A Life in Music
By PAUL ZOLLO
HE CONTAINS MULTITUDES. Multitudes of music, that is. A hit songwriter, renowned producer, virtuoso bassist, current member of The Alan Parsons Project, recording engineer, teacher, former soldier in the Israeli army, he defies definition. A musical force of nature, he is Guy Erez.
Born in the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, he moved south with his family to Be’er Sheva when he was very young. Israeli pop music was the soundtrack of his childhood until he was 8 years old, and got his first taste of American music. Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was one of the first, and he knew it mattered. Not only did it introduce him to the power of American music, it also helped familiarize him with English, which all Israeli children start studying in the 4th grade. “I remember hearing that,” he said, “and going to a dictionary or asking my parents what certain words meant. I knew it was important and I was hearing something great.”
From there he graduated to ELO, Supertramp and other groups. But Queen was the band that most entranced him. “It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard in my life,” he remembered. Next came the Beatles, when he was about 11, and it’s then he first picked up a guitar and by ear learned all the Beatles songs he could. A guitar teacher gave him tapes of songs to study, from which he learned songcraft. He was already deeply inside music, and he was in love: “It was joyful, it was amazing fun, and I was figuring out all the songs I loved. I was the happiest kid in Israel.”
As much as he loved Beatles, Pink Floyd blew his mind: “That’s where I felt I belonged. It has this extra dimension , this soundscape, I could listen to Pink Floyd right when I come home from school to the moment I went to sleep. All day long.”
He was also exposed then to heavier rock, like Led Zeppelin, which he loved, as well as the pristine artistry he discovered in the music of ECM recording artists such as Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek. It was not only the fluid purity of the music that drew him in, but also the immaculate sonic beauty of the recordings. It was then that he had the revelation that great music on record consists not only of vivid composition and great musicianship, but also a mastery of the art and science of recording. “There was something about listening to it in headphones,” he said, “That whole experience. It was very important to me and I could see myself living this kind of life. It was the first manifestation of what my career is now. I just wanted to make music all the time.”
Unlike his friends, Guy heard an element in this music they didn’t. “I remember gravitating towards the sound of bass, and in Queen’s stuff really listening to the bass-lines, and pointing them out to my friends and they’d look at me like `What are you talking about?’ My ear gravitated towards hearing the vocal lines and the bass. I cannot explain why that is.”
And so his first chance to get his hands on a bass – at high school – was a momentous occasion. The school owned one electric bass, and the first time he picked it up he somehow knew how to play it. It was natural, it was inevitable, and it was his destiny. Overnight he became the official bassist for the school, playing in every show, every concert, every musical event. Though he had yet to learn to read music, he had an amazing ear, and could easily figure out even the most complex music. Later on in his teens, already virtuosic on the bass, he took some lessons, always envisioning a life in music.
But duty called. Like every young man and woman in Israel, at 18 his time came to serve in the army, forcing him to stop in his musical tracks for three years while serving out his military stint. Because he was in fine physical shape, he was chosen to be a frontline soldier. Trained to be a fighter, he was fortunate to stay out of combat during his three year stint, though he had to patrol the border and venture into Lebanon. It was a hard time for this young man who had never been away from home before, and longed to carry a bass, not an AK-47.
Though listening to music provided an escape from the realities of a soldier’s life, being out in the field made it impossible to ever play his own music. But music was a lifeline he clung to. “It was an escape for me, then, a way to keep my sanity.” The time away from loved ones and from his beloved records and instruments was difficult. But even then he knew adversity leads to strength, and as hard as that time was, he emerged after three years as a stronger person, and a musician dedicated to success in his chosen field. “For me I’m not the type to be a soldier. It was very hard for me to get orders all the time and do stuff I didn’t want to do. But I knew these were the dues I had to pay and I did it. It was a dark time, but one needs to go through darkness, sometimes, to reach the light.”
