One of San Diego’s greatest musical treasures, Gary Wilson, performs at UCSD’s Che Café on June 14.
Currently promoting his new album, "The King of Endicott," Wilson, who arrived in San Diego from the album's namesake New York town circa 1978, is the definition of a cult musician. Although considered to be an experimental/performance artist, musically Wilson is hard to pin down. Depending on the song there might be some electronica, jazz, lounge or rock elements, not so much a kaleidoscope of sound as a really good blender.
“That’s come up before,” Wilson said good-naturedly. “When people ask, I say ‘It’s just Gary Wilson music.'”
His debut album, “You Think You Really Know Me,” was released in 1977, in an edition of 300. It promptly sank without a trace, initially at least, making little impact. Not much was heard from Wilson for the next few decades, but slowly a growing group of musicians came to love his quirky sounds. In 1996 Beck name-checked Wilson in his hit song "Where It's At (Two Turntables And A Microphone)," meanwhile in 2012, he guested with The Roots on NBC-TV’s "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."
“Quest Love was a big fan, he knew all the songs, he was a big supporter,” he said. As for the performance? “You can’t go wrong with the Roots backing you.”
Then in 2015 Earl Sweatshirt sampled Wilson’s "You Were Too Good to Be True,” inviting him to join in a TV appearance on ABC-TV’s "Jimmy Kimmel Live." It’s all been part of a major resurgence of activity for Wilson. He released two albums during his mid-1970’s run. Meanwhile, there have been 10 since he began releasing new music in 2003.
“I always thank God for all that,” Wilson said. “I call it my resurrection. Before that I was riding the bus to my job, wearing sneakers that were duct-taped together. Then after the record was reissued a second time, in 2002, the whole thing exploded. It really caught me off guard, I had all these newspapers like the New York Times coming to my apartment. It was magical.”
His new album, "The King of Endicott," looks back on his days growing up in East Coast town.
“It’s how I felt about the town,” he said. “It’s where I was born and where I spent my first 24 years. There’s a lot of memories there.” Endicott was where Wilson first came across his greatest influences.
“When I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be like Dion,” he explained. “I even curled my hair like him.” By seventh grade, Beatlemania had hit Wilson, in 1967 forming a band called Lord Fuzz, though a recent reissue of an acetate on Cleopatra Records shows the band to have been much wilder than the Fab Four.
“By eighth grade, I was looking for something avant-garde. And I was introduced to the music of John Cage.”
Cage was listed in the Manhattan phone book, so Wilson was encouraged to approach the composer. Cage answered the phone and asked Wilson to send his compositions to a P.O. Box. To his surprise, Cage responded favorably, inviting Wilson to visit.
“I don’t think I realized how important that was,” he said. “I have sat back and thought to myself, I was 14, how did I pull that off?” He has a fond memory. “My mother would drive me. The first time we went, we got lost, so had to call from a general store and he came to get me, so we could go over scores.”
Later on, he attended John Cage concerts. “I enjoyed them but I also remember thinking at one point, 'Where is the personality in the chaos?' “So, I thought, lets put Dion or one of those teen idols in front of a John Cage thing. And that kind of leads to here.”
Wilson already has new recordings and a possible tour ahead. First up is a collaboration with legendary musician R. Stevie Moore, "Fake News Trending," due late this summer. Other recording projects are in the works, but Wilson is just happy to be busy making music, thrilled at a second chance to be heard.
“The musical is great, but there’s also the practical. I can now live off my music,” he said. “Plus I get the satisfaction that I reached the dream I had when I was a little kid.” He pauses. “All the kids wanted to be The Beatles or The Stones, making music. It took a long time but things are different now. When we started out, the audience threw stuff at us, they unplugged us. But everything turned around. Now they accept what I do.”
Gary Wilson: Friday June 14 at the Che Cafe, 9500 Gilman Dr. 7 p.m. $12. All ages. thechecafe.blogspot.com