Married Musicians, "Pee Wee and Michiko Hill", Band Together but Shine Separately!
Tell me a little bit about your background where you're from and how you got started in music.
Pee Wee Hill: I'm from Pacoima and part of San Fernando Valley. And we started in the garage bands. You know, music was in school Back then it was mostly school and garage band. A lot of fun. And as time went by, I took it seriously and spread out to LA. Then when I spread out to LA, I got another friend of mine named Ronnie van, and he put me with Billy Preston's band. From then on I was with Billy for about four years and we did a lot of TV shows In concerts and even being in the midst of that Being around with Sly Stone and buddy miles, You know because they will come to our rehearsals and everything Consequently in the later years I ended up working with sly And now I'm producing a record with this brother Freddie stone. And rose stone, I did a record with her. So, I went through the whole 70s vibe.
What is interesting is that I did not start playing bass until I was about 19 years old. And Billy didn't even know this, but I was about two years in it when I got into his band. So basically, I was playing catchup it was sounding good, but I was just learning on the spot as we're going. You know Billy played by ear. He would show you something one time and you better have it.
Michiko Hill: I was born in Tokyo Japan and ever since I was five years old, I went to music school. They trained me well. I also attended the Music Conservatory and majored piano. After graduating I formed a band in Japan. My love for soul, R&B, and funk music and my desire to learn it is what brought me to America. I wanted to learn how to play funk. Because my parents were both deceased, I felt as though I had nothing left in Japan, so I moved To America and started playing with the local bands. About a year later, around 1982, I met pee wee. He introduced me to Chester and just start playing a little more often.
What was the most memorable moment in your music career?
Pee Wee Hill: When I did the Roxy. I think it was around the 80s. It was with Billy Preston Everybody was at that concert Larry Graham, The Gap Band everybody came out to see Billy and Billy had a big stage of musicians he had a lot of us on stage And then at the end he started inviting people up on stage, so Larry Graham came up, took my base, and then the Gapp Band and Robert Wilson came up and just you know a lot of great stuff Started happening like the ozone band and all Motown was out there. So, there was just a big highlight. That was a concert that had a lot of fire in its people just showed up, and they packed it out over there
Michiko Hill: This was a long time ago but, I had a chance to record with saxophonist, Wayne Shorter on his album but, I was so nervous, and I remember it being hard because it's Wayne Shorter. Even though I'm classically trained I still felt as though his music was hard! At that time, my daughter Judith Hill was still in a crib. It was just the experience of it because I knew who that was, Wayne Shorter! In my generation, he was a legend. I also love playing for my daughter's European Tour, Judith Hill. Is just the funkiest music I ever played.
What was the most challenging moment of your music career?
Pee Wee Hill: The most challenging thing was that I self-taught myself in a lot of areas so back then I did not read music, So I got challenged with the musical director that brought in charts. His name was Gil. From that point on I said to myself I think I Have to learn how to read music. You know that was another challenge get Through because you know I had a good ear, but they know when you are not playing what is on the paper. Yeah so that was my challenger moment and then I took that was back in the early 80s so I spent all my time got into big bands and I'd learn to read music so I wouldn't face that anymore.
Michiko Hill: Working on an album with, “Wayne Shorter”. But I love playing and I don't want to do anything else. The first time I heard a synthesizer sound I felt like it was.
Who are some of your greatest musical influences?
Pee Wee Hill: Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Stanley Clarke, Louis Johnson, and James Jamerson.
Michiko Hill: I have many musical influences, but my favorite is George Duke. His synthesizer sounds like a guitar. How was the first time that I heard a synthesizer sound so soulful? The way he played was touching an iconic and I copied him note for note. I studied him and copied him.
If given the opportunity who would you love to play with dead or alive?
Pee Wee Hill: I was almost there and that probably would have been Prince. Yeah because I met him right before he passed so I know that it would have probably been Prince.
Michiko Hill: I'd love to work with Eric Clapton. Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, and Marvin Gaye. Out of those artists, I would like to play with them. My favorite instrument is vocals even though I can't sing.
What was one of your most embarrassing experiences performing live?
Pee Wee Hill: Sometimes when you performing live and you're reading music and you start getting into it you can get off course because you take your eyes off of the paper and then all of a sudden you're lost and then you ask yourself where am I at.
