Gary Wilson
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Gary Wilson

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The best kept secret in music


"Gary Wilson feature in the New York Times (Neil Strauss)"

April 10, 2002 NY Times
He Found a Following, and Then Lost His Way
AN DIEGO, April 6 — In 1977, a 24-year-old musician from Endicott, N.Y., released a wonderful, odd album called "You Think You Really Know Me." Combining elements of pop, proto new wave, jazz, avant-garde composition and electronic music, Gary Wilson delivered sincere lyrics, alternately sweet and angst ridden, about the women in his life and his fantasies, most notably in the pleading, quixotically titled "6.4 = Make-Out."
The album, which he released himself, quickly found a cult following, which over the years included the punk band Husker Du, the avant-garde group the Residents and the "Simpsons" cartoonist Matt Groening. It earned the status of a favored vanity-label obscurity among record collectors, and Beck, in his single "Where It's At," even sang about how Mr. Wilson "rocks the most." As the reputation of the album grew, fans naturally sought out its creator. But they soon discovered that Mr. Wilson was nowhere to be found. Evidently he disappeared after the album was released (though he said that was not his intention).

Adrian Milan, who runs the record label Motel with Christina Bates, spoke of the day that Ross Harris of the band Sukia first played him the record. Mr. Milan said he was blown away by the music and wanted to find the man behind it.

"Ross said he'd been looking for this guy for six years and would be really surprised if we could find him," Mr. Milan said. "I said, `I tracked down master tapes in some guy's closet in India to do our album "Bombay the Hard Way," so if this guy's alive I'm going to find him.' We worked 14-hour days and got a private investigator involved, but he couldn't find him."

Eventually Ms. Bates found one of his former band mates, Vince Rossi, who helped to put her in touch with Mr. Wilson, who lives in a small apartment here without a telephone.

On April 16, Motel Records will reissue "You Think You Really Know Me." Mr. Wilson will then make his first trip to New York in 23 years, for a performance at Joe's Pub on May 15.

On Saturday night, I arrived at Mr. Wilson's house to conduct his first interview for publication since the late 1970's. For the last 17 years, it seems, Mr. Wilson, 48, has played keyboards in a lounge act whose members and audience are not familiar with his original music. (Mr. Wilson's father was a jazz bassist who often played hotel lounges.) At midnight he reports to a pornography bookstore and peep show, where he works behind two layers of bullet-proof glass, handling cash and dispensing tokens.

Mr. Wilson — short, pale and with his hair pulled back from his forehead into a ponytail — conducted a tour of his small apartment. Shy and friendly, he pointed out the dusty Teac reel-to-reel four-track on which he recorded "You Think You Really Know Me" 25 years ago in his father's basement; he opened the balcony door to display the Farfisa organ he used on the record. In a corner of the room were dozens of reel-to-reel recordings, most of music he recorded decades ago but never released.

He said he no longer had any original copies of his album. "I used to break and smash my records onstage," he said. "Just snap them in half and throw them. And then one day I realized I didn't have anymore."

Mr. Wilson was known for outrageous, improvised performances. He used to dump pounds of flour on himself until at a radio station benefit in Seattle, he got some in his eye and it itched for weeks. He said he was not sure what he would be doing to surprise New York audiences at his comeback show in May.

"A lot of the performances were spontaneous," he said. "But I'm going to be out of my territory in New York. In a hotel room, there are not a lot of props to grab. There are things all over the place in a household. Maybe I can pull a bedsheet off of a bed."

His girlfriend of more than 20 years, Bernadette Allen, arrived shortly. Her paintings fill the apartment, her photography is represented in Mr. Wilson's CD reissue, and her videos often accompanied his performances. The pair displayed a photo album with an image of them taken 20 years ago at Max's Kansas City; next to it they placed an image of Charles Bukowski and his girlfriend because the resemblance was uncanny.

After the house tour, Mr. Wilson left for the Rancho Bernadino Inn in an affluent suburb nearby, where his lounge band has a monthly gig. The band crooned "The Girl From Ipanema" and "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" to the dozen or so patrons, most of whom were elderly. Using two keyboards, Mr. Wilson, one of the only band members playing by ear instead of with sheet music, executed the bass parts of the songs with his left hand and the rhythm parts with his right, occasionally adding a solo.