When his time in the military was over, he returned to music immediately, finding a bass teacher who filled in the gaps in his musical education, “the spark that got me on my journey,” as he put it. His teacher, astounded by Guy’s innate talent, taught him everything Guy needed to learn – technique, reading music, and playing bass in every genre, from jazz to metal to funk and beyond. Rather than be intimidated by how much there was to learn, Guy voraciously ate it all up and wanted more. “It was more than fun,” he remembered. “It was enlightenment for me. This is where I found my road.” Practicing around the clock, he studied everything he could get his hands on, expanding his proficiency on the instrument, and becoming a prodigious player.
Soon he was hooking up with Israeli bands and recording music. But he knew he wanted something more. When a friend told him about the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood, he recognized a rightness he couldn’t deny: “This was one of those moments in life – I looked at it and knew, this was it. I am going to study music in America.” He told his parents, who were understandably apprehensive about their son going so far away from home. But they saw then the steely determination he brings to everything he does, and eventually gave in. “They tried to dissuade me,” he said, “which hurt, at the time. But now I can look back at that with a smile, because I knew I was going on this journey no matter what.”
Guy Onstage with Alan Parsons Project in Russia.
So he packed his bass and his suitcases, and set off for America. And he never looked back. Literally. His girlfriend remembers that when she, along with his parents and brothers, took him to the airport to fly to America, he said a quick goodbye, and with his bass on his shoulder ascended the escalator towards his destiny. And he never did look back. He was on his way.
The year was 1992. At the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood he fell in with the happy amalgamation of music and musicians. “I was like a kid in a candy shop,” he said. “I loved it.” He convinced his girlfriend (now his wife) to join him in his new American life, and she did. Guy absorbed the full gamut of musicianship, lovingly delving into every style of music he could, and playing with great teachers and students both. In fact, he was so adept at every kind of music – unlike those who found their singular path in only jazz or rock – that people had a hard time, as they still do, figuring out exactly where he fit. Truth was he could fit in pretty much anywhere, a fact that has forever colored his career.
After a year, he graduated with honors, but was uncertain if he could make a living in music as he hoped. Answering an ad for a bassist in a rock band, he auditioned and won over many great musicians to get the gig, which required both bass playing and back-up vocals. He went home and learned some sixty songs, and quickly became a professional musician, gigging with this band on weekends, and teaching bass at MI during the week. When Ralph Humphrey, former drummer for Frank Zappa, heard him play, he invited Guy to join the faculty of the Los Angeles Music Academy (LAMA), which he did. It was there he got to play and hang with many stellar musicians, including legendary Weather Report bassist Alphonso Johnson.
But as much as Guy enjoyed playing bass, he yearned for something more. The artist Goldo invited him to produce his new project, and introduced him to a recording innovation that would forever change the world of recording, Pro-Tools digital recording. Though Guy had felt intimidated by the complexities of analog recording studios, Pro-Tools made sense to him, and he quickly became an expert. He produced Goldo’s album as if he’d been producing for years, even writing some of the songs. They made one track just as a joke while having fun one night called “Boom Da Boom,” and much to their surprise, people loved it. Fox TV picked it up as the theme for their Tuesday night programming, and Disney grabbed it for their own version. Now Guy was a pro songwriter as well as a producer-engineer-bassist-guitarist, swiftly surmising that writing music, in addition to playing and recording it, was a profitable business.
Though he was invited then to join a band, he declined, because he knew that he belonged in the studio, writing and recording his own music. Returning to Israel, he asked his father for a sizable loan. Though his dad was initially reluctant, when Guy made the case that he wanted to have a great studio, his dad, once again, agreed. With that money he bought and outfitted his first studio. And it was there that all his talent and all his enthusiasm coalesced: “Off I went like crazy, writing, playing. 14 hours a day. It was so inspiring to hear my music back right away.”
“Astonishing X Men” Written & Produced by Guy
Quickly he had a catalog of original songs, and his ebullient nature connected him to many people in an industry always impressed by authentic talent fused with genuine ambition. Within a few months, he landed four songs on a Jennifer Love-Hewitt album, including the hit single “Bare Naked.” With the artist Holly Palmer, he collaborated on the song “Just So You Know,” which was produced by the renowned Rob Cavallo. Though Cavallo recorded his own track for the song, when he listened back to Guy’s demo, he knew it couldn’t be beat, and used it as the foundation of the song.
