Peter discovered he had a natural gift for hearing a tune and being able to play it on the piano or guitar, never needing much schooling in music. He realized he had a gift, so he found employment in a musical instrument factory where he could be close to music and musicians. This paid off when a chance meeting landed him a professional job at the age of 19 and shortly thereafter, found himself playing with Al Stewart (Year of the Cat, Time Passages), where he worked with the renowned producer Alan Parsons (The Alan Parsons Project) and co-wrote Time Passages with Al Stewart. Peter White followed Al Stewart to Los Angeles in 1978 with visions of playing rock and roll, and the rest is history, as they say.
SJN: What’s new with Guitars & Saxes this year?
Peter: I did the first Guitars & Saxes in 1995. Actually I did the first three. The very first one was with Richard Elliot, Craig Chaquico and Warren Hill. None of us had done a collaboration show, it was kind of a new thing in terms of contemporary jazz. I actually thought it wasn’t going to work, none of us would be able to agree, there would be clashing egos, but actually there was none of that. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, I had such a great time. Back then the format was that everyone would do thirty minutes so you had four performers each doing a half hour one after the other so it made a two hour show. In those thirty minutes we would collaborate, we would invite someone else to come up and play. So, Warren had me come up and play on his song Passion Theme from the movie. It was really fun and I had Craig Chaquico come up during my set and play dueling guitars and stuff. So anyway, the Guitars and Saxes concept has been going on for year after year. Ever since 1995 there has been a G&S every year. I’ve done it eight times now, Jeff Golub has done it for the ninth year in a row, Gerald Albright is in it this year and he did it last year, as well. Jeff Lorber who is not a guitarist or sax player, although he does play guitar, he’s a keyboardist. In fact, since he plays guitar and I play keys, sometimes in rehearsal, we’ll swap and I’ll play keyboards and he will play guitar, just for fun. So, we’re having a lot of fun with this tour! We also have Jesse Jay, who was kind of a last minute addition to play back-up, because only having one horn player, it was kind of tough on Gerald, and he really wanted someone else to share the horn duties. So we got Jesse and as it happened her song started to get a lot of airplay, Tequila Moon was number one for five weeks so we added her song to the show, it’s not something we thought about originally, but when the song did so well, we added it to the show. We do that right in the middle of the show, featuring Jessy, but she’s featured all through the show anyway because she plays when Gerald’s not playing. She’s really great, I asked her the other day "Is this the most fun you’ve ever had?" and she said "Oh yes", You know, she’s young, playing with all of us grizzled veterans, we’ve been around thirty years or so, it must be so much fun for her. Sharing the stage and being treated as an equal.
SJN: When will your new CD be out?
Peter: Well I’m working on it and trying to get it finished this summer to be released early next year. To have it out this year I’d have to finish it today. So I expect February of next year, that’s what I’m aiming for.
SJN: We understand it is all new original material, can you give us preview of what we can expect?
Peter: Well, I could sing it for you, (laughs) It’s a lot of ideas that I’ve collected over the years that were never finished, never used. The last album was all cover songs so I never got to use any of my songs, so now I’ve picked the best ideas I’ve had in the last ten years, that have never been heard, so I’m polishing them, I’m having fun with it, I’m working in my own time. I don’t have any special guests yet.
SJN: You are going back over to England in November. Will you be playing with your brother, the keyboardist Danny White?
Peter: The whole England thing started, because I’m from England but I’ve lived in California for thirty years.
SJN: Why did you move to California?
Peter: I came with Al Stewart, I was working with Al Stewart and his band. He had a huge hit in 1976 with "The Year of the Cat" and he decided this was his opportunity to come and live and work in America. That song was so successful in America but not so much in England. So he decided he was going to come to America, and live in Los Angeles, actually right in Hollywood and live the life of a "Rock Star", which he was at that time and I followed him because I basically wanted to keep my job in his band. I helped him put a band together in L.A. with some American guys and some English guys, than we continued to tour. It was never a plan, I’m just trying to keep my job, and I just ended up staying there for 30 years. (laughs)
I never thought that I would go back over to England to play because when I started doing my own CD’s here, I got a lot of airplay and started to do shows here in the US, but not in England because I didn’t have any presence on the radio over there, so no one knew about me there. I never thought about it until one day, someone handed me a CD sampler that was put together by a radio station in London called Jazz Affair, and one of my tracks was on there! I realized that somebody over there knows about me and what I am doing. The guy was Robby Vincent who was a DJ on Jazz Affair. The next time I went to England, I interviewed with him and realized that they were playing my music, which was quite a surprise to me. Steve Quirk, the program director of Jazz Affair was really into my music. He saw me as the English lad that made good in America and now rubs shoulders with all the American musicians. The English Jazz scene idolizes America, because that is where jazz came from, so I was the local boy who made good and they played my music, a lot during that period. I started to do shows over there and we even did a Guitars and Saxes there one time. The same guy, Bobby Vincent, the morning DJ, suggested bringing Dave Koz and some other people over. I asked who else and he said Steve Cole and Marc Antoine, so we called it a Guitars and Saxes show, in London in 1999. I continued to play this little club that’s called the Pizza Express Jazz Club, which is where Acoustic Alchemy started out many years ago. I continued to go back there because they were the first club that would actually allow me to play. They gave me one night and I did well, then next time it was two nights, then three nights, and five nights, now we play seven nights every time I go there. It’s like a home away from home. My mother can come down and see me play and my brother sometimes plays with me, although this time he’s not going to be able to do it, but he did it the last two times I was there. We always end up playing Matt Bianco songs. You know he formed Matt Bianco in 1983 and they were hugely successful. It’s just a tiny little club that holds about 115. Oil Silk is going to do it with me this time.
