Interview: Curtis

Dan McAvinchey: Curtis, when did you first realize you had musical aspirations?

Curtis: When I was about 11, an older kid in the neighborhood started to play electric bass. I was fascinated by the power and feel of it and the amp. That summer all I did was listen to music, play air guitar and ride my skateboard. I was drawn to the "sound" of the guitar in the music I heard. Soon I asked my parents if I could take lessons. They were supportive, but I had to learn on the acoustic guitar they bought in Tijuana, Mexico before I was born. This nylons string "box" was not exactly a dream guitar. They wanted to make sure I was serious before going out and buying an electric guitar like I really wanted. My first teacher was a great classical player. So it all worked out; I received a great foundation in classical guitar and
began picking out Kiss songs on this classical guitar after I finished my classical studies. A year later I had my first electric guitar, a Les Paul copy.

Dan McAvinchey: How about telling us about your guitars, amps and other musical gear, and how you use it to get your "tone"?

Curtis: For the past several years my two main guitars have been a Fender Custom Shop Classic Strat, and a Tom Anderson Classic Drop Top (S-S-H). I tend to
lean more to the Strat, but sometimes there's no substitute for a humbucker
in the bridge position. I also have a Gibson Les Paul Heritage that I use
occasionally when recording. All guitars have DR strings (10's) and I use
Fender heavy picks.

On "Blue Electric Cool" I used a Marshall 50-watt Plexi reissue and a 1965
Fender Deluxe. A variety of distortion/overdrive pedals, including a
Fulltone FDII and a VZEX SHO were used as well. I used a THD hotplate to
tame the volume, since both amps are non-master volume. I really went for
the power tube glow sound on this CD. There are many shades of overdrive
and distortion on this CD, like different colors on a canvas. Cabinets
included a Bogner 1X12 and a THD 2X12, both with Celestion speakers. The
Deluxe has a Weber speaker in it.

After the tracking was finished I sold my Soldano SLO100 and bought a Bogner
Shiva head (EL34). So far this amp is working out great for live work. The
clean channel is so good that I can cover both Fender and Marshall sounds
with just one amp. My ultimate delay pedal has not been invented yet, but
for now I use a Line 6 DL4.

For me, finding "my tone" is a journey without a destination; what I want changes over time. I am constantly trying new things; I usually try to sell the stuff that does not work so that I can try other things. I have detailed track notes on each tune at the web site

Dan McAvinchey: What would you consider to be your musical goals?

Curtis: I strive to make a music that all people, not just guitar players, will
listen to more than once; tunes that you can come back to over and over again through the years. I love instrumental music and hearing virtuoso playing and the magic of improvisation, but for me the composition has to be there. I avoid writing, playing and listening to endless shredding that goes nowhere. So, I strive to find the right balance between composition, improvisation, technique and tone. .

Dan McAvinchey: Describe the evolution of your material from your 1998 self-titled release through your current release, "Blue Electric Cool".

Curtis: My first CD, "Curtis", was a collection of material, some of which was written while I was in my last hard rock band, Lunatic Fringe. It was written over
the span of about 5 years. The "Curtis" CD was a transition from vocal
based material to instrumental. My second CD, "Room137", followed two years
after that. In retrospect, "Room 137" is a collection of tunes highlighting my favorite guitar styles. I am a diverse player and listener so I enjoy an eclectic mix of styles.

"Blue Electric Cool" is definitely a growth and departure from my previous
efforts. It also includes a new band; Rob Chismar on drums and Dave Hill on

"Blue Electric Cool" has a lot more band energy, since we play together a lot
more than my last band. Since "Room 137", I also became a huge fan of acid
jazz, which in turn worked its way into my writing. I made extensive use of
keys, loops and samples on this CD to add surprise and flavor. I also
worked with a horn section for the first time, which added a great dimension
to the material. I feel "Blue Electric Cool" breaks some new ground and
takes the "Instrumental Guitar" genre a step further. The guitar is front
and center, but the variety of styles and tones keeps things interesting.
The band is very proud of this CD, and I personally think this is the best
work I have ever done.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us what you have planned for the near future.

Curtis: Getting the word out and promoting "Blue Electric Cool". We are playing shows in support of the new CD and hope to set up some mini tours north and
south of Los Angeles. I would love to make some connections to do some
dates in Europe or Japan; any leads? Contact me. Other promotion for "Blue
Electric Cool" includes a TV commercial we are airing on local cable

Rob Chismar (drums) is a video editing wizard. In fact, our live show includes video footage in sync with the music we are playing. This is a great multimedia experience that keeps the crowd engage especially if they expecting someone to start singing. You can view one of the videos at

Dan McAvinchey: What is the scene like for live music in Los Angeles?

