Having won multiple awards globally, performing with some of the biggest names in music, touring the finest concert halls in the world, The First Lady of Guitar spends some time with us reflecting on her musical adventures and much more.
May 19, 2004
Guitarhoo!: You were born in London England and moved to Canada, do you hold a dual citizenship?
Liona Boyd: I have British, Canadian and US Passports.
G!: Are you from a musical family?
LB: No, other than a great uncle who was a famous tenor in England. Nobody in my immediate family can hold a tune.
G!: When was the first time you picked up a guitar?
LB: I was 13 and my parents gave me a guitar for Christmas. They had bought it in Spain when I was 6 years old.
G!: What made you put down the treble recorder and draw you towards guitar?
LB: Recorder didn’t give the ability to play Polyphonic music – only one note at a time and I preffered the feel of holding the guitar.
G!: In your teens you took private lessons with the great Andres Segovia, how was that experience?
LB: He inspired me through his concerts, recordings and performing for him on several occasions was memorable. He offered me lots of technical advice and encouraged me by praising my playing.
G!: When you practiced in the early years what came easiest to you and which areas did you have to work hard on?
LB: I never even thought about my right hand – it just seemed to follow. So I concentrated more on my left hand fingerings.
G!: Who were some of your childhood musical hero’s and influences?
LB: Andres Segovia was the great old master in the guitar world but my favorite was actually Julian Bream for his musicality, repertoire and sense of humour. He taught me to talk to my audiences where as Segovia never uttered a word on stage.
G!: Do you prefer Vivaldi or Rimsky-Korsakov?
LB: I love both.
G!: Tchaikovsky or Beethoven?
LB: Same here.
G!: Canadian Beer or American Beer?
LB: Mexican Beer!
G!: SCTV or Saturday Night Live?
LB: Never watched either – sorry!
G!: When you were a kid did you feel you had a calling or was music a hobby you grew more intent with?
LB: No. I wanted to be a ballerina, then an archeologist, then a travel writer… but once I fell in love with guitar as a teenager I let the other hobbies slide.
G!: Is your sight reading and scoring impeccable?
LB: Are you kidding!
G!: What was the most challenging piece of music you have ever played?
LB: Bach’s Chaccone.
G!: For the most part you have such a soft and gentle touch with your playing. Do you ever play with a pick?
LB: No, my natural picks i.e. finger nails.
G!: When you go on a concert tour do you travel mostly with a full orchestra or a smaller ensemble?
LB: Usually solo or with a band on the last tour. Sometimes I guest with symphony orchestras and have done a few tours. i.e. Costa Rica Symphony. Once I toured with the Okanagan symphony in BC.
G!: Great! How many guitars do you take on the road with you and which makes do you prefer?
LB: Usually just one. Jose Ramirez or German Vazguez Rubio.
G!: When you compose, do your ideas come to you quickly or do you hear bits and pieces and come back to ideas and tie them together?
LB: I’ve done both ways – depends on the piece.
G!: Do you compose from an emotional place, a methodical headspace, or both?
LB: Definitely emotional. My best writing is when I’m miserable! Second best time when I’m happy but nothing much comes out of me in between.
G!: Do you mentally write out most of your solos, or do you do a fair bit of improvisation?
LB: Mostly I write them out as I have a classical background. I’d love to be better at improvising.
G!: When soloing do you think modes and scales or do you throw the theory book out the window and feel it?
LB: I always go after a beautiful melody and feel it rather than analyzing the theory.
G!: Do you tamper with alternative tunings at all when composing?
LB: I play some pieces with the bass strings tuned down.
G!: Your version of the Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is very cool. Nice harmonies, cool rhythm change ups and an over-all romantic feel. Out of the many cover songs you have done over the years, which ones do you feel you did something special with, and what makes you gravitate towards recording certain ones (are they your personal favorites or fan requests)?
LB: Don’t remember recording anything by the Beatles but I did perform a Beatles medley while at the Persona Tour. It was our encore piece. I love my transcription of Eric Saties “Gymnopedie”.
G!: Your album “The Spanish Album” has firey performances filled with passion. Do you feel you get more of a raw release playing Spanish/Flamenco guitar than pure Classical?
LB: I am particularly drawn to Spanish music but only “fudge” a bit of Flamenco. It’s a different style altogether and needs a different approach and different type of guitar.
G!: Do you take your time with the recording process or do you like to hit it hard and live for the moment?
