The works of world renowned artist and writer Ed Huerta, will take up residence in the ‘ART “N” SOUL section of the Jackaboutguitars Blog. ”The Prince of Primitive” was born in Los Angeles and currently resides in Long Beach, California. A longtime musician, Ed has played in several L.A./O.C. bands, including The Jack Brewer Band, The Lazy Cowgirls, The Final Tourguides, Moist and Meaty, Mind Over 4, The Silly Millions, & Eddie & The Trays. He has also toured the U.S. and Europe as a drummer.
Ed continues to play music (currently drumming in Lord Ransom and his Ranch Hands) and paints while his wife and two English Bulldogs and 3 cats lounge around and cheer him on.
I would like to use this column for people to get a glimpse behind the scenes of what these musicians’ deal with and the spirit and influences that drive them forward. As Jack from jackaboutguitars shows on this website, the guitar and music are powerful tools that drive people to push limits, and if the spirit really gets inside of you, it’s a lifelong commitment. Thank you Dear Readers for understanding my reasons and now please read on. I hope you enjoy these brief moments inside the world of guitar players and their journeys… – Ed Huerta
First off, it’s great to be back here on Jackaboutguitars.com. This post will reside in the “Art N Soul” Section of the blog. This is where I will be uncovering the lesser known personalities out there plying their craft. It’s not about Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck(the guys who became successful long ago), though I will listen if their people want to set up an interview.
This column will try to get some talented people out there to you, the guitar fan, that will hopefully appreciate these collective talents. Enough yakkin’ and on to the story…
STRING ALONG WITH MITCH – CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION BY ED HUERTA
The “Prince of Primitive”, Jackaboutguitars.com’s Ed Huerta, has done a remarkably cool interview with Mitch Holder, Session Man Extraordinaire, that’s full of all kinds of information about how studios once operated, a look into session work concerning movies, T.V., and records, and a glimpse into the unfolding of the future at the very beginning stages of digital…way before any of us had a clue about what any series of zeroes and ones and their arrangement meant and the huge impact it would have not just in the music business, but concerning every facet of our daily lives.
Many thanks to Mitch Holder. Enjoy STRING ALONG WITH MITCH – CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION BY ED HUERTA. – Jack
THIS ARTICLE IS DEDICATED TO MISTY MARIE HUERTA 1974-2014 REST IN PEACE
STRING ALONG WITH MITCH (CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION) BY ED HUERTA
What can you say about Mitch Holder that hasn’t already been said? Sure, the man can rest on his hardy laurels. Sure, he can just be sitting back on some farm tinkering around in his garden just whilin’ away the time. Dig, you think you know Mitch Holder?? Think again!
This man has played on sessions with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Stevie Nicks, Seals and Crofts, Woody Herman, Brian Wilson, Dean Martin, Cher, just to name a few…
His soundtracks include Space Cowboys, City Slickers 2, On Golden Pond, E.T., Grease, Tootsie, Pretty in Pink, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom…
Tons of TV shows including The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, Moonlighting, Sledge Hammer, Chips, Quincy, General Hospital, Cheers…
Is this enough? But wait, there’s more…Commercials include Pepsi Cola, Coke, Toyota, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Coors, Honda, Disneyland, Disney World, Pabst, Sea World…Can your heart stand any more???
Dig, this is THE guy, people! If it’s out there, Mitch has probably played on it. Okay, a couple notes before we get started. I just want to add that Mitch Holder is truly a genuinely great person. We did this interview in the beginning of October.
Unfortunately, my wife Misty took ill towards the end of that month and battled illness past the middle of November. I usually do a portrait of the person that I interview and Mitch’s portrait was about halfway sketched out when life took an unexpected turn for me. Needless to say, I took care of the home front before continuing on with the interview and portrait (thanks to my brother Jack for transcribing this for me and the readers).
I wanted to apologize to Mitch for the delay and I kept receiving word from my brother Jack that Mitch was sending thoughts and prayers to me and Misty all during this time. Mitch Holder, a guitar legend, whom I have never met in person, constantly sent well wishes to my family.
I just want to send a heartfelt “THANK YOU” to Mitch for his patience and the love he sent out our way. It was a very kind and gracious gesture…all my respects to Mitch and his family..and for helping me have the courage to finish his portrait.
Peace to all of you…I hope you enjoy the article and I hope Mitch enjoys his painting…This article is dedicated to Misty Marie Huerta 1974-2014…RIP my lovely wife. – Ed Huerta
MITCH HOLDER: ONE OF THE GREAT L.A. SESSION MEN
MITCH ON DOING THIS COOL JINGLE FOR HONDA
MITCH: Here’s a bit of the scenario on the Honda spot:
“This Honda Motorcycle TV ad was done by Matthews-Griffith Music, who I worked with for many years. Mark Matthews, himself a very good guitarist, did the arrangement and it was engineered by his partner, Jim Griffith. For these kind of jingles, the calls were for one hour as opposed to three hours, which was the minimal call for records, TV and movie calls.
The first hour call was for rhythm tracking and the players were Peter Erskine/drums, Nathan East/bass, Randy Waldman/B3 and myself. I played a rhythm guitar track for that and we got that basic track done in a couple of takes.
Next, the three of them were released and I had the solo to overdub. The singer, Bill Champlin (From The Sons Of Champlin and Chicago) wouldn’t arrive until the next hour’s session, so I wouldn’t have any vocal reference to play from. Well aware of this, Mark indicated on the guitar part where specifically He wanted me to play. Mark was always very specific with what he wanted, even with something like this spot that sounded more like a record.
Having worked with Bill Champlin before and knowing his style and sound, I dialed up a sound with the neck pickup on a Strat with what I called a 1/2 Crunch sound on my rig for the solo overdub. It was basically the Strat through an Egnater ie4 preamp and a VHT 250 power amp (which was one of the first ones Steve Freyette had built and I had to have him tame down, it was so LOUD!!). So, I played the solo part making sure to play everything exactly indicated and, as I recall, did it in a couple of passes and I don’t remember which take was the one they picked. Bottom line is that the whole track with solo was done in that first hour. When I was getting ready to leave, Bill walked in for his hour to do the vocal and the rest is history.
Jingles were done pretty quick. Sometimes a radio spot could be on the air later the same day. TV took a few days. Needless to say, this one was a very fun session and a nice opportunity for me to open it up a bit.” – Mitch Holder
MITCH HOLDER…THE INTERVIEW
EH: What’s your first known recollection or memory of music from your childhood?
MH: Oh Boy, my first recollection. I’d have to say nursery rhymes. My mother used to sing nursery rhymes to me and I distinctly remember that. So whether or not I had probably heard some music before that but that’s what I recollect.
EH: Your mother singing…It must have been sort of a calming type of influence the first times you really heard music.
MH: Yeah, absolutely.
EH: As a youngster growing up, who were some of your favorite recording artists?
MH: Well, going back what got me into the guitar was actually two artists, Duane Eddy was one when he recorded “Rebel Rouser” and several other hit tunes he had, “Because They’re Young” was one and Link Wray – Rumble. Those two artists, when I heard the electric guitar, it just picked my ears up. And I just liked the sound.
EH: Yeah, those are two great guitarists. Link Wray definitely. He was great and he had the menacing look too.
MH: That’s right…the menace came from the speakers listening to that record.
EH: At what age did you decide that maybe music might be a career option for you?
MH: Well, probably by the time I was 12 I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
EH: Wow. Very early on.
MH: Very early. I had been playing 4 years at that point.
EH: Who are some of your major influences in music?
MH: Initially it was the two that I mentioned. But going forward and actually when I started to play, I was between 8 & 9 when I started, and the first teacher that my parents got for me, turns out that he was a jazz player.
At the time I was listening to Link Wray and Duane Eddy like I said, and pop music. Can you imagine my teacher leaving an 8 year old two of his own 10″ records that he wanted me to listen to? One was Barney Kessel and the other was Johnny Smith. I don’t know if you’re familiar with those two.
EH: Yeah. I know of Barney Kessel.
MH: And Johnny Smith was great, actually almost a melodist. He really put guitar chord melody on the map and was the smoothest technician probably of anybody before, since or thereafter. But it was Barney, when I listened to Barney, he had a more bluesy sound that attracted me & just a cutting edge kind of sound that I really liked.
Johnny Smith’s sound was so smooth that as a child that young it didn’t hit me as hard. It hit me more later when I got to be a bit older. But Barney Kessel hit me right away and I started at 8, 9, 10 years old, listening to Barney Kessel records and that perked my interest in jazz.
I continued listening to pop music. I always liked all kinds of music. As a child I liked country music, rock and pop, and some of the r&b that was going on back then. It was really more blues than r&b but r&b evolved out of that, and classical music. I listened to that too. I more or less liked all of those different types of music as how they affected my moods, whatever mood I was in.
Sometimes I’d be in a mood to listen to classical and I didn’t want to hear rock and roll. Kind of like that. It was kind of a benefit I think ‘cause I kind of went with how I was feeling.
EH: So being that well rounded in music really helped you a lot to be a studio musician with all the variety of people that you’ve played with. It sure didn’t hurt you being versed in all that type of music.
MH: No, it didn’t back then, but when I was going forward, I really focused on jazz. I wanted to be a jazz player and I focused on jazz and I really didn’t know. I didn’t have any inkling as to what studio work really was until I was probably 16. At that point I started taking lessons with Howard Roberts who was not only one of the most in demand session players at that time, but he was also one of the foremost west coast jazz guitarists.
So I knew him primarily as a jazz guitarist but here I was 16 and my father set it up. Howard, he told my father to have me meet him, I think it was on a Tuesday, he said just be waiting outside Universal Studios at 1:30, just be by the gate, and I said okay (laughing) I don’t know what this is all about, but, okay.
And so I had seen Howard’s picture so I knew what he looked like and a little car drives up and the door flies open, and I recognize it’s Howard and he says,”hop in”. So I get in the car, this is my first meeting with him, and we drive on the lot at Universal and I’m kind of looking out the window and going, “Wow, how did I get here?”
So, that was my introduction to what studio work was. He was doing a T.V. show. We went on what was Stage 10. It doesn’t exist anymore… well it exists but it’s a post production. They closed the music studio down quite a number of years ago. We went to Stage 10 and I watched a session that Howard was on and it fascinated me. I said,”Wow this is something.” This is before I even had taken any lessons from him.
So from there he took me, and he would say, “I think you should come to this.” He would call me up, “I think you should come see this session.” So that was a T.V. session. I went on some record dates with him, some jingles, commercials that he did, a couple of movie soundtracks, and subsequently we were talking about it at the lessons and the thing that attracted me was the fact that you could actually stay in one place and make a living without having to go on the road.
I had never been on a plane even at that point. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 20 or 21. So I didn’t do any traveling. My father was a doctor and he had to stay put and we didn’t travel.
So when I started traveling, I left college. I got a call to go with a group called Sergio Mendes. He was a Brazillian artist. So I left college and went on the road with Sergio. I worked with Sergio for about three quarters of a year and then after that I got recommended to Peggy Lee and I was in her rhythm section for a year doing that. That was the opposite.
With Sergio I learned about Brazillian music and that was fascinating…cause I liked the whole Bossanova movement and all of that. And then with Peggy it was the opposite, it wasn’t what you played, it was what you left out. There was so much space in her music that you really wanted to make sure that you had something that was worthwhile to fill in empty space. You know what I mean? So through that I started to really learn what was needed in the area of recording.
Then after that I left Peggy, and almost immediately I got called by Ed Shaughnessey the drummer with the Tonight Show and they were looking for a guitar player to go on the road with the leader Doc Severinsen. So I did that and the deal was Bob Bain was the regular guitar player and he did 3 days a week and I did 2 days a week, and then I went on the road with Doc on the weekends. So now I was in the T.V. business. I was seeing how live T.V. is done. I was the youngest guy in the band, so that was an education.
Sergio’s Band had been an education. In fact I said somewhere in an interview in some magazine or something that I learned more in those months that I was with Sergio than I probably learned in all of my grade school, you know just traveling with those guys. When we started to do the Tonight Show that was the first strides towards the studios which I had learned about from Howard. Howard had introduced me to that world and I was attracted to it and I also liked the fact that you were doing something different all the time.
I liked playing jazz but I’d get tired of it after awhile. When The Beatles came out I got into that and The Stones and all that, and I loved all that music. So in one way I was a typical teenage kid growing up and in another way I was learning jazz which I feel had a lot to do with being able to handle the different styles of music that you need to do. Cause really what you’re doing if you’re not just flat out reading, you’re going to come up with something to improvise, and you have to improvise within the style of whatever it is that’s called for. But, it’s improvising and I loved it and I loved playing live with rhythm sections and all that…Maybe I over answered the question?
EH: No. You know what, the funny thing is you answered my next question also because I was going to ask you how did you get your big break because studio musicians to me seem like a tightly knit community and you answered that with “Howard Roberts got your foot in the door” and you just took it from there.
MH: You’re absolutely right and the other thing about it is…yes it is a tight knit community, but the other thing is if you ask 5 players how they get in the studios, you get 5 totally different answers to the question. It’s never one thing..you do this and you do…and it’s not that…you have to be at the right place at the right time and be able to do what’s called for. It’s kind of a series of fortunate events. Put it like that… and then there’s some luck involved too…
EH: I bet. Yeah. I bet there is.
MH: There’s always luck involved.
EH: I’ve read your bio and the legends you’ve worked with, Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barbra Streisand, Tom Jones, Smokey Robinson. The list goes on…You’ve worked with one of my all time heroes – Brian Wilson. I just love the man and his work. To me he’s amazing. If I can ask you a personal question…How was it working with Brian Wilson? Is he totally in charge or does he let you guys do…?
MH: Well, I’ll clarify that whole thing by saying that I literally worked with him on probably 3 sessions…the first 2 were in the period when he was involved with that psychiatrist (Dr. Landy). It was not a good period for him. Those 2 sessions were extremely difficult with him and it wasn’t totally his fault, it wasn’t his doing, it was just a result of what was going on at that time. We had a hard time getting through those.
However later, 1997 I think or six, six or seven, I got a call to work with the Wilson Sisters. And Brian was there. Brian was working with them. We were recording a tune that Brian wrote. And it was like the difference between those two epochs was night and day.
Brian in that nineties session, it was Brian. Brian was back. Okay! And yes he did take charge! And he knew what he wanted, and he knew what he wanted to get out of the musicians. It was back to the kind of Phil Spector kind of scenario in which I think there were four guitar players on that session, but he had the big rhythm section. There were strings and horns. Everything was live. He was very explicit in what everybody should play. It was Brian.
So in that light, I guess I got to see two different sides of his life. I didn’t get to see when he was primarily in The Beach Boys. Howard worked with him back then. But I worked with Brian first in that not good period and then actually I felt fortunate I got to see him how he wound up being. Fortunately he got his life back. That was a pretty positive thing and I was happy to see that boy he’s back and full of life and it was a good experience for me in that light.
EH: That’s cool. Just reading the names of the people you worked with is just a virtual Who”s Who of Hall of Fame Recording Artists basically.
You’ve worked on many T.V. shows and many movie soundtracks. I saw you worked on one of my favorite T.V. shows and I’m not joking – named Sledge Hammer. That was one of my favorite shows. That was a great comedy.
With soundtracks and such, is there a certain vibe that you as musicians come up with or does the producer have notes written down, or the composer have notes written down? Do you guys have a vibe?
MH: Most of the movies, not all of them, but primarily the bulk of them were orchestral sessions. I’ve worked with composers Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Alan Silvestri, Dave Grusin, and Lalo Schifrin – a lot of different orchestral composers. Mostly on those kind of sessions they’re reading dates. There’s no coming up with anything.
It could be a multitude of instruments. It could be electric guitar, acoustic guitar and acoustic could be 6 string steel, 12 string, nylon string, high strung, you name it, Dobro…and then you get to mandolins and bouzoukis, balalaikas, and all these what we call miscellaneous instruments that are called for…maybe the story’s taking place in Russia or there’s some inflection of that and they need a balalaika or bouzouki or some sound like that. Well you have to be able to have those instruments and play them.
But mostly those sessions were reading, just reading…following a conductor. It’s all written out.
EH: Not too many people have a guitar named after them, Les Paul of course comes to mind…But you have a Gibson ES-357 that’s known as an “ES-Mitch“?
(Editor’s note: For more info on the ES-357, check out Vintage Guitar’s article right here.)
MH: Well, yeah, to the intimates that know that instrument…that’s from one of the owners of one of them – he came up with that subtitle. That was kind of an interesting scenario because that model was only made in a very small number.
That came about during the late 70’s going into the early 80’s. The electronic keyboard instruments…the sounds were changing. They started to change quite a bit.
Just to kind of put it in perspective, every instrument is in a certain frequency range and the 335’s we were playing were very low mid-rangy kind of instruments and some of the synths that were coming out were falling right in that range and what was happening was we’d go into the booth to listen to playbacks and the guitars were getting obliterated. They just weren’t there anymore cause the keyboards were wiping out those frequencies.
So there was a run to find out what we were going to do. We’ve got to get some other kind of electric guitar to get another sound. It turned out that what worked was a Strat with the 3 pickups.
The middle pickup put the guitar in a higher midrange that would pop out in the track. It would appear in the track again and that solved our problem. And that’s where you get that kind of out of phase sound say when you have the back pickup and the middle pickup on or the front pickup and the middle pickup on.
You get that out of phase kind of sound, ya know somebody hears it and they say, “Oh that’s a Strat, that Strat sound,” and that cut through. We would play with all those synths and it would cut through.
So I always liked the feel and sound of the 335 type and I thought well if they could put a middle pickup on it that would more or less help out. It probably wouldn’t sound exactly like the Strat but it would probably cut through that frequency that we needed to do.
So I called them up at the time when I was an endorser (Gibson) and I asked them, I flat out told them, you need a middle pickup on the 335…and they said, “What?” And I told them the scenario I just told you. They said,”Well we’ve got enough and we’re trying to fill the orders we have.”
“We can’t take on another model of it,” and I said, “Would you build me one?” and they said, “Sure.” So they built me the prototype. I got it in 1983 and I started using it in the studios and it didn’t sound exactly like the Strat but the middle pickup in combination with the others, I got a Fat Strat kind of sound. It wasn’t as bright as a Strat but it was in the same frequency. It was just a little bit fatter sounding. So I used that.
There were certain sounds that I couldn’t get with a Strat, and I used it and some of the other players, (at that time there were 2,3,4 guitar players on every session and they’d here the sound of this 357) and I’d see these heads come up over the dividing sound baffles between us to cut down leakage. They’d say, “What is that sound?”….”What is that you’re playing?” So they got inquisitive and they said, “Gee, are they gonna make any more?” I said, “I don’t know. They said no.” But then eventually I thought I better get another one because if I break the prototype, or if it gets stolen, it’ll be gone…I’d better get another one.
So the other guys got wind that I was going to order another one and they said, “Oh, if you’re gonna get one, can they make two?”, and another guy would say, “Oh, can they make three?”…so it wound up they made six more.
They were a little different cosmetically and the pickups, originally it had three humbucking looking cases that had the screws down the center. They were actually single coil P-90’s that they put in humbucking cases. So that’s what my prototype has.
The production model that came out, the six production models had soap bars. Everyone decided oh those P-90’s sound fine. Let’s just put stock ones in. They don’t have to make special pickups. So they put in black soap bars. They were really beautiful guitars and that was the run of 357’s.
Guitar Player did an article and there was a picture and several people ordered them through Gibson Dealers and Gibson, I guess at the point they made the six, they figured we better call it something, so that’s where the 357…they had been making a 347 and this one was kind of like the upscale model of the 347 so they called it the 357. Kind of like a 345 and a 355, it was the same kind of denomination. So that’s how that came to be.
EH: I think that by the picture that I saw there’s no F- holes.