And so Guy Erez, as easily as he established himself first as a bassist, a producer and a teacher, became a hit songwriter-producer. Soon his songs were being recorded by bands such as Swirl 360, artists such as Meredith Brooks, as well as being placed in TV shows and movies. Invited to submit tracks for Tom Green’s MTV comedy show, he impressed Green and the producers immediately, and was told, “Congratulations. You are now the composer of the ‘Tom Green Show.’”
During this time, he continued to write and produce songs, and formed a partnership with the songwriter-producer Emerson Swinford. Chrysalis Music caught wind of the music these two were cooking up, and signed them to a publishing deal. It enabled Guy to stop teaching and devote himself full-time to songwriting and production. He established himself as the guy people could come to at the last minute to solve their musical problems. When the Gipsy Kings, for example, needed someone to compile and produce a live album from concert tapes, Guy was invited, and in three weeks created the dynamic The Gipsy Kings Live In London.
“Shine,” written & produced by Guy, performed by Sarah Bettens.
Similarly, the producer of MTV’s “The Andy Dick Show” called and said, “Guy – we have a disaster. You have to come over and save us.” They needed music for the show, and Andy’s own attempts with friends had failed. Andy came over to Guy’s studio, Guy concocted a funky bass line and groove, and with Andy wrote the theme song in just over the hour. He and Andy also wrote other songs for the show.
Presently Guy is relocating and expanding his studio, and has taken on a wealth of projects, each reflecting the unique diversity that is his signature. For the artist Randy Coleman, Guy produced the elegiac “Hey God,” which was featured on the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning film Crash. When Coleman was asked to open for The Who at the Hollywood Bowl, he enlisted Guy to play bass in the band. Guy also recently produced folk diva Manda Mosher’s acclaimed debut album Everything You Need, and with Ryan Cabrera he co-wrote and produced “Shine On,” the first single from his You Stand Watching album.
And he’s especially excited about the theme song he wrote for the brand new Avengers TV show, “Avengers Earth Mighty Heroes,” a joint venture between Marvel Comics and Disney TV, which will be broadcast in more than 100 countries.
And as if that weren’t enough for many people to do in one lifetime, he’s also become the new bassist for the Alan Parsons Project, with whom he’s toured around the world, with recent concerts in Paris, Prague, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Israel and throughout America. It’s a dream gig for Guy, who as a kid in Israel idolized Alan Parsons. And the feelings, evidently, are mutual, as Parsons has already invited Guy to remain and be involved in future projects.
These days those in the industry who were initially perplexed by his multitudes of musical expression now recognize what Guy Erez is all about. He’s a guy who can do it all, a man who has succeeded in manifesting the vision he first dreamt as a child in Israel, living his dream, a life in music. n
5 thoughts on “BLUERAILROAD * OCTOBER, 2010”
The ghost of Studs Terkel must be in between those lines. What a fantastic interview.
WOW. Incredible interview with the legend that is Rickie Lee Jones
Yes, WOW. Excelent post.
Have loved following her career since the beginning. And… this is the very best review I have ever read. Heartfelt revelation brought joyous tears to my eyes. Thanks for the music, and the review.
This is the best, most insightful interview with RLJ that I’ve ever read, and I’ve been reading them since long before the internet existed. It’s hard to express what I feel about her artistry (besides the usual musical accolades) because she has been part of the fabric of my life for so many years. From first hearing the jazzy revelation of “Chuck E” when I was just a girl of 14, to connecting with the relationship-drenched “The Magazine” when I was so there in college, to fully understanding the complex and wry melancholy of “Traffic From Paradise” as a grown woman. She has helped me survive, made me laugh, made me cry, increased my empathy for others, and ultimately shown me how to be grateful for what I’ve been given in life. I’ve seen her perform live 3 times over the years ~ in Berkeley, San Francisco and San Diego ~ and every show was amazing because she gives all. People literally shout out their love & throw flowers, it’s really something! Thank you Rickie for seeing me thru all the stages of my life…please continue! I LOVE the new album. Blue railroad: Thanks for doing this great interview, you’re now on my faves list.