guitarist Rachell Willhite
Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
Guitarist Rachelle Willhite says she grew up as the "All American boy" near Detroit. That can mean many different things to different people, but to Rachelle, it was just the beginning of her music and her journey towards finding the real person she was meant to be.
She started playing guitar at age 8 after watching Thin Lizzy on TV. "My cousin Butch had a flat top and I started messing with it," she said. "That is where it started..."
She lists her first major musical influence as being Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes after seeing them at a local high school when she was nine. Seeing Ted Nugent in Michigan...go figure.
"I played in some high school rock bands and did, mostly local gigs," she said. "I did some local clubs after graduating high school."
Rachelle is the proud parent of two sons, born while she was still living in Michigan. "They are both growing up to be great young men," she said. "I am very proud of them."
In the early 1990s, Rachelle did what a lot of musicians did...moved to Nashville, Tennessee. It was there that she came to terms with being transgendered, and became one of the founding members of the nationally known transgender support group, the Tennessee Vals. She wasn't really looking for a music career, however. She choose Nashville after going to Tech School there. "I was trying to better my children's life," she said. "Can we say that Detroit is a difficult place to raise a family? Then the Cosmonuat Bob thing happened."
Cosmonuat Bob was the jazz/rock band she put together with bass player DeGroff. The band did all original music, mostly instrumental, and released one CD, "Return From Reality", in 2002. The title track from the project can also be found on the Transgender Music Society Compilation Volume 1. Although that particular band didn't last long, it did open a lot of doors for Rachelle's creativity and desire to delve deeper into her insturment.
The issue of being transgendered lead to her transitioning in 1994 and having her SRS surgery in 1996. "I realized I was transgendered around puberty," Rachelle said. "Oops...I just didn't fit in. That is when I sank deep into the guitar.
"I went through numerous relationships until I met the love of my life, Ann. Sexual preference has nothing to do with gender identity. Now we spend every weekend on our houseboat with our two toy poodles, Ginger and Pokie Jo, and our best friends Don and Donna and their children Devon and Becca. DeGroff and I wrote the tune 'Poodles From Hell' (from the Cosmonuat Bob CD), long before I had poodles."
Rachelle says that she supports her music and other "habits" by running a construction business. "I spend my spare time playing at my leisure in my living room, " she said. "I hate loading gear..."
"I consider my music a mix of Ted Nugent, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and smooth jazz," she said. "We all get old..."
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
1983 Fender Strat & ES335 Gibson
- What brand/model/year amps & effects (if any) do you use?
I don't know what year; Fender Princeton Chorus
All of the above & my wonderful pedal board including the mystery pedal, which I acquired at a pawn shop
- Any special/favorite instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
Norman Brown, George Benson, Regie Woohten
In my youth....Ted Nugenet, FRANK ZAPPA
Tell fans about your luv for your particular style of music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style of rock, etc
I consider my music a mix of Ted Nugent, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and smooth jazz,"We all get old..."
I have always been a little left of center.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
No I play a lot of other people's material...just for fun....and to keep my chops up....I do teach guitar on occasion....
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
The lead bridge on Return from Reality...actually the whole song & the lead on Poodle's from Hell (Frank Zappa)
Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
There have been points in my life that that was the only sanity I could possibly mustard....
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
It is a bitch...just be yourself and be the best player you can possibly be.....be the best at your craft...and enjoy yourself, cause if you've got the chops, it really doesn't matter...
I really don't think that has anything to do with it...music is music...no matter how you slice it
- For a glbt player - how does the overall music scene differ today
from years ago? How is the music scene in your area?
People are more open-minded and they are looking at the music rather than who is producing or playing it...
I live in Nashville, TN...are you kidding me...we have the finest, most under paid players in the world here....can we say Be'la Fleck and the Flecktones and the Wooten Brothers...
No competetion, yeah right...but we still try...
- Any advice for young glbt players?
Just be yourself and be the best player you can be....
- What are your current and future musical projects?
I love playing my 12 string guitar on my houseboat...when the sun comes up and the sun goes down and being with my sweetness
Rachell can be reached at::firstname.lastname@example.org
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