MH: Correct. I had my semi hollows…I had a couple of 355’s and I had a 347, and when I had to play high volumes, especially the 347 seemed to feed back more than the other ones. And when I ordered the 357, I asked them – Lucille had just come out I think in 1980 and it didn’t have F- holes and B.B. specified no F – holes because of the feedback and I thought that was a good idea so we incorporated that. I wanted to incorporate things that they could actually do in the production line.
One of the things about ordering custom instruments from a big maker is that you have to remember that if they’re going to change something, it messes up their tooling, and if they’re going to make a one off or a two off, you know whatever, it’s difficult for them to do that. So I wanted them to be able to build this thing without changing too much in their production and we were able to do that. That’s one of the reasons I think they were able to do it all. Since then there’s been talk about bringing it out again, but boy I sure haven’t heard anything lately. The last I heard about that was probably 3 years ago. I haven’t heard anymore so I don’t know what their plan is.
EH: They sound like a pricey guitar, are they? There’s not too many made.
MH: You mean pricey as far as collectible? Well interestingly, Gibson put up a ten rarest Gibsons page on their website. In fact if you Google the 10 rarest Gibsons, that post will come up and the 357 is #10. So I have the prototype. The prototype is a one off. The other ones aren’t like it. I play it a lot. I just used it. I did some sessions on Neil Young’s new project. It’s coming out next month (November) and I played the ES-Mitch on one tune. So I got it on there!
EH: That’s cool! That’s way cool!!! So this leads us to the question, are you a guitar collector?
MITCH ABOUT PLAYING ON NEIL YOUNG’S LATEST ALBUM STORYTONE
EH: Okay. That’s fair enough. You’ve most recently worked with Neil Young, and I’ve seen Neil play live, and he loves playing guitar. It seems like he keeps pushing the creative envelope where a lot of the older musicians are sort of content just to play the hits all the time. What was it like to work with Neil Young?
MH: Well I have to say, and I’ve talked to the players on there. He had done a session actually the day before one of the sessions I did. They had done a session at Sony which is one of the big, it’s the original MGM Sound Stage. Huge sound stage with a 92 piece orchestra and I think if I’m not mistaken a 60 voice chorus, vocal chorus. So that was orchestral. And that’s posted. I think If you go on You Tube you can see that. I forget the name of it. It’s more or less talking about saving the planet from global warming and so forth and all of that. The sessions we did, now I did one tune that was a big band session. So we were all live and Neil was in singing with us. He did not want to play on these sessions. He just wanted to focus on his vocals. They were original tunes – he wrote all the tunes.
MITCH ON RECORDING NEIL’S “LIKE YOU USED TO DO”
MH: For “Like You Used To Do,” I played a real simple part that I heard on the first run-through. It’s a Charleston rhythm starting on the second beat rather than the normal first beat. Note: The Charleston rhythm is from the first dotted quarter and eighth note of the melody of the ’20’s song, ‘The Charleston’. Musicians have called it ‘Charleston Rhythm’ ever since. It falls on beat 1 and the & of beat 2. It can be used in swing, jazz and also for a rock shuffle.
On “Like You Used To Do”, it feels right to put it on beat 2 and the & of 3. When the horn parts come in at the bridge of the tune, their rhythm is on the usual 1st beat and & of 2 so I played on those beats to be in sync with their rhythm. After the horn section, I go right back to the original rhythm on beat 2 and the & of 3 again. It’s simple, but it works.
Watching the video, you’ll notice that even from behind me, you can see that I play all of those rhythms with an upstroke in the right hand. It gets a crisper sound hitting the higher strings first and I also do that for back beats on 2 & 4 when that’s called for. That way you only hit maybe two or three strings and it keeps the sound real tight. Tricks from the players who used to do that all day long back in the ’50’s when some of those beats were originally invented. They still work and probably always will.
When you’re talking about good players, the spaces are just as important to them as the notes they play, so if two notes does the job, that’s all they play. I always think of that when I’m in a guitar store and I hear someone playing 30,000 notes a minute. Find the right two, you’ll be much better off! Hope this description makes some sense.
“Like You Used To Do”
MH: On these rhythm dates, there were two guitars on there: there was myself and Waddy Wachtel was the other guitar player…I don’t know if you are aware of Waddy? Waddy is one of the most famous studio rock and roll guys! From Waddy’s perspective, we never said a word to each other about who was going to play what part. I just started playing that rhythm pattern and I’m not sure he played much at all as there wasn’t much room to spare in the track. That’s always the sign of a good player, knowing what to leave out.”
EH: He used to have the long kinky blonde hair.
MH: He still does and he’s older than me. His hair looks like it did when he was 25. I was ready to, “C’mon Waddy, I gotta pull out some of your hair,” (ha,ha, laughing.)
EH: (Ha,ha, laughing.) That’s pretty funny. He looked like the ultimate rocker back then. I guess he still does. Wild.
MH: He is. Yes. He was telling me about this movie…this Jimi Hendrix Movie that just came out…Waddy did the score on that. He did all the music for it. He played all the Jimi parts, and he played the Clapton parts, all of it. Waddy did all of it. In that genre, boy, he’s really something, something else.
So it’s Waddy and I, and there were 2 keyboards, bass, drums, and one date there was a full horn section, so it was Neil singing with a 17 piece big band. And that was fun and when I walked into that date, and I saw the chart was sitting on the stand, and it said “Chicago” and I said,” Oh no, Neil’s gonna do a Rod Stewart thing.” He’s gonna sing ”Chicago, Chicago”. I said oh no, I can’t imagine. I’m ready to get out of here. But then I looked at the part and I looked at the chords and I said,”Naw, this is not Chicago.” It turned out to be it was really a blues based big band tune and it was a Neil original.
“Say Hello To Chicago”
He was singing about Chicago you know and I was going to go ‘whew’, and it was a great tune. All the tunes were great. The other tunes they broke it down. It was just the one tune with a full horn section and then we did two other tunes on another date and it was a smaller horn section that was live.
THE SESSION “SAY HELLO TO CHICAGO”
MH: You will note that I’m playing a different guitar on this than on “I Want To Drive My Car” (which follows next). On this track, Waddy Wachtal was using his Les Paul, so I wanted to get a contrasting rhythm sound from my guitar. I picked up my ES-357 proto and I used the middle P-90 pickup by itself with some overdrive, something I use a lot because the sound is more mid-rangey and blends well with other guitar sounds. In working with other guitarists on sessions, which used to be the norm (up to 3 or 4 guitars on every session up until the early ’80’s) but isn’t anymore. You have to be aware of what sounds the other players are getting and find some contrast. I use just the middle pickup on this guitar and Strats quite a lot for rhythm. It’s something to bear in mind when you’re doing your own recordings and is why guitarists have different instruments available. Most pro players aren’t collectors, instruments are considered tools to help bail them out of many situations that arise.
NEIL LOVES OLD CARS…
MH: Neil loves old cars. He’s got quite a collection of old cars. In fact he drove his Lincvolt to L.A.to do these sessions and his Lincvolt is a ’59 Lincoln Continental convertible, which if you look up those cars, they’re huge, actually huge gas guzzlers back in the day. He had this one made so that it would run on electricity and ethanol. And so he called it the Lincvolt and it was just spectacular. It was beautiful and spectacular and quiet. It was amazing.
Another tune we did was called “I Want To Drive My Car.” And it was just a pushing, driving, shuffle rock and I was sitting there playing this thing,Waddy’s there, the rhythm section, we’re all playing, horns are playing, Neil’s singing, and I’m thinking to myself, is this GREAT or what? And you know what it was? It was like going in a time machine because this is the way records were done going back. It was my favorite tune we did.
“I Want To Drive My Car”
But up until going through the 70’s, into the 80’s, and now not so much. Records are made a different way now. I did a lot of teaching and a lot of the younger players, some of them can’t imagine playing together. It’s crazy.
EH: Oh yeah. Even with myself. I play in a band and there’s just like the three of us go into the studio now and the other guy, the keyboard player will just play at home and send the file and the bass. It’s weird. There’s no tape involved. Before there used to be tape you had to buy. It’s just amazing that there’s kids that have grown up today that have no idea that you had to retake everything. It’s just amazing.
MH: Right. By the way, I didn’t mention that Al Schmitt was the engineer on Neil’s project. Al Schmitt’s one of the primary, one of the most historically renowned engineers on the planet. His office is Capitol A in the Capitol Records Tower and we were at a studio called East-West which used to be Western Recorders which is where goin’ back that’s where The Beach Boys and Phil Spector worked. Yeah, that was a very busy room. Neil was originally talking about recording this album using only one mic like they did in the early days of recording. Al Schmitt talked him out of it (and I know from talking to Al that when he started in NYC at his uncle’s studio, they were using one mic so he knows how to do that!)
Even in the 70’s I would be there three four times a week working there. It shut down for awhile…it was kind of vacant and it’s been resurrected and Studio A is as it was. They did not change it. It’s the same. That’s where we were with Neil and Al Schmitt was the engineer. When I walked into the booth there was a 24 track 2 inch analog machine sitting there running. And I joked to Al, I said, “Oh you went to the museum this morning and you got that thing out of there.”
Some of the producers still do this: they run their basic tracking on 2 inch analog tape and then when they’re done with it, they dump it into Pro Tools. They take it from analog format and put it into a digital format and go from there. There’s definitely a difference in sound.
When I started in session work they were using half inch eight tracks. Sometimes it was four track but at the time, this is like ’68, ’69, it ended up being eight track and then all of a sudden it went to sixteen track and that was half inch and then the two inch twenty four track and that’s the way it was. And I can attest that the analog tape just has a warmer…there’s definitely a warmer sound to it.
EH: That’s really interesting. I never knew that they still used the tape, that they still did that.
MH: Yes they still do. There’s a company…I think it’s called Apogee and I believe they bought Ampex that was making the 456 and all that tape that was being used back in the day. You can buy it. A reel of two inch tape is extremely expensive because there’s such a limited demand. But there’s enough producers still using them that they can still get tape.
EH: That’s pretty interesting. Yeah that’s wild. I never thought about that. I didn’t think it existed even. Wow.
MH: Yeah. Well, fortunately. I don’t know for how long. But in the meantime, yeah it’s still around. Yeah, the other ninety nine per cent is digital.
EH: Yeah, it’s just a whole different recording process compared to what you were involved in. It’s just mind blowing that people don’t even have to be in the same room or in the same location to record these days.
MH: Right and actually, I can’t exactly remember the year, but it was either sometime around either late ’79 or 1980, is when I first saw a digital recorder and It was at A&M. I was doing a record date at A&M and Herb Alpert, who, he was one of the owners, he was the A in A&M. He was walking around the halls.
We were taking a break and he was walking down the hall and the rhythm section was hanging out and he says,” Guys, come with me. I want to show you something,” and we went around…A&M was set up like kind of in a big U, the hall was a big U shape. and we went all the way to the other side of the hall.
We were in Studio A and we got all the way to the other side and that was the newest studio which was Studio D. So he took us into D and we walk into the booth and there’s these two guys in there with white lab coats on with Sony logos on their lab coats and there’s a reel to reel machine, two reel to reel machines sitting there, half inch with thirty two meters, and we’re looking at these things going,”What is this?”
So anyway, Herb introduced us, “These are the two engineers from Sony and these are the two world’s first digital recorders and we’re going digital. What is digital?” and they just said,”Well, listen to this.” And all that was in the studio was a concert piano sitting there. Anyway they turned this machine on and we were looking for who was playing the piano in the studio. And of course there was no one. Then we’re thinking this must be a player piano.
And then we’re thinking, wait a minute, you can hear them breathing, you can hear the pedals. All that stuff going on. What is going on here? Right? So anyway we finished listening to this. We’re going, what’s digital? What’s going on here? And they said, Basically, you can look at it as being on or off or as a series of zero and ones, a different combination of ones will give you what you need.”
My next question was “What are the ramifications of this?” He proceeds to tell me that at that time everybody was copying their vinyl albums onto tape cassettes if you remember those. So everybody was copying their albums, for in the car and their friends would say, “Oh I love that album, make me a copy.” Well, it’s not gonna sound so good. “I don’t care,” but by the third copy it’s all garbled.
So the engineer says to me,”Well you know when you make these tape cassette copies, by the third, fourth copy they’re all degenerated.” I said, “Right.” He said,”Well you can make a copy of this one we’re listening to and another copy, and another thousand copies, and another two thousand copies of that, and the fifth thousandth copy will sound just like that.” And my jaw dropped. I went, “Woe my God, this is gonna change the world.”
EH: It sure did.
MH: Guess what, yeah more than we certainly saw that night, I’ll tell you that.
EH: Yeah, it sure did.
MH: But we knew. I know from looking at it. I said,”My God This is gonna impact photography, print, everything, T.V.”
EH: Yeah. Everything is right.
MH: Just about everything you could think of. Digital. This is going to change the world.
EH: Everything is correct. Yes.
MH: And everything changed. We had no idea.I did have an idea but I didn’t know it was going to be so fast.
EH: Right. Yeah. It sure seems like it. Yeah. Who knows what’s it’s going to be like in ten years.
MH: Well it’s going to change, we know that for sure. Part of it’s planned and part of it’s just the way that technology has accelerated…the rate of technology.
EH: Definitely. Now I’m winding down…You have a book out on jazz guitarist Howard Roberts, and you still do session work, and correct me if I’m wrong, but are you the Spokesperson for Wildwood Guitars?
EH: No. Okay.
MH: I did some videos for them. Actually it was sponsored by Gibson.
EH: Okay, I see.
MH: That was a couple years ago. I went to their store in Louisville, Colorado and we taped some videos. I did some videos featuring the 357. Did you see those?
EH: Yeah, I saw those.
MH: Yeah, and then I did some on some of their inventory. But Greg Koch (Coke or Kotch) however you pronounce his name, he’s their main guy now. He’s great. You’ve probably seen his videos. I think he lives pretty close to there too so he does the videos for them.
EH: Okay. What other projects are you working on now or you have lined up in the future?
MH: Actually I’m teaching a lot and actually I’m working on, not on the music for a movie, but I’m working on developing a movie on Dusty Springfield who’s the most famous pop singer that came out of Britain, out of the U.K. and we’re developing a project on that. That’s been ongoing. I haven’t talked too much about it but it’s been ongoing for close to four years. It’s been a difficult story to put in a screenplay type of scenario.
It’s been attempted several times and there’s a couple other people trying to do it and we dug so deep into it that it literally took us almost three years to get that story line to where we felt okay now we’ve got the cinematic treatment of this thing. So we’re in a phase where we’re looking for seed money to get this thing into production. It’s an arduous task. I have a partner in this and he’s well ensconced in the film industry. He said in the time since we’ve started he can’t believe how the film business has changed.
EH: Really. Wow.
MH: To this day she’s the biggest pop singer, the most popular, biggest selling pop singer in British history. Her story here. it’s an interesting story and there’s a lot of pain and all of that but it really was a positive story even though a lot of her fans and a lot of people that knew about her think that her life was such a downer and all of this. Yeah there were episodes of that but she really was on a positive slant but it was just the things being how life goes. She missed out on most of her childhood…that was what was missing. She had to go back and find it and the story’s pretty interesting.
EH: Yeah, that sounds really good.
MH: I’ll leave it at that. It’s been a very hard story because the movies are based on mostly if it’s not an action thing, relationships, and she didn’t have a lot. So we really had to dig to get enough to put it together.
EH: Right. Yeah that sounds interesting. I wish you the best of luck cause I would really love to see that. I know a lot of people would see it too. That’s for sure.
MH: Well I appreciate it and yeah, we’ve had a lot of interest from people out of the industry. It’s the people in the film business. We’ve got to convince them. They’re a hard bunch. I’ll say that.
EH: They don’t always make the best decisions I take it.
MH: Well….yeah. It’s just getting them interested. Getting them to see…they have to see the reward on the other end of the tunnel. That’s what gets them going. You have to make sure that they get that. And it’s hard to do. Especially non-fiction. We can’t change the story… the story is what it is. We can change parts of it cause we don’t know every single thing that went on, what people said.
You have to get a screenwriter to come up with a screenplay and dialogue and all that, but the story, boy it was tough cause she kept it out of the public record for the most part. It was difficult. It’s been difficult. We’re going straight ahead. So that’s been a focal part.
And then I teach at Musician’s Institute and I’m an Adjunct at California Lutheran University which is out here near where I live. I’m at M.I. one day a week and then I’m at C.L.U. a few times a week and then I’m out planning and doing sessions and working on this movie.
EH: Yeah, you keep pretty busy.
MH: Yeah, it’s pretty busy. Sometimes I feel like I’m spread out a little too thin. But you know you do what you’ve got to do.
EH: Yeah, I understand that. Last question for you. Do you have any words of wisdom or hot tips for the young guitarists that think they might want to do film and session work?
MH: Well you know being a realist, first thing I would say, is don’t expect to be able to make a living just doing sessions. That era has more or less come to an end. However, the thing about it is, you know I love what Larry Carlton says about practice and playing. He says,”Practice what you must, play what you love.” Okay, and in looking back on everything, he’s right. There’s always going to be something. You practice what you must and you play what you must because you’ve got to put food on the table, but try to strive to play what you love and that’s when you’ll get your rewards.
EH: Yeah, that’s a great line alright.
MH: Yeah, it really is. And you have to wear a lot of hats now. You can’t just play. You’ve got to know the computer, you have to be able to market yourself, write, produce, etc., etc.
EH: Yeah, It’s a tough business alright.
MH: It’s tough out there. Yeah. It’s always been tough you know, but I’m coming from a place where say a movie company or record company would do the marketing and the distribution of a product, and when you went in the studio, there were first engineers, second engineers, apprentice engineers, copyists, librarians, music contractors that hired the musicians, they were all in the studio. If a machine went down, another machine would be in it’s place cause the studio would have techs, they would have a whole department that did nothing but repair equipment and when something went down, boy, in two minutes they’d have another machine ready to go.
EH: Wow. That’s amazing.
MH: That’s what I came from. Now it’s a different scenario. I remember when home studios started to get more popular. Boy when it started, most of the time we’re sitting there waiting for them to try and figure out how to get the stuff to work. And that whole period…and it went on for quite a while, when MIDI was getting going and all of that, oh man, I was going ,”What’s going on? We’re in retrograde here.”
Before you’d walk in the studio, you’d sit down, when the hour struck, you’d start to play, and in three hours you’d have everything done and you were out of there. Now were sitting around, waiting for them to get the stuff to work and I thought it was in retrograde. But you know, eventually it caught up. Of course it caught up. That transition could be difficult at times, but everybody survives.
EH: Well this has been a really great & interesting interview Mitch. I appreciate the time that you set aside for us. I It’s been a pleasure and I have nothing but respect for you. Thank you very much!
MH: I appreciate it and thanks for the opportunity.
EH: You’re gonna have a lot of interested readers, that’s for sure. You really gave us a lot of information that was very, very interesting . It’s nice to have it from the source. The guy that was involved, that did it.
MH: It’s nice to get it out there, some of what’s going on anyway.
MH: Tommy was our Godfather. There was really a hole when he passed. In fact,Tim May, who’s another studio player, he called me up and he said,”Who we gonna call now?” Cause he used to keep everybody straight.
He was something.
EH: That’s wild. Yeah, I can’t wait until Denny releases the home DVD so I can sit and watch it here at home. I went to see the movie on “The Wrecking Crew”. That was really interesting.
MH: Yeah he did a great job on that.
EH: Thank you very much again Mitch!
MH: It’s my pleasure.
AN INSTRUMENTAL BIG BAND COVER
Here’s a pretty cool big band cover of Steeley Dan’s “Aja” by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker from a 1978 album entitled “Chick, Donald, Walter, and Woodrow”.
