Joe Gore: Past, Present, and Future

Joe Gore is a former senior editor for Guitar Player magazine and writes about music technology for various industry publications. He’s recorded and/or performed with Tracy Chapman, Eels, P J Harvey, Courtney Love, Julieta Venegas, and Tom Waits.  Joe's most recent musical project is Mental 99, an instrumental rock duo with drummer Dawn Richardson.  See Joe's full bio on his homepage.

IE: Welcome, Joe. We’d like to get a picture of your past involvement with Guitar Player magazine as well as your current and future pursuits. I’m sure many of our readers will remember you from the pages of Guitar Player where you served as senior editor. Your online bio doesn’t say much about your departure, but, I know the popular perception follows, more or less, along these lines: the magazine, during the late 80s and early 90s (due in large part to the presence of Joe Gore and Jas Obrecht) was at its zenith in terms of wide-ranging content, open-mindedness, and commitment toward adventurous music. Then corporate suits and bean counters stepped in and ruined the party. What’s the real story of Guitar Player during your tenure and why did you leave?

JG: Well, my “vision” in taking a GP editing gig in 1988 was I needed a day job. I was about to turn 30, so obviously my pop music career was over. The magazine was a pretty open-minded environment, and it was great to learn the ropes from such impassioned guys as Jas and, of course, then- editor Tom Wheeler, who has since gone on to a distinguished academic career. But to be honest, a lot of that good open-mindedness had less to do with us being cool guys than with the company’s curious economic culture.

GP was owned by founder Jim Crockett, and it was his weird little benign dictatorship, strangely divorced from the corporate concerns that had long ruled most magazines. Then GP was sold, and then sold again. In other words, it finally had to contend with the economic realities that are the norm for virtually all magazines. I was lucky in that management meddled very little with editorial during my years on the staff, even after the regime change. There was always a strong wall between editorial and advertising. Gear reviews, for example, were more honest and politics-free than most people would believe.

Meanwhile, much to my surprise, people started asking me to play on their records. I managed to balance the two pursuits for a few years, but when PJ Harvey invited me to record and tour with her in 1995, I had to give up the full-time editing gig. I continued at the magazine part-time for a few years, and I remain on the masthead as a consulting editor, though I haven’t contributed much in recent years. I suppose it’s true that the bean counters stepped in and ruined the party. But it’s not just the GP party – it’s the entire fabric of our lives. Everything around us is test-marketed, focus-grouped, and formula-bound with a soul-killing predictability. When I read GP today, I usually find myself thinking the current staff is doing pretty good job, given the economic realities they face. In my day, we benefited from higher budgets, which meant we could hire specialist freelancers, travel to interview artists in their homes and studios while they were making their records, lavish more time on our articles, and so forth. The current staff works a fuck of a lot harder than we used to.

IE: What did you personally set out to accomplish at the magazine and how successful do you think you were?

JG: Probably because I was a classical musician who came of age during the punk rock years, I’ve always had a modernist slant. I was more interested in players who did something new, however crudely, than in those who reiterated old ideas, however masterfully. That’s why I gravitated toward the Sonic Youths rather than the Stevie Ray Vaughans. And to be honest, GP had missed the boat on a lot of punk and post- punk, so it was pretty easy for me to step into that slot. Also, the late ’80s and early ’90s were such an exciting time for rock guitar — maybe the last one.

So if Mission #1 was to make the coverage adventurous and open-ended, Mission #2 was to compete with the other guitar mags, several of which were routinely slaughtering GP on the newsstand. My thinking at the time was: If Guitar World and Guitar for the Practicing Musician dominate the mainstream market with their top 40 and classic rock stories, perhaps GP could outflank them on the perimeters by offering in-depth coverage of the more mature players the others were ignoring and the more provocative, radical side of younger music.

