‘Scuse me while I Kiss The Sky…

In the office today, listening to this record, bringing back so many memories I thought I’d write some of them down. This was the second Jimi Hendrix record I bought. The first being the soundtrack to the Motion Picture Jimi Hendrix. I bought my first copy of this record on cassette at The Sound Shop in Columbia, TN. (I can still remember how they smelled when you tore the plastic wrap off and opened the box.How the cassette would rattle in it’s cradle. This one was clear! Cool!) My first Hendrix record is the one that drove me to play guitar, THIS one was my sonic bible. For a Hendrix neophyte, which I was, this was a great way to dive in; music from all over his career. Randomly sequenced, it had no real chronology to it, just Jimi firing it up for 45 minutes. Live stuff mixed with studio stuff. I hadn’t heard any of the original records or 1,000’s of bootlegs at this point so this was all fresh and new to me at this point. This record was released in 1984 (according to wikipedia) so I probably picked it up because it would’ve been the most recent release. This is the tape that I took to my guitar teacher, Doug Thurman, and asked him to teach me Voodoo Chile (Slight Return). Which forced me to learn my first chord and very nearly ended my guitar playing career before it started!
That E chord, yikes! “Just put this finger here…” I felt like my hand would cramp and fall off! I couldn’t make the chord, let alone play a song that required me to use this contortion in it! Something made me keep going though. I went home and locked myself in my room and practiced. A piece of paper with hand drawn dots showing where my fingers go. Sore fingers, blisters. Friday night; “you want to go out? Nah, I’m gonna stay home and practice.” One chord, over and over, sometimes 4 of the 6 strings would ring, sometimes only 2, days went by and by the weekend I was getting all 6 strings to ring a little. Finally, I thought, a little daylight! One chord = 1 week! That’s my formula! Now I know exactly how hard I’ll have to work to get this guitar under control!

Nah. That’s the beauty and magic of a guitar, it’s just like a woman; once you think you have them figured out, they change BUT you don’t mind the change cause their just that awesome and amazing!

My guitar would give me something and then seem to take it back and then some. She’d give a glimpse at what might be possible and then close the curtain as if to say “But not yet.” The more I dug the more I wanted. The more frustrated I got the harder I practiced. Great sounds would mesh with awful clams so that I was constantly feeling like I was stranded in the ocean just grabbing at anything floating by. Just trying to stay afloat.
I met with Doug once a week (Mondays I think), so I was always in a hurry to learn the next thing. I didn’t have time to learn the solo to Voodoo Chile because I wanted to learn Purple Haze! The next Monday was “show me Red House!”
This was late 1988/89. There’s no internet, no youtube to refer to. You can’t just pull up footage of Jimi playing the songs, or a million guitarists in their homes videoing themselves playing the songs. This is archeology. Sonic Archeology! You had to dig and scrap for any piece of information. By this point, I knew what Jimi looked like from the two cassette covers that I had. I’d bought a poster of Jimi from the Isle of Fehmarn (today I realized where the shot was taken!) Pink pants, multicolored jacket, leopard skin strap! White Stratocaster, man I gotta get one of those!
Doug rented the VHS tape of Jimi Hendrix the movie and invited me over to watch it. 2 hours later, I’m more jazzed than ever. A true disciple! Jimi at Monterey, burning his guitar, Woodstock playing the National Anthem, The Isle Of Wight casually throwing the guitar over his shoulder at the end of his set. I bought the VHS tape and wore it out, bought another one and wore it out, bought a third one, same thing, then they invented DVD’s! (I’m on my 3rd DVD copy as I write this). No MTV in our house yet but we had Night Trax on WTBS out of Atlanta. They showed a clip of Jimi playing the Star Spangled Banner in Berkeley. It came on on Saturday night around 1:00 am. I remember sitting there in the dark in my parents living room, mouth hanging open, in shock! Another piece of the puzzle! Books started flowing into my orbit. Jimi was 27 when he died. He died in London, he was in the 101st Airborne, he’d played in Nashville early in his career, played with Little Richard, King Curtis, Joey Dee…every little piece of information I could find was like a revelation.
So now it’s 2014, I’ve been chasing Jimi’s secrets since 1989 or so so that’s 25 years! Still ain’t playing them right. I’ve met him a couple of times in my dreams but I’m always too excited to remember to ask him anything!


Twang & Bang in the West!