"I had no idea at all that he had this whole other side to him," Kyle Martin, the band's guitarist, said when he was told that Mr. Wilson was a cult hero.

Durin - New York Times

"New York Times review of Gary Wilson at Joe's Pub (NYC) by Jon Pareles"

POP IN REVIEW; Touring for a Cult Album 25 Years After Its First Release
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Published: May 21, 2002

Gary Wilson
Joe's Pub

Gary Wilson lay on his side on the stage on Wednesday night, crooning to the top half of a female mannequin that he had knocked over earlier in his set. He wore dark sunglasses on top of a pair of 3-D glasses. As his band played a slow vamp, he repeated, ''She's so real, she's so real!'' A gray-haired man stood above him, sprinkling flour from a bag; old home movies of Mr. Wilson and friends, fooling around with instruments and a reel-to-reel tape recorder, showed on television monitors. It was the kind of vignette that his coterie of fans may have been anticipating for two decades.

In 1977 Mr. Wilson pressed a homemade album, ''You Think You Really Know Me,'' on his own GTW label. At the dawn of punk-rock, Mr. Wilson was using electric keyboards and jazz chords like Steely Dan and letting early synthesizers buzz and slide. Though he sang with the cheesy assurance of a lounge act, his songs were tales of unrequited love in which one ''groovy girl'' after another spurned his advances: ''Your brother said you weren't home/Hey! What you tryin' to take me for, a fool?'' Or he let the backup topple into chaos and simply repeated lines like ''You think you really know me.'' It was impossible to guess how much was obsession and how much was put-on.

By 1982 Mr. Wilson had given up on a songwriting career. He now plays in a lounge band in San Diego and clerks the overnight shift at an adult bookstore. But the album was circulated among collectors and songwriters like Beck, and this year Motel Records has reissued it as a CD and persuaded Mr. Wilson to tour.

Onstage Mr. Wilson was every bit the lonely weirdo of his 25-year-old songs, still smarting from girls' indifference, still dreaming of kisses and true love. The band followed him from slick vamps to fuzz-toned noise, watching for cues while he wooed and embraced the mannequin as if it was Cindy or Karen. Behind Mr. Wilson's two sets of shades, it was impossible to tell what he thought about the way his old songs were so eagerly received: maybe better late than never.

- New York Times

"Feature story about Gary Wilson in Dazed And Confused magazine by Daddy Bones"

Dazed & Confused (UK) September 2004 | Previous Page

You Don't Know Me by Daddy Bones

You could be forgiven for misjudging Gary Wilson because virtually everything about him seems odd. Take a look at sleeve of his seminal 1977 LP You Think You Really Know Me - it seems to show him as a young American slickster of the Punk era, outfitted in plastic wraparound shades, a preppy jacket and a skinny tie. Even the pose, with its air of cool disdain, seems to portray a poster boy for new wave nihilism. Flip the album over, and things start to look a little different. Here we see the same man - in the same damp, dirty basement - but hair bedraggled, unshaven and stumped in a corner, stripped to his underwear and wrapped in yards of electrical cord and magnetic tape. The sleeve bears no label name, no sleeve notes, no contact details, just song titles like "Chromium Bitch" and "6.4 = Make Out". It just looks weird.

The mystery only deepens when you actually play the record. Recorded in the cellar of his parents' house on the cheapest four-track tape machine available, Wilson sang and played bass, drums, organ and synths. The results have been described as a "demented blue-eyed Soul record" and "Steely Dan on crack". It is, by turns, funny and mesmerising. Despite his upbringing in Endicott, a backwoods town west of NYC, Wilson was a prodigious musical talent, tutored on double bass from the age of nine by his father, showing brilliance throughout his youth not only as a multi-instrumentalist, but as a classical composer too. At 12 he joined a local garage rock combo as organist and at 14 he discovered, contacted and visited the avant-garde experimentaUst composer John Cage. Cage made an arresting impression on the teenager and his singular mindset of following one's own path and ignoring outside influence would become Wilson's touchstone. "I always treasure that," Wilson says now, sitting at his San Diego home, "that's one of my great moments, because he was my hero." Thereafter, Wilson's music and behaviour got rather freakish.

