Wilson C. Gillette was 6 years old when he started taking piano lessons.
"My mother made me take piano lessons," said Gillette, 71, who grew up in Elbowoods and New Town.
Gillette said his mother, an accomplished pianist, wanted him to learn how to read music. "All I had to do was listen to the teacher play it and then I could play it," he said.
He did, though, learn to read music.
As he got a little older, Gillette started playing guitar. "And went on from there," he said.
Now of Casa Grande, Ariz., Gillette is a studio musician in Phoenix. He has a contract and is on call, performing whenever needed.
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Gillette's specialty is pedal steel and lead guitars, performing on CDs for many artists and also his own CDs.
Currently, he's working on several projects with Noel Kirkland, the former keyboard player and guitarist for country music singer Glen Campbell. "That's an ongoing thing," he said.
"I have an instrumental CD being worked on as we speak," he said. The CD, "Wilson Gillette Instrumentals," will be released in 30 days or less.
Another CD has vocals, with Gillette and his daughter, Kristin, singing.
"Everybody's talented but not into it to this degree," Gillette said, referring to his family, adding, "I come from a musical family."
Gillette also wrote "Annie's Gone Home," a song in remembrance of Ann Nicole Nelson, of Stanley, who lost her life in the terrorist attack in New York City Sept. 11, 2001. Gillette and Nelson's mother, Jenette, both went to high school in New Town. After 9/11, Gillette said, she talked to him about writing a song in memory of her daughter. The video with his song and other songs by Gillette can be viewed on YouTube.
Gillette spent the first 13 years of his life in Elbowoods, a community on the Fort Berthold Reservation now covered by the water of Lake Sakakawea. Then he and his family moved to New Town, where he graduated from high school in 1959.
"My mother inspired me to get into music," he said. Besides playing piano, she was an accomplished singer.
"Dad in his day played saxophone in a dance band," Gillette said.
Gillette's sister, Elizabeth Leach of Scottsdale, Ariz., graduated from Minot State with a degree in business education and music.
When he was in high school Gillette formed his own band, the Gillette Blue Blades.
His band's name got him into a little trouble one time, he said. They made a record and sent it to various radio stations. He said the North Dakota stations played it. "It was quite a thrill to hear it," he said.
But a Sacramento, Calif., station that received the record, sent it back to him, saying they wouldn't play it because it was free advertising for the Gillette shaver company and he would have to contact the company for permission. Gillette decided not to further pursue promoting the record.
During college in Minot, Gillette would play with the house band for a Minot TV station, performing on "Spectrum" and "The Tom Fisher Show" from 11 p.m. to midnight.
He also went to Dickinson State College, the National College of Business in Rapid City, S.D., and in 1962, attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston, one of two exclusive jazz schools in the U.S. at the time.
During summers of his high school and college years, he and the Gillette Blue Blades performed at many fairs, dances and rodeos. "When I went to school in South Dakota I played in many nightclubs," he added.
Gillette had a 29-year career with the federal government, including at Fort Thompson, S.D. He retired from federal service in 1994.
This past May, Gillette and other Dakota musicians were inducted in the Dakota Musicians Hall of Fame in Aberdeen, S.D.
Dennis Daugaard, governor of South Dakota, also proclaimed this past May 24 as Wilson Gillette Day in S.D., in recognition of Gillette and his contributions to music and to the Dakotas.
"I never expected anything like that," Gillette said of his honors.
He performs all types of music and while growing up in North Dakota performed a lot of country and old-time polkas, schottische and others - his favorite music is "jazz and blues," he said.
Gillette keeps in touch with family and friends in North Dakota and plans to be back to Fort Berthold to visit in about a month.