George Pajon Jr. is only moving forward

Some could make the argument that George Pajon Jr. has led a very unrock and roll life.Pajon, lead guitarist for the Black Eyed Peas, attended private St. Matthias Elementary School, a Catholic K-8 school in Huntington Park with a total enrollment of 248 students (or about the size of one P.E. class in any public high school). He's a self-admitted computer junkie capable of tearing down your PC and then piecing it back together. And, Pajon says, he didn't have many friends growing up. Except one. "The guitar was my best friend," he easily admits. "I still feel that way. When I see a guitar across the room, it calls my name." • Pajon denies he has a passion for the guitar. "Obsession would be a more appropriate term," he says. Pajon has spent a lifetime nurturing that obsession, literally chasing his dreams to the farthest reaches of the world. Growing up in conservative Downey, Pajon was 9 when he picked up his first guitar. He taught himself chords and showed enough promise that his mother enrolled him in a local music school. He didn't last long at the school, but not because he wasn't a good student. "One day the teacher called me and said, 'I can no longer take your money,'" recalls Estrella Pajon, George's mother, whose family has lived in Downey 35 years. "I asked why and he said, 'There's nothing more I can teach him. He knows more than I do.'" Pajon, 40, spent much of his youth locked in his bedroom, headphones strapped to his ears. He listened to Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and tried to emulate their sounds on a guitar given to him by his parents. His taste soon evolved - if you can call it that - to glam metal bands like Poison. It wasn't until a sympathetic uncle with an ear for good music stepped in and "took it all away," replacing Pajon's uninspired record collection with the classic works of Led Zeppelin, Santana, The Who and Jimi Hendrix. "When I was growing up, that was voodoo," Pajon says. "Those were considered oldies at the time. But I was instantly hooked." After eighth grade, Pajon enrolled at Don Bosco Tech in Rosemead. He played his first concert there, a cover of a few Hendrix songs. "That was it. I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life." The daily commute to Don Bosco took its toll, however, and as Estrella Pajon remembers it, her son asked to transfer to Downey High School. He played his second concert in the school's cafeteria. He worked hard to collect enough credits so that by his senior year he only needed to attend half a day's worth of classes, leaving more time for his guitar. Pajon graduated in 1987. "In my family, it was really simple: if you go to college, you're taken care of," says Pajon, who has a younger sister, Elizabeth, an elementary school teacher. "If you don't, you're on your own. I went to Cerritos College for one year and decided it wasn't for me." After a lengthy talk, Estrella and her husband, George Sr., put their faith - and money - in their son. George Pajon Jr. would have to find a job to pay his own medical and car insurance, but the money his parents would have used to pay his college tuition they instead used to help him live his dream. Pajon steadily worked gig after gig, including famed Hollywood nightclubs. He frequently changed bands, a result of his drive for progress and rejection of complacency. "There were a lot of painful, lonely years, but that drive was always the core of who I was," Pajon says. "My drive was based on purity, based on heart, based on passion. Nothing could stop that." The elusive big break came in 1998. Pajon was working a computer job at Universal Studios; at the time, he was responsible for switching over 5,000 computers from Windows 95 to Windows 98. "My friend handed over the first Black Eyed Peas album," Pajon remembers. "My band at the time sounded just like them." The Peas, who were searching for a guitarist and keyboardist, saw Pajon perform and invited him and his friend to audition. They landed the gig. In October, 1998, Pajon went on his first tour. A European tour. "From 1998 to 2003, everybody was broke," Pajon says, shedding light on a musician's sometimes exaggerated life on the road. "There were 14 of us on the bus. Everybody was swapping money, trying to pay our rent." Despite the Peas' critical acclaim, Pajon says he made very little money on tour. "We were only getting enough to eat and survive. That doesn't last long when you come back - even if you record a No. 1 song, you really have to work." In fact, soon after finishing work on "Elephunk," the Peas' third studio album in which Pajon helped write the chart-toppers "Where is the Love" and "Let's Get It Started," Pajon found himself collecting state unemployment. He was down to his last unemployment check in 2003 when he received the welcome news that the Peas were going on tour with Justin Timberlake. "The first month of the tour was absolute murder," Pajon recalls. The Peas played three shows a day: one at 5 a.m., the concert at 5 p.m., followed by a nightclub performance. Why would an established group such as the Black Eyed Peas spread themselves so thin? From an outsider's perspective, it hardly seems necessary. "I think there was a little bit of fear there," Pajon says. "We saw that a lot of our friends were not making it. We've seen one-hit wonders spend millions of dollars on tours - laser shows during their concerts, pyrotechnics - and come back broke." Today, Pajon speaks with a certain easiness. Perhaps it's because the Peas' latest single, "Boom Boom Pow," is dominating airwaves and has spent eight consecutive weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100. (And the album won't even be released for another two weeks.) Or maybe it's because his schedule for the next nine months is booked solid, with another Peas tour - aptly named The Energy Never Dies Tour - set to depart soon, and Pajon preparing to start work on Fergie's latest album. Still another reason for his relaxed tone: he recently married his girlfriend, Naomi. Naomi is from Denver. She's an avid Denver Nuggets fan. Pajon is a "huge" Lakers fan. How does that work for marital bliss? "Being competitive is very healthy," Pajon says wryly. "I admire her obsession." As for coming back home, Pajon, who lives in Burbank, says "I would love to come back to Downey, to be closer with my family. But I can't deal with that 5 Freeway." Tips for aspiring musicians? We asked George Pajon Jr. to provide tips for aspiring musicians. His advice: "There are 20,000 guitar players in Downey alone. What makes you special from the guy next to you? Passion, determination is what sets you aside. "Set goals, never go backwards. When you do, stop yourself and reevaluate. I frustrated the hell out of every band I was in. I wasn't going to flounder. Becoming content is the enemy of musicians. You'll never find your true voice if you don't challenge yourself."

********** Published: May 29, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 6

Eric Pierce