For nearly two decades, Seattle guitarist Kathy Moore has been a go-to guitarist with her talents ranging from rock to funk to jazz and country.
She is currently a member of the bands The Guessing Game and Satchel and has also performed with the likes of Thaddeus Turner (Maktub), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam, Mad Season, Flight To Mars), the band Brad, Kim Virant, Everclear, Mark Siano’s Soft Rock Kid and the all-girl Black Sabbath tribute band Bloody Sabbath.
As part of the Guessing Game, Moore plays alongside two other guitarists – Jeff Rouse and Gary Westlake – giving the band a diverse triple guitar attack sound.
“With The Guessing Game we just melded musically from the moment we started playing together. I’d been wanting to play with Gary Westlake for a while, and the first time I played with him, Jeff Rouse, Keith Ash, and Shawn Zellar it was pretty magical,” Moore said of her Guessing Game bandmates.
“I think a good example of how well our three guitars work together is the recording of “All the Waste.” We just organically move from guitar to guitar, and our sounds and riffs weave around each other without stepping on each other. I love guitar so much that I always want to be around people who play guitar and talk guitar and gear, so the more guitarists the better. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day Keith and Shawn brought guitars to the rehearsal space and said ‘Okay, now we are a five guitar band.’”
Moore’s diversity plays into her bands, giving her the ability to be in bands like the Guessing Game or Satchel and in a Sabbath tribute band (all three different types of playing). However, her beginnings were far from rock & roll.
“Starting out, I actually studied jazz guitar. I wanted to be Emily Remler and Wes Montgomery, and I studied with Frank Potenza down in Long Beach, California,” she said. “I played my giant Guild x700 straight through a Polytone Mini Brute – very clean. Then I bought a Fender Twin, and distortion became my obsession. Now I want to play many styles in many situations and make as many sounds as I can. But I always want to find a place where I can improvise and express myself. I suppose that comes from my jazz training.
Unbeknownst to the budding guitarist at the time, Moore’s early jazz training played right into the hands of her future bands. No matter what genres of music she’s experimenting with, Moore can incorporate what she has learned over the years.
“Every time I play a new style of music or transcribe someone else’s solos and sounds, I try to add them to my own playing and potentially spark a new creativity. I just finished a theater show where I had to make my guitar sound like a banjo, a jug-jug metal band, a pedal steel guitar, and a psychedelic drug trip. I’m collecting sounds. I want to become ‘The Blob’ of guitar – keep adding skills and techniques and getting bigger and better (well, at least that is the hope).
“For instance, I’ve been playing in a band called Thaddillac for years with Thaddeus Turner, and he is a major influence for me,” Moore continued. “I was a huge fan of his guitar playing before I ever played with him. He writes in so many styles, rock, funk, country, soul, jazz, whatever – and you can absolutely hear the multitude of influences in his guitar playing, but what comes out of his hands is his own product.
“With Satchel, the moment I heard the combination of Regan Hagar’s drums, Shawn Smith’s voice and guitar, Jeremy Lightfoot’s awesomeness, and John Hoag’s heavy guitar, I wanted to play with them. Satchel is about relentless power. With Black Sabbath the sound is dark, heavy, and deep. When I play with Wayne Horvitz’s Electric Circus I get ‘sonic abstraction firmly rooted in ass-shaking rhythm.’ I actually brought many of these influences to The Guessing Game – maybe you can hear it.”
Despite her varying styles on the guitar, the talented musician is not just a hired guitar slinger. Moore is a skillful songwriter, a talent on the keyboard, and she also has the vocal passion of a seasoned veteran.
“At four I picked out television songs and commercial jingles on the piano,” she said. “My dad sang songs to us like ‘King of the Road’ and ‘Sixteen Tons,’ and I also started harmonizing with him early on. My parents prioritized piano lessons and school band with us kids, so my brother and I played some god-awful flute, piccolo, trumpet, and piano for our long-suffering parents. But it wasn’t until I heard the gospel music of Andraé Crouch that I found the inspiration for my youthful piano obsession. Jeff Rouse recently called me a Gospel Joan Jett, and I think that early gospel piano still influences my music.”
As great of a guitar player Moore is, it might be a surprise to some that she didn’t learn to play the instrument until she was in her teens. However, the guitar was never to far away in her formative years, thanks to her father.
“I’m a preacher’s kid, and my father was just one of those magical musical people. He was a self-taught guitar and piano player with a tenor voice like Roy Orbison and Mario Lanza had a baby,” Moore said. “To this day, my dad’s voice is my favorite of all time (with maybe the exception of Shawn Smith’s). He played this Johnny Cash train style guitar, and I thought that was so cool. He told me that back in the day he could go to a club with an acoustic guitar, upright bass and a snare drum and make high energy rock & roll. Everyone used to sit around my dad and listen to him play guitar and sing high C after high C.
