7 Dec 2023

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Kara Gordon and The Wreckage


Blues, rock and shred with a punch to the head Kara Gordon is ready to take off. Watch out for The Wreckage. The Kiwi guitar hero has, until now, been a live phenomenon, largely in New Zealand but occasionally in Australia, with some of the world’s finest dribbling over themselves at his exceptional ability. Joe Satriani has described him as ‘‘one of the most prolific guitarists I’ve ever seen’’, Living Colour founder Vernon Reid dubbed him ‘‘Jimi Hendrix reincarnated’’, while Jason Becker, one of the greatest shredders of all time, emailed him after he saw a video on YouTube to say he really thought Gordon’s playing was great. That’s high praise, indeed. ‘‘I am still hugely honoured and humbled by these compliments by such great men,’’ Gordon says. ‘‘I’ve worked hard to be the best I can.’’

However, it was a tongue in cheek comment from one of his mentors, Alabama3’s Larry Love, which changed the future of the then Kara Gordon Trio, which, naturally, Gordon fronted. The pair became close friends after they were introduced by Glastonbury founder Malcolm Haynes at WOMAD in New Plymouth. Love ‘‘loved’’ Gordon’s playing and invited him to open for Alabama3 on their Acoustic Tour of the country. ‘‘I’m quite a big, sort of clumsy guy,’’ Gordon says. ‘‘We were in a party situation and I fell over and he said, ‘look at him he’s a bloody wreck, you’re a bloody wreckage’. And, of course, I’ve got this song called The Wreckage. It just sort of stuck in my mind. I am a music history nut. I knew the Rolling Stones got their name from Muddy Waters, Led Zeppelin got their name from the Who. It has always fascinated me how intertwined these things were and then I thought, ‘why not Kara Gordon and The Wreckage’. And that’s how the band got its name.’’

With their well-overdue self-titled debut album out on Triple A Records in New Zealand and Europe and several gigs supporting Alabama3 in England and a Kiwi showcase, sponsored by the New Zealand British Council and organised by Creative New Zealand, at the Frankfurt Embankment Festival in Germany, Kara Gordon and The Wreckage are set to show other parts of the world what Kiwis have known for a long time - Kara Gordon is one of the best guitarists you’ve probably never heard. ‘‘I love the energy of rock, the precision of neo-classical metal and the feel and roots of blues and jazz,’’ Gordon says. ‘‘I’m always pushing techniques and barriers, fusing old school and modern techniques to shape my own voice,’’ he says of a lifelong passion that began with his father’s music DVD collection and the voracious appetite to learn of a curious kid.

The signs of his unique talent came early. As a toddler he was given a toy ukulele and, while he was fooling around, actually played a tune. The toy became a growing obsession until his dad Malcolm bought him a second-hand guitar for $20. Gordon was soon practising four hours a day and teaching himself to play the style of his heroes – Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore and Stevie Ray Vaughn – who were introduced to him by his step-dad and brother Joe. ‘‘My dad had a massive collection of music DVDs and he made me listen to many different styles of music,’’ Gordon says. ‘‘He basically made me study the history of jazz blues and rock. My brother was a bit of a party animal, larrikin and lunatic. He used to watch Jimi Hendrix and tell me ‘hey man if you want to get girls you’ve got to learn to play this kind of stuff. So I eventually crossed the two worlds and created a Frankenstein.’’ By his early teens, Gordon was expanding his musical vocabulary and guitar techniques by learning the rock styles of Eddie Van Halen Steve Vai, John Petrucci and Joe Satriani. Once satisfied, he moved into the more sophisticated territory of jazz and fusion improvisation and touches of flamenco guitar where the likes of Scott Henderson, Mike Stern, John Scofield, John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola became his silent mentors. “I didn’t have much of a social life when I was a kid. While everyone else was out at rugby parties, I’d be at home noodling away on my guitar,” Gordon says.

At 17 he was already an experienced performer and holder of the New Zealand Guitar Association open guitar competition title. At the urging of British jazz guitarist Martin Taylor during a tour down-under, Gordon sent an audition video to Mick Goodrick at the prestigious Berklee College of music in Boston, Massachusetts. The tape was a transcription of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Thelonious Monk’s Before Midnight, two of the most harmonically challenging tunes in jazz, with all solos transcribed and performed on guitar. Not long after, Gordon got the call that out of 30,000 applicants he was one of the lucky few who had been awarded a $100,000 scholarship. ‘‘It was interesting,” Gordon says of his time in the US earning his degree. ‘‘I learned a lot of technical things but, at the same time, I think I progressed more as a guitarist by playing gigs with so many different people. I had to learn how to please a crowd and what stage presence was. I saw those years as quite formative. I was doing my apprenticeship being a hired hand as a guitar player. I didn’t want to be one of those people who attended music school and became a technically great musician who ended up doing sessions musicians. The longer I was at Berklee, the more I found I just wanted to get a bit crazier rather than just follow the rule book.‘‘

