The Gillette Brothers, Guy and Pipp, play music that is rooted in the history of the West. Tamara talks to them about Texas, playing music and running a business with one’s brother, and the many types of music that they play.
TK: Most of what I know about you is related to the music you play. Tell us a little bit about the family ranch and how you ended up back in Texas to run it.
GB: Our Grandfather V.H. Porter started the ranch in 1912, and 2012 marks the 100th anniversary. We spent our summer vacations working with him and have been interested in ranching ever since. The ranch had been leased since our Grandfather’s retirement and we had been playing music up and down the East coast. In 1983 the lease expired and we decided to combine our music with our desire to get involved with ranching. We continue to run a commercial cow/calf operation, much the same as our Grandfather.
TK: What led you to playing music? Did you have any musical relatives?
GB: Our paternal Grandfather, Merlyn Gillette, was a singer and piano player, and our mother played piano. The biggest influence, however, were the records our parents played for us as kids which included many cowboy songs by Cisco Houston, Hermes Nye, Carl Sandburg, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly.
TK: What is it like to play with your brother? You also work together. How do you keep your relationship friendly and collaborative?
GB: We share similar interests and have always enjoyed being and working together, so it’s GREAT!!!
LISTEN to Jingle Up the Horses
TK: Your music represents many different styles, from Celtic music to minstrel music. How do the different styles connect to make the music cowboy music?
GB: These were among the popular musical influences of the original cowboy period and came together on the cattle trails when Irish/English/Scottish cowboys worked side by side with recently freed African American cowboys.
TK: Many of your songs are prefaced by stories, some of which are about your family history, some about the history of the song. What is the importance of history to the songs you play?
GB: It brings the songs to life by putting them in an historical context and illustrates lessons that are still viable. Our Grandfather Porter was a wonderful storyteller and has left us a lot of material.
LISTEN to You Give Me Your Love
TK: Like Sourdough Slim, whom I interviewed a few weeks ago, you play more instruments than the standard guitar. How is expanding your talents beyond the guitar important to making music? How do you decide which instrument to play when you are arranging a tune or creating a new song?
GB: The instruments are ones that were popular at the time the songs came into being and are another element that helps to recreate the period. The variety also makes the presentation more interesting for us and, we hope, the audience.
TK: Some of the instruments you play are whimsical or unique. How do the bones or a harmonica enhance the songs?
GB: The harmonica was cheap and portable and a cowboy staple. The bones have a long and interesting history, in spite of the fact that most folks are not familiar with them today. They were extremely popular in the 19th century. These instruments add spice and diversity.
LISTEN to Brazos River Song
TK: Besides music and running the family ranch, you make bones (a rhythm instrument made out of animal ribs), and host concerts at the Camp Street Café, which you renovated into a theater. Is there anything you don’t do?
TK: Is there anything I missed? Anything else you want people to know about you?
GB: Pipp carves wooden decoys in a time honored tradition and makes whimsical masks made of paper-mache.
TK: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
GB: Tamara…Our pleasure and we’re looking forward to another great gathering!!
Meet the Gillette Brothers at the 2012 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. You can learn more about the brothers and Camp Street Café at www.campstreetcafe.com.