LB: I’ve recorded both ways. “Liona Live in Tokyo” was a live concert, as was “Liona Live in Concert” video – but many others took much longer.
G!: Which piece of music, from any time period and style, do you wish you had written?
LB: Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
G!: Do you think artists in your genre are treated much differently from rock musicians by the music business?
LB: No. We have to put up with all the same stuff as pop artists and make only a fraction of what they do! Seriously. Every case is different and I consider myself very lucky.
G!: Do you get full creative control over your records, or does your label hold much of the power?
LB: Well, now I own my own label so I’m the boss but before I had to compromise a lot.
G!: Pavarotti really broadened the age of listeners of Operatic music, introducing many younger fans to Classical music by doing records and events with popular rock musicians. As a result of this, did you notice a boost of interest in your music by the younger music fans at that time?
LB: Yes. He and the 3 Tenors phenomenon introduced Classical music to a much wider audience. That’s always been one of my missions and working with people like Eric Clapton, David Gilmore, Chet Atkins helped bring my Classical guitar to an international audience.
G!: On your album “Camino Latino – Latin Journey”, you have guest appearances by Al Di Meola, Steve Morse and Jesse Cook, to name a few. How did that whole record come about and how was that experience?
LB: I was a special guest on Strunz and Farah’s Latin Jazz CD “Stringweave” and I asked if they’d reciprocate. Then I asked several other guitar buddies of mine and they all said yes. Richard Fortin produced it and wrote many of the pieces. It was a great experience.
G!: Have you thought of branching out and mixing up traditional styles with other contemporary styles, for example a classical metal record, a blues classical medley or a hip hop groove with classical guitar blend?
LB: Well I think my across the street neighbour Ozzy Osbourne would be an interesting choice! I’m working on a new project now but it’s under wraps for the moment.
G!: Cool! Have you listened to much Yngwie Malmsteen and how do you like the take the Neo-Classical metal guys are cranking out?
LB: Amazing player Yngwie!
G!: Would you ever pick up a strat and plug into a Marshall and explore those textures?
LB: No. I prefer nylon guitar.
G!: Who is your favorite Jazz musician?
LB: Pat Metheny.
G!: Rock guitarist?
LB: Steve Morse.
G!: Country guitarist?
LB: Chet Atkins.
G!: Are there any contemporary artists you’d like to work with (outside the Classical domain), whom you haven’t already?
LB: Arturo Sandoval, Julio or Enrique Iglesias!
Liona with a few friends: Chet Aktins, Steve Morse and Placido Domingo
G!: Which classical musicians would you like to work with, whom you haven’t already?
LB: James Galway. Placido Domingo.
G!: You’ve played in some pretty bizarre situations. Judge Lance Ito requested you to entertain the O.J. Simpson trial jurors at the Los Angeles Courthouse. How did that come about and what was that like?
LB: The Judge was a fan of my music. They all gave me a standing ovation. I had to be smuggled in the back door of the courthouse.
G!: Wild! Was it a paying gig?
LB: Are you kidding!
G!: You’ve also played at a Moose Factory in Ontario Canada! I wasn’t aware Moose were into classical music, thought they’d be more into Rush or Boxcar Willie, definitely not Ted Nugent! haha… Now, how in the world did that come together, how did they like it and what were those darn Moose manufacturing in that factory anyway (haha)?
LB: I played for the Cree people in Moose Factory (Ontario) – great audience! And I learned a few sentences in Cree language.
I actually serenaded a Moose on that trip. It was part of a film they made of me canoeing the Missinaibi River. He didn’t seem to moved by my Spanish piece – maybe should have tried some Boxcar Willie (he and I did Nashville Now – TV show together in the 80’s)
G!: Wild stuff! And you’ve done a Concert in Mother Theresa’s Hospice in Calcutta, India. That must have been an honor, did you meet Mother Theresa and what can you tell us about that whole experience?
LB: No, she was fund-raising in the U.S. at the time. I played 3 concerts – one for the men – one for the women and one for all the nuns “Sisters of Charity” in a moonlit courtyard and they sat in a circle. Very moving experience – glad I didn’t catch Leprosy!!!
Liona with Queen Elizebeth II and Prince Phillip and with The Mayor of Moscow
G!: Amazing! Now, you’ve also done some pretty prestigious gigs; A private party in the Kremlin on New Year’s Eve, Private concert at Windsor Castle for the British Royal Family, a concert for the King and Queen of Spain, for NATO and Summit Conferences (the list goes on). What are some memories you can share with us about those experiences?
