In August, Jeff Golub (pronounced Goal-ub) released his 8th solo album, Blues for You. Jeff is known primarily as a smooth jazz guitarist, but he stretches out his blues chops on this album - the blues being an early influence in his musical background. Blues for You is also a different album for Jeff in that four of the tracks are vocals. Although Jeff has had vocals on past albums, his focus has been instrumental music. Blues for You reunites Jeff with Billy Squire, who gave Jeff his start as a professional guitarist, as well as with old associates Peter Wolf and Rick Braun. JazzReview.com caught up with Jeff at his home in Manhattan, shortly after the release of Blues for You.
JazzReview: Jeff, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Except for the Beatles, I have more of your CD’s than any other artist!
Jeff Golub: Oh man, am I flattered!
JazzReview: I really love the CD, congratulations. In your online newsletter it says your peer’s reaction to Blues for You was "It’s About Time," yet you attribute the idea to Chuck Mitchell rather than yourself. So a blues CD wasn’t something you had thought about before?
Jeff Golub: The thing is in the marketing world of CD sales and music sales, the marketing people feel they need to be able to put music into a certain category. I completely disagree with that. I think, particularly of my generation, are people that grew up on such diverse music, that, what makes it cool is to combine it all. I attribute this to Chuck Mitchell because he was the first person at a record label who acknowledged that in my guitar playing. He said, "Let’s just make a record combining all of these styles that you seem to love so much." I would have been up for doing it a while ago, and my peers say, "It’s About Time" because they would have been up for it also. It’s just that business people aren’t always up for the task of marketing, and who to sell the record to.
JazzReview: I’ve been going through my CD collection of your music and it looks like it’s been since 2003’s Soul Sessions that you’ve had a vocalist on your CDs and this one has several, which was cool. So my first question is, do you sing?
Jeff Golub: (Pause) Oh do I sing. I’m sorry I thought you were saying, "Do you think?" (Laugher) Well yeah, sometimes! You know what, I don’t sing, that’s why I play guitar. (Laughs) I mean I do sing, but nobody ever wants to listen to me sing. There were a couple of songs that I wanted to do, four in particular for this record that had vocals and I’m thinking, well, I know the best singers in the world why don’t I ask some of them if they’ll sing on this record? And luckily these guys are good enough friends that they knew that we wouldn’t be able to hang out and have dinner together if they didn’t do it! (Laughter)
JazzReview: Blues For You was produced by John Porter. Over the years you’ve had a number of different producers on your CDs, including yourself. Do you personally pick the producer?
Jeff Golub: In the long run, I do. There’s suggestions from other people but the final decision is mine as to who will produce. John was perfect, he was suggested by my manager, Bud Harner. My manger used to be an A&R guy at Verve, and John produced some records over there for him, he did a Jimmy Smith record and a few other things. And, he was thinking he would be a good matchup with me because he really knows and loves blues. But where we really connected is that we both just look at music as music, it’s either from the heart or it’s not. And everybody who worked on this record was like that. It wasn’t like a blues was any less important than a bebop song, like they both have the same validity and everybody knew all the genres inside and out, knew them very well so we could go anywhere with the record, and go there with conviction and feel like it was an important thing to be doing.
I guess that’s where I end up with problems some times, with jazz snobbery let’s say, is that there are some jazz musicians and people that know the music well who then decide that music that is less sophisticated isn’t as good. And I couldn’t disagree more with that. It’s all music and it’s really, the reason for music in the first place is to express, a language to express the feeling that you have that goes beyond words. The technique is there to help you with the language. I don’t think it’s there to dictate that if you say something less eloquently that it’s not as important. Mark Twain had a lot of very eloquent quotes that weren’t necessarily very wordy.
JazzReview: I love blues and I think one of the reasons is that although the arrangements may not be complex, there’s so much emotion in it if it’s done right.
Jeff Golub: A quote of BB Kings was, "It’s okay to repeat yourself playing the blues, as long as you’re telling the truth. If you’re telling the truth it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat yourself." And that’s true in all walks of life.
JazzReview: Your CDs are generally really heavy on horns. What is it about playing with horns that turns you on?
Jeff Golub: I love the sound of a horn section and I do think that is something that has always separated me from other smooth jazz guitarists. People a lot of time use saxophones or trumpet or horns like as solo instruments and to double the guitar and whatever but I’ve always loved the way multiple horns sound. I really love the way a horn section sounds. I grew up listening to soul music with Otis Redding, Wilson Picket and such and horns were often played in a section and I just love the way that sounds as an accompanied to my guitar playing the melody, like it’s a counter line to it.
JazzReview: Do you pick the arranger for the horns?
Jeff Golub: Yes. I think if I’m working with a producer, say Rick Braun‘s produced a lot of records for me and with me and Paul Brown and different people. You know there will be suggestions from people as far as arrangers go and the horn section and sometimes they’re good suggestions and we’ll go with it. Everything always comes down to my approval.
JazzReview: So if the arranger does something that you don’t like, you can get your input in and make changes?
Jeff Golub: Oh yeah, definitely. Nick Lane has arranged a lot of the horns on my records and over the years we’ve discovered that what he does is put down all of his ideas, he writes them into the horn charts, and then as it’s been played I’ll edit it. I’ll say, "I don’t know, this might be a little too much." And he’s always fine with that. That is part of the way that it works, and finding an arranger who thinks along your lines is very important.
JazzReview: I imagine you don’t want a big clash of egos in the recording studio.
Jeff Golub: Yeah, and that in general is something that you have to find along the way and after this many records we’ve found enough people that can work together without clashing egos.
JazzReview: You list the three Kings as blues influences. Are there any contemporary blues artists whose work you really like?
