THE G MAN: THE BEST DAMN DRUM PLAYIN’, NON GUITAR JUGGLIN’, LAW BREAKIN’, ALLIGATOR WRESTLIN’, WING EATIN’, GUITAR TECH EVER

Who is Gilbert Garza? You’ve seen him during the Buddy Guy January shows, but who is he really? He is without a doubt one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet – quick with a smile and always willing to give you a hand with anything you need. Is he really as nice as he seems to be? I was pretty sure he was hiding something and I was going to find out what it was, via good cop/bad cop. Sure enough, he eventually caved and told me everything I wanted to know. Ladies and Gentlemen Gilbert Garza, the best damn guitar tech, wing eating, alligator wrestling, non-guitar juggling, law breaking, rowdiest s.o.b. (he’s not that rowdy) you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting.

BL: Please state your full name for the record.

GG: Gilbert Garza

BL: What’s your official title?

GG: I’m Buddy Guy’s guitar tech.

BL: Where were you born?

GG: Fresno, California.

BL: Fresno, California, alright.  I’ve heard you change guitar strings pretty quickly.  What’s your best time?

GG: Well it depends if you’re changing a whole set or just one.

BL: Alright, just one.

GG: If you’re changing one string at show time, I can change an E-string – usually I try to get it done by the end of the tune that he broke the string on so I can give it to him by the end of that song, as he’s going to the next song.  And knowing Buddy, you never know how long that’s gonna be.  I usually try to get it done in a couple of minutes, usually try to do it within three minutes or so.  You gotta stretch it out and have it ready to roll, and in tune, and give him the guitar for the next one.

BL: So, three minutes roughly, give or take…

GG: Yeah, yeah about that.

BL: So, you think you’re some sort of hot shot, are you?

GG: No, no.

BL: Are you going to tell me next that you can juggle the guitars?

GG: No, no, no.

BL: I see.  Interesting.  So you don’t juggle guitars?

GG: No.

BL: How disapointing. Ever tried?

GG: I’ve had guitars thrown at me.

BL: You know what?  Guys like you, you make me sick!  You know, “oh look at me, I’m so great in my job, I travel all over the place.”  Tell me this, tough guy, what’s the coolest gig you’ve ever worked?

GG: Coolest place I ever worked?  Umm…Eric Clapton’s birthday party.  That was pretty cool.

BL: Enough of these games.  Where were you on January 11, 2008?

GG: Oh God, where was I?  Here at Buddy Guy Legends?

BL: And what were you doing?

GG: I was working a show for Buddy.  I can’t remember.

BL: Were you?  Were you really?

GG: Well where was I?  Do you know where I was?

BL: Uh-huh, uh-huh, you’re right, you’re right.  It was Buddy’s show.

GG: That’s a while back, you know.

BL: What did you have to eat that day?

GG: Knowing me, probably some chicken wings or something.

BL: Uh-huh.  Chicken wings?  Chicken wings?!  And this is your favorite food here at Legends?

GG: I do like chicken wings.  Yes, actually that’s probably my favorite dish here.

BL: Alright.  You say you’ve worked with Buddy Guy, huh?  How long have you been in Mr. Guy’s employ?

GG: Well, I started with Buddy…it’ll be five years this May.

BL: Hmm, yeah.  That’s a pretty good answer.  You’ve got all kinds of answers, don’t ya?!

GG: And now you got me sweating man.

BL: Uh-huh, yeah.  Alright, alright.  Answer me this smarty pants…I have a guitar – what are some easy ways to keep it in good condition, if you will?

GG: Well it depends on the guitar, but you want to be playing it all the time; you want to keep it clean; you want to keep the strings changed; and you want to keep it in working order. But, if you’re storing it, for like an investment…some people get these guitars that are worth thousands of dollars and they don’t play ‘em – you’ll want to keep it in a cool, dry place.  Not just under the bed or what not.  You want to check on it from time to time to make sure the paint’s not fading and what not.  Those old guitars are worth a lot of money, and people should not neglect them.  If you have just a regular acoustic that you’re throwing around the house, and you’re strumming from time to time, you just want to keep playing it, and keep it clean.

BL: And, exactly how often should you change the strings, and maybe perhaps clean it?

GG: Probably I would say the average person that’s just from day to day just kind of playing around the house, or if you’re gigging from time to time, maybe once a week or something.  You probably want to change the strings once every ten days.  And when you change the strings you clean it, you wipe it down and keep it ready to roll.  When you get rusty strings, they need to be changed, that’s pretty much a given.

BL: Alright ‘Mr. Music Man’ – gauntlet time.  You have to answer fast.

GG: Ok, here we go.

BL: What’s the most pies you’ve eaten in one sitting?

GG: Most pies?

BL: Most pies!

GG: Oh God…half a piece of pie.

BL: Hot dogs or brats?

GG: Brats.

BL: Time to pin an alligator?

GG: Oh man…30 seconds.

BL: Laws broken?

GG: Several.

BL: Ah-Ha!  I knew you’d slip up, Garza.  I knew it.  How many years have you been in the business?

GG: Oh man….fifteen years, I’ll put fifteen years.

BL: Fifteen years?

GG: But with the laws broken…

BL: Tell me this, VH1…tell me a story, make me laugh.  What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

GG: It’s gotta be…I don’t know.  I’ll have to come back to that one.  I’ve seen too much stuff.

BL: You’ve seen too much, huh?

GG: I’ve seen too much to actually pinpoint the strangest thing right off hand.