MH: This is a track from a Woody Herman album I played on. His band was in town and they went into RCA Studio A and recorded an album of Chick Corea material on one side and Steely Dan on the other (this was in the vinyl days, hence…one side and the other!). The guitar isn’t featured but it’s an example of being on a live session with everyone present and having to deal with a number of situations in the music and interjecting some of my own elements. The summation could be something like:
The intro has a little guitar lick that was written in by Joe Roccisano, the arranger. It’s totally different than what Larry Carlton played on the original Steely Dan track but I tried to treat the written part I had ala Larry, using volume pedal swells. As the tune goes into the verse, listen for a couple of passages where the guitar is in unison with the horns. That is a written part and whatever else I wound up interjecting, mainly the volume slides, fills, double bends (ala Amos Garrett who inspired all of us with his solo on Midnight At The Oasis) and so forth, those written parts need to get played as well so the volume levels have to be maintained so as not to get so hot as to surprise the engineer with sharp spikes in volume. The fills I play were made up during the take, I’ve always been a reactive player and those little fills and volume swells are reflective of that. It’s listening to what everyone is doing, looking for openings in the music and filling them with, hopefully, appropriate sounding fills that are reflective of the music. That goes on quite a bit in this track. During the tenor sax solo, I laid out as there was enough support from the pianist and the rest of the rhythm section that I felt it didn’t need anything. This is common and I just sat and enjoyed the sax solo but at the same time was following the chart to make sure I knew where they were at all times. At the end of the solo I sneak in with a volume swell right before the last outro of the song.
Playing live is great fun and very challenging. In recording today, it is common to lay tracks down one at a time, which gives the producer more control but also can make things more sterile and not many, interesting ‘accidents’ happen. Sometimes, in years gone by, I would be in the control room listening to a take and the producer would want another take for some reason and specifically ask me to play say a little slide I had played on the take we were listening to. The thing was, that little slide might have been caused by me trying to scramble to get up the neck for something and, accidentally, playing the slide in the process. I would then have to get with the engineer, listen to the track and write in what beat and what note I played at the start and what beat and note it landed on at the end of the slide. Guess what? Trying to duplicate it never came out the way it did on the original track because you’re trying to duplicate an accident. It’s really hard to get it to sound exactly the same. It just doesn’t work, most of the time. Of course, now with the digital format, they can just fly the original slide to the final track and that’s that. A much easier solution, for sure!
MITCH PLAYING “PRELUDE FOR A KISS” – Solo Guitar
Wildwood Guitars Lesson with Mitch Holder on Pulling Triads from Chords
GUITAR LESSONS WITH MITCH HOLDER
Here’s something that is way cool! Mitch is considering giving Guitar Lessons via Skype, which of course, would be based on response and desire.
You can contact him through his Facebook page. Many thanks to Mitch Holder! - Jack
AN INTERVIEW WITH RICK VITO (THE GENTLEMAN SUPERSTAR) BY ED HUERTA
Jackaboutguitars is proud to present an interview with guitarist Rick Vito. Rick has played guitar with plenty of people that we’ve all heard, although I for one, and maybe you, may have not known it was his guitar playing that we were listening to.
By the time this story goes live, Rick Vito & The Lucky Devils will have just finished up at the Harvest Blues Festival in Monaghan, Ireland and will be headed to Bavaria, Austria, all kinds of places in Germany, of which the only one I can pronounce is Hamburg, and also to Denmark over the period of the next three weeks.
(An update from Rick):
“Sadly, bad weather in Washington D.C. on Sept. 6 grounded flights in or out and no other airline or connecting city could be found to bring me and the band to Dublin for the Harvest Time Blues Festival. We had no other choice but to go home and leave the next morning for Munich and the rest of our Euro-tour. Our deepest apologies go out to all those who worked so hard to have us there. We truly hope we can make it up to you in the future.”
That says it all about just how gracious Rick is. Back to the story…
Rick, you certainly named this band as correctly as one could have ever dreamed. These guys are certainly a bunch of Lucky Devils! I could only dream of being in such a band…”Lynn (my wife), I’m going to work now. Oh, by the way, it’s Europe for the next three weeks.”…and as the story goes – then he (I) woke up. Dream on Jackson!!!
Anyway, wishing Rick and The Lucky Devils a fantastic tour in Europe and hoping that you guys make it up to Portland, Oregon some day. (Rick, dinner is on me when you get up this way).
Rick Vito and The Lucky Devils…’I Do Believe’
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band…’Fleetwood Boogie’
After this interview wrapped up, Rick was going to be heading out to Shreveport, Lousiana to the James Burton International Guitar Festival, to play some tunes with his friend, the GREAT James Burton, and help celebrate James’ 75th Birthday. Happy Belated Birthday James!
Fleetwood Mac…’I Loved Another Woman’ featuring Rick Vito
Rick Vito’s Bio
Here’s a little bit more info (from Rick’s Bio pulled with permission from Rick) to give you an idea of what Rick has been up to over the years and with whom:
“Rick also worked with such artists as LITTLE RICHARD, BOBBY WHITLOCK, JOHN PRINE, and DOBIE GRAY among many others.
Late in 1974 Rick received an invitation to join a new band being formed by British Blues pioneer, JOHN MAYALL, with whom Rick worked with subsequently on four albums.
“…a master of the instrument, at last getting the attention he deserves as bandleader/bluesman that is long overdue.” – JOHN MAYALL
In the following years, Rick was a member of ex-BYRD ROGER MCGUINN‘s group, THUNDERBYRD, and also a founding member of Los Angeles club favorites, the ANGEL CITY RHYTHM BAND. With the ACRB, Rick had a unique opportunity to back many of the Blues greats he had been influenced by. Performing regularly at the Topanga Canyon Corral club on Monday Blues nights, they regularly held court with ALBERT COLLINS, LOWELL FULSON, BIG JOE TURNER, and GEORGE ‘HARMONICA’ SMITH, among many others.
By 1980 Rick had recorded two albums worth of material and was starting to place more songs with other artists such as MCGUINN CLARK & HILLMAN, and DAVID SOUL. At the same time he began a long association with slide-guitar queen, BONNIE RAITT, appearing on her rocking LP, “GREEN LIGHT”, and as a member of her touring band. Rick spent most of 1982-83 working with LA- based singer/songwriter, JACKSON BROWNE. He appears on Jackson’s single’ “SOMEBODY’S BABY”, and on his albums, “LAWYERS IN LOVE”, and “LIVES IN THE BALANCE”.
In between solo recording and live shows in the LA area, Rick continued session dates with many artists including RITA COOLIDGE, MARIA MULDAUR, and DOLLY PARTON.
For more info on Rick’s great career, do check out his website Rick Vito .com You can check out his music, artwork, CD’s, DVD’s as well as all kinds of cool photos, videos, and media about him.
Rick Vito and The Lucky Devils…’When The Big One Comes’
And now it’s time for the interview with Rick Vito by Jackaboutguitars’ one and only, “Prince of Primitive”, Ed Huerta.
The works of world renowned artist and writer Ed Huerta, take up residence in the ‘ART “N” SOUL section of the Jackaboutguitars Blog. AKA as ”The Prince of Primitive”, Ed Huerta was born in Los Angeles and currently resides in Long Beach, California.
A longtime musician, Ed has played in several L.A./O.C. bands, including Rockford, The Jack Brewer Band, The Lazy Cowgirls, The Final Tourguides, Moist and Meaty, Mind Over 4, The Silly Millions, Copper 7, & Eddie & The Trays. He has also toured the U.S. and Europe as a drummer.
AN INTERVIEW WITH RICK VITO (THE GENTLEMAN SUPERSTAR) BY ED HUERTA
I must say when my brother Jack called me and said he had an interview lined up with Rick Vito that he wanted me to do for Jackaboutguitars, well, I was a bit apprehensive to do it. I mean THIS IS RICK VITO, people! A W.C. Handy Award winner, a Grammy nominee…I mean this cat has played with everybody from James Burton, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, Mick Fleetwood, Rita Coolidge, Dolly Parton, Steven Tyler, Deke Dickerson, even David Soul! I mean he has been on Oprah (the TV show – not the woman), David Letterman, Rosie O’Donnell, VH1 Storytellers…so sure, I’ll just ring up Rick Vito…
Rick Vito with Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen…’Runnin’ On Empty’
So I was expecting someone that was a little miffed, with attitude, for taking up his time. Folks, Rick Vito is a big time celebrity. He could have easily blown this off with single word answers and rehearsed, standard bullsh*t. I mean Rick did not know me from Adam (now that’s a weird saying…”knowing me from Adam?” does that go back to the biblical Adam and not knowing who the person was??? I mean there weren’t too many people to choose from back then) so I expected a little heaviness.
Well, for being such a living legend, this man could not have been more cordial or polite. He was even very gracious when my phone’s battery went out during the interview and I had to call him back on the wife’s cell phone. Maybe I am just too used to the Southern California way of rude people out here but Rick has a sort of Southern gentlemanly quality to his speech and storytelling. I was truly honored to have the opportunity to interview such a top-notch performer, artist and musician.
If you readers are not familiar with Rick’s work than by all means hit his website (rickvito.com) and Spotify some of his music…and don’t forget to support his music. I will surely go see him when he comes to town again…armed with my CD’s for signing! So without much more ado, here is the interview with a true legend and a very nice, humble gentleman. I wish you all of the good fortune in the world Mr. Rick Vito. You made me feel at ease and it was truly appreciated. Respects, Ed Huerta.
EH: Hi Rick, let me get started here. My first question is, and according to your bio, you mentioned that the Everly Brothers was your first live show that you ever saw. Now can you give us a description on how it felt or how it affected you that it would make a little kid want to become a rock and roll star for the rest of his life?
RV: (chuckles) Now I don’t know if I could put that together until a number of years later but I know at that point that this whole thing started off with Elvis, then this rock and roll mania started taking place, and my mother she had this old Hawaiian lap acoustic guitar that she used to take lessons with when she was a girl, for Hawaiian music, and me and my brother used to jump around the living room with that guitar pretending we were Elvis and we lived in Philadelphia so we had American Bandstand on every day after school, a rock and roll dance show, and he (Dick Clark) also had a night time show on Friday nights and he just showcased everybody…so you could turn on that show every day after school and turn on Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, just everybody was on that show…so just a lot of rock and roll and my Mom was pretty hip – she had a lot of cool records.
We used to get records from the jukebox, my grandmother had a jukebox, at my grandmother’s tavern, so we had a huge collection, and back in those days they used to give you new records to replace the old ones and we had a lot of Everly Brothers and it was my mom that took me to the Steel Pier (Atlantic City) to see the Everly Brothers and the thing that I remember about it was that it was loud, now not loud by today’s standards, but these guys were playing through amplifiers and the lead guitar player was jumping all over the stage and it was really cool. I could really relate to it…
EH: I read also you have a Seeburg jukebox…
RV: I have two of them right now…I’ve had a lot of them…I have a vintage 1950 and a 1959 model.
EH: Now you are/were a big fan of Elvis, Scotty Moore, Ricky Nelson and James Burton just to name a few…now did you ever get to meet any of these legends?
RV: Funny you should mention that. I got to meet Ricky Nelson quite a few times back in the 70’s and also from doing sessions in L.A., I met James Burton and a few years ago we renewed our friendship here in Tennessee and as a matter of fact, today is James Burton’s 75th birthday (August 21) and tomorrow I’m flying down to Shreveport because he invited me to play at his 75th birthday bash and International Guitar Show and that takes place Saturday night so it’s really come full circle for me…
EH: That’s really, really cool…from you watching him play on Ricky Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) to actually playing with him…
RV: Yeah, that’s really, really cool…it’s a real honor…
Rick Vito, James Burton, & Seymour Duncan…’Mystery Train’
EH: I bet..My next question is what attracted you to the blues? You could have easily gone country or easy listening but what is the big fascination of the blues for you?
RV: Well, I think there was a lot of blues in Elvis music and I think it was the kind of bluesy songs I liked most about him without realizing that it was the blues and then later after The Beatles came out, followed by the Rolling Stones, I loved The Beatles, but when The Stones came out I really related to that earthy music that they played even more. Back in those days there were LP’s and you got to read the liner notes and find out who the songwriters were and who the original artists were like Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed all those guys.
Then I started seeing guys like Freddie King on a television show on Saturdays in Philadelphia called “The Beat” it was broadcast out of Nashville and some were from Texas, it was the real deal, they had all r and b and blues artists on that show so I got to see them getting down…
EH: It’s funny that it took a group of English kids to bring American blues back to America, I guess that’s what The Stones did.
RV: The Germans first brought all those guys over there and recorded and they did the same tour over in England and all the jazz and the people in the know, the young Rolling Stones, the John Mayall’s and all these people got to see all these American artists and it was really special to them and so when they did their own versions of that stuff it caught because of The Beatles and it sort of came full circle.
EH: Now your guitar playing, whether people know it or not, is very immersed in America’s public psyche. Your guitar playing is featured in Chevy trucks “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger and also on Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” that was featured in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (EH: one of my favorite movies, by the way) and every time I hear that song, I think of the scene with Jennifer Jason Leigh…now is it weird that when you are watching TV and these songs come on and you hear yourself, now, is that sort of cool?
Rick with Bob Seger…’Like A Rock’
RV: Yeah, it was always cool. That Chevy truck ad ran about 10 years. And so we did get paid a little bit every year and it added up to a decent amount and it was gratifying to know that people all over America are hearing me play. They might not know it’s me but they are hearing me, Yes, every time I heard it I liked it.
EH: Yes, amazing not too many people can say that. Now, I want to jump ahead. You were one of the guys (the other was Billy Burnette) that replaced Lindsay Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac. I know that must have been interesting, now what was that like? Did you encounter any negativity thrown your way by Fleetwood Mac fans that you replaced Lindsay Buckingham?
Fleetwood Mac featuring Billy Burnette & Rick Vito…’Oh Well’
RV: There was one quote that came out and it persists to this day, and I will get to that in a minute, but overall at the time, the Fleetwood Mac fans were totally accepting of Billy and I. Now there was never ever anything in print that wasn’t really, really great. Like review of a shows etc, the fans never yelled out anything from the audience. Nothing like that. It was totally welcoming at the time it was a totally, totally great experience.
There was some smart aleck comment that somebody made that it took two guitar players to replace the awesomeness of Lindsay Buckingham and if you’re a Lindsay Buckingham fan to this day, I still see that in print sometimes. Now no one can ever replace Lindsay Buckingham, that kind of thing and I understand that if you’re a fan of somebody you’re going to be loyal to them but at the time, I never got any negative feedback from anybody at all and it was a totally wonderful experience for the four years that I was a member of that band.
EH: I saw Mick Fleetwood a few times and he seems like a pretty cool guy. I remember I went to the Spinal Tap drummer tryout at the Coliseum in Los Angeles and he was there trying out, just for a lark, but he seems pretty cool.
The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band…’Black Magic Woman’
RV: Yeah, and as far as Mick and John went, at the time, they were part of the original Fleetwood Mac and the original Fleetwood Mac, I could tell you, the original is more geared to those guys than the 70’s version, not that they didn’t love everything about the 70’s version of the band, but at that point in time there were three guitar players in the band and so they loved the fact that there were two guitar players in the band again and they made use of it in real creative ways.
EH: I know you are friends with Billy Burnette and I was wondering, now you being the rockabilly roots fan and player, did you have any conversations about Billy’s dad Dorsey and his uncle Johnny from the legendary Rock and Roll Trio? Were there any cool anecdotes that you could share with us?
RV: They were real tempestuous guys. They were doing rock and roll as we know it before Elvis. In fact, Elvis was very much influenced by the two brothers. As far as what they were doing. They were really wild and wooly guys, not pacifists by any means. They would often get it on with each other sometimes right offstage and when you hear the music it sorta reflects that. They were really some of the first guys that injected that element, of that male aggression into rock and roll. It came from those two brothers.
Johnny Burnette & The Rock & Roll Trio…’Lonesome Train’
EH: Yes, you can tell from some of those songs, the vocals, that those two were wild…the emotion, that they were the real thing.
RV: Yes, they were really wild, wild rock and rollers.
Johnny Burnette & The Rock & Roll Trio…’Train Kept A Rollin”
(EH’s note: I’d like to interject a true rock and roll story here..I believe it was about 1981 or 1982 and a group of us, dressed in full rockabilly regalia, drove from Westminster to Hollywood on a weeknight to see Billy Burnette at The Whisky. I mean we had tickets way ahead of time even. Unfortunately when we got there, there was a sign posted on the door claiming that the gig was cancelled. We were all pissed off, probably had a couple beers in us, but we were loudly grumbling about this. So anyways, this older gentleman (very Mafia-like, if the mafia actually existed) approached us and apologized about the cancellation of the show. He claimed to be the owner of The Roxy nightclub and invited us in to see jazz great Gato Barbieri. Now, we had nothing against modern jazz (unless they play it too darn fast) or Gato Barbieri but we were 21 year old kids looking to rage and to pick up chicks with our tight cat clothes on! So anyways, the owner of The Roxy ushers us to the front row…and this place is packed with older very well dressed folks. I am sure people were wondering who the hell these snot nosed kids were that were being ushered right up front. Needless to say, we lasted about one or two songs and got the hell out of Dodge…and I apologize to Gato for leaving in the middle of his set, but hey, we were young and bummed and looking for action. We wanted Billy Burnette!)
Rick Vito Painting by Ed Huerta
EH: Now, do you consider yourself a guitar collector and if so, what are your favorite guitars in your collection?
RV: I do collect guitars. My problem is hanging onto them. I don’t know how many guitars I’ve had in the course of my career. I have, you know, probably my prized guitar is a 1958 Sunburst Les Paul which in fact I have had for 20 years. This is my fourth one. I have always fallen out of love with various guitars after I’ve had them for a while and start selling or trading them for something else. I should have kept them all. That would have been the smarter thing to do being they go up in value. But yeah, I have a small but nice collection of vintage guitars.
EH: You also design guitars for Reverend Guitars. How did this all come about?
RV: When I was on tour with Seger, the “Like a Rock” tour, I had a lot of off days and I started getting into the kick of drawing guitars during the day and finally I came up with one design that I really liked and I made a scale model on paper and I took it to a guy I knew in L.A. and he built it for me and then I had another one done then I had the third one done and about 1998, about eight years later, I met Joe Naylor from Reverend Guitars and I started using one of his guitars when I was on tour with Bonnie Raitt and so he liked this one hand painted one with a stagecoach with skulls with all these kind of graphic designs, stars and planets and this and that and he said why don’t we copy all of these images and sandblast them on a guitar and it will be a combination of my design and your design so we did that and that was about 2005 and that lasted about a couple years then he said we’re going to drop this one and we’re going with a completely different line of guitars .We’re dropping all these American made guitars and we are going to make them in Korea now with a different style.
Rick and Bonnie Raitt
A few years after that, he took some of the elements of a second and third guitar that I had done and fused them together and came up with a couple ideas he had on his own and came up with the Rick Vito signature guitar that is out right now on Reverend Guitars.
EH: Is this the one with skulls on it too?
RV: No this one doesn’t have any skulls. We abandoned that idea. It’s sort of classy art deco almost automotive lines some people have suggested.
EH: Is it the cool looking sea foam green looking one?
RV: That’s one of them we have, red, black and gold.
EH: Yes, those are really beautiful.
RV: Thank you.
Reverend Rick Vito Signature Guitar Demo
EH: Now you are a really talented artist…did you ever go to school for that? Or is it something that comes naturally?
RV: No, it’s like my guitar playing, I totally fake everything. I wanted to go to college for art and applied and they told me I wasn’t skilled enough so I do it for a hobby and I do it just to amuse myself, it comes out in different ways like designing guitars and such. (Check out Rick’s Artwork for sale at RickVito.com
Here’s a few cool examples:
EH: You were out here recently in Huntington Beach, California about a couple months ago and I was going to see you, but unfortunately, I had a gig the same night. Now do you have any plans on coming back out here to the West Coast?
RV: I know we are coming out to the NAMM show in January. We have plans on going to Vancouver, B.C. next weekend and after that, Ireland and then three weeks in Germany, then that brings us to October. I imagine there might be a gig in California in December certainly in January…
EH: Now this brings us to my last question, any upcoming shows or releases that you want to share with us?