SJN: Do you find the European audiences different than the American audiences?
Peter: They say things like, ‘That’s brilliant!’ Audiences are the same everywhere, except Japan. Japanese audiences are a lot different. They are a lot quieter, more respectful. American audiences are more interactive, they become part of the show, they’ll heckle you, sing along, shout things. I like that! It depends on the kind of place you play. If you are playing a club where there is drinking and eating, the audience is going to be a lot more lively than say if you are in a performing arts center where they are sitting in rows looking at you, which I find a bit strange. That’s why if you see humor in my show, it’s a direct result of me thinking that this is a funny situation, people sitting in rows, looking at me. It just tickles me!
SJN: You have toured with just about everyone in the genre, which artists do you enjoy collaborating with the most?
Peter: Probably Rick Braun, he’s so incredibly talented, every time I hear another trumpet player, I realize how good Rick Braun is. He makes it look so easy, so effortless. And he’s such a knuckle head, like me, we have so much fun, goofball, I’m not sure if you should quote me on that! He’s a very fun loving guy, let’s put it that way and we have a lot of fun together. I’ve done a lot of shows with Rick over the years, hundreds, and we’re going to do the Christmas tour again with Rick and Mindy (Abair). I like playing with Jeff as well, Jeff Golub, we have a lot of fun on the G & S tour, we come out and do dueling guitar things.
SJN: Which artists have inspired you in your career?
Peter: Oh, that’s very easy. Starting when I was very young, the Beatles, but then everyone was inspired by the Beatles, musicians and non musicians. And the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I actually started playing piano again after I heard the first Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album. I had kind of given up on the piano and was just playing guitar, but I had always played both since I was a kid. Listening to that first Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album got me back into playing piano, which I still do today. I play most of the piano parts on my CD’s. Keith Emerson is the one person in music I would like to meet and never have. Jeff Lorber said to me, ‘Keith Emerson, he was at my house the other day!’ More up to date, George Benson, Pat Metheny, and Earl Klugh, those three, as a guitar player, I have been inspired by and influenced by. When I was a teenager, Eric Clapton was my greatest influence! I learned every note he ever played.
SJN: Are there any artists you have yet to play with that you would like to work with?
Peter: Oh, that’s easy, David Sanborn. I got close a year and a half ago when we did a Dave Koz Cruise together, but it never happened. The fact that he even considered it was a thrill! One of these days… he’s so far at the top of my list, I can’t think of anyone else.
SJN: How did you become interested in music and how old were you?
Peter: My father played the piano and little bit and he bought a piano. My mother was horrified because we had no furniture. Then one day, I was probably eight, he got me a guitar. I started playing the piano first when I was six or seven, and shortly after the guitar, so there was always music in the house, and musical instruments. We had a record player, we used to play the Beatles and I listened to the radio when I was a teenager. I was interested in music from a very early age.
SJN: Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
Peter: Yes, it was always very easy for me. You know, to pick up things by ear, to repeat them, and play them. It felt natural to me. I always felt like I was somebody when I played an instrument, the guitar or piano, and without an instrument, I felt like nobody. It’s was my identity at the time. Not so much now. Now I have an identity that is separate from music, but back then, that was my identity. I always knew I had talent for music and that kept me going. It kept me out of trouble, for sure because I used to stay home and play, when I could have been going out in the streets and getting into trouble. I didn’t go to college. I had every opportunity to go, but I didn’t want to go, I just wanted to join a band. I was so fixed on playing music and being a musician, I was completely corrupted by rock and roll.
SJN: So, you weren’t interested in getting a degree in music?
Peter: No, I gave up music education as soon as I could. I was not interested. I thought it was boring and there wasn’t anything anyone could teach me about music. I still kind of feel like that. Everything I learn, I learn by listening. I had no interest in getting any further education in music, and this may have been a mistake, because ten years later, I did actually go back to school. I did a night course at UCLA in orchestration. It was the education I missed out on because I was so into rock and roll, I wasn’t interested in learning anything else. All the people I knew who played rock and roll didn’t have any musical education, either. After all, you could be in the Beatles and not have a musical education! This is the way I did it, but I would not recommend it!
SJN: You play the accordion and we understand it is one of your favorite instruments?
