Paul Gilbert was born on November 6, 1966, in Carbondale, Illinois. When he was only 15, Gibert contacted the founder of Shrapnel Records, Mike Varney, looking for a job playing with Ozzy Osbourne. Gilbert didn’t get his job playing with Osbourne, but Mike Varney was so impressed with the boy’s playing that he kept in communication with him. When Gilbert was 16, Varney featured him in his Spotlight Column in the February issue of Guitar Player magazine. After graduating high school, Gilbert moved to Los Angeles to attend the Guitar Institute of Technology. Gilbert was such an advanced student that he was hired on as an instructor when he graduated.
While he was attending the Guitar Institute of Technology, Paul met John Alderete, another student at the school. The two enlisted the help of drummer Harry Gschoesser and singer Jeff Martin, who had been playing in the metal band Surgical Steel. Since Surgical Steel was based in Phoenix, he couldn’t be at writing sessions. Gilbert recorded demos and sent them to Jeff to write lyrics for. The band, going by the name Racer-X, began recording their first album, “Street Lethal”. Mike Varney released the album on his Shrapnel label.
“Street Lethal” immediately gained Paul Gilbert the reputation as a member of the new style of guitar playing known as neo-classical, popularized by Yngwie Malmsteen and Randy Rhodes. The track, “Y.R.O.” on the album acknowledges Malmsteen’s influence on Gilbert; Y.R.O. stands for Yngwie Rip Off. The success of the album lead to Gilbert receiving an endorsement deal with Ibanez guitars.
The band took on a second guitarist for their next album. Gilbert, who was still teaching at the Guitar Institute of Technology, was particularly impressed with the skills of one of his students, Bruce Bouillet, and invited him to join Racer-X. The two guitarists redefined Racer-X’s sound, borrowing the twin lead guitar concept from bands like Judas Priest and merging it with the neo-classical and shred guitar sound of the band. Racer-X was almost left without a drummer for the second album when Harry Gschoesser’s visa expired and he had to return home to Austria. He was replaced by Scott Travis, who was the first choice for drummer when the band was formed. Travis couldn’t join the band then because he had a steady gig with a band in Virginia. The second album, “Second Heat”, was released in February 1988.
By that time, the band was reaching the height of it’s popularity, they were selling out shows and getting a steady stream of bookings. They recorded two live albums of back to back performances at the Country Club, “Live Extreme, Volume 1”, and “Live Extreme, Volume 2”. The band was growing increasingly dissatisfied with not being able to secure major label distribution, and when Billy Sheehan left David Lee Roth’s group and invited Gilbert to join his new project, Gilbert accepted.
Sheehan’s new band, with Gilbert on lead guitar, was dubbed Mr. Big. The band’s self titled debut had a major label release under Atlantic records in 1989. The album was a big seller in Japan, but failed to bring them major sales in the United States. Their breakthrough stateside came with the release of their second album, “Lean Into It”. The album’s single “To Be with You” was number one in 15 countries. The bands next two albums were not as successful in the U.S., but the band’s fame continued to rise in Japan.
In 1997, Gilbert left Mr. Big and recorded a solo album under Mr. Big’s Japanese label. A year later, Gilbert got the idea to relaunch Racer-X with the help of his new Japanese label. The label agreed, as did all of the members of Racer-X, except Bruce Bouillet. The resulting album, “Technical Difficulties”, went gold in Japan. The label wanted another album, and Racer-X obliged with the recording of “Superheroes”, which became one of their most popular albums.
Gilbert worked on a solo album in 2002, releasing “Burning Organ”, but the label wanted another Racer-X album. The band got together at Gilbert’s house in Las Vegas to record the album. The result, released later that year, was “Getting Heavier”. After the album, the band disbanded for good. Paul Gilbert continued work on his solo career and the other members all found work with other bands.
Paul did reunite briefly with his Racer-X bandmates in 2009 to play the NAMM show in Anaheim, California.