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Interview: Lance Lopez - Salvation From Sundown

Interview: Lance Lopez - Salvation From Sundown

Texas blues-rocker Lance Lopez gets back to his straight-blues roots after facing his demons

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.

Are you using them onstage?

No. I’m using a new pedal that was hand built for me in Belgrade Serbia. It’s a company called Goran Custom Guitars. Goran is a great builder. He builds a two-channel drive that’s very 808ish, but it’s higher output. It’s very smooth. On the second channel it just boosts it up. It’s like the concept of running two Tube Screamers, which is what Stevie Ray Vaughan or Billy Gibbons would do. Instead of running two boxes where one is set higher and one is set lower, the second one works on the first drive. It takes the first drive and boosts it. Then you can click it off and go back to rhythm. It’s called the Fat Boy Drive. It’s amazing! We took it and threw it full speed against a brick wall. It bounced off and we plugged it in and nothing happened to it. It’s got a military grade build. It’s like a tank.

You’re playing Gibsons almost exclusively now. What’s your main one for the road?

A ’58 VOS (Vintage Original Spec) Plain Top Burst. That’s pretty much my baby. Mines got the Burstbuckers and the whole deal. It’s really a workhorse. Overseas I’ve been using the new Standard and the Axcess Les Paul, which is interesting because it’s one of the chambered Les Pauls. It’s all contoured and takes some getting use to. I don’t like the chambered stuff too much because it makes me feel like I’m not playing a Les Paul. I like to feel that big chunk of wood. I like to feel the weight.

Do you like the difference in tone?

Joe Bonamassa and I were talking about that, how the weight relief holes and chambered body guitars are brighter and take some getting use to. I was getting an almost hollowbody kind of tone. Not as drastic as a 335, but I could tell when the toggle was in the middle position. It’s a very 335-like tone because it’s not solid wood.

It’s like a 335 without the F-holes.

That’s exactly what it is. It’s got more high end too. Switching between that and a standard is drastic. I have to re-EQ everything. It’s a weird middle ground between a Les Paul and a 335. It’s not bad, just different.

You’ve seen some troubles before you got sober. How do you feel now?

Great. I’m heavily in meetings on a daily basis and helping other people. I’m going out and speaking at schools now. Life has taken on a whole new meaning. One day at a time is how I look at everything now. Eric Gales and I have a saying, “Just for today.” It means not getting overwhelmed with all the craziness. A lot of guys didn’t make it out of stuff that we went through, and I don’t think they even went through near the stuff that Eric and I did. We’re very blessed and grateful that we were able to make it through a lot of the stuff we did.

How has it affected your playing?

It’s to a point now where I have 100 percent focus on what I’m doing and what I’m trying to go for. It’s got my complete attention now. I’m not worried about if I need to get this or that. Creatively I don’t seem to be blocked. Alcohol tended to block that whole flow that happens when I go into the zone with playing solos. It seemed like I was very diluted and very blocked. Now it’s like a pure open channel and it’s free of clutter. It felt like trying to walk through a hallway with all kinds of clutter in it, and you have to step over this, and move this out of the way. Now it feels like a clear hallway that I can walk straight down. It’s a very spiritual experience.

Lance’s Gear Box

’65 Fender Stratocaster
’57 Reissue Les Paul Gold Top
’58 Gibson VOS Plain Top Burst

1970 Marshall Super Bass 100
Fender Twin Reverb
’68 Marshall Super Lead 100
’66 Marshall JPM 45 2X12

Brownstone Hoochee-Mama Overdrive
Brownstone Macho Man Overdrive
Goran Fat Boy Overdrive