The Wong way

Cory Wong made a name for himself as an acoustic guitarist, but the co-founder of Secret Stash Records continues to find new exploits for his talents.

Spencer Doar

What: Cory Wong

When: 7 p.m., Tuesdays

Where: The Artists’ Quarter, 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul

Cost: Free

 

The first ever solo guitar track in the Rock Band video game franchise was Cory Wong’s “Upstream.”

It’s one of those weird accolades that riddle the résumés of talented musicians that have yet to garner a large degree of solo recognition.

About eight years ago, Wong, now known for helping found Secret Stash Records, was a University of Minnesota student, trudging through science classes because he was good at it not because he liked it.

“I remember I was doing homework for CHEM 1022 and realized I was not born to do this,” Wong said. “Some guys in the room were born to do it, and I wasn’t.”

He gambled and jumped ship. It worked. He seems equally amazed and grateful that at 27 he can support himself with only music on his own terms.

“The undertone of the past has been about standards and improvising on them,” Wong said. “Now there are people trying to make the new standard.”

Whether playing with his quartet or quintet, Wong’s strength is the range of sounds that he can pull from the guitar, working the frets like he’s possessed. Sometimes it’s hard to even tell he’s playing the guitar.

But his ventures are more than just strumming away. He co-founded Secret Stash Records, which rapidly made a name for itself with compilations of rare funk cuts, as well as impromptu recordings of Afro-Peruvian stylings.

In fact, two weeks ago Wong was back in Peru touring.

His work with Secret Stash reveals his varied interests. The half Chinese, half Irish axman plays jazz sets at the Artists’ Quarter and releases funk and ethnic music with a niche company, playing bass, piano and drums with aplomb, as well as arranging and producing.

It’s a process that has dominated his life since youth.

He recalls how he wanted to form a band in high school, but none of his friends could play any instruments.

Wong started learning them all just to teach his friends so they could start generating original material.

“Too often musicians just steal from other musicians,” Wong said. “I’m going to do what Norm MacDonald does for comedy on guitar.”

That is to say, be yourself without regard for others, and your effort will shine through.

But regardless of the energy poured forth, the audience still needs to come. He realizes that people need to be in the proper mindset to go to a concert or purchase music.

Wong uses the analogy of being hungry or full.

He said if a person is really full of Mickey D’s and then have the opportunity to go to a fancy-schmancy restaurant, they may pass on the opportunity. That person will probably regret not going to the four-star establishment, but hell, they were full.