Part of the requirement of being accepted at Berkley, meant Gordon had to hit the streets and put into practice the theory of what he had learned. And so, during semesters, the ever adventurous Gordon would travel as far as his finances would allow. Those adventures took him from busking street corners in New York to immersion in flamenco and rasgueado in a hut in Spain where guitar was the only common language, to swinging in the shadow of Django Reinhardt while touring France with the Hot Club, to opening for Ozzie Osbourne and wowing the stadium crowd with his heavy rock shredding. ‘‘The lowest moment was being so poor that I could afford only one meal a day,’ Gordon says. ‘‘That’s when I bumped into Reggie Houston. I was busking on the streets of New York - he said ‘Can you play any jazz son?’ I said, ‘yeah’, and he invited me to play with the New Orleans Jazz orchestra. Soon I was eating properly again and playing to huge jazz festival audiences"
Gordon returned to New Zealand in his early 20s and worked his butt off to establish himself as a regular on the Auckland music scene. Doors eventually started to open as his growing reputation spread throughout New Zealand.

In January 2008, Gordon was hand-picked through a national guitar competition to open the massive Easter Rock2Wellington, which featured Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Whitesnake, Alice Cooper and Poison. He got the gig ahead of hundreds of other entries and, after a live judging ,Gordon performed before 30,000 people at Westpac Stadium and then met and jammed with Doug Aldridge (White Snake, CC Deville (Poison), Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons and Tommy Thayer (Kiss) and Zakk Wylde (Ozzie Osbourne). Just before he was due to go on stage, Gordon discovered his guitar had been stolen. It was beg, steal or borrow. ‘‘It was a real mess-up all right,” Gordon later told NZRock. ‘‘I told the security guard to look after the guitar because I had to do some interviews. When I came back it was gone. CC had a guitar out back that I got to borrow. I never in my life thought I’d be happy to see a white Les Paul custom (usually I play Stratocasters or Super Stratocasters) It had no strap so I took off my shirt (long sleeve, I had my T-shirt on), made a make-shift strap and shredded my heart out to 30 000 plus people. It was insane.’’

On the judging panel for the Rock2Wellington was world-renowned rock and heavy metal expert Garry-Sharpe Young, who recognised Kara’s brilliance and singled him out to perform in GTaranaki, New Zealand’s first international guitar festival which was held on July 14, 2008. Sharp, who sadly died not long after, described Gordon’s playing style as ‘‘stunning to behold, a mix of dazzling virtuosity, impassioned emotion and hummingbird accuracy’’. At GTaranaki, Gordon played lead guitar with Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple and alongside some of the world’s greatest guitar virtuosos – Joe Satriani, Uli Jon Roth (the Scorpions), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses and Rockstar Supernova) and Alex Sholnick (Testament).

With his confidence soaring after jamming with some of his musical heroes, Gordon entered an online global guitar competition called the Dean Guitars Shredder Search, which was originally won by Dimebag Darrell. Out of 5000 plus entries from around the world, Gordon made the top 15 finalists – the only entrant considered from Australasia. The following year, he came 8th place in the Music Box worldwide guitar competition. Despite, the name-checks, It hasn’t all been glamour and glory for Gordon. He’s self-financed small runs of several albums, which have become collectors’ items, had more credits on other people’s albums than he has any of his own and had doors slam shut just as fast as they were opened. ‘‘I’ve mainly earned my living as a hired hand and as a session musician,’’ Gordon says. ‘‘It feels as if I’ve spent a lifetime doing the hard yards and everything I could to move my career forward. It’s been full of ups and downs but it’s kept me grounded and humble.’’

He’s also been the victim of thieves. Not only has his prized guitar been stolen but a PA as well.
‘‘Yeah, when my PA got stolen I put a message out on Facebook. A guy called Dean Blake emailed me back and said I could use his. We had a fill-in drummer at the time and Dean said he’d bring his PA to the gig if he could play drums. Just before we were about to start our set, the bar owner came over to me and said ‘look mate if you guys could keep it very quiet that would be really good’. Well, Dean gets behind his kit and starts playing his heart out as loud as he can. The bar owner says can you turn it down. And Dean says, ‘how does get fucked sound’. I was like, well he’s got the attitude. He just slotted into the band.’’

The other member of the Wreckage is Ross Larsen. ‘‘He’s the John Paul Jones of New Zealand. He’s been a session-based player and knows the ropes. He’s been in heaps of different bands and used to fill in when my previous bass player was unavailable. He’s officially been part of the band for about three years.’’ With his debut album as Kara Gordon and The Wreckage, recent New Zealand stadium support slots for Elton John and former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash and a trip to England and Europe in the can, Gordon might find it hard to stay grounded. Liftoff is just around the corner. Watch out for the wreckage.

Band Members:
Kara Gordon (vocals, guitar)
Dean Blake (drums)
Ross Larsen (bass)






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