Danny Gómez: on the scaffold of Rock

by Alberto D. Prieto

Self-taught musician, accomplished guitarist and one of music’s hardest workers; Product designer, expert brand builder, promoter, researcher and musical director. He is Spain’s representative for Brian May Guitars, Ambassador for Fender, manager… Danny Gómez knows every language you can think of, and can interpret them; both mercenary and impresario, here he is on an autumnal morning at the Hard Rock Cafe in the centre of Madrid, engaged in delicious conversation with Guitars Exchange which, as from now, he can call home.

When did you begin? Why? Who were you? … And why the guitar?

I must have been about 14 or 15. I was just another neighbourhood kid who didn’t have enough cash to take up guitar lessons, let alone buy one, who just had to invent his own way of enjoying his hobby. There was an old acoustic guitar rattling around in the family home somewhere, I remember buying my first set of strings that they gave me at the Musical Remolino but I didn’t know how to play a chord so I learnt how to tune by heart from a book that I managed to read incognito on the shelf at El Corte Inglés which is when I found out that the telephone ringtone pitch is a la at 440

How did you manage to find that out about the telephone ringtone? Surely today you can find everything on the Internet, but back in 1992…

Well you just ask around the neighbourhood… use your imagination.

Who did you base yourself on? Who were you emulating when you were learning to play the guitar by ear?

It was just like that … with Brian May. If I told you anything else I’d be lying.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to have picked someone a bit easier?
No… I was a big fan of Queen quite late on. I was about 14 or 15 when I first discovered ‘A Kind of Magic’, but that was when Freddie had already passed away. It’s a fabulous record, already part of the more modern era, feeding off the German concept with Reinhold Mack and featuring synthesisers, with modern production values which really appealed to me as a teenager at the time. Back then, if I had known the Queen classics I probably wouldn’t have got into the group the way I did since they would have seemed too noisy to me, too pseudo-glam rock.. It wouldn’t have been right. But suddenly that idea of a group of guys who play really well straddling the ancient and modern and coming up with pop songs with a tinge of rock really appealed to me.

What was it that grabbed your attention most?

The guitars. I just loved the guitars. I said to myself; “I don’t want to be a guitarist I want to be like that guy”. For over 20 odd years May has personified a lot of guys because every guitarist goes through lots of different stages in their professional life. I went through my Yngwie Malmsteen phase. I went through my Ritchie Blackmore phase which was when I already had Yngwie Malmsteen nailed down, and I asked myself “Where does this guy come from “and “What about this guy”, and by doing so you find your origins along the way. After that I moved towards a more equipment-orientated phase, and then it was either equipment over technique or technique over technique or technique but in favour of the song, and all these other dilemmas that started turning up. But in the end, when you have travelled as far as that and you return to what it was that got you into this in the first place, it’s then that you realise that it was that guy- Brian May – who was responsible for it all, a kind of first love. You’re always going to tend to orbit around what you liked at the very beginning. It was virgin territory and then “bang!” You’re struck by a meteorite that bores a massive hole in you that’s never going to go away.

Throughout your career what is your style, and how do you define yourself?

Quite honestly I don’t know. I have spent so long doing other people’s stuff in one way or another that if I had to look for my own original flavour I guess it would ultimately be a mixture of several different things; a kind of alchemy if you like, of many other things. It’s like when you can recognise some of the ingredients in a recipe but then you find it’s like the Mexican guacamole dish; with so many different ingredients that the end result is a very special taste experience. If you ask for something personal from me, I would probably give you a mixture of things back: I would probably do some things, and I say this with all due respect, with a bit more technical finesse than Brian May’s approach, but with the influence of more touchy-feely players like Malmsteen or Blackmore, or even Matt Bellamy, who I like very much. So, conceptually, I guess I would be very contemporary with lots of different effects and richness of sounds filtering through. And, although I’d be recording, there would be lots of interaction and tweaking sound effects in the moment, stuff that the sound engineer could do on the spot, in real time, which makes it very appealing too… it’s like having a portion of the artist called Danny Gomez - which isn’t a very big portion - whose voice is directed at the service of others to such an extent that the big job in hand is ultimately to get the best out of them.

Doesn’t that bother you?


