Gee Recordings – a very classy record label
It is very rare that I listen to a record label’s back catalogue and like everything they have on offer. Gee Recordings run by Paris based keyboard player and producer Guillaume ‘Gee’ Metenier, has a rather enviable clutch of releases to their name. The house sound of Gee Recordings is reggae mixed with funk and lounge jazz, three styles that tap into my musical DNA. When music hits me hard I want to know more about how it was created, so in true investigative style I contacted Gee and he very kindly gave me some insight into his work.
As it’s best to start at the beginning, I asked Gee how he got started in the music business? ‘I started when I was a teenager in my hometown Clermont-Ferrand (famous for Volvic water and Michelin tyres), loved music and was fascinated by my friend’s band called “sales gosses”. I took classical piano lessons as a child, I was a very bad student but I could play a bit and I somehow started to play with them. By the early 80s we would listen to American soul funk and rhythm & blues plus Jamaican & UK reggae, that was the big thing for me at the time.’
If you have been reading my reggae blog for a while, you will know that I like to champion French reggae labels and artists. As France seems to have such a vibrant reggae scene with lots of talented artists and producers, I asked Gee what is it about France that takes reggae to its heart. Gee replied ‘It seems to be vibrant all over the world to me. It looks like we all take elements of reggae and do it our own way. Since we can’t play like or get the sound of the original, we’re copying the way Jamaican musicians would play and also the way they were re-producing US soul and rhythm & blues back in the 60s and 70s. We want to be rebels and do things our way like they do in Jamaica.’ Perhaps it is that rebel nature that appeals to the French, they are not a nation to lie down and take inequality. England and France have had their historical differences, but we English do secretly admire their socially conscious spirit.
The wide colourful reggae back catalogue must be a dream for a label like Gee Recordings to be able to pick from, thinking of their recent releases I asked Gee how does he decide what to cover? In a truly music lover’s response Gee answered, ‘It’s the songs I’m obsessed with, I relate to them for some reason. I like their MEANING, it’s also like cooking the same recipe but adding your own favourite spices. It’s not about re-doing the same thing, but keeping the essence, doing it your way and also paying homage to the originators, be part of their lineage, something like that.’
East of the River Nile
Their ‘East of the River Nile‘ version is a seriously funky update but they do seem to take care with keeping the original spirit. I asked Gee whether it is important to do justice to the original artists? ‘That cover of River Nile is a succession of accidents. It is actually the demo of a recording that was properly done with much better equipment. But the demo had a special vibe, and the sound was wicked, very low fi, but the quality of it was too rough to put on record. I sent the stereo mix to Miles Newbold who transferred it on to tape, on his Ampex recorder, it sounded quite amazing with the tape compression, but really wild! I did another “classic” mastering to finalise and fine tune the process, and that’s what you get’. Gee continued ‘I’m passionate with music history and very concerned about doing justice to the original artists, the music you play HAS TO mean something, I learned that from one of my organ teacher Dr Lonnie Smith.’
One of the Gee releases is a subtle cover of the reggae standard ‘Drum Song‘, I wondered as a keyboard player whether Jackie Mittoo was an influence on Gee’s style? ‘I do love Jackie Mittoo’s playing BIG TIME !!!, he has a huge influence when I play reggae. He had that magic touch and sound of his own, he MEANS SOMETHING, so much identity. I also do love Bernard “Toutter” Harvey, Ansell Collins, Earl”Wire” Lindo, for the Hammond organ, and I’m a big Augustus Pablo fan , that’s for Jamaican players.’
Again thinking of his records and the beautiful ‘Strangers‘ track, he obviously likes to include newer artists in his catalogue. Courtney John has an amazing voice, I asked Gee what led him to work with Courtney, ‘I first heard of Courtney John thru Blundetto, I’m also a session player and played keyboards for Blundetto, that’s how we hooked up. I spent some time in Kingston and we collaborated on quite a lot of tracks and we’re working on new things now.’
Finally something I ask everyone I interview, just to get a feel from where they are coming from. What albums could you not live without? Gee replied with a list, ‘Serge Gainsbourg “La ballade de Melody Nelson”, Augustus Pablo “East of the River Nile”, Marvin Gaye “Here my Dear” and I would also need Dr Lonnie Smith “Turning Point”. A good selection there and a good indicator of what you can expect from Gee Recordings!
Thanks to Gee for letting us into the world of Gee Recordings. Their new release ‘Why Can’t We Live Together’ is out now and available at their Bandcamp site. If you can take some time to listen to the Gee releases please do, I think you will find it very very rewarding. That reggae, soul, funk hybrid is pretty stunning.
I hope you like this interview and discover some great new music, please leave a comment if you can and share on social media. Bless, Paper Lion