Virtually every electric guitarist can
play the blues to some degree. What
differentiates a great blues guitarist
from the pedestrian?
To me, it’s melody. If it’s lots of notes
or not many at all, melodically it has
to makes sense and fit with the music.
Unfortunately, what a lot of blues-rock
guitar playing became at some point is a
bunch of pentatonic over whatever was
happening. If you listen to Albert King
or B.B., it’s very simple playing—especially
Albert—but it works. And they’re
actually making the chord changes in
their own little, simple way.
I don’t think the blues is in the notes,
I think it’s in the way you play—the
feeling and the timing and the phrasing.
To me, those rules apply no matter how
technically advanced you become.
When you go from playing intricate
lines to pentatonic licks, it sounds really
organic. Was it hard to integrate the
jazzier lines into a blues context at first?
Probably a little bit. But it was always
about sounds to me. It was never like,
“I learned a scale.” I never sat down and
went “this is a scale.” It was a sound
that contained those notes within it that
I heard somebody do and then I found
that sound. Then, afterwards, I found
somebody who knew more about it. Like
Jonny, who has much more theory knowledge
than me, would say, “Oh, that’s a
Mixolydian thing.” I really don’t know that
much of what I’m doing.
the G string on
his SVL 61 sing.
Photo by Jim
People have compared you to Robben
Ford. Did you transcribe his solos when
you were younger?
I get compared to him a lot. It was a major
life-changing experience when I saw him
live for the first time. But the biggest influence
he had on me was in his approach. He
was the first person I had heard play in that
way. It was like, “Wow, that’s what I wanted
to hear.” It fit what I was doing or what
I was trying to do, and then it was like,
“Where’s he getting that from?” But really I
never transcribed anything, I figured out a
couple of licks from Robben and thought,
how he’s getting around that.”
There’s one lick that Robben played in
his song called “Misdirected Blues” and I’d
never heard anything like it over a 12-bar
shuffle—it’s an incredible lick. So I figured
that one out and that single lick opened a
door for me. I never felt the need to learn the
rest of it. You figure out the basis on which
something works, and then you know how to
do it yourself. I learned how to play the pentatonic
scale from the pentatonic thing in the
intro of “Voodoo Child,” but I didn’t know
what the pentatonic scale was—it was just
a sound. Then I thought, “Okay, well if I
play that with some bends and vibrato and
stuff it sounds like other blues stuff.”
Is singing an important part of your
success? Would you be as successful
if you were just a guitar player?
It’d probably be difficult.
Is it possible?
Well, Derek Trucks has done a fine job of
it. He’s a monster player.
Absolutely. But he’s also got the Allman
It does change things, that association. It’s
hard to know, because in the beginning
singing for me was like, “Well somebody’s
got to do it.” All my heroes—guys like
B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins,
and Albert King—they were the entire
package. They were entertainers—they
sang, they played, and they had the tunes.
It’s more important to me to get good
at singing and writing songs and all that
stuff. I think about that more than guitar