Dressed in a tuxedo, but barefoot, Wilson would walk his pet duck on a string through his hometown. At house parties he would shut off the power and crawl around the floor groping people. If there was no house available to party in he would lead costumed seances in the nearby woods instead. His infamous band of the mid-70s, Gary Wilson & the Blind Dates played their shows garbed in make-up, torn suits, beekeeper's hats, sheets of plastic held together by gaffer tape. They churned out perverted experimental rock and would routinely finish a live show by destroying the equipment. None of this might arch a critic's brow today, but in the New York mindset of that epoch, people were frightened. "We usually lasted about three songs before people got scared," recalls one former Blind Date.

"We did a live thing in Binghamton," remembers Wilson, "this must have been 72/73. It was really messy - 1 was all covered in milk and flour. The whole thing was wrecked, and I had to go to a gig, four hours later, wearing a tuxedo, in some nice steak house. I always kept the two things going. Always balancing them. They never knew about one another."

Endicott could barely contain Wilson, but remarkably he found no joy in the big city either, "Even in the exploding New York music and art scene, I was considered an outcast," he confesses. "That was all right with me. I didn't want to fit in with the rest of the bands anyway." So some months after releasing his solo album, Wilson left NYC to try his luck with the big labels in California, but found out that they had no idea how to market him. Not being that desperate for fame after all, he cut off his phone and vanished. Several of his friends assumed he had died.

For the next 25 years, Wilson's magnus opus lived on as a mystery cult without him. Despite its rarity (he pressed just 600 copies, many of which were smashed over his head at shows), its magic spread far and wide, abetted by indie radio stations such as New Jersey's WFMU and Seattle's KAOS (whose playlists were a major influence on Sub Pop). New listeners were rarely able to resist the magnetic pull of the album's bare soul, including Beck. The self-styled loser openly divulged his love for Wilson's songs at an MTV awards show and even name-checked him on the huge chart hit "Where It's At" - "Passin' the dutchie from coast to coast, like my man Gary Wilson rocks the most."

Eventually, after years of underground devotion to Wilson as a lost pioneer of 10-fidelity individuality, New York's Motel Records realised that this incredible work needed reissuing, the artist needed finding and his story told, but no one could find him - not even a private detective. As label partner Adrian Milan said - "Who doesn't have a phone?" Finally in 2002, after trawling for ex-band members back in Endicott, a third-party letter got through to Wilson and contact was at last made. He was al - Dazed and Confused magazine



Mary Had Brown Hair (2004)
All music and lyrics written, recorded, and performed by Gary Wilson

The following tunes assisted by The Blind Dates:
"Shauna Made Me Cry" - bkg vocals, Shauna Guidici
"Mary Had Brown Hair" - smashing piano by Vince Rossi and Gary Wilson, bkg vocals by Pete Stanko and Greg McQuade
"Sodus Point" - saxophone, Frank Roma
"She Makes Me Think of Endicott" - drums, Carmen Putrino
"Our Last Date" - vocals, Bernie Allen
Produced by Peanut Butter Wolf on Stones Throw Records
Recorded in the "other" room

Newark Valley (2004)
Gary Wilson, writer and performer
Produced by Peanut Butter Wolf on Stones Throw Records
Recorded in the "other" room

Forgotten Lovers (2003)
Gary Wilson - lead vocals, keyboards, electric sitar
Dave Haney - bkg vocals, drums, percussion
Butch Bottino - electric bass, bkg vocals
Joey Lunga - bkg vocals, keyboards
Recorded in Endicott, NY, Ithaca, NY, and San Diego, CA
Released by Motel Records

You Think You Really Know Me (2002)
Gary Wilson - drums, bass, electric piano, organ, guitar and synthesizers
Recorded at Gary Wilson's house (1977)
Re-released by Motel Records

Invasion of Privacy (1980)
Gary Wilson - vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass
Dave Haney - drums
All songs written by Gary Wilson
Recorded at Circle Sound Studios, San Diego, CA
500 copies pressed

