Jose is a multi-instrumentalist with a lifetimes worth of experience in the music industry performing all around the world and sharing the stage with class acts and legends of our time. I had the privilege of studying with Jose during my time at the Queensland Conservatorium and am fortunate enough to have him share his thoughts with myself and you all. This interview shares Jose’s experiences as a composer, sideman, multi-instrumentalist, educator and philosophies on technology, music education as well other related topics.
Can you please clearly outline all your current musical projects and professions which make up your life as a professional musician?
At present I am involved in a few activities. I lecture in music at The Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University a couple of days a week. I play freelance jazz gigs and recording sessions around Brisbane and the Gold Coast on either guitar, piano or bass. I am the lead guitarist in a rock n roll group and I have a couple of rehearsal projects going on: A Hammond organ trio and an acoustic guitar trio.
How do manage your time to make room for each of these commitments whilst keeping yourself financially independent and living a relatively balanced life?
I assign specific days of the week for each project. Being on the pension and having a regular income from teaching means I don’t have the stress of worrying too much about surviving financially. I ensure that I have plenty of time at home.
Of all your skills (performing, teaching, recording etc) can you specify the order in which each of these skills pays relevance to your current income? For an example does performing make up most of your income etc..
Teaching mainly. Then Performing and recording.
Can you detail when and how you become a full-time member of Jerry and the Pacemakers?
I had been performing in quite a few groups in Liverpool from the age of 13 and in my teens, I’d built a solid reputation as a player. By the mid 60’s I was playing in Liverpool’s top groups, and when the piano gig became available in Gerry and the Pacemakers, I was recommended and got the gig.
Presuming your experience in the band was rather adventurous given its status and period of success, what would you say were some of the highlights of that chapter?
Definately touring the world and getting to play at some amazing venues like Madison Square Garden and Royal Albert Hall. Also got to meet and play with other music stars of the day. There are, of course, many benefits to being in a world-famous band, lots of TV and recording experience as well as financial stability.
How did the band go about composing and producing music? Was there a
strategy or method employed?
Actually, Gerry usually wrote most of the bands original material, with sometimes some other input from other band members, which was usually done on the road in hotel rooms. The songs were then played on tour before going into the recording studio. Songs were usually recorded in 1 or 2 takes. It was all done very fast those days.
Given how much the world has changed, can you please share with the readers what life was like touring the world with the band in the “Golden Era”? For eg: Was it really all Sex, drugs and rock and roll… Or were “Pre-social media rock stars” simply allowing the mystery to serve the narrative?
There is an old adage in the industry that states “What goes on the road, stays on the road”, so I’m not going to confirm or deny the mystery, There was a certain rock n roll lifestyle, but as a certain conscientious musician, for me there was a lot of practice done and a lot of music to be experienced as well. Thankfully, there was no mobiles, computers, or any social media to get in the way.
How did you find the politics of the music business being in such a successful band? Did it reveal things the public and your younger self may have not considered?
I never gave it a thought, I was too busy playing music and having fun. Later in life, there may have been some reflection, but in reality, I wouldn’t have changed a thing, good or bad.
What is the story behind your role with the famous Liverpool anthem “You’ll never walk alone”?
You’ll never walk alone, which comes from the 1950’s movie Carousel, had been recorded by Gerry and the Pace Makers before I joined. My only role was to re-record it with them for the BBC. This subsequent recording was then used on various compilation albums and budget CDs.
If you could, would you go back and do it all again with the band, or would you do it slightly differently if a second experience were magically available?
To have that experience at all was a “once in a lifetime” stroke of luck, and it later led to opening so many other doors within the music industry. In hindsight, I’m very grateful, and wouldn’t change a thing.
What was it like being a session musician in London considering that “world” of session musicians is almost something of the past now?
It was great! There were lots of fabulous studios like Tridant, Olympic, Abbey Road etc with great producers and engineers and you got to work with the cream of musicians to create recordings in numerous genres. It was an invaluable learning experience and made you into a very confident all-round musician.
Do you feel session musicians are in any way still relevant in today’s climate?
They should be. but technology has created a DIY approach, whereby the one person is the composer, musician engineer and producer. To my ears, the music was much more adventurous when these were all individual roles.
Given that Europe was much more active in the arts, why did you decide to immigrate to Australia in the 70’s?
Mainly lifestyle. I had toured out here several times, and I had made many contacts. Melbourne in the 70’s was just as active as Europe was, with lots of work and studio activity, so I decided to give it a go. I was as flat out in Melbourne in the 70’s as I would’ve been in Europe – with the added bonus of the great Aussie lifestyle.
How did you find the change from touring the world to building a new career in a new country?
For me it was fairly easy. I’d only been here 5 weeks and I was working 9-5 in studios and doing heaps of TV and touring. I still made occasional trips to the USA for musical projects. It didn’t take very long to get established – and this was due to my previous experiences.
How has the Australian jazz scene changed since your time working here?
Jazz used to be much more visible. There were many venues, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, and a thriving and support scene of both musicians and advocates. It was just about possible to earn a living as a jazz musician. That has changed drastically now. Jazz has become marginalised and like many other things from back then has become the victim of technology and the dumbing down of society.