RV: I have a new blues slide guitar record coming out in Germany called “Mojo on My Side” and so I will probably find someone or release it myself in the fall when I get back.
EH: Now I wasn’t really too hip to your music but lately I have been listening to you on Spotify and you have totally turned me into a fan and I will be purchasing some Rick Vito on Amazon and I recommend all our readers to explore some Rick Vito…you really have some great songs and I dig the vocals too! I also saw on your bio that you shared a stage with the legendary Big Joe Turner, is this true?
RV: Oh yeah.
EH: Amazing, he is one of my all-time favorite blues master.
EH: Well, Rick, thank you very much for this interview. I know you are a very busy man and you have had an incredible and storied career and here at jackaboutguitars we totally appreciate your kindness and generosity. Thank you very much for your time. You are truly a blues legend and a gentleman.
RV: Thank you very much and say “Hi” to your brother (Jack).
Rick has some cool music CD’s and DVD’s that you can get at RickVito.com All items can be autographed by request. He’s even got an instructional DVD on slide guitar playing which is on my list (because my slide playing has always sucked) along with a some cool other things for sale.
Rick Vito at Summer NAMM 2011
All photos and bio information used with permission of Rick Vito. A special thank you Rick!
MY DINNER WITH DENNY TEDESCO (WELL, NOT REALLY…JUST PICKING THE MIND OF THE MAN BEHIND ONE OF THE COOLEST MUSIC FILMS TO COME ALONG EVER…THE FILM “THE WRECKING CREW”) by ED HUERTA
WELL, THE TIME IS AT HAND, AND THE WAY COOL MUCH ANTICIPATED WRECKING CREW FILM IS ALMOST HERE…
KICKSTARTER IS IN PLACE AND NOW IT’S TIME FOR EVERYONE OUT THERE TO DO WHAT EACH OF US CAN
That’s right. It’s finally almost here. Getting close to the release of THE WRECKING CREW FILM. Many of you have heard the buzz. Filmmaker Denny Tedesco, son of the late, great guitarist, Tommy Tedesco, is getting very close to releasing his “labor of love“, The Wrecking Crew Film. Talk about excitement building…
This is the story that has needed to be told and it’s time for the final push for funds to get this amazing film up on the BIG SCREEN for all to see and enjoy, to be WOWED and AMAZED. And what a story it is…
Let’s all help Denny Tedesco to get this story out to the masses. Kent Hartman, thank you so much for writing “The Wrecking Crew” Book (“The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret)! I just wish that I would have discovered it before writing this article as I would have certainly asked your permission to draw from it. What a GREAT read!
To date, many dollars have been raised as the film contains over a hundred songs of which the music rights and licensing had to be worked out and paid for. The process is almost complete which will allow the film to be released.
Read on and find out how you can become a part of all this through the Kickstarter Program. You can actually help in a very modest (or generous) way to get this fantastic film launched onto the big screen!!! There are so many ways to help out from attending screenings, giving a small or large donation, and even getting an actual dedication that will appear on the DVD.
You can even contribute to the effort by purchasing way cool Wrecking Crew merchandise like Bowling shirts, Tee-shirts and tank tops, baseball caps, coffee mugs, posters, and even special bottles of red wine, all with The Wrecking Crew Logo on them. Great memorabilia to own, wear, and display in your home or music room. See: Wrecking Crew Merchandise.
For those guitarists, musicians, and readers out there who aren’t too familiar with or don’t know much about all of this Wrecking Crew business in the air, relax. It’s okay. Really.
These are just the guys & girl (studio musicians) who played on the soundtrack of just about every baby boomer’s life, not to mention how it affected and what many of the other generations that followed might have taken from them.
Many of you guitarists, bass players, drummers, piano and keyboard players, as well as other musicians out there have been affected by these guys probably way more than you’ll ever know. I know that once I finally came to the knowledge of all of this, I couldn’t even begin to believe it. Songs that I have heard most of my life weren’t even played by the musicians in the bands whose recordings they were supposed to be!
The name, “The Wrecking Crew”, was given to this younger group of studio musicians in L.A. in the early 1960’s by the older established studio musicians in the area (the suits so to speak) as they thought that these younger guys were going to wreck the music business with their rock and roll and blue jeans and tee shirts.
The Wrecking Crew Film is the untold “behind the scenes story” of these musicians who played on all of the biggest hits, hit after hit after hit, that came out of the west coast from Southern California. They were the “unsung heroes” that the public never knew back then and many are just finding out about now. Believe it or not, they were Phil Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound”!
These are the musicians that played on so many of the hits by The Association, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Carpenters, The Crystals, Dean Martin, Elvis, The Fifth Dimension, Frank Sinatra, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Jan & Dean, Nancy Sinatra, Neil Diamond, The Mamas & Papas, The Monkees, The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, Sam Cooke, Simon & Garfunkel, Sonny & Cher, and too many others to even mention right now (sorry others)! The list goes on and on and on….
They even played on T.V. theme songs like Bonanza, Batman, Green Acres, Hawaii Five-O, and Mission Impossible, as well as movie soundtracks.
For those of you who don’t know much about all of this, here’s a video trailer that will bring you up to speed a bit and give you an idea just what it’s all about concerning this cool film.
HERE’S WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE FILM
A wonderful, touching and hilarious film about the unsung stars of so many records that you carry in your heart. – Elvis Costello
It was incredible! I felt just like I was sitting there with them at that table. It had everything I wanted to see and more that I didn’t expect. Tommy’s humor drew you in and the lifelong respect for each other was so evident. Thank you for making this film because it shows that these legendary musicians, who we listen to everyday, are anything but invisible!!!!!! – Peter Frampton
“The Wrecking Crew” documentary is the first time that people will finally understand what it was like to be in the trenches of Rock and Roll… Its the closest thing to being there. It is a great pleasure to be a part of Denny Tedesco’s Wrecking Crew. – Hal Blaine
Like the Funk Brothers being the backbone of the Motown Sound, the Wrecking Crew were the backbone of the L.A. Sound. This group of musicians played on and created hundreds of hits that became the soundtrack to our lives in the 60s and 70s and are still on radio today. I would recommend this DVD to anyone who likes music and who doesn’t? It’s an historical peek and inside look at the backbone of American hit parade music that rocked the world. – Randy Bachman Guess Who, Bachman Turner Overdrive
Denny Tedesco has given us an amazing look at a musical moment in history that everyone who loves rock and roll should see. – Christopher Guest
Much congratulations to you for undertaking the project and for delivering it in such a wonderful way. For me it was educational, entertaining and thoroughly engrossing… – Clive Davis
I loved the film, thank you for bringing to light the story behind one of the most important musical ensembles of the modern recording era… – Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers
It’s about bloody time! – Micky Dolenz
Jackaboutguitars.com recently had the honor of being granted an interview with Filmmaker Denny Tedesco. Drummer and writer Ed Huerta of Jackaboutguitars ‘Art “N” Soul column, aka “The Prince of Primitive“, managed to be able to free up enough time from his overwhelming schedule to take on the special assignment for Jackaboutguitars of interviewing Mr. Denny Tedesco. Jackaboutguitars was also given permission to use The Wrecking Crew logo, photographs, and even some of the video clip outtakes from this fantastic film by Denny Tedesco.
Throughout the interview I have posted photos and some of these video clip outtakes from the making of the film which are at the least, quite interesting, and some of the stories are really very entertaining. They aren’t in any special order and probably don’t appear in spots that coincide with the interview.
Enjoy them for the great musical history that they are. I’m hoping this story and the interview with Denny will be enough to inform those who don’t know much about The Wrecking Crew and temporarily satisfy your curiosity about The Wrecking Crew Film. If this in any way speaks to any of you musicians out there,
It’s also my understanding that dinner and drinks for the interview were almost outstanding! They may seem to have even been non existent (just like the budget set aside for all of this by Jackaboutguitars). We do know that as and when the budgets gets a bit better, all else will follow accordingly. Enough said, here’s the interview. Enjoy! – Jack
MY DINNER WITH DENNY (WELL, NOT REALLY…JUST PICKING THE MIND OF THE MAN BEHIND ONE OF THE COOLEST FILMS TO COME ALONG EVER…THE FILM “THE WRECKING CREW”) by ED HUERTA
EH: I lied. I didn’t have a face to face sit down with the man. I didn’t do this interview mano a mano with him. We never even had dinner together, but in fact, I did do this interview via one of Thomas Edison’s inventions, (look for the movie starring Don Ameche…like my late father used to say about me,“ He spends more time on the phone than Don Ameche!”) (the phone, with the man).
The man, meaning Denny Tedesco, filmmaker and son of the late Tommy Tedesco, jazz guitarist and member of The Wrecking Crew group that was responsible for nearly every hit song and many non-hits through most of the 1960’s and early 1970’s that came out of the west coast.
Tommy’s guitar playing can be heard in numerous television theme songs and many, many motion picture soundtracks. The man was sitting in the guitar chair for a good decade.
I first learned of The Wrecking Crew many years back when I started delving into music producers such as Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. These musicians helped usher in the Golden Age of Music. They were responsible for hundreds of songs that somehow transport us to a different time and exclusive, individual memories.
For example, the magical sounds of the opening drum hits in The Ronettes “Be My Baby” or the wonderful space of music, just before the last vocal segue of Sonny and Cher’s, “I Got You Babe”. The pure pop that drove Gary Lewis’ “This Diamond Ring” to the top of the charts. I still believe that song inspired a teen Bruce Springsteen to later record his Spectoresque production of the classic “Born to Run” album.
The Monkees, Jan and Dean, Ricky Nelson, The freaking Turtles, people, or anything on Pet Sounds. This stuff was thee stuff!!! If you ever picked up an instrument or played in a band, then you have The Wrecking Crew to thank because I know you must have played one of the songs they played on or ripped off a lick or two from one of those said songs.
The Wrecking Crew was music’s version of the New York Yankees, especially the 1927 Yankees featuring The Murderer’s Row. They are the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, the Green Bay Packers: the dynasty of music and musicians. So what I am trying to say in this introduction is, that they meant a lot of things to music lovers and musicians and it was quite an honor to get to meet Mr. Tedesco at the screening of the film in Orange County and to get to meet Mr. Hal Blaine, the “DRUM GOD”. It was one of the most special evenings of my life and it was like being at Disneyland and getting to meet Walt Disney.
Case in point, we were seated in the cinema, my wife and I, perusing the brochure that we were handed upon entrance to the movie, when a nicely dressed gentleman introduced himself as Denny Tedesco, the maker of the film we were about to view. I recognized him immediately, only because I saw his picture in the program just seconds earlier. Denny didn’t have to do this. It was truly a nice gesture that he went out of his way to greet people. I was thinking and mentioned it to my wife, that he probably recognized me from my many appearances on the old Steve Allen Show.
Yeah, she didn’t think that was too funny either…but I do want to thank Paula and Steve Soest for reminding me of the screening and for arranging this wonderful event and the star treatment they gave my wife and I. I just want to add that Denny did not hesitate when Jack from Jackaboutguitars.com approached him about doing an interview for the Jackaboutguitars.com website.
Thanks again Denny Tedesco…and if you haven’t seen this movie, go out and see it and help support the cause with a donation to Kickstarter. I, for one, cannot wait for the soundtrack and DVD of this film. You will see how this film touches the very core of the music lovers’ existence. It is a fine tribute to the memory of Tommy Tedesco and to all of the people that rounded out this group of fine musicians. Denny did an incredible job on this and you can feel the love for his father in this work.
I’m starting to sound quite a bit like a PBS pledge drive here. Let me wrap it up by saying this… I never met Tommy Tedesco – but this film uncovers a persona that is larger than life and you truly get a feeling of who the man was and he seems like a very good man and father as well as a decent guitar player too.
I am sure Tommy is looking down at these screenings and proudly saying to all within earshot, “That’s my son’s work everybody, that’s my son!”. We thank you for your work too, Mr. Tedesco…both of you!
(Setting the scene: I did this interview over the phone on my trusty ZOOM H1 and Samsung III. Denny had just gotten back from an errand and it was late afternoon and his voice sounded scratchy and tired. I felt bad about asking so many questions, but how often do I get to meet Hollywood filmmakers especially the son of Tommy Tedesco…please ignore the sounds of Lakewood Boulevard in the background that didn’t help me decipher some of Denny’s answers…Hope you all enjoy and please do yourselves a great favor and check out his film. It is truly a great piece of historical work.)
EH: Hello, Denny. First thing, let me say I first met you at the screening of The Wrecking Crew Film in Orange, California at Chapman University (a heartfelt thank you to Paula and Steve Soest) and Hal Blaine was there, and it was a totally amazing, magical evening!
I play drums and it was such a thrill to talk and shake the man’s hand that played on all of the hit songs that shaped my life and playing style. (He did want royalties from me but I only had a couple bucks in my pocket, which Hal took with pleasure. I am joking, of course, he took it begrudgingly… (Ed’s note, just kidding), but Mr. Blaine was very funny and he signed a poster for me too!
So, as a kid I used to listen to all of these records and would pretend I was Dennis Wilson playing those drums. I guess I should have pretended to be Hal Blaine(I just didn’t know at the time). Anyway, I just wanted to say for all of the musicians out there “Thank You” for making this long awaited and anticipated film.
It is the most amazing film and I beseech all those people who only have a shred of interest in music or the golden years of the 1960’s to buy a ticket and see this. I am in my early 50’s, so I was a tad too young when these songs originally came out. But I do have childhood memories of hearing and enjoying them. What I want to ask you, in a long-winded way is, do you get the same reactions from people after they view this film?
DT: The reaction is, yeah….That’s why I keep going. The reaction to the film is always extremely positive. The concept of the film is what I’d like to take credit for.
It’s amazing. We are peeling back the curtains and educating the people, like you just said, you thought it was Dennis Wilson playing, and it’s nice to see that reaction all of the time, and it doesn’t matter what demographic. I’ve seen it in Israel, in England, in Germany, Barcelona and New York…Brooklyn, you know, Seattle, and all across this country, the same thing. This is America’s greatest export. It really was. It was an amazing time period.
EH: Oh yeah! It was the total golden age of music, and we’ll get back to this in a bit, but my next question is…hope you don’t mind me reading from my notes here..
DT: Go right ahead…
EH: You have had a little trouble getting the movie funded, I know it’s extremely expensive, but it’s a story and a topic that needed to be addressed or told, and I was wondering as The Wrecking Crew made millions of dollars for record companies and music people, artists, did these people attempt to give back at all to the funding of this project?
DT: Oh yeah, Like Jerry Moss gave fifty thousand and Herb Alpert (the brains behind A & M Records, but you people probably already know this so from here on in I will assume you are more knowledgeable than the average reader) is going to match that. They have come around but you know people, it’s a weird thing.
You can’t just go to people and well, Cher, for example. I’m doing an interview with Cher and I didn’t want to ask her for money. It’s a fine line. I’m not good at it! Some people are good at asking, I’m not good at asking but I’m learning how to ask and that could be a reason that it’s taking so long. You know, we’re getting there.
EH: Right. So you finished the movie, in like, 2008?
DT: I started in 1996, in 2006, we started to cut. I compared it to building a house. We had all the appliances, all the fixtures and the lumber to build the house, our dream house, but we had no idea if we could build it. So it’s like a film. I had all the material and what we needed to do was hire a manager.
So we hired Claire Scanlon, an editor/producer and she helped me put it together and in 2008 we released it at festivals. The goal at festivals is to always get noticed.
EH: I see you’ve won a ton of awards.
DT: Right, well we were getting noticed but it wasn’t really going anywhere and in 2008 no one wanted to pick up a musical documentary with a huge musical budget on the backend to pay. So that’s when I had to basically go on our own and donations to the International Documentary Association, we were also able to pay off over $300,000, we have like $250,000 left, which is basically for the Musician’s Union, so the last bit will be going towards the musicians, which is great.
EH: This leads to another question. There are an amazing number of songs in this film. Now, I have no idea what it would cost but is there a soundtrack in the making?
DT: Well, what we are trying to do, it’s funny you said that, Yes! There has to be! That’s what we are trying to do, get the soundtrack together, that’s a whole ‘nother animal. But there has to be a soundtrack that goes with it. We have over 100 songs throughout the film. I’d like to put 40 of them together for an LP or as well as like on a CD with 40 songs or maybe put 24 songs on a double album.
EH: I’m sure you could put together a whole boxed set with the 100 songs and you would get a lot of buyers, including myself. Now about The Wrecking Crew musicians, I imagine they showed up the day of the session but did they know whom they were playing for?
DT: Not necessarily. How it worked, you would get called and the leader of the session would see if you were around, what to bring, like a six stringed acoustic or a twelve string or they’d say you have to have a mandolin or a banjo or whatever you were doing and then you might not know who the artist was.
Sometimes they were just tracks or the artist was new. A great example, my father once got a charm, a little charm bracelet in the shape of a Grammy. It was a gift from Jimmy Webb for the work on “Up, Up and Away”. My father asked Hal Blaine what the gift was for. He said it was for that song we did with The 5th Dimension, but yes, my father didn’t know he was on it but if you listen to the song, you know it’s him.
You know The 5th Dimension wasn’t there and it was just a session with Bones Howe and they went with Bones all of the time, or whoever that was there producing. It’s a craft. Like everyone thinks it must have been great working with a certain artist. Well, certain artists weren’t stars. The only one that ever impressed them was Sinatra. Like now you knew who you were working for.
EH: Now the musicians were also given charts. Did they ever ad-lib off of the written charts?
DT: Absolutely. The leader of the session would give them rough ideas for songs or they would have to invent the part. Sometimes they’d get full written parts. They always made sure they gave more than what they asked for. If the leader was receptive to the idea, Hal would say “like what do you think of this?” Yeah, that sounds great! Then, my father would say “and what about this?” and if he likes it great.
My dad’s motto was if the guy’s smiling then I’m doing my job. If the guy’s nervous walking then we’re in trouble. So you gotta figure out what the guy needs, even if it’s not right. Like if you’re the player and you don’t think it’s the right direction, well, you know what, he’s paying the bill and you go in the direction he wants you to go.
EH: When I was a kid, I would always look at the album covers and see pictures of The Beach Boys (or insert any 60’s era band here – except Sopwith Camel! DO NOT GO there people!) playing in the studio so you would just assume that these guys were playing on the records. Now is there a reason the record companies kept it hushed up? That these guys weren’t actually playing on their own records?
DT: Yeah. I mean The Beach Boys are supposed to be the band. In fact, they first started playing on the first couple albums that they did. Then it got a little more complicated. Brian wanted Hal and Ray Pohlman and started putting together a bigger band. Finally, it was all session players. It got more complex. The guys were on the road and didn’t have time to get ready.
Everybody’s different, like The Byrds, a great example. “Mr. Tambourine Man”. I think that’s the only song they are credited for as an A-side and as a B-side and they went in there and Terry Melcher ( of Bruce and Terry fame and the son of Doris Day, you all knew this though…) was the producer. Terry Melcher said, “If I’m going to do this, I want to have my session guys in there and Roger (McGuinn and or Jim) can play on it.” The Byrds were upset.
It was Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, Bill Pittman and Jerry Cole were on guitars. But it was a number one hit! Took them three hours to knock it out. Now when The Byrds went in it was like 77 takes for “Turn, Turn Turn”.
Economically, Terry had a job to get in and get out. Any producer’s job is that he thinks he’s gotta get a hit. If you don’t think that you are going to get a hit then don’t do it. But you have to have that mindset. What’s the best chance I have of getting a hit? Having this kind of group in there?
EH: In the 60’s and early 70’s, the Wrecking Crew basically ruled the roost. Now if you weren’t a part of this group, were you basically out of luck, studio-cat wise? (Ed’s note: checkout my hip lingo, eh?)
DT: That’s a good question.
