Toby Arrives In Conversation with Greg Koch

Wo’N Your new Album, Toby Arrives – I’ve been looking forward to talking with you for Bluesdoodles having listened to the new album over the last couple of weeks.  How did the new album come about as I have read about the Don Corleone moment which is intriguing in the press release?

GK: Well my son Dylan, who is now at the ripe old age of twenty-three, he had been doing some gigs up in Minneapolis. I am in Milwaukee, we are about a five-hour drive away so little bit of a haul. Doing some gigs with a young guitarist he has been doing stuff with, one of the iterations he has been performing with is an organ trio. So my son would come home and say, Dad you have got to check out this organ played, he is unbelievable and I would say Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! That’s great but it is five hours away when is that going to happen just didn’t seem right. So at some point, my son said you have got to hear this Toby on the keyboard because he is coming to town here to pick up a Leslie speaker that he is buying from this guy in town whose family owned the Hammond dealership for years. Any way to make a long story short he was coming into town on a Thursday and you know I travel quite a bit doing all kinds of stuff. So when my son we should get together and jam with some guy who is coming into town someday is not really high on my priority list. It was the day before he was coming to town my son said Dad Toby is coming to town we need to jam with them. I said well we have that keyboard in the basement we should just go downstairs and hammer it out. Dad he isn’t going to play that piece of shit, he plays B3’s, so what do you suggest. Well, he is going to have his B3 with him so bring it into the front room move the furniture around, yeah your mom is going to groove on that when she comes home from work. Scratched on the hardwood floor yeah that was where we were jamming with Toby, Dylan’s friend.   On Thursday my son was working at the coffee shop Bag N’ Beans and I will home around 2 pm Toby be here around that time.  So I reached out to this buddy of mine with a studio and B3 wired up and ready to go I didn’t know if he was in town. I called him up and said Dude, Dylan has got a friend coming to town who plays the organ can we come over and make some noise for a while? He said no problem come over little after two and I will have everything wired up and I will record it. Great. Toby guy arrives, Dylan comes home from work. I say Toby nice to meet you Dylan’s says you are great. I have booked a studio to jam in and if it all works out will through in some dough and we can start to make a record. They loved it, so we went over for some reason I grabbed my Vibrolux and I grabbed custom Les Paul I have with Peter Green wiring in the middle position I get the duck walky, Peter Green sound that will be fun to jam on.  I bought it over, we set up and got some sounds.  First tune we played I said let’s do a shuffle in G to start off with and that is the first tune on the record as we recorded at the session. When I heard it played back I thought holy shit here we go. Bought them back in two weeks later back in the same studio. At that point, I do all these guitar videos out in Colorado at a place called Wildwood Guitars I bought in the film crew who was actually just one guy with several cameras and he filmed that session. So we basically recorded the whole thing in two and half days of kind of messing around. It was live in the studio though the bonus track I did add an acoustic track after. Everything else is live in the studio we wanted that approach. When I heard the stuff back I was really excited about it and we started to do some gigs most of my material prior to this had been more vocal orientated, always had a certain modicum of instrumental stuff. We just started to do gigs, we just played and everyone dug it even people who didn’t get instrumentals normally because of the energy of the band. The way we treated the material in such a way. It was my own material, my own songs we didn’t do covers people just freaked. So I was going to release the record on my own. My wife has done artwork for my stuff for years, so we did the artwork, packaging and sent it off to get duplicated in late August last year. I picked a random date of September 9th of last year to release it as it coincided with a big hometown gig we were doing. But during that point in time, you know this kinda deserves more of a push.

WO’N: Was this the motivation to get involved with Mascot Label Group and not self-release as planned?

KG: Yes,  I was thinking of the logistics of touring with a B3 be nice to have a bit of the infrastructure that a label could offer us. I knew that Mascot had the best game in town. So I sent Ed at Mascot a link to two of the video’s we had had the chance to edit and posted up online with some bio material told him the story briefly. He got back to me right away this is perfect – Mascot got an imprint coming out called Players Club an instrumental orientated thing you guys will be on the label. So let’s make a deal and that was it. It was kind of weird, I had pre-sold quite a few CD’s from my website so I honoured those pre-sales and then I yanked it from there so CD not available. So there are a few hundred people that already have the record.  So we mastered it and added that bonus track Sin Repent Repeat and vinyl release and all that sort of thing.

