Gary Johnstone

Gary Johnstone @ Howlin Wolf, Glagsow

Gary Johnstone @ Howlin Wolf, Glagsow


Style:  Texas Blues/Country/Various

Influences: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brad Paisley


Plays in Howlin Wolf every Wednesday night.


K:  What first got you into the Blues Gary?

G:  It was Clapton’s album, “From The Cradle”.  When I was about 12 I started learning how to play the guitar and my Mum bought me an Eric Clapton chord book and a tab book.  It was kind of “Learn along with Clapton” thing.  It had some Blues stuff on it but I remember thinking that Clapton was for old people, give me an Oasis one.  So I learned the Oasis song book all the way through.  And then about 10 years later when I was 22 or 23, I was in this record shop and the guy in the store recognised ne from the 2 piece band I had at that time called “Mexico”, it was a kind of “Rage Against The Machine” set up.  He gave me the Clapton album and said “Take this and tell me what you think”.  So he gave me a free copy of “From the Cradle”.  It just blew my mind.  I had it on in the car while I was delivering pizzas and remember thinking “So that’s what a guitar is supposed to sound like!”  So I went in a week later and paid for the album and told the guy that he had changed my life.

K:  This is a cool wee venue (Howlin Wolf).  First time I’ve been in here.

G:  It’s one of my favourite pubs because you know that there will be live music every night

K:  Every night?

G:  Yes.  It’s the guy that owns Maggie Mays.  He opened Slouch a few years back and then he opened this place shortly after that.  I think we’ve been playing the Wednesday night residency here for about a year and a half.

K:  We?

G:  Three Card Trick.  That’s my covers band.  We do everything from Blues nights to Weddings.

K:  I’m finding that more and more “Blues” players are diversifying into multiple areas to allow themselves to be full-time musicians.

G:  Yeah, you’re absolutely right.  This is my job and I’m also working on my own album in the process.  Everything I’ve ever done previously has been under a band name and this is the first time I’ve been working under my own name and am heading towards producing a pretty much 100% Blues album.  There will be loads of different styles in there are well with some acoustic, some slide and some Texas, SRV style stuff.

K:  Stevie Ray Vaughan?  Is he one of your big influences?

G:  I got into him via John Mayer.  He was on YouTube and was playing with Double Trouble and he was playing the SRV song “Empty Arms” and I’d never heard anything like it before.  I had to find out who had written it and then I found Texas Flood and that was me hooked!

K:  Any other influences in there?

G:  I really love the Country sound so Brad Paisley is another great influence.  Unfortunately his style is way above and beyond anything I will ever be capable of but I’ve managed to get his tone.  I really love that clean piercing sound so that you can hear every single note, which is important to me because of the kind of chords that I am using.  I like the almost “brittle” sound from a Strat or a Tele through a Fender Twin.

K:  I know the sound you mean.  Have you seen the YouTube clip of SRV when he turns up for the sound-check with the hat and the big long coat and he looks done in?  He hits the strings a couple of times and you think “What the hell kind of sound is that?!” and then the band launches straight into it and it’s absolutely incredible!

G:  I’ve seen it yeah.  Just a couple of days ago.  Unbelievable!  I think it was Clapton who said that there is a channel coming from somewhere that is constantly running through him.

K:  So how are you approaching the album?  Are you recording in the studio or at home?

G:  I’ve been arranging in the house to save time in the actual studio.  I’ve always been into recording but have got more in depth recently.  I’ve been working with a guy called Sam Gallagher who does all the recording for my other originals band “Dizzy on Broadway”.

K:  So it looks like you’re hitting it from loads of different angles, which is great.

G:  Yeah well the problem in the past is that I tried to put an original album out under the “Three Card Trick” name and then it becomes confusing for clients that are looking for a covers band so it’s much easier to split things into different areas.

K:  You treat this like a business more than a band by the sound of it?

G:  Absolutely.  If you want to make a living out of this game you have to make your life.  Me and guys are out 4 or 5 nights a week.  It’s a lifestyle that not a lot of people would be happy with and it takes a special kind of partner to put up with it.

K:  So we have established that you treat this like a business.  What’s the typical approach you use to find work and keep the various fans and clients happy?

G:  We do have an agent in Ayrshire called Coast Entertainments who take care of a lot of our bookings.  We also have Freak in Edinburgh.  We also work hard at building the residencies.  You need to be careful to make sure that everyone is happy and we work at keeping loyal to the guys that we work for.  It does mean we need to turn down better paying gigs at times but it’s how we operate.  The other thing that is important is that I have learnt to be very flexible.  I can do a wedding one night then Blues in pubs like this the next night and then with the likes of The Scotia on a Sunday it’ll be Classic Rock.

