preloder
Photo Afshin Shahidi

Greg Boyer Interview

By Housequake

Greg Boyer (born September 25, 1958) is an American trombonist known for performing with many successful R&B and funk bands. Born in Washington, DC, Boyer grew up in Bryans Road, Maryland. An avid music lover at an early age, his first steps into the world of playing music were on alto saxophone at the age of 10.

Here are the 21 selected questions & answers from the Greg Boyer questionnaire. Thanks to Greg and to all who participated!

It says that you did a lot of horn arrangements for Parliament/ Funkadelic. Do you write any horn arrangements for Prince, or does he write them himself?

Prince is the brainchild behind most of what goes on musically, and that includes horn arrangements. My part in all of this is transferring his ideas onto paper, since all of the horn players that play w/ Prince read music. As i’m sure you’ve noticed, there can be a revolving door of horn players depending on their respective schedules and availability. So there needs to be some form of documentation to avoid hours of listening to tapes and horn rehearsals to insure that the section remains “tight as dick’s hat band”!

However, I do sometimes get a ‘green light’ to come up with something for a particular song or section of one, much like I did w/ p-funk. But Maceo & Candy are quick to come up with lines as well, especially during the shows. We all seem to have one brain between us when it comes up to the riffs we do onstage (including the strange harmonies that I sometimes get away with!). Prince loves the spontaneity of the section, to the point where he’ll just stop the band so he can check us out!

Without comparing their music directly (impossible; different people, dirrefent time etc!) do you see any resemblances between Sly and Prince as creative force and bandleader / arranger / producer?

In most respects, all bandleaders are the same. They have a musical direction/vision and they all do what they feel is necessary to get that vision across to the musicians that they’ve assembled. Some of these bandleaders are musical geniuses, and to others it’s just a job. So in the end, it’s the finished product that has and will seperate one from the other.

Greg Boyer Interview 1
Prince & The Band (2004) – Photo Afshin Shahidi
Who is your ALL TIME FAVOURITE musician EVER, and why?

I’d rather not be forced to pick just one because I dig so many kinds of music. So my list of musical influences is a long one. But if I had to pick one musician, it would have to be somebody that i’d say “thinks the same way I would if they never existed”. I think that would be Miles Davis.

I have noticed that when Prince invites u 2 take a solo part, u often play snippets of jazz standards, in french we say citations. R they scheduled or do they come to ur mind a few seconds b4 playin’?

For the most part, it’s all spontaneous. There’s not even seconds between some of the ideas I get. I just go with the music, if not sometimes try to ‘bend’ it a little!

Where do you look for inspiration when the well runs a little dry?

Inspiration is everywhere. I just open up my eyes and play what I see. the only time inspiration is needed is when things are going on in my world that block my ‘line of sight’. I love to play music, and the only times I don’t love it is when i’m bothered by my dislike for something else. But I always manage to shake it off.

Greg – what’s the funniest practical joke you’ve played on a bandmate? I read some funny stuff in Candy’s online diaries so you must be a prankster…

I don’t do ‘pranks’ like light matches between people’s toes or anything like that. But I do try to keep the mood light. I run out of energy when I play ‘mad’, so I try to keep the negative energy at bay as best I can. Creative juices need not clogged arteries!

In the ONA booklet you can read about Candy with her turnaround moment. What was your most embarrassing moment on stage (with/without Prince)?

It was during the time that p-funk’s activity had slowed to a crawl. Keyboards were the new horns at the time. So I wasn’t working as much as a musician and my chops had began to deteriorate, although I still had a good musical mind.

I was sitting on a sunday afternoon jam session when this bassist like the way I was albe to bring out the emotion of this jazz ballad. So he invited me to come play with his group at Birdland West. They counted off “two bass hit”, but at a lightning fast tempo. Now playing trombone is hard enough to play quick, but without my chops being up to the task, it was a disaster! At the end of the song, the bassist looked at me and snickered mockingly. He said “you can’t play fast, can you?” It was humiliating to see these guys getting a chuckle at my expense when I knew that I was much better than the guy that was just struggling to hold on to the tempo!

