George Cole has gone from electric guitar duties in a pop punk band to teaching guitar and mentoring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt of Green Day, to being a gypsy jazz acoustic guitar virtuoso, touring with the likes of the David Grisman Quintet and jazz legend, Keely Smith.
We managed to chat with the highly respected guitarist about his most memorable collaborations and his most treasured guitar.
You began playing electric guitar with the pop-punk band Beatnik Beatch in the 80s. How did you go from that to the gypsy jazz, swing guitarist you are today?
Growing up in the rock era was a real blessing with so many innovative bands and players and also amazing technological advances in gear and recording. Fortunately, I had super hip parents that turned me on to the Mills Brothers, Ray Charles, the Big Bands and the best of jazz and swing. They played me Django Reinhardt’s Swanee River and I was hooked!
What was it like teaching the likes of Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt?
Well, we were all very young back then! I taught Billie Joe for 10 years and Mike on and off for a few as well. I had a hundred students a week, but even then those two stood out… they had a real thirst for knowledge and the drive to become a great band. We are all still friends and when I see them perform I always get a tear in my eye, I can’t help it!
How has the classical music of the 20s, 30s and 40s shaped your music and playing?
All the music that I like is rooted in the Blues. Jazz, Swing, Rockabilly, Bluegrass and Rock and Roll all come from the blues. I loved Gene Austin, Bing Crosby, Los Indios Tabajaras and Chet Atkins and I still do.
Django Reinhardt is a big influence on your playing. Who are the other greats an aspiring gypsy jazz guitarist should be listening to?
My friends Samson and Amati Schmitt of the Django All Stars are crushing it right now…so good! Stochelo Rosenberg and Angelo Debarre are terrific as well. In America, Frank Vignola is one of my favorites in this style!
If Django was still alive, how do you see yourself spending a day with him?
I know exactly what I would do… I would ask him if he wanted to play some tunes! I would take him to Rendezvous Bistro where I play Gypsy Jazz every night when I’m in town and we would play our guitars. We would have some wine and Caffe’ Crema and talk about our love of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti’s work. I feel that’s how you would get to know someone like Django. You would have to make him comfortable.
Share with us your most memorable collaboration.
My most important collaboration is my ongoing one with Mandolinist David Grisman. Touring with Dawg these last four years has been an incredible scholarship and I liken it to going to finishing school. I have been fortunate to perform with some of the finest acoustic musicians of our time and I am constantly practising and have been afforded a rare opportunity for musical growth. I should mention that I also got to work with Keely Smith and sing duets with her and watch her work every night… amazing lady.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
That’s easy, as I left my house to go play my accordion at the elementary school talent show my mom yelled out the window to tell me to “play with feeling”. I took her advice and won first place.
What’s a piece of gear you can’t do without when you’re touring?
My Neumann KMS 105 vocal mic. I’ve sung through so many different mics but the 105 has never let me down.
Most treasured or valuable Guitar?
My Thorell GC Studio 1 that Ryan Thorell made for me. It’s a great feeling when a player finds his instrument and it’s more important than ever to have your own sound. I feel lucky and fortunate to have found mine. My 1930 Gibson L4 is not too shabby as well.
What MONO products do you use and what is it about them that you like?
My M80 case and guitar tick have become essential to me. I can pack so much stuff in there! I carry my wallet, keys, nail clippers, strings, cables and even shoes and clothes in the case and tick. It’s fun walking around the airport and seeing other musicians with their MONO gear… very modern and stylish and most of all it protects my guitar. Great work guys!