EH: (as I nod smugly…)
DT: I think there was enough work to go around. In the earlier days it was harder to break in. For example, in the 70’s, my dad used to say, he was working for the movies and TV. He would tell the guys, “You have a better chance of joining the L.A. Rams than being in one of the five chairs, the guitar chairs at the hot beach right now.” And the reason he said that was, if you’re good enough to go against the L.A. Rams (Ed’s note: and this was the time of The Fearsome Foursome people!) and you could hit them and you got a chance to beat the guy up, no way!
You just don’t call and happen to put a resume in. You have to have everything going for you. You gotta have talent and you gotta have luck, being in the right place at the right time. You have to have someone recognize you, let alone want to use you. No one’s going to take a chance.
Well people say, what would your dad like to be remembered for? And you would think something with The Beach Boys, but no, he wanted to be remembered for pieces he did with John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith or Elmer Bernstein. They called him knowing it was Tommy in that seat. My father knew when he was working with John Williams. John Williams would tell my father two months before, to keep September open the first two weeks. I got this job on a movie and it’s for a guitar. John Williams was calling two months ahead of time to make sure there was no conflict. That’s when you know you’ve made it.
You’re a hot seat with 80 musicians in the room and it’s all solos all the way through. There are all kinds of scores and it’s all that reading. That’s when you know. You want to be remembered for that and his peers remember him for that. Green Acres, Bonanza, Batman, yeah, they’re good for the public, that he’s known for that, but cute, it’s great, anybody can do that, in a sense. You learn them. You record them. It’s not that big of a deal, but very few people could sit in that chair where he sat!
EH: I’m sure of that! Now this is sort of a funny question. Dick Clark claims that he never knew bands didn’t play on their own records until The Monkees. So, can we blame The Monkees and their studio revolt for the demise of the studio musician?
DT: Not really. Naw…look at Milli Vanilli. (Ed’s note, I did and I didn’t like what I saw!) Mickey Dolenz said in the movie, I did an interview with him, and he said, “If they had put the credits on the album covers, it wouldn’t have been a problem.” It wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t really change anything.
The heyday was like 1967, late 60’s. The only thing it seems maybe music went into a different direction like singer-songwriters. Carole King brought her people in and bands, you got Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Blood, Sweat and Tears, all great groups doing their own thing. They don’t need these guys. It’s not the thing anymore. It’s a different direction kind of thing and new technology.
EH: Now is there like a current Wrecking Crew out there now for today’s bands?
DT: It’s much smaller and not for bands as much. There’s Mike Landau, and Leland Sklar is still working. It’s not like it used to be. It’s not like “oh, they are better.” The times have changed. You don’t have to be number one. Nowadays you have ProTools and all that. You can take your time until you get the take you like.
EH: I grew up in a house where everyone played music. My brothers were in bands so music was everywhere. For some reason, I really fell for the big, dramatic sound, like Phil Spector or Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds and Shadow Morton and all that and I’ll ask my friends that are contemporary musicians, that have high musical knowledge, and I’ll tell them about The Wrecking Crew and they just look at me. A lot of people really don’t know who they are and to me, that’s like a baseball fan not knowing who Sandy Koufax is…
DT: Now that’s one of the reasons I feel this story needs to be told. It’s not going to change anything. It’s not a world-shattering event. Well, why do we need to know? Well why does an artist need to know of a Picasso or a Monet? You need to know what came before them. A great example is (drummer) Kenny Aronoff. He said you could tell me that you hate everything Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer ever played but you can’t tell me you weren’t influenced by them. Somewhere down the line, you were influenced by someone that was influenced by the art. That’s the difference. It helps you. The more knowledge you have of the past, helps you. It always helps us.
EH: I still steal stuff from Hal Blaine all of the time for Rockford’s songs. Now was it strange in school, like would you tell your friends that your dad was responsible for what they heard on the radio?
DT: No, Not at all. I never saw my dad play an instrument in the house until the 70’s when he was doing his own stuff. That’s because he was working all of the time. I never saw him play. I knew he played guitar for a living, and on albums and rock and roll stuff. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing. I heard he played for The Beach Boys but it didn’t mean anything to me. I don’t know why. When he started to do his jazz thing later on, I started to become more aware of what he did, like in the late 70’s.
EH: Now, did your dad play the guitar part on The Twilight Zone television show?
DT: Naw, that’s mixed up internet bull$#!+. In The Twilight Zone, the movie, he did. When they did the movie, the original music they found was from a French recording (Marius Constant) and that’s what they used. It wasn’t from any of the guys here…
EH: I know you have children, do they realize the scope of this project? What it means to you and the people out there?
DT: Oh yeah. One’s fourteen and the other is eight and unfortunately Daddy works 24/7 and what’s interesting is that it’s affecting their lives. Like the musicians affected their kids’ lives. You know when I’m traveling on the road for ten days doing the publicity stuff and trying to raise money, in the end, it’s for them but they don’t understand it. They’re too young to understand what we are doing. So that’s kind of a drag.
EH: I read that your dad was gone a lot from your house when you were growing up.
DT: Dad never left town, just gone in hours. He was never out of town.
EH: I have one more question about your father. This film, to me, could be like a love letter to your father (Denny: interjects: Yeah, it was ) and he passed away before viewing any of it. What do you think his reaction would be to this labor of love?
DT: He’d be blown away, you know, teary-eyed, everyday he’d be a basket case probably. It’s interesting, when we started the project, it was going to be about a group of musicians. And when I cut thirty minutes, an editor friend, Gary Cooper, said this is fine, but you’re doing something I could do and everyone else in this room could do. We could cut the same thing. It doesn’t mean anything. You’re not telling us why you are cutting it. Why you’re making this film.
What he was saying was you have an opportunity to be a little more personal, a little more in-depth with the characters. And he was right. So once I let that relationship with my father into the group, it was easier. It made life a lot easier. Then I didn’t have to worry about, well this person isn’t in it or this person. You can’t fall in love with anybody if everybody’s in it. (Ed’s note – Great quote!)
EH: I’ve seen the quote “Celebrity Reviews”. Now you’ve been around famous people your entire life (Denny laughs…), but do the celebrity reviews make it more special? That, these guys that are now musicians, were influenced by The Wrecking Crew?
DT: Yeah, It’s funny, because I realize this now, like my father was playing in a jazz club and if my mother was there or maybe I was there. It was like, why are you playing all that $#!+, ya know. Well, he was playing for guitar players.
I realized that he was playing for them. Meaning they are the ones that know what I’m doing. They are the ones enjoying what I’m playing. And for me, I realized all these musicians loved the film and were inspired by the film. It’s their story. Even if you’re not on that team, it’s your story. If you played an instrument then you understand it. You play in a room together. You understand that camaraderie.
So that is the biggest thrill for me. Like I found out Elvis Costello was in the theatre and Peter Frampton was in the theater and I asked them for quotes.
EH: An aside here…any word out of the Phil Spector camp?
DT: No, not at all…
EH: I imagine he’s got bigger things on his mind. Anyways, I can’t wait for this to come out on DVD so I can blast this at my house at my leisure. Now, I understand your wife is also a producer?
DT: Yeah, in a nutshell. She’s a commercial producer. So we’re both in the business.
EH: Is it hard to have two creative forces in the family?
DT: Nah, nothing like that…We do have our separate opinions but I win in the end (laughs). We always joke because we have this one thing in the film and she says it doesn’t work and I say it does. We always argue about it even though it’s never going to come out.
EH: I can’t wait for the DVD release because I want to see the extra footage. I know you said it was hard to cut.
DT: Yes, the DVD. Hopefully we will have a 3-DVD set. I have hours of footage of people and their energy that never made it onto the film. Richard Carpenter, Jackie DeShannon, Bill Medley, Petula Clark and all these other session musicians, James Burton, Billy Strange all these other guys. I just couldn’t put everybody in. It was very difficult.
EH: I just want to say that it was quite an amazing movie going experience. I probably had my mouth open the entire time. It was the coolest thing seeing this stuff come to life, the back story, if you will, of these songs that influenced everyone’s lives.
One last question for you, Denny. I know you are very busy and we all thank you for your time. Now, how can the readers of Jackaboutguitars help out and be a part of this historic venture? Can we help out with the funding?
DT: In October, we are having a Kickstarter program. You know, if you can’t afford a couple of bucks, I totally understand. When we started Kickstarter, we got to go for the $250,000 that’s left. The only difference between our Kickstarter and the others, is that the film is done. So we are taking pre-orders. If we can reach that goal of $250,000, and we know we’ll have pre-orders, we can fill the pre-order with the DVD. So that’s what we are trying to do.
EH: So the goal of raising the rest of the money is to get the film out on DVD?
EH: Cool…so are we going to have more film showings at major theaters?
DT: Yeah, we’ll do a theatrical run first, see how we do then, then go for the DVD.
EH: So we can expect another year or so before the DVD release?
DT: Yeah, Yeah…
EH: I bet you’re tired, man. You have been working on this for a long, long time…
DT: Yeah, yeah.(chuckles)
EH: Well again, I want to thank you Denny for making this film and can’t wait for the sequel! ( joking of course…) You did a great job. Thank you for your time.
DT: Thank you. My pleasure.
Many thanks to Denny Tedesco, The Wrecking Crew Musicians, Ed Huerta, all the producers and contributors, the movers and shakers, who are making the funding of this great film a reality, all of the artists involved, as well as anyone who had anything to do with The Wrecking Crew, then and now. Many a heart felt thanks!!!
Be sure to hit Facebook.com/WreckingCrewFilm and give a like! While you’re at it, don’t forget to support this effort however you feel that you can at Kickstarter to help get this great film up on the big screen and give back to these wonderful musicians and everyone involved for giving us this huge piece of the soundtrack of our lives.
Note: All photos, videos, and The Wrecking Crew Logo used with permission of Denny Tedesco.
TIME FOR MORE OF ED HUERTA’S
HE‘ART “N” SOUL
ABOUT BLUES GUITARIST HENRY CARVAJAL
(Editor’s note: Life has been so jammed packed that time has been at a premium for Jackaboutguitars…My sincerest thanks to Henry Carvajal and apologies for taking so long to get this interview out there to his public. Thanks for you’re patience and understanding, Henry! – Jack
Photos by Ed Huerta unless otherwise noted.)
HENRY “THE HAMMER” CARVAJAL…(NICKNAME PENDING) by ED HUERTA
Let me just tell you people, Henry Carvajal has his act together. I am not sure how much interaction you all have with musicians. but punctuality isn’t usually high on most musician’s list of things to deal with.
Dig. Henry and I set up an interview appointment at 3 o’clock-ish at the World Famous DiPiazza’s Restaurant in Long Beach, California on a Monday, and no sooner did I show up, when Hammerin’ Henry strolls through the door. I wasn’t even set up yet! He has got to be the most prompt musician I have ever met.
Henry made a great first impression, Peeps, and if I was an employer, I would have given him the job right on the spot along with a company car (just for being a musician showing up on time)! This is how impressive of a feat this is, Ladies and Gents.
Needless to say, I blame the Hammer (I learned Henry doesn’t have a nickname so I made this up, maybe it will catch on) for my mistake in missing the first part of our interview!
Just kidding, but I didn’t want to call Henry and try to recreate the magic that we encountered on our encounter or to check on what kind of condition our condition was in either, so relax, put the problems of the day behind you and take a trip with Henry Carvajal and his life in the blues…
I will admit it. Someone (who will remain nameless) messed up just a little bit here. The first 10 minutes of the interview weren’t. Operator error (those operators)! Someone thought the Zoom was on. It wasn’t. Bummer.
Let me try to recap by memory. It was mostly about Henry’s humble beginnings and how he came to embrace the blues. I’ll try to remember it but my mind isn’t what it used to be, folks…too much of the devil’s music running around my head.
I think it went something like this. The scene: At a corner booth in DiPiazza’s, Henry and I are both settling down to some serious conversation when suddenly a loud, booming voice pierces the calm, “CAN I GET ANOTHER BEER HERE??” … (Oh wait, that was me).
Anyways, Henry was born in a dirt shack just a mere stone’s throw away from the old Buddy Guy place in Little Rock. He had a childhood sweetheart – they were always hand in hand. Henry had high top shoes and shirt tails, Suzy was in pigtails. He knew he loved her even then…oh wait that’s another dude…okay let me think..I will have to consult Henry’s Musician’s Corner article with Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers for this early info.
It seems that Henry’s love for music began when he was a very young boy growing up in the Pico Union district of Los Angeles. He remembers the low riders rolling past his house blaring doo-wop from their tuck and roll ensconced speakers. (Ed’s note: Henry still pays homage to those early greats with his vocal stylings on Lee Dorsey’s “Ya-Ya” and Little Willie John’s “Talk to Me” in live shows.) He fell in love with guitars when his dad would take him around the various local pawnshops on the weekends.
By the time his family moved to South Gate, (best known for a Cal Worthington dealership), Henry was into 50’s rock and roll and the blues and still digging the doo-wop sounds too. At the ripe age of 18, Henry started to play the guitar. Otis Rush, T-Bone Walker, Buddy Guy were the bluesmen that most interested Henry.
Cal Worthington and his dog Spot – (http://mediaandmayhem.com)
He learned to love the harmonica style blues after visiting Lamar’s Records in Long Beach. I can attest that was a fantastic record store! Every blues artist imaginable could be listened to there. An amazing place! Henry credits Gil “Lamar” Duarte (avid record collector and virtual walking encyclopedia of the blues and owner of Lamar’s) for shaping his musical knowledge.
Just three years after picking up the guitar, Henry went out in search of club gigs…talk about chutzpah! Is it any wonder that this man is known the world over as “Hammerin Henry”????? Okay peeps, let me check my magic recorder…okay, we will currently resume our previously interrupted interview…already in progress…
EH: WOW!!! HENRY!!! I can’t believe you said that!!! THAT IS AMAZING!!! Remember folks, you heard it here first on Jackaboutguitars!!! I’m not even going to repeat that story Henry….man, that lady over there just about knocked over her wine. I will probably not get to heaven after hearing that stuff, for sure…I better go to confession, wash my ears out…anyways, let me try to regroup…okay, Henry, what originally or who originally, got you interested in music? Was it the radio? Childhood friends? Parents? Were they musicians?
HC: No, not really…My dad would pick up the guitar now and then. My mom would sing some songs or something but it didn’t actually get me interested in music. Like my dad, he would go around to pawn shops and sorta look around so that sort of got me into the guitar…(Just then Henry’s cell phone rings…an enraged Henry hurls off a string of expletives that this Catholic journalist had never heard in his life!!! Is it any wonder that they call him “Hammerin” Henry????
Actually Henry is a very soft spoken man and politely tells the caller that he is in the middle of an interview and he will return his call afterwards and to leave the ransom money in the previously agreed on drop spot…just trying to see if you guys are paying attention..back to the interview…)
EH: Folks, Henry is a very busy man people! Don’t be botherin’ Henry during no interviews!!! Man, people have got some nerve…This is Henry C, y’all!
HC: Plus my dad had some Ray Charles…so between the two, I started getting heavy into 60’s, into like soul and blues. I also remember listening to The Beatles, loved them and Spanky and Our Gang all that kind of stuff.
EH: What was the first record that you ever bought?
HC: Well I went to Wenzel’s Records (Downey, California) close to my high school and bought a Buddy Guy LP. I remember the cover looked cool… it was crazy. He had that early Strat sound going. That’s what got me going. That was about high school.
EH: I also read somewhere that you were into the mod scene…(Ed’s note: Could be a reason that Henry is a “most nattily attired bluesman” on stage)
HC: That was in high school too…like 8th grade then high school…like I said before from my aunt’s collection I knew all about that British Invasion stuff instead of that like 70’s stuff which I’m not too hip on. It turned out my high school buddies, that we all realized, we were like into the same music.
So we’d go to our high school dances and it would be all that scratchin’ stuff… but the cool thing was we could go to St. John Bosco’s, which was on Bellflower, or St. Joseph’s, which was an all-girl school in Lakewood, they were a little more hip. So we would spend our time at dances over there. They played hipper music and there were more mods there than at our high school.
Okay, so when you were about 18, you started playing some serious guitar…and tell me about Lamar’s Records. That seems to loom large in your legend.
HC: I was playing with Whiteboy James. He was my first band. Whiteboy was really instrumental in introducing me to everybody in the Long Beach scene that was happening in the early 90’s. We were really popular then if you remember.
We played everywhere in town. So I walked into Lamar’s and talked to Gil, told him I played a little..and he was probably goin “yeah right, everyone plays around here”, but he was really cool.
(Ed’s note: the owner of Lamar’s Records, Gil “Lamar” Duarte. It was THEE record store of the blues. This place had everything. Artists you have never heard of…I mean, this place was blues heaven. They would have live in-store shows there. I remember a young Ed Huerta and Don “Mr. Hollywood” Butler spent a 7-11 Big Gulp sized vodka soaked day there seeing The William Clarke Band. We somehow ended up at a magic shop across the street and proceeded to get 86ed from there by some dude named Mandrake! But that is another story entirely…).
HC: We were like scoping each other out. We became good friends and stuff. He was instrumental in telling me what bands to listen to, what music to listen to, and through him, I discovered T-Bone Walker, so that was pretty cool. We still remain friends.
EH: Now Lamar’s, now that’s not there anymore, is it?
HC: Naw. The first location was on Atlantic…then they moved and that was about it.
EH: Yeah, I remember seeing live shows there and stuff…okay. So Whiteboy James was your first band then you got into William Clarke. So how long were you in The William Clarke Band?
HC: The first time about 2 years.
EH: So how old are you at this point in time?
HC: Oh man, I was probably about 23 or so.
EH: So that must have been cool. Here you are like a 20 year old kid and you’re packing houses. I mean. You’re not playing The Forum but you are playing real cool places. I always remember going to see Whiteboy and there would always be a freakin’ packed crowd in there. I still, to this day, go to see Whiteboy. I love the man. He is super cool.
Now I remember seeing The William Clarke Band at a private birthday party in Huntington Beach and he was really late…like 2 hours late! (Ed’s note, *Now I didn’t relate the following story to Henry due to respect or time constraints or both but here goes. The William Clarke Band was all set up and they were getting nervous, like fake tuning and everything because their singer was nowhere to be found…finally, one of the guys in the band asked for an audience member to come up and sing some blues.
So this guy, that was a friend of a friend, got up there, obviously feeling no pain…and here is this room full of like grandmothers, aunts, uncles, sisters, family members….you get the idea…anyway the band goes into a slow blues tune and the guy starts singing…and he starts singing words that I had never heard in a blues song before or since…I mean he made Jim Morrison look like Mother Theresa!
He actually sang “I want to #@(< your mother!!!” I mean this is in front of a room full of relatives and stuff!!! We sort of all looked at each other and thought he didn’t say what we thought he said. But again he kept repeating the line over and over. I had never laughed so hard in my life. I was seriously doubled up in pain on my hands and knees crawling to the exit.
I was crying from stomach cramps!!! I was laughing so hard!!! Man, those were the days. Butler, Cudz “The Professor” Johnston and I were running around that party like The Three Stooges in “Hoi Polloi”…and if some lady from that party found a few meatballs in the pocket of her fur coat…well, send me the dry cleaning bill…I feel bad about that now…Hey, when you’re young…) The story circulating around the party was that William Clarke had slept in and didn’t hear his alarm clock.
HC: I was actually in his band like 1996 when he passed away. It was really tragic in the sense that he was doing really well health wise and he was pretty happy about playing again….and we went out to Fresno and he got sick and we did the show without him and like the next day they told us that he had passed. It was really strange. He was just getting it going again, really strange.
EH: Was it a health issue?
HC: Not sure of the exact details. It came so fast.
EH: He was pretty young, right?
HC: Yeah…pretty young.
EH: Man, tragic..he was a talent…man…so can you tell me a little bit of some of the bands you have played for in the past?
HC: Well, there was Whiteboy James and William Clarke, and later with the James Harman Band. I think I played with James about a year or so..
EH: So this was after Kid Ramos left?
HC: Yes, way after that…actually when I came back, the first time after playing with Bill, I started the San Pedro Slim Band. So I talked to Slim and said that I wanted to start a band and do you want to be the frontman? Let me know. Call me.