I remembered thinking of how it impossible it seemed to squeeze in time to practice when I was spending so much time training in the mountains for bicycle races (my focus had drifted from playing music at the time). I had to face the fact that my chances of making it musically are better than my cycling chances, with me getting into the bike so late in my life compared to other cyclist that started in their teens. I took a vow right then and there that i’d never let myself be in a position where I didn’t have what it takes to do ANY gig ever again in life.

Do you think that your involvement and Maceo’s has influenced Prince in a certain musical direction?

I think an influence is what prompted him to hire us in the first place! He was already headed in this direction musically and thought that maybe we would be the best to help get it there. Knowingly or not, we all bounce ideas off of each other all the time. But it’s that way with anybody that shares the same space as much as we do. 

Considering that you’re multi-talented, have u ever considered a solo (single or album)? Or are you content with remaining ‘behind the scenes’, so to speak?

I’ve considered doing a solo project for years. But my main issue is which direction to go musically. Because the average person doesn’t have the ecclectic music tastes that I have, you can’t just assemble a hodge-podge of musical styles on one album and expect it to catch on. So i’m slowly giving a lot of thought to the musical direction of my first project.

Who knows – I might have to record three or four “first solo projects” at once!

How did you meet Prince? Were you a Prince fan before you met him?

We met briefly at a P-funk concert in ’83. It was the night we recorded “P-funk live at the beverly theatre”. He came to check us out a few times over the years, and a couple of times also when I was playing with Maceo.

Greg Boyer Interview 2
Greg Boyer in 1997 – Photo Aaron Sikkink
When was the first time you heard Prince? What was the song and what was your first impression?

I was a freshman in college when this girl I was trying to get with asked me to stop by her room and check out this new album she had. With me being a musician, she wanted to get my thoughts on this prince guy (she cared a lot about what ‘other’ people thought). She played ‘Soft and Wet’ – and I said ‘cool’. Then she told me that he played everything on the record, like stevie – and I said ‘real cool’. By the time “Controversy” came out, I was a huge fan.

Why did you pick the saxophone as a kid? Was it “love at first sight” with the horns?

Saxophone is a ‘cool’ horn. it’s THE ‘cool’ horn. Whenever somebody kisses or has sex in the movies, it’s always a saxophone playing in the background. Whenever somebody stops singing on an old rock n roll classic, all you hear is saxophone. Whenever James said “Maceo!”, all you heard next was saxophone.

When you see jazz anywhere, a saxophone was always there. In fact, saxophone is so engraved in the psyche of jazz, the shape of the horn has become synonymous with the art itself. So maybe because I hadn’t heard of Jimi Hendrix yet, I had to have one.

If you could assemble a band of your favourite musicians, past and present. Who would it include?

For a funk group
Rodney ‘Skeet’ Curtis – bass
Dennis Chambers – drums
Eddie Hazel/Bruno Speight/Kevin Oliver – guitar
Louie Oxley – keys
Maceo, Candy, Fred, ‘Doc’ Kupka – horns

For jazz
Ron Carter – bass
Tony Williams/Elvin Hayes – drums
Herbie Hancock – piano
George Benson – guitar
‘Trane, Miles, Cannonball Adderly – horns

For go-go
Skeet – bass
Ju-Ju House – drums
Louie Oxley – keys
Chuck Brown – guitar
Go-Go Mickey – congas
Brad Clements, Bryan Mills, Skip Pruitt – horns
Li’l Benny/Big Ginghis – lead rap

For latin jazz/salsa
All these musicians I know can play. I’d just write the stuff!

For rock
Getty Lee – bass
John Bonham – drums
Hendrix/Eddie van Halen – guitar
Freddie Mercury – Keys
David Lee Roth – lead vocals

Keep in mind this list is subject to change, depending on what i’ve had for breakfast or wind direction….!

Do you reckon that the One Nite Alone tour was in a way unique musically?

For Prince, yeah. It was a totally different than any other tour he had done up to that point. And that’s why some fans (and ‘critics’ alike – for what their opinions are worth!) had a hard time adjusting to the music. People had gotten used to prince changing the music, as long as it was within the guise of the funk-rock-punk-sexy-etc. scope that they were used to. But it seemed nobody braced themselves for the inevitable – that Prince would get older! And if you’re blessed enough to get “up in the years”, or smart enough not to get yourself killed over stupid stuff, your outlook will change.