K:  If you are playing so much, how do you manage to keep things fresh?  Where does the inspiration come from to keep developing your own style?

G:  I make dedicated time to get away from it all.  I’ve been to America quite a few times over the last few years.  I’ve been to New York, Chicago, Nashville and will be going to Austin soon.  I’ve made some good contacts over there and I keep getting asked when I’ll be back but our agent is keeping us so busy I just don’t have the time at the moment.  It’s a good problem to have though, I’m not complaining.  We always take 2 weeks in April and 2 weeks in October/November.

The last place I went was Nashville and I went there on purpose to see those Country guys as it’s an area I would love to improve on and Nashville has the best Country players in the world.  I went to a couple of jam nights and it was just mind-blowing.

I found a Blues bar there called Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar and ended up on stage there.  One of the guys who ran the place asked me what I was doing there and I told him I was a Blues Player and said “A Scottish Blues player?  I gotta hear this!”  He gave me a guitar and said “Take this and do whatever you want with it for the next 10 minutes.”  So I did “Voodoo Chile” and “Pride & Joy” with the house band and it was great!

K:  So you go to the States to get a feel about how high the standard is?

G:  Yeah.  When I went to Chicago, I don’t want to appear arrogant, but I was surprised about how well I felt that I fitted in and wouldn’t be embarrassed about going up on stage with them.  I felt I could maintain a career there, but when I went to Nashville I was so glad that I hadn’t just up sticks and moved there to pursue a musical career.  I felt like I wouldn’t even have got an audition for some of the bands over there.  It was also quite surprising how much these top class players actually got paid. I was talking to a bass player who was auditioning for the band that was going to tour with Taylor Swift and it ended up that he got the job. When I spoke to him after that he told me he was going on tour for 2 months and then no guaranteed work afterwards and the pay didn’t sound that great considering the work involved.

K:  But again, there is such a high standard but also such a high level of competition that if you don’t take it someone else will.

Did you say that you and the guys were over in Chicago?

G:  Yeah, it was quite a rush because we realised that there was a break in the gigs so we only had 4 days so we got flights and went over.  It was amazing.  Of all the places I’ve been, I’d say that the people of Chicago were the friendliest.

K:  I would say you’re a prime example of someone that’s prepared to put the work in and you take this very seriously.  You’re average guy would search up YouTube but you go and search inspiration out and invest time and money on the way.  What’s the payback?

G:  It’s the WOW factor of being next to these guys.  Seeing what they do up close.  It also gives you more of a drive to get better and keep trying when you see the reaction these guys get from the audience.

K:  Tell me a bit about the instruments we had in the photographs today?

G:  The Resonator, I only got that about 2 months ago after hearing a Keb Mo tune in here and I thought “What the hell is that?  That sounds amazing!”  He was playing a Resonator on it and I thought “I want to learn how to play like that!”.

I got it off a guy called Alan Forsyth.  He’s a really good guitar tech and I saw he had this for sale online.

The other guitar I’m using at the moment is the John Mayer signature Strat.  I always find that guitars with less paint actually do sound better.  All guitar players will have a different point of view on this but I prefer guitars that have very little lacquer on them.  The sustain seems to be better and you can feel it resonate through you more.  Just my opinion.

The other guitar I’m using at the moment is the American Telecaster(2012).  I know what I like when it comes to pickups as well.  I very rarely just take a guitar and use the stock pickups.  I spent over a grand on this American Tele and within 2 days I’d order over £200 worth of Lindy Fralin pickups.  I only know about them because of Brad Paisley and I always research the gear that these guys use.  The guy that installed these, Ian Nicholl from Kennys Music,  at the time had said it was the best Tele he’d ever played.  Partly because it was a brand new American Tele but also because of those pickups.  The clarity is insane!

K:  So what’s next for you?

G:  I’m just really excited about getting this new record out.

K:  Have you got a name for it yet?

G:  I was going to call it “First Love” because that’s the first track on it.

K:  Best of luck with that Gary and let me know when it’s released.  Thanks of your time.

G:  Thanks very much Kirk.  Never been interviewed like this before, I never thought anyone would be interested in anything I had to say (laughs)

K:  Everyone’s got a story to tell Gary.  Thanks again.


Date: 10/06/2015


Howlin’ Wolf, Glasgow

Camera info

Camera: Nikon D7000
Lens: Sigma 18-50 f/2.8
Focal length: 18mm
Exposure: 1/60 sec at f/5.6
Time of day:  6.00pm
Conditions: Interior
Lighting: 24″ softbox

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