Vita

Peter, you were born in 1961 in Siegen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. When and why did you begin to play the guitar?

I began to play in 1970 when my father, according to my wish, gave me my first two-bit Egmond-guitar. The positioning of the strings on the thing were so horrible, that you could shove a telephone book between the strings and the fretboard. I was always interested in guitars because I have always enjoyed the sound. Even today I have a hard time trying not to like guitar music because I just love the sound of vibrating strings. Fortunately, I soon received a proper instrument. Then I took 10 hours of private guitar lessons, but the teacher decided to disappear after that. The next 15 years I taught myself alone.

Did you grow up in a musical household?

Both of my parents like music. My father listens to classical music and is a real Beethoven fanatic. My mother however enjoys singers like Neil Diamond. Neither of them played an instrument, I developed that interset by myself. The first situation that made me form the wish to be a musician was a folk-night at my shool. I sang three songs while playing guitar and after that all the girls from my class that had ignored me before wanted to talk to me. The possibility to move other people with music was unfamiliar to me at that time. I was a physical late developer and looked like a girl. At the indoor swimming pool in Siegen I was always given the key to the girls locker rooms, but I was not clever enough to actually use it. With the guitar I suddenly was someone. That was an important experience for me.

After your Abitur you started to study jazz guitar at the musical university in Cologne. Which job would have been an alternative, if you would have failed and did you have to calm your parents because their son wanted to study music?

There was never a plan B. It had to be this way. My parents didn’t take my decision seriously. My mother had different things to worry about at the time, she had just been divorced and my father didn’t accept any other music but classical.

The famous Joe Pass invited you. How did that happen?

I sent him a cassette with demos of me and a request for lessons to his address in Hamburg. His wife to be Ellen Lüdes lived there with whom I still have sporadic contact today. I got the address from his manager in the Netherlands, after I impudently called him. I later received a letter from Joe in which he wrote “I don’t think you’ll need lessons”. I still took lessons and learned an incredible amount of stuff in a ridiculously short time. He was a great teacher and we met a few times in Ellens apartment in Hamburg.

After leaving university with honors, the parents a bit soothed and starting the predecessor band of “Terminal A” with former classmates, was it difficult to find work as a young jazz-diplomat? How did you earn your money? I assume dancing bands just to get some money at first.

My diploma disappeared into a drawer of mine and has not been opened since. No one cares if you went to university or not. I was left with no appointments on my calendar and could play pretty well. Of course you’re right, I took all he jobs I could find. For a few years I played in the worst bars and the most drunken fair tents in front of the drunkest audience you could find. That was the time my imaginary negative-wish list was born.

Negative-wish list?

Well, it signifies a list, that has never been written down but was ever present in my head of all the gigs I didn’t want to do but had to because I needed the money. On the very top of that list were carnival jobs, then dancing music and so on. I never wanted to make a fool out of myself by wearing a Mozart-wig in front of an audience, but I had a family to feed. I didn’t have any sponsors.

What is your job called? Are you a diploma musician or jazz guitarist with a teachers license? Or do you refer to yourself simply as a “Rockstar”?

To know what my job is really called I would need to see my certificate, but it’s still buried in my drawer. My “Company”, which is a one-man-allround company includes concert-management, CD-label, author, teacher and live musician at the same time, has no specific name. I own a license from the chamber of industry and commerce that enables me to train interns, who need a one year internship to receive the “Hochschulreife” (Allowance to go to college). Due to lack of genre I am listed among the category “Fishing and Forest-Management”. No joke.

Did the contacts to interesting engagements like Gloria Gaynor, The Moody Blues, The Who’s Tommy etc, with whom you toured internationally, result through mouth-to-mouth propaganda or did you participate in castings?

My first casting was back in 1995 for the rock-opera “Who’s Tommy”. I was unfamiliar with the music except for “Pinball Wizard”. The former drummer of my band, Dirk Seiler, informed my about the casting. I sent a CD to the Musical GmbH and was invited to Offenbach. On arrival, I was asked if I had brought my sheets. I had none and found out, that all applicants were sent sheet music for the casting. Apparently I was forgotten. So I sat down between all my rivals and tried to get smart from what was written on the sheets. Everyone around me played bits and pieces of what they had practiced all weekend. It was impossible to concentrate in that atmosphere, so I asked if there was a room where I could rehearse. There was none. I then took my guitar and the sheets and sat on the toilet for an hour and ignored all the complaints of those, who wanted to drive me away from there. After that I went upstairs and met the musical director from New York, Jeannine Tesori. She listened to my playing and told me to go outside, practice the piece “It’s a boy” for 20 minutes and then return again. I then sat down between my guitar colleagues again and started playing. After a while it got quiet and people were standing around me, listening. That was the moment I realized, I would win the audition. I have played around 1000 shows for Tommy after that.

