I met Gary I. Grantham (AKA Gig) about an hour before his band, The Long Run was to be performing at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank last month. His group would fall in the center of the summer’s hottest line-up, ever.
After our brief introduction, I immediately liked this man. He was so professional, kind and open to posing for me as the official photographer of the Bowl for the 2012 summer season. In fact, I got a great feeling from all six band members which includes: Jim Wootten (bass/vocals), Berto Z (drums/vocals), Chris Sobkowich (guitar/vocals), Galo Pacheco (keyboard/vocals), Bill Worrell (guitar/vocals) and of course, Gig (guitar/harmonica/vocals). After a quick change from their casual street clothes and into their handsome, sleek dress wear for the stage, they posed for me once again. Their clothes and cool vibe reminded me of the poster from Quentin Tarantino’s first film, Reservoir Dogs.
As a photographer, one can tell immediately if someone is going to be easy to work with, needs a little coaxing or if someone is going to be difficult. Well, I have to say that these guys were wonderful to work with. During the show, they impressed me even more when they played music so authentically to that of the Eagles. They possessed so much stage presence, charisma, passion and had that something special that is so hard to come by, much less explain. I was in the pit for most of the show and the screams from the crowd were deafening, but still fun to experience.
After the show, I kept in touch to deliver the band their pictures and learned that Gary is not only a local resident, but a Burbank business man. Bam! My next subject was found. During our interview at his production office, Castle Entertainment Group (located on Victory Blvd), I learned so much more about this benevolent, down-to-earth and all-around really great guy. He’s the kind of guy you want to work with as well as befriend.
DD: Why did you pick Burbank to start your business?
GIG: I have been headquartered in Burbank for years now. I remember as a small kid watching Laugh In and the announcer would say, ‘From Beautiful Downtown Burbank’. Then with The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson you’d hear Ed McMahon say, ‘From Hollywood’. But that’s not where the show was really shot. It was Burbank. Warner Bros is in Burbank, Disney, and other studios are here. It’s really THE hub of the entertainment industry. There is life and juice in Burbank and you can also raise your families here. It’s NOT Hollywood, it’s actually comfortable to live here. I picked Burbank, because I love it!
DD: When did you start playing music?
GIG: Out of the womb.
DD: That’s what they say! That is what musicians say.
GIG: My parents were both musicians and music educators. I say were, my father passed away years ago. He was a singer. He could sing opera and musical theatre. He could sing it ALL. He was just very musical. He played jazz piano. My first instrument was drums. That is what I started playing out of the womb. There is a picture I hope I still have of me at age 2, where I am in the kitchen with my mother’s pots and pans and her wooden spoons making sounds. Then I got more creative and would take Tinker Toys and make symbols out of her thin pie tins. I just absolutely wanted to play the drums for as long as I could remember.
DD: Tell me more about your parents’ influence with music.
GIG: When we lived in Manhattan Beach, we had a music studio we called, “the barn” only because it was located behind our house. That is where my father would teach voice to students. My mother would rehearse with the groups she performed with or she would coach performers. We had my drum set and the grand piano back there as well. I studied mostly drums in order to learn rhythms, but I loved picking up any instrument to see if I could coax a sound out of it.
DD: No need for being self-taught with parents as music educators.
GIG: I would get my dad out there and he would play jazz while I played drums. Because my parents were so involved in the music and arts, the only people we seemed to know were theatre people, singers, and instrumentalists. They always were taking me to performances, so I got a great upbringing on really really legitimate music; chamber music, orchestral music, jazz, lots of musical theatre and opera. I had to discover rock n’ roll for myself. That was not taught at my house. That was something I had to start learning from my friends. Not only did my parents take me to everything, but we had people always coming over to our house to work on music. So, to this day it feels really natural to me to have my music room at my house and have people come over to rehearse. That’s just a very natural thing that I love; people coming over to make music.
DD: You had an interesting childhood.
GIG: Growing up I felt I had a great balance, because I had my day life when I ran with my buddies in the neighborhood and then I had my night life with the adults that I knew was different from what the other kids had.
DD: Being around the adults, your vocabulary was probably better than your peers’.
GIG: This is something I really appreciate and I will tell my mother to this day; I was so glad that I grew up around people who were educated and spoke well. They were people who knew how to use colorful language. If they cursed it was well-placed. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the ability to express themselves any other way; it was because they also had that in their expressive bag-of-tricks. I had the influence of other kids around me, but my biggest influence was the group of adults I was around. I am sure it was a pain for the adults to have a kid around all the time, but I loved hanging with older people. I also grew up as an only child.
DD: Tell me about your mother.
GIG: She is one of my biggest music heroes. She’s a really fine musician….a really fine accompanist. She never wanted to be a concert pianist. She never needed the spotlight so much on her. But she excelled at accompanying singers. Her playing as an accompanist has taken her to Asia, and all over the US. To this day she still plays the piano. I love tapping into her knowledge. I get to ask her questions about music theory and really benefit from her talent.