BL: Is that street slang, “I’ve seen too much?”  You can’t take it anymore?

GG: No, no, no!  Come on, man, I’m sweating man.  You’re cracking me up, Porter.  Off the record, the laws broken…I’m just kidding.

BL: This isn’t hard.  Just give me some music or some bands to take a look at and maybe we’ll let you see the light of day again.

GG: Ummm…well I grew up with a lot of blues.  People that are reading this magazine definitely like the blues.  My background is blues.  It goes back to when I was a kid.  I liked a lot of rock and roll, punk rock stuff.  Right now I’m jammin’ out to Social Distortion’s new record, that’s pretty good.  They’ve got a lot of stuff.  Every record they do is different.  They’ve got blues and different background stuff.  They’ve got blues, punk, funk…you know, different stuff.  That and…I can’t think of anything in general other than what’s in my CD player right now.  Yeah, there’s all kinds of different genres.  I don’t just like certain things.  People look at me and they think, “Hey, this guy likes heavy metal…this guy likes blues,” or something.  I like everything.  Country music, being from Texas, you know.  I like country music and stuff, a little now and then.  All kinds of different stuff.

BL: Have you ever played anything yourself that was influenced by that ‘all kinds of stuff’?

GG: What – as far as me playing?

BL: Yeah!  You are the ‘Music Man’.

GG: I have had several bands; several garage bands that I’ve been in.  Whenever I tell people, I tell them I’m a player, I don’t perform.  I never really performed much.  That was maybe ten years ago and now I’m just a guitar tech…or a roadie.  But, I’m always trying to record and write on my own spare time, you know.  Like, I just went home for a couple of days, on my spare time I always try to hit record on my computer and see if I can come up with something or whatever.  I don’t know how many people have heard that stuff, but…

BL: Let’s go back to the craziest thing.  Take your time, think about it, relax.

GG: Alright, alright.

BL: Don’t let the light get ya.

GG: Woo!  How many people sweat up on your interviews man?

BL: Usually only me.

GG: Oh wow.  You’ve got me going.

BL: This is a different interview style that I’ve done.

GG: That’s funny.

BL: Sorry about that, Porter can get a little carried away sometimes. You can relax now.  Anything that comes to mind, it doesn’t matter.

GG: Yeah, I’ve seen several crazy things.  Anything from people trying to get into the show, to people getting kicked out of the show to things not even having to do with the show.  Getting pulled over on the way to show.  You know, stuff like that.  Several things that go on in doing this for a living.

BL: Who’d you work for before Buddy?

GG: Before Buddy I was with Jimmie Vaughan and several different bands before that – just kind of freelanced, like what you’re doing.  I’m definitely dedicated, you got to be dedicated.

BL: It’s a lot of traveling.

GG: Oh yeah, yeah.  I mean working with him and stuff too, you’ve got your home being somewhere else and when you got a gig, you gotta play it.

BL: Do you have a girlfriend? Wife?

GG: Yeah, Erin.

BL: Right, Erin.  You guys have been together for a while.

GG: Oh yeah.

BL: Is that one of the things you think is toughest about the job?  She comes with you sometimes, right?

GG: Yeah, she’ll actually be here tomorrow, for the weekend.  Yeah, definitely being away from family and friends and your ‘at home’ normal life if guess, is definitely hard.  It can get tough, but it’s…

BL: Dedication?

GG: Yeah, it’s your bread and butter, you know.  You gotta make money somehow, or make a living, I should say.

BL: What’s your favorite guitar and why?

GG: My favorite guitar…

BL: The one you play I’m guessing?

GG: Yeah, well I actually play drums and keys.  I play all kinds of stuff.  You kind of have to know how to play a little bit of this and that to do what I do – set everything up.  Basically, it’s called a guitar tech, but it’s a backline guy.  All the instruments are backline.  So, you get up there and set it all up and tear it down.  You gotta know how things work, how to get the levels on your monitors and stuff like that.  You gotta know your artists, what they want, how they want to hear their stuff and get it just right.  I play a little keys…you’ve got electronic stuff, so you gotta know a little bit of this and that – actually, I started out playing drums.  I’m a drummer as well, but I play both guitar and drums.  I was a drum tech first, actually, before I was a guitar tech.

BL: Really?

GG: Yeah, yeah.  And we were opening for this band in Texas – it was a headliner band – and their guitar tech cut his leg open during their show.

BL: How’d he do that?

GG: I don’t know, in the heat of the moment he made a move or something and sliced his calf.  So, I was standing there watching the show and they go, “Gilbert, dude!”  And, I thought, alright, this is it.  He went to the hospital and got stitches.  They said, “We have 30 minutes left and 6 songs, can you do it?”  I said, “Yeah.”  I thought I may as well try.  That was when you were talking about juggling guitars.

BL: Ahh!

GG: You know, you read a list, you do the tunings and you change the guitars out for different songs.

BL: Right.

GG: That’s how I kind of got into the guitar part of it.

BL: Cool.

GG: It’s pretty wild.

BL: That does sound pretty wild, which almost answered that other question – one of the craziest things you’ve seen.

GG: Actually that could’ve been it.  There you go.

BL: A guy gashed his leg open on stage.

GG: There you go.

BL: Alright Garza you seem like you’re on the up and up, thanks for your cooperation. If we need anything else we’ll let you know.

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine

Mark Augustine is a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago and a staff writer at BG: Blues And Music News.

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