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“Everybody Needs Love” is a great cover of the classic Eddie Hinton song—another Muscle Shoals alum. I understand it was originally recorded for a Hinton tribute 45?
Yeah, there is a little record store in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the guy who owns it is a huge Eddie Hinton fan. He wanted to do a series of 45s paying tribute to Hinton, with other people recording his songs. We were asked to do the second record in the series and recorded it around the same time we had studio time booked for our record. It kind of reshaped Go Go Boots—for lack of a better way of putting it—by helping us find something we were looking for on the record. Including “Everybody Needs Love” and “Where’s Eddie” (another Hinton track) on the album was a huge inspiration in writing and recording the first and last song, “I Do Believe” and “Mercy Buckets.” Those songs probably wouldn’t have been on the record had we not done Eddie Hinton’s songs.
The Hinton songs seem like these small moments of joy on an album otherwise filled with darker themes.
I kind of feel the same way about “I Do Believe,” and “Mercy Buckets,” as far as being the counterpoint to the darker elements on the record, and it sort of became part of the unintended theme of the record. To have these different characters, some of them obviously being misguided and doing destructive or bad things, and then have this other thing in there that’s more positive—someone maybe finding the light. In all of those songs, the redemption comes through a kind of lasting love. It sounds trite and cliché to say love is the answer, but maybe it really is.
Are you into the tone and gear sides of the music, or do you just like to grab a guitar and go?
I’m very much into tone, but I like finding it in the simplest way possible. I won’t say it’s due to laziness, but I don’t play a lot of notes. I gravitate towards as few notes as possible to present the melody that I hear, so I want each of those notes to really sound good. It’s probably something I’ve searched for as long as I’ve played. In recent years I feel like I’ve kind of found my sound, and I’m very happy with that. And I’ve found it in a pretty simple way with a tube amp, a speaker, and maybe one pedal—maybe not.
What amp did you go with on the album?
I’m mostly playing through a ’72 Fender Deluxe Reverb, and that’s been sort of my amp of choice for a while. It’s nice in the studio because it’s not so big, and you can turn it up and get it to break up just right. There’s really no need to have a huge amp in the studio. I also played a ’66 Deluxe Reverb blackface reissue that I got around the time of my solo album, Murdering Oscar, and also played through it on A Blessing and a Curse.
There are probably also a couple songs where I’m playing through one of [longtime DBT producer] David Barbe’s Ampegs. He’s got a bunch of really cool vintage Ampegs around the studio, and at any given time he might swap them out to see how it sounds. A lot of times, unless there’s something specific in my head, we’ll leave it to him. He knows what’s going on the tape and how it plays with the other stuff.
Fans are pretty familiar with your ’69 Goldtop, known as Estelle. Is that what we’re hearing on the record?
On this record I’m mostly playing my SG. It’s like the cheapest Gibson SG you can get without being an Epiphone. It’s unfinished—just brown. I got that around 2003’s Decoration Day, but started playing my Goldtop around 2005. I switched back to the SG about a year and a half ago when we were working on this record, because I was liking the sound better for what I was doing.
What did you hear in the SG that made you switch back?
I just like where it breaks up. I can make it sound really clean or really dirty without touching a knob, only by attacking the strings. It’s just a good guitar.
Is the SG tuned down?
Part of the sound we get is from tuning down a step, but the SG is tuned standard. At any given time, there’s probably going to be one person tuned standard, one person tuned down and someone else going one way or the other. We use all kinds of different tunings with all of these guitar players—it keeps everybody’s sound different.
It sounds like there’s more acoustic on this album as well.
Yeah, there probably is. I’ve got a custom-made acoustic from a guy named Scott Baxendale, who relocated to Athens about a year ago. He’s an incredible master luthier, and built me the guitar a few years ago. I just love that guitar—it’s a smaller parlor-style acoustic, but it has a little bit longer neck scale to accommodate my tuning. He studied video of me playing, and tailored the neck and everything else around what he saw. The first time I picked it up, it was the most amazing playing guitar I had ever played. So I’m playing that pretty much anytime there’s an acoustic.
I also have an old Craftsman acoustic, but I have no idea how old it is. Scott rebuilt it by re-bracing it, straightening out the neck and putting new tuning pegs on it—it’s a really cool guitar. And it really records well—it’s got a cool sound when you put a mic in front of it. It kind of cuts in a different place than any other guitar I’ve got. I’m playing that on the song “Santa Fe” on The Big To-Do.