Can you please outline all the instruments you play/are employed on, and how you managed to keep yourself “musically fit” on each of them?
I play piano, guitar, electric bass and sing. I am usually booked for all four things. I have been playing all of them for a very long time and have developed an innate ability of on each of them. I don’t really have to practice these days…I am usually playing one or the other in both gigs or teaching.
Did you ever consciously find ways to learn material or exercises that would easily translate to each of these instruments?
No. But what I still do is transcribe. I’ll be listening to a record and have an urge to want to play what I just heard, so I’ll go to the instrument and work it out. That doesn’t take long now as my ears are fine tuned after so many years. This way, I’ll discover something new that I didn’t do before.
What lead to you being asked to compose the theme song for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games?
One of the athletes was wanting to write a song, and he had heard of my reputation so he asked me to get involved. The song we came up with “RISE” was submitted and accepted by the organising committee for the official Olympics album. All the songs on the album were then played by the Australian team, and they chose ours as the most inspirational for their anthem. It was then released as a single.
Can you please outline your process of creating the theme song? For eg: did you sketch it out or were you given a template? Etc..
The co-composer, Shane Monopoli, had written a bunch of lyrics and asked me to compose the music to them. I did this on a keyboard during my lunch break while teaching. We then got together and nutted out the final form before going into the studio to record it. On the original demo, I played all the instruments.
How did you get involved with composing music for TV programs/what would you say to musicians who wish to do this today?
For me it was having a proven track record as a composer. In most cases, you are usually invited to compose for TV and it’s very hard to get into otherwise. Someone trying to get into it can submit a heap of original material to various people and hope that someone hears what they have to offer. Other than that, it’s done to “Right place, right time”.
Can you please share your insight on the value of music education and what your thoughts are on going down the academic route for today’s musicians?
Music education can tend to be very specific to a certain style or genre to the exclusion of all others. I feel it’s more important to bear in mind while teaching, you are trying to prepare a student for a life of survival in the music industry and should be including the skill set to do so. Otherwise, we are just training a whole bunch of music teachers.
If you could only practice three things, what would they be and why?
Meditation, perseverance and humility. These three things will not only help your survival as a musician but surviving life in general.
What’s the most valuable career investment you’ve made to get to where you are now?
The many, many hours (sometimes 8 hours a day) I practised when I was young.
Has the rise of modern technology directly affected your career path? For example, have you consciously selected any employment or further study to help sustain your future given how rapidly the world is seemingly changing?
I do not use any technology (computers etc) in my musical endeavours. I am 70 now, and have managed to sustain myself this long without it. I write using my instrument and paper and if I need to record I go into the studio where others use the technology. If I am producing, then I was just that hat, and utilise an engineer to utilise the technology.
How have your interests within music changed over your career? For example, has practising become less of a priority and performing original music is more of a focus point? Maybe you’re less interested in music given it has been a life long commitment for you?
I am happy just to be still playing music. As long as it’s good music and it’s fun, then I’ll do it no matter what the genre or whether it’s originals or covers. I don’t practice anymore – just play.
Did you ever have an 8 hour a day practice schedule before working full time?
Yes, for years when I was a teenager.
Do you/did you spend much time transcribing other musicians?
All the time. That was the only way we could learn songs back when I was young. Everything I played, whether it was rock n roll or jazz, I transcribed onto the instrument by ear – including the solos. Then I would play them in lots of different keys.
If you had to play in one band only, who would it be?
The Pat Methany Group!
If you could pivot to another occupation, what would it be?
A fighter piolot.
What would you say to up and coming musicians who wish to have a sustained and fulfilling career as a full-time musician?
Transcribe, transcribe, transcribe in lots of different genres. Practice your instrument until it becomes an extension of your personality and get really good at reading music. Learn the technology if you are so inclined, but remember to be versatile, easy to get along with and willing to take on any challenge. Be willing to make others sound good even if it’s at the expense of your own ambitions.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside of music?
Not really, except breathing and waking up each morning.
If you could study with any musician who would it be?
My mother, she was an incredible pianist who could play anything from stride to classical and she inspired me to be a musician. She died when I was 6, and I would’ve loved to have her around during my life to keep inspiring me!
(Name drop alert) – Who are some of your favourite musicians you’ve shared the stage or creative process with/who are some you would like to in the future?
Gerry and the Pacemakers, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Duane Eddy, Fredie and the Dreamers, Ronnie Scott, Lulu, Peter Allen, The Doobie Brothers, Thelma Houston, Stan Getz, Richie Cole, The Drifters, Van Dyke Parks, Emily Remier, Marcia Hines, Vince Jones, Skyhooks, James Morrison, Lee Konitz, Jaco Pastorius etc. Too many to think of!
I’d love to play with Donald Fagan, Vinnie Colaiuta and Jeff Beck.
Any other comments or insights you wish to share?
If anyone decides that they want to make music their life, then make sure they have aboslutely no doubts whatsoever. It has to be deep in the heart and all consuming because it sometimes is not an easy road. It must be a way of life! Even if there is the slightest bit of doubt, go be a plumber or whatever.
For more information on Jose or to listen to his original music head to: