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Interview: Steve Wariner - The Heart of Country (and Swing, Jazz, Folk...)

Interview: Steve Wariner - The Heart of Country (and Swing, Jazz, Folk...)

“Blue Angel” was the first song I did out of the chute, not even knowing I was doing this album yet. I originally used a handmade classical guitar made by Haskell Haile. He made beautiful furniture and later in his life he started making guitars. I saw Chet’s guitar once and I just flipped over it and Chet introduced me to him. I got to listening, and it really wasn’t the right tone. It didn’t fit that sound that I wanted for that particular era—it was too bright. The next day I came back with a Takamine classical guitar that I’ve had probably 15 years or more, it’s kind of my go-to classical. I recorded it with compression on it and it was way too squeaky and didn’t sound right, so I went back the next day with the Takamine and recorded it straight. Used a U67 mic dropped down on the hole, close mic’d it and just recorded it with no compression, no anything, just raw.

“Reeding Out Loud” represents Chet and Jerry Reed of course, and Paul Yandell played the electric part. I once had an old Baldwin Classic electric, like Jerry used to play, but over the years I think it got stolen or something. That’s the only guitar in my whole life that I just don’t know what happened to it, and it just kills me. But I have a beautiful Kirk Sand guitar that Kirk made for me several years ago, a nylon string classic electric, that I used on the track. I believe Paul played the Epiphone that I used on those earlier tracks. He played the Jerry part and I played the Chet part, and it was our tip-of-the-hat to those great Chet and Jerry records.

Steve (right) plays his Kirk Sand guitar onstage with Chet.

I played Chet’s guitar—the Gretsch-orange Gibson—again on the “Producers Medley.” On “Tuned In” I played the Gibson and the Takamine classical. On “6120," of course, I played my 1958 Gretsch 6120. It’s really a sweet guitar—it plays great. My friend Jimmy Mattingly played just beautiful fiddle on that. Of course, on “Chet’s Guitar” you gotta play Chet’s guitar, so I played the Gibson Country Gentleman.

For “Silent String” I just mic’d a Del Vecchio resonator acoustic. Chet always put a Neumann U67 real close on the resonator, and I thought, That’s what I’m doin’. It has a really unique tone. I thought it was appropriate to play it on the last song. It’s a real mournful guitar, like his guitar probably was missing Chet, mourning for him, that’s kind of the way I looked at that song.

What amp were you using?

I used a ‘65 Fender Princeton. Todd Sharpe, a brilliant amp guy here in Nashville, kinda modded it a little bit. It was either that or a blackface Fender Deluxe, those are my two amps that I use most of the time. Sometimes we double mic’d back and front. I have a vintage RCA 77 ribbon mic—they call it the Tylenol pill mic—that I used on it, and I think we used either a Royer ribbon or an SM57 behind it. Chet used those RCA ribbon mics a ton, 44s and 77s, so I used the 77 mostly.

So, no other outboard effects on it at all?

For “Silent Strings,” I played the Del Vecchio with a Fulltone Tape Echo. I think on “Back Home Again (In Indiana)” I used an MXR Carbon Copy, but on all the others I used the real analog tape delay.

I could tell that you went through the eras and listened and figured out what he was playing and how he was recording it—you really nailed it.

The greatest complement for me was from Chet’s daughter, Merle. She called me after she heard the album, just in tears, and she said, “I think you captured Daddy. Oh my god, every little thing, every little touch, you really captured Daddy better than anybody ever has.” And that made me feel great, you know.

But this certainly is the most care and love and time that I’ve ever put into a record. I’ve made 20-something albums in my career, but I’ve never worked on an album that long or put that much care into one. I told Randy from the start, it has to be as seamless as possible, because if I am gonna do this album to honor Chet, it’s gotta go the full distance. I really wanted to capture the different styles.

What do you remember about Chet’s rig?

I know later when I was working with him he was using a Lexicon–he’d travel with it too, he had a little rack there that he’d carry. He had it set for a couple delays that he’d use, either a slap-back or a long delay. On a couple songs like “Snowbird,” he utilized his delays in making extra notes. But I know in his early days he was using tape delay, real analog tape, like I was emulating. He was using analog tape way back in the ‘50s—him and Les Paul, they were doing it a long time ago!

It’s funny with Chet, he had a little RCA Studio B in his house in the ‘50s. Everybody and their brother has a recording studio at their house now, but it really boggles my mind, because I see pictures, and his studio never changed. I recorded a lot at his studio in the early days when he first signed me to RCA. I would go over to his house and record vocals, but it always just blew me away that he’d have all these old ribbon mics, LA2As [Universal Audio Compressor] and 1176s [UREI 1176 Fet Compressor] laying around, you know. Beautiful, just like a mini Studio B, and he was doing that many years before it became vogue to have a studio at your house. It was really something else when you think about his career and what he did and achieved.
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