Longtime San Diego resident Gary Wilson, conceptual artist and second-generation lounge musician, has been an underground legend since his 1977 lounge/soul/freakout debut LP You Think You Really Know Me.
His new album, Electric Endicott (named for the New York state hamlet that spawned him), was released October 26.
You’re known for having kept pet ducks as a kid. What did you learn from them?
“Ducks remind me of little dinosaurs. They also give me a peaceful feeling when I watch them. I had many ducks — white ducks — when I was growing up. Sometimes I wish I could transform into a duck.”
Would you keep ducks now if it were feasible?
“Definitely. I am planning on getting a pet duck when I get back to Endicott.”
Your father played upright bass in a lounge act. What were your first impressions of your father’s music?
“His closet was full of different-colored tux jackets. He had one gig at a lounge for over 25 years, playing three, four nights a week. I like to have both things going, original music and lounge music. It keeps me balanced. The people that come to the lounges know nothing about the other side of Gary Wilson, and that’s the way I like it.”
When did you arrive in San Diego?
“I came to Los Angeles in 1978 and tried to shop You Think You Really Know Me around to the Los Angeles labels. After a few months of not achieving that, I ended up moving down to San Diego because some of the Blind Dates were living here. The band lived in a small house on Geneva Avenue [in Emerald Hills]. We practiced a lot and recorded some things. Sometimes we would darken the room and just have a strobe light going while we rehearsed.”
How do you think San Diego has changed, musically and otherwise, over the years?
“It’s funny, Gary Wilson and the Blind Dates were the rejects in San Diego. A lot of the so-called original bands hated us. Since my resurrection in 2002, things have changed, but we are still the outcasts in San Diego.”
Your job at San Diego’s Jolar Cinema forms another part of your mythology. How did you start working there, and how long did you stay?
“Jolar is an X-rated book-and-video store with video booths and live girls behind glass in the back. I worked for Jolar for about ten years. It was very relaxed and loose. Not much stress except when you had to play bouncer.”
What was day-to-day life like there?
“Wild. After ten years it becomes sort of normal. My girlfriend kicked me out twice because I was working there. It’s not that I was into pornography, it was that I liked the flexibility and freedom of the place.”
Your performances are so far out that sometimes the plug gets pulled. Does such rejection get easier or more difficult as you progress?
“You get used to it after a while. One time in the late ’70s I was scheduled to play a festival in San Diego. Right before we were to begin, I poured a ten-pound bag of flour over my head. The promoter looked at me and decided he didn’t want us to go onstage.
“I did a show at the Echoplex [Los Angeles, 2008] with Ariel Pink, and I thought I was back in the past. The soundman was set to pull the plug on me, so I just lay on the stage while he yelled at the bass player. The band kept making noise while the soundman continued to yell at us. Finally my bass player began to pour black paint over me as I lay on the floor. This really made the soundman mad. I had a good time....
“The Bottom of the Hill [San Francisco] docked my band $100 because of the flour all over the stage. Then again, I did a show in Los Angeles where there was so much flour on the stage that it looked like a snowstorm had hit the room. The owner of the club said, ‘Don’t touch the stage. It looks beautiful.’ You never can tell.”
Advice for young musicians starting out in San Diego?
“I would say to find your own personality in your music. Walk your own path, as [composer] John Cage told me. Try not to sound like everyone else. It takes time, but if you work at it, it can be achieved.” ■