Rockabilly Hot-Rod Paul Pigat: Award Nominee, Guitar Slinger, Cousin Harley

He resembles Buddy Holly, dresses like Eddie Cochran and plays guitar, some say, better than the devil himself. In Europe, he is known as the “Motorhead of Rockabilly.” As his alter ego, Cousin Harley, he has created a uniquely raucous “Hillbilly Squonk” brand of rock and roll. Now, this singer-songwriter and six-string hipster has been nominated for an Ameripolitan Music Award. It can only be the remarkable Paul Pigat.

Ameripolitan Awards, recordings, hey Cousin

The word has spread about Paul Pigat. The multi-talented guitarist and singer has been nominated for an Ameripolitan Music Award, in the “Rockabilly Male” category. The ceremony is scheduled to take place on Tues., Feb. 17, 2015 at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas. Pigat will be performing in Austin during awards week. Perhaps Cousin Harley will even show up.

Make no mistake about the musical genius of Paul Pigat. His creative soul has many sounds. First, there is the Paul Pigat Trio, cool and hip with a dose of fretboard virtuosity thrown in for good measure. If that does not suit your fancy, try some of Paul’s acoustic Boxcar Campfire recordings. “Johnny Poorly” is a particular favorite among fans. Finally, if none of that quenches your thirst and you still have a Jones for Pigat tunes, crank out some Cousin Harley. Perhaps Paul Pigat should be described as a rockabilly-jazz-bebop-country-swing riffer.

It is not just studio sessions, either. During his live act, Pigat is quite the showman. Anyone who could come up with a persona like Cousin Harley would have to be. On Pigat’s website, Cousin Harley – the band – including upright bass player Keith Picot and drummer Jesse Cahill, is described as playing “the old tradition – slugging it out hot and heavy in roadhouses across the land.”

An Interview with Paul Pigat

MusicInterviewMagazine.com caught up with Paul Pigat in between gigs. The axe slinger talked about the Ameripolitan Music Awards, rockabilly, Gretsch® guitars, his signature prototype model, great tone, amplifiers and much more.

Congratulations on being nominated for a 2015 Ameripolitan Music Award in the “Rockabilly Male” category. How did you first find out about the nomination?

I received an email about two months ago asking if I would be interested in being nominated for the Ameripolitan Awards. I thought that was pretty cool.

Can you talk a little about the award?

To be honest, I really didn’t know much about the Ameripolitan Awards at first. When Brett Neal and Jeff Van Zant contacted me, I checked out the official website and then did some research. Right away, I thought the awards were fantastic. They honour the music that I love, which is often overlooked by mainstream culture. It’s only in its second year and still building steam, but I’m gonna do my best to promote the awards. There are a lot of great musicians out there playing these styles of music and they need some recognition.

While other varieties of music seem to come and go, rockabilly has never left. Some may call it the music of the people, so to speak. Why do you think rockabilly has been a perennial favorite in the United States, Canada and elsewhere since the 1950s?

I think it’s important to remember that rockabilly is rebellious music and in many ways the cornerstone of everything that was to come afterwards. I’ve always considered it the original punk music. Its rebellious nature and aggression resonates with a lot of people, that and the cool hairdos.

You play Gretsch® guitars exclusively. Gretsch® has become synonymous with the sound of rockabilly. Guitar greats Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran and Brian Setzer, just to name a few, have all used Gretsch®. What is it about Gretsch®, particularly the company’s hollow-body and semi-hollow guitars, that lends to the classic rockabilly sound?

I’ve been playing Gretsch guitars for about the last six years or so. I’m not sure they are the only guitars to get that classic rockabilly sound since so many, like Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore, etc., played other brands. But the Gretsch Company has become synonymous with rockabilly in the last few decades, for sure.

Maybe we can thank the great photos of Eddie Cochran from the 50s, but I’m guessing it was Brian Setzer that really put the Gretsch guitar back in the spotlight in the early 80s.They have a certain iconic image that is definitely 50s and their tone is bright and punchy. Classic 50s sound, yet they will do so much more if you want them to. I’ve played jazz gigs with them and recorded hard rock and recently I got to play one of Malcolm Young’s guitars. Just plug it in and instant AC/DC. I think that’s what everyone wants with a guitar, great tone and versatility.

What model Gretsch® guitars do you favor and are they Custom Shop models?

I have a bunch of Gretsch’s now. My first was a Black Falcon with Filtertrons [pickups]. Then they sent me a Country Club with Dynasonics. I played those a lot at first. I loved them both and they still come out for recording sessions. Over the years, I’ve also acquired a Firejet and a Honeydipper resonator, which I like a lot.