Once again, we are safely back home from an amazing tour! Our trip out West was one for the books. Driving back across the country from Utah to Tennessee, I had plenty of time to revisit all of the awesome scenes from the tour. We started with 2 fantastic nights in Sioux Falls, SD with our friends Lance and Sarah @Old Skoolz. That was the perfect way to start our tour! Paying a visit to our friends at Byron’s in Pomeroy is always a blast. Yellowstone Brewery in Billing is always a blessing to visit.
Two new (to us) venues followed; Sapolil Winery in Walla Walla, WA and Duff’s Garage in Portland, OR. I can’t wait to revisit both of these places! Jazzbones in Tacoma, WA. (Where half of our gear fell out of the trailer and was almost lost forever until the amazing Weber family rescued it!) and Double Mountain Brewing in Hood River, OR couldn’t have been more fun and I hope to return real soon.
The Mt. Baker Blues Festival in Bellingham, WA was next and the only thing more stunning than the view was the kindness and hospitality of our host, Mr. Lloyd Peterson. It was such a joy to get to perform at his beautiful festival.
Heading down to San Francisco, CA to play at Biscuits & Blues for our friend Steven Suen is always an honor and a privilege. It was also, sadly for me, the last night of the tour for our bassman; Mr. Doug Swanson. Staying behind to spend some well deserved time off with his beautiful family, he’ll be rejoining us next month.
Finally we made our way to Salt Lake City, UT to perform at our old friend Carl Weyandt’s new venue Bleu Bistro. If you’re ever in SLC and are hungry for great food and great music make your way to Bleu Bistro, you won’t be disappointed! Joining us for the last two dates of the tour was our new friend Jon Q, filling in for Doug on bass. It was great to get a chance to get to know and jam with this fantastic musician. For our last night on the road, we were the guests of Carl and his wife to Red Butte Garden to see Galactic and Trombone Shorty. A really nice treat for us!
The only thing left was the 24 hour drive home. As the miles roll by, I’m reminded of how beautiful our country is. The landscape changes from wide open spaces to mountains to rolling plains to those lush green Tennessee hills that I proudly call home.
I want to say thank you to my partners in crime; Tour Manager Milburn Edwards, Bassist Doug Mug Swanson, Drummer Ashley W. Smith and Bassist Jon Q. for giving their all every night.
17 days, 6,885.4 miles total. It’s what we do. #loudisgood #twangandbang

Remembering; Messing With The Kid

419T56ZJWXL._SL500_AA300_In 1997, I was enjoying my 8th year with Buddy Guy and had started my own band back home in Nashville. One night playing a gig, I caught the ear of a Nashville entrepreneur who wanted to take a shot at getting into the recording business. He approached me about making a record and I jumped on the chance, provided I could record with my band and that we could play the music we wanted. He agreed and we were off!
A small studio in Nashville (a quick look at the liner notes reminded me that it was Fireside Studios and that our engineer was GEORGE CLINTON!) was reserved for a week and I went in with my band at that time; Derek Wiseman on Drums, Drew Wiseman on Keys and Chris Kent on Bass. In addition to my then guitar tech, Bobby Inman, that was it! We set up our gear and basically ripped through songs from our live set like Messing With The Kid and the Buddy Holly song Not Fade Away. Another song we did was the George Jones classic He Stopped Loving Her Today. that song had worked it’s way into our set as a joke one night. we were playing to a pretty hard core Blues/Rock crowd and had been banging them up pretty good all night. We used to play REALLY loud back then. Sort of as a joke, I started playing and singing; “He said I’ll love you ’til I die…” and the place went crazy! In my little mind I thought; “hmmm” and sang the next line; “she said you’ll forget in time…” the band kicked in at just the right moment (they always did) and we were off. After Buddy heard me doing it one night he tried to get me to do it every night when we were on the road! My mind wasn’t open enough at that time to realize that George Jones was a Blues man! I know it now.
Let me try and describe how hot that band was; We never had a set list. We never had a rehearsal. Rehearsals consisted of being in the dressing room at 3rd & Lindsley or wherever and me asking the band if they knew the Stevie Wonder tune I Wish. Then we’d go out and open with it and play it for 20 minutes with out any mistakes or hiccups. I truly think I could wake those guys from a dead sleep and count off a song and they’d hit it perfect. We’d shift from one song to the next with out even stopping to discuss what was next. No keys ever called out. Just listen and play. One night we played 4 hours straight with no breaks at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville. A lady actually scolded me when we were through because she said it wasn’t fair to the people who wanted to buy a drink or go to the bathroom because we wouldn’t give them a break. That band was truly a gem that deserved to be heard by more ears than they were.
I had written some new tunes like How Do We Sleep and Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool that I was pretty proud of and we just did one or two takes of each song. I remember playing the demo of Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool for my dad right before he passed away, so that was really the only song that I’ve written that he got to hear. Wow! I just realized that!
Being that it was 17 years ago now, my memories of the sessions are pretty fragmented but I remember really enjoying making that music with my friends, all of whom were way better musicians than me and I really appreciated the opportunity to bask in their talent and be lifted up. I remember Chris came up with the intro to Let’s Straighten It Out and every bass player after him had trouble playing that lick. I’m sure he got a good laugh out of that!
My strongest memories of the sessions were that we would start in the evenings about 6 and go until 2 or 3 in the morning. Bobby and I always rode together to the studio and afterwards we would go to Mary’s BBQ on Jefferson St. in Nashville. Mary’s was awesome back in those days; a walk up window that stayed open until 4 or 5 in the morning and had killer ribs! No tables, so you had to just eat them in your car but it was WORTH IT! Yes, 17 years ago I could eat a slab of ribs at 3:00 AM and suffer no consequences!
I remember shooting the photos for the cover and I was wearing my leather jacket…and it was summer…in Nashville…I think I lost 20lb. while we were shooting. If you see the individual photos of the band on the inside, you can see poor Chris is sweating too! It was HOT! Old #1 had nary a scratch on her at that time. On the cover, I’m actually standing in a dry creek bed. The inside background under the lyrics was actually the grill cloth from my Fender Super Reverb that I used back then. I still have that amp although at some point I painted it purple and swapped the grill cloth for leopard print! I can hear the collective groan of all you amp collectors out there, shut up! It’s my amp!
My other really strong memory is being encouraged to do a version of Jimi Hendrix’ Who Knows. I’m not really proud of my version of that song because I honestly didn’t have my heart into it. Jimi’s music is very precious and important to me and at that time I was reluctant to do something that I thought might diminish his songs somehow. As it turned out, that particular song was what got the attention of Billy Cox and inspired him and Mitch Mitchell to agree to record Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) with me on my second record; Dark Of The Night but that’s another story…

