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Paul Cowley

Singer-Songwriter Q&A

How old were you when you started playing guitar?

I had classical lessons for about a year around age ten. I liked the music but was uninspired by the teacher. I didn't play in earnest until my early forties.

What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?

For those early lessons my uncle Geoff bought me a Suzuki classical student guitar. Yes I've still got it.

Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?

There wasn't any interest in music on my fathers side of the family. My mom and aunt played piano, uncle and grandfather played fiddle, another uncle played semi–professional jazz guitar. I didn't ever play with them.

Photo credit: Jackie Bourgois

What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?

My principle guitars are a Gibson J-45, a National Triolian and a wood bodied, round neck Dobro. I love them all but have had the Gibson the longest and feel most bonded to it.

Paul's Gibson J-45

Paul's National Triolian.

Paul's Dobro. Photo credit: Karen Key

What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your


D'Addario Phosphor Bronze .012 - .053 on the Gibson.

Michael Messer Signature 6-string Custom .017 - 056 Phosphor Bronze on the resonators.

I change the Gibson strings frequently, depending on how much gigging I'm doing. The resonators less often, about once a month.

Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?

I play finger style therefore don't use a pick. I try thumb picks from time to time but prefer not to use them, I'm a more articulate player without them.

Photo credit: Jean-Philippe Porcherot

Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?

None whatsoever!

Photo credit: Mobil' Jam

Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?

I've never had the confidence or tools to do it, although it interests me. I've discovered a talented luthier here in France – Eric Buelly - Atelier Tupelo. He does repairs, restorations, etc. to a really high standard.

Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?

I like independent shops that might have old, second hand guitars in stock. I haven't been in one for a long time now.

Photo credit: Karen Cooper

At what age did you start writing songs?

Mid forties.

What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?

I generally find a phrase on the guitar first. If I remember it and return to it a few times it will start to develop. The mood of the guitar part will suggest a lyrical theme. Once I arrive at that point it all falls into place quite quickly. The songs are perpetually refined from then on. Paper and pen works for me.

Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?

Gillian Welch and Eric Bibb come to mind. There are so many influences it's misleading and unfair to name just a couple of names.

If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?

I'll say Corey Harris.

What are your top three “desert island” albums?

Gillian Welch – “Time The Revelator. “

Eric Bibb – “Spirit & The Blues.”

Kelly Joe Phelps - “Lead Me On”

What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?

First – Johnny Cash - Odeon - Birmingham, UK – 1968 (aged about 12)

Last – Jeffrey Foucault and Eric Heywood – The Running Horse - Nottingham, UK – March, 2023.

The Beatles or the Stones?


Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?

The magazine Blues in Britain funded a performance at a charity event in Birmingham about 20 years ago. I did it with a friend, I think we got £100 between us.

What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?

A sold out solo performance at a really cool jazz club in Belgium, two years ago.

What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).

The charity gig mentioned above. The low point being when mid set, a girl asked “Will you be long? We want the DJ on!”

What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?

Small, intimate places that bring community together. Also festivals. Location and organizers are key to enjoyment.

How do you work out your setlist?

I have core songs that remain in my set list for a long time. I try to imagine the atmosphere where I'll be playing and tailor the set accordingly. I try to keep it fresh by including new material. I have safe songs for stressful situations.

Photo credit: Karen Cooper

Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?

Follow your heart. Draw from others but be true to yourself. Be authentic, don't be phased by super confident, flashy people. Do your own thing.

Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?

I always find learning new material a great way to keep things interesting. New strings, new guitars, different tunings, travel, discovery of new artists all keep me going!

If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?

I might develop my interest in photography!

Photo credit: Paul Cowley

Photo credit: Paul Cowley

Photo credit: Paul Cowley

Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.

Shows: Check out -

Website: Please visit –

New Album - “Stroll Out West” -

Photo credit: Karen Cooper


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