Now, however, I have the prototype of my signature model, the Synchro-Club, which comes with me most places. I designed it with Stephen Stern, the head of the Gretsch Custom Shop. We were in Brooklyn at a Gretsch event when I was telling him how much I loved the early 60s Country Clubs because they were 17 inch guitars but thinner. Then, lo and behold, three of them walked through the door that day. Stephen asked if he could make me a guitar at the end of the show. I was pretty excited. We designed it from the ground up. He really wanted to do something different so we made a completely unique guitar. It’s a 25.5 scale, 17 inch Club that’s only 1.75 inches thick, with minimal bracing and custom TV Jones® pickups.

Being a big Django [Reinhardt] fan, we took the cosmetics from the 1939 Synchromatic that he had in his hands during a famous picture. It was taken when he came to North America. It has a blonde top, cat’s eye soundholes and block inlays. It’s a pretty stunning guitar and the best sounding Gretsch that I own.

Which amplifiers do you like to use for electric guitars at live shows?

For the last three years, I’ve been using a Tweed Deluxe Clone with a Celestion Vintage 30, exclusively. I’ve used tons of amps in the past. Although I have a few which are “better” amps, the Tweed Deluxe does everything I need. The Celestion is very efficient and it’s got plenty of volume for most gigs. I’ve also replaced the transformers and had a London power mod done to it, so I can alter the voltage. If I need to be louder then I get it in the monitors, but that’s not often. When I don’t get to use my own gear, I prefer a Tweed Bassman, but that’s only for big festival gigs. The Bassman needs a big stage to get it to its sweet spot.

Besides the Paul Pigat Trio and the acoustic Boxcar Campfire collection, you have also recorded as your alter ego, Cousin Harley, featuring musicians Keith Picot and Jesse Cahill. Cousin Harley’s latest album, B’Hiki Bop, is entirely instrumental. Considering your voice has a terrific rockin’ roots quality, why an all-instrumental album?

Let me start off by saying that I’m a terrible businessman. I don’t generally make records that I think will sell to a certain market, or what I think people will like. I make records for myself and what I’m into at the time and hope that people will dig them. Over the last few years, we’ve been on the road a lot. I generally sit in my hotel room after a gig and write instrumental music. I guess I figured it was time we did a recording of all that stuff. I’m pretty happy with it. I needed to get it out of my system. I became a singer out of necessity. When I moved out west, 20 years ago, gigs were lean, so, I started to sing and make my own gigs. It’s turned out alright. I guess I developed a voice over the years. That doesn’t change the fact that my first love will always be the guitar.

What acoustic guitar did you use on “Johnny’s Poorly?” Was that done in standard tuning?

I used a lot of guitars on the Boxcar CD. On “Johnny’s Poorly,” the main acoustic is a 1928 Gibson L1 flattop. It’s a pretty great guitar for that thumpy-fingerstyle thing. I sold it a few years ago. I just wasn’t using it enough. I have other instruments that really have a great old-timey vibe. The lead guitar is a mid-30s wood body Dobro that I borrowed from Jimmy Roy, a fantastic Vancouver musician who used to play with Ray Condo and Big Sandy. It really had a “squonky” tone and cut beautifully through the mix.

From hot-rod rockabilly and bebop to Western Swing and acoustic blues, your recordings coverGretsch Gtr Green a lot of ground. Who are some of your musical influences?

I’ve played a lot of different types of music over the years. I guess that comes with starting your musical career at 13, for good or bad. From hard rock to country, to classical, jazz and hillbilly, the list goes on. I try and get something from all of these styles and put them together. As for individual players, that’s tough. T-Bone Walker, Cliff Gallop, Tal Farlow, Hank Garland, Neil LaVang, Jeff Beck, Angus Young, Brian Setzer, Danny Gatton, Vance Terry, Speedy West, Jimmy Rivers, Jimmy Bryant, Barney Kessel, Kenny Burrell, Kevin Breit, Colin Cripps, Jimmy Roy, the guy playing in front of the liquor store on Commercial Dr., in Vancouver; the list could go on and on. I try and hear something in everyone’s playing.

As far as new projects go, what’s next for Paul Pigat in 2015?

I’m not sure as of now. Cousin Harley does have another CD in the can. We plan to release it as well as our first record, Jukin, as a double CD. They are both very similar. It’s interesting to hear the band 12 years later and with a different rhythm section. Last year, I reunited the band that I had 20 years ago, called the Smokin Jackets. It was a swing combo. I really enjoyed playing with them again. We may record. I’ve also have plans for another Boxcar Session. We’ll see if I get to that and hopefully, a ton of gigs.

Note, the Ameripolitan Awards “benefit and acknowledge artists whose work does not readily conform to the tastes of today’s ‘country’ or other music genres and organizations.”ameripolitan.com

You can hear samples of Paul Pigat’s music at paulpigat.com and don’t forget to check out his instrumental release, B’Hiki Bop, as well as It’s a Sin, Hillbilly Madness, Jukin and Boxcar Campfire. Paul also has a series of instructional DVD’s that are available.

Photos: Red Gretsch guitar – Ryuichi Keda/Creative Commons; Mint green Gretsch guitar – Francis Pullen/public domain/Creative Commons.

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