Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home

California Guitar Trio

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Bert Lams of California Guitar Trio from 2010


It's now twenty years of California Guitar Trio. Did you ever think the group would be around that long when you started?

No, when we started in 1991, I envisioned this project to last about five years. In 1995 Robert Fripp invited us to open for King Crimson, and we played 130 concerts as their opening act. This gave us new opportunities and projects to keep working together.


Are there one or two things that standout as highlights of the twenty years?.

The concerts as opener for King Crimson were one of the most challenging, difficult but also incredibly powerful experiences. As a trio we really “gelled” during that time, and learnt how to play an amazing set of music.

One of my favorite creative moments was the recording of our CD 10 Christmas Songs. During a period of 5 days we wrote and recorded a series of Christmas songs, and the process was really fun and creative.


How do you keep it fresh for yourselves and the fans after twenty years?

Each tour we add some new pieces or some new element that gives us a challenge. For this tour we added a short set featuring the classical guitar, something we haven't done yet before.

But mostly, our fans keep it fresh and exciting for us while we're on the road. It's rewarding to see people leave our concerts with a big smile on their face. We must be doing something right!


You guys were involved with Robert Fripp. Any Fripp stories that stand out for you?

It was quite an experience to be in his vicinity for several years, learning from his experience as a musician and enjoying his friendship and advice.

He's always been very adamant about never signing away the copyrights to a record company. In '97 we received an offer from a record label, but their contract stipulated that we'd have to relinquish the rights to our songs “in perpetuity.”

We asked Robert to go over the contract and see if there was anything in there that needed changing. He sent us the contract back right away, in an envelope. It was ripped up in little pieces. I noticed there was some of his hand writing on the fragments of paper, so I put the pieces back together to read what he had written. Next to the copyrights stipulation it said: “Sit on a pointed stick!”and below it said: "F you" with his signature underneath. Needless to say we didn't accept the record contract, and today we own the copyright to all our original songs and our releases.


Why did you decide to skip the usual covers (or CGT interpretations) this time around and do a strictly original album?

Our first three releases(Yamanashi Blues, Invitation, Pathways) are a collection of mixed CGT material: originals, covers, arrangements. They reflect mostly our live concerts from those days. But later releases have been more project oriented.

A few years back we released an “all covers” CD  named “Echoes.” Soon after, we had several strong original pieces in place. It made sense to us to follow up on that with an “all originals” CD.


How do you feel this disc compares to previous CGT releases?

Though we've included improvised pieces on our previous albums, we never released a whole series of them, like on our new CD.


If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

I'm from a little country in Europe, called "Belgium," neighboring Germany, France and England. I always enjoyed learning languages and experiencing the humor in it(for instance, British humor is a lot different than American humor). I'd probably be a linguist or a translator!


Who would you see as your musical influences?

JS Bach, Mozart, Beethoven,Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Arvo Part, the Residents, Julian Bream, Bill Frisell, Pat Martino, the list goes on and on.

I picked up the guitar as a teen and learnt John Fogerty's guitar solos on “Suzie Q” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by ear. He was a big influence on my guitar playing.


What's ahead for you?

I am looking forward to working on an “all classical CD” with the California Guitar Trio, and next year I will release a duet CD with Chapman stick player Tom Griesgraber.


I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

Definitely Not Adult Contemporary


Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

Bach, Hendrix and Miles are top of the list but I guess I missed my chance!


Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

It goes both ways: it is a hindrance in one way. For instance: our new album just came out and it's already up on sites for free download. On the other hand the word gets out about us -it's like free advertising - and people who really like our music will show up at our concerts, or go to our website and purchase our music from us directly. We play for the people who know and love us, and that is an ever increasing circle of friends and fans. Those folks will support us no matter what.


In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

If you are recording a concert you are not really present in the moment, and you are putting yourself in a “control” situation. So in essence, you take away from the event.

We used to announce “no recording” at our concerts, but then one day we opened up for a jam band(Leftover Salmon), and everybody in the audience was taping. The vibe in the room was great. People were trading the shows, collecting the shows and buying a lot of merchandise afterwards.

That's where we decided not to “police monitor” recording at shows anymore. It can create a worse atmosphere than if you just allow it to happen.

We are now recording each show in very high quality, and selling the recorded show, minutes after we walk off stage. This somehow neutralized the bootlegging of shows, since we now offer a much better quality recording than anyone could tape at our shows. So no problems here for us!


If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

I'm quite happy just being myself. I wouldn't want to be anyone else.


If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

It would be Paul Richards from Salt Lake City, and Hideyo Moriya from Tokyo, Japan!


If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

I would put Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix as the headliners, playing together.


What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

The last CD I bought was 801 Live, a recording of a concert of Brian Eno with Phil Manzanera and Simon Philips. But the past few weeks I have been listening the Handel's organ concertos over and over, and started making an arrangement for guitar of the concerto in G major.


Have you read any good books lately?

Last book I read: Seabiscuit. I’m currently reading Boots and Saddles, written by General Custer's wife.


What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

There's this great guitar player in Harrisburg; his name is "Kevin Neidig." I saw him open a local show recently, and was blown away by his stage presence and his music.


Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

I quite like the band No Doubt, Gwen Stefani is hot and and I love the guitar playing on their songs.


What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

We've had a few! I'll never forget playing at a private party near Santa Barbara, sometime in '92.

An eccentric wealthy lady had invited us to play a private concert in her back yard, in the hills of Santa Barbara. We talked Hideyo into postponing his flight for five days to do this gig.

What we didn't know is that the lady collected stray animals. All sorts of abandoned animals had taken over her house, and she lived in a trailer behind the house, with her driver.

When we showed up it was brutally hot. We played in a wooded area behind her house, riddled with dog poop. We played for a small party of about seven people in the sweltering heat, besieged by flies. It was one of our weirdest gigs ever.


If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

In no particular order: My daughter Tillie, my wife Carrie and my parents in Belgium

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 6 at
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
Return to the
California Guitar Trio Artist Page
Artists Directory

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2024 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./