DD: What are your parents’ names and how did you get the nick-name, Gig?
GIG: Kay and William. My full name is Gary Ichiro Grantham. My mother is Japanese. My initials are G-I-G. My mother will swear to this day that it was intentional. Since my parents were musicians and artistic people, my mom and dad thought that ‘if by chance he absorbs any of this and ever in his life is a performer or is in the arts it would be pretty neat to have that nickname’. They never asserted that nickname, ever. When I played drums, my initials were on my bass drum head. The nickname caught on in high school.
DD: Your mother is Japanese. What is your father?
GIG: French, Irish, German, English, Dutch, Illinoian, Hawaiian (laughs). He grew up in little town of Irving, Illinois. The population was, oh I don’t know… 27? Then his family packed up and moved to California when he was 7.
DD: What instruments do you play?
GIG: Drums, percussion, ukulele, guitar, harmonica. When I write music, I use my guitar. I can get around a piano.
DD: Take me to The Long Run. How did you start that band?
GIG: One of the first bands I was in was called The High Lonesome. We had music on the radio in the 90’s. It was a vocal harmony group. It was a rock band but very rootsy, very accessible with kind of a country twist. We were compared to people like John Mellancamp and The Eagles to a degree. We were well-reviewed by Billboard and by Music Row out of Nashville. We sold some records and got on some charts. During that time, there were some guys talking about forming an Eagles tribute. I was talked to about joining the band at the ground floor of it. My first reaction was… (shakes his head). I was just coming off of 12 years from being in an original band and the idea of being what was essentially a ‘cover’ band didn’t seem very interesting to me. But then, they talked about the business potential of it. The Eagles’ music was chosen because we wanted to pick a group that had a wide demographic appeal to broad age ranges. I was brought in on the ground floor of that band. We would rehearse 3 – 4 nights a week. It came together in 1999. We rehearsed and rehearsed with that group of guys. I am now the one remaining original member. Over time we had guys move away, and sadly one passed away from advanced Leukemia and now it’s just me. From its inception, we’ve had at least 20 members. Next to me, the longest member of the band is the bass player, Jim Wootten, then the drummer, Berto Z.
DD: I got such a great vibe from everybody [in the Long Run].
GIG: It’s a really good group of guys. We understand also that you’ve just got to be nice, too… ya know? It’s one thing to be able to play the music, to look the part or to sound the part or any of that kind of stuff… Being kind is crucially important and I have said it about any business, be it retail, or whatever it was… you need to be nice. Especially in this [music] field, with so much competition and lots of other people do what you do. It’s a given that your product has to be just as good, if not better, than the next guy’s. It’s so important how you conduct yourselves off-stage or the way you deal with buyers, bookers, agents or people on-site.
DD: I have heard of actors that were at the top of their game, but because they were difficult to work with, they’re passed over for jobs.
GIG: You want to be a George Clooney. You want to be someone who cares about everyone who is around you. (Gig is referring to Clooney’s reputation of being a really caring, nice and down-to-earth man).
DD: There was something special about your band. Your energy was so great! Not just the musical talents you all possess, but the stage presence and you all have the ‘special something’ that is hard to explain. When I found out that you were a Burbank business owner, I knew that I had to interview you. I think I just really like nice people.
GIG: Well, thank you very much.
DD: You have such a great stage presence, do you act?
GIG: I have a formal education in theatre and from college on…… going back to talking about being nice to people… It was so clear to me that we need to treat others with respect and kindness. I have experienced so many actors who thought that their job was so much more important than the person who was lighting them, or the sound person, or the set designer or the costume designer, the make-up artist, the director, or the stage manager. I thought, ‘what are you thinking?’ First of all, not only do these people have the power to make you look like crap if you piss them off, but their job in making this piece of entertainment happen is every bit as important as yours [as the actor]. I love every discipline that goes into the creation of entertainment. It all excites me.
DD: What do you have going on with The Long Run?
GG: We are closing out our six week series of Wednesday night, unplugged tribute at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. We have had a different group every night. One night we had Led Zepagain, and another we had Chris Farmer and his band with a tribute to the Beach Boys, just to name a couple. Chris was with the Beach Boys for 12 years as a bass player, musical director and singer. Going back to the 6-week unplugged series, the idea was initially born out of my selfish love of the acoustic format. There are also some good tribute bands working today whose fully- rigged stage shows people know and have seen a lot but who also have unplugged acoustic-style presentations of this music that people may not know as well. It allows both the band and the audience to embrace the acoustic presentation because, when you think about it, probably most of these songs were written by a few of guys sitting around in a circle strumming their guitars or playing on a piano. So, it brings it back down to the essence of these songs. We love doing the Eagles music that way. Our last night of the series is going to be next Wednesday August 29th in Simi Valley at the Cultural Arts Center Theatre.
DD: Do you produce other bands as well?
