Gibb Droll Plugs In Again
Screaming guitar leads and solid songwriting has long made Gibb Droll a staple along the East Coast. He mesmerizes audiences with an incredible outpouring of heat and soul that often references Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix but remains distinctive and compelling. Not only is he talented but he carries a very friendly and humble demeanor as well. He always takes time to shake hands and say hi to his fans new and old. He epitomizes the persona of an enlightened musician.
Over the past five years, Gibb has parted ways with his original band and tried a few other configurations. Feeling he had hit a wall musically, Gibb unplugged his Strat and strapped on his acoustic. Off to find new inspiration, Gibb was content not to plug back in until it felt right. After a two-year acoustic run, which included the Summer Sessions Tour of 99 with Govt Mule, String Cheese Incident, moe., and Galactic, the Gibb Droll Band returns. In 2001, Gibb is playing with a new incarnation of the GDB that has Nathan Brown and Dave Slankard from the band Everything on drums and bass. Gibb gives longtime friends Brown and Slankard credit for inspiring him to plug back in. He has new songs and is ready to play to a whole new group of fans while becoming reacquainted with old ones.
Gibb is currently on a solo acoustic tour, opening dates for Edwin McCain before resuming his electric band gigs at the end of June. For more on Gibb Droll and to check out his music please visit his website at www.gibbdroll.com
(KP) How did it all begin for you? How did you get into playing the guitar?
Gibb: It all started in Virgina Beach. I got into it when I was ten years old. I listened to my big brother play guitar so he kind of turned me on to it. He sold me a guitar when I was ten: sold it to me, not gave it to me [laughs]. Sold it to me for $10. I had just gotten the Knacks new album with My Sharona on it. So Saturday morning I was watching cartoons and had the guitar in my lap. It was an electric but I didnt have an amp at that point. I kind of picked out that first part of My Sharona and thats how it started. The Knack got me started.
(KP) Anyone whos followed you over the years has heard the Stevie Ray comparisons and heard some of it in the way you play. Who are some of your biggest influences?
Gibb: Absolutely Stevie Ray. Hes the whole reason I really got into it. At 13 I got hip to Stevie Ray. I saw him play the Cant Stand the Weather tour in 84. And he was so amazing, that changed my whole life. Then I learned about Hendrix, and Freddie King, and Albert King, and Albert Collins, and BB King, and T-Bone Walker, you know, crazy stuff like that. And then I got into the jazz thing so I listened to horn players. So I would just take from all these influences. Its ended up being people Ive met and played with who have become bigger influences. Obviously, Stevie passed by the time I really started to play, so I never got a chance to connect with him. But there are people who are just as important, such as Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, or Warren Haynes, that Ive been blessed enough to play with and they have influenced me a great deal, too. So I look at them the same way I look at Stevie Ray.
(KP) Discuss the evolution of the Gibb Droll band over the years. From back in the Dough Boy days to where it is today.
Gibb: Its funny because the Dough Boy is a little pizza shop and we would charge people two bucks to get in and they could bring their instruments so it became this blues jam. Thats how I met Mike Williams, who was the drummer for many years, and Tom Hall my bass player. It evolved into a three-piece power trio with driving guitar. Then it evolved into a four-piece with the electric piano in Pete Mathis. There it got a little more into the Steely Dan jazzier thing. Then it evolved into a five-piece with Doug Wanamaker, on sax and Hammond keyboard. That made it more like the Freddie King blues stuff and some crazy Ornette Coleman style jazz stuff too. And then I got in with Kevin Hamilton and that whole thing and went back to a three-piece with stand up bass. I was playing just the hollow guitar, mostly, trying to get back to my roots. Now its kind of come full circle, as an electric three-piece focusing more on songwriting. In the last two years Ive listened to a lot of Dylan and Kevn Kinney and people who write great songs and tried to throw it together with all the guitar influences so hopefully its a different thing.
(KP) Its apparent with the new band you are playing mostly stuff written within the last couple years. Longtime Gibb Droll fans everywhere are wondering if weve heard the last of songs like Blue Love Shawl and Texas Underground. Are there plans to reintroduce some of the stuff from Dharma and Narrow Mouth Jar as time goes on?
Gibb: Well, whats cool is Nate Brown is playing drums and Dave Slankard is playing bass and we are actually working in reverse. They were given two years worth of stuff. And weve taken those songs, which are 20-plus songs and brought this whole thing together with a sound and now were slowly going back. Like tonight well reintroduce Gentry Song for the first time. I havent played that live since like 94 or 95. So yeah, its going to come back. There are some songs I can live with and some songs that were just fun at the time, like Texas Underground. We drank whiskey all the time, we were down in Texas, it was great. But you know it’s a little different now. So there are some songs Ill probably lay to rest for a while and then there are some like Crown, which Ill possibly bring back. But Im so excited about the new stuff. There are six other songs that these guys havent even heard that are more of where we are now.
(KP) A couple years ago you had another 3-piece band going, then you went solo acoustic for a while. What inspired this unplugged sabbatical and what plugged you back in?
Gibb: To be really honest with you, Ive been in the club scene for a long time and I really got to a point where I felt like, musically, I wasnt stretching out anymore. I just kinda felt like I hit a wall. So I could either keep going in that circle and make enough money to survive and do my thing, or I could reach back inside and figure out if I was really meant to do this or not. So I took two years and canceled the whole electric thing and tried to learn the acoustic guitar for what it was worth. And thats what got me into song writing, really. And I waited till it was time. Really, it was the karmic connection with these two guys (Nate and Dave) that got me plugged in because I was content not to plug in until it was right again.
