(by Chaos Gillingham)
(photograph by Gene Kirkland)
(drawings by Charlie Benante of ANTHRAX!)
Just like most people behind the scenes, Willie Gee is an integral component of many great live shows in the ‘metal arena.’ He has, and does work with some of metal’s most beloved bands. Usually, in my experience, people with Willie’s level of talent and skill tend to ‘shout it from the rooftops’ in hopes of everyone hearing. Knowing it, they will never let you forget it. Willie is the exception to the rule. If you pay close attention to tours that Willie is working, you will find somewhat of an anomaly: a HUMBLE, yet still fiercely capable and confident individual.
Here’s to ALL the people that make ‘magic’ behind the scenes! Cheers!
MM: You are perceived as a “Guru,” of sorts, in the Metal industry…what is it you do exactly? How would you classify yourself?
I’m a “guru?” I don’t think that is a good description OR a deserved one. I’m basically a guitar technician, or “backline” tech…. I used to play a bit of guitar so I am more comfortable with that gear. There is definitely a lot – and I mean a LOT – of things I am still learning, but I am the guy who sets up the amps and guitars and maintains their working condition. At least, that’s what I TRY to do! Anything from the general re-stringing of them to installing new pickups, re-attaching a broken headstock, etc…. that’s part of the job.
MM: How long have you been in the game, how did you get your start?
I haven’t been doing this very long….I guess that’s relative. I had a friend who somehow wound up doing this same type of work, we were both in metal bands in the area here… I was looking for a new job and not having a lot of luck, and was playing guitar in a group that did private parties and weddings and whatnot. My friend wound up on a King Diamond tour, and wanted to take off for a while to work for a band that was supporting the Dave Matthews Band, and I wound up sitting in for him. I was OK at it and the King Diamond camp liked me… things sort of went from there.
MM: What artists/bands have you worked with, and in what capacity?
There’s been quite a few….well, I’ve done anything from helping out bands as diverse as Tuff (Stevie Rachelle rules, actually) or Gogol Bordello with guitar-related things and as a general stage help to being a tech for (most recently) Megadeth and Lamb of God. In the middle and in some cases, there’s Anthrax, Exodus, Cradle of Filth, Hair of the Dog, Immortal, Nevermore….etc.
MM: Who is your favorite band/artist to travel with, and why?
That’s a tough one! I’m very much a fan of the music in general, so it’s a good time going out with a LOT of the bands….well, MOST of the time. Lamb of God is usually funny, Megadeth and Anthrax of course…I have to put the King Diamond-related stuff and Nevermore up there, though. Can’t say enough good things about those guys. The Diamond camp is like “family” to me. It’s about being able to work well with everyone and enjoy it, and be comfortable with the surroundings for me.
MM: You could be considered one of the ‘hardest working men behind the ‘metal-curtain.’ Why do you think your services are sought after and in such demand?
I read someplace once that comedian Lou Costello’s grandmother would tell him “you can work SMART or you can work HARD… if you work smart, you’ll never have to work hard a day in your life. If you’re working hard, you’re doing something wrong.” Well… I must be doing something really wrong, because I think I work pretty hard! There are a LOT of people, who totally break their back working for a lot of bands, and on a lot of tours, and I commend those people for it. There are people who I totally look up to, for their work ethic, skill and attitude about the whole thing. I just think I am more recognizable than some people! HA. Sought after? In demand? I think a lot of that is because I am totally sober and reasonably competent at what I do. Also, most people know that I actually CARE about the show – there are people who spend their money and want to see a good performance, and if things aren’t working or sounding right, the band can’t do the show to their best ability. I am really into the music, I am a fan of metal and I WANT everything to be as good as it can be. Some people are just there to make money and don’t care about anything. I’d like to see everything work out for everyone involved. I think people realize that. It could also be my well-known dry, negative attitude and jokes.
MM: Do you experience a sense of pride and or accomplishment when you see your tedious and painstaking work come to fruition in the form of a top-notch show?
Nah, the guys on stage are the ones who have to turn everything into a great show, at the end of the day (or night)…I’m just a facilitator. If the guy in the spotlight is happy, I’m satisfied…usually, unless I secretly hate the bastard.
MM: You mentioned that you are prepping Megadeth for their upcoming tour, as well as getting yourself ready for your venture to Europe with Lamb of God. Does it ever become overwhelming, and if so how do you deal with it?
Yeah, it gets to be a bit much, maybe if I had more going on in my own life I wouldn’t be able to handle it…but I don’t, so things do slip by. Luckily for me, bands have production managers and additional crew so I am not usually trying to do production-related things that extensively. If I was the only one responsible for sending out technical information riders and contracts and trying to order supplies for everyone in the band and making travel arrangements, then yeah… I’d be in an asylum by now. I still don’t seem to have the time to do things like answer mail, work on my own projects, shave…haha.
MM: What is an example of a catastrophic disaster that you have experienced on the job?
Hmmm, I don’t know that there HAS been anything that has been a total catastrophe…there have been some show-stoppers, but it’s not like people have DIED or anything, just the typical weather-related things at outdoor shows or some moron throwing a drink on the mixing desk, etc. There was a show in Tel Aviv once with Megadeth where they didn’t have a sufficient barricade and the crowd totally crashed and broke it down…the police were there and made the show stop, there was no way they were gonna fix it and they weren’t going to be able to control the crowd so that show was killed about 4 songs into the set. One of my personal worst ones was on a tour with Opeth, when an already damaged headstock on a guitar totally broke a minute before I was due to hand the guitar over…there weren’t enough spare guitars and then Michael Akerfelt broke a string and there were no backups left, he just HUMMED the guitar part into the mic (it was the last song). I still have nightmares about that show.
