He plays The Chichester Inn, West Street, Chichester on Tuesday, February 21 at 8.30pm (tickets on 01243 783185)
When did you move to the States and why?
I moved permanently February 1st 1991. I had spent nine months in LA way back in 1980. I had taken a year off from education, got a job in a sandwich shop, doing the washing up, deliveries, that sort of thing. But in the evenings I would venture out to jazz clubs and I got to see amazing musicians. I was just 20 years old. Watching Larry Carlton play with Jeff Porcaro on drums, witnessing Robben Ford and his band the Yellowjackets play in an intimate setting. They were all kids at the time, just a few years older than me. So it all got under my skin. When I returned to the UK the bug had set in and my heart was set on returning to LA and I spent the next 10 years trying to do it, returning from time to time for short vacations. But finally in 1991 I took the plunge. I had planned another three week trip. This time I booked five gigs in high profile places in Hollywood and I hired some of my favourite players I had been listening to on records. A friend of mine in London said to me “Chris what are you doing coming back to London? You've got more gigs in LA than you do here! For some odd reason that one statement sent me to bed at night thinking. By morning I had decided to move permanently.
How different is the music scene there? What can you do there that you can't do here?
I'm not sure I can really tell you. Had you asked this question to me a few weeks after I moved here in 1991 I might be able to give a more convincing answer. For me, for some odd reason I have always wanted to be in some kind of jazz scene. When I lived in London I had a band and we played around town. Lots of pubs and clubs, that kind of thing. I didn't see personally how I could get out of the rut of playing the same small venues, and because all the records I had been listening to were coming out of America, I assumed this would be the place to come. It turned out I was right. At the time there was a way to become an international recording artist as opposed to a local one. Having said that, there are players from time to time who do become widely known and are based in London, but it is rare. Most have a need to go to the source, and that is New York or LA. So to answer your question, at the time, the difference was the scope of the career potentially. That is still the case except that much has changed. All the record companies have gone belly up. There are now just two or three jazz clubs left in LA that showcase established artists. So it's become harder than ever to get off the ground. For me, I started back in the day so the change (hopefully) has not affected me too much, especially now as most of my live work is out of town. It's certainly a new day in that regard.
Similarly, what do you miss about the UK?
Marmite. But I know how to get it here. And I need to make a trip to get some frankly! When you live in a place like London, or anywhere for that matter, it's very easy to live your life without paying much attention to things. But when you move away, that's the time you notice. For me it was architecture. Los Angeles is an urban sprawl of cement blocks and blandly designed shopping malls. Being surrounded by mountains and ocean of course offsets all this, but honestly, when I went back to London for the first time after I moved here, I remember walking around Camden Town, looking up thinking how amazing the place was, how beautiful the buildings were. And I lived right there for ten years, without noticing. This may say more about me than anything else of course. Apart from cultural things, my family is the biggest thing I miss. They are all still there and my parents are getting older.
You come back every year... do you see it changing?
When I left London in 1991 there were no cell phones and the internet had not happened yet. The biggest thing I noticed over time was everyone walking round on the phone. Sitting on a tube back in the day everyone looked down, kept to themselves or read a newspaper. Now everyone still looks down, but they are glued to their phones. We live in a virtual reality now. I am as guilty as the next, but I insist on looking up at the sky as often as I can throughout the day now. Most people hardly know if the sun is shining. It's no different anywhere in the world of course. But that has been the biggest change. I noticed the food in England got better. Things have become a little more Americanized. When I lived in the UK there were four television channels. So yes, there have been changes. What is interesting to me is, although visiting England is all very familiar, it doesn't feel like home. I'm sure it would in time but I guess I'm never there long enough.
And tell me about your music, your career, your influences, how did it all begin, how has it all developed.
My music, like any other artist, is a result of my influences and experiences. As a kid I grew up listening to everything that was presented to me. Radio One (and Capital Radio much later) dominated the country and a minimal radio playlist told everyone what they would buy into. For me that was David Bowie, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles to some extent. I discovered radio Luxembourg (Fab 208) as another source. Tamla Motown got under my skin, but I started to play the guitar at a very early age so I was always drawn to guitar music. Jeff Beck changed my life. All my friends were listening to progressive rock; Genesis, Yes, Camel, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and I ate it all up too. I was nuts about a band called Focus, particularly their guitarist Jan Akkerman. He had a classical guitar background (like myself) yet he played electric guitar and had an awesome technique. I didn't know what it was he was playing. Was it jazz? Whatever it was I loved it. Music was going through a really experimental time creatively and that had a huge impact on me. So all of this music played into my own musical makeup. Over the years I got more and more into what the snobs call 'real jazz' and I fell in love with Pat Metheny, Pat Martino, Keith Jarrett, Chet Baker, and Miles Davis. But because my background was more rock n roll (and classical) it was never enough for me to just play straight ahead jazz, as much as I love it still today. I needed to have a wider palette to draw from. When jazz rock and fusion came along, it was heaven for me as it became a soup that you could pour almost anything into. But playing with an overdrive guitar sound became torturous for me, and possibly those that were subjected to listening to me. So over time I adopted a clean tone and ended up playing a jazz guitar. Finally I had arrived at my sound, one that felt natural and wanted to brand.
What about your recent recording, plans for this year?
The latest album (released 2016) is called TEN. It's my tenth solo album and it helps me to remember how many albums I have released when people ask me. I released two singles from the album last year, both reaching number two on Billboard, so it was a good year for me. This year there will include more touring and I have this upcoming UK tour starting in Chichester at the Chichester Inn on Feb 21st. I always love playing there, and I'm happy we can kick it all off right here. When I get back to LA I need to get to work on writing and recording a new album as I like to put something out every two years, just to keep the machine alive and kicking.