STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
Celebrating 25 years as a group, The California Guitar Trio, featuring Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya, have recently released their latest album, “Komorebi,” an eleven-song collection of original compositions and cover songs.
Offering captivating performances by three elite guitarists, the California Guitar Trio is one of the premier instrumental trios on the music scene today.
Paul Richards, speaking from his hotel room in Lawrence, Kansas while on tour in the Midwest, singles out the challenges of recording one of the albums gems, the classic Beach Boys “Good Vibrations.”
“It wasn’t until the last year or two, after I had seen the Brian Wilson film “Love and Mercy.” Burt also saw the documentary, and it made such an impression on us that we wanted to make an arrangement of one of the songs. We looked at a number of different tunes and we decided on “Good Vibrations.” When we started working on it, it was pretty clear that one was going to work out and really shine. When we do a cover like that, like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” everyone knows the tune and it’s going to stand out. This one is kind of like that in that it is a brilliant composition and showcases the three guitars. It really shows off the composition.”
“We rehearsed it for quite a while before we got to the point where we could play it live or perform it. It was several months in the works,” says Richards “So, it did take quite a bit of time. I don’t know how many tracks are on the original one but there were a lot. It was almost like taking an orchestral score and reducing it to the most basic and most fundamental parts of the composition. This is one of the highlights on the album for me. Doing it on three guitars showcases the brilliance of the composition rather than all the layers of sound textures.”
“All of the original tunes have something special in a different way,” says Richards. “One of my favorites is “Euphoria,” which is one of my tunes. The thing I really like about that tune is we were able to get Tony Levin, Petra Haden and Nora Germaine to participate on this one. I had so much fun working with them and creating the additional layers on it. Every time we worked on that one and refined it, it just made me feel immense satisfaction. I really like the three guitar parts. It really brought something new and different to the piece.”
Other tracks include “Komorebi,” “Cherry Trees,” “Buckaroo” (Buck Owens and Bob Morris), “Ble Rondao a’ la Turk” (Dave Brubeck), “Wonderful Land” (Jerry Lordan), “Glass Tang,” “Dig a Pony” (Lennon and McCartney), “Euphoria” and “Spiritual” (Josh Haden).
Having spent two years studying under the watchful eye of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, whom they lived with during their intense guitar instruction, The California Guitar Trio came to fruition in Los Angeles, California in 1991.
“When we first started, Robert Fripp had asked Bert to put together a smaller project. Bert chose to do this project with Hideyo and me. Initially, we called it “The California Project.” We thought that maybe this would last for a few months or a year. Once things got going, I think we realized there was something unique or special about this combination of the three of us that helped propel it forward, and here we are now and it’s still going.”
“Each of us, when we started playing guitar, had some common influences and then some very unique and different influences,” recalls Richards. “For me, when I was growing up, my favorite two guitar players were Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) and Alex Lifeson (Rush). When I was 14, I went to see Rush and that was a life-changing thing. I was heavily focused at that age. I had a personal goal to learn every Rush guitar part and solo as much as I could. I couldn’t play everything, but I came pretty darn close. For me, that was the basis. I studied all kinds of different music — Jazz and classical music. All those things laid the foundation for my work with Robert Fripp and in forming the California Guitar Trio.”
“In the California Guitar Trio, there is some Led Zeppelin and Rush. It might be very subtle. Of course, the big influence was through Robert Fripp. That comes through in all three of us in our work together with him. Bert is obviously the more classical guy. He was a big Jimi Hendrix fan. He also loved Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty. For Hideyo, the very first song he learned was from “The Ventures,” who were the big guitar band in Japan. So, each of us had our starting points, which kind of overlapped in a way and are still very much present in what we’re doing now.”
With more than a dozen studio album releases and a growing following globally, The California Guitar Trio continues to resonate with multiple generations of guitar and instrumental enthusiasts.
“Certainly it’s more the male guitarist music fan as far as a demographic,” says Richards. “The music we play in our shows is so varied that there’s usually something that even a pop music fan or an older music fan can identify with in our show that enables them to be more open to listening to one of our original tunes. I think that the way we present things makes the more complex things far more accessible to people that would not ordinarily listen.”
“I’m often asked by people, ‘What kind of music do you play?’” adds Richards. “If you’ve never heard California Guitar Trio before it’s a hard thing to answer because of the territory that we cover and the various influences. If I were to tell somebody, ‘I’m a big Rush fan, and I play acoustic guitar in this guitar trio,’ that only covers a little bit of what the sound of the trio is like. I usually give a vague answer, such as ‘We play instrumental acoustic guitar music.’ If I go further, the answer will include, ‘a wide range of influences from classical to rock, jazz and blues.’ It’s not an easy question to answer.”
Richards is quick to acknowledge the longevity and success that the California Guitar Trio enjoys with each passing year. It is not only about the music, but also the deep personal bond these three exceptional artists combine in offering a uniquely diverse musical experience on their studio records and on stage.
“We had no idea it was going to be this long lasting project,” reflects Richards. “One of the things that has kept us going is that we’re still friends. That was one of the things that got us together. The three of us, when we were playing with Robert Fripp, already had a friendship and a special relationship. That friendship has carried through all these years, and I think it’s like a marriage that has lasted. We have a good, fundamental way of working with each other and respecting each other. We’re really lucky. If that weren’t there, it would never have lasted as long as it has.”
“We’re constantly trying to find ways to keep the music exciting for us,” says Richards. “The most important thing is that we find things in our own compositions and the arrangements that we do are personally exciting for us. It all comes down to the music and what the music bring to us in our performance and the audience. We’re still going strong!”