You’d never think it to look at Paul Pigat, but behind that unassuming grin and underneath those Doc Watson glasses lurks one of the most restless, combustible musical imaginations ever crammed like so much canned heat into a single body. Blessed with a jazz man’s sheen, a rockabilly heart and a hobo’s soul, there aren’t many genres of music that don’t pull at Pigat’s wayfaring imagination like a magnet. In many ways, it’s a mystery why Paul Pigat isn’t a household name yet. Maybe he’d be a lot easier to pin down if he wasn’t so darn good at so many different things.
One could be forgiven for thinking that up until now Paul Pigat has spent his whole career flying under the radar. Like all those great old Stax records where Steve Cropper stood behind Otis Redding and played his heart out before anyone knew who he was, Pigat has been creating sweet sounds for some of the best artists in the country without getting the attention you’d expect. Still, you’d have to have been hiding under a pretty big rock to have never heard the immediately recognizable sound of his distinctive guitar playing as over the last several years this unassuming Vancouver native has quietly compiled a list of credits that would be the envy of anyone in the music business.
There aren’t many musicians who can put their egos aside and lay down exactly the right part without giving into the temptation to be flashy. Without exception, Paul Pigat’s playing is the epitome of taste and discretion as he fits easily into so many different musical universes without ever overplaying or surrendering to rock and roll cliches. It doesn’t take very long to hear why his intuitive rhythms and fluid, creative solos have become an indispensible part of so many musicians’ and bandleaders’ sounds. Whether he’s playing a searing solo to elevate the soaring vocals of a traditional gospel rave up from The Sojourners or flying in to support Jakob Dylan at a showcase in New York, Paul Pigat’s singular dedication and peerless work ethic have earned him a growing respect within music’s inner circles.
However impressive the list of credits he’s compiled over the last few years has been—earned by supporting artists such as Neko Case, Jim Byrnes and Carolyn Mark—it’s when you get to hear Paul on his own that his star really shines. All of the ideas that have been percolating for years while he’s been playing in the background have the chance to come out into the limelight and have their moment in the sun.
To paraphrase the old blues song, Pigat’s got so many tunes he don’t know which way to jump. So, instead he simply gives into his muse and exuberantly follows wherever it carries him. Sometimes, he takes on the guise of inbred rockabilly hero, Cousin Harley to crank up the energy so high that no one can resist digging deep into their pockets to pay the wages of sin and dance around the still to Pigat’s exhilarating hillbilly squonk.
Called the ‘Motorhead of Rockabilly’ by a delirious fan after a particularly raucous show in Holland, there’s nothing tentative about Cousin Harley’s pedal to the metal approach to this stripped down form of rock and roll. As Pigat notes, “Cousin Harley’s been my main project for 12 or 13 years now, and people think it’s easy to play rockabilly, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone has to be on board from the first note or it just doesn’t work.” And judging from the people who drove or flew hundreds of miles to attend shows on his last European jaunt, everything’s working just fine.
But, just when you think his music is all lit up like a leaky propane tank in a fireworks factory, Pigat can bring it down to 3 am embers with trouble in mind as he steps out and opens up his trunk full of Boxcar Campfire songs to romance you with. Originally created as a way of ‘bringing it down a bit’, Boxcar Campfire has taken on a life of its own as this new recording and touring project allows a more reflective and insular shade of Pigat’s creativity to come into play. Those with sharp ears will hear snatches of everything from Debussy to Jimmy Roger blues inflections thrown into the mix, but – as always – the sounds Pigat creates are all his own. With long gone days of railroad steam trailing out back of his head as he sings of possums in the pot and holes in his heart, this music gets you in the mood to hit the open road and jungle up down by the water, just before he takes it down again and you start dreaming of Lester Young and debonair jazz club suits.
From solos raw enough to melt the door off an old Cadillac to delicate etudes written for the crows to fly home to, Paul Pigat is a guitarist who can truly play it all. Is he a genteel sideman, unrepentant redneck, sensitive singer/songwriter, classical composer or a Mulligatawny blend of all the above? As unpredictable as your bipolar uncle one minute and as gentle as breaking dawn the next, you’re never quite sure which Paul Pigat you’re going to meet when you put on one of his CDs. But, listen long enough and you’ll realize it really doesn’t matter what he plays. Music this good transcends boundaries and resists any attempts at categorization. And, even if you reached the point where you thought you’d figured Paul Pigat out, by that time he’d have gone and changed on you again. So, perhaps it would be better if we all stopped thinking, buckled up, and held on to enjoy Mr. Pigat’s wild ride for all its worth.
- Doug Heselgrave, 2010.