ARTIST PROFILE BLUESMASTER
time in the James Cotton instrumental
Yeah, we played together quite a bit, but we
never really recorded together until recently.
I’m on quite a bit of his latest album as well,
maybe half of it. But it’s the first time we’ve
recorded together. It’s cool; it has been a lot
of fun and he’s such a great player and singer.
You don’t often hear him in a situation where
he’s just playing, backing someone up. I think
he really shines on those cuts. He played great
and I think they were only one or two takes.
I noticed that your old friend, Al Basile
(of early Roomful of Blues fame), is on
a couple of tunes on your new CD. The
CD he released last year, Groovin’ in the
Mood Room, is very good. Your contributions to that were fantastic as well.
Thank you. He has a new one coming out
soon. I think it’s his best yet. He’s becoming
an excellent songwriter.
Yes, he is. The last song on the CD set,
“Stretchin’,” is really very nice. It’s basically an improvisational jam.
I’m a big fan of that style – jazