Robert Urban

interviewed by Dr. Kevin Dawe - Senior Lecturer,Leeds University, England

- author of the upcoming 2009 book publication GUITARSCAPE

                       Why the guitar, when it is seems such an obviously homophobic instrument?

Well, first off, guitars aren't homophobic, but musicians and/or music fans can be... 

For myself - the SOUND created by the guitar, (and especially the electric guitar) is one of extreme power, expressiveness and diversity. With it's ability to bend notes, create feedback, distortion, be harsh, be pretty, etc. - there's no other instruments quite like it. I probably fell in love with it that night, as a tiny tot, I watched the Beatles debut on Ed Sullivan' - sigh!  Then there was that night I saw Jethro Tull at the Filmore East; and the night Mountain played my high school in Connecticut; and then Jeff Beck ,Missing Persons, Rammstein, etc, etc. Experiencing the great guitarists of rock, live in concert, has been the closest I've ever come to having a real religious experience.  It is truly the hammer of the gods.

True - the guitar - along with rocketships, skyscrapers, motorcycles, cigars, etc.  - by it very shape and usage - is one of the most powerful phallic symbols of our age. Electric guitarists have tended to be placed on society's masculinity pedestal  - I notice how audiences react to rock guitarists – it's quite empowering. It's a thrill be it gay or straight.

Oh yeah - I always seem to notice that when straight guy musicians are asked, "Why did you learn the guitar"? – the answer is usually "to get girls!".  Well, in all honesty, my own answer is similar – only with a slight gender change – as a gay pre-teen, it was so hot being in a band with other guys! Even if they were all straight.

                       I call my book, 'The New Guitarscape': Is it a new guitarscape for LGBT musicians, or more of the same?

It most certainly is. There are more openly-out recording and performing LGBT guitarists and bassists, succeeding, than ever before. My own LGBT guitarists internet networking group has nearly 500 LGBT players worldwide.

In this "age of Obama" – it's actually an entirely new "Landscape"! period! It's a  very exciting time for LGBT people everywhere – as barriers against our being able to marry, against our being able to serve in the military, against our being able to hold public office, against our being able to be open in the film & television industries, against our being able to be ourselves in all aspects of society – and yes, against our being able to be openly gay AND be in a rock band  - finally seem to be falling away.

For LGBT singer/songwriters who are also guitarists – the guitar becomes the accompaniment to their personal, openly gay lyrics – in this sense it takes on a style and flair all its own – different, new, fresh in nuance from the usual approach taken by straight singer/songwriter/guitarists. Of course, the differences are subtle and subjective – but it has it's own "touch".

                       Has the Internet made a great difference to LGBT lives, freedom, and sense of community (or is this quite idealistic on my part)?

It is a fact that computers are more common among homosexuals than they are among straights. Laptop ownership, email use, and internet use among gays and lesbians are all more than double that of the straight population. This is not surprising since studies reveal that gays and lesbians are more educated, more literate and more affluent than straights as a whole.

So – you are not being idealistic. Advertisers know that the Internet is an important media source among LGBTs as a consumer group and is a major way in which brands communicate with them.

Perhaps the most dramatic effect the internet has had on LGBT sense of community is in how it has altered the geography of our social interactions with each other.  During the years in which homosexuality was "the love that dare not speak its name", gays and lesbians used gay and lesbian bars – often in clandestine fashion - for socializing.  Now the internet has freed us from having to meet in bars.

In fact, with advances in our human rights, we now can meet up, socialize and not feel threatened in a wide variety of places – even, say  - a rock concert!

(Note: I'm not sure what revelance your question has to playing the guitar –

as there are many great players who are not internet saavy – and many who have not even had a formal education – but I answered it to the best of my ablity)

                       Can you tell me something about your own background and the work you do outside of GGW, please?

I was born and raised in Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA.

I have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Music from the University of Bridgeport and did additional graduate work in philosophy and music at Yale University and The New School for Social Research.

I moved to NYC after school. I am an independent singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, music producer & published literary writer. I'm also owner/operator of Urban Productions recording studio in NYC.

I have 4 solo cd releases - Rock Widow, Elegies, "godless" and who i was (all tracks available on i-tunes). My Recording studio work (esp. as producer, arranger, guitarist) can be heard on the recordings of many other musical artists.

I have composed scores & soundtracks for numerous professional dance, theater & film productions. I perform everywhere - whether solo or fronting The Robert Urban Band. I am also accompanist, guest soloist, session musician, producer, arranger, sound engineer, private music teacher & mentor for a variety of musical artists & arts organizations.

I support the NYC area music-arts community through producing & hosting my Urban Productions BOLDLY Presents live-in-concert series (now in its 8th year).

I am a Published arts & culture writer, reviewer and interviewer for a host of worldwide media sources, including MTV/LOGO's AfterElton.com & AfterEllen.com online entertainment magazines. I have authored the poetry book Abominations and am contributing poet to various literary/poetry journals. I am proud founder of Gay Guitarists Worldwide and creator of its popular featured LGBT musicians review/interview series.

Various honors and achievement awards include "Musician of the Year",  "Outstanding Performer of the Year" and "Outstanding CD of the Year" awards (OUTMUSIC); Hall of Fame inductee, Song of the Year and Poetry Literary Achievement awards (THE STONEWALL SOCIETY); Best Performance, Best Spirit and Best Event awards (NYC FRESH FRUIT FESTIVAL), Independent Musician award (INDEPENDENT MUSICIANS).