Forgotten Lovers E.P. (1979)
Gary Wilson - vocals
Joe Lunga - keyboards
Butch Bottino - bass
Dave Haney - drums
Recorded at Blind Dates house/San Diego, CA.
300 copies pressed

In the Midnight Hour/When I Spoke of Love (1978)
Gary Wilson - vocals, electric sitar
Joe Lunga - keyboards
Butch Bottino - bass
Dave Haney - drums
random Guy Joe met at the beach - congas
Recorded at: unknown 8-track studio/San Diego, CA
500 copies pressed

The Wedding Gown E.P. (1974/78)
Gary Wilson - bass, piano synths
Chris Putrino - guitar
Gary Iacovelli - drums
Frank Roma - sax
Recorded at parent's basement/Endicott, NY
500 copies pressed

You Think You Really Know Me (1977)
Gary Wilson - vocals, drums, bass, electric piano, organ, guitar and synthesizers

The following tunes assisted by The Blind Dates:
"Chromium Bitch" - Guitar solo by Carmen Putrino, drums by Gary Iacovelli
"Lonliness" - Trombone by Vince Rossi
"I Wanna Loose Control" - Bass synthesiser by Greg McQuade, backup vocals by Dave Haney and Tom Ciotoli
"6.4 = Make Out" - Drums by Gary Iacovelli
"When You Walk Into My Dreams", "You Were Too Good To Be True", "Groovy Girls Make Love At The Beach" - Drums by Gary Iacovelli
Recorded at Gary Wilson's house/Endicott, NY
600 copies pressed

Another Galaxy/Softly the Water Flows (1973-74)
Gary Wilson - bass, piano, synths
Chris Putrino - guitar
Gary Iacovelli - drums
Frank Roma - saxophone
Recorded at: Pyramid Sound Studio/Ithaca, NY
500 copies pressed

Dream(s)/Soul Travel (1973)
Gary Wilson - bass, piano, synths
Chris Putrino - guitar
Gary Iacovelli - drums
unknown player - congas
Recorded at: Pyramid Sound Studio/Ithaca, NY
300 copies pressed


Feeling a bit camera shy


Gary Wilson emerged from New York's DIY movement with 1977's proto-New Wave masterpiece "You Think You Really Know Me", an extraordinary record which has been known to suck unprepared new listeners in like a drug and never let go. Shortly after its limited release its creator simply vanished. In the 25-year wake before he was found again, Gary's small-town opus had spread by word-of-mouth and indie radio to inspire a whole new generation of musicians and producers with his bizarre songs and personal musical vision. His cult following includes Beck, who shouts him out in "Where It's At (Two Turntables And A Microphone)", The Roots ?uestlove, Simpsons creator Matt Goening, and of course, Stones Throws Peanut Butter Wolf. The re-release You Think You Really Know Me in 2002 won him accolades in The New York Times and culminated in sold-out shows in New York and Los Angeles. Gary Wilson has continued making music in the years following his "disappearance." His music continues to chronicle his obsessions and angst that his followers would expect from him. His songs have been compared to everything from Prince to Talking Headsbursting with electro-funk, synth rock, lounge, soul, and avant-garde jazz. "Combining elements of pop, proto new wave, jazz, avant-garde composition and electronic music, Gary Wilson delivers sincere lyrics, alternately sweet and angst ridden, about the women in his life and his fantasies..." - NY Times "Gary Wilson - eccentric or just ahead of his time?" - N.Y. Post "And thus we witness a man in his 50s exorcising demons and fantasies three decades old, surrounded by mannequins and hot, pillow-fighting brunettes on hand to beat his head with handfuls of flour." - Dazed & Confused (UK) "Hipster enthusiasms for lounge music and outsider art converged with the 2002 re-release of Gary Wilson's cracked, 1977 cult oddity, You Think You Really Know Me..." - TV Guide "But the heart of Wilson's music is his obsessive girl-centric lyrics." - " ... successfully jumped between new wave synth spasms, soundtrack jazz and skronk, James Brown pep, noise collage, pre-Prince strut, and the Jonathan Richman School of Painfully Geeky Lyricism ..." - Pitchfork "...smooth-yet-quirky ditties with vague tinges of Steely Dan jazziness and a hefty dose of obsessive-compulsive emotional damage ..." - The Village Voice