GIG: I have just recently started a project called, “A Band with No Name”. It is an America tribute act. We bill it as: The America Tribute Act – Approved of by America. Our young guitar player, Bill (AKA The Young John Mayer) Worrell actually works for America as a guitar technician and guitar player. Bill is in the real band, America. He started out tuning guitars for America because his father, Jeff has been their front-of-house sound engineer for 8 years. Bill, as you know is a wonderfully talented guitar player and so when they needed a guitar player to step in and sub, Bill was right there. He had already learned the parts. In late October, he will be doing a few shows with America on the east coast with a Symphony Orchestra. Bill Worrel was working with Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, [the two men who started America] when they mentioned that there should be a tribute band to them. Once Bunnell and Beckley heard about The Long Run and what we were about, they said, “APPROVED”. So, we have the blessing of America, which is pretty incredible. We have so many other projects in the works. One of the reasons I am here, at Castle Entertainment Group is to produce.
DD: Tell me exactly what you do here at Castle Entertainment Group?
GIG: Most of what Ron Kurtz, my associate, and I do here is produce live shows that are predominantly music-based. We have them going on all over the country. We are really very busy all of the time.
DD: What is it about tribute bands that make people want to see them? Are you touching on someone’s memory? There are a lot of remakes of films and if they’re done well, then it’s great! What is it about tribute bands that people love so much?
GIG: I think that to an extent it varies depending on the group that is being emulated. For example, in the case of a fine Led Zeppelin group or a fine Beatles tribute, you cannot see those acts anymore. They do not exist. So, a really nice recreation of that really keeps the spirit of what it must have been like to be at one of those concerts live. In the case of us, The Long Run… the Eagles are still performing less and less each year, but they’re still performing. I think that it’s a number of things. I tread possibly precarious water here. Some of the types of comments we get from people frequently after a show is, ‘I’m a huge Eagles fan and I’ve seen them quite of few times and I like you guys more’. We still don’t know how to take that really. It’s because of them and their existence that we even have this job at all. What I think it is sometimes is that perhaps we might remind of them how the way the original recordings were. Or maybe real devout Eagles fans have come to perceive that the Eagles been on the outs, or maybe it’s just a job and they just get together or because they’re not friends anymore. Then they see a group like us, working together, smiling and enjoying each other. Maybe they’re thinking, ‘I am hearing the music I love so much, respectfully and faithfully reproduced by a bunch of guys who really enjoy doing it together’. Perhaps it is that element?
DD: Do a lot of young people like your music?
GIG: A lot of the stuff that’s been produced from the 90’s to now hasn’t even required people to play instruments or sing. And groups like ours and other tribute groups will have shows attended by really young people who want to play music. They don’t have the people to look up to as examples of people playing instruments and making music together in a pretty organic way. The reason the young people are at our shows in the first place is because their parents are at an age to have grown up with the music of the 60’s, 70’s or the 80’s. So they listened to it and are exposed to that music just like I was exposed to classical stuff, musical theatre and jazz like I talked about earlier. So, this is becoming their music. I will boldly state that a lot of today’s music doesn’t qualify as music. People who are fans of classic rock get to watch it performed by fans of the music. People that do tribute work successfully have spent so many hundreds of countless hours with the minutia of recreating this music. I would think that if I were one of the original artist I might kind of say, “Why are you guys practicing our mistakes?… Stuff on our recordings that we wish we would have fixed and you guys are practicing them”. Like the Fab Four does! They’ll actually make mistakes so that the songs sound exactly like the original recordings. It is one thing is to walk into a bar and hear a top 40 song being covered, but to go and see a show that is a concert at an affordable price by people who have studied this music as real fans and now are bringing it to life again and keeping it alive. I think there is something very special about that.
DD: What do you see in the future for The Long Run?
GIG: The Long Run takes a great deal of my administration time. There is a lot to do, always. We are always planning at least a year ahead. I want The Long Run to be around for a long time, even if I have to replace myself like they do in, The Fab Four. (Gig is referring to the two sets of members that the band has acquired over the last 15 years). It is about the quality of the product and the ability to keep the people entertained as well. I have ideas in development that I cannot disclose right now. I do have a great vision for The Long Run. It’s more of a multi-media experience. Very exciting.
As I packed up my things and chatted with Gig a little bit longer, I learned that this So Cal Native is a devout vegetarian, which explains his great health, vibrant appearance, high energy and incredible focus. Something to think about.
In a world where there seems to be a deficit in simple good manners, Gig gives me hope. Meeting someone who is so kind, professional and passionate about their work is so inspiring. I remember reading a quote in one of my many hours of researching the web that read, “Do what you love and you will never work another day in your life”. I am guessing that Gig had adopted this mantra when he was a kid. He’s living out his dream.
Thank you, Gig for a great interview and a special peek into your diverse musical world. I wish you and your band much continued success and I will definitely be catching one of your upcoming shows very soon.
For tickets to see the last acoustic show at Simi Valley Cultural Arts center, performed by the Long Run, please go to: www.TheLongRun.net and click on ‘SHOWS’.
August 29th, The Long Run – Experience the Eagles at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center.
You don’t want to miss the last show of the acoustic series!