Post by Big D: Charlie Pugliese, My Favorite “Band”
John Lennon was said to have said, “I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll get you something out of it”. I think I love this quote just about as much as anything John Lennon ever said or sang or played. There is an unassuming confidence, an honest directness and a purity to it. It is a perfect explanation of the most ethereal of all processes, the creative one. To put it simply, this is what I am (musician) and regardless of circumstances, including the tools at hand, this is what I do (music).
I think of this quote often when I listen to Charlie’s music. I’ve never met a musician who could do so much with so little and make it sound effortless. All of the music you are hearing, every last sound was written, arranged, played, recorded and engineered by Charlie using a $100 digital recorder and a guitar. This is by no means an apology. To me, it’s not even a distraction. This music is vivid, and full of energy, and exceptionally good.
I have known Charlie for a long time. Since college. I still don’t know how he does it. I just know THAT he does it. I remember visiting with Charlie one afternoon and asking to play through his guitar setup. The guitar, the amplifier, the effects pedals all seemed wrong. They defied logic. In my hands they were quite wrong and yet, when I handed things back over to Charlie, there it was. Amazing tone, cleverly crafted passages, good music.
I have never felt anything but encouraged by listening to Charlie’s music. Charlie is good. Charlie is crazy good. I should be intimidated. I am instead energized as if watching a professional athlete at the top of his game. I am amazed that what I am hearing was produced in such an austere setting. I am caught up in the musical moment and taken along for the ride and this is essentially the “something” you get out of what an artist does.
When did you begin playing guitar?
I think I was 13 or so. My uncle played guitar and gave me one that he had built in high school, so I figured I would try to learn how to play it. Unfortunately, once my ear was trained where I could learn songs on my own, I stopped taking lessons. So I never learned proper technique, theory, scales, all the basics. I just started learning licks and winging it.
When did you realize you have GPD (Guitar Player’s Disease) and it was something you had to do with your life?
When I got into bands in high school, I realized right away how cool it was to play loud rock and roll. I got hooked pretty quickly. However, there was a time in the early 90s where I got burned out on playing. After years of being in band after band, it had become more of a chore and less fun. So I decided to take a bit of a hiatus until I got my groove back. That hiatus wound up being about 13 or 14 years where I rarely played at all. Then around 2007 or so, for no reason at all, I started to get the itch back. So I bought a digital recorder and started writing and recording. It’s been all out since, and now it’s safe to say that I have the GPD forever!
When did you write your first song?
Ha! That’s an easy one. In 1982, I came up with a lot of different little bits and put them together to create my first composition, an instrumental called “Scottish Pickle”. I have played that song in several different lineups throughout high school and early college. To this day, people I went to school with remember “Scottish Pickle.” It’s hilarious. So naturally, when I decided to record my first CD, it had to be the first song. It took a while to remember all the parts!
When composing and arranging your music, do you always begin with the guitar part? Tell us about your process.
Usually, I’ll get a riff or idea in my head; then I’ll find a beat and tempo on the drum machine to expand on it and get a structure. Then I would record a dummy guitar track and use that to program the entire song on the drum machine. I think like a drummer, so I love creating all of the beats and fills, even though it takes quite a while. After that, I’ll come up with the bass lines and more guitar parts. A lot of times, I’m still writing as I record, coming up with new fills and bits here and there. I love the freedom that you have with instrumental music. You can always stumble upon a new hook or melody at any point in the creation process.
Who are some of your favorite guitar players/songwriters?
My very first guitar hero was easily – Ted Nugent. I think out of the first 10 songs I learned, probably 6 or 7 of them were Ted’s. I loved the phrasing and the attitude that he brings, and I love that he has not slowed down one bit after all these years. There are plenty of far better guitar players than Ted, but he will still mow you down! Early on, Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads were big influences as well.
Another huge influence on my style is David T. Chastain, especially as far as writing goes. The first two Chastain albums blew me away with all of the layers and different parts he had going on in a short song. In some my heavier songs, you can really hear the influence with all of the layering and counterparts. A lot of my metal guitar buddies can spot right away when I get into ‘the Chastain mode’…
Some of my other favorite players are Steve Vai, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Johnson, the Reverend Horton Heat, Craig Chaquico, and so many more. And as with most of my favorite players, I don’t really know any songs or licks of theirs. I like to channel the vibe and mood into my style. I think it helps me not knowing other people’s licks, I think it helped me to find and refine my own hybrid style. One of my good friends gave me the greatest compliment of all when told me that I definitely have my own style.
What’s your number one? (For all of you without GPD: What’s your favorite guitar in your collection?)
Well, out of the 8 guitars I now currently own, my number one is still a beautiful handmade Strat-style guitar that was custom built for me by my good friend and guitar guru, the legendary Big D back in 1997. The feel is fantastic and just picking it up makes you want to play for hours, no matter what style you have. I have a lot of very close seconds, though. I have a Hamer V that I’ve had since 1986 that is still my main metal machine. Big D has also hot-rodded that one as well. Two of my new favorites are a Hagstrom Viking II (I finally have a hollow-body! ) and a Washburn Lyons guitar that I got for $20.00. I kid you not. It plays, feels, sounds, and records great. It’s amazing that you can find guitars for any price that will do the job.
Tell us about your current projects?
Currently, I am working on a band project with two great people that we hope to have done by the end of this year. It is great to work with a real drummer and a really good writer/vocalist. I enjoy the challenge of recording and mixing vocals and music together, although I still have a lot to learn in that department. And I am always working on new instrumental music of various styles. The last few that I have done I feel are my best work. I would like to release another CD, but the material as of late has varied so much in style and genre, I don’t know how they would work together, so I may release a single song or two here and there. I also have a good friend in South Carolina that I’ve known since high school that sends me material from time to time to lay down some solos over, and I love doing that as well. So I always have something musically going on, but things like a job have a habit of getting in the way (laughs).
I work just as hard at improving the mixing and production quality of the music as the playing itself. You can have the coolest riff or progression ever, but the final product still has to sound good together.
What does your dream career look like?
I really don’t think much about a career now, with the point I am at in my life. And I don’t want to call it a hobby, either. It’s much more than that. Ideally, I would love to have more time and money (don’t we all) to put into writing, recording, and getting my music out there for people to hopefully enjoy. I know I won’t be on any tours; I just love creating cool music.
– Big D, Noted in Nashville
Learn more about Charlie including ways to purchase his music by clicking the links below:
Charlie plays “with” his grandfather Wally McNeill who was a professional pianist.