When did the yellow glasses appear (And where did they go)?

Eventually I made a virtue out of the necessity of short sightedness and the yellow glasses were perched on my nose for years. Since the invention of oxygen-transparent silicone for contact-lenses, I am able to wear them and feel better without glasses.

Did you ever turn down a job and regretted it afterwards?

No, but I did accept a few jobs I regretted doing. There was a European Tommy-Tour in 2005. Six months long. New Yorker band and cast, fantastic guitar-colleague, awful conductor. He loathed the music. But I had a contract to fulfill, so I bowed my head and did my job.

Through musicals like “We Will Rock You”, “West Side Story”, “Tommy” and so on you have further submersed into the “World Of Stars”. Did you ever personally experienced Brian May or Pete Townshend as employer? Are they the untouchable stars?

Both Pete Townshend and Brian May show great gratitude for the work the guitarists perform for them in the musicals. When they did appear once in a while it was always a special event. After Pete’s first visit the conductor Boko Suzuki came to me and said: “Pete didn’t like your playing. He loved it”. A compliment like that is always great to remember. In 2005, Pete posted in my guestbook on my homepage, a really nice gesture.

Are you anxious for your existence if you are not booked for a tour?

Fortunately, I am very versatile jobwise. If one job drops out, I still have enough other ones. A lot has changed. I don’t have to accompany singers nor do I play musicals anymore. Now, my own music and my engagement as author are my main attention. It was well worth it to always see my musical services as way to and not as the goal. I don’t want to say I have reached my goal, but It appears I have left the worst times behind me.

Why do you still live in Siegen? As a sought after teacher you could always have moved to Cologne, Hamburg, maybe even London.

You could live in Cologne and be more distant from the local music-scene than if you lived in a small town in the outskirts. It’s not so much about where you live, but about the people you know and the quality of the contacts. The rent in Cologne is high and I rarely perform there. I need to drive anyways so I might as well drive from Siegen. It is pretty much irrelevant where you live as a musician.
Your appointment calendar is full: Workshops, seminars, a few days course in a cloister, then a weeklong “guitar vacation with friends” in Tuscany and on Mauritius, in-between which you keep a constant feed on YouTube and write new teaching books. How do you cope with that? You always prepare yourself for the people and the tasks ahead.
I’d love to have more time. Time is precious, and the older I get, the more I realize this. I look at watching TV as an irrelevant pastime. So I don’t watch TV. Apart from that I try to use the remaining time. That’s not always easy. I have an annual programme I have pinned on my wall to keep an overview. When I look at my old programmes I sometimes wonder how the heck I managed all that. I think it’s about going one step at a time and only see the whole every once in a while.

On stage you always come across as very calm and assorted. Do you still get stagefright?

My stagefright disappears after the first few seconds on stage. When I sense that everything is working, the amp is running and the sound is ok. Beforehand, especially in the last seconds I am always scared. But that’s just a part if the job. Only with a little fright you get that adrenaline rush you need to stay focused.

Meanwhile you have released eight CDs and two DVDs under your name or “Terminal A”. Hopefully the list will get longer since you are constantly on the move. Is your own music by now so important, that you would i.e. turn down an offer to play a musical for another year?

The Pay for musicals have become so uninteresting, that alone for the money I would never accept a job there. The ability to put my own projects first is a dream come true. I don’t want to head back again…

You created a masterpiece in 2011, when you brought the music of the German guitar duo Kolbe/Illenberger back to the European stages with your former idol Ralf Illenberger. Press and audience love you, the tour should be continued. How did you convince Ralf, whose idea was it in the first place, and what does Martin Kolbe think of your work?

Actually, I first came in contact with Martin because he lives in Zurich and seemed to be more in reach than Ralf in Arizona. Martin sent me a few handwritten sketches of the music of Kolbe-Illenberger I have adored in my youth. Later I interviewed him for the magazine “Acoustic Guitar”. I phoned Ralf for this as well. I asked him if he, when he is in Germany, could show me the song “Veits Tanz”, because it was not included in the documents I received from Martin. We met in Trier so he could teach me the song prior to his concert. Then Ralf had the idea to perform the piece that evening on stage along with four other Kolbe-Illenberger songs that the audience loved. It instantly sounded as if we had already played together for decades. For one because the music of Kolbe-Illenberger is almost as well known to me as my own pieces, since I have spent so much time with it, and because Ralf is a fantastic musician with whom it’s really easy to create musical vibes. In 2012 we spent some weeks at Ralfs place in Sedona, Arizona and recorded our new duo-album No Boundaries, we are touring every fall and playing completely new pieces, along with some old Kolbe-Illenberger music that we both still love. Martin has visited two Autschbach-Illenberger concerts by now and completely supports our collaboration. Martin and Ralf naturally are old friends…