MusicMusic Features

California Guitar Trio

Categorizing the California Guitar Trio in a single musical category can be a challenge. The mostly acoustic guitar-based group—guitarists Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya—dabble in a little bit of everything. Their repertoire ranges from Bach to The Beatles. They can easily render a sophisticated version of Ennio Morricone’s cinematic music and then switch gears into a cheerful cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.†Their original material can be just as eclectic. More than 20 years after forming, the California Guitar Trio still value their reputation for versatility.

“We have so many different influences that we are now beginning to focus on certain aspects of our style,†says Richards. “For example, we just released a recording called Masterworks, which features only classical music. Our next project will likely be another project focussed on one aspect, maybe an album of surf-guitar music.â€

Richards, a native of Salt Lake City, was first attracted to studying and playing the guitar because his two older brothers played. He remembers as a child having guitars around the house and always being intrigued by them. “I loved everything about them,†he says, “the wood, the sound, the guitar culture and, of course, the music that was produced by the guitar.â€

Richards started playing seriously around the age of 13. His first instructor took him to a Rush concert, which turned out to be a life-changing experience. “From that moment on, I knew without a doubt that I would be a guitar player,†Richards remembers. “Throughout junior high and high school, my two favorite bands were Rush and Led Zeppelin. By ear, I learned to play along with all of their albums, note by note.â€

From the complex and energetic classic-rock riffage of Rush, Richards soon dove into the jazzy and more experimental works of John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Frisell. He stretched into classical and baroque music as well.

Richards and his two current bandmates first met in England in 1987 while studying with revered guitarist Robert Fripp (of British prog-rock band King Crimson). Lams hailed from Belgium, while Moriya was from Japan. After touring together as part of Fripp’s ground-breaking League of Crafty Guitarists and Robert Fripp String Quintet, the three guitarists relocated to Los Angeles where they formed the California Guitar Trio. The lessons learned during their time with Fripp helped shape their style as an all-guitar group.

“Robert Fripp is a great instructor because he really knows how to share his profound experience with music,†Richards says. “He taught us to recognize the qualities of music and to recognize and nurture exciting musical ideas.â€

As the sole American in the group, Richards naturally offered plenty of ideas informed by classic pop, rock, blues and roots music, but Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya brought their own ideas and influences to the mix.

“Each of us has a very different musical background due to the fact that we were born in three very different countries,†Richards says. “Being from Europe, Bert has a more traditional classical background. Hideyo is very much influenced by traditional Japanese music, but always had a love for California surf-guitar music like The Ventures. Bert is really the best overall player in the band. I’m still in awe of his beautiful playing. Hideyo is the fastest player of the three of us. He has a very strong sense of rhythm. It’s hard for me to describe my own playing, but coming from a primarily rock background, I suppose I bring some of that visceral energy to the group. And I have the ability to play in just about any style with a fair amount of competency.â€

Last year, the California Guitar Trio celebrated its 20th anniversary with the release of a new album of original pieces titled Andromeda.

“The album title comes from the piece with the same name,†Richards says. “That piece has a very spacey quality to it. I’ve always had an interest in astronomy, NASA and images from the Hubble space telescope, so it all seemed quite fitting when a friend of ours suggested the title after hearing us perform the piece live.â€

Andromeda features guest performances by drummer Eric Slick (Dr. Dog, Adrian Belew), keyboardist Tyler Trotter and bassists Tony Levin (King Crimson), Julie Slick (Stewart Copeland, Adrian Belew) and Tom Griesgraber (who also plays in a duo with Lams). It’s an impressive collaboration.

“With each recording, we have been striving to achieve the best of acoustic analog recording techniques blended with the use of electronic guitar effects and digital processing,†Richards says. “With Andromeda, we have achieved a new level of the acoustic/electric blend.â€