“My brother and I worked really hard to try to get to his natural level, but even when we failed, he loved every musical thing that we did – which is the beautiful power of parents. Dad taught me how to express myself through music where nothing else matters – no self-doubt, no analyzing, no musical regrets, just play and sing from your soul. Anyway, back in high school he taught me how to strum a few open chords so I could play and sing along with him at church. My thing was still mostly piano back then, but you could say I grew up with that guitar sound all around me.”
As with her love for playing the piano, once Moore got a taste of guitar and those few open chords, she dove in head first trying to learn everything she could absorb, with the help of the Jimmy’s.
“Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. I learned transcriptions from Guitar Player magazine. I watched the film ‘The Song Remains the Same’ every day. I wanted to be Jimmy Page. I wanted to wear his dragon pants and do the chicken walk. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix or Andy Summers [The Police] or whoever was making the guitar scream. I wanted Wendy Melvoin’s rhythm pocket and Prince’s passionate guitar wails.
“I still love these guitarists, but lately I am also really drawn to people who make the guitar sing like an opera singer: Jeff Beck, Derek Trucks, Brian May, Roy Buchanan, David Gilmore. Or people who do crazy original sounds on the guitar like Adrian Belew, Bill Frisell, and Gemma Thompson. I mean really, I could just start naming guitarists and be tremendously excited – Emily Remler, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Nile Rodgers, Danny Gatton, Jennifer Batten, Mark Knopfler, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robin Trower, Nancy Wilson…etc., etc.”
While trying to be Page (minus the dragon pants, sadly) or Hendrix or any of the wide array of guitarist who influenced Moore as a guitarist, she was also battling the stereotypical bullshit that comes with being a female guitar player.
“I suppose that I could have been derailed when men told me that women didn’t have the forearm strength to play the guitar, or when I was constantly asked if I was carrying my boyfriend’s guitar on my back—that said, fuck ’em. I have played with many of my favorite male and female musicians in Seattle, and no one seems to care if I’m a woman or a unicorn as long as I can play the guitar well.”
Moore has always made her own way when it comes to music. When she set out to buy her first guitar she was hustling sweets and coffee at Simply Desserts in Fremont. Thanks to her good service, her tip jar runneth over, and Moore was able to purchase a black and white Fender Squire.
“I would save my tips (mostly change) in a giant jar,” Moore recalled. “Finally one day after I had earned enough money, I walked up the hill to American Music and bought my Fender Squire with the giant jar of change that was so heavy I thought my shoulders were going to dislocate. The gentleman working there was not pleased with me, but that was one of the greatest days of my life!”
Since those tip jar days, Moore has advanced her guitar collection from the Fender Squire to about a dozen higher end models. But her favorite is a pretty famous Fender Telecaster.
“I bought this Fender Telecaster from Bill Frisell that he signed, and I pretty much play that 90 percent of the time. It has three pickups with a humbucker in the center position. It is my love. I also have a Gretsch Nashville for when I want that hollow-body electrified sound. I do have a handful of acoustics and other electrics to fit specific sounds and situations. I am not a collector, but I always want more. I get shivers when I am in the presence of a large variety of gorgeous and ferocious sounding instruments.”
To achieve that ferocious sound for her guitars, she more recently discovered Union Jack Amplifiers, a custom model she calls “Goldie.”
“My new number one go-to amp is the Union Jack 45 based off of a JTM 45,” she said. “The amp is gold and sparkly. It was built for me by Derek Springer at Union Jack Amplification – it even has my name on it! It is by far the best funk rhythm amp I have ever played on. You can turn the volume really low and still get the clarity of the part. It is also incredible for driving leads – every note rings out clearly, no matter how saturated the sound. The first time I played it on a gig and heard the clarity of the tone, I felt like I had previously been playing through a speaker with ten pillows attached to it.
“I have a Marshall JCM 800 for Black Sabbath and a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, which has been my workhorse. I’ve used the Hot Rod Deluxe for the last 14 years, and it is so light that I could pick it up over my head and twirl around several times. I like that.”
And what’s a good guitar and amp setup without a good pedal board? However, coming over from the clean sounds of jazz music, Moore is overdosing on effect like a kid to candy.
“I would have 100 distortions on a pedal board if I could get away with it. I am addicted to them, OCD, Box of Rock, Metal Zone, etc. I also like the straight-to-the-amp distortion of the Marshal JCM800 and my Union Jack. Wah-wah. Line 6 delay. Mxr phase – sometimes a Whammy Pedal, Fulltone Supa-trem – I’m trying to collect sounds that mean something to me. When I played jazz, I played straight through an amp with a hollow body guitar with no effects (for years), so in contrast I like the loud blast of a million pedals at once.”