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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.
Schofield lets the G string on his SVL 61 sing. Photo by Jim Nichols
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, “Oh, that’s 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 Brothers legacy.
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 playing now.