I’m surprised … You’d think that anyone who grabs hold of the guitar and develops a good technique ultimately goes in search of their own sound…

I don’t know. I understand the concept. And at some point in the past I may have felt a bit like that, but not everyone is drawn to conveying their own message to the world. That is something that is born and grows within you, like having a child or planting a tree. But I discovered that my voice was simply part of the journey and the objective wasn’t to tell my story. I don’t need to be the first string, I don’t need to be there upfront taking the limelight. My job is this and I do it to the best of my abilities. I don’t see myself in a small club telling my story, baring all to the world.

To finish off this section… Danny Gómez and his guitar, by the fireplace, what would he play?

Well, with an acoustic guitar I would probably end up doing a cover version of something for the enjoyment of my pals present. I would be looking for my arrangement or my long lost song… Yep, I’m sure I would do that. Danny Gómez, perhaps, in another scenario, with his (electric) guitar in hand, his iPad and four gizmos, would probably end up investigating, which is what I really like doing. I would properly end up playing the same riff 60 times trying to find the right sound, recording pre-sets or inventing a pedal effect and playing the bare essentials to be able to develop it. Talk to us about Toxic Prod. When I started managing tours I saw that in a lot of cases the people involved in the business overall hadn’t been musicians in a previous life, and as such didn’t have any prior knowledge or experience of what it’s like to be in a musician’s shoes. For example if you offer a musician, who happens to be carrying a lot of equipment, the possibility of picking it up at his or her home, you’ll find that this is something that he/she will value a lot more than if you raise their salary by 10 euros. I set to work, first with School of Rock which is the company that I founded previously, and it was when I met my wife who is also my partner in the business, that Toxic Prod was born. A tour opportunity turned up which we were now able to produce from start to finish, and that’s when it all started kicking off and the business grew. After that we were given the chance to produce demos for brands which is something that I’d already been doing on a personal level with Brian May Guitars. So we included it as part of our company’s portfolio of activities and we have been doing work for brands like Gibson, Fender, and we’ve worked for people who generate applications like Positive Grid and pedals, such as the work we do with Thunder Tomate

But you also work with other artists

We do the same thing as we do for any client; we develop a concept, a sound, a band. For example a solo artist needs team or a band to help them present their work. And on top of that, they might need what would be the equivalent of a management team, although we like to call it artist support; someone to look after their needs and accompany them on their career path.

Soon you will be going to the NAMM show where you’ll be presenting a wide range of products for brands… How does that work?
Well, if I find something that I like I always contact the person who made it. Even if it’s just to say thank you. This is a trademark of our company; we never ask for anything, we tell you what we can do for you, and if you want to, we’ll play ball. As a result of this we have seen such magical relationships flourish such as the one we have with Manson Guitars. Marta personally gave me an out-of-this-world guitar as a gift; the Manson Matt Bellamy, an absolutely superb guitar. We went to Exeter to reserve one and we were in the shop. I use it now in a lot of the work that I do and I sent them some photographs in case they thought that they could use it on their website or social networks, or whatever. When we were in NAMM in January last year we happened to bump into Hugh Manson and Adrian Ashton, his business associate. I asked to have my photo taken with him and his partner recognised me immediately and said, “Hey, you’re Danny Gómez aren’t you? We built a guitar for you last year”. And there’s me standing next to Hugh Manson, with the biography and catalogue that this guy has; like his work for Muse, Foo Fighters, and as backliner for Led Zeppelin… Just that in itself blows you over. This is the guy who produced custom instruments for John Paul Jones… We started to talk about the MIDI screen because I asked for the guitar to be manufactured without the screen, to avoid taking precious wood away from that critical area of the instrument and Manson applauded my good taste. And when we finished taking the photograph, almost as a matter of course, the conversation moves to the subject of the Cort stand being the venue for the presentation of the MBC1. The same as mine but built by Cort. “Since you have the top of the range model, we would like to ask for your opinion if you have a moment…” I ended up trying it out there and then in front of Hugh Manson, on his knees next to me, with an amplifier on loan from somewhere and my pedals. And since they didn’t have a tester for the trade fair, they offered the job to me for the worldwide launch of the Cort Manson Matt Bellamy.

