(An edited version of the following article appears in the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Collectible Guitar | Then and Now magazine.)
By Gabriel J. Hernandez
The name Patrick Foley and the Gibson Custom Shop have been synonymous with each other since 1994. For the mathematically challenged, that’s 21 years … or, more importantly, 21 years of helping establish and define the industry standard when it comes to artist relations and the development of custom-designed guitars based on the guitars of the artists that made them famous in the first place.
Think of people like Paul McCartney, Slash, Robby Krieger, Joe Walsh, Tony Iommi, Johnny Winter, Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes, among many, many others. Then think about all the guitars, like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and his Gibson Custom Shop “Pearly Gates” model, or the several Gibson Custom Shop models produced for Alex Lifeson of Rush. There’s also all of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry’s Gibson Custom Shop Les Pauls, and all the Pete Townshend Gibson models, both acoustic and electric. There’s also the infamous Jeff Beck Oxblood Les Paul, all of the Eric Clapton Gibson models, and Duane Allman’s legendary Les Paul.
And – of course – you can’t even have this discussion without mentioning Gibson’s most popular “artist” guitars of all-time, those being the numerous models based on the Gibson guitars owned and played by arguably the most famous guitar player on the planet, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
All of these wonderful guitars have one thing – or man – in common, and that man is Patrick Foley.
Every single artist model mentioned above – in addition to a multitude of other Gibson artist models produced by the Gibson Custom Shop over the last 21 years – were all nurtured and brought to fruition by the efforts of Foley and his relationships with all of those artists … artist relationships that were built carefully over time, with many of them having begun long before Foley ever landed at Gibson’s doorstep in the early 1990s.
Of course, on the Gibson side there were obviously many others involved in the process, namely Rick Gembar, general manager of the Gibson Custom Shop, plus all the engineers, builders and luthiers who measured, calculated, designed and labored to build the actual guitars. But it was Foley’s personal relationships with those artists, built over a lifetime of close and faithful involvement with nearly all of them, that brought their names, likeness, and ultimately their endorsements, over to the Gibson Custom Shop.
Yet despite his unquestionable loyalty to Gibson, and his exhaustive efforts to always make sure things went smoothly (not to mention the profit margins he surely helped Gibson increase over his 21 years at the company), Foley is now the former director of entertainment relations worldwide for the Gibson Guitar Company. That’s because his time at Gibson ended rather abruptly this past summer when he and the company mutually decided to part ways. The details of the separation are not known, and Foley didn’t wish to elaborate. Suffice to say, though, his decision to leave was likely a result of his own awareness and foresight.
According to an interview and subsequent article that appeared in Nashville’s daily newspaper The Tennessean on Aug. 9, 2015 – an article that centered on Gibson’s change of focus from guitar production to consumer electronics – Gibson’s insufferable and somewhat fidgety chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told the newspaper (in an email interview, no less) that, “Gibson is not for everyone. We have very high expectations driven by our goals for growth and making a difference in the markets in which we compete. There are certainly people that do not enjoy the pace and the accountability that we practice. A handful have been very vocal via the internet. We have given the vast majority of our people an ability to grow with us and they have and continue to enjoy our challenges and our success.”
Foley may have had a premonition that he would not be one of the “vast majority of … people” chosen to “continue to enjoy our challenges and our success,” despite his unquestioned and proven track record of success at the company. Whatever happened, Foley certainly isn’t harping on the past, but instead looking to the future with a seasoned set of open and enlightened eyes, and very high expectations.
“I feel like I could have had a much longer relationship with Gibson and the Gibson Custom Shop,” Foley said recently from the Nashville office of his new company, Artist Solutions Network, a company he started in order to continue the relationships with the artists he’s worked with for most of his adult life. “It’s a bit scary right now, but I realize everything ends at some point, and my time at Gibson is now over. Now it’s time for something new, and Artist Solutions Network is the next step in the evolution of Pat Foley.”
Of course, Foley himself downplays his role in the success of Gibson’s numerous Custom Shop artist models. But don’t let a little modesty and inherent humility overshadow the obvious gratification and honor that a man like Foley duly deserves. After all, the very day he left Gibson, only a few hours passed before his cell phone rang. On the other end was none other than his long-time friend Jimmy Page, wondering if the news was, in fact, true. Imagine that … Jimmy friggin’ Page calling to find out if he’d left Gibson! How cool is that? And according to Foley, Page wasn’t the only one who called. Without going into specifics, Foley did mention that his departure from the Gibson Custom Shop would almost certainly result in the company’s loss of, “a few signature artist guitars currently in the works.”
But all of that is now history, and to Foley’s credit his interests are now solely concentrated on his new company, Artist Solutions Network (www.artistsolutionsnetwork.com), and promoting the very first brand to embrace his new concept, the U.K.’s legendary Orange Amplification, which came on board during summer NAMM 2015. Other than a distribution center in Atlanta, Georgia, Orange Amps has never had any type of artist relations-type office or facility in the US market. That all changed when the company decided to partner with Foley’s new Artist Solutions Network, who’s new “showroom” is located in Nashville’s swanky Marathon Village. And as far as company founder and owner Clifford Cooper is concerned, he couldn’t have landed anyone better than Foley to represent the brand… whether here in the USA, or around the world.
As is so common in life, one man’s (or company’s) loss is another man’s (or company’s) gain. And the marriage of Foley’s Artist Solutions Network and Orange Amps is this cliché’s ultimate example.
“From past experiences I don’t like to have too much in the way of expectations, but with Pat it’s a little different,” Cooper said from his office in the U.K. “The people that know Pat, they know him very well and they trust him very much. Pat is a very likeable person. Personally I don’t think we could have picked a better person to represent us. I very much like how all of this has come together for both Pat and the company.”
Cooper continued, “I was absolutely surprised that we were able to bring Pat on board with us. I first met Pat about 15 years ago when he was running the Gibson showroom in England on Denmark Street. And yes I was very surprised when he and Gibson parted ways, especially for as long as he had been there.”
Cooper added that the initial feedback to Foley and the new showroom has been overwhelming, and that Foley has already brought several national and Nashville-based artists on board to join the Orange family, including Conan O’Brien’s guitarist Jimmy Vivino and guitarist Kelby Ray of Nashville up-and-comers Cadillac Three. Cooper obviously expects continued growth, and knowing Foley’s track record that growth is probably not too far away.
Obviously, Foley is looking to do the same, but also by eventually adding a few other companies to his Artist Solutions Network lineup. However, he’s more than happy to put all of his current efforts towards promoting Orange Amplifiers across the United States, and to the plethora of artist contacts he still has inside his personal “rolodex.”
“I’ve reached out to a few other companies, and over time I’ll be reaching out to a few more,” Foley said. “But right now I’m totally focused on Cliff and Orange. Cliff has been tremendous in getting this whole thing off the ground, and has supported me all the way. I really couldn’t have asked for anyone better to be involved with. And the brand really speaks for itself. Orange Amps have been around for a long time, so it’s not like I have to do a whole lot. I just have to get them into the right hands, and I think I have a pretty decent track record for doing just that.”
Yes you do, Pat. Yes you do.
Gabriel J. Hernandez is the owner of Blues Vintage Guitars, Inc., a shop in Nashville, Tennessee, specializing in the buying and selling of vintage and newer high-end guitars and gear. Over a 25-year career he has worked as an investigative journalist for several news organizations and publishing companies, as a staff sports writer for The Palm Beach Post, and most recently as the Web Editor for Gibson Guitars at the company’s worldwide headquarters in Nashville. You can reach him any time at 1-615-613-1389, or visit his company’s web site at www.bluesvintageguitars.com.