The best blues is about overwhelming life experiences, and Lance Lopez has those in spades. As a young Texas guitar prodigy, he’s shared the stage with the likes of Johnnie Taylor, Lucky Peterson, and Buddy Miles. As a guitar slinging solo artist, he’s gone on to create a slew of ass kicking, fire-breathing, post-SRV-meets-Hendrix blues-rock albums, but his personal life was out of control. Drug and alcohol abuse took hold, and run-ins with the law eventually led to a stretch in the slammer.
Having cleaned up his act, Lopez is free, clear thinking, and singing the blues again—the gut level stuff. His current album is called Salvation From Sundown and it’s a return to his traditional blues roots. It’s a soulful collection of old school R&B, Albert Collins-style grooves, and gritty Texas guitar magic.
Like the bluesmen that came before him, his life and art are intertwined. You can feel the intensity in every note. We caught up with Lopez on the road on his way to a gig in Arkansas to talk about the album and his journey.
What was the overriding theme for Salvation From Sundown?
I had a lot of those songs written way before I went in to record them. A lot of that stuff came from my earlier years on the road playing with a lot of blues cats. I was backing guys like Johnnie Taylor and Lucky Petersen, and I played with Buddy Miles for a bit.
I was out there around those kinds of guys, so I was writing that kind of music—listening to it, and being influenced by it. I had a lot of that material set off to the side. I had a stockpile of blues and R&B stuff. That was kind of the premise. I wanted to go in and make a good blues record.
You’re known for playing blues-rock, is Salvation you taking a break from that?
When I was recording for the Grooveyard label, it was set in one unidirectional pace where there was a big emphasis on Robin Trower and Frank Marino. That was a big thing for them. They were really anti-keyboard, anti-ballad, anti-shuffle. They were trying to get really way out with the psychedelic power trio—Univibe, Phase Shifter, that whole kind of vibe.
Robin Trower and Hendrix and all those guys are big parts of my playing, but there was more that I wanted to do. There was more blues I wanted to play, and I had all these songs. Salvation was me wanting to make a good blues record.
Your guitar tones are very thick. What did you use on the record?
I was fortunate to have Jim Gaines as a producer. Jim sat down and explained to me what they had done with Stevie Ray Vaughn. How he had this many amps—ten downstairs, ten upstairs, running through ten amps at once, or something crazy. Then he also told me about how he had worked with Ronnie Montrose. Ronnie had some crazy rig with tons of stacks. I had a lot of amplifiers, but I wasn’t going to go in that direction. I just wanted to see what sounded the best, and he was like, “Oh thank God!” [Laughing]
The basis of the record was my baby. It’s a 1970 Marshall Super Bass 100. I got it modded. I put a Mercury Magnetic transformer in it. We had to really go through it because it was all original when I had it. It had several issues and it wasn’t road-worthy, so we went in and did a lot of work on it. I use it in conjunction with 75-watt Celestion Marshall cabinets. With my ’65 Inca silver Strat, I got a rounder, fuller, and fatter tone as opposed to a Marshall plexi through some Celestion Greenbacks.
Some of the heavier stuff like “Romeo,” “Salvation From Sundown,” and “One Half Hour” was basically a ’57 Reissue Les Paul Gold Top through a ’68 Super Lead 100 and a ’66 JPM 45 2X12. Jim Gaines was so excited to have a Les Paul straight into a Marshall. To him that is the be-all and end-all. He said, “That’s the best sound, and I’ve done it all.” The majority of the next record is just going to be a Les Paul through a Marshall. You can’t beat that sound.
Did you use any pedals?
I was using a couple of pedals from Browntone Electronics in North Carolina. I used a Hoochee-Mama Drive box, which is basically like an 808 but has better features, and a Macho Man, which has higher gain. The Hoochee-Mama is really nice and smooth. Jim Gaines liked it a lot because it had a different vibe than either the Klon Centaur, the 808, or TS9. It’s little bit smoother.
Does it give you that classic midrange bump?
It does, but it’s not boxy. It’s still very smooth and round. Sometimes that midrange boost to me can sound almost like it has a distant mic, shoe box sound. The Macho Man is very smooth and that was the crux of the tone.
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