Anthony Gomes: Canadian Blues and the Promise of Peace, Love & Loud Guitars
If there’s going to be a savior for the rock music genre, the message will undoubtedly be delivered with the help of an electric guitar and a cache of blues chords. Nothing connects the dots back to the glorious rock heyday of the 60s and 70s quite like electric blues delivered with a rock and roll sensibility. And while there has always been challengers for the throne, perhaps none is more deserving that Toronto-born guitar god ANTHONY GOMES.
Like many of today’s best Canadian blues artists, Gomes is not exactly a household name, that despite the fact he’s 13 albums deep into a career committed to pushing rockin’ blues back into the mainstream. Thankfully, he may be on the verge of a long-overdue career renaissance. His last album – 2018’s Peace, Love & Loud Guitars – was named Best Blues Album by Blues Rock Review and Sound Guardian Magazine. With 12 tracks of blistering rock-infused blues (or is it, blues-infused rock), and featuring song titles like “Your Momma Wants To Do Me (And Your Daddy Wants To Do Me In)”, “White Trash Princess,” and “The Whiskey Made Me Do It,” the album delivers both vitriol and virtuosity in a way that stirs up thoughts of Paul Rodgers and Faces-era Rod Stewart.
In support of his upcoming April 7th date at Thorold’s Holy Rosary Hall, Gomes took time to chat with GoBeWeekly.com about his reverence for BB King, his love of Jeff Healey and where to buy some kick-ass rock pants.
GoBe: First, congratulations on your Best Blues Album award for Peace Love & Loud Guitars. What did that mean to you?
Anthony: The great things is, this is album number 13. And it’s been our best received album to date. And it feels good when you’re in your 40s and you’re still relevant and still making great music. Some of my peers have hung it up and they’re not doing it anymore. We’re just starting to catch fire and catch our stride. So that feels great, that there’s some longevity. A lot of hard work went into the album as well, so it’s nice to have hard work rewarded.
GoBe: I deal with a lot of blues artists that come through Niagara, thanks in part to the great afternoon blues programs here and of course the Canal Bank Shuffle. You start to realize so many of Canada’s blues artists have these long track records and large catalogues that many people are not aware of, certainly more albums than many of the flavour of the day Canadian pop bands that come and go. Blues artists seem to be tenacious in their will to survive as artists.
Anthony: I think you choose the blues because you really love the music and you’re passionate about it. It’s not the big money grab of pop or rap or country. You’re doing it for the right reasons, so those results usually speak for themselves. themselves.
GoBe: I like the line on your website about being an active 21st century guitar hero. We used to have them in spades. It’s like a generation that spent their development years playing Guitar Hero forgot to produce any, at least not great ones. And the radio and record industry doesn’t do a good job connecting the dots between rock and the blues.
Anthony: The industry is a fickle one run by people who know very little about music. I don’t think the demand for guitar has gone down. I just think the servicing of the market is the issue. There’s a great band called Greta Van Fleet, Grammy nominated and very popular. They’re very much in the vein of Led Zeppelin. Maybe 20 years ago that band wouldn’t have stood a chance because they would have been too close to Zeppelin. But people are so hungry for that sound they’ll even take a band that sort of imitates Led Zeppelin. That’s how hungry the market is for this stuff. There’s a lot of great rock bands, Rival Sons, The Struts, they’re out there. People want this music. I guess the people in charge are fearful of the power of rock music.
GoBe: You were born in Toronto. Who were your early musical heroes, if not blues heroes, just heroes in general.
Anthony: I started listening to a lot of rock and roll when I was a teenager. In my late teens I started to get very excited by Jeff Healey and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Jeff Healey was really breaking onto the scene when I was in high school. A lot of attention was put on Jeff. I was a huge fan of what he did. He was a wonderful guitar player and artist. That led me to Stevie Ray and got me down the blues path. Growing up in Southern Ontario Jeff was such a big part of the local scene and impactful on us guitar players.
GoBe: I love your voice, it harkens back to early Small Faces and Paul Rodgers. What did you find first, your talents as a vocalist or as a guitarist.
Anthony: (laughs) I didn’t start singing till I was 24 or 25. I was in a rock band and tried to sing some backup vocals and the drummer said, don’t ever sing again. I wanted to do blues but nobody wanted to sing. It was like, ‘Anthony you’re going to solo for 120 bars, what do I do as a singer.’ So I got the courage to get up and sing. I really liked BB King and I started to sing a lot of his songs, and my voice developed from there. As far as rock singers go, my three favourites would be Paul Rodgers, Rod Stewart and Steve Marriott. They definitely impacted me. And a lot of people said I sounded like Paul Rodgers, so when I went back to listen I realized there were some similarities.
GoBe: No pun intended, but that’s not bad company to be associated with.
Anthony: No, I guess not.
GoBe: I was watching some of your videos and I have to ask, where do you get those cool pants.
Anthony: WornStar.com. They take recycled clothing, hence the worn, and they make it into rock star clothing. They do stuff for everybody, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jason Aldeen, Bon Jovi, the Scorpions. They do stage clothes for everybody.