MM: What is the most overlooked or underrated talent of the job?
How much patience it takes to get through a tour without hating someone or making them hate YOU! There’s a lot of different people, from different backgrounds, with different attitudes, egos, beliefs, levels of hygiene…all basically living and working together for extended amounts of time. I’m gonna do a reality show about THAT. There’s a lot of people who are GENIUSES with some of this gear, but they can’t hack being on tour.
MM: Is it difficult to attend shows that you are not working? Is it tough to be in a non-work mode when you are on the other side of the stage?
It’s difficult because I am never around and not working when there is anything to see! I do find it hard to be in “non-work” mode, because I can’t mind my own business and I instinctively start wanting to help…haha… if I am at a show and I know someone in a band or crew, I usually wind up doing SOMETHING at some point. The hardest part of standing in the crowd now is putting up with wasted idiots. That doesn’t have anything to do with working, I am just too impatient to deal with drunken lunacy…I see enough of that stuff from people who pay me to be there, to have to put up with it when I paid to watch a concert.
MM: Like myself, you are an original old school ‘Metal Head.’ What is it like from a back-stage perspective, to come up from the ashes of the original demise-to the ever growing and flourishing popularity of the genre?
I was a punter rushing the stage front, like everyone else during the “glory days of the 80s”…haha… so it’s not like I was witness to any legendary backstage debauchery or anything. I do like seeing this resurgence of interest in what I think is traditional heavy metal and thrash styles, with a lot of the newer bands, like 3 Inches of Blood, Evile, etc. There was a period when it didn’t seem like there was anything going on at all outside of the black metal or death metal parts of the scene.
MM: Do you think there is anything dedicated metal heads can do to prevent the traumatic desecration that choked out Metal in the nineties, or maybe we’re just
fucked and at the mercy of the machine?
Well, we know that the music is out there, if you want to go and FIND IT. In the U.S., in particular, there is this attitude where people think that things should be brought to THEM instead of going and searching for things…and a lot of people will settle for less rather than put in any effort to find anything that is innovative, ground-breaking or even just GOOD. Of course, “the machine” is gonna try to shove whatever product THEY want to move at you. I know people who’ve said “I would never go see a band playing at (insert the name of any small venue), if they were any good they’d be playing a bigger place”. Well, guess what, chucklehead? Everyone has to start playing SOMEWHERE. Ask any old-school metal band what THEIR first gigs were like. Also, this whole music downloading thing…if you are a metal fan and you’re downloading that music for free, you are doing your part to kill this scene off, NOT supporting it. People say that downloading music doesn’t hurt the artist, they don’t get much money from CD sales anyway, etc… I don’t agree with that. If some band like Hatesphere or Novembers Doom or whoever, that is on a small label, have 2,000 or 5,000 people download their album instead of buying it, that makes a BIG difference to them. Eventually, the label can’t afford to give them money to record, or can’t afford to put their music out anymore, and when there are no small bands there can’t be any larger bands. It’s more complicated than I condensed it to, definitely, but I think people need to go to more shows, BUY more music, do SOMETHING. Stop eating fast food so much and spending your money on smoking materials or whatever it is you do and buy that new VoiVod CD or re-release, travel 2 hours to some metal show with the only US appearance of some band from Poland or Finland or whatever. There are ways to contribute.
MM: You can be heard speaking of ‘choking out chuckle heads.’ What is the definition of this ‘Willie-ism’ and what other ‘Willie-isms’ are worth a mention?
I don’t know! I am not [usually] a violent person, but I have a breaking point and sometimes it just seems so much easier to grab someone and …well. I actually got that comment from Corey Pierce from God Forbid, I was ranting about some random bit of idiocy and he said that I need to start choking people out and then I would start to see some results. Heh. I think he’s right, but the legal ramifications of it…too messy. I don’t know about “Willie-isms” other than I say “crap” a lot. You’d have to ask people who seem to like to do impressions of me…
MM: What is your choke hold of choice?
I really like what I call the “Darth Vader” but I need to work on my upper body strength. The Force is not strong with this one. A good ol’ judo style choke is never out of style though.
MM: The last time I saw you was at the ‘No Fear Energy’ tour in St. Paul. I bore witness to Willie Adler laying down rhymes in a free-style rap battle. When you stumbled upon this spectacle, I asked you to show them how it’s done, you proceeded to recite some verses that had resemblance to that of Shakespeare, purely just to fuck with everyone I’m assuming. What were you spitting?
I don’t remember! I was probably paraphrasing something from some Shakespeare writing…I probably mixed some lines from “Julius Caesar” with parts of “Much Ado About Nothing” or something! Little bits of high school and college readings pop into my mind at various times and I just let them fly….
MM: You ended up shutting down the battle in a brutal fashion with what seemed to be some slick verses, who would you like to propose a challenge to? Can we make it official?
I think I am better off arguing the merits of, let’s say, “Master of Puppets” versus “…And Justice for All” with Chris Adler than freestyling with Willie Adler! (yeah, the Chris Adler thing happened too…you had to be there…he hooked up an iPod and went track against track. )