Peter: When I was a teenager, I knew we had an accordion, like so many other musical instruments we had in the house at one time or another, trombone, cello, flute, recorder, piano, and we even had a xylophone, at one time. My father brought them in and we had an accordion which I found big and heavy, and I was too young. Drop ahead ten years and I am playing with Al Stewart and he asks me if I play the accordion. I said, ‘Ya, I can play the accordion’, when I really couldn’t since I really hadn’t played an accordion since I was 12 or 13. He said he needed an accordion on this song he was recording. I didn’t have an accordion, so his girlfriend at the time, loaned me an accordion that used to belong to her aunt. I practiced on it and ended recording a song on the Time Passages album in 1978, called Timeless Skies. It kind of stayed with me. On Al’s shows, I’d come out and play some accordion. I played it on all of Al’s albums and I went into the studio with 3rd Force to play guitar and for some reason I kept hearing accordion on this one song, so I told them I would bring my accordion too. They kind of laughed thinking I was joking. But I wasn’t joking. I brought the accordion and played, and they loved it. The engineer had no idea how to mic an accordion, he had never seen one. That became a big part of the song, Here Comes The Night. I have also played accordion on my own albums. It is so different from the guitar. It couldn’t be more opposite, that is why I like it.
SJN: How did you actually become a professional musician?
Peter: After I left school, I worked in a musical instrument warehouse, driving a forklift truck. A guy came in one day with an electronic organ that needed maintenance. You got to talking and he said he had a holiday gig and his guitar player had left him. So, I said, ‘I can play the guitar.’ He says, ‘OK, you got the gig.’ I don’t remember playing for him. I may have, but I honestly don’t remember, but he hired me, bless his heart. We played at a holiday resort in the south of England and I ended up playing songs like, Tie A Yellow Ribbon, which was not my idea. I had dreams of being a rock star and this was not exactly what I had in mind. But, I was a professional musician and I was 19. I turned 20 while I was there. That’s how I became a professional musician, just a chance meeting. I have a theory about this. Other musicians ask me all the time, how you get a foot in the door. I tell them, you have to be where musicians are. You have to put yourself around people in the industry. Get to know people, meet people, hang out at shows.
SJN: We understand that Acoustic Alchemy with the use of a nylon-stringed guitar as a lead instrument inspired you to become a solo artist?
Peter: There was a radio station in LA called KMET, which was a rock station at 94.7 FM. I used to listen to that station and they played Led Zeppelin every hour. One day in 1987, I switched on that station and the music was completely different. It was acoustic music and I was thinking, ‘what is this?’ I started to hear this band called Acoustic Alchemy playing acoustic guitars in a band and I thought, ‘wow’. I thought if they can play acoustic guitar and get played on the radio, then maybe I can. It was that simple. I had gotten known for playing the acoustic guitar in Al Stewart’s band. I played keyboards and electric guitar with him, but everyone remembered my acoustic guitar. I had a sound that was recognizable on acoustic guitar. It was given to me, I did not choose it. It just kind a happened. So, after I heard Acoustic Alchemy, I decided, ‘I’m going to make an album and this new radio station they call The Wave can play it. Another thing, I recorded a song with Al Stewart called Ghostly Horses On The Plains and it got picked up by The Wave on one of their sampler CD’s. It was mostly me, but every time they played it, Don Burn’s would say, ‘and there is Al Stewart’. I realized, if I was going to get the recognition I needed was the put my name on the front of the album. There were two things, hearing Acoustic Alchemy and hearing Don Burn’s give Al Stewart credit.
SJN: What do you see for the future of Smooth Jazz?
Peter: I don’t know! We do these Q and A sessions on the cruise ship and it always comes back to this question. All of this stuff is completely out of our control. The reason that Smooth Jazz is successful as a radio format is because so many radio stations adopted it and so many people listen.
SJN: We were told you don’t listen to Smooth Jazz music, why not and what do you listen to?
Peter: I listen to the same thing I listened to as a kid. It’s like staring in front of a mirror. I turn on the radio and I hear myself and other people I play with. If I turn on Smooth Jazz I’m listening to the same artists I play with all of the time. When I play it is living and breathing and when I listen to radio, it’s like a museum piece.
SJN: How do you spend your downtime? Any hobbies?
Peter: It’s either all music related or family related. For instance, I started a Myspace page a few weeks ago because I discovered that there was someone on there pretending to be me, so I decided to start my own Myspace page. My website is more interactive than most artists. Most artists don’t put their e mail address and don’t return letters, but I do. I have people write to me from all over the world, and I like that. Since I started a Myspace page it is even more so, because it is even more interactive. People expect on Myspace that they will write and actually get the artist. I spend a lot of time writing to people, then again I enjoy swimming with my daughter in our pool in the backyard. Charlotte is 7, soon to be 8. We play chess together, and Scrabble. She doesn’t watch TV
SJN: Anything else exciting happening in your life?
Peter: In August, I am doing the first annual Smooth Jazz festival in this little town Bregenz, in Northern Austria, where Germany, Switzerland, and Austria meet. Candy Dulfer may headline. It will be different. After being in the music industry for 30 years, I crave something that is different.
SJN: Thank you so much for interviewing with us!