In Honor Of Mr. B.B. King

I haven’t written a blog lately but while surfing on Facebook I came across a story that I wanted to comment on so , here ya go;
Recently, apparently (if you believe what you read on the inter-web), Blues Legend, Multi-GRAMMY winner, Blues Hall Of Famer, Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer, B.B. King was “heckled” at a performance in St Louis, MO. According to the report, he was telling a lot of stories and not playing much and the audience became restless and some walked out while others shouted for him to play. If this is true, I am ashamed of the audience who would treat an icon in such a way.
B.B. King is probably responsible (both directly and indirectly) for 98% of the guitarists in every genre of contemporary music today. His body of work speaks for itself and the fact that at 88 years old he still wants to go on tour and perform every night is amazing in and of itself. In my humble opinion, if you go to see B.B. King perform in 2014, at 88 years old, you shouldn’t expect Live At The Regal. Any of you 50 year olds out there rocking it like you did at 18?
I last saw B.B. about a year or so ago in Nashville, on a bill with Buddy Guy. Buddy opened the show (as he always does when he and B.B. play together, out of supreme respect) and, of course, lit the place on fire. B.B. came out and sat down and told stories and talked to the audience and played some but it felt more like he was visiting with old friends. This is a man who’s family basically consists of the audiences he’s played in front of for the last 65 years. I had the opportunity to see B.B. in the late 80’s and through the 90’s. He was incredible every night and played with a fire that I hope I have when I reach his age.
The reality of this business is that there is no retirement. I’ve heard people say “why does so-and-so still tour? They can’t need the money”, the truth is any musician who has been in this business long enough to call it a career isn’t doing it for the money. Money’s great and we all need it to pay the bills and buy our stuff but there are WAY easier ways to make WAY more money than criss-crossing the planet, living out of a suitcase and spilling you blood and soul on a stage every night and hoping you’re accepted. When I refer to musicians, don’t confuse that with “musicians” that are using the music business as one of the paths to CELEBRITY which has become the most prevalent drug in our culture.
I would never presume to speak for B.B. but I can only imagine that I would get on that bus every night because it’s what I do, it’s all I know to do. To say nothing of the people who work for him and depend on the salary. And maybe, just maybe, he loves it. I know I do.
My advice to you is this; If B.B. King’s coming to a town near you and you want to see him stand up and play Everyday I Have The Blues and Sweet Sixteen, stay home and listen to Live At Cook County Jail. If you go to the show, go to applaud and thank a man who has devoted his life to entertaining the residents on Planet Earth for 65 years and counting. Go just for the experience of being able to say “I saw B.B. King live, I shared air with the man for a brief time and had a chance through my presence and applause to thank him for his art.”
If I could speak directly to B.B., I’d like to say; “Thank you, Mr. King for your art, your direction, guidance, entertainment, for hitting that one note that makes us forget about the light bill for a while. I hope to see you many more times and that for the rest of your career your met with audiences that are only expressions of love and respect.”