He never got back with me so I ran into him again and at, I think, a Whiteboy gig and I asked him why he didn’t get back with me. He thought I was just messing with him! And I said, “now why would I mess with you about that???”
So we started the band, called it the San Pedro Slim Band and I did all the bookings and stuff. I did that for about 5 years. It was actually pretty good until I started getting undercut by other bands and this and that so that kind of like fizzled but at least we recorded a CD, “Another Night on the Town”.
He’s one of my favorite people to play with. So I play with him every chance that I get.
EH: Also I remember that place in Long Beach, off Broadway, called The Cellar. They’d have afternoon shows there like on Saturdays and I saw you playing with 2,000 LBS of Blues.
HC: Yeah, I played with them a little bit…like filled in. I’d sit in with them.
EH: Mike (Pink) Arguello (singer for 2,000 LBS. Of Blues) is one cool cat. I remember he wore this bitchen’ plaid silk like suit with matching shorts that I really dug. My wife hated that outfit. I have got to get me a set of those when I go to New Orleans…also he went to my high school, Westminster High.
The one thing I remember is watching you guys there with my wife and there were only about 20 people in there. I thought it was great!!! We aren’t big crowd people so we were comfortable. You guys were tight! I’m old and I wish more clubs would have live afternoon music going on Saturday’s. I see nothing wrong with that. Maybe it’s not rock and roll enough but hey, screw it, I’m old, what about my needs??!!! I know like when we play (Rockford), we all want to play early and go home.
EH: Now do you tour or do you just stay local?
HC: Well with the Piazza band (Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers), we’d tour like 2 to 3 weeks at a time. So just recently we will do fly-ins back and forth. We’ll do like a run back east then fly home.
EH: I forgot you were with The Mighty Flyers..
HC: Still am
EH: Shows how much I know (I felt like an embarrassed Groucho Marx on “You Bet Your Life” – an old TV show, by the way). Yeah, I’ve seen your videos on YouTube and stuff. I need to do more homework. (Why wasn’t I briefed??? Where are my handlers???) Anyways, now, are there any big names that you have sat in with?
HC: Through the years, playing with the Clarke and Piazza Bands and those Blues Cruises, you get to play with all sorts of different cats…cats like Charlie Musselwhite…cats like that.
EH: Okay let’s get to the guitar portion of this. This is a guitar website and there are many guitar purists that want to know what people play. So Henry, are you a collector of guitars?
HC: No, not really. I always try to have two. One guitar that I play all of the time and the other one as a backup. Nothing special.
EH: So you don’t hit the pawnshops or scour the Pennysaver looking for rare deals?
HC: Naw, I don’t do that.
EH: I see you play a Fender Strat?
HC: I have a Fender that’s a parts Strat…it’s not a Fender, it’s one of those Warmoth Guitars (a Washington based company that makes guitars based on customer’s specs). I love it because I get to pick the weight of the wood, the type of wood, the way the neck is and this and that…I just pick everything, buy it, give it to the guy, he paints it and puts it all together and the pickups are the most important things and I use Don Mare pickups based in Long Beach.
EH: You are probably making guitar dudes drool right now…Okay, do you have a list of your favorite musicians, not necessarily guitarists….
HC: In blues, I like T-Bone Walker, always been drawn to him. When I first started playing, I could understand that more, his style with the horns and everything, that almost big band sound. So that was cool. But if you would have asked me to play some of that harmonica backing stuff back then, I couldn’t do it. It took me such a long time to do it and I’m still trying to do that. So T-Bone, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, PeeWee Crayton. For piano, Otis Spann, Honey Piazza, because she’s the closest to Otis Spann that I’ve ever heard.
EH: So what type of music, as far as your contemporaries, do you listen to at home?
HC: San Pedro Slim has a CD called “Bar Hoppin’” that I listen to a lot…and I like The Mighty Mojo Prophets, my buddies, I like them a lot, those are all contemporary guys.
EH: What musician would you like to share a stage with, either dead or alive…or is there someone that you always wanted to play with?
HC: Hmmm…I never think of that stuff in those terms. Probably what I’ve done so far throughout the years, I think I have accomplished that, like the first time that I heard Piazza at Lamar’s.
I actually thought it was from the 50’s. It was something with George (Harmonica) Smith, I forget what song it was, so I thought, the way it was recorded and all, dang, is that from like the 40’s or 50’s and it was Piazza – so after all those years I get to play with him so that’s kind of cool. But generally, I don’t think like wow I wish I could play with this guy or that guy.
EH: But wouldn’t it be cool to play like in Big Joe Turner’s band?
HC: You never know man. They might say, “Get off the stage” or something like that.
EH: I’m sure you could hold your own with anybody man…okay Henry, do you have any other hobbies or interests that keep you busy?
HC: Not really, just listen to music…learn about different amps. I wish I had like an electronics based education where I could modify amps, put my own amps together. I like to see how other guys modify their stuff too.
I don’t have anything vintage and in my experience, I learned that if you get a reproduction amp like a tweed Bassman or whatever, then you can tweak it the way that you want it and get the sound that you want and the tone that you want. I’m pretty happy with that.
HC: (Laughs) Yeah, I just want stuff that works, that is predictable, like everytime I walk into a joint that this is the way I want it to sound.
EH: Do you have any future gigs that we can tell the Jackaboutguitars readers about?
HC: As far as the Piazza’s it’s on the website and things are always popping up…and also gigging with Pedro, wherever something is happening there.
EH: Now doing stuff like that, I’m sort of an amateur, like when we have a gig, we need to have a few practices before the show. Do you guys practice before a gig?
HC: Well see the type of blues that I always dug and that I have done comes from that George (Harmonica) Smith school of playing harmonica. It’s sorta like a lineage type thing. Like I could play with Bill Clarke, and with Piazza, he’s like a disciple of George Smith also and he plays it in his own way, so it’s easy for me to comprehend that style.
So let’s say someone wants me to play like swamp blues, I’m not too hip on that but the style that Piazza plays is ingrained in me. I hear it. We usually don’t practice because I’ve known that band for so long even before I was in it that I knew their style and the way they are going to do things. We do practice every now and then, like when someone has a new song for a CD or something, like we’ll go and straighten it out.
EH: Have you guested on any CD’s?
HC: Yeah, I did a couple songs with Pacemaker Bob Newham. He used to play with Johnny Dyer in the early 80’s and he used to play with William Clarke Band when I was in the band. So I did that…some San Pedro Slim stuff.
A buddy of mine that lives in Santa Barbara, Harmonica Shorty. He is great. He’s got the tone. He gets as close to Rod (Piazza) as you can get. Did a CD with him. So that was cool.
EH: That’s a cool name…anything with Shorty in it…
HC: Yeah, he’s about my height. He’s really, really good. His real name is Ken Sullivan. The only problem is he lives way up in Santa Barbara.
EH: Does he keep busy in Santa Barbara?
HC: There aren’t as many blues joints in Santa Barbara as there are out here in L.A.
EH: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to have the blues in Santa Barbara.
HC: I also worked with Junior Vegas. He sorta did a quasi-gospel type CD…sorta like country blues, country gospel…
EH: And that’s out right now?
HC: Yes it is.
EH: Now, Henry, do you have a nickname?
HC: Nicknames never stuck with me. But one time William Clarke came up to me and says, “Is it alright if I call you Little Henry?” hahaha yeah, sure…but he was the only one that called me Little Henry…it never stuck.
EH: Now I know that you are mentioned in the Whiteboy James song, “Gold Brick Bar”, now is that a real place?
HC: Oh yeah, it was. It was in Hawaiian Gardens. It was a real rough, tough place. We used to play there every Friday, man. There was some crazy stuff going on there. I was lucky enough not to have anything happen to me. Some heavy duty stuff there. It was pretty funny.
EH: You know if anyone can handle tough, it’s Whiteboy James. He’s a tough dude. I hear all these stories about him. But he has always been the nicest guy to me. Love the man.
HC: Yeah, we always got along really well and he was such a bada$$ and he still is, but nothing but cool to me. I still dig Whiteboy.
EH: So anything else you want to put out there?
HC: Just like San Pedro Slim…trying to get it to where I can get my buddy from San Diego to come up and set up a gig. A guy by the name of Allen Ortiz, sax and harmonica player, trying to get these two things together, but it’s kinda tough. Trying to find joints, as you well know, but I keep busy.
EH: Thanks a lot for your time Henry…much appreciated.
HC: Thank you.
Special thanks to Bluesman Henry Carvajal and Ed Huerta for this fine interview. – Jack
JOE BAIZA’S SONIC REIGN by ED HUERTA
Welcome to Ed Huerta’s
He‘Art “N” Soul. This is the 4th installment here on Jackaboutguitars.com. If you are new to this column, then a little introduction is in order. It’s not at all about the interviews with the megastars of music. This column sheds some light on some very talented people that you may not recognize by name. These musicians need their stories told as much as the Clapton’s of the world. So kick back and relax for a few minutes. I truly appreciate you and please enjoy as I delve into the stories of these artists’ music and what they have to say. – Ed Huerta
This profile is about a man that should be a household word amongst musicians; guitarists especially. He is certainly well known in the punk rock and jazz genres. Now wait, don’t go turning off your mind because I said the “P” word. Punk rock doesn’t necessarily mean drugged out kids running around in black leather with Mohawks and razor blades embedded in their skin. That’s the old television show (see Quincy M.E.) image meant to send mom and dad scurrying into your room to throw away your Ramones and Vandals records and to discover your p*t stash that you thought you hid well.
There are several types of punk rock as there are several types of jazz or blues or rock and roll. So now that this is understood, read on and experience the man that several of his musical contemporaries have called the “Carlos Santana of punk rock”. In my opinion, this is much too limiting of a moniker.
I have witnessed guitar duels onstage with Joe Baiza and the late D. Boon of The Minutemen fame. I have seen this man throw out sonic sheets of sound ala John Coltrane. Picture if you will, a stew comprising of Thelonious Monk, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, throw in a little Andy Gill and top it off with some pepperings of the Modern Jazz Quartet and some dissonant chordal creations all in a Meters style funk! Now that’s cooking! And this, folks, is what Joe Baiza is all about.
The first time I saw Joe perform was about 1982, maybe 1983, with Saccharine Trust at the legendary, now defunct Cathay de Grande in Hollywood. I believe Black Flag was on this bill also, because I remember seeing and talking to Henry Rollins and thought he was shorter in person than I imagined.
At the time, I was in a psychedelia/pop/paisley underground band called Copper 7. We hailed from comfortable Orange County. I had no idea that bands like Saccharine Trust existed or sounded like this. Punk bands were supposed to be loud, in your face, obnoxious, 2 minutes of straight ahead thrashing. Saccharine defied all of this. Yes, they had some straight ahead punk songs but the singer shouted poetry to songs that were curving all over the place and tightly too! I never wanted to play drums again after seeing them.
My band’s music seemed so contrived, so ordinary, stilted even, after witnessing this group. The guitarist looked like a serial killer and I didn’t want to even make eye contact with the guy. The singer was a possessed wild man that stalked and whirled and spouted Doors-ian style beat poems set to shimmering sheets of sonic energy.
I later became friends with both of these guys, even playing in bands with the both of them, and they are the nicest guys in the world. But in 1983, they scared the sh*t outta me! I believe Joe Baiza still scares the sh*t out of a lot of guitar players to this day. I hope this article will open up some eyes and ears to this fellow musician that continues to electrify every time he is seen on a stage performing.
This interview took place in my trusty 2001 Honda Civic on an unusually cold and windy night in Long Beach after Joe performed with his band Mecolodiacs at the Ken Huntington booked Max Steiner’s.
Mecolodiacs are a tight blend of jazz/funk and are a great, great band to catch (see videos and pix). They are one of his many musical projects that also include his main band Saccharine Trust. Joe has also done stints with Universal Congress Of, Minuteflag, October Faction, Unknown Instructors, Putanesca, and contributed to several artists records including The Minutemen, Mike Watt, not to mention his artwork has graced numerous album covers and gig posters. I found Joe to be a great interview with lots of interesting stories and laughed out loud several times during our discussion. I hope the good vibe came through on the written page…
EH: What got you interested in music?
JB: I went through different periods…when I first got into music, I was about 4 years old. I used to get up early in the morning and watch t.v. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and we had this big t.v., like a big box, like it was a piece of furniture. So I’d get up in the morning – I wasn’t in school yet and my mother was asleep still, and I’d watch like cartoon shows and “Captain Kangaroo” was on back then. Things like “I love Lucy”, then “Password” would come on and that was boring to me. I didn’t understand it (laughs). So one day my mother wasn’t awake yet and I was looking at the t.v. and there was like a drawer of some sort, a panel under the screen and I pulled it open and somehow I figured out it was a record player.
“WOW! What’s this thing?” So there were 45’s in there and I figured out how to work it and I put the 45’s on and listened to them. They had those little yellow plastic inserts and there were only like three inserts and I could play three records. We had about 15 singles. Elvis Presley, I forget which song. Johnny Cash, Prez Prado, stuff like that, from that time and I remember struggling with that little plastic insert, trying to get it in and I remember listening to that Elvis Presley record and I felt weird. It got me all excited, like jumping on the couch and stuff. It made me want to jump all around the living room. Not sure, it might have been Jailhouse Rock.
So I was kind of into music like that. So when I started going to school, my mother would listen to the radio. I guess I liked that old rock and roll so that was my first exposure. When I grew up there was a lot of great music on in the 60’s. I guess the first record I got was the first Beatles record. Everyone had the first Beatles record, Meet The Beatles. I didn’t even know who The Beatles were. I was about 12.
We used to take the bus to junior high school and one Monday morning everyone was all excited. I was sitting on the bus next to Tom Crabbe and asked what was everyone talking about, Beatles or something? He said, “Oh yeah, they were on Ed Sullivan last night.” I said, “So what? A band, I don’t get it?” “ Well, they’re a little bit different. They’re from England, they wear funny suits, and they have funny hair.” And I said, “ What do you mean funny hair??” “Well they sort of have hair like Moe Howard from The Three Stooges!” And I’m thinking WHAAAAT??!!! Guys in suits from England? With funny hair like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges?? Why is that so exciting?
EH: That’s brilliant!!!
JB: But later I sorta found out and got into British invasion stuff on KRLA, KHJ, those stations. I never bought any records, just listened to the radio. Wasn’t until I was about 17 that I bought records.
EH: Wow! that’s pretty interesting…now I was wondering, what was the first instrument you ever picked up? Was it the guitar?
JB: I wanted to play an instrument…it was the accordion. They used to have this dude that would come by everyone’s house and knock on the door like a salesman and would ask if the parents would like to give the kids accordion lessons. My parents weren’t home yet, so he opened the case up on the porch and it looked real beautiful. Then my mom came home and she said, ” Okay, let’s give it a try,” and we signed up for accordion lessons. They delivered the accordion, and it looked great; pearl thing, looked cool. The first class, the instructor said this kid isn’t cut out for this. The teacher gave up on me in the first class! My parents said,” Okay forget it, accordion’s out of the question, that’s it.”
EH: It’s certainly obvious that you have no musical talent!
JB: ( chuckles) So that was the first instrument. And later on my grandmother’s boyfriend was a trumpet player in a Latin jazz band and he’d come by all dressed up in these cool suits, cool style and stuff…thought he was the coolest guy, the way he carried himself. He was a trumpet player but I had never seen him play. One time we went out to go see him play, my parents and grandmother and me and we had to drive all the way out to Lakewood or something. It was far for me at that time.
EH: Where were you living?
JB: Wilmington…maybe it was Cerritos, some funny place way out there…and I fell asleep in the backseat during the drive. My parents went in and then I woke up when they were coming back out to the car I said, “We going in now?” They said, “No we already went in.”…They left me in the car and I missed the whole thing! Bastards! I was pissed!! I was soooo disappointed. Then when my grandmother’s boyfriend found out, I was at my grandmother’s house. He came over and he had his trumpet case and said, “Joe, I’m going to play something for you.” Wow, and he played in the living room and it was beautiful. It just reverberated in the living room. It was amazing! I wanted to be a trumpet player. My parents wouldn’t have it.
I never asked for something for so long. I asked for about a week but no they wouldn’t have it. The first time I handled a guitar, it was my father’s guitar. My father didn’t really play guitar. It was an old acoustic with f-holes. Had a great sound. I think he won it in a bet. One day I was in the backyard, I was about 11 years old or something. Just started messing around with it. I figured out how to play “Honky Tonk” by ear…figured out the blues scale…like these notes go with this.
EH: How old were you?
JB: About 11. It was like the guitar just gave itself up to me. It had this tone and this feel and it was inspiring, like the guitar was saying come on just play me. So I put the guitar away after that, but a couple weeks later, about the 4th of July, we had fireworks. Somehow I had a couple of cherry bombs. This is the stupidest thing, and I wondered if the cherry bomb would blow the guitar up. I lit the cherry bomb and put it inside the guitar and blew it up! Why did I do that? My father was all mad at me…looking back I thought it was so sad because the guitar gave itself up to me and I blew it up…It’s kinda like that’s the way my life is, I guess…that was the end of me trying to play instruments until Saccharine Trust.
EH: Was Saccharine Trust your first band?
JB: Yeah it was…before that I had some neighborhood friends about 1969, 1970. They had all the rock albums, Cream…that’s how I got introduced to it.
EH: Yeah, you had to have had something before you stepped into Saccharine Trust and to be this guy playing like you play.
JB: Yeah with these guys, I learned barre chords, then we started playing T-Rex songs and stuff, and then the drummer quit. He became a Christian. So I wasn’t very inspired to continue, so I quit too. A few years went by, then I met Jack Brewer.
EH:I remember I saw you guys at Cathay de Grande like 1981 or ’82. I was in a band called Copper 7. We were like a power pop psychedelic band and the guitarist in the band, John Hawkinson (also, The Eleventh Hour) knew Mark Hodson (bass player for S.T. at the time) and said “Come check Saccharine Trust out. You ‘ll dig it.” So we went to see you guys and it was Holy Cr*p! It was a whole other universe. My whole world collapsed.
Like, these guys are my age and they’re so advanced! I felt nauseous after the gig. It was like why am I even bothering playing music? I was seriously stunned after that show. It was one of those experiences that you see a band that was that good. So that was the first time I saw you guys and if someone told me that later I’d be in a band playing with Brewer, it would be, yeah right…
JB: Yeah when Saccharine started we could just barely play…I can still barely play. I never got over that.
EH: WHAAATT?? You really think that? You serious??
JB: Yeah man, it’s like I walk a tightrope. I’m just barely hanging in there.
EH: WOW?? You are totally amazing. Like tonight, I was thinking you are the Thelonious Monk of guitar players.
JB: Oh cool!
EH: You have the dissonance or whatever he used. You can tell when Baiza is playing guitar like you can tell when Thelonious is playing piano!
JB: Well that’s what I go for. I’m not really technical. I got a style. When Paul Lines played drums with me in Universal Congress Of said, “If people aren’t very good at technique, then they become stylists.” Oh okay, then I got style. (laughs) I’m a stylist.
EH: You’ve always had great drummers in your bands.
JB: To me the guitar is like a little drum. That’s how I like to play it.
EH: Everyone knows Baiza. Like in the late 80’s, I was in a band and the singer said to the guitarist, “Play this guitar part like Baiza.”
JB: Getting back to Saccharine Trust days, after The Obstacles, like with Rob Holzman, Earl Liberty, we started doing those Black Flag tours. Those tours built up the power of the group. We had to play hard because we were with Black Flag. We created our own hardcore sound. People knew something was going on.
EH: Well Jack (Brewer) did the poetry/lyrics and you drove the rhythmic thing. Did Jack come up with the lyrics and you did the music?
JB: Well Jack would come up with this weird Ramones type thing on acoustic guitar and he would sorta sing along with it. So I said let’s have the bass do that then I would layer something over that, like a mood overrider. I was approaching the guitar in that way. I was taking the guitar like in a non-musician perspective, like an art experiment or something. I didn’t want to rely on any kind of foundation of music or any special guitarist or style. I wanted it to come from nowhere.