What’s it going to be like presenting your own products this year?
Look, the TAE pedal, which we developed in conjunction with Thunder Tomate, here in Spain is basically very simple because I created it out of my own necessity. Once manufactured, presenting it is just a question of telling people about your own existence.

You say that you don’t ask for anything, that if you like something you offer yourself to promote it. This collaborative economic model is more Yankee then Spanish. Do you find it difficult for people to understand this notion?

There is a section of the population that is highly distrustful, and simply can’t see how something could be so simple; “If I don’t want anything and you don’t want anything… where’s the catch??” … you’ll want something, surely Of course. It’s not that I don’t want anything. Look, I’m not going to take your pedal board to the NAMM to then present my pedal, I have this place, and if you want to come, then come. I don’t need you to pay me anything I’m going anyway. There have been companies that have said, “Hey, I want to be there and I want to pay part of the expenses so that you can take someone from your team to take the photos for the media”. For example, JomLabs or Aclam Pedalboards, who are based in Barcelona, and are fantastic people, they’re going to give me the best pedal board they have “so that your demos are a resounding success”. Hey, well fantastic, you do know that it’s not necessary? “Yes but I’d be very grateful and it’s going to be much better”.

What guitar do you like most if there is one?

Obviously there are several. Unless of course you’re a guy with a very clear idea or of very single-minded. For example, the Red Special (on the table) is rocker’s instrument, but it’s very classical, with a very sensitive tone, very broad, very HIFI. So for certain things it’s a fundamental instrument. But if you need that extra boost à la humbucker style, then of course you’ll change. I love all Red Special-type guitars. I like the expensive ones and I like the cheap ones because I just love the concept. Simple as that. I like the Manson guitars a lot… They blow my mind, and to me they’re like a quantum leap from one generation back. For its technology and its handcrafted work with world renowned luthiers and an R+D which really appeals to my technical side. I’m not an overly fetishistic musician, I have a whole collection of cheap guitars, or shared, one of which might accompany me for a while for whatever reason… And perhaps yes, a Telecaster for something that demands a certain sound, or a Strato

Always electric guitars?

90% electric, 10% everything else. With a Spanish guitar I am a Galician at heart playing Sevillana music. I just don’t have it in me. Acoustic? Yes, quite a lot because it’s highly portable, but for the most part it’s electric for me every time.

I view you as very focused on the business side, but... do you still work as a studio musician? Do you still have time for that or are you more selective now?

Well, the truth is that I have very little time and I absolutely do not want to sound pretentious. The telephone doesn't ring now like it rang before. Now the calls come from client intermediaries. Before a friend would call me saying, "Hey, I need you to do a session"... and I loved going off to do it and I'd try to fit it into my agenda because I like it a lot.  But there are so many things I like about my work that I don't really care whether I'm doing a studio session or designing a pedal.
What music do you listen to? If you have the time, what do you play for your own enjoyment?
I read the other day that once you reach 30 years old, nobody listens to new music. I think that's true to a certain extent. Life is too short to drink bad wine. I guess I let contemporary music accompany me in the background, but if I have to do something where I actively need to get myself into a specific state of mind, I know exactly what works for me: I have four things in my iPhone. But I already know for what: If I'm driving, click, going to relax, click... I have Queen, a lot of Queen

What Queen? Because there are two different phases to their career, and the middle period...

I have one playlist with all their biggest hits, the 25 or 30 songs you can never be without, and I always bring along a couple of complete albums, generally the older ones.

Other music you have in your iPod

Well, obviously Muse, l have power metal: Symphony X, Deep Purple, RainbowRage Against the Machine, Beatles… I try to talk to my son about a guitar player every week when I take him to school in the car. Have to be the rock star Dad. The other day we were driving along listening to Deep Purple and he said to me, ‘Put on the song about the witch’. You realize things when you look at them through the head of a four-year-old kid. It's music. I like it or I don't.

