Grammy Award winning guitarist Ed Gerhard is considered one of the world’s top acoustic players, and he’s coming to the Big Island for three intimate shows and one workshop. His first show will be at Hilo Ukulele & Guitar (January 18), followed by the Hapuna Prince Hotel (January 19), and Gerhard will wrap up his tour at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kona (January 20). Ticket info below.
The Pennsylvania-born instrumental guitarist is best known for combining the orchestrated sounds of classical music with the emotional and raw sounds of blues. At ten, Gerhard was inspired to play guitar after seeing classical guitarist Andrés Segovia on television. He’s been a mainstay on the acoustic guitar scene for more than two decades, and in 2005, he received a Grammy for his participation in the album Henry Mancini: Pink Guitar. Gerhard can be heard on recordings by many acoustic guitar greats such as Arlo Guthrie, Jorma Kaukonen, Bill Morrissey, and in the Ken Burns films Mark Twain and The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
I caught up with Ed Gerhard at his studio in New Hampshire and conducted this interview by phone.
Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii. Is this your first visit or tour here?
Aloha! The only time I’ve been was on a couple of airport layovers. I’m really looking forward to seeing it during the daytime and exploring a little bit. I don’t know much about Hawaii and what it’s like over there. I’m really anxious to experience it firsthand.
What are thoughts on the slack key style of guitar playing, and do you have favorite Hawaiian musicians?
Well, I’ve been hearing slack key forever, and always really enjoyed it… like Gabby Pahinui. When I heard the Pahinui Brothers made a really great record with Ry Cooder and David Lindley I really appreciated it. I actually had the honor to play at the Southern California Slack Key Guitar Festival a number of years ago. Cyril Pahinui was there and Jeff Peterson and Jim Kimo West. So, I got to experience some really great slack key, and it was just a wonderful thing to hear.
Why is music so important to you?
As a kid, music was the place that I sort of escaped to. It created this little bubble, this little igloo. No matter how bad the world was outside, I could always go into music and feel better. One of the great things about playing guitar is that you don’t have to be good to sound good. Every other instrument is just like a disease… but there’s something about the guitar. The simplest little things just sound great, and that’s so encouraging. So, the guitar was what really led me into music and as I’ve gotten more interested in music over my life, the guitar is my way into it and it’s a window… a window that faces both ways.
What advice would you give up-and- coming guitar players?
When you talk to young guitar players… they’re all about having a career. The music’s gotta come first. So, I just say stay interested, listen to everything, and just play all the time. I talk to professional players every once in a while, and they’ll say stuff like, “I try not to listen to too much guitar music because I’m too scared of being influenced,” and my feeling is, well, maybe you need to be influenced because, if your mojo is so weak that you’re scared of being influenced, then why should anybody bother to listen to you?! So, be open to everything.
I see that you’re offering a workshop before one of your performances here. What can folks experience at the workshop?
Well, my style of playing is not like a million notes and percussive noises. I really try to get inside what the material is, what the song is, and talk about how I try to bring that out. To me, it was always the little things that almost went unnoticed that had the biggest impact on me and my music. Something like what Ry Cooder would play with just little tiny things, and they would just kill me. And Pete Seeger, oddly enough, was really great at that too. He would just do these little things.
Tell us about the guitars you play, and do you have a favorite?
Since about 1994, I’ve been almost exclusively playing guitars made by the Breedlove Guitar Company, they’re in Bend, Oregon. I’ve actually been honored to design a couple of signature models with these guys, and the six-string guitar that I play is a limited-edition signature modern guitar. I also play a Weissenborn style guitar that Breedlove built for me a number of years ago, and they’re just fantastic beautiful instruments. I get asked a lot about why I just don’t bring a cheap crappy guitar on the road because it might get stolen or busted up by the airlines… I believe that you really got to play an instrument you love. I mean, what am I saving it for?
Are there any cotemporary guitar players that you enjoy listening to?
There’s so many of them! I love to hear Tommy Emmanuel play, and there’s a wonderful Celtic guitar player named Tony McManus. He’s a Scottish player who lives outside of Toronto now, and he’s expanding beyond performing only Celtic music. He’s got a great version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” that great Charles Mingus jazz tune. And I’ve always really loved Ralph Towner ever since the 1970s. There’s a lot afoot in the guitar world these days and it’s great to be a part of it.
What projects are you currently working on?
Well, I’ve been flirting with the idea of doing a record of cover tunes for a couple of years, and that’s sort of stopped and started… that’s kind of the way I usually work. So now I’m going great guns on it. I’ve always played cover tunes. I’ve always loved playing other people’s music. I did a record called Counting The Ways…that was a record of cover tunes… they were all love songs, but this will be mostly a solo record of arrangements… There’s a Joni Mitchell tune and a couple of folk tunes and blues tunes and just stuff that strikes my fancy. There’s really not much rhyme or reason to it. When I get back from the road, I’ll try and finish it up in February.
We’re all looking forward to your shows on the Big Island.
I’ve got people that have been writing to us over the years, and they always ask – “When are you coming to the island?” I can’t wait to get there and see everybody.
Ed Gerhard’s 2019 Big Island Tour
January 18, Friday – Hilo. Hilo Ukulele & Guitar, 56 Ponahawai St., Hilo, Venue: 808-333-5450, Info: 808-896-4845, Tickets: $25., Doors: 6:30 p.m. Show: 7:00 p.m.
January 19, Saturday – Kohala Coast Guitar Workshop (1.5 hrs.) w/ Ed Gerhard. Hapuna Prince Hotel / Kamani Room, Time: 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m., Cost: $55. Note: Workshop must be booked in advance at bluesbearhawaii.com
January 19, Saturday – Kohala Coast. Hapuna Prince Hotel / Kamani Room, 62-100 Kauna’oa Drive, Kohala Coast – Kamuela, Info: 808-896-4845, Tickets: $35. General admission.Doors: 6:30 p.m. Show: 7:00 p.m.
Jan. 20, Sunday – Kailua – Kona. Gertrude’s Jazz Bar (Dinner Reservations Recommended), 75-5699 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona. Info: 808-896-4845. Venue: 808-327-5299. Tickets: $35. General admission – advance. Doors: 5:00 p.m. Show: 7:00 p.m.
Tickets Outlets & Information
Online: Blues Bear Hawaii: https://bluesbearhawaii.com/p/ed-gerhard. Outlets: Hilo Ukuleles & Guitars, Hilo Music Exchange – Hilo; Kea’au Natural Foods – Kea’au; Gertrude’s Jazz Bar, Kona Music Exchange – Kailua-Kona; Kiernan’s Music – Old Town Kainaliu; Waimea General Store, Parker Square – Kamuela; Top Stitch – Honoka’a.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.