EH: Right, you’re very successful at that. Now that goes hand in hand with your painting or art. Do you have a website for your art?
JB: No. I should…Someone once said in an interview that my guitar playing is like my drawing. Yeah it has that same expressiveness. The notes I play are sorta staccato and a little jaggedy, not really clear and when I draw, I draw the same way with ink. I draw with lines, sort of impressionistic: the same as the guitar notes.
EH: Your art is great!
JB: Yeah, I’d like to do more of that. Don’t have the time, but when I was in Mexico a couple months ago, I did some drawings over there. So yeah, been asked to do shows, but I haven’t gotten around to have an aesthetic focus, so been thinking about that now.
EH: I think you would draw a lot of people to one of your art shows. Oh, by the way, I read a Kurt Cobain biography and Saccharine Trust was one of his favorite bands. Did you guys ever talk about guitar playing?
JB: No, I never met Kurt Cobain. Never knew he liked us, but when we were on those tours with Black Flag, and we went to Seattle, the guys in Black Flag said a lot of people liked us there in Seattle. Yeah, we had some fans out there. I just never realized he liked us.
EH: Yeah, he called you guys out…now when you guys go to Europe, you attract people there right?
JB: We played festivals twice in England. All Tomorrow’s Parties. We went to Germany last time around. The funny thing about Saccharine Trust is they know we are around, they like the idea we are around, but they won’t go watch Saccharine! (laughs) For example, one time we had a gig in San Francisco. Can’t remember the name of the place, but there’s this little room, then the bar, and there was this dude I was talking to in the bar that was all excited that Saccharine Trust was playing. “Like I can’t believe Saccharine Trust is here. I love you guys”. So I said,”We’re about to start and he goes, “Naw, naw. I’m gonna stay here and have a few beers.” So that’s our crowd…just the way it is… (laughter all around)
EH: So let’s get into guitars…do you have a guitar collection?
JB: I play a Fender re-issue – a 1983 Stratocaster, a reissue of some 60’s model or something.
EH: So you aren’t a guitar geek?
JB: No I’m not. I only buy guitars to do the job I need to do. I got some hollow body guitars, a thin hollow body. I got a Jazzmaster that I bought on tour with Mike Watt. I think if I were to buy another guitar it would be a Telecaster. I like twangy sounds. I like the percussive thing of having the note ring, like a bell. I’m into the attack.
EH: I remember seeing you and D. Boon in a guitar gunslinger face-off at Anti-Club. Now how was your relationship with D.?
JB: Well, I was good friends with him before The Minutemen. I lived downstairs from him. Me and Jack used to rehearse, just the two of us, and we had these little amps, and one day we heard a knock on the door and I’m thinking sh*t, it’s the landlady, and I open the door and it’s D. Boon standing there going (in funny white guy voice), “Hey, hi,” and I’m thinking who the f*ck is this? He looked like a new wave guy, and he says, (in funny voice again), “I’m a musician too.” I said, “Oh yeah, I heard you playing that Who song the other day” and at the time I couldn’t understand why anyone would play The Who.
I was anti rock and roll. It was just a phase I was going through then. Then I found out he was in The Reactionaries so I thought he was cool then. We did a lot of gigs in Pedro and hung out. Then The Minutemen got more popular and we wouldn’t see much of each other. Then we both moved to L.A. and we saw each other more. It was kinda like in waves, like we’d do gigs with The Minutemen…he was busy touring…sorta like that..then he died…that was the end of that…
EH: Yeah, that was a sad day alright…Okay, well, who are some of your biggest influences or favorite musicians in music?
JB: James Blood Ulmer…like the first time I heard him it was like what the f*ck is that?? Early James Blood Ulmer, the real outside stuff. Even though I don’t play like him, it inspired me to go that free guitar style, ya know…umm, certain blues guys, like Albert Collins. I like the bite he had out of the guitar that SNAP…guys like that inspired my tone…also like horn players…not too much rock. I’m not too much of a rock and roller. I try to be, but don’t have it in me.
EH: Yeah, I don’t see you listening to the Stones or something …maybe you do. I picture you listening to Ornette Coleman, Modern Jazz Quartet or Sun Ra…
JB: I like Wayne Shorter a lot. I got into Brazilian music, then I said I got to get into rock music. So I got into hard rock, like the evolution of rock music…started to immerse myself in that so I could become more of a rocker (laughs).
EH: Yeah, well you are lumped into that punk rock category, the cut and dried three chords and stuff like that and you are far from that.
JB: Like during the Black Flag tours they were getting into metal and I just didn’t like that so they were going Dio! Yeah! and I really didn’t like that…like I gotta go outside right now.
EH: Yeah that’s punk!
JB: They were just being contrary. I don’t know, maybe they really liked Dio.
EH: Well, when I saw you guys years ago at Music Machine with Black Flag and Meat Puppets, I thought you guys were more kin with Meat Puppets, as far as experimental, trying to be different. You guys always had The Doors references thrown at you, but I never saw too much of that. You guys were always on the edge of punk rock. I never thought you guys were punk rock.
JB: Well I was always trying to push the boundaries of that, try to do something different…maybe it was too much..they go, what is this?…kinda hard to take…like the 2nd Saccharine Trust record, “Surviving You Always”. It’s a real bitter pill, that album. I can only listen to like one side then I have to take it off. It’s like a real ugly mood, like dark.
EH: It goes with that album cover (album cover photo is a black and white shot depicting a woman on the hood of a car after jumping from several stories up).
JB: Exactly, dark, twisted…It was such a time bomb in those times trying to expand that it just finally imploded. Everyone had their own interests in what they wanted to do. Saccharine today is much more compatible. We can play something old then something new. It all has a connecting thread now. I can enjoy that. I love Saccharine today. There isn’t a lot of friction between us. We just go up there, relax and play.
EH: One more question, is there any musician you would like to play with? Living or dead, it doesn’t matter…
JB: (long pause) I just feel like I don’t fit in with anyone…like walking that tightrope..like I’ll f*ck up at any moment. I don’t want to have myself playing with anyone good. It would be nice to meet some people, James Blood Ulmer, Ornette Coleman…people like that.
EH: Joe, you don’t really know how much of an influence you have on people. I have a couple friends, like dudes that are CEO’s of major companies, that play around on guitars, that think you are a guitar god! You touch many, many people. Like when you were playing with Jack Brewer Band, I was like a kid in a candy store. Like even now, musicians I play with, like Philo (Phil Van Duyne, guitarist with SWA, Fishcamp, The Extras, Jack Brewer Band, The Last), would dig on playing stuff like Baiza and for me personally to play in a band with you it was like, wow, look Ma, I’m playing in a band with Baiza!
JB: (laughs) It was fun with you guys. I like playing the rhythm with you guys. Well, when I saw you guys with Steve Reed (Carnage Asada, Legal Weapon, The Amadans, George Murillo’s Axis of Evil) on bass and the bass and drums were just soooo locked in, it was such a good groove that I thought I had to get in on that.
EH: Yeah, well that was a great time of the Jack Brewer Band playing with Steve, a total professional and he puts his heart and soul into his music. Unfortunately, I think outside things just got in the way. I just sit back there and have a blast. I’m just a fan that lucked into playing drums. Well Joe, that was a great gig tonight and thank you for your time.
JB: I’ll keep trying…Hang in there with me folks. One day I’ll get it right…Hang in there with me! (laughter)
SCOTT ABEYTA: LAYING THE TRACK THAT MOTOR-VATES THE BLUES EXPRESS by ED HUERTA
SCOTT ABEYTA – GUITARIST FOR WHITEBOY JAMES AND THE BLUES EXPRESS
Let me give you a bit of history…The first time I saw Scott Abeyta playing live was when he was playing with the phenomenal blues band, Whiteboy Jame (James Page) and the Blues Express at a small biker bar in Long Beach, California called “The Blue Dog.” It is no longer there. It is another sad story of the city shutting down live entertainment venues. This bar supposedly attracted the “wrong element” but I had never witnessed any encounters or bad vibes on the many times the wife and I frequented the Blue Dog. Believe me, this was a real biker bar, not like those Orange County weekend biker bars where many Travolta-executive types ride their $100,000 custom made Harleys to. These dudes and ladies in the bar grew up with the blues. Mostly Vietnam veteran-era types and at that age where the band better bring it to the table if you are going to be up on that stage. So to be in Whiteboy’s band, you knew these cats can and better play their “A-game” stuff.
Whiteboy James isn’t known to hire any poseur musician types. So it was under these circumstances that I first saw Mr. Abeyta. At first glance, he resembles a baby-faced rockabilly Alec Baldwin but less stocky.
Henry was the last guy that I had seen playing guitar in WBJ’s Band. Henry is a great blues guitarist in his own right, so the new guy had some pretty large zapatos to fill. So a couple of songs go by, the new dude is holding his own, nothing spectacular, tasty leads and fills, but at about the third or fourth song, the new cat is starting to stretch out. He’s probably warmed up by now and he is killing…K-I-L-L-I-N-G!
I was reminded of when you challenge some guy that you’ve been watching to a game of 8-Ball, certain you can beat him, but you never get the chance because he runs the table. Scott Abeyta ran the table.
Cut to a few years later. Scott has settled in and is the blues foil to Whiteboy James (sort of a blues version of how The Big Man was to the Boss). This band needs to be seen live to fully appreciate them.
There’s Whiteboy James permanently clad in black trenchcoat, smoking nonstop, shadow boxing, dancing, mugging away as the band tears it up behind him. And what a band it is, along with Mr. Abeyta on guitar, they have drummer extraordinaire, Max Bangwell on some vintage looking traps (Max is no newcomer to the blues scene. I saw him many moons ago fronting his own band at The Blues Café) and Blake Watson throwing down some wicked grooves on bass. Put all these cats together and you’ve got one heckuva band, that in any given set, runs the gamut from gut bucket blues to Cab Calloway covers.
NEVER, EVER a disappointing evening was spent with Whiteboy James and the Blues Express. I must have seen them thirty times if I’ve seen them once! So here is Scott Abeyta’s story. He is a very polite, nice guy with a rapid-fire style of talking and high energy that permeates his guitar playing and stage presence. Please read on and I hope this turns some of you on to the sounds of Whiteboy James and the Blues Express…
The interview took place minutes before Scott was to take the stage with The WBJ band at El Dorado Restaurant in Long Beach, California, a place that is getting the reputation of a fine blues hangout. Many great bands and people have graced this stage, most notably Exene Cervenka, Phil Alvin, Joe Houston, Big Jay McNeely, Jill Sharpe and her band, to name just a few…
EH: Scott, good to see you and thanks for meeting up with me…(not only is Scott the guitarist for Whiteboy James and the Blues Express, but he is also the founder and President and CEO of Rip Cat Records…a local label that is generating a large stable and popularity out across the country and beyond. We’ll talk more about this later), but Scott, I know you got a gig here in a few minutes so let’s get this going. First off, a little bit of background, where were you born?
SA: In Burbank, California, right across the street from Disney Studios…grew up in the San Fernando Valley, Van Nuys, Reseda area. Later went to school at Cal State Long Beach because of the Long Beach Blues festival. I wanted to be there for the blues. Started playing in bands with guys from the dorm, played at the 49er Tavern a few times…those bands became other bands and finally joined Whiteboy James and the Blues Express in 1989.
Whiteboy James Page: (Chimes in) WHICH IS JUST WHERE YOU SHOULD BE!
EH: Who did you replace?
SA: Replaced Mark Geraldo, he decided to go to law school..me and Henry Carvajal.
EH: What got you interested in music?
SA: My father was a record executive and producer and a songwriter. So I’ve been around music my whole life and always have been a huge fan of the guitar. There’s a picture of me as a two year old playing the guitar like a stand up bass, always loved it! I got into the blues, in particular by listening to Led Zeppelin, their bluesy songs…a neighbor down the street, a parent of one of my sisters’ friends, turned me on to Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Muddy Waters…
EH: So the first instrument you ever played was a guitar?
SA: Yes, that’s right! The guitar…
EH: How long have you been playing?
SA: Got a guitar for my 13th birthday.
EH: You still have it?
SA: No, I don’t, it was a classical guitar, acoustic, bought it at the record store, signed me up for lessons..had the little tickets, so I had to take the ticket to the man upstairs in the room and he would show me how to play the guitar for a ½ hour.
EH: Do you remember the first band you ever played in?
SA: Oh yeah, I was 14…wait in 7th grade we did a Jimi Hendrix song, “Purple Haze” for a talent show.I played bass at the time…loved the attention, unfortunately.
EH: Name some of the bands you played in before Whiteboy James and the Blues Express…
SA: Tiberius was one…White Summer, named after an obscure Jimmy Page song…then I was in a band called The Pulse with Frank and Chris Sprague. They are out now doing stuff. Chris goes by the name “Sugarballs”. I was in that band when I was 16, then didn’t do much for awhile. Next band I was in was a blues band called “The Cross-eyed Cats” then Whiteboy James pretty much.
EH: Well, being a guitarist, do you have a guitar collection?
SA: Yeah, my main one is the Gibson ES 295, named “Goldie”. For gigs, I have a Telecaster custom shop Nocaster, custom shop and a Gibson Les Paul, Les Paul LP 295 made to look like an ES 295, those are my gig guitars…at home sitting next to my desk is a 1950 ES5 T-Bone Walker, 3 pick-up style, also a re-issue Butterscotch 52 Tele (drummer Max Bangwell’s), a really nice Weber acoustic that I picked up not too long ago, sounds incredible, played it on the Whiteboy James LP, Johnny Mastro, the 44’s albums so far…a great sounding 1958 Jupiter, a 50 something Dan Electro, a Silvertone slim twin….a Tokai lawsuit 1972 made to look like a 1956 Stratocaster …never play it though…I’m sure there’s a lot of other stuff that I’m forgetting.
EH: My brother, Jack, who is Jackaboutguitars, is gonna be jealous – ha ha ha. So then you’re a guitar collector?
SA: No, not really…just a guitar player…I don’t really look at guitars anymore because I have everything that I’ve always wanted to play. When I got the ES5, it was like that’s it! I’m done!
EH: As far as amps, do you have a huge array of amps?
SA: Yes, that I have…as far as gigs, I have two tweed Deluxe’s…have a Bassman 1959 re-issue, a real ’61 Bassman head and cabinet, 2 Harmony 4-15’s, a Marshall 1974, a bunch of Silvertone amplifiers that look like a picture plus the older style one with 1-15″, one with 2-12”’s. I have a 1946 Gibson VR1 that I bought from Junior Watson along with an old Masco head that I bought from Junior Watson. I just picked up from Johnny Mastro (Ed’s note: of Mama’s Boys fame), an old 50’s single 12 Rickenbacker…also bought a ’66 Champ from Johnny Mastro that I use for recording, my main recording amp, sounds incredible, great sounding…a lot of volume and it’s crunchy, a little volume and it’s not crunchy…just a great little amp…records really well.
EH: Who are some of your favorite guitarists?
SA: My all-time favorite is Hollywood Fats…umm T-bone Walker, B.B. King…early Buddy Guy stuff…Kid Ramos, Alex Schultz, Junior Watson…been taking lessons from Junior Watson for years, can’t play like him but learned lots of cool stuff…ummm, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, Anson Funderburgh, those kind of guys.
EH: So who are some of your influences?
SA: T-Bone, Hollywood Fats…I think I play like Hollywood Fats if he was a punk rocker. You know how punk rockers aren’t really quite that good but have a lot of energy.
EH: (Thinking to myself, hey I resemble that remark!) So is there a guitarist alive that you’d like to share the stage with?
SA: It’s funny almost played with Kid Ramos but never did. Most of these guys intimidate the sh*t outta me. You know I don’t want to suck next to them…I’ll tell ya, Gino Matteo, another great guitarist that I really like…and Johnny Main.
EH: Any future CD releases or tours coming up?
SA: We just recorded “Extreme Makeover” (Ed’s note: In fact when I learned that it was out, I bought it that very night of the interview. Great, great cd. It has all of the WBJ hits and stage favorites. A serious must for any collection!)
What we did was we re-recorded the songs from 1992. We are a sh*t ton better than we were back then. We have a better band, a better bass player, it’s out right now.
EH: Tell me a little about Rip Cat Records…
SA: I started this record company July 5, 2010 but didn’t do much with it, then we recorded The Mighty Mojo Prophets album in August. Then I built my studio while I was mixing the album. We did a thing with Barry Levenson, guitarist from Canned Heat, compilation of older stuff, then recorded The 44’s, scrapped that, then re-recorded it eight months later. We did Johnny Mastro, scrapped that, then re-recorded that a few months later. The 44’s have replication on that, will have disc in hand March 8th, will be in stores April 17th… re-doing K.K. Martin’s last CD. Remixed and re-mastered that…and we have an all new Blasters CD, eight songs in the can right now, with Marie, Marie in Spanish….gonna do one with a newer band called Mercy 4.. and Gino Matteo. Gino is a little different. I went in and saw his band. It was incredible!!!…So I go just here, here’s some money, bring me an album, just go do it!!! I want what I just saw onstage. I don’t want to f*ck it up, do what you did just now, up there. Incredible stuff! Gino just killed them at the last gig in Corona. The crowd was beside themselves. Joey Delgado is in the band right now.
EH: So where can we purchase some Rip Cat merch?
EH: Scott, thanks a lot for all the info and your time. I know you have to prepare to rock right now, once again, thanks a lot for your time…
SA: Was a pleasure, no problem…thank you.
Needless to say, Scott and the Blues Express took the stage a few minutes later and proceeded to tear it up. I was taking pictures at the front of the stage and it was by the third song that I had to gather my equipment and move to the safety of the side of the stage in fear of being trampled by couples anxious to shake off the blues of their taxing work week.
So folks, if you are lucky enough to have Whiteboy James and the Blues Express play in your town, by all means, check them out, and check out Scott Abeyta and his righteous guitar gear as he lays down the track for the Blues Express to style on down the line to. If they don’t happen to swing into your hamlet, then checkout the band’s CD’s and the Rip Cat Records stable of artists. These guys are bound to put a smile on your face and a bit of joy in your step. Thanks for your time. – Ed Huerta
All photos and painting courtesy Ed Huerta.
CORY DAVIS: THE BEST GUITARIST YOU MAY NEVER HAVE HEARD OF…
Before I get into Cory’s story and history, let me take a few minutes and explain to some casual readers or fans of music how this interview opened up my eyes to the true musician’s world. Upon writing this article, I stumbled upon certain truths that musicians hold dear. Now I’m not talking about your pre-fabricated, record company, spoon fed, you know whos; not talking about the people that have never played a nightclub or a bar; or if they did show up onstage in a seedy area of town, would get their @*%^# kicked immediately by patron reaction to their soulless crap. I’m talking about gut-busting blues, about music from the soul, about paying ones dues, about accepting your gift and taking it as far as the world will let you take it, regardless of consequences or fame.
When I interviewed Cory Davis, I felt a certain kinship. We are both about the same age. We grew up in the punk rock days. I was never a punk rocker, but through bands I played in and the DYI mentality, and my skill or lack thereof, was labeled as a punk rock musician. I have no qualms about this. Cory also ran with the punkers. He was born in Minnesota but grew up in Venice, California where the scene was exploding, where lines were drawn by your style of dress and attitude. And yes, there were lines drawn back then too. Not like now, where fashion and trends are dictated by Target ads, vampire movies and social networks.
We lived through those hardcore days. Cory and I shared a common bond. We played the same circuit and venues in the same era. We listed the numerous nightclubs and bars that don’t even exist anymore, where one could witness a wealth of amazing music springing forth from any of the clubs on any night of the week. There is no more Anti-Club, On Klub, The Central, Raji’s, The Shamrock, Club 88, Coconut Teaszer, Safari Sam’s, Al’s Bar, Billy Barty’s Roller Rink. These places are parking lots, mini-malls, or dry cleaners now.
