Updated: July 25, 2005
BILL MUMY INTERVIEW MODERN GUITAR MAGAZINE (JULY 2005)
Modern Guitars Magazine: An Interview with Bill Mumy
Modern Guitars Magazine
News and information about electric and acoustic guitars
Editors: Tom Watson and Rick Landers
July 25, 2005
An Interview with Bill Mumy
By Courtney Grimes
Avid Gibson man Bill Mumy (pronounced Moo-me), best known for his role as
Will Robinson in the hit TV series Lost in Space, is celebrating the 46th
Anniversary of his career this year. Since 1959, Bill has conquered every
facet of the entertainment industry, from television to films, producing
to writing, voice-overs and even album recording.
Along with his extremely successful run with Lost in Space, Bill also
appeared on numerous television shows including Bewitched, The Munsters, I
Dream of Jeannie, Deep Space Nine, The Twilight Zone and starred as
Lennier on the popular series Babylon 5 throughout the ‘90s.
Bill has starred in 18 feature films including Dear Bridgette, Rascal,
Bless the Beasts and Children, Papillion, and It's a Good Life, and has
also established himself as a successful voice-over artist. He has
narrated over 50 episodes of A&E's Biography, as well as documentary
specials on A&E, Animal Planet, and E! Entertainment Television. Bill's
voice can also be heard on cartoons such as Ren and Stimpy, Scooby Doo,
Batman: the Animated Series, Steven Spielberg's Animaniacs, and countless
Bill began his venture into the musical world as half of the rock and film
duo Barnes and Barnes, who are best known for their song and film Fish
Heads. Barnes and Barnes have recently re-released three CDs, as well as
their entire catalog on Oglio, and are currently discussing the recording
of their next album. Bill has also released five solo albums, and nine
albums with his band, The Jenerators.
Already having conquered the bulk of the entertainment industry, Bill
explored another facet - the world of comic books - one of his true
passions. He has written stories for mega comic book distributors Marvel
and DC, including Spiderman, The Hulk, Wonderman, and She Hulk (Marvel),
and Aquaman, The Spectre, and Star Trek (DC).
Bill has developed his writing in other areas as well, including several
short stories which have been published all around the world, and a
fantasy novel with co-writer Angela Cartwright.
Between his numerous and ongoing projects, Bill took some time out to chat
about his love for making music, his passion for Gibsons, and what he's
dying to do next.
Courtney Grimes: When did you become interested in guitar?
Bill Mumy: I started playing when I was ten. Acoustic. It was folk music
that hooked me. I was really into the Kingston Trio, although at that time
they were nearing the end of their run. I got into their catalogue as a
kid. I took lessons for three or four years, it came naturally and I
worked hard at it. I loved it. I had good teachers and I learned a lot of
different finger picking styles way back then. I started writing songs
when I was 11, and I started playing in bands when I was 14 and learned
the rest from jamming with other players. My very first steel string
acoustic was a '65 Gibson B-25. I ended up selling that to Dan Peek of
America back in 1972. Wish I'd kept it. I played and sang "Sloop John B"
on that guitar on Lost in Space in 1967! In fact, I asked Dan to sell it
back to me awhile ago. But he loves it and is keeping it!
CG: Tell me about your Gibsons and Epiphones.
BM: I have a wonderful dark sunburst 1946 Epiphone Triumph Archtop and
it's a great guitar. As nice as any L-5 that I've played from the same
period. It's not as fancy, but the tone is in it. Although it's an
acoustic jazz guitar, I've used it for some folky stuff and I like the way
it sounds when it's strummed in that style. I also have a '67 Epiphone
Casino - sunburst, 2 pickups, trapeze tailpiece; Lennon - that I've
recorded a lot with and I used to gig with it with The Jenerators, but I
haven't taken it out for awhile. I have flat wounds on it. Sounds so
punchy and it's got a great jangle in it too.
I also have a couple of newer Epiphone acoustics, one I use as a high
strung, that I've recorded with a lot. Another I just bought for my son,
Seth. He's 15 and starting to play. He's loving it. It really sounds
great. Nice and bright and even. It's very easy to play. Amazing value. I
just ordered a blonde Emperor Regent and a Jack Cassidy bass. I played one
of those basses recently at Truetone Music in Santa Monica and was blown
away at how punchy and versatile it is. It sounds similar to my vintage
Hofner "Beatle" bass, but it's got more sounds than that. A few years ago
I traded my Gibson L-5, which I regret, and I wanted a true jazz guitar in
the house, the Emperor Regent will hopefully fill that slot well. I'm
looking forward to getting my hands on it. I don't play a lot of jazz, but
I do get in that mood once in awhile. Nothing I have at home right now
really pulls it off.
CG: When you play, do you use any special effects or tunings?
BM: Well, it depends on the situation. I've made nine albums of quirky,
novelty rock music with my partner, Roberth Haimer, as Barnes and Barnes.
When Barnes and Barnes records, I use a decent amount of effects. When I
perform live or record with the Jenerators (www.jenerators.com), which is
an original Mumy music rock band featuring Miguel Ferrer, I like to keep
it really simple. I usually play one of my Les Pauls, the Goldtop mostly.
The only effect I've been using with the band, live or on our new CD, Pony
Up, is a Red Snapper distortion box or the Seymour Duncan Pickup Booster.
With that band it's almost always a Les Paul. Though last Saturday at our
gig I played my Gibson TV Jr. I got it from Gibson back in '91. It's got a
P-100 in it. I like the jangle in that pickup opposed to the P-90. I love
the P-90s in the hollow Epiphone Casino, but on the solid body it's a bit
woofy for me. I like jangle and that P-100 has it.
