What were you playing the Goya through?
My first amp was my record player. My dad was an electrician and he had a record player that was all in pieces, so I just plugged my guitar into that.
Did you have a group at this point?
I was just trying to learn how to play; I’d get together in the garage with friends occasionally and try to play “Louie, Louie” or something like that. I didn’t really get a group together until I went to college; then I met Tom and joined his group called Mudcrutch.
In the movie, it shows that Mudcrutch left Florida in 1974 for the West Coast, and within a few days you had several record contract offers and eventually signed with Denny Cordell – that seems unbelievable, especially in this day and age.
Yes it was, but it was a different time back then, and record companies were a little more concerned with artistic development and less concerned about the bottom line. Especially Cordell, who really had an artistic vision and who was really helpful to us, as they touch on in the film. He had made lots of records to be respected, and he really saw a germ of talent in Tom’s songwriting. He really nurtured it, and kind of helped us filter out what was good and what wasn’t good about what we were doing. He was tremendously helpful in getting us on the right path.
That first Heartbreakers album has some great guitar tones on it – do you remember what you were playing?
Most of the guitar tones on that first record were Tom playing my ’64 Stratocaster and me on a ‘50s Broadcaster through a tweed Fender Deluxe and a [1970s] Fender Super Six, which were in the Shelter Records studio.
That Stratocaster was something I had gotten for $200, and I didn’t have the money, so someone had fronted it to me. I did like the guitar sounds on that record, especially the crunch of that tweed Deluxe, which is like the one Neil Young uses that has such a beautiful distortion.
I saw your most recent tour last summer and know that you are using dozens of guitars live, but what's your current stage amp setup?
We have a combination of things; on the last few tours, we brought the [Vox] Super Beatles back after having retired them for a while because they are really loud, and as we got older it was harder to sing over that volume. We brought them back because we missed some of the tones that we used to get from them. Those Super Beatles are on stage now - I'm not actually playing through them but Tom does on a couple of songs. Behind them are the things that we are actually using in the mix.
Right now my favorite setup, which I kinda found with my little band in the clubs but I use onstage now with the Heartbreakers, is a tweed Deluxe and a blackface Fender Princeton together behind the Super Beatle, and an isolated Vox AC30 that I have backstage in a box. The guy up front can pull up any of those amps that fit the room that night, but mostly it's the blackface Princeton and the tweed Deluxe, which is a '59. Those two amps sound really great together.
You came out of the era of the big guitar hero, but you managed to avoid all the excess wanking that made a lot of their records seem self-indulgent and ultimately sound very dated. I have always likened you to a George Harrison or Keith Richards type of player; someone that was always very sympathetic to playing exactly what fit the song versus showboating.
We came up out of Florida and at that time, there were a lot of Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd-type bands. And we liked that stuff, but what we loved even more than that was early Beatles and the Stones - three-minute songs, with good guitar parts and not necessarily long guitar solos. We just preferred that style of music, and figured out early on that all of those other bands were trying to sound like the Allman Brothers, and we didn't want to do that, we wanted to do what we liked. And that's really always been our approach!
How do you approach soloing? Do you work stuff out beforehand, simply let it flow, or is it a combination of both?
The song comes in, and the purpose is to serve the song, not the guitar part. You used George Harrison and Keith Richards as examples; really cool rhythm parts played between the vocal, with a short solo that says something then gets out of the way for the next vocal. It's a challenge to make your statement in a short amount of time, but I prefer that challenge as opposed to just stretching out. We can do that too, and nowadays we will stretch out a few things, but anytime that it starts to drift away from the song, we kind of lose interest.
What really comes across in the new DVD is that besides the respect the Heartbreakers have for their music, there seems to be a genuine love for each other, too.
I think that's right - that's what hit me when I saw the film. It was like, "God, we really like each other!" [laughs] I mean, guys don't sit around saying, "Hey, I love you man," but when I saw the film I thought, hey, there really is a love here, and we stuck together through a lot of hard times because we really have strong feelings for the music we make together. And it's not an act, it's true love.