GoBe: You’ve got some great original tracks on the new album. Do you place any restrictions on yourself when writing blues tunes. It’s easy to stay in a lane to avoid having to write about current events and politics while appeasing blues purists who have their own opinions on what a blues song should sound like. What do you focus on when you sit down to write.
Anthony: Here’s the interesting thing. I’ve thrown that playbook out a long time ago of trying to appease the blues police because frankly, I disgust them, even if try to love them (laughing). I’ve just decided I’m going to do what I want to do. And there’s some songs on this album that push more of a rock side even though there’s some blues to them. And some songs that are more blues side but there’s still some rock in them. To me melody is really the key. If things gets too melodic is starts to sound like what you might call corporate rock, like Journey. If you keep the melody in the blues vein, notes that a singer like Paul Rodgers or Rod Stewart might sing, that brings it back to the blues. I feel like the sound of the voice and the lead instruments dictate what genre it is. If you look at modern country artists, they sound like Bryan Adams. But the guy’s got a pedal steel and there’s some twang in his voice, so it takes it back to country. Those were my touchstones, to keep it melodically in the blues realm and blues scale. Every now and then it strays, like we put a little too much salt in it.
GoBe: I have to say Peace, Love and Loud Guitars is my kind of album. I was listening to the song “Whiskey Made Me Do It” with the line, “I’m drinking triples, seeing double, acting single, now I’m in trouble.” That pretty much described last weekend.
Anthony: A song resonates with people when they can relate to it. We’ve all worn the lampshade on our head one time and had a good laugh about it.
GoBe: You’ve also got the BB King tribute on there, “Come Down.” What did you love most about BB.
Anthony: His humility in light of his tremendous talent and impact. I had the pleasure when I was going to the University of Toronto, I used to do this jam night on Thursday nights. And if you did a good job they’d give you a free beer; if you did a really good job sometimes they’d give you two. And when you’re in college or university, free beer is like a million dollars, so I used to go hang out at this place. One night this gentleman came up to me and said ‘man, who’s your favourite guitar player.’ And for whatever reason I said BB King. And he said ‘I thought so, I’m BB King’s bus driver.’ And he was. BB was playing LuLu’s and he introduced me to BB. BB sat down with me for an hour and mentored me. From that moment on, we stayed in contact. Every few years or so we’d open up for him and do a few shows with him. He was such a great man. He did that for me and so many other artists because he had such love for the music. I have so many influences, but BB is at the centre of my spirit. There’s only one and will only ever be one BB King.
GoBe: I listened to the title track “Peace Love and Loud Guitars” and felt that it should be on rock radio the same way Colin James’ “Chicks, Cars and The Third World War” belongs on there. To me that’s the frustrating thing now about rock radio, they don’t pay homage to the great blues rock artists of today.
Anthony: There’s a lot of politics in the industry. At the end of the day you just have to make your art and do the best you can. Look at us. Our 13th album is our best received one. That’s where that tenacity plays off. You just have to keep pushing. Commercial success is not really a motivator for me. Of course you want to pay your bills. But artistic impact is really the driving force, and moving people and saying something. There’s so many artist out there that have a packed house, they’re playing to tens of thousands of people and they’re saying nothing. We’re okay playing to 300 people and saying something.
GoBe: There’s saying nothing, and there’s doing nothing. You, on the other hand, use your music for philanthropic causes, including your own initiative Music Is The Medicine. What inspired that and how rewarding is it to see your musical efforts pay off in that fashion.
Anthony: When I was a young man, 12 or 13, my mother was diagnosed with paranoia schizophrenia which was a very challenging thing, and right around the same time my father had a small real estate company. He got into a strong disagreement with one of the employees. The gentleman later the next day went into a courtroom and shot people and killed an attorney. This was in the 80s in Toronto when nobody shot anybody. He was at large for 10 years and was literally Canada’s most wanted man. Our family’s life was seen as endangered, we had full police protection. For anybody that would be hard, but for my mother with her medical issues it just crushed her. She’s in much better shape today but there were several years where she just disappeared. The guitar is what got me through that time. Music had been so good to me that I just wanted to give back, I wanted to give that guitar to somebody that needed it just like I did. So that was the motivating factor.
GoBe: It’s amazing where music can take you isn’t it.
Anthony: Here’s another thing. It’s a reminder. When you do music as a profession, every day I’m checking things. Did we sell enough tickets, are we going to sell out the show. How many records did we sell this week. We had a good week, or this week’s disappointing. You forget that music is really about community and bringing people together. It’s a healthy reminder of the true power of the music.
GoBe: Speaking of community, you’re coming up to Thorold, home of the Canal Bank Shuffle Blues Festival, performing at Holy Rosary Hall April 7th. For fans who may not have seen you before, what can they expect that night.
Anthony: A high energy, face melting, fist pumping, soul stirring six-string shredding extravaganza of love and happiness and all things Canadian.
You can get a free album download featuring his hit song "Come Down" and other hit songs from throughout his career at: www.FreeGomesAlbum.com. View his latest video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gN8Dwsn3dc
(Photo credits: Steven Jensen)