Paul Gilbert is an American guitarist who is a co-founder of the hard rock band 'Mr. Big' and a founding member of the now-defunct heavy metal band 'Racer X'. He has produced incredibly technical pieces like 'Frenzy', 'Y.R.O.', 'Technical Difficulties', 'Scarified', and 'Scit Scat Wah', which earned him the reputation of being one of the fastest guitarists in the world. He has also been compared to neo-classical guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes. He and his 'Racer X' band-mates released the albums 'Street Lethal', 'Second Heat', 'Technical Difficulties', 'Superheroes' and 'Getting Heavier' during their two stints together. Their albums were more successful in Japan. As part of 'Mr. Big', Gilbert released albums like 'Mr. Big', 'Lean into It', 'Bump Ahead', 'Hey Man' and 'Get Over It'. His solo albums include 'King of Clubs', 'Flying Dog', 'Alligator Farm', 'Burning Organ', etc. He has been named among GuitarOne magazine's 'Top 10 Greatest Guitar Shredders of All Time' and Guitar World's '50 Fastest Guitarists of All Time'.
Childhood & Early Life
Paul Brandon Gilbert was born on November 6, 1966, in Carbondale, Illinois, and was raised mostly in the small Pittsburgh suburb of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He learned to play music at the age of five, but gave it up after merely dabbling into nursery rhymes.
After turning 11, Gilbert picked up the guitar, but could not play metal songs due to his erroneous playing technique. To improve his skills, he started taking lessons from an expert and by the time he was 15, he was already touring local clubs with his band 'Tau Zero'.
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In 1981, 15-year-old Paul Gilbert contacted Shrapnel Records founder Mike Varney, asking him to give him an opportunity to play with English vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. While Gilbert did not get the job he wanted, Varney was so impressed with his talent that he featured him in his spotlight column in the February issue of 'Guitar Player' magazine.
Gilbert moved to Los Angeles in 1984 to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT), where he was hired as an instructor a year later. At just 17, he had mastered advanced alternate picking technique and achieved a record-breaking speed, which combined with his massive repertoire of cover material, had raised him to the status of a local legend.
In 1985, he and bass guitarist John Alderete, whom he had met while studying at GIT, teamed up with drummer Harry Gschoesser and vocalist Jeff Martin to form the heavy metal band 'Racer X'. The band's debut album 'Street Lethal' was released on January 1, 1986 by Varney's Shrapnel Records. The album contained the piece, 'Y.R.O.' (Yngwie Rip Off), acknowledging the influence of Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen.
The band was also influenced by English heavy metal band ‘Judas Priest’ and replicated their twin lead guitar concept by including Gilbert’s GIT student Bruce Bouillet, who was able to harmonize Gilbert's string skipping sequences. As Harry Gschoesser's visa expired and he returned home to Austria, the band got Scott Travis, their original choice of drummer, and went on to release their second album 'Second Heat' on February 11, 1987.
In the following years, the band earned immense popularity among fans and recorded two live albums, but still could not secure a major label distribution. In 1987, bass guitarist Billy Sheehan, one of Gilbert’s biggest influences, invited him to form a hard rock band, eventually named 'Mr. Big', which he gladly accepted.
In 1989, 'Mr. Big' released their self-titled debut album under major label Atlantic Records. While the album became very successful in Japan, it failed to generate good sales back in the US. However, with their single 'To Be with You' from their second album 'Lean Into It' (1991), they not only reached the top of 'Billboard Hot 100', but also ranked No.1 on charts of 15 countries.
The band's next two albums failed to impress their American fans despite registering good sales in Japan. It prompted Gilbert to go solo in 1997 and release his next album ‘King of Clubs’. He also communicated with his former 'Racer X' band-mates and convinced them to get back together, following which they released the album 'Technical Difficulties' (1999) under Mercury Records, which was very successful in Japan.
The label Mercury Records convinced 'Racer X' to release another album called 'Superheroes', which became their most popular album. They released another album, 'Getting Heavier', before finally breaking up again, following which Gilbert continued his solo career.
Family & Personal Life
Paul Gilbert was married to Patricia Patterson from 1993 to 1998. He later married Emi Gilbert in 2005. They live in Portland, Oregon, with their son Marlon Kanzan Gilbert, whom they welcomed on August 24, 2014.
While Paul Gilbert was able to reunite 'Racer X' for a second time, Bruce Bouillet was not part of the band as he was suffering from a severe bout of carpal tunnel syndrome at that time.
In 2002, when 'Racer X' toured Japan and Taiwan, the band members performed dressed in superheroes costumes. Gilbert wore the costume of the Electric Bat, Alderete became The X-tinguisher, Travis performed as Cowboy Axe, while Martin became Motorman.