Joe "Guido" Welsh: Modern pop-fusionist pops the hood on the making of Nothing Left to Say
Joe "Guido" Welsh creates music that hearkens back to a time when most mainstream musicians had the kind of chops to handle multiple time changes and burning solos. On Welsh's amazing record Nothing Left To Say, he enlists a rogues gallery of incredible musicians (including three members of Utopia!) to create one of the most lively fusion albums since the genre's 70's heyday. Since this kind of music has lost its place in popular culture, Keyboard Magazine wanted to shine a light on this labor of love to give recognition to a truly stellar musical effort. From the pristine production to the crisp songwriting and gifted musicianship that permeates every song, this is an album for the ages. And for keyboard players, it is a deep musical pool of synthy delights.
With keyboard whiz Steve King on board, Welsh upped the ante by enlisting Utopia's Roger Powell to add some dynamite synth solos to the mix. The results are an amazing blend of rock, fusion, jazz, boogie and pop with great keyboard tones throughout. We wanted to delve into the making of this album and talk about the love Welsh has for this kind of timeless music. In the interest of detail and backstory, we let Welsh go long on explanation to give you an inside peek at what it takes to put together an album of this magnitude. Enjoy, and visit him at guidotoons.com.
KM: What would you call this music and why do you feel it's so rare these days?
JGW: I have been calling it 'pop fusion' as it combines elements of jazz, rock and pop with some smoking playing thrown in. I feel it's rare these days because jazz, and fusion (and prog music for that matter), has seemed to disappear from the public view to be replaced by "smooth jazz," which I like to call "jazz for lazy people." There is nothing challenging about smooth jazz. This music is challenging, to a point, but not as much of a leap of faith as, say, Return To Forever or Weather Report. I think this record is a hell of a lot more accessible, though.
KM: How was this record conceptualized before you started writing and recording? Did it morph from your original concept?
JGW: This actually began as a two disc vinyl album approach. One album was going to be fusion and the other sort of a fake Blaxploitation film soundtrack. I decided to go the fusion-y route as I got involved with former members of Todd Rundgren's Utopia (the big band version) which played what I used to call 'pop fusion.' So it just turned that direction. I loved the experimental stuff from that era. No rules? No problem! I was inspired by everything from Zappa's Hot Rats to all the other great fusion stuff of that time.
KM: How did you get three former members of Utopia involved? How was Roger Powell to work with?
JGW: I met Roger in 1973 before he was with Todd. We had somewhat been in touch over the years and when he visited Nashville for Summer NAMM in 2009, I had him over to play. What can I say? His solo on 'Math' was ONE TAKE, BABY! He and I have since done some more commercial music projects for his current company (EA) and speak often. He's a gas, funny as hell and one of the nicest guys on the planet!
I met John Siegler and Kevin Ellman at the Utopia reunion in 2011 for Moogy Klingman. John and I also have a mutual friend in NYC who sort of vouched for me and I hired them to come to Nashville to play. John and I continue to do projects together and is all over the next record, which is already in the can. Kevin is also on this new one as well. BOTH are super fabulous and have become good friends! I gotta say that EVERYTHING I have done my entire career was inspired by my seeing that early Utopia live on December 7, 1973 at the Music Hall in Kansas City. You can draw a straight line to Todd's "A Wizard A True Star" and that first Utopia album. I saw that band with both Roger and their original guy, Jean Yves Labat (M. Frog) about 20 times. Changed my life. And now that I've been able to record with and become peers with these guys, I feel I have really come full circle. A real honor and completely awesome experience! How many can say they get to play with the people that inspired them?
KM: Give us a few words on Steve King, who plays the bulk of the keys on this record.
JGW: I met Steve about six years ago when I hired him for some corporate gigs I do. He is a freak of nature and, at 34, plays like he's my age! He can play ANY style and his solos on this record really give it the 'legit' jazz vibe. He is a fantastic guy who really adds a LOT to this project. He has really turned into a fantastic Minimoog soloist as well! Very Chick-meets-Jan-meets-Roger Powell. This recording would not have been possible without him!
KM: Your credits say "guitar & synths" so we ask: what synths did you play on which song?
JGW: If it's a synth effect or funny noise, it was me. If it was 'legit' it was Steve King or Roger Powell. I used a Minimoog and a Buchla 200 synth as well as an iPad on a couple of tunes. I programmed all of Steve's sounds as well. I played all of the keys on 'Math' except Roger's Minimoog solo.
KM: Give us a few words on the importance of synths/keys in progressive fusion.
JGW: I just really dug the period between 1969-1976 and all the cool synth technology of the time. I think a Minimoog, a Clavinet with a phase shifter and a Rhodes through a ring modulator sounds super groovy! I can't imagine this record with virtual technology, although we did rely on my Nord Electro a lot. That and the textural stuff one can do with a Buchla is just endless. I really have a lot of respect for guys like Chick Corea, Jan Hammer and Todd/Utopia for wrangling that technology live back in the day!