Curtis: Los Angeles is a tough gig for original music, much less original
instrumental music. There is so much to do here that people have overload and do not take advantage of, or appreciate, all this city has to offer. Many clubs are all about the scene and not about the music; these clubs have DJ's. There are very few live music clubs/bars that have there own following; most expect the bands to bring in the crowd. Dealing with club bookers and owners ranks very low on the fun scale.

The other dread is the freeways. People tend not to travel far once they are home from work. Conceiving people to sit in traffic to come see your show is tough. In L.A
you have to have a car to get anywhere; which also puts a cramp in people's drinking habits. There are many reasons why L.A. is not a great place for live music. That said; there are a handful of clubs where you can frequently hear some amazing players performing instrumental rock/fusion.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel about the current crop of guitar-oriented magazines and how
they are currently covering instrumental music?

Curtis: I have subscribed to Guitar Player for years and look forward to getting it every month but, it is very corporate and predictable. For the most part
they cover the mainstream. There is no pulse on the instrumental guitar scene, which is unfortunate since there are so many great players out there. The new players that are profiled tend to be from young pop rock bands whose record company hired a publicist to get them coverage; Guitar World seems a bit better but is still very narrow and a bit more metal focused, I only get GW occasionally. Many times instrumental music is thrown in with metal even if it very little to do with it - as soon as there is a guitar lead or some distortion it is metal. 20th Century Guitar magazine does a lot for new and underground artists. It is almost a joke that, as far as I know, neither
Guitar World nor Guitar Player has ever done a story on Guitar Nine.

Dan McAvinchey: Actually, Guitar World did a series of articles on music web sites in 2000, so as part of that, the site was featured in a Brian Stillman article in November of 2000. But you're right in that no guitar magazine has done an article on Guitar Nine as a company and/or service, and what it means to the artists that sell here (too much research required, I guess).

Back to the inquisition - what do you now find to be the advantages and disadvantages of being an independent musician and running your own label?

Curtis: Running your own label is the ultimate outlet for creating your music and getting it out to people. The alternative is sitting at home waiting for a call from a "real" label. Believe me, pinning your hopes on someone else making it happen for you is very frustrating and can turn you into a very weird person.

The main advantage of being independent is control, and not having to compromise. You can do it exactly the way you want. Of course, that also translates into a lot of work and money. Since, for most of us, budget is a limiting factor you have to do everything on a scaled down level. The biggest barriers are distribution and tour support. For most independents the Internet is now the primary method of distribution outside of selling CDs at shows. Touring outside of your home town can get expensive. It is a juggling act to bounce between running the business and performing playing and writing. It is not for everyone.

Dan McAvinchey: Can you share any marketing or promotion tips for musicians about to release their first independent record?

Curtis: The work does not stop after you have your boxes of CDs; it gets harder because now you have to put on your business and promotion hat. You have
to be very confident in what you have created because you will face rejection. Not just from strangers that are not interested, or don't like your music, but from friends that seem ambivalent or jealous of what you are trying to accomplish.

Budget money for advertisement and promotion and be ready to do the footwork after the CD is done. The Internet is the corner stone of your marketing and promotional efforts. If there is not a guy in the band that can handle the Internet stuff, than pick one and make him/her learn it. We are lucky to have sites like and to take our products to. Relationships are every thing; talent is just not enough. Keep the plates in the air and follow up!

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Dan McAvinchey: What do you see yourself doing in five or ten years time?

Curtis: Hopefully I will still be playing and creating relevant music that people
enjoy. I hope to get more involved in film and TV music. I am sure I will still be on my journey for the ultimate tone.

Dan McAvinchey: If you could collaborate with any guitarist in the world on one recording project, who would it be?

Curtis: That is a hard question. If I limited it to people who are living I would
have to look to who I would learn the most from compositionally. So, on the jazz side it would be Pat Metheny and on the rock/pop side Steely Dan (Donald Fagen and Walter Becker) or Paul McCartney. It would be quite an experience to work with one of the Beatles.

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Guitarist Curtis is a native of southern California. He has recorded and released three solo CDs since 1998, the latest entitled "Blue Electric Cool". Curtis performs throughout the southland and beyond with his band and has been actively involved in promoting the instrumental guitar scene in Los Angeles. Curtis was nominated for "Guitarist of the Year" for the 11th Annual Los Angeles Music Awards and was included in Music Connection Magazine's "100 Top Unsigned Bands" for 2001.

Dan McAvinchey caught up with Curtis to discuss his latest CD, his beginnings in music, and the challenges facing artist-run record labels.