do people get involved if they want to participate?
They simply go to our website musicisthemedicine.org to find out more about it and contact us. Anything they can do to help is appreciated. We just had somebody last Saturday night give us two new guitars and we’ll find a good home for those guitars and change somebody’s life.
What are your favorite moments on the new record?
It’s so funny because I really love the guitar solo on “Love Crazy” and that whole song was a real challenge because it was so poppy and it almost didn’t make the album, for whatever reason. I love Brian May and how easy he’s able to write a perfect solo in a song and he’s a great player but he writes like this little poppy thing, which always just fits perfectly. On “Love Crazy” there’s a little scary drum fill in the solo that is really cool, but I had to work around that landscape of this wild “look at me” drum fill and play this thing, and I was just so happy how that turned out because it’s almost like a song within a song in a lot of ways. We were really excited about that.
I also like “Listen to the Universe” a lot. I just think it was so out there that I love it. I love the way that it ends since it’s the last song on the album. I have an Octavia guitar effect on it and it’s crazy and psychedelic and as a guitar player those are some of the moments that I really like. I’m such a perfectionist that I love it all and I hate it all. I’d love to do it again and make it better. Sting has a great quote, “You never finish an album, you abandon it,” and I sort of feel a little bit like that but I also feel that this has some of my best singing to date and I don’t cringe when I hear it! As an artist you are always thinking, “Well, that could be better and this could be better.” For me, when I’m making an album I listen to it 24/7 and sometimes when you listen to something a hundred times and on the hundredth time you hear something and think, “Oh… I shouldn’t have done that, let me change this vocal thing or why did I say this word or it should be the opposite word.” But when the album is done I never listen to it again and then I’ll be at a party a year later where somebody is spinning the song or at a blues gig and the sound man is spinning it at a blues bar, and I hear it and I realize,“Oh yeah, that’s not so bad yah yah,.” That’s basically the process.
What is next for Anthony Gomes? What’s in the future ? Do you have something planned that you could give us a sneak peak about or is that top secret?
Top secret (laughs)…sometime at the end of the summer we’re going back to the studio and we’re working on our next album. It will probably be out in about a year or maybe less. It’s gonna be called Peace, Love and Loud Guitars. I do a lot of artwork for albums and I’ve been working on this album cover for two years. It’s this intricate, crazy psychedelic, very Disraeli Gears inspired album cover. This is going to be a continuation of Electric Field Holler. Some artists have little periods and for three or four albums they sort of explore something and then they move on to something else. I feel that the acoustic record we did was the end of a chapter and this is the beginning of a new one with Electric Field Holler and I feel like the next album will be an extension of it, meaning it will rock in the same ways but they’ll just be more. There will be a little bit more depth to it. I’ve got a song I’ve been working on for a little while called “Stealing from the Devil.” It’s a story about going down to hell and getting Robert Johnson back. There will be some of those things that will be like Electric Field Holler in some ways but just deeper and more wider, more rockin’ in some ways and other ways more blues. It’s just going to expand upon that, and yes, I’m excited. I have somewhere right around 50 songs right now.
Writing a lot of songs is great but it beats the alternative. You got to demo them and work on them and fall in love with the song that nobody loves and you got to beat it up and hope it makes it because you feel sorry for it or passionate for it.
Do you write in your home studio, pretty much on your own?
I have a process that basically goes like this; I write lyrics, I write songs with bad lyrics and then I make them better and I usually do this on my phone with a little recording device that’s nothing sophisticated. I’ll amass 50 or 60 or 70 of them and then I’ll whittle the ones I don’t like as much from those 50 or so songs. I’ll usually concentrate on 20 and then I’ll demo them in the studio. I’ll take those 20 and I’ll find what’s the right tempo and then 2 or 3 will fall by the way side and then those last 17 I will fine tune. I go in and record them and whatever doesn’t make it might make it to the next album or it doesn’t make it because there was one part wasn’t exactly right. Then I will eventually tweak that and then it makes the next record. Right now, I feel like we have an embarrassment of riches especially for the next album. So I expect to continue along this great and wonderful path that we’re going down right now.
Interview by Lou Lombardi