I have performed at many outdoor rock festivals and LGBT pride festivals across the U.S. Last year on invitation I performed at the 10th annual Jeff Buckley Tribute Show at the Paris Hard Rock Caf in Paris, France.  This month I headlined the benefit dinner show for New York TRANSGENDER DAY OF REMEMBRANCE – which commemorates transgender victims of hate crimes.

This month I also performed for 2009 New York Pride Month at the NYC Pride Slam Jam concert.

This last year the song "What's Your Name" I produced & played on for gay singer Roger Kuhn was voted in the top 10 videos of 2008 on the MTV/LOGO cable network.  This June, the song "We Are Angels" I produced and played on for singer Roger Anthony Mapes made the number 1 slot in Songvault's  Christian Music charts.

                       Who are the guitarists that LGBT (sorry to lump together in this instance) admire, follow, aspire to be like?

Talent and appreciation of talent is a universal. I think LGBT players worship the same guitar-gods that hetero players worship.  I actually ask the same question in all my interviews of LGBT players – and I can testify that the great guitarists of classic rock are appreciated by all.

But as with any social sub-group, we have our special favorite guitarists who are gay – lesbian – transgender or bisexual.  They speak to us in a special kindred way – perhaps because they are openly "out" about themselves – which, if they are also singer/songwriters, is revealed in their song lyrics.  They often headline at our huge LGBT PRIDE festivals – which are held annually in every major city around the world.

As rock stars they are also role models of a kind – just as I'm sure Jimi Hendrix was an inspiration for African American musicians;

Carlos Santana an inspiration for latinos – and Heart and inspiration for women musicians.

Just like straight guitar heroes – LGBT players come in all shapes and sizes – and excel in all styles of music.

LGBT guitarists/bassists/and/or rock acts that are very popular with LGBT audiences, who I personally think are awesome and who I've also featured on Gay Guitarists Worldwide, include Connecticut-based lesbian guitarist VANGE DURST, formerly of the all lesbian funk rock band SISTER FUNK and now fronting her own trio – EV3; the U.K.-based rock project ZEROCROP (consisting of gay songwriter PARKER and straight guitarist MARLON BANJO; England's transgender singer/songwriter/guitarist JENNY SLATER; NYC's African-American lesbian blues/funk guitarist/singer/songwriter NEDRA JOHNSON; Holland's new age/classical acoustic gay guitarist GERARD SLOOVEN; American transgender 80s GLAM-influenced guitarist and pop star LISA JACKSON; dual transgender guitarists MARYLIN & SARAFINA of the all transgender San Francisco based rock band LIPSTICK CONSPIRACY; and gay icon, punk guitarist/singer/songwriter SCOTT FREE of Chicago, USA; and British Columbia, Canada transgender "surf-guitar" virtuoso SUZY WEDGE of SUZY WEDGE and the WAVES. (meet and read reviews/interviews of all the above at:

http://www.roberturban.com/gayguitaristsworldwide.html

                       I notice that it is in the realm of singer-songwriters who play guitar (well) - Kaki King, Indigo Gilrs, Keith Urban - that the greatest guitaristic impact has been made/changes registered/voices heard. Am I right?

Rock used to be about ALL its ingredients – guitars, bass, drums, keys, vocals, songwriting, improvising.  But sadly, nowadays, all that was wondrous in rock has pretty much been dumbed down  - via a kind of celebrity-fixated, tabloid/reality"American-Idolization" – to where the art form is little more than a teenage facehead singing karaoke.

Except for living-legend classic rock gods ala Clapton, Beck, Santana, etc., No one cares much about great rock guitarists/instrumentalists any more – which is sad.  So - in today's world, yes – there are great guitarists hiding out in the singer/songwriter world.  Some of the best country western singer-songwriters, such as Keith Urban and Brad Paisley,  are also awesome guitarists – revealed only in the little solos they give themselves in their 3-minute pop tunes.

Conversely – a lot has been lost in great guitar playing – Great guitar rock is actually blues-based (a very classical, logical, clever system) which requires real music theory skill and real expressiveness in bending, sliding, notes, etc.  We lost a lot a great guitar playing via punk, new wave and metal – wherein noise, attitude and speed replaced sensibility, thought and beauty in guitar playing.

Not many musicians put in the "10,000 hours" anymore -   they just get a computer program to do it.

                       Is there any academic writing you would recommend that I should make reference to in my chapter? [I mention quite a bit!]

You can refer to my many published articles, reviews and interviews on LGBT musicians, indexed at:

http://www.roberturban.com/reviewsbyru.html

Articles include; "Rocking-Out – Male Musicians Straddle the Closet" (July 17, 2007, AfterElton.com Magazine; "The Transgender Rock Explosion" (March 2005, AfterElton.com Magazine; "CBGB's Gay Presence – A Queer Rocker Remembers" (Sept 9, 2005 www.AfterElton.com); "Lesbian Moms Rock at Mamapalooza" (June 2005, www.AfterEllen.com)

For more academic material, refer to my conference papers and university lectures on the subject of homophobia and hip-hop presented at U.S. universities also indexed at: http://www.roberturban.com/reviewsbyru.html

For material most in-scope to LGBT "guitarists" per se, refer to my interview/review features for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE at: http://www.roberturban.com/gayguitaristsworldwide.html

For photo archives of  LGBT live-in-concert shows, which feature many LGBT players, refer to my URBAN PRODUCTIONS BOLDLY PRESENTS concert series, which I produce and host. – at: http://www.roberturban.com/urbanprodliveconcertsindex.html

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