“My advice to anybody is
to grab that guitar, get up
on that stage, and just try
not to suck,”
shown here at a show on
September 12, 2010.
Photo by Chip Py
Did you use a variety of Teles on the
album or did you stick to one guitar?
When I made this record, I had two main
Teles. One was my beat-up ’59 sunburst Tele
I’ve had forever—which at that point had Joe
Barden pickups in it. The other is a Tele made
for me by Eric Danheim, from Big Tex Guitars
in Houston. Eric is the guitar player in the
Hollisters, and he assembles and relics Teles.
I believe the Big Tex has Jason Lollar pickups,
though I have no idea which ones. I’ve never
been able to figure that out because Eric
doesn’t even know. During the overdub process,
I got my hands on a delightful Rick Kelly
replica Tele with Don Mare pickups. This guitar
is made from 150-year-old pine that came from
[film director] Jim Jarmusch’s loft in New York
City, after he had it rebuilt. Here’s what’s wild:
The neck is pine too, and it doesn’t have a truss
rod. The neck is just god-awful huge—over an
inch deep from top to back. Sometimes when
I go for the “folk” F chord—the one where
you grab the low F with your thumb—it’s
like, “Where is it? Someone help me with this
F note!” So I used those three Teles on the
record. I can’t tell you which guitar appears on
what track, but that’s the way it goes.
How does the absence of a truss rod affect
the Kelly’s sound?
Well, Rick’s rap, which I tend to believe, is
that without a truss rod you don’t have that
hollow below the G and D strings. Instead,
you have a solid piece of wood there, and
that produces a fatter tone. More and more,
I’m realizing that a lot of tone in any guitar
comes from the neck, which I never really
gave much thought to until recently. I’ve got
two Big Tex guitars, and one has a maple
fretboard and the other has a rosewood fretboard—
and, boy, they sound different. Now
I can really hear the difference in the neck.
Tell us about the baritone you played on
Word to the Wise.
Well, that’s the fourth Tele I used on the
album. It’s a Fender Baja Sexto owned
by [luthier and master repairman] Danny
Erlewine, who I’ve known since the ’60s from
my days in Ann Arbor. He sold me my first
tweed Fender Twin back in the mid ’60s. Why
didn’t I keep that one? [Laughs
.] But anyway,
Danny built the body, and I think Fred Stuart
[formerly of the Fender Custom Shop] made
the neck. I used that a bunch on the album. I
also used a Danelectro baritone in England,
because I didn’t have the Baja with me.
Do you tune your baritones B–B or A–A?
I tend to tune it A–A, but I’ve done both. On
my prior record [Hammer of the Honky-Tonk
], I had it tuned Bb–Bb for a song that
was in F.
How about amps?
I brought my Talos amp to England and I
used it exclusively on the rhythm tracks, as I
recall. It’s a dual-6L6, 1x12 combo made by
Music Technologies in Springfield, Virginia.
It’s a neat amp. When I got home, I used the
Talos for the overdubs, as well as a ’68 silverface
Deluxe Reverb and a TV-front tweed
Deluxe. The ’68 Deluxe has been beefed up
by Pete Cage [of Cage Amplifiers], who put
in a slightly larger output transformer and
reconfigured the amp for 6L6 tubes.
I’ll tell you a funny story about my Talos. When
I fly, I surround it with bubble wrap and tote
it in a soft-sided suitcase. While I was over in
London tracking, somebody told Mark Knopfler
about my Talos, and he was interested in hearing
it. I’d never met Mark, but I dragged the
amp over to his studio so he could try it out
while he was working on his most recent album.
On my way to Heathrow to fly home, I had to
swing by his studio to pick up the amp. I knew I
was going to have to pay the $125 overweight
shipping to get it home, so I thought, “Why not
fill the amp with laundry?”
Now, Mark insists on helping me carry the
amp down from the studio. I tell him, “I got it,
Mark,” and he says [adopts a British accent],
“No, Bill, please let me carry the amp.” So we
get down to the sidewalk, where I’ve got a car
waiting, and I say, “Okay, I’ve got it from here.”
But again Mark insists, ”No, let me help you.”
So he’s holding the case open with the amp
in it, and I’m trying to force my plastic bag
of dirty laundry into the back of the amp.
Well, I’ve been in England for three or four
weeks, so this bag just won’t fit in there.
Finally, there’s nothing for it: Mark is kneeling
on the sidewalk, holding the case, and I
have to take my dirty underwear out of the
bag and shove it into the back of the amp. I
say, “So, Mark, is this how you travel?” And
he goes, “Not anymore.” And I say, “So
watch and learn, Mark.” [Laughs.]
Mark is a great guy, just lovely. He also has the
most spectacular studio I’ve ever
a power of 10. Everywhere you peek, there
are vintage guitars and amps, 16-track tape
recorders, ribbon mics—all kinds of astonishing
gear. While I was there I met [Knopfler’s second
guitarist] Richard Bennett, who I’d never
met before. He was very nice too.
Are you particular about speakers?
Yeah, I’m really mad for these Jensen neo-dymiums
now. I used to use the Jensen reissues,
but then the neos came out and they
work even better for me. I think it’s because
they have a flatter frequency response.
Whatever it is, I like it. I occasionally use an
original Jensen C12N, and my ’68 Deluxe
has an even older Jensen that Pete Cage put
in it for me. But, by and large, the Jensen
neo is my speaker of choice.
“Shelly’s Winter Love” has deep, throbbing
tremolo. Does the Talos have tremolo or
are you getting that from the Deluxe?
No, the Talos doesn’t have tremolo. During
the tracking sessions over in England, I got
my tremolo from one of those $29 miniature
Danelectro Tuna Melt tremolo pedals. I love
those things. It gives a little gain boost,
which is handy. For the overdubs back home,
I used my Deluxe’s tremolo.
Did you use other pedals on the record?
I used a Talos overdrive pedal called the
Ass Bite Overdrive, of all things. It has four
knobs—a Gain knob and a Volume knob, plus
one knob for Ass and another for Bite. There
you have it. I ask you, what else could they call
it? It’s a neat overdrive that can be very transparent.
Sometimes I’d use it for a little boost,
and sometimes I’d crank it up. I wish I could
tell you what songs have the Ass Bite and
what songs have an amp turned up to 10.