Interview: AXS talks music and guitars with Governor Huckabee at this year’s NAMM

Right now in Washington, politicians and people from all walks of life are gathered together to usher in the age of President Donald Trump. But there’s one familiar face who’s hanging out on the West Coast this weekend, and that is the former Governor of Arkansas and Presidential Candidate - Mike Huckabee. He’s spending Inauguration Day at NAMM because he loves (and plays) guitars.

AXS sat down for an exclusive interview with the Governor to talk about his awesome bass playing skills and the power of music.

AXS: What’s the best part about NAMM?

Governor Huckabee: It’s my favorite thing to do every year. If you’re a musician or in any way associated to music, coming here is as close to dying and going to heaven as you’re going to get. It’s just so cool; you can’t exhaust all the stuff. And it’s not just the live music, but the products and the innovations. The things that people have just come up with, it’s incredible. Typically, I see really cool stuff. Taylor Guitars, for example, has introduced a new acoustic bass. They just introduced it here at NAMM. This is the first time they’ve ever put it out in public. I went up to their display and I pulled one off the wall and played on it. I mean, where else do you get to do that?

AXS: Let’s talk about your musical side. Tell me when it was that you first fell in love with music?

GH: At the age of eight, February 1964, when The Beatles were on ‘Ed Sullivan’. Like a lot of other kids in America, that was my moment. From that time on I said, ‘I’m going to be the fifth Beatle.’ Well, somehow that never happened. But I fell in love with the whole idea of music and so I started begging my parents for a guitar. I was in junior high when I decided I wanted to play bass because there weren’t too many people in that particular age group playing bass. I figured if I learned to play bass I’d always have a gig in a band. And, sure enough that’s what I did. I started playing bass about eight months after I got my first guitar. I’ve been playing ever since.

AXS: What do you think it is about music in general that speaks to everybody, universally?

GH: It’s hardwired into every human being. Think about this. The heartbeat is the first rhythm we’re ever introduced to. Our own heart is a rhythm. You don’t have to teach a child to sing. A child naturally tries to sing. You might tell him he’s not good at it, but that’s when a kid quits singing, or quits acting, or quits doing a lot of artistic things. We are naturally hardwired to be musical. It’s part of who we are. It’s the great power in our culture and civilization. What separates us from a lot of living creatures is our ability to think in the abstract; to create music and to be able to communicate through it. It’s powerful - more powerful than people ever really accept.

I’ll give you an example. If I’m traveling somewhere and I have some extra time, I’ll go to a music store or a pawn shop. And you know, I’m dressed in a suit and a tie and all, and there will be some kid tattooed from head to toe. But he’s over there playing guitar. I can have a conversation with him that totally brings the two of us together and we are as culturally apart as two people can be. So we have common ground that otherwise we would never find. I don’t see him as a kid with tattoos. I see him as a really good musician. I think sometimes we stereotype people and we tend to separate ourselves into silos of our own culture. Music has a wonderful way of putting people together that otherwise would never be.

When I hosted my show on Fox, I had people on who were as different from me politically as they could possibly be. But a common ground would be an embrace of the arts. One of my very favorite musical guests ever, was Melissa Etheridge. I loved her. She’s absolutely terrific. We had a great rapport. She was so condemned for being on my show from her fans, and there were people who were mad at me for having her on. You know, we don’t vote the same way. Looking back on the many artists I had, she was one of my favorites. So, rather than us having an argument over things we might disagree on, we really had a good time chatting about the things that brought us together, which was music.

AXS: Tell me more about your band, Capitol Offense?

GH: I had the band all during my tenure as Governor. We played amazing places. We played two Presidential Inaugurations. We opened for Charlie Daniels, Willie Nelson, Dionne Warwick, .38 Special and twice for Grand Funk Railroad. I tell people, it’s not that we were that good, it’s just that I was the only sitting Governor who fronted a rock and roll band. We actually developed into a pretty decent band. We had a lot of fun. We’ve kind of all drifted away since I left the Governor’s office, but we keep talking about having a reunion. And we will. We just have to find the right time.

AXS: Is there anything you’d like to leave with the readers?

GH: I always want to focus on how important music and the arts are in the education world.  When I was Governor, one of the things I pushed for and got passed, was that we built into the curriculum a mandate, that every student K through 12, would have both music and art education from certified teachers. That was a heavy lift to start with. People say we don’t have enough money. We can’t afford it. But the data is there that shows if you give students a music education, they will do better on their ACT and SAT, in math and science and language studies. You improve the academic quality of their experience. But it’s more than that. Let’s not lose the aesthetic value of the power of music and arts to civilize us.

If we’re concerned about kids who are getting into all kinds of nefarious activities, gangs and violence, what if you took a knife or a gun out of a hand, and put a trumpet or a set of drumsticks in their hand in its place. You can take some of the kids and put a basketball in their hand, some may be a football, and some may be a hockey stick. Kids have different interests. But if you don’t like what’s in their hand, put something else in there that touches where they are. For a lot of them, it’s going to be a drumstick. It’s going to be a trumpet. It’s going to be a guitar. Put that in their hands. Let them make that music and they’ll have a life skill. Not all of them will be Jay Z. But they’ll be happy. And they’ll never outgrow it.

I tell people all the time. At my age I can’t play tackle football. Honestly, I couldn’t play real well at 15 either, but I can still make music. I can do that as long as I live. There’s never a time I’m going to outgrow it. This is a life skill. So, I come to NAMM, I’m walking around. I see young people, I see old people, but the one common thing that 90,000 people in this one convention center will experience, is a love of music.

It’s full of people who are as culturally diverse as could be. You always hear about tolerance and diversity, I don’t see it many places. I see it here. You want to see tolerance and diversity, come to a NAMM show. And nobody’s in there arguing about politics.