Michiko Hill: I remember When peewee and I played a couple of gigs with, Chester Cortez Thompson of the jazz-rock band Weather Report / Genesis https://chesterthompson.com/, I would feel a little fear. I would feel like I wasn't good enough. I will say to myself what am I doing? You're just a mom. One time it got so bad that I started crying. My husband had to console me. I think that night was so bad because of how I thought about myself. It was almost like the enemy / the devil was telling me that I wasn't good enough, I'm so bad. But after that gig I said to The voice you're right, I'm not George Duke I'm not Herbie Hancock I'm not any of those people but I'm going to tell you what, I will play every note in Jesus name And I'm going to smash your head. And then after that, that negative voice left. And of course, I always play for the Glory of the Lord. but it's more so That that negative feeling never came back.
What artists do you enjoy listening to in your leisure time?
I love listening to Curtis Mayfield And I also love listening to Motown.
Have you recorded any albums?
Pee Wee Hill: back in the 70s I got all I got I got on a couple of records. I was on one up Thelma Houston’s albums and two of Billy Preston’s gospel Albums and then one of his secular records. Back in the 70s, the way it used to be, everybody used to work. it was the Once during the records that were a whole another scene. The guys with the names that were doing the records. Then there was another scene and it was the guys doing the demos. So, the studios were booming back then.
I was in the demo scene. But, back in that time, if the main cat, who was recording the main record, wasn't cutting it, then they will call me to overdub. I learned a lot about the base from, Jimmy Smith. he used to teach me, and he helped me more on a professional level as a bass player.
You see, I was friends with Jimmy back at that time and I used to go over his house every other day Because his son was my age. And Jimmy used to teach me All these different baselines to play. This was way before I started playing with Billy Preston, so I was young Now is the time that I started getting into it.
Hill: I haven't recorded that many albums. My husband peewee Hill and I did record a few of our own. We also did a few small projects In Japan and we also played with my daughter Judith Hill. Altogether we recorded about 15 projects
What do you do before performances to prepare yourself?
Pee Wee Hill: Well, I used to kind of like take my base back in the dressing room and just play and then loosen up my hands. You know, right before You hit that stage, you want to be relaxed because there are always butterflies. You want to loosen up your muscles and relax. Or maybe, I would have one shot and then loosen up my fingers.
Michiko Hill: It used to be alcohol for me before I gave my life to the Lord. I will get drunk; I was on my way to alcoholism. But, after I met the Lord, it became coffee. Now, I drink coffee before my gig.
Has COVID 19 affected your career plans?
It's really hard because All of our tours got canceled. he was supposed to be in Europe right now, So, that’s hard but, you know we still play for church worship. We record with no audience that's a blessing and we do have a project with Germany. I've been asked to do different arrangements in which I love to do even string arrangements. Those are things that keep me uplifted and I also play at home and just try to learn new things and just keep it up. I feel like I'm OK for now. I remind myself to be strong in the Lord and to me I feel like Because to me knowing God, I believe that God is the one that anoints us to do what we do. So, I'm preparing myself to be so ready that when this is over just to crank it up. Q when are working on the instrumental thing and we will see whether the Lord opens the door or not. But whatever happens, I am rooting for my daughter's success because I know that she is so ready to fly And I cannot wait. I think God is molding us right now and we will be twice more powerful in the future. This is my hope and expectation.
Any last-minute advice for upcoming bass players?
Pee Wee Hill: Lots of musicians today, they have a whole lot of chops and everything. They're young and they like to show what they know but, what I could say the most important thing is if you don't know a song and you’re on stage and you about you’re about to get ready to play, always listen to that kick drum and you'll be fine.
Michiko Hill: I must involve God again. Today music has become so competitive for example all the reality shows who's better than the other so competitive. God never created music to be competitive or to compare yourself with someone. No one is better than the other. Everyone is good in their way. So, if you have a passion music believes that God gave you something that he only gave to you. Understand that you can speak to people only in the way that you can. Music is something that can connect to the deepest parts of people's hearts. No words can reach where music can reach and change hearts Implant hope enjoy and love and even in the middle of pain You gain strength and that is in the music and not get sidetracked Who's better than even though some people say it who's good, Don't take it to heart to compare yourself because if God gave it to you and you have the passion Then you have everything you need. Always remember to never quit and don't just get discouraged even if someone criticizes you. The reason why you were drawn to music is that God gave you that purpose. So, pursue it no matter what never give up. Focus on why God gave you that music and it is to bring heaven here on earth. At least, that's what I think.
Interviewed by: Gina Carey