Monday, May 31, 2010
Govan began playing guitar aged three, encouraged by his father but initially learning mainly by ear. At the age of nine he and his brother Seth played guitar on a Thames Television programme called 'Ace Reports'. He then attended King Edward VI Grammar School (Chelmsford) where he was exposed, via older classmates, to ‘shred’ guitarists of the time.
After leaving school, Govan read English at the University of Oxford, though he left after a year to pursue a career in music. Around this time (by Govan’s own estimation, 1991) he sent demos of his work to Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. Varney was impressed and offered him a record deal; ultimately however, Govan declined. Regarding his reasons he has explained: ‘it was as though all I really wanted to know was that I was good enough […] I found I was getting a bit wary of the shred movement’.
In 1993 he won Guitarist magazine’s ‘Guitarist of the Year’ competition with his instrumental piece ‘Wonderful Slippery Thing’ (a version of which would eventually appear on his debut solo album); the demo of the track earned him a place amongst several other entrants in the live final, which he then won. Subsequently, he submitted a sample transcription (of a Shawn Lane piece) to Guitar Techniques magazine; this earned him a job as a contributor to the magazine, ending a spell working in fast food.
Govan has since worked with ‘Guitar Techniques’, both on transcriptions of songs and on articles providing tuition to readers in particular techniques or styles. His work with the magazine enabled his belated solo album Erotic Cakes to reach a wider audience, not least because the magazine transcribed 'Wonderful Slippery Thing'.
Since the late 1990s, Govan has taught at the Guitar Institute in Acton, Thames Valley University, and the Academy of Contemporary Music; he currently teaches at Brighton Institute of Modern Music. In this context, he is known for his ability to teach a wide range of styles.
Govan has published three books on guitar playing: Creative Guitar Volume 1: Cutting Edge Techniques, Creative Guitar Volume 2: Advanced Techniques, and Creative Guitar Volume 3: Recording and Effects. As the names imply these books aim to teach innovative guitar techniques.
He has also been a special guest on Blues Jam Tracks, recording first-take leads over purchasable backing tracks as well as teaching with Guitar Break on Blues Rock guitar weekends around the UK. He also performs Master-Classes for the guitar holidays company Guitar Getaways.
Govan began his involvement with Asia playing on the album Aura. He came to Asia through the recommendation of Michael Sturgis, the band's long-time session drummer. Sturgis had been a colleague of Govan's at the UK's Academy of Contemporary Music. With his work on the album complete, Govan was added to the Asia line-up for the tour to support the new album. "Bad Asteroid", an instrumental in the live shows, was a Govan original composition; it dates back to his early 1990s demo. He went on to play on the band’s 2004 album Silent Nation.
In 2006, Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes left to reform an earlier Asia line-up; Govan and the other two band members, John Payne and Jay Schellen, formed GPS (named after the members' initials). After the addition of Ryo Okumoto on keyboards the band released the album Window to the Soul (2006).
Govan performs on a number of tracks on Your Music Is Killing Me, the debut album of UK electronic dance music act The Young Punx and is part of their live act. He also appears in the music video for their track 'Rockall'.
Govan’s debut solo album, Erotic Cakes, was released through Cornford Records in August 2006. In the album's sleeve notes, Govan states the album is named after an episode of The Simpsons; he also explains that when playing live, the band is billed as ‘Erotic Cakes’ rather than simply Guthrie Govan.
In addition to bass by Govan’s brother Seth and drumming by Pete Riley, the album features guitar solos by Richie Kotzen (whose Los Angeles studio was used to record the guitar tracks on the album) and Bumblefoot on ‘Ner Ner’ and ‘Rhode Island Shred’ respectively. Seth Govan and Pete Riley also complete the Erotic Cakes live band.
Several of the tracks on the album existed in various incarnations previously. Notably, versions of ‘Waves’ and ‘Rhode Island Shred’ appeared on the compilation Guitar on the Edge, Vol 1. no.4 (Legato Records, 1993); his inclusion on the compilation was organised by Mike Varney's brother, Mark. Furthermore a version of his ‘Guitarist of the Year’ winning piece, ‘Wonderful Slippery Thing’ appears on the album. While this is his first album, Govan had been collaborating with drummer Pete Riley on the music since the mid-1990s
The Erotic Cakes band line up, with the addition of saxophonist Zak Barrett, also forms jazz-fusion band The Fellowship. The band plays at the Bassment club in Chelmsford, Essex every Thursday night and has done so for several years.
Govan’s earliest influences were Jimi Hendrix and Cream-era Eric Clapton; as such he describes himself as coming from a ‘blues rock background’. While he is ‘wary’ of 1980s technique driven guitar music (‘shred’) he cites the imagination of Steve Vai (as well as Frank Zappa, whom Vai played with) and the passion of Yngwie Malmsteen as influences. Jazz and fusion elements are an important part of his style: he cites Joe Pass as a pivotal influence in this respect.
Govan is known for his virtuoso command of the electric guitar, due to both his technical ability and proficiency in various styles. Govan’s ‘Myspace’ profile lists quotes from various guitarists to this effect; elsewhere, fellow virtuoso Joe Satriani has called Govan an ‘amazing’ guitarist.
In his early days, Govan used PRS guitars; now he mainly uses various Suhr guitars: three custom Suhr Standards, a Suhr Modern 24-fret model, a Suhr Classic and Suhr Classic T. Govan also favours Cornford amps: the sleeve notes of Erotic Cakes state he has used an RK100, MK50 and Hellcat.