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A Soulful ‘Tribute’ to One’s Musical Influences

Gary Alt Releases New CD

Gary Alt has a lifelong love for music and credits an array of artists for his own success as a musician, composer and songwriter. The Westbury native recently set out to pay homage to those artists in a 2-disc CD fittingly titled Tribute.

Alt released Tribute, which consists of only original songs he himself wrote, in December 2008 and the compilation recognizes the works of 31 artists, including, but not limited to, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, The Temptations, The Allman Brothers, Paul Simon, Chuck Berry, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Frank Zappa and Elvis Costello.

For Alt, Tribute is a composite of all the great music that has moved and inspired him over the years. “It’s simply a reflection of the diverse influences in my musical upbringing. I decided to do a collection of songs to pay tribute to those influences, which have made my life so musically rich and fulfilling. I can think of no better way to honor these great artists who have given me so much over the years,” said Alt, adding, “Tribute represents many of my most profound influences combined and interpreted in my own unique way … Pretty much everything is on there except my classical influences, [which] would not fit with an album of such varied musical styles.”

According to Alt, Tribute is geared to all ages and anyone who enjoys music from 2009 back to 1962. “Being that it’s a double CD with 31 songs that run for a total of about two and half hours, there’s lots to go around,” he said. “If you love the blues, as I do, there’s plenty there to enjoy. If you love Steely Dan, you’ll find something for you as well. If you love the Allman Brothers, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in the mood for electrified Latin a la Santana, there’s a track that features that, too. And so on.”

When compiling an album, Alt said he tries to find a common theme to make everything fit together. “The theme of this particular CD is that it’s a tribute to my most profound musical influences, which are not confined to any one genre,” he said.

Alt, whose own personal favorite tribute albums include Two Rooms (a tribute to Elton John and Bernie Taupin) and Stone Free (a tribute to Jimi Hendrix), told The Westbury Times that some of his earliest memories growing up in Westbury pertain to music. As a child of the ’60s, Alt grew up listening to The Beatles, Motown and anything else he could get his hands on, depending greatly on his family’s transistor radio and record collections.

“I remember devouring my parents’ rather sparse record collection, my favorites being Van Cliburn’s My Favorite Chopin and Tchaikosvky’s Nutcracker Ballet,” Alt said. “I was listening to Eric Clapton and Cream, which then led me to the likes of Hendrix and Santana as well as what we then called heavy metal … Not too long after that, around the time I started taking piano lessons, I discovered jazz-rock fusion in the bands that came out of some of Miles Davis’ ensembles. That led me to expand my horizons to other jazz artists like Buddy Rich, Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson.”

Alt said he loves the blues, jazz, classical, rock, pop, Indian, Irish, Spanish as well as works of Stevie Wonder, Carole King and Burt Bacharach, among others. “I suppose if I had to name my absolute favorites they would be The Beatles, Eric Clapton – excluding most of the 20 years or so from about 1974-1993 – Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and I’m just getting started. It’s a long list,” said Alt, who said choosing a favorite album of all time is also difficult. Sgt Pepper, Abbey Road, Meet the Beatles, October Project’s Falling Farther In and John Mayall’s The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton all top the list of albums he could not live without.

Inspiration, Alt said, comes from various sources and to him good music is “any music that moves and inspires me the moment I hear it, no matter what it is.” He continued, “sometimes something non-musical inspires me, like the pattern of someone knocking on my door, or the sound of a few words. But musically, anything that’s well-written inspires my own writing…”

Although he began composing music at the age of 10, Alt said he didn’t get serious about songwriting until the mid-1990s when, during his 30s, he began to favor stability over being a touring musician. Since then, he said, “songwriting has become a natural way to express myself since I can do it anywhere and anytime and then record for the masses in my home studio.”

While he has been writing and performing for more than 30 years, Alt prides himself on being mostly self-taught. “I remember around 1972 or so picking up a copy of Guitar Player magazine at the East Meadow Public Library featuring Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. He and many other musicians have all said the same thing – listen, listen, listen to every record you love and think is great and copy from them and make it your own. That’s what all the greats did and if you do that yourself, you’ll add your own personal style to the amalgamation of styles you have uniquely selected to listen to and become something unique yourself,” said Alt.

“[I would] listen to Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and others and copy their technique, dissect sheet music and songs of Bacharach, Stevie Wonder, Rodgers & Hart and Steely Dan, and studying the sheet music of the great composers like Tchaikovsky and Beethoven,” said Alt.

He added that the only actual “schooling” he obtained was as a student at Bowling Green Elementary School and W.T. Clarke High School. “I was a drummer in the school band and orchestra. [Drums] were the first instrument I remember playing … Throughout my high school years I had a number of influential and inspiring teachers,” said Alt, crediting East Meadow School District faculty members David Hamel, Ron Grassi, Lou Panzeca and Elizabeth Goode.

In addition to Tribute, which took two years to complete, Alt has released three other CDs, including the self-produced Alien’s Heart in 2001; It’s About the Kids, a collection of 23 songs of spiritual quality encouragement for children in 2005; and Open Road in 2006. Currently, Alt is working on an album with friend Jason Arvanites, who sings on many of Tribute’s tracks.

“We discovered that since we have so much in common musically, and since we both to love to write and record, it makes perfect sense to make an album together,” Alt said. “It’s been fun and inspiring, and has actually caused me to expand my horizons a bit since we both have different ideas and find ourselves accepting each other’s ideas rather than over-thinking and tossing them.”

They don’t, however, always agree, which, according to Alt, may not necessarily be a bad thing. “It tends to make the left-brain policeman bow to the more imaginative right-brain, and some very creative ideas flow more readily,” he said.

While he enjoys catching a Yankees game or a round of golf as well as reading and studying the Bible, Alt, a financial planner and married father of three, said most of his “spare time” is spent composing, recording and playing music.

“I can be riding in the car, taking a shower or sleeping at 3 a.m. [when] music and/or words come to me so I either write it down, pick up a guitar or sit at the piano and work something out,” Alt said. “It’s not always possible to complete a song at first blush, but if I can commit something to some recorded medium, I can work on it later.” Additionally, he plays guitar and a little piano along side his son Derek on drums in the band Thunderhouse.

For more information on Gary Alt, visit www.GaryAlt.com. For more information on Tribute (including sounds clips) or to purchase a copy, visit CDBaby.com.