When COVID-19 killed concerts last year, professional musicians who relied heavily on revenue from live shows were put in financial peril. That fact wasn't lost on Vancouver guitar ace Paul Pigat, who normally chocks up plenty of gigs with his bands Cousin Harley, Boxcar Campfire, and the Paul Pigat Trio.
"There's easier ways to make a living than being a musician," says Pigat on the line from Murfitt Guitars in East Van, "and this has made it a lot harder. But honestly I'm doin' alright, because I've been productive. I put out the Cousin Harley record, and I'm workin' on a record with Kevin Breit--he's my favourite guitar player in the world, pretty much. And my pastime is building guitars, so I've built a boatload of guitars. And then I teach as well; I've been teaching since I was 18. So that's been able to keep me above water."
As well as being skilled at making guitars and showing folks how to play them, Pigat is one of those musicians whose versatility keeps them ahead of the pack. If he's in the mood to play some bluesy roots tunes he turns to Boxcar Campfire; when he's got a hankering for jazzier stylings he'll go the Paul Pigat Trio route. And when he wants to get in touch with his inner Stray Cat he'll round up bassist Keith Picot and drummer Jesse Cahill and set Cousin Harley on the road to rowdy rockabilly.
"Having a [musical] diet like that is really important for me," he points out. "If I do one thing and only one thing for too long I get a little stir crazy. So I've always had a few projects going, and it just keeps me interested in all of them."
Pigat's current project with Toronto guitar genius Breit is a remotely recorded, all-instrumental venture that will include drum tracks laid down by Damian Graham on Vancouver Island and bass licks sent in from Tommy Babin in Palo Alto, California. Pigat composed all the songs, except for one that Breit wrote. "I think we're gonna call the record Hillbilly Circus," he says, "'cause it's kinda like hillbilly circus music, ya know. Anything that Kevin touches instantly gets weird and super fun."
From the sound of the latest Cousin Harley album, Let's Go, there's plenty of fun to go around. The trio has been described as "the Motorhead of rockabilly", and how it earned that moniker is a story in itself.
"We were in Holland on our first tour to Europe," recalls Pigat, "and one of our gigs got blown out. A friend of ours over there put this makeup gig together in a tiny little club, and it was literally shoulder-to-shoulder, wall-to-wall. It can be pretty fierce with us when we're on the road--we like to play hard and have a good time--and we were havin' a really aggressive musical night. A Dutch guy came up and said, 'You are like zee Motorhead of rockabilly!' and it stuck with us ever since."
Cousin Harley certainly does a good job of generating Lemmy-level energy on Let's Go's 10 Pigat-penned originals. One fiery tune that stands out in particular is "Merle the Gypsy".
"We did a record in 2017 to commemorate what would have been Merle Travis's 100th birthday," explains Pigat, "and that album is all Merle Tavis. I have a lot of guitar players that I'm huge fans of, but I love Merle Travis and I love [gypsy-jazz guitarist] Django Reinhardt. So the melodic side of the tune is very much Django Reinhardt, and then I thought I would just adapt the interpretation and make it into a Travis-linking tune."
Another guitarist Pigat cites as influential is Telecaster master and "redneck jazz" purveyor Danny Gatton, who he discovered in the late '80s.
"There was a pretty important Guitar Player magazine for him in which he was featured on the cover with the Phantom of the Opera mask and he was called 'the world's best unknown guitar player'. I was into Albert Lee and all those country guys, but when I heard Danny Gatton I really loved the jazz influence in his playing, and the hillbilly influences.
"I haven't really lifted any Danny Gatton," Pigat says, "I just tried to emulate that kind of intensity. That's what I really love about him, the sheer intensity of the way he played."
When it comes to displaying his own intensity on guitar, Pigat almost always plays a Gretsch, the brand he's endorsed since 2009. He actually owns a one-of-a-kind Gretsch that he designed with the company's master builder, Stephen Stern. When asked who his all-time favourite Gretsch player might be, Pigat forgoes the better known Brian Setzer in favour of "amazing" '50s jazz guitarist Mary Osborne.
But when I remind him that Malcolm Young also played a Gretsch, he changes his tune pretty quick.
"You know what," he reflects, "I'll put Malcolm Young on the top of the list, 'cause I still love AC/DC. As a treat to my daughter, if we arrive at school before she has to go into class, we have an early morning 'Thunderstruck'. So I don't think there's gonna be a band that will stick with me from when I was an early teenager until the day I die other than AC/DC."