Mission #1 worked out okay, but Mission # 2 was a dismal failure. GP never managed to win younger readers — the average age of the readership has steadily remained a decade or so higher than that of the competitors. And those readers are, on average, a very conservative bunch, most of whom would prefer to read yet another piece on a classic rock artist who’s been done to death rather than some crazy-ass provocateur they’ve never heard of. And I routinely failed to remember that I was writing for hobbyists, not artists or aspiring artists. Most readers, quite reasonably, didn’t want to ruminate on the state of the instrument or grapple with slippery music. They just wanted to ogle a glossy pic of a vintage guitar, learn a new blues lick, and read an amusing anecdote about Billy Gibbons. Fair enough.

So viewed over the distance of a decade, I think I was a poor fit for the magazine, at least as a senior editor. I tended to be bored by the players the readers loved most. I had no sentiment about guitars as objects — they always were, and always will be, hammers and nails to me. And thanks, I think, to my classical music background, I was always more interested in musical ideas than in guitar for its own sake. If the music sucks, I don’t care how good the guitar playing is. If the music moves me, I don’t care how shitty the playing is.

Summary: I love making music, and often use guitars. I love listening to music, some of which features guitars. But I don’t love guitar. That’s probably not a great attitude for the editor of a guitar magazine.




IE: What’s your impression of music and print journalism in general today and the impact of commerce and advertising?

JG: I probably don’t need to struggle to convince anyone reading this that neither is in great shape. Has mainstream pop music ever sucked harder? Have magazines ever been cheesier? Has the supposed wall between editorial and advertising ever been so tissue-thin? But all these conditions are less a function of a few overworked editors or greedy corporate buzzards than of huge cultural sea changes. And if I were at GP today, I’d consider myself lucky if I could swim against those tides as gracefully as the current staff does.

Yet for all that, I remain a musical optimist. These days I sometimes imagine myself a few decades in the future, flipping through a history book on the early 21st century, looking at the photos of John Ashcroft and Britney Spears, and reading the explanation of how the fuck we got into such a benighted era — and how we emerged from it, which we will. Also, while music and magazines are both struggling, this is, thanks to the internet, the greatest time ever for guitar enthusiasts seeking knowledge about the instrument and its players. We used to need a magazine like GP because it was the only outlet for that information. If the editors were remiss in covering certain players and topics, the reader was out of luck. But today we can exchange that info without a corporate go-between. So if the bad news is that magazines suck, the good news is that we need them less.

IE: I was really happy to see your website (www.joegore.com) come online a few years ago and to discover the Clubbo project (www.clubbo.com) – it appears to be an ambitious and elaborate synthesis of satirical novel, pseudo record label, and web complex. A person could get quite lost wandering around in it all and, I must say, you all have done a fine job in blurring the lines between fact and fiction – the hoax is quite convincing in some ways; I noticed that some online reports have been taken in by some elements. How did all this get started and where is it going?

JG: It started with an idea for the best prank in pop history. A producer friend and I had decided to just make someone’s next record. Here’s how it would work: record a really crummy song with good production values and a decent impersonation of a well-known singer. Give it a press hook: “Limp Bizkit goes born-again Christian,” say. Burn it on white-label CDRs and add a handwritten note on label letterhead: “Wanted you to hear this first. It goes to radio on the 18th. Please don’t write about it till then. Love, Laurie.” (Most publicists are named Laurie, Lorrie, or Lorry.) Send out copies to the top 100 music editors. You might not fool the New York Times, but you could probably dupe the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Then just sit back and watch the fun. Imagine some crummy “artist” picking up Entertainment Weekly and reading the C- review of their latest “record.” Or better yet: A- (“Their most rockin’ opus yet!”)

We chickened out. You could get sued or worse. But if any of the adventurous musicians who frequent this website would like to run with this idea, they have our blessing! So instead my wife and I made up a whole record label, Clubbo, with a fake 40-year history, fake songs, fake memorabilia, fake photos, and so forth. So far, so good — since we launched two months ago www.clubbo.com has been profiled by Slate and NPR, and inducted in the Museum of Hoaxes, and we’re getting many thousands of visitors. We’re going to be plugging away at this one for a long time. We’ve got some great “newly rediscovered” artists up our digital sleeves.

Joe's discography

Joe's new music blog

Jas Obrecht's new blog

http://97percentchimp.com