The only memories of this musically rich time, are in the minds of middle-aged people eeking out a living. We both understood the pressures that break up bands and how hard it is/was to keep moving forward in the face of insurmountable negativity. A pure understanding of why one keeps going in the face of poorly distributed CD’s, lack of financial backing, malaise that permeates the record industry, or missing the big breaks.
We have a lot in common, and as I was leaving the interview, on the drive home, I had an eerie feeling that I just interviewed myself (if I would have made certain other choices in life). You see, my entire life, I thought I would be a musician. Even in high school, on aptitude tests, I never fit into their little pockets or future plans, and hence, struggled throughout my adult life with career paths. It finally dawned on me at the age of 35, that I better make a choice, either sleep on floors and keep cutting a path through the forest of music and stay true to myself and the cause, or settle down and start looking for something that would make my life more comfortable (read not living in a car on the street in today’s Amerika) until the end of my days. I chose the more comfortable path (call it selling out if you must), got married, bought a house ( mortgage is a great word mort=death/ gage=until you die), have a somewhat real job.
But here is the story of the other side of the coin. This is the story of a man that looks that decision in the face everyday and doesn’t think twice about choosing to keep playing, to follow that dream. This is a guy that has the soul of a musician. I saw Charlie Parker, John Lennon, Hank Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and every lonely kid that picked up an instrument in this man’s reflected shades. The Roy Orbison coolness thought did pop into my head during the interview but seeing how soft-spoken he is, it could be due to a certain shyness that is inherent in many musicians’ that let their work do the talking for them.
I have only seen Cory’s eyes unadorned with shades once. That was after a Brass Knuckle Voodoo gig when he approached me to give me his phone number that I requested for this interview. I was sort of taken aback, because of the intensity of his stage persona, that he is a very intelligent, soft-spoken gentleman that chooses his answers carefully, and graciously accepts the way he stands in this world. His trademark dress in dark colors is not an act. One would never question Johnny Cash’s reasons for dressing dark and after hearing this man’s story and seeing him play, one would never question his choice either. My hat is off to Cory, he has the b@#*% to hang in there when others gave up or moved on.
I hope this article brings him out to the public a little more. Cory and Brass Knuckle Voodoo is a must see live act. This man incorporates on the spot guitar solos, conjuring up the ghosts of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray, with the vocal soul prowess of Otis Redding, mixed with the inherent sadness of Johnny Cash and even the free form lightning bebop-ian Charlie Parker. I am proud of him and it was truly a pleasure to delve into this man’s world and I believe it’s a certain kismet that brought this all together, from the “jackaboutguitars” website, to wanting to write, to actually contributing to the “jackaboutguitars” website, to the chance meeting of being where Cory’s band was playing on a night where I just wanted to eat pizza and have a glass of wine with the wife. I hope his story affects you like it did me. I left with nothing but respect for this man and his band…please read on…
Most Friday nights will find the wife and I at diPiazza’s World Famous Italian Restaurant in my adopted hometown of Long Beach, California. We have been going there for years and are friendly with the owners, Mark and Maralyn diPiazza. It’s a nice place with great food, friendly workers, positive vibes, the perfect place to wind down after a busy week. Dipiazza’s is also known for their musical entertainment. Just about every night of the week, one can find a local and/or touring band gracing their stage. On this particular night, as we were leaving, “The Godfather” of the Long Beach music scene himself, Mark diPiazza came up to me and said “You can’t leave! Check out this band Brass Knuckle Voodoo, you gotta see this guy on guitar! He’s f *^#+$> incredible!” When the Godfather shows this much passion, one has to listen, plus I trust this man’s opinion.
I entered the dining area and stood by the side of the stage. Looking around, I noticed there was a respectable amount of people in the booths but it wasn’t SRO by any means. Up on the stage was a three piece band being led by a man with shades on, dressed all in black, black hat, black fingernail polish, playing a black beat up, home decorated guitar with a CRAMPS sticker on it. Out of this well-worn guitar were coming out some incredible sounds at a rapid fire pace. The band was ridiculously tight. The drummer, (who I later learned is named Zambo, recently toured with the band “Booby Trap”) is highly energetic, cueing on the guitarist and anticipating the quick time changes. The bassist (Tara Dunn, has been with the band about a year, 15 years prior experience with several well known musicians/bands The Stitches, Marc Moreland -Wall of Voodoo fame) was model beautiful, and was dressed in a cocktail dress that would not look out of place at the Academy Awards. She was laying down grooves with a confidence as if she was born solely to lay down solid foundations.
I stood there with Mark and looked over at him and he had the biggest grin on his face. He could tell exactly what I was thinking as I absorbed this band and this guitarist and his seemingly effortless work on the frets. I stood there for the entire set. I knew the guitarist had a tremolo bar from the sounds he was getting out of his instrument, but for the life of me, I couldn’t see it in action! This is how fast the man’s hands were! I was totally enthralled by the execution of this guy’s playing. He was locked in, at one with his instrument and craft. He could have been playing in front of 250,000 people at a festival in Europe instead of a handful at a restaurant in Long Beach. He was totally in his own zone. I was getting a Stevie Ray Vaughn-ish vibe crossed with a punk rock attitude seeped in blues.
Brass Knuckle Voodoo’s songs were mostly up-tempo with many flowing changes and accents. They killed, especially on a slower tune that showcased a very respectable blues, growling vocal style. The intensity of the bands’ performance was felt and appreciated by the audience. One could feel the guitarists’ journey through his playing. Later I learned and saw why many of his peers have remarked that “pound for pound, he is the best guitarist that they have ever played with.” This was no spoiled, faker kid that grew up in Newport Beach with everything handed to him. This guy had dues and paid them in full and still probably has a whole backlog of debt waiting for him after the show. This is his story…
The interview took place in a very familiar part of an industrial complex in Santa Ana, California. It was in the same complex that I had rehearsals back in 1982 with my first originals band, Copper 7. It was a very weird time travel moment in where everything has changed but everything still remained the same with a Twilight Zone-esque vibe. It was here, in a black walls painted room with gig posters and a full raised stage and a Ratfink poster, that we settled in for some talking. This I discovered was where Cory calls home. Two of the band members live in this space.
There are no neighbors to complain about noise, nor local police to bother him if one decides to rehearse or set up a gig in the building. Cory dressed all in black with hat and trademark shades (kept on throughout the interview), had The Beatles (Rubber Soul) playing in the background, which surprised me. I thought possibly some psycho-billy or heavy metal Sabbath-y/Motley Crue sounds would be blaring. Another preconceived misconception, the other being his soft-spoken demeanor, which took me aback, especially after witnessing his hard edge guitar mastery and stage swagger.
EH: Cory, let me start by asking, what got you interested in music?
CD: Well, I’ve been playing since I was about 13, grew up listening to Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin… a few of us would be sitting outside the house playing the blues back in the day.
Harmonica was the first instrument that I picked up. Used to play in a back alley with some guys from a band called “LoveHate” (opened for Ozzy Osbourne, Skid Row) that later made it nationally in the 90’s with videos on MTV. So anyone out there that plays with me is guaranteed to get huge and I’ll just stay the same. If I’m friends with you, you are going to get big… sad but true… (laughingly exclaims)…
EH: So when did you pick up the guitar?
CD: I was about 12 years old, a Fender Squire I believe, in the 70’s…and my first band was in 1975 when I was 14 years old. I had a band called “Alien”- it was a high school band. We played like ½ originals and ½ covers… like the Stones, the Doors…
EH: Name some of the bands that you have been in – in the past…
CD: Well, they were all pretty much my bands but I would hire people to play in them… like Prescott Niles from The Knack, Robert Trujillo from Suicidal Tendencies and Metallica, Amery Smith, also from Suicidal, who grew up right across the street from me. Bob Heathcoat, who roadied for me then joined Suicidal for a tour. Rocky George, the guitarist from Suicidal also…growing up in Venice, I was a rock and roller, well you know from growing up at that time too, that back then, there was a dividing line with punks and rockers. You knew where you stood. We were all friends so we were all cool… just jamming together.
EH: Let’s hear a little about your guitar collection.
CD: I have three guitars right now. My favorite is this Ibanez Iceman, my piece of s%*# guitar with rhinestones and a belt here on the side (laughingly)…it basically got me through rehab about 12 years ago… all I had with me was the clothes on my back, got rid of everything. Had an entire briefcase full of
poetry that I stashed behind a taco shop. Got out three months later. My dad picked up the payments for me while I was in rehab. (Ed’s note: Being involved in the music scene also, I saw many great musicians’ succumb to habits… being alcohol, drugs, it’s something that comes with the territory, especially with creative minds, plus the romance of the tortured artist draws one in or possible boredom – all contribute to this lifestyle. I am not innocent to this either.)
I had it sitting on a wall for about ten years and a couple years ago, I refretted it with jumbo frets, kept the original neck from ‘81, added a P90, rolling bridge, did all the wiring, eliminated the pots with just volume and a switch. Put super heavy gauge strings (12-52) tuned to”E” flat. I can usually go about two shows without changing strings… added a Bigsby, love the Bigsby.
The Guitar Doc fine tuned it for me, added some locking tuning pegs. I did have a ’62 Tennesean hollow-body, but sold it, unfortunately… the 90’s were like a bad time. I had heroes like Kurt Cobain and those type of troublemakers… the last 10 years though have been real good… real good…
EH: Which leads me into, who are some of your favorite musicians?
CD: John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page’s work from 1969 to 1975, like after The Yardbirds. Vocally, I’m like into Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Al Green, the soul singers. I’ll listen to everything really… Sonic Youth is great, amazing, the whole tuning thing. Musically, Stevie Ray Vaughan, who is definitely my biggest influence. I love Stevie Ray Vaughan. He was so focused, so centered…especially in the “ Live @ El Mocambo”
video when he was loaded. This was before he got clean… also there’s a story of Stevie Ray filling in for some acoustic act and being booed after a set at, I believe, Montreaux Jazz Festival, I think, 1982 and the band asking incredulously, “How can they be booing us? We were that bad???” But purists are what they are… they were there for jazz. Dylan actually got death threats for his stuff.
EH: Lots of times audiences want to pigeonhole an artist… he’s in this bag here, we don’t want him in this other bag over there, because that’s where this guy is. It’s easier not to try to like new things that a performer does but to me it’s all about growing, try new stuff, it’s your music or art, ya know. So who are some of the better known bands that you’ve played shows with?
CD: Well, Angry Samoans, The Dickies, TSOL, Smut Peddlers, Cadillac Tramps… we’ve played every punk show around even though we aren’t punk rock.
EH: Do you see yourself continuing to play music as you get older?
CD: Oh yeah, definitely…my music is getting a harder edge, the harder the edge the better its gets. I just want to play guitar even if it’s for five people that’s fine, sure big shows would be cool but if five people are in the audience, I’m still loving it! It’s all for them. I could play total s%i#h*^es for the rest of my life and be totally good with it. At this point, that’ll like, do it. I’m doing my best playing now…way better, without a doubt, if you pitted me against myself fifteen years ago, I would totally kill, still grooving…love to improvise, the solos I put out there are improvised, not in stone… just love to get out there and blow like Charlie Parker. We just, like at practice will sit here for like twenty minutes and go. We would love to do an entire set of improvising but that’s a bit self-indulgent.
EH: What musician would you love to share a stage with?
CD: Billy Zoom (X guitarist) on sax was great. He played with us on a CD release thing about 3-4 years ago. I would love to be in a band with him, this time with him on guitar… cool guy, nice dude, a little different, but who isn’t? He does my amp work for me. (Cory plays through a 50 watt 1980’s Marshall head.)
EH: Yeah I went to his amp shop once. My buddy was getting his amp worked on and I wanted to tag along just to see the legend up close. I was too nervous to talk to him. He’s great with X with that demonic smile and just standing there ripping on the guitar… great style.
EH: So any future Brass Knuckle Voodoo gigs, CD releases or anything you want us to look for?
CD: We got a gig going here in the Industrial Park coming up where we are recording a live DVD/CD… have a whole LP of new tunes ready to go… trying to get money going for that… have a few other projects going, like the other night the punk thing with Rikk Agnew was called “Fluffer”. We do like a slower blues oriented, Stevie Ray Vaughn-style thing for bikers and stuff called “Cory Voodoo Knuckle”. We would love to tour. In fact, I used to be in a psychobilly band called “Hellbound Hayride” and did some touring in Texas and Lake Tahoe… that was pretty cool…
EH: So do you just do music, can you survive just playing?
CD: Well, right now it’s pretty tough, I make enough to pay bills, child support, you know how it is. You made the decision to get a real job, a house, got married. There’s like the business thing, like, who you know, the timing. I know people that have made it but aren’t really that good talent wise. But you know, I get to live the dream daily. You know, I went to this lawyer’s house and they got the pool, the car, the whole nine yards and they find out I’m in a band and they get all excited and stuff… like that’s what they want or wanted to do. Here they are with the nice house and pool but I’m living their dream, man… I’m happy to be rocking.
If you have a chance to check out Cory and Brass Knuckle Voodoo, or any of the projects he is associated with, by all means, people, do it! This guy made me a believer. Check out their CD’s, website, Facebook and videos… but live is where it’s at. Cory Davis is truly at the heart of music and his soul is to be reckoned with. He is living the dream, albeit, a tough, gritty dream. I have nothing but respect for this bulldog of a man that is blazing an artistic trail in the face of adversity, and continues to do so with a calm acceptance, and a firm belief in his talent. I dare anyone to see this man and his band perform and I promise they will walk away afterwards believing and exclaiming to others that he is very probably, the best guitarist that you have never heard of.
– ED HUERTA
GUITAR SHORTY: TEXAS BLUES LEGEND
Guitar Shorty is not your common household variety name, though he should be, and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix. He is known to have influenced both Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix.
In the world of blues guitarists, Guitar Shorty’s name rings as true as Muhammad Ali’s does to the sport of boxing. Surprisingly enough, Guitar Shorty was not born into this world with this moniker. He was born David William Kearney on September 8, 1939 in Houston, Texas.
Shortly after his arrival into this world, his parents split up and his mother moved to Kissimmee Florida where they both lived with his grandmother and uncle. This is where a young David learned to play the guitar. He would often sneak into his uncle’s room and mess around with his uncle’s guitar.(sounds like another character we have become acquainted with – see how the guitar bug bit me BIG TIME) David’s hands were too small to fit around the neck so he would play the guitar much like a stand up bass.
After much prodding from grandma, his uncle finally showed David the correct way to address and play the guitar. During his high school years, David would go to school during the day and put on his working musician clothes at night. At the age of 16, according to lore, David was playing in a club as a vocalist/guitarist with the Walter Johnson Band where the marquee read “The Walter Johnson Band featuring Guitar Shorty”. Hence, he never looked back.
Soon after, Shorty joined the Ray Charles Band for a year. In 1957, at the age of 17, Shorty recorded his first single, “Irma Lee” b/w “You Don’t Treat Me Right” on the Cobra label under the direction of none other than famed blues bassist and composer, Willie Dixon. Soon after he was lured away by Guitar Slim’s Band and moved to New Orleans. It was during this tenure that Guitar Shorty started doing back flips and somersaults onstage, highly encouraged by Guitar Slim.
During this period, Shorty fronted his own band that became the house band at the legendary Dew Drop Inn. Guests musicians often included a veritable Who’s Who of legendary stature including Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Fats Domino and many other non nicknamed stars including Otis Rush. One night Sam Cooke came to town and was impressed enough by this whirling dervish of a man-child to offer him a job.
So at the tender age of 19, Shorty was on his way to the West Coast. Numerous gigs had him and his guitar traveling up and down the West Coast and Canada. He also worked and lived in Los Angeles up until he met his future wife, Marsha in Seattle, Washington in 1961. Marsha just happened to be the half-sister of some guy named Jimi Hendrix. Jimi would often catch Guitar Shorty’s shows in the Seattle area and they remained friends up until Hendrix’ untimely death.
Meanwhile, Shorty’s gigging and popularity was growing fast at this time and he recorded three singles for Los Angeles based Pull Records. This rolling stone of a man finally settled down in Los Angeles. He encountered some lean years during the 1970’s and had to take a day job as a mechanic to make ends meet. In 1976, he appeared on The Gong Show and won first place for his song “They Call Me Guitar Shorty” all the while balanced on his head. In 1984 he was involved in a serious car accident.
In 1985, Shorty released his first album, “On the Rampage” on Olive Branch Records. He also ventured into acting to play himself in a Tommy Chong movie entitled, strangely enough, “Far Out Man”. Shorty also won a W.C. Handy award for his work on “My Way or the Highway” with Otis Grand on JSP Records in 1991. Since then he has toured tirelessly and recorded several albums on several labels including Black Top, Janblues, Big J Records, Collectables, Evidence, Shout! Factory. He is currently recording with Alligator Records and has been charting on billboards Top Blues Albums on a regular basis.
Contemporary Blues Album of the Year. He is a welcome performer at many Blues Festivals throughout the world. By the way, another blues guitarist was also known as Guitar Shorty, John Henry Fortescue (1923-1976) and had recorded for Trix Records.
Now that the facts about who and what shaped Guitar Shorty are out of the way, let me tell you a little about a Guitar Shorty show. If you have never seen a man play the guitar with his teeth…play the guitar while doing somersaults across the width of the dance floor or stage…if you have never seen a man play the guitar with his rear end…if you have never heard a guitar hold a conversation with an audience member…man, I feel sorry for you! These are the things that one would see at a Guitar Shorty show. Now granted, I have not seen the man perform in quite a few years, so he probably doesn’t do the somersaults while playing the guitar trick anymore, and the fact that he is in his 70’s, we can probably overlook this part of his stage antics.
But let me tell you, with that growling voice and seemingly effortless fret work, this man needs to be seen at least once in your lifetime. I have had the great luck of seeing Mr. Shorty about 4 or 5 times. He is just a tireless entertainer. It is truly great to see him scratch his rear and coaxing sounds out of his guitar at the same time. He also would play his guitar and have it talk to the crowd…usually picking on an attractive female in the audience, and believe it or not, real words would be understood…again, this is something that has to be seen to be appreciated.
He has won over every crowd that he has ever performed in front of. His fans truly love him and respect him so much…he is also a very kind and religious man. He will sign autographs or just chat you up on gig day.
Addendum: I was approached one fine afternoon by respected blues mavens Steve and Mary Camarillo, and was commissioned to do a piece of artwork for their home. I believe both parties involved agreed almost simultaneously that Guitar Shorty should be the subject for this painting.
I had several ideas for the original painting but settled on a 4 headed Guitar Shorty in his Texas flag shirt with an image of Jimi Hendrix hidden upon his person that could be hung on any side…the ideal image of this painting would have the painting driven by a motor, rotating and have him doing continuous
somersaults ad infinitum…but this is sort of unrealistic and I imagine quite costly. I was happy with the way it turned out and so were Steve and Mary.
I used a mix of acrylic and oils and even threw a little gold glitter in there too. I thank the Camarillo’s for indulging me in this venture. It is much appreciated and I love the fact that I can still visit Shorty at their beautiful home. If there is a lesson to be learned here folks, it is go see Mr. Guitar Shorty while you can…he is like nothing you will ever see…or hear…
Addendum part II: After this article was written, Shorty came to Long Beach and I caught the tail end of his show at Harvelle’s. The room was jam packed with sweaty, happy bodies. Guitar Shorty had worked his magic like only he can. He still delivers the goods and with a top notch band. I brought a print of the portrait I did and presented it to him. He was most gracious. He signed a couple items for me and took the time to talk and shake hands with most of his adoring fans. There was quite a line of people waiting to pay respects to this guitar great.The man must have been there all night accepting kudos. You won’t meet a more down to earth, sweet, kind musician. – ED HUERTA
Photos by Ed Huerta & Misty Huerta
References: Guitar Shorty Sites, Wikipedia, Guitar Shorty by Ray Stiles