We've talked a lot about your promoter side, now what about the hard worker on the scaffold?
That a long story... Tell us about it I went to London to live in the summer of '99. I have this theory that's a little bit absurd: when you play, you're also playing in a language. If you listen to Ariel Rot, he plays the guitar fantastically … in Spanish. Carlos Santana is a guitarist in Spanish … from Mexico. Jeff Beck is a guitar in… English. And Van Halen, even though he was born in the Netherlands, plays an electric guitar… in American. In that sense, I say about myself: "Musically, I'm a citizen of the British empire." When I came back, I saw that what was really profitable are the concerts, bars, the dives, the cover versions. Now I was a musician who came from the school of not playing cover versions, never covered a song in my life, and nothing by Queen. That for me was music that you listened to and enjoyed but didn't play… I had practically given up playing when a songwriter called me, we put together a band, I did my first paying concert, and got inspired about the whole thing. I wound up in 2003 in Mexico playing with an artist and when I came back, I found out there had been auditions for ‘We Will Rock You’, and I was out of the picture. But one of the guitarists they called was an old neighbourhood friend of mine who was the guy that first turned me on to Queen. When they recorded the show on video, he asked me to cover for him so he could watch it from the audience. All that sheet music...I thought my eyes were going to pop out! I learned everything by ear, went there, it was fantastic and that was that. When the musical came back to Madrid in 2007, they called me and I ended up being the stand-in, because the whole product was beginning to take off a little, developing the portfolios, doing the demos, the brands ... About halfway through the run, the star performer couldn't continue and I took over for the final shows until it closed. Then I got hooked up to work with Nacho Cano, we started up the Teatros del Canal doing the musical ‘A’, a summer tour playing Queen covers, and others later on with La Quinta Estación. I directed my first tour for the national radio channel Cadena 100, ‘La Máquina del Tiempo’ (The Time Machine). After that, I did 298 performances in 2009, between product demos for Brian May, concerts, theatres, and three tours. Exhausting, wonderful, explosive… you could see me studying a repertoire with my headphones on in a Starbucks, my guitar ready in one hand, the coffee in the other, the IPad on the table… I had to stop.

What is your relationship with Fender now?

Great. There was an event by the Hard Rock Café in the Parque de Atracciones (Amusement Park) and they were one of the partners. We started to talk and the idea came up of possibly doing the action part of Fender Games for this season.

Tell us a little about it...

Well, Fender Games is a retrospective dating from 1946 up to the present, more or less 2013. It breaks down by families the individual features of each model and the most influential artists who played that instrument. You play a lot, you talk a lot, and there are contests and some very interesting questions.

Hey, Danny, we're almost done now. Do you know that the two of us were at the Brian May concert in Aqualung in '93...?

Yes... I read about it in Guitars Exchange! I was the first one, along with my old friend I told you about before, who started shouting Mustapha, Mustapha…! Just to see if it touched him. It was tremendous, the whole hall following us and Brian May up there onstage flipping out... Then he started doing it himself a week later in Munich, and we gave him the idea!

We'll see you at the presentation of the first Guitars Exchange book.
Of course, I'll be there to put myself in the shoes of 24 legends, which is 24 times more difficult than what I usually do. I'll look for a neutral guitar and amplifier, because if I try to play Stevie Ray Vaughan with a Red Special… Maybe I'll use the Manson, that's pretty neutral.   Let's play a game.

We'll tell you the names of the 24 artists featured and you give us an adjective for each one, OK?

Angus Young Electric, small, fast
Joe Walsh Desert
Jimmy Page The riff
Brian May Royal elegance
B.B. King Two notes
Jimi Hendrix Fire
Eric Clapton Slowhand, vibrato
Jeff Beck No pick
Pete Townshend Power chord
Keith Richards Five strings
Chuck Berry The duckwalk
Stevie Ray Vaughan Texas
Eddie Van Halen Jump, it's the attitude onstage
George Harrison Class
Duane Allman Harmonies, the first ones we all listened to
Albert King The real King, the best
Mark Knopfler ...the thing is you see the song and yeah, he's the sultan
Slash He grabs you with his look, yeah, he's a genuine guy
Ritchie Blackmore The original, everything
Billy Gibbons Anything goes
David Gilmour Atmosphere
Gary Moore Two eras
Tony Iommi The dark master
Joe Bonamassa Jeez. That's a hard one, you know? For me, it would be contemporary blues. Blues is in the heart and the hands, but he has them in his head. He's the bad guy in Matrix.  

Danny Gómez Signature pedal

Video & Pictures: Sergio Enríquez Nistal