KM: Give us a few production notes on your studio.
JGW: The whole album was all recorded at my studio. We track in the great room; I couldn't have built a better sounding room from scratch! I run Pro Tools HD w/ an API DSM 24 for my 'console.' I have a ton of plugins for Pro Tools and a bunch of 500 series outboard gear. It was engineered by Mike Poole, Steve Marcantonio and myself (with a few others assisting) and mixed by Mike right here as well. It was mastered by Jim Demain at Yes Master here in Nashville. My website has a full list of gear: www.guidotoons.com
KM: Did everyone record in your studio or did you have some send in tracks from afar? If so, how did that process work out?
JGW: We cut every note here at my joint. I have a groovy workspace and everyone enjoys working here. That, and they get to meet my awesome wife Margaret and our crazy dogs! We did lose one dog, Buddy Love, during the album. Siegler and I wrote a song for him that appears here. Great dog, cool song!
KM: Give us a track by track breakdown of the synths/keys used on the record with your thoughts on each.
JGW: Whew. I'll do track by track gear then overview underneath each, ok? Here ya go:
1. The Busybody:
Nord Electro 3/73. Minimoog. Yamaha C5 grand piano.
I heard 'Return to Forever-meets-Hendrix on this one. The keys are all Steve with Roger doing a Minimoog solo. I played the guitars on this one.
2. Sons of 1974:
Nord Electro 3/73. Minimoog. Roland Fantom rack for the polysynth and mallet stuff. Memotron rack.
Siegler and I wrote this as sort of a Utopia tribute/prog piece. I think we nailed that era, eh? The amazing guitar solos are from Chris Rodriguez! He SMOKES this tune!
3. Hickory Dickory:
Nord Electro3/73. Roland Fantom rack.
I have NO idea where this one came from. Just a cool groove with funny guitar sounds. That's Reeves Gabrels and I on guitars. I do the first 'head' and Reeves does heads 2 & 3. I had to have a bridge so I decided to pay tribute to Barry White!
4. Buddy Love:
Nord Electro3/73. Roland Fantom rack.
Another Guido/Siegler tune. This was originally called "Backwardo" but we renamed it as a tribute to my dog Buddy, who passed away while we were doing the record.
5. That Crazy Shit Almost Caught On:
Nord Electro3/73. Yamaha C5 grand. Roland Fantom rack strings. Minimoog.
Total Todd album/Utopia big band-era tribute, complete with Moogy Klingman-style piano solo! That's me on guitar, Steve on all the keys.
6. Cross I:
Nord Electro 3/73. Minimoog. Roland Fantom rack.
Chick Corea was speaking to both Steve and myself on this one. That was first take take from Steve that we punched two chords on later! RTF was heavily on my mind for this song.
7. Who Knew You Knew:
Fender Rhodes. Nord Electro 3/73.
Believe it or not, I was thinking Mahavishnu Orchestra's "You Know, You Know" but this ended up 'poppier' and less busy than that track. Psychedelic!
8. Candy Cigarettes:
Nord Electro 3/73. Minimoog. iPad w/Jordan Rudess' Morph Wiz app.
Just a goofy, odd groove with yet ANOTHER barry White bridge! Chris on guitar, Steve on keys.
Nord Electro 3/73. Minimoog. Buchla 200e/200 synth.
I used to LOVE the 3 keyboard attack of the early Utopia sound. I played all the keys except the solo. Really just a tip of the hat to Moogy, Roger and Ralph Schuckett here. And Roger's solo was first take as well! If I remember correctly we did punch the last note of his solo.
10. The Weather Channel:
Nord Electro 3/73. Minimoog.
Another first take from Steve King! I had a 'headier' title but when I finished the track it sounded like it belonged on the Weather Channel. Steve KILLS on the solo on this one!
11. Utopia (Con Carne):
Nord Electro 3/73. Yamaha C5 grand. Minimoog
I thought it would be funny to cover this tune with a "Santana-esque" vibe. So we did!
12. Etude, Guido?:
Yamaha C5 grand.
I write real jazz very seldom. And had NO business playing on this track… so I didn't! Love this tune, though, and Steve King helped realize my ham-fisted jazz chords into more 'legit' jazz chords. We closed the record out with this one as a kind of 'last song of the night'.
I would be remiss if I did not mention drummer Jim Riley (from Rascal Flatts), guitarist Chris Rodriguez (Faith Hill, Keith Urban, etc.), woodwind genius Jim Hoke and percussionist Dann Sherrill. They, along with the fellas mentioned above, absolutely made this record what it is. Although I had very specific chores for each of them, they all added an extra something to this that I otherwise would NOT have been able to do. I can write/hear this kind of music but my skill sets on guitar and keyboards is limited.