He went headfirst into a jazz thing and, in my humble opinion, it was electrifying. I was glad to be a part of the whole thing, since I too am a life long funk guy with jazz running through my veins (but not just jazz!)

Greg Boyer Interview 3
Greg Boyer in 2004
If you had 3 minutes to make a speech on a stage in front of the whole world what words of wisdom would you speak?

Even if you live to a ripe old age, one’s life on this planet is very short. So enjoy it to its fullest, it’s God’s greatest gift to you. But you’re still responsible for what you do with it. So remember to love each other by making sure that they enjoy their gift as well. Love the world you live in by not destroying it in the name of money or any other selfish reasons. Once this earth is gone, you’ll be hard pressed to find another place to live!

In short, show your love for God (jehova, allah, yahweh, buddah, etc) by loving one another and loving our planet. Your kids will really appreciate it!

If you did not play any instruments, what career would you have choose?

Pro cyclist, pool hustler, graphic artist, motorcycle mechanic…

I always wanted to know who wrote that acapella horn line that you did at the beginning of Atomic Dog when you were in P-Funk?

Some trombone fiend named Greg Boyer…
The P-funk horns used to do sessions for a lot of people that never made it past the recording process. We would use some of those horn lines from the sessions at a later date in other situations. That line in particular was something I wrote for a parlet session that never took place.

You’ve played in so many great bands. My question will not be which band you liked best (that would be far to easy)

Actually that question isn’t so easy at all. I can say that the bands I liked the best weren’t the most famous. for one, there was a group of guys in P-funk that all lived in the Baltimore-DC area. We would gig while George Clinton wasn’t on tour with version of P-funk songs that were absolutely blazing. That group was aptly names “The Baltimore Connection”

Another group is very well known in the Washington DC area, but outside the Metro area not many were aware of what a funk powerhouse Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers could be. Sometimes the groove would become so overpowering that people would start taking off their clothes and fighting for ne reason – other than there was nothing left to show how much the groove moved them! It was cosmic how funky that band could get….

There’s also a latin jazz/salsa band at home that I played with when I wasn’t touring w/ Maceo at the time. The group, “Sin Miedo” was a small, but tight dynamo of a band that escalated my knowledge for latin music. As a trombone player, I never felt more at home with a group musically. and the band just smokes!

Sorry, but there’s no “one” favourite group….

So, do you miss the spandex? What helps you play better… spandex or suits?

My wife and I were just talking about those bike shorts the other day, and came to a striking conclusion. remember the spandex/bike shorts craze of a few years back? It was brought to my attention that nobody was wearing those things before I started doing it with p-funk. So is one ‘Greg Boyer’ responsible for an 80’s trend?

I read that U like Cycling….other then Tooting, have U ever considered having a custom made bike using Ur favorite instruments as a theme?

When I had my custom bicycle built, the theme was fit and comfort. When I had my Harley customized, music initially had nothing to do with it, except for a small bass clef on the inspection derby cover. I guess i’m saying that a trombone theme on a bike personally wouldn’t make for a good bike, unless I was on “Monster Garage”!

Greg, I would like to know when you work with Trombone specifically how hard is it for a veteran hornplayer/trombonist to make his living in this climate in the recording age because of keyboards/synthesizers imitating horn sounds at a capable level? I am being told that it is brutal out there for sessions now for Horn players and anything a keyboard can imitate that is done inexpensively. Can you touch on that for a minute?

The reason why I didn’t touch on this question is because it almost answers itself. As you pointed out, with so many budget-conscious artists and producers, keyboard samples are a quick cheap way to record horns (or some sort of representative). You say it’s brutal – and that’s true. The only thing I felt I could add to this (and it’s very obvious from the question asked) is that i’m very fortunate to be able to make a living in this musical [business] climate. But just like anything, there’s always a market for authenticity.

About the author

Housequake

Hi, my name is Aaron. In the day time a User Experience Designer and 24/7 Prince fan since 1984. I've seen Prince (almost) every time he performed in Holland.

I registered & created Housequake.com on June 7, 1997, because at the time there was little else to read and discuss on Prince, except perhaps on alt.music.prince. So I started a forum, people gathered and I think the rest is history.

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