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Once in a Lifetime
Ryan McGarvey comes from behind to win the Ernie Ball Play Crossroads contest
“It’s finally sinking in for me,” says Ryan McGarvey as he catches his breath in the shade after playing 30 minutes of ripping blues rock to a sizable crowd from the Ernie Ball stage at the Crossroads Festival. McGarvey, a native of New Mexico, certainly hadn’t expected to be here. He came from behind and won Ernie Ball’s Play Crossroads contest after entering a month late. Fans voted for the top 500 entrants out of a pool of nearly 3500, and then judges selected the winner from the top 100 vote-getters.
Onstage, McGarvey tore up and down the fretboard of an Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci BFR-6 guitar, and it was clear he made some new fans. Afterward, he talked with a small crowd that had gathered to find out more about the tall 23-year-old who bears a slight resemblance to his friend Joe Bonamassa.
When we got a moment with McGarvey, we found that he’s a big blues fan and a total gear nut.
You’re playing Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival at age 23. How’s that feel?
It’s everything to me. The exposure and promotion that’s gone along with this has been great, but for me it’s really about just knowing I got to do something like that.
What’s the whole experience been like so far?
We’ve just been getting pumped to come out here, and it kept getting better and better. We went to the House of Blues [VIP party] last night and got to meet a ton of people there, and we sat in with Los Lobos. We’ve been anxious to play all day today, but I think we were mostly nervous about making sure our equipment worked. But we’re super thrilled to be here—we couldn’t be happier about it.
Did you prepare like crazy?
[Laughs.] We actually didn’t get to until this week! We mostly worked on narrowing our set. We’re used to really long bar sets, so cutting it down to 20 or 35 minutes of music was a big stretch. We tried to pick a good array that would show off different things and not be too repetitive.
Your bassist and drummer looked like they were having the time of their lives. How long have you been together?
These guys have been with me about eight or nine months. I went to high school with Sam [Miller, bass]—he was actually one of the first people I ever played with—and I met August [Johnson, drums] through Sam. We’re a brand-new band, really, but it’s been working really great.
What were some of your influences growing up?
I grew up listening to classic hard rock, then I fell into a pure blues stage— nothing but real blues, like Honeyboy Edwards. Real-deal stuff. I branched out from that and opened my head to more contemporary blues-rock guitarists like Ian Moore, Chris Duarte, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Joe Bonamassa. I try to take a little bit from everything I listen to.
Tell us about your gear—you were playing the Music Man Petrucci guitar and a Les Paul onstage.
The Petrucci surprised me. My other guitars have much thicker necks, and my [Ernie Ball Music Man] Reflex was more comfortable off the bat because it’s like a cross between a Les Paul and a Tele. But when I tried the Petrucci it just blew me away how crystal clear it could get things. That’s what it’s all about for me, being clear and minimal if I can. The Les Paul is a 2000 ’59 Historic. I looked for a year and a half for that guitar in every single online posting I could find. I was looking for the specific color, the right amount of flame. I was going to do whatever it took to get one! I finally found that one and it’s just perfect. It’s about 8 pounds and 4 ounces, and it’s a great-sounding guitar.
What about amps?
I have a ’66 Super Reverb with four Eminence Ragin’ Cajun speakers, and a ’67 Deluxe that I use as a very clean head through a Marshall AVT 4x12 cab. It’s kind of surprising, but it’s an amazing match. Sometimes I switch out the Deluxe with a Ceriatone Overtone Special, which is a handmade Dumble clone.
You like to keep it minimal, but you have quite the pedalboard.
My board looks like a mother ship, but I use everything very sparingly. I use a Teese Real McCoy wah, a Boss tuner, a Dunlop Uni-Vibe, a Fulltone Full-Drive 2, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer that was converted to an 808 by Analog Mike, an ISP Decimator pedal for clubs where I can’t get rid of that single-coil noise, a TC Electronic Stereo Chorus+, a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, a Roger Mayer Crossroads Signal Director, and a Way Huge Pork Loin. That list makes it sound like it goes on forever, but I’m usually just playing a Les Paul and the Full- Drive, maybe some delay. I try to get the amp really clean and use my pedals to overdrive it. It’s just more reliable.
So what’s next for you?
We have a couple of festivals in New Mexico, and we’re playing the Mile High Blues Festival in August. We’re talking with a booking agent and have some even better things in the works!
Hit page 5 for an explanation of Crossroads' unique turntable-style stage and how it was all put together...