I use drop-D tunings often and I also always keep a guitar around the
house in C tuning and one in open E. Right now, the C tuned guitar is a
'95 Rosewood Gibson J-45 Deluxe. Very pretty guitar that I've toured and
recorded a lot with. Although I have a lot of different sized acoustics,
the Gibson slope shoulder model is by far my all time favorite size
guitar. I have three J-45s, from '95 and 2001, a '48 Southern Jumbo, a
2002 Advanced Jumbo and a brand new Historic J 160E. I use all of those a
lot. I wrote a bunch of new songs on the J 160E and performed with Barnes
and Barnes with it last month.
CG: What do you enjoy most, doing television, films, singing, writing or
BM: I'm very lucky to work in so many different arenas of the
entertainment industry and I do enjoy them all, but making music -
original music - in the studio or live onstage is definitely my favorite
thing to do.
CG: How did you get into writing and producing?
BM: I started writing songs when I was 11, and trust me, I got better! I
started writing television shows back in the mid ‘70s when I was on a
series called Sunshine, that also involved music. It was an NBC series
basically about an acoustic trio of musicians that were draft-dodging
hippies, raising a little girl in Vancouver. Can you imagine that pitch?!
It only lasted one season and two movies of the week.
But we did put out a soundtrack album on MCA and a single that charted. I
played guitar, banjo, piano and harmonica on that show. Anyway, I started
writing scripts then. In the mid-80s I started writing comic books, a
medium I've always loved. I have a 360-page sci-fi graphic novel, Lost in
Space: Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul coming out in September from
Bubblehead Publishing. I've produced six CDs of my solo music and four CDs
of my band's, as well as producing other people. I've co-produced my pals
Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell (America), who I've collaborated with as a
songwriter and musician since the ‘70s. I've performed with them off and
on over the years and produced and played on tracks for their CDs. In
fact, Gerry and I are just now finishing up a hand full of new songs we've
written together. Good stuff. And Barnes and Barnes produced two albums
for the legendary Wild Man Fisher as well as for Crispin Glover.
CG: Out of all the artists you've worked with and collaborated with, do
you have a favorite?
BM: That's almost impossible for me to answer, because it's such an
eclectic palette. I mean, how do I compare playing guitar in Shaun
Cassidy's band on a huge national arena tour in '78 where it was really
like being in A Hard Days Night, to writing songs for the late, great
Rosemary Clooney, which was wonderful because she had a voice like heaven
and the three songs I wrote that Rosemary recorded were all custom made
just for her. How do I compare that to writing and recording with America
or Devo or Weird Al Yankovic or even Yogi Bear?! (Barnes and Barnes wrote
and produced a Hanna Barbara kids album, This Land is Our Land, with the
voices of all their classic cartoon characters.) And I've been so lucky to
have played with so many great musicians in my life like Jeff Porcarro,
Carlos Vega, Steve Lukather, John Stewart, James Taylor, Russ Kunkel...
the list goes on and on. I loved every one of those experiences at the
CG: You have accomplished more than most people ever think of! Is there
anything left that you are dying to do?
BM: Yes! Finish the new solo album I'm recording right now. Russ Kunkel is
co-producing it with me and we cut the basic tracks at his studio with
Russell on drums and percussion, a really solid bass player - Carlos
Cordova, and myself on guitars. All the acoustics are Gibsons.
CG: Which guitars did you use?
BM: I've got a lot of vintage guitars, but I used newer Gibsons for this.
I really think the acoustics that Gibson's been making for the last ten
years or so are as good as any the company has ever produced and that's
saying a lot.
I used my custom shop 2001 Blonde J-45 with herringbone inlay on the top
and back and Nick Lucas fingerboard inlay for the majority of the tracks.
It sounds amazing and plays like butter. I also used my 2002 Gibson
Advanced Jumbo. Indian Rosewood not Brazilian. It's possibly the best
acoustic I own. I like the mahogany on the J-45 for strumming, but for
finger picking, the rosewood is a better choice and this guitar is
amazing. I also layered some bits with a new Historic Everly Bros. J-180,
all maple body, and that guitar sounds and looks really good! I always
wanted an Everly guitar. They look so great. I'm really happy I got this
one, it's becoming a favorite.
I also used my 1948 Southern Jumbo on a couple of tracks. That guitar is
on almost every song from my last album, After Dreams Come True. And, as a
"secret weapon," I added Russell's high strung on several songs. It was
Nicolette Larson's and it's a 3/4 sized, thin hollow body, non- cutaway
Gibson from the ‘50s with one P-90. I don't know the exact number of it,
but we didn't plug it in, we just miked it. It's such a cool sound. It's
almost like a steel string ukulele. Sits in the tracks like jewelry!
I just had Steve Bishop in Nashville add some pedal steel on six tracks
and Gerry Beckley and Jeff Foskett are coming in to add some vocals and
Gerry's gonna help with keyboards. So, that's something I'm really looking
forward to, completing this album and getting it out there. I have worked
a long time, but it's mostly been work that I've loved. I know how lucky
I've been and I appreciate the blessings I've received. The best way I
know to show that appreciation is by giving performances and making music
that people can enjoy. And Gibson has always been my number one favorite.
[The above article appears courtesy of Gibson.com and is reprinted on
Modern Guitars Magazine with permission. Copyright 2005, Courtney Grimes
and Gibson Internet Group. All rights reserved.]