WO’N: Regarding songwriting, you went into the studio and jammed based it. Did you have these ideas before or was it from bouncing off your son and what Toby brought to the table?

It was a little bit of both. The first two tunes were literally off the cuff made up the melodic stuff on the spot, So that would have been Toby Arrives & Funk Meat as we call it.  Other tunes like Heed The Boogaloo, Let’s Get Sinister and Mysterioso those were from demos I had.  I went through this songwriting jag with this buddy of mine a singer-songwriter guy a couple of years I did this record all Plays Well With Others. He is a really good singer-songwriter, I would make little demo’s as I was travelling on my laptop throw out a couple of guitar tracks and like play the drums on the desk or whatever the case might be and send them to him. He would turn around in the days with some really cool songs. So we literally had seventy songs we had done together. I also had a cache of tunes that he had never written lyrics too so I had all these little ideas I have them all on my iPhone. When I go on my walks and have it on shuffle these tunes would play and I would think these are really good tunes, I really should do something with that. So three of those were tunes that I had been listening to lately and thought I should try these and throw them at Toby and see what happens.  So that is where those three came from. And then I had Enter The Rats about my son’s girlfriend who had pet rats who walked in as we were tracking the tune with them!

WO’N: You can hear it though, particularly in the intro it’s like they are suddenly creeping in…

GK: So that was kind of off the cuff, so I said let’s do some in ‘A’ I made up ahead then the Boogie tune was kind of the same thing. So a little bit of both some was from sketches I had others in the moment. I foresee that as being the plan to go ahead in the future. We have got reams of stuff ready to go. Then there are days where we get together and play literally as soon as we turn our stuff on we start messing around and we always come up with new stuff whenever we are playing. Future records will be the same some stuff will have been a little sussed out ahead of time and others happen in the moment.

WO’N: Do you think that for guitarists and other musicians reading this that it’s something that is very, very important and maybe has been lost a bit nowadays. From where people would go and spend a long time in the studio to be creative but because of money constraints things are pre-produced an awful lot now?

GK: There is that. I tend not to look at things as real black and white, in terms of right-way or wrong way. Certainly especially with Protools and the ability to kind of reinvent history as far as recording is concerned. The temptation is to fix everything and try to make it as perfect as you can. There is a real magic I think to people just playing in the moment just having that be what it is. That being said if you have a really good take except for that one horrific moment that happens we are going to fix that if we can. If fixing it negates the overall life of the performance then don’t fix it. I think there is something about and from my point of view is liberating as I have a tendency to hear stuff and go OH! Well, I could redo that, redo this and it was a real good exercise for to go no this is it. It was liberating for me to be honest, it does bring an extra life and vitality to hearing performances in that way and the energy supersedes the need for precision not that there isn’t the need for precise things to be going on. A little bit of that Lucy goosiness adds to the whole overall vibe.

WO’N Yes it is good. There are lots of different styles and elements thrown into all the different songs, comparing Funk Meat to Mysterioso, those sort of vibes to it – how can players go about learning to mix styles particularly the youngsters that might be only listening to one or two things? What else could they be getting into and putting into their playing?