LB: You’ve got to read my autobiography as I have too many memories. I basically wrote the book (8 years of work!) for all my fans so they could share my adventures around the world.
G!: Great! I’ll be picking up a copy. At these concerts were you requested to perform certain pieces or did you compose something special or choose what you thought would be perfect for those events?
LB: Yes, sometimes I composed something special i.e. when I played in Windsor Castle for the Royal Family. I had composed a special piece for the Queen and Prince Philip. It’s on my “Classically Yours” CD.
G!: You’ve performed at some of the finest concert halls in the world. Which ones stand out as your favorites?
LB: Osaka Japan – performed there both solo and with an orchestra – amazing acoustics.
G!: When you sit in with a symphony orchestra do you rehearse the music quite a bit before hand, do you have little time for preparation and/or are there last minute changes where you are required to read cold off a score?
LB: I usually memorize the piece. When I recorded the music for “A Walk in the Clouds” with Keanu Reeves, I had to sight read everything and was terrified!
A few of Liona’s paintings done with oil on canvas. © Liona Boyd
G!: You are also quite the artist. Is this mainly a hobby or do you plan to explore that realm of creativity more seriously?
LB: I used to paint as a kid, in fact I won 2 art competitions, but only took up oils a few years ago and recently I just haven’t had time to continue… maybe next year.
G!: You are neighbors with Ozzy Osbourne, have the two of you ever talked about working together? (he’s reached into the Classical bag on his records with Randy Rhoads)
LB: No, not yet but he’s offered me his studio anytime I want it.
Liona hamming it up with neighbor Ozzy Osbourne
G!: He didn’t try to bite your head off did he?
LB: No, just my hand.
G!: haha.. Do you have a new record in the works for this year?
LB: Next year.
G!: Do you presently have tours lined up?
LB: I’ve taken a break in order to write music but will resume touring within a year.
G!: What do you have to say to some of the younger kids who say, “Classical Music belongs in elevators or shopping malls”?
LB: They are missing a lot and it’s up to the parents and teachers to expose students to good Classical music i.e. take kids to a concert or have them learn to play a musical instrument.
G!: You seem to have a natural love for animals, with your kitty “Muffin” and you also support the “Last Chance for Animals” and “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)” charitable organizations. Do you feel you have a spiritual connection with animals?
LB: Yes, I feel very connected with animals and am very horrified at how inhumane we humans can be towards animals. I support several organizations that work on behalf of animal protection.
G!: You speak English, Spanish and French. Did you pick up “the language of love” while dating Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau?
LB: No, I lived in Paris and had another French boyfriend before Pierre. Now I’m in love with Spanish!
G!: Were you dating Pierre when Canada was doing good or was your relationship responsible for us being a third world nation, (haha.. just kidding… tell me to take a hike anytime!)?
LB: No, my relationship with Pierre was apolitical – just guitar serenades, canoeing, hiking and skinny dipping! And Canada in my mind is definitely a first world nation!!!
G!: Your astrological sign is “Cancer”. Cancers are known to be the most lovable of the signs; Creative, understanding, compassionate, forgiving, a strong sense for family and the home. Princess Dianna was a Cancer and had these traits and it apparent that you possess these as well. Do you find there’s truth to Astrology?
LB: Yes, totally. Everyone in my family fits exactly their astrological sign. I just started working with a young composer/guitarist in Miami and discovered we were both born on July 11th.
G!: That’s wild! I agree there’s something eerily true to it. Are you a very spiritual person?
LB: Yes, although I was brought up an atheist
G!: What’s your favorite swear word?
G!: Si… haha.. Who’s your favorite hockey team?
LB: Maple Leafs
G!: Do you have any advice you would like to pass onto aspiring musicians?
LB: First you have to love your instrument and make it your best friend as to be any good you’ll be spending a lot of time together. Once you’ve mastered the basic technique try to be creative and original and not just copy others. Take any opportunity to play at the beginning of your career.
G!: Liona, you are so talented and a kind soul! Thanks for taking out some time and sharing with us. We all look forward to your future projects!
LB: Many thanks Steve for creating such a great guitar site and for featuring me on it. Good luck with your recording projects this summer and please say a big hello to all my friends and fellow guitar players across Canada. I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone on my next cross-country tour!
Interview © 2004 Guitarhoo!