(KP) Did it ever cross your mind during this time to not even worry about putting the Gibb Droll Band back together? Maybe go into an existing band or start something like a Frogwings, where you would be playing in a group of artists that carry solo careers but come together to combine their talents?
Gibb: During that time I was trying to find what it was I was supposed to do. I was open to everything. For a while Carrie Pierce out in Texas had his thing going on and he needed a guitar player. So I went out for a two-week tour and played all these songs I wasnt familiar with. Then I went and did some recording for this band in Florida call VonRa. They had some radio activity, so I did a couple singles for them. Ive always tried to be as open as I can but not put myself in a situation that was going to limit me. If it didnt teach me something then Id really be better off to learn stuff on my own.
(KP) A couple summers ago you were on the Summer Session tour. Has having friends like mo.e and String Cheese Incident inspired you to explore new territory in your music?
Gibb: Absolutely. I mean being on tour with those guys all summer was incredible. To be on tour all summer with Warren and Allen, that whole Govt Mule thing. I mean that really changed everybody. By the end of that tour, whenever Govt Mule played, everybody from moe., Galactic, String Cheese, everybody, checked the Mule out. Because they were doing something that was tying everything together and yet it sounded as fresh as like ZZ Top did in 72. It was like they were really onto something totally different then everybody else. Playing solo acoustic at Red Rocks and stuff was something that I never thought I would have done. I didnt think I ever would have been comfortable doing that and I wasnt, but now that I did it, it was a turning point too. Saying to myself, Well, its not going to get any more intense than that. So it was a great time.
(KP) When Gibb Droll is in Atlanta youll often play a tribute song to Col. Bruce Hampton. Talk about your relationship with the Col. and how knowing him has affected you.
Gibb: The first time I met Bruce was like in 93 and I had the live record out, ya know. I was just a kid and we played with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. That night, it changed my life. Thats when I met Jimmy (Herring) and everything. And Bruce took time at the end of the night to do his tricks, these crazy things he does, and I was so mesmerized by this man. And we just connected, I dont know. I think Bruce has this great intense soul and I think that a few people really get to feel it. You know he affects a lot of people. I just think I never took him for granted and I always really appreciated the time together. Itd be great because wed play Smiths and at the end of the night the smoke clears and there are three beautiful blonde girls sitting with Hampton. Its just so great, and hes just there checking the show out. And musically, the people that hes played with and hes influenced its an honor that he would spend five minutes to watch me. I dont ever see him. Its one of those cosmic things but when I do I just love to see him.
(KP) Yeah, his new stuff with the Code Talkers smokes. Anyhow, now you have Nathan Brown on drums and Dave Slankard on bass from Everything. Are these guys here for the long haul? Will there be times when they tour with Everything and you do something else?
Gibb: Weve played together for ten years, you know. I mean really, thats the way we look at it.
(KP) The whole Virginia circuit kinda thing.
Gibb: Right. They have a record thats going to be coming out in the summer. So that is going to be something they are going to have to do. So as far as what we are doing, I think we are just going to take it day by day, really. But they are by far the best band Ive ever played with.
(KP) Are you considering adding any more parts to the band in the future? Keys / percussion/ another guitar?
Gibb: Man, I dont see it. I mean, Ive been through the gambit. I mean, unless I get a pan flutist or something. If Zamphyr comes in [laughs]. Then it might be the newest ripple in the thing. But other than that, I like the space. Its going to be a three-piece for a while.
(KP) Recently Narrow Mouth Jar was at #11 in the Rolling Stone Readers Top 20. That CD is nearly five years old now. How did that happen?
Gibb: Thats a very good question. Ill give you my opinion of what happened. I think somebody did a private poll of some poor record store owner in, like, North Carolina or Virginia. Some guy that owns like 50 records in his store. This poor guys probably seen 20 Gibb Droll shows. And he was the one guy that got polled. So he tried to think of whatever record he could think of to hook a brother. I would be very surprised if theres been this rush of Narrow Mouth Jar sales, because, you know, it has been five years.
(KP) Ill tell you what though, man. I always thought that album was ahead of its time. So maybe thats it. Ive introduced a lot of people to Dharma and Narrow Mouth Jar. These are people that I know who love to see live music and love to watch musicians push the limits. And a lot of them were like Wow! Who is this again? [Laughs] Ive got to check this guy out.
Gibb: Thank you for saying that because when we did it the whole concept of doing anything for the radio did not exist. It was all about being true to the spirit of jazz and blues. I was all about the jam and the vibe. So maybe it is. Maybe people are getting hip to it.
(KP) What will be the point where you, as a musician, sit back and say, This is exactly how I want it?
Gibb: I hope never. I really do. I dont think there can be. Im already two albums worth of stuff ahead of where I want to be. I cant get there yet, you know what I mean?
(KP) Now for the guitar players in the world, what advice do you have for up-and-coming players who are tuned in to what youre doing?
Gibb: Research the blues. I think that even if you stray away from the blues, which is totally cool, you still need to have some idea of that simplicity and space. Its just a matter of picking the right records. I mean, there are a lot of blues records out there that I dont care for and there are a lot of great, great blues records. My biggest fear is that you tell someone to get turned onto the blues and they might pick ten records and eight of them are not indicative of what youll hear on something like B.B. King at the Regal. If people can get hip to those early on it totally changes your whole thing. And always remember and respect the people that came before you. The fact that B.B. King is selling more records now with Eric Clapton than he ever has in his entire life is only a tribute to the fact that the man at 75 years old has still got something to say. A lot of people that dont have that blues thing run out of things to say. Or they say it for a time and then its gone and no one remembers what they said. You always remember what B.B. King says.