Jeff Golub: Yes, Ronny Earl I like a lot, he’s a guitar player out of the Boston area. I think he’s great. I think Stevie Ray Vaughn’s brother Jimmy Vaughn, out of Austin, Texas is very good. Taj Mahal, I guess he’s still contemporary because he’s still making records, I love his records. In fact that was my first exposure to John Porter as a producer. He produced the Taj Mahal’s Phantom Blues record which I believe he won a Grammy for. I listen to that record all the time, so when his name came up it was very familiar to me.
JazzReview: Did you try and jam with any other blues players to prepare for the CD?
Jeff Golub: Not in particular, I didn’t search out any. I mean blues is always been such a strong part of what I do. But I think that what helps me to have a unique sound, is that, even though blues has always been so rooted in what I play, such a basis for it, I still really like contemporary jazz. And I haven’t forsaken that. It’s a combination of the two. I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way. I think that’s the way you come up with what is your own voice, is a combination of your influences and your innovations. You have to embrace all of them and I’m just embracing that blues is a big part of what I do. I think anybody who likes the way I play anyway will acknowledge that.
JazzReview: Yeah, I think that’s why I like your music so much. I do hear that influence in there and I love blues, so it’s a really great fit for what I like.
Jeff Golub: Good. See I think there’s more people like you and I who are out there. I don’t think it needs to be as pigeon holed as, say a lot of record labels put it that its either jazz, blues, country, rock, whatever, its just music. Particularly blues and jazz have gone hand and hand forever, so we should feel free about combining them.
JazzReview: You typically don’t work with another guitarist on your recordings. I really liked the rougher feel it gave to "Everybody Wants You." Did you consider working with a rhythm guitarist instead of horns on any of the other numbers?
Jeff Golub: You know, not really but that’s not out of the question. I appreciate your observation. And it really was fun to have Billy playing at the same time. He and I have cut so many records together and we really know how to work off each other, it’s pretty much second nature now. So I think that came easily, but I would consider that, and if I do I’ll definitely credit you with the idea. Laugher
JazzReview: Here’s another one, what about a harp player?
Jeff Golub: You know, I did think of that. I’m a big fan of blues harp. Paul Butterfield and John Mayall, these are all guys that influenced me a lot. I love the instrument when it’s played well. Nobody came to mind to have play on it. If I would have known the right person I would have done that.
JazzReview: My compliments on your website. It contains so much information there was hardly anything left uncovered. It seems you stay personally involved in the content. Do you?
Jeff Golub: Yes, definitely. And I also answer every email. Anybody who wants to write to jeffgolub.com I do read and answer every email myself. I decided if somebody is going to take the time to say hello I can take the time to say hello back. It might take a few days but it does get to me and I do answer everything. Some things on there maybe aren’t for everybody, like I list the equipment I use on every track. Not everybody is interested in that, but I get enough questions about that from other guitar players, like guitar were you using, what amp, I just decided I would put up a page listing all of that. There’s a woman named Suzie Cline and I probably wouldn’t even have a website if she didn’t suggested it a long time ago. She runs my website for me and she has suggestions on things that I should put on there and sometimes I have suggestions too.
JazzReview: You’ve played in a number of different venues; outdoor festivals, small clubs, arenas, cruise ships. Do you have a favorite venue to play in?
Jeff Golub: You know that’s a question that’s impossible to answer. It changes every time I do a show, because it really depends on the audience. Typically I would think that a smaller audience is better just because it’s more intimate and you can sort of look everybody in the eye and get to know them. But that doesn’t mean that can’t happen with a large audience.
JazzReview: Does the audience’s energy or enthusiasm affect your playing?
Jeff Golub: Without a doubt. I think it is up to you as a performer to engage them, to make them think it’s okay to pay attention and be a part of it. But if you don’t get anything back it’s not going to be any fun. I don’t look at when I do a show, when I do a gig, as a performance as me separated from the audience. I just look at it like I’m going to be playing and you guys are going to be listening and we’re all going to be in it together just like if it was my living room. We’re all involved and if the audience doesn’t want to be involved then it’s a drag, but they typically do. If you give them the option, most people want to get involved that’s why they’ve come.
JazzReview: Do you prefer composing a song more than playing in front of an audience or the other way around?
Jeff Golub: I like playing in front of an audience more than composing. I think maybe there was a point where composing was maybe more no, it’s never been. It all comes at different times. It’s like when I’m in the studio recording a record I’m very excited about that, and when I’m writing the songs I’m very excited about that, but there’s nothing better than having an audience right there listening, giving you feedback. I often play songs live before I record them, just like in little clubs or something around New York because I can feel immediately whether people are with me or not with me, and if there not with me then I know that I need to change the composition, something isn’t quite right.
JazzReview: You’ve got some cross country shows lined up between now and December. What do you do to kill time while you’re sitting in the airport?
Jeff Golub: That’s when I answer my emails. I take a laptop with me, you know I said I answer all my emails on my website. I download them, that’s why the answer might take a week or two because I download all of the emails so they’re on my computer, and when I’m on a flight or sitting in the airport I answer all of those and then I send them all out, as opposed to trying to do it the second they come in when my kids are asking me to play tag or whatever, I wait until I’m looking for something to do and then I’m very happy to read those emails and then answer them.
JazzReview: Two more questions. Jets or Giants? Jeff Golub: Giants JazzReview: Yankees or Mets?
Jeff Golub: Yankees. That’s funny, I had the same conversation with my eight-year old son Chris this morning (laughter) and it was just about that short.
JazzReview: Jeff, I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to me. Keep on making that great music that you do and I hope you make it back out to the west coast sometime because I’d love to see you.
by Mike Shea