Purvis playing the piano, which will later become the sideman to the electric guitar.
There were some very interesting looking guitars in this film, as you obviously had to take them back to a certain style. Where did you get those?
We had a luthier named Ted Crocker build one after we sent him the script. I always felt like Gary Clarke’s character was a guy who was a radio repairman in the army and probably read an article in Popular Electronics about what Les Paul was up to.

I wanted something that would really play and so Ted made two identical [guitars]. One had a radio hook-up in the back for when Gary goes out in front of the club and the other for the club doesn’t have the hook-up. It’s a single coil, so it doesn’t have the humbucker.

I wanted the sound of those early guitars. If you listen to T-Bone Walker’s stuff, it’s great, but it’s a little thinner than what came only a few years later when they got the other coil. Where did you get the idea for this film?

It all started with the rock n’ roll legend of Guitar Slim. I think his real name was Eddie Jones, and he was known in New Orleans in the early fifties. He was one of the guys who put that long extension chord on his guitar and in New Orleans where there are a lot of clubs close together, would go into the street and play in the doorway of the other clubs to get everybody in his club. He was also known to miss a gig. I think Earl King was the most famous of them who spent years going out as Guitar Slim. Somebody would pretend to be somebody else, but as long as you could play, the audience didn’t care. There were no rock videos, no album covers, no TV; it was just a name on the jukebox. The celebrity was a lot less important.

Sonny Blake (Gary Clark, Jr.) on stage playing Guitar Slim’s songs on his self-made electric guitar.
Speaking of music videos, I’ve read that you worked with Bruce Springsteen in producing some of his videos.
Yeah, we did “Born in the USA,” “Glory Days” and “I’m on Fire” for Bruce. The jobs were the only times I’ve ever really worked for hire. It was his story that I was telling, and he had a lot of good ideas for what the visuals would be. If you were going to choose a job that has anything to do with the music business, those were really good jobs.

In the past few issues of our magazine, we’ve touched on rock music entering the church. Discuss the presence of God and the idea of morality, which is very strong in this film, especially in relation to the music.
This was very controversial at the time. I tried to track down what would have been on a jukebox in 1950 in the Deep South and I came across this playlist. One of the people featured was Sister Rosetta Tharp, who played a hell of an electric guitar, but was a gospel singer. Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt and other guitarists mention her as an influence on their playing. We shot in Georgiana, Alabama, where Hank Williams grew up. He was famous for playing honky tonks at night and then passing out and being driven to the church he would sing in the next morning. He ended up writing some really seminal gospel songs, and he was a wild guy; same with the Louvin Brothers. Some of them are able to make a living doing just that stuff, and others finally just say, “If I’m going make a living as a musician, I’m going to start singing secular stuff too.”

Where do you think music is heading in a strong technological era?
The thing that record labels don’t like is that it’s heading in every direction at the same time and people aren’t listening to the same thing. So they don’t know how to make money on it. For the musicians, for the fun of playing, it’s a great time, because there are so many things to play and the access to great players is so great. I think for professional musicians, it’s kind of a scary time. Unless you can go out there and tour, the idea of just selling albums is gone. But you can put albums out there as a sample and then you can tour. If you’re tired of the road, it’s a really tough time.

For more information about the film, including a plot synopsis, theater locations, cast bios and interviews, visit honeydripper-movie.com.