Yeah, you always hear jazz guitarists try to emulate saxophonists.
Or even blues vocals. It’s just the idiom. Saxophone was the primary solo instrument in early rock and roll and R&B. A lot of it does come from the sax. A lot of it also comes from singing. You just sit there with a string and bend the notes and if someone understands blues and can hear it a little bit, they can get some of that happening. You just need one string. It's been much maligned, there have been a lot off sad-ass blues guitar players but the greats like to me Albert King and B.B. King, the inventor of the idiom, Otis Rush, those are the guys I love and continue to just be in awe of them.
For the most part, you have one guitar sound on the album. What guitar did you use?
Well, I played the same old guitar I've always had. I keep buying new guitars but I never actually use them. I play them in my basement. I use this 1981 Ibanez AS200. Basically, it’s their copy of a Gibson ES-335. I have played that since they gave it to me in Nagoya, Japan when I was on tour in the early eighties.
Have you modified it at all since then?
Not on purpose. It came with this little switch that takes one of the pickups in and out of phase, and I didn’t like it. I just wanted it to be a regular humbucker, so I filed that down. That was a modification, I guess. The input was on the side of the guitar so I had it moved to the front of the guitar. The pickups are still stock, I am scared to change them. There might be much better pickups in the world, but I like these. They are loud as shit.
Recently, you have been using Vox amps. Did you use them for this album?
This time I used a Two-Rock amp. I went out to California and did a thing with Robben Ford. While I was out there, I didn’t have my amp and at the rehearsal Robben had his pre-CBS Fender Super Reverb that was modified by Dumble. This amp was one of the greatest amps of all time! I was flipping out over the tone I was getting. Robben said, “Listen, I will hook you up with Dumble and if you can get an old Fender, he can do the same thing for you.” It just turned out to be too expensive. I still want to have that done but I am just waiting for my ship to come in. Robben then told me about the Two-Rock amps. I was in Europe and the Two-Rock company was nice enough to let me use one of their amps on a gig and I loved it. On the album, I used a Custom Reverb through a Two-Rock cabinet. Since then, I have gone back and put it through the Vox cab and I think I like that even more. There is something about the sound of that cabinet. I still use Vox AC30 on tour, when I don’t bring my own amp.
You didn’t use too many effects on the album, but I heard some subtle tremolo on “I Loves You Porgy.”
It’s a Moollon Tremolo. I was in North Korea playing a gig and the guy showed up. I like it. It has such a cool design.
Is “Johan” a tribute to the composer?
Yes. It is. I wrote the piece and then afterwards, or maybe as I was writing it, I realized that there was a really famous Bach piece that I learned on the guitar 30 years ago. I learned part of it on the guitar, never learned the whole thing. I can’t remember the name of it. It’s like a Pavanne, or one of the dances. Segovia played it and it’s in E. I realized that the beginning of my song is really similar. It’s kind of a voicing I played, so I dedicated the piece to the master.
Do you have any classical guitar aspirations?
Maybe in my next life. That might be still the greatest thing you can do with the guitar, but it’s almost like a different instrument.
On “Plain Song,” I can almost hear elements of Bill Frisell.
Frisell has copied me for years. I’m joking. I love Bill’s playing and he really influenced me when we played together in the ’80s. When I play that type of stuff, I don’t think of Bill. I am actually a fan of the old-school country western stuff. Country sounds are just inherent in the guitar. I also think of singers. There is a way you can articulate [plays riff] by pulling off on open strings that really has some of that celtic vibe. George Jones is my favorite and all those guys like Merle Haggard, those real hillbillies.