GK: Well it is kind of interesting and it has been a blessing and I won’t say a curse. Certainly from making music and having a fun point of view I have always enjoyed being as versatile as possible. There is always a kind of connection to all the different things. The whole reason I got into the country side of playing I heard Albert Lee playing with Clapton and thought that is not the blues scale what the hell is he playing? I started researching who he was influenced by. Part of it was listening to Mark Knopfler and hearing the sound of a clean Strat on the radio in the late seventies was unusual. Hearing that chicken pickin’ way he approached things led me down one way. Then I was always into the Allman Brothers and Dickie Betts was always a kinda fiddlesque way of articulating something’s when he would do more country tinge things. Then there was always this jazz element.  So to me, I just connected the dots in terms of well I would read about Hendrix for instance how he would listen to Hubert Sumlin a lot with Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters but then he would mention why I did this octave thinking about Watts Montgomery. I would say whose is Watts Montgomery starting listening to that and then hear about George Benson then hear how it all started with Charlie Christian records then I would go back to that. To me, it has always been a little bit of history homework. What makes it infinitely more immediately gratifying in this day and age is that I can mention all these names in an interview and someone can go online and have immediate access to all those people. Back in the day if I was reading a Guitar Player magazine with Albert Lee and he was mentioning guys like Hank Garland or some obscure Jerry Reed thing or talking about Jimmy Bryant those weren’t things I could go into the local record store and have immediate access to. It was more of a quest you had to go on especially in the early eighties when I was in high school learning some of this stuff it was not a time when all this stuff was available in your average record store it was more esoteric. You wouldn’t necessarily hear all these things people were talking about. I remember reading this book obscure contemporary people who Django (Reinhardt) was influenced by and I would immediately go online there was either obscure footage or someone had uploaded these 78’s so you could hear the audio online. Not to mention the fact that there actually video footage of people playing the stuff. So I think the idea of learning all these different styles is something that can be done much easier now than before. In terms of how I approached it, I was never really concerned with kind of learning solos or things transcribing note for note. I was interested in the flavour and I would cherry pick things that I thought were indicative of what this person would do that I could add to my own soup. If I changed it up it would be a little bit more of my own vernacular I always had the vision of being able to take the key elements of someone’s particular playing style and be able to learn to get just enough of it to be able to reference it without having to fully devout my entire vision into being that one thing.

WO’N: You mention learning, do you feel that you are still learning now?
GK: Oh absolutely.

WO’N Where/who are you learning from these days?
GK: I was learning some Big Bill Broonzy stuff the other day and Rev Gary Davis stuff that kind of early stuff. It is a funny story but I got into the Merle Travis stuff earlyish on. But it seemed to me that all the guys into Merle Travis like had an Uncle. Older Brother Dad into Travis. I had none of those things none of my relatives played. So I didn’t have that familial association with these players that stuff is a bitch to play.  Later on, I saw Doyle Dykes playing someplace and damn it I wanted the ability to accompany myself, perform some songs covering bass. Melody and rhythm all at the same time. So I made an effort to immerse myself in learning some Chet Atkins, Merle Travis & Jerry Reed. I would do some of this on the Wildwood videos that are what made that a successful thing for me because I reference all these styles. So if someone bought a high-end guitar they could hear it being played in a variety of styles.  Some guy, some troll he was more of a rock dude he said this is so much better than that Ragtime Wanker Greg Koch. Laughing, I started to refer to myself as a Ragtime Wanker, I should probably brush up on my ragtime. Do I have been messing around with some Blind Blake, Rev Gary Davis and Big Bill Broonzy stuff of late.

WO’N To wrap and go back to the record Toby Arrives what are you hoping people will get out of it, and  is there any danger of seeing you guys over here in the U.K.?
GK: Absolutely, not to sound like an ingrate I have been able to play my guitar and make a living for a long time now. One thing I would wish to happen would be to go to the U.K. and a variety of places I haven’t been able to go and just be able to play at decent clubs people come and want to listen to the stuff and return every year when I have a new record and have fans come out and dig it. So it has been a little difficult, in the past is it blues, is it rock is it country is it shreddelicious. People want to pigeonhole you I think that this particular line up with Toby’s Hammond B playing and of course have my young son play the drums bring the youthful element. I think this is by far the most accessible thing that I’ve been a part of. I think it works across so many different levels. If you are a jazz fan you will dig it, if you are a blues fan you will dig it if you are a jam band person you are going to like it. It is one of those things that is very accessible and the best platform for what I do. So I am hoping it is going to be something that will allow us to perform in places that up to this point only done clinics at or whatever the case may be. The goal is to take this thing on the road. I think that is the vision.

Toby Arrives In Conversation with Greg Koch

 

Koch Marshall Trio – Toby Arrives – Mascot Label Group.

Reviewed by Bluesdoodles writer Pendragon for an interesting read.

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