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Pete McCann: Mild-Mannered Superhero Guitarist

Mark Corroto By

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AAJ: You talked about this jazz bug at age 16. I was thinking in preparation for this interview about a blindfold test, but it maybe more interesting to find out what you were listening to at 16. I get the feeling that it was more than just jazz, because of your love of John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth, and of course the Webern project and the Eric Satie recordings. What would you have been listening to at age 16?

PM: The advantage of growing up in a household with seven people, was that everyone had their own music that they were into. My dad and my grandfather listened to Country & Western on WAXX radio in Wisconsin. The played Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Roy Clark, etc. In the house, my mom loved classical, and 20th century classical music, so she listened to National Public Radio. My sister played classical flute. My older brother liked to listen to hard rock. I spent a lot of time with him listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Kansas, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, you name it. My younger brother wasn't into music just yet. I took lessons at Morgan Music in Eau Claire. I listened to everything and practiced from my Mel Bay books. When I got the jazz bug, I started making trips to the local record store in town, UMS Music, and started buying jazz records. I would also go to the local public library, check out six to ten records, schlep them home in my backpack and play them on my mom's stereo.

AAJ: it sounds like there were no pigeonholes for you. It's all music.

PM: Exactly. When I was in high school, Guitar Player magazine started inserting these little flimsy plastic records. This was well before the age of digital music. You'd actually get a record you could play on your record player, and I'll never forget one of the records was an Allan Holdsworth recording that just changed everything. I was like "this is awesome, who is this guy?" Getting into him led to John McLaughlin and then when I went to my first year of college at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, my teacher, Mike Irish, hipped me to Mahavishnu. He said, "man you got to check out these records." Jazz/rock fusion sort of changed everything for me. It was another door I had to open.

AAJ: That eventually led you to the Mahavishnu project

PM: Yes. It was great playing in that band.

AAJ: I was looking at the liner note to your new record, and it reads, "Many thanks to my family, Pete Mills, Matt Pavolka, Mike Sarin, etc." When I first read it, I thought you included Pete, Matt, Mike and the others as your family. Then I read it again and I saw it was "my family" comma "Pete Mills, etc." But it works both ways, doesn't it?

PM: Absolutely. The reason I named Pete Mills right after my family is because he was an invaluable part of my last record and the previous record, too. He was my mixing and mastering consultant. He's my nonpartisan band mate. (laughs) What happens is, if you ask your bandmates about mixes and stuff, then you feel obligated to do what they ask you to do. If I ask Pete, he'll give me an honest opinion. We try to compare other records while we're mixing. I have a few personal favorites that I like to use as benchmarks for recording quality and panning and stuff like that. Pete comes first in the liner notes. As for the other musicians, who I've been working with over the last year or if I've done some touring with them, I thank them. We are all in this together. It's such a vital community and it's great if someone asks me to do a tour with them, I want to thank them in my liner notes, for sure.

AAJ: With this recording, I notice the label reads McCannic Music. Is this your first venture into starting a label?

PM: Yes, it is and I had some serious conversations with a few important people in my life. Joe Fiedler is one of them. He started his own label a couple years ago and never looked back and another guy I am very fond of and have tremendous respect for is Dave Stryker. He did the same thing. I asked them if it is really worth having a record label in the mix. I decided to go it alone this time because it is hard to give someone a finished CD and expect them to promote it and get press for you, to do all this stuff on the back half, because there are so many musicians trying to do the same thing right now. I think every single record label is stretched as thin as you can imagine. The beauty of having your own label is you're in control of every aspect. The onus of selling records is all on you. The beauty is, every CD I sell, I see the profit. It's not that much. I like having a little more control over what's going on.

AAJ: Let's talk about your new record, Pay For It On The Other Side. How did you come up with this title?

PM: I called it Pay For It On The Other Side, because I believe we will all be paying in one way or another for the way we're living today. The title sort of sums up what I've been feeling a lot lately in what seems to be an 'all about me' world. I've been reading about, and practicing, mindfulness which helps me to be more considerate of other people.

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Pay for It on the Other Side

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2018

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