GARY COX Bringing a Clapton classic to life

Gary Cox

Gary Cox
Since a young age, Perth guitar virtuoso Gary Cox has been inspired by the music of Eric Clapton. In particular, Clapton’s 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard was always a personal favourite for its diverse styles, heartfelt delivery and elite musicianship. In the process of learning how to play the album with a full live band, he has got to know its songs and Clapton himself more intimately, which he is set to showcase for the Perth Blues Club this Tuesday, June 19 at The Charles Hotel as the Gary Cox Band. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Gary Cox to chat about the legacy of the album, Clapton’s influence on him as a musician, his most challenging riffs and assembling a group to bring the magic of the album to life onstage.

So how did you personally become a fan of Eric Clapton and how did he influence you as a musician growing up?

As a young child I had a very cool uncle who had a great car and a great collection of what has come to be known as ‘classic rock’. 461 Ocean Boulevard was an album that I just came to love as a kid. We drove around and listened to it a lot and it had a huge impact on my brain. It got to a point where I realised I could just imagine the whole album in my head and I didn’t even need to listen to it anymore.

And how would you say it has influenced you as a musician and especially as a guitar player? 

The impact was enormous but it really happened before I was even a guitar player. The music just imprinted itself in my brain, so when I was learning I already knew what I wanted to sound like. It was an amazing time to be learning guitar because we had these incredible influences and Clapton had such a diverse band and played such a diverse amount of music. So the way he influenced me was that I didn’t just become a blues musician; I became a ‘musician’ in the broader sense of the word. I think that’s the biggest influence that he probably had on me.

And how about this album 461 Ocean Boulevard? Why do you think this album in particular stands out across Clapton’s pretty amazing catalogue of music?

Well I get a smile on my face even now with you even mentioning the album. It imprinted itself on my brain so heavily and it has such a diverse range of musical styles, not to mention the array of different musicians on it as well. It came at a pretty crazy time in Eric Clapton’s life. He had a lot friends around him trying to help him through some things and you can tell there’s a lot of love in the album. Plus it’s great fun to listen to. You don’t get bored. It’s not like listening to a straight-ahead blues album where you’ve got 45 minutes of the same thing going on. If you don’t know the album you don’t know what’s coming next, in fact you’ve got no idea. Whether it be reggae, improvisation, ska, straight blues, hard rock, slide guitar, country…there’s something for everybody in there.

So in playing this album live as a band you’ve really had to absorb the material that makes up the record. What’s been the most fun and what’s been the most challenging part of doing that?

I actually had the idea myself of doing this for quite some time but it really came out of a conversation I had one day working in a music shop. Me and a colleague had the idea of performing the album live and I just thought “Why not? Let’s just do it”. I went home that night and just picked up a guitar and just tried to play through it on my own and pretty much got through the album so actually thought it was something that could be done. The real challenge was finding other musicians who were going to get into it as well. With there being such diverse changes in musical styles it requires a pretty talented bunch of musicians. Being able to switch from style to style across every song isn’t something everyone can do, and some of the vocals, especially the female vocal parts, are incredible.

So what can you tell me about the people that you have found that will be bringing this music to life onstage this Tuesday?

Well I’ve got Malcolm Skinner who I’ve always called my left hand man. He’s one of Perth’s best bass players and all-round best guys, as well as being an awesome all-round musician and singer. I tend to like having him around me wherever it is possible and he knew the whole album pretty much anyway, so that was great. The drummer Mike is such a pro and he really, really learnt the album and in fact I learnt some things from him as a result as well. There’s also Simon Cox who (funnily enough!) is not a relation of mine; another amazing keyboard player and singer.

We’ve also got Mishy Athif, who is an amazing vocalist and very charismatic, joining us for a lot of the songs. We’ve also got one Perth’s best and most beautiful guitarists Trevor Jalla playing with us. There’s also Geoff Eastman from The Resonators coming up and playing a few songs. There’s the legend “Mr Blues” Rick Steele himself getting up for a few songs as well, but who knows? There might be a couple more on the night as well. The problem really is about who we invite. If you do a Clapton night there’s bound to be 50 players upset with me for not being invited.