How did your new CD come together and why did you list the late David Briggs as co-producer?
It was my manager, Anson Smith’s idea. I sat at home and played and sang about thirty of Neil’s songs for two weeks. About a dozen or so of them started to feel special, so they wound up on the CD. It was my manager’s idea to use David’s name. David was a brother and a mentor, and Neil’s producer for years. David’s way of recording Neil’s vocals was to capture the real emotion in a live take. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect, as long as it had the right feel. I felt like David’s spirit was sitting on my shoulder when I recorded this disc. There was no overdubbing, no tricks.
You also played on the first Crazy Horse album. Tell us about that gig.
That was also a great experience and an honor for me. Danny Whitten (Crazy Horse’s guitarist and songwriter) was going to join Grin, but he was too sick and not up to the job. (Writer’s Note: Whitten died of a heroin overdose in November 1972. His song, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” was a hit for Rod Stewart).
Over the years, you’ve established yourself as an acoustic guitarist. Is that something you consciously developed?
My brother Tom and I decided to go out and do acoustic gigs in the early eighties, and it was very uncomfortable for us both at first, but we got better at it and it’s grown from there. It’s much more intimate, and I really enjoy playing solo acoustic.
What do you think about the state of the music industry at this moment?
I left the music industry fifteen years ago, Bob. I recorded what I think was one of my best albums, Wonderland in 1983, but I was dropped from the label before it was released. I couldn’t get a record deal because the major labels thought I was a dinosaur. I went with Rykodisc, but started butting heads with them. For years, I tried to get control of my older recordings, but the labels either refused to rerelease them or sell them back to me, so most of my older stuff is out of print. I could have bootlegged them all and released them myself, but that would have been breaking the law. For the last fifteen years or so, I have been releasing my own CDs. I have complete freedom to do what I want. I’m content. I don’t pay much attention to the music industry anymore.
You’ve started offering online guitar lessons. What was your motivation for that?
For many years, fans and people in general would tell me they tried to learn guitar and gave it up in frustration. I love to teach, so I decided to put together a beginner’s guitar course that would offer things a novice could do that were fun and easy. It’s developed from there. Guitarists can actually play along with me online.
What’s coming up for you in 2009?
A few months ago in New York City, I had a bi-lateral hip replacement, the result of years of doing back flips off trampolines and jumping off drum risers. My hips were destroyed! I have a lot of physical therapy to go yet, and then I’ll get back to some acoustic gigs in the spring. The E Street Band is playing the Super Bowl halftime show, and we have a new CD coming out January 27 called Working On A Dream. Hopefully, we’ll tour after that.
Any parting advice for our readers?
If you find yourself challenged, frustrated and pushing yourself to learn to play, don’t forget to enjoy the gift of music. It has to be fun, too. I find myself consciously separating myself from all the hard work simply to enjoy playing music, and I do it on a regular basis.
Two ’61 Fenders Strats, various reissue Strats in wood finish
’56 Fender Jazzmaster, various reissue Jazzmasters
Two Gretsch Black Falcons
Two Gretsch Black Penguins
Six and twelve string Takamine acoustics
Carter Pedal steel guitars
Owens/Zeta Resonator Guitars & five vintage Lap Steel Guitars
Herco or Golden Gate thumb picks
Two Fender Twin Reverbs (with Bruce Springsteen)
Fender Hot Rod DeVille (solo gigs)
Electro-Harmonix Poly Octave Generator (POG)
Two Barber Burn Unit Overdrives
Line 6 DL-4 Digital Delay
Boss DD-3 Delay Pedal
Two Boss OC-3 Octave Pedals
D’Addario: 11–52 on Stratocasters; 13–56 on Jazzzmasters; Medium gauge on acoustics