Gary Van Scyoc’s professional performances, experience and knowledge of the music and recording industry have continued for over fifty years.
His performance and recording credits include such notable artists as John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Neil Sedaka, Keith Moon, Paul Simon, 60’s soul singer Howard Tate and the legendary songwriter/producer Jerry Ragavoy.
As a singer/songwriter Gary has also recorded with his own groups, the Dynatones on Hanna Barbera records, Pig Iron on Columbia records and Elephants Memory on Apple records.
As an educator, Gary wrote the bass curriculum for The Sam Ash Music Institute as well as being a member of the faculty he served as one of the Directors.
In 1996 he started Bass Styles Inc. a contemporary school for bass studies where students may receive private instruction in reading, theory, ear training and recording techniques.
Gary also continues to record, perform, make appearances at Beatle shows and produce local acts. He wrote his first instructional book “Shortcuts” To Improving Your Bass Playing in 2006. Gary’s work is included in the new John Lennon exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
A few years ago we had the pleasure of working with Gary Van Scyoc at the National Rock Convention in East Rutherford NJ. Since then he has become a good friend. Thinking his knowledge and experience would be of great help to some of the newer musicians out there, we had some time to have him answer a few questions for us.
1) How long have you been playing music for? GARY: Almost sixty years. I have been playing music since the 4th grade when they came around at a music seminar and stuck a trumpet in my mouth. That continued all through my grade school, high school, college and professional years. But along the way when I was in High School I starting playing standup bass which led to electric bass and guitar among others.
2) When did you realize that you wanted to be a musician? GARY: I realized I wanted to be a musician when my high school band director asked me to try the bass as an accompaniment to a mixed vocal quartet. It turns out that he was a professional singer and bass player from the Pittsburgh area which is where I am from originally. He asked me to come on a few of his gigs and I was just amazed how he sang and played bass at the same time. He was passionate about both. The crowd went crazy. I was Hooked!
3) Who was/is your biggest inspiration when it comes to playing/writing music? GARY: My biggest influences as a player would be Motown’s James Jamerson. Being from a soul town like Pittsburgh in 1960, I was really into that Motown stuff as a young player. I also liked the simplicity and feel of Donald “Duck” Dunn bassist from Booker T. & the M.G.’s that played on most all of the Stax/Volt Soul recordings.
4) What was the name of the first band you played with and how long were you together for? GARY: My first band was my 3rd year of High School called the “Shufflers”. We released one instrumental recording “Soul Shufflin” which is available on Volume VII of “Pittsburgh’s Greatest Hits”. That band continued until we graduated.
5)What was it like performing with John Lennon? Keith Moon? Jerry Garcia? Bo Diddley? GARY: It was a blast working with all those guys but in different ways of course.
6) How did each one change or influence the way you performed or wrote music? GARY: Out of those four John, Keith, Jerry and Bo, John and I had the closest relationship because we were together in the studio for the equivalent of 3 or 4 months if you total all the recordings we did together. Not even including the “Live in N.Y.C. record” and all the T.V. stuff like Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett and the Jerry Lewis telethon.
Keith was a one night thing in 1972. Elephant Memory was in L.A. doing a whole bunch of dates one of which was “The Whiskey A Go Go” on Sunset Blvd. Keith came in hammered and sat in on drums. It was like thunder exploding in the music. I will never forget what an impact it had on me. Keith showed me how to reach down for a real powerful approach. Somewhere I had never gone.
Jerry was a concert that was put on every year for the “Hell’s Angels” of N.Y. C. in 1973. They rented the ‘Circle Line’ and cruised around Manhattan from 4PM until around 7AM the next day. Lots of time to get to know and jam with Jerry. I actually wrote the title song for the 1983 documentary film “Hell’s Angels Forever”.
Bo Diddley was even a different situation which was Elephants Memory had real serious tour dates strung together around the time we were playing on the road a lot of nights with Bo and Chuck Berry. So we really got to know them and their shows inside out. Chuck asked us to back him up on his Chess record “Bio” in 1973. Even though Chuck and Bo each have a certain looseness about them you still have to know what you’re doing.
But as far as writing music John was the one that encouraged me during the making of our Apple record (which he produced) to go home and try to write something about my life not just some fictional lyric. “Write about your life” he said. Well that inspired me to write my song “Wind Ridge” a song about growing up in the hills of P.A. which I have just re-released on my solo CD “Pop Goes The Elephant”. And when I came into the Record Plant the next night I heard him writing piano lines to the song. John wouldn’t take any writing credits though. For the readers “Pop Goes The Elephant” is available exclusively at www.garyvanscyoc.com .
7) Knowing what you know now – would you do anything different if you were given the chance to start over? GARY: I wouldn’t change a thing! What a unbelievable ride it has been.
8) What made you decide to go from performing to teaching music? GARY: Actually I went to college and majored in music. I got my B. A. from C. U. N. Y. in 1990 but always had an classified ad in the Village Voice seeking students. For many years I taught at the Sam Ash Music Institute in Edison N.J. it was a really fun time where we put students together to make bands. Then we had band competitions at the end of each semester. We were way ahead of that back in 1990.
9) How does someone who has recently decided to join the music industry contact you for lessons? GARY: Thank you Kelley! If anyone is interested in taking lessons with me they may go on www.garyvanscyoc.com where there is a “Lessons” and a “Contact” page.
10) You recently released a new album ” Pop Goes The Elephant” – Where can our readers get a copy? GARY: Yes, thank you again. My very first solo CD is available again at www.garyvanscyoc.com. I appreciate the support. My wife Eva and I are doing all the leg work and promotion so we really appreciate it. It’s a strange environment in the music business these days so thank you Kelley for helping us get the word out.
11) Do you have any advice for someone just starting out in the music industry? GARY: If you have a dream stick to it. Don’t lose sight of it. If you try hard enough something will happen eventually. Ask your self are you ready to stick it out till it does.
Gary’s New Album is now available for purchase at his website : www.garyvanscyoc.com
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