Peter Mayer

Peter Mayer has a great, steady gig: Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band has been playing sold-out tours every year for decades. They usually play sheds (big outdoor amphitheaters), but their boss has enough pull to book some cool, off-beat venues, too—stuff like tropical island beach stages, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and private parties for Bill Gates.

Click here to watch our video of Peter taking us through his rig, then click here to watch him demo''ing his custom Martin.
Being a Coral Reefer is no cake job, though—although Parrothead Nation has a ceaseless tolerance for “Margaritaville” in D, the tropical shirt-wearing faithful have a collective palette that favors many styles of music including country, reggae, soca, various Latin influences, bar room rock, jazz, vaudeville—you name it. It’s no wonder, then, that Buffet’s band is one of the tightest outfits on tour. The Reefers each have their own litany of solo work; chart-topping producer, writer and session player credits; Grammys; and of course, fans.

Peter Mayer
Peter (left) with frequent guest Coral Reefer Sonny Landreth
and Jimmy Buffett
Having been Buffett’s lead guitarist for 20 years of albums and tours, not to mention the dozen solo projects under his belt (some under the name PM), Mayer now finds himself described as a musician’s musician. This isn’t a surprise, considering the fact that he’s the kind of player who does session work with chop monsters like Dave Weckl, but it’s worth mentioning that such a title is also the result of much more. Mayer was influenced by another world of music as a missionary kid growing up in India. He also studied formal theory and composition at Webster University where he went on to teach jazz guitar.

We recently had the chance to chill with Mayer backstage at a Buffett show, where he chatted gear and gigs with us before taking us through his entire rig (see the video).

You play with some killer musicians, man. I imagine that has an effect on your own approach as a player.
It does. I’ve scaled back my ego—I say that in kind of a funny but humble way. I’ve worked with Weckl and different people where it’s all about chops and really knowing your neck and all that stuff and I’m very thankful for that experience. I’ll be honest with you, when I got into this band 20 years ago, there were times when they’d say, “Hey, we don’t need so much on that,” and, “You can lay off there.” And I kept trying to just push, push.

But after awhile it starts to make sense.
I’m playing with guys like Mac [McAnally] and Jimmy [Buffett] and maturing and meeting more players like Joe Walsh. Sonny Landreth plays with us all the time. I watch him and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, man! It’s in the hands.” It’s all about the hands. But yeah, being humble was huge. I eventually learned to pick up the song verbatim as simply as I could, and sure enough out of all that I always learned something. It’s almost like you can’t be too wise about this stuff, you’ve got to go and be humble and pick up the new lesson. It may be a simple thing like—oh, you can bend that note that way—which makes this little emotional thing come out. That’s a beautiful thing. This gig has been great for me for that.

What’s your approach to solos? Anyone who has tried to learn the second solo to “Bama Breeze” has got to wonder how you do it. How do you come up with that stuff?
I don’t know, but thank you very much. It probably has a lot to do with the way I practice. I do this thing where I try not to play through my fingers but play from my heart or play from my ears. I force myself to sing what I’m playing so I can hear things in different ways. It’s all about identifying and getting past limitations— forcing myself to learn in different ways. Sometimes I just tape myself singing and then learn what I sang that way. You’re always guaranteed to get something fresh and it never sounds like someone else’s solo.