Guitar Methods and Madness for the 21st Century
Gerry Finn might be the greatest all-around guitarist in Heavy Metal but it’s not likely he would ever say so himself. In conversation, he shares a trait found in many exemplary Kramer players in that he’s easy to talk to and reluctant to make too much of his accomplishments. But as the co-writer of the classic “Method to the Madness”, and with a long list of friends and admirers that includes Skid Row, Iron Maiden, and Cinderella’s Jeff LeBar, Finn is obviously more than just a guitar player. He’s not only a bona fide star but also a true student of guitar with a music degree to his name. A longtime member of the Killer Dwarfs, Finn and the band are enjoying a second career of sorts. But as for Finn himself, the sessions—and the surprises—have never stopped. Kramer spoke with Finn about what’s next with the Dwarfs, playing rock classics with Burton Cummings of the Guess Who, and finally learning the proper way to throw a guitar over his back with a little help from his friends
When did you first fall for Kramer?
I’m 48 so when I was in my early to mid teens, Eddie Van Halen was the person most people my age wanted to emulate. And I actually remember really clearly—and I can picture it now—there was a Kramer ad of him holding a White Baretta where he’s got the No Bozos
t-shirt. And I remember dozing off in History class and fantasizing that I would walk through the door with that White Kramer, you know what I mean? There’s something about it—those sleek lines. There was nothing like it in its time. It was perfectly designed—I think. And of course he had a lot to do with that. He’s rarely wrong in that way, I think. I really loved that particular guitar.
And then a friend of mine had one that I really took to. Eventually I had a Kramer Pacer that I really loved that was stolen from me. And I’ve always missed that guitar. So I still have a soft spot for Kramer. And I remember when that guitar was stolen I remember thinking: I hope it hasn’t been taken apart
(laughs). I hope it’s somewhere happy.
Which is absurd, right? How we can have this emotional attachment to an inanimate object? But I still wonder where that guitar is.
Now I’ve got one of the new Baretta’s that looks exactly like the guitar did in that ad. So it really is the guitar I dreamt about. With the Killer Dwarfs, I use it for about half the show. And it’s really reliable—it’s great. It stays in tune. It sounds awesome with that pickup. And I go between that and my Les Paul. It’s just so full-bodied. There’s a different texture to the tone but it performs well. I love it.
How did you start off your professional career?
I started off playing the clubs when I was a teenager. And then I studied guitar in Nova Scotia in Canada at a university called St. Francis Xavier, which had--and still has--a really excellent jazz program. It was a Hard/Be Bop jazz program. It wasn’t a “fusion school”—it was real jazz.
At that point who were you listening Barney Kessell, Joe Pass?
Oh yeah. I was a big Wes Montgomery fan, Joe Pass, and non-guitar players, too, like Miles Davis. Through that, I got introduced to all of his side men like Herbie Hancock and then that spilled into Chick Corea and Al Di Meola and all over the place. But the education at school was more straight ahead jazz.
Did you imagine that you were going to be a professional jazz player when you got out?
As a kid, I just wanted to be a great rock guitar player and I thought if I did a couple of years of jazz at university, I’d be an even better rock guitar player. And once I did two years I realized I knew nothing about guitar (laughs) and that I should probably keep studying. After four years I was certainly ready to get out and get playing and within a year of finishing up there I moved to Toronto—which is kind of the musical capitol of Canada, and I got this great gig with a band called the Killer Dwarfs and that was a wonderful gig at the time because the band was signed to Epic Records out of New York so most of the band’s presence was in America. And being from Canada that was a really hard nut to crack, you know? So, that introduced me to a whole other world of great experiences.
Things have been going great for the band since you got back together, right?
Yeah, the Killer Dwarfs reunited a couple of years ago. We would never have identified at the time as a “hair band” but when I look at pictures of us back then, the word “hair” needs to be in the description somewhere (laughs) of what we were doing. And there’s a real resurgence now in these types of bands and so we’ve been lucky enough to get a hold of that wave. And so we’re doing Monsters of Rock boat cruises and a festival in Baltimore and Florida. And these are festivals where bands like Cinderella and LA Guns come out and play. So we’ve been having more fun as a reunited band then we ever did initially did.
Is it more fun now because you’re not seeking the same things from the business as you were when you were under pressure to deliver a single or a hit album? What are you getting out of those classic songs now that you didn’t before?
Well, there’s a few things. For one thing, that’s exactly what the experience is like. When we would pull into Chicago, we wanted to know are we on the radio, things like that. There was an awful lot at stake. And now that all the pressure has been removed, we get to go and sort of celebrate the music and people get to go and hear it for what it is. So it’s a much lighter experience in many ways. And you know it’s one of those rare opportunities in life that you get to go redo something. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a relationship where you think I could have done that better
and 20 years later you get to try to do it better—or a job or any situation like that. So now, I get to play these songs again and you know a lot has happened in the interim where I think I’m playing much better than I ever would have. I’m playing as a wiser, older man. And the band has never sounded better, also.
What are you listening to for inspiration these days? Still jazz?
Oh yeah. I practice every day for three or four hours. And I listen to a range of things. I’ll re-learn guitar parts to Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” or I’ll just get on You Tube and watch some 19 year old guitar player in his dorm room kick ass on a jazz song and learn a bunch of 2-5 licks. Or I’ll learn a bunch of Pretenders songs. It’s all over the map. I think the key is to always have something coming in—new information and hopefully it will seep in and come out when you’re on stage again.
And you played on Jasmine Cain’s latest record, White Noise
As you probably know, this is an incredible band in Nashville—I think they were just awarded the best alternative rock band in Nashville. And that was a real thrill to be involved. Jeff LeBar played guitar on that too and just to be associated with Jeff—he’s a bit of a buddy—is a real honor so that’s great. I had a real surreal experience in Jeff’s living room where he gave me a lesson on how to properly throw my guitar over my shoulder.
You didn’t know? C’mon…
I know right? Well I admitted to him that I tried it in 1989 and I almost knocked my teeth out. So he said, ‘well, I’ll show you how to do it
.’ And I was thinking I don’t want to do this but I have to now. And he actually—this is Kramer related—he brought out his old red Kramer that was on those original Cinderella records and tours and gave me a lesson on how to throw my guitar over my shoulder. So Jeff was involved in the record and my old buddy Ralph Saenz (aka Michael Starr of Steel Panther) —we used to play in a disco band in Los Angeles. So to end up on a record with Ralph after all this time was really nice.
Any thoughts of doing a solo guitar record?
That’s crossed my mind. The next thing coming up is some new material with the ‘Dwarfs. And I think what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna record a few songs and collaborate with some of our rock star friends that we’ve known through the years and some people we’ve met recently. Maybe do something that has a sort of all-star-ish feel to of it with a guest vocalist and guest guitar player kind of thing. I’ve also been playing a bit with Burton Cummings (Guess Who), which is sort of a surreal experience to be playing “These Eyes” or “American Woman.”
How did that happen?
I play in a band called the Carpet Frogs. And this is a band out of Toronto, a sort of established group of great musicians. I don’t know how I got involved. And we do classics for corporate shows but it’s also Burton’s backing band for whenever he plays. And so there will be a Kramer on stage with Burton at some point.
Rock and roll poetic justice…
Yeah! There you go, right?