The B-52's have been both leaders and a presence on the New Wave/Modern Rock scene since 1976. Though the years have passed, this band has not lost their initial spark and their music is still as exciting and unique as ever. I recently had the privilege of speaking with Paul Gordon for an interview, who for four years has worked with the band live as a musician.
CL: Before we begin, thank you for taking the time to talk. PG: You're very welcome
CL: To the uninitiated, what instruments do you play in the B-52's? PG: I am the keyboard player and the second guitar player. Keith Strickland is the primary guitar player and I pick up the parts when a second guitar player is needed. On many songs I will play both, switching within the song from keys to guitar. For instance on "Love Shack" or "Give Me Back My Man", I'll play guitar on verses and keys on the choruses. On "Roam" it's the opposite.
CL: When did your personal interest in being a musician come about?
PG: At this point I can't really remember doing anything else. (Laughs) I started playing guitar around the age of 13 or 14 and played in local bands in my home state of Rhode Island . My father was a baptist minister and mother was the church piano player so music was always in the house. My brothers and I would sing in church many Sundays and occasionally my father would bribe me to sing with 50 cents or a dollar when a Sunday morning soloist got sick or cancelled last minute. My senior year in high school I had a music teacher named Malcolm Crupcala who had been a piano player for Blood Sweat and Tears, and had played for (saxophonist) Phil Woods. He was an amazing Jazz pianist. He really inspired me to play the piano and it's funny because keyboards have been the primary instrument of my career. I was a fast start and have more or less made my living at this since I was in my early 20's.
CL: I saw the B-52's at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles a number of years ago, and the best word I could honestly use to define the show properly was "fun." Is the music as much fun to play as it is to experience?
PG: Probably even more fun. The band has enthusiastic fans and they make it fun. My favorite gigs are the ones where the venue is set up so that people can stand up and move a little. Last I checked we don't play any soapy power ballads, so the show never really slows down.
CL: That's true! I remember Fred Schneider telling the audience that they really should play a love song, and then they broke into "Strobe Light." Very funny...and awesome! What songs from their catalogue do you particularly enjoy playing live? PG: I love "Give Me Back My Man" , "52 Girls", "Quiche Lorraine" and from the newest album I love "Hot Corner" and "Ultraviolet' , and you gotta love "Planet Clare" and "Rock Lobster."
CL: The band are true Alt.Rock pioneers. What are some of your personal influences musically? PG: Man, it's all over the map because I play 2 instruments. Classics like the Stones and Dylan, The Band. Aerosmith was an important band for me while learning to play guitar. As a piano/keyboard player I have always loved great part players, Nicky Hopkins, Rob Sabino, Benmont Tench, Bob Mayo. I'm a huge U2 fan. I'm also a big fan of electronica. Oh, and Andre Crouch, the great gospel artist. I learned his "Live from Carnegie Hall" album note for note after I started learning how to play the piano.
CL: I had the opportunity to converse with Keith Strickland online, he seemed like a very intellectually focused and an all-around nice man. People often don't realize the level of excellence in his playing on the recorded stuff. When the songs are rehearsed to be played live, do you try to stick to the recorded arrangements as a band, or is there more of a loose feeling to it? PG: Keith is brilliant, kind and generous and yes, an all around great person. He just has one of those original musical minds. The fact that he stepped in to fill Ricky Wilson's place as guitar player in the band always impressed me and was very couragous. Ricky was an iconic guitarist and many bands would have called it quits. In addition to preserving Ricky's heritage in a meaningful meaningful way, Keith has brought his own voice to the later recordings. At heart I think he is really an R&B guitarist. He does things sometimes that are just funky as hell. And by the way, I loved him as a drummer too! As far as the live arrangements go we really approach each song on it's own. "Mesopotamia" for instance is now a four on the floor dance number, house beat and all while "Idaho" and "Planet Claire" are basically as they were.
CL: Anything special in the works that fans can expect in the near future?
PG: Well, there will be a live DVD released in the spring and a 35th anniversary concert in February.
Creative freedom and being yourself are the brutal combination that the B-52's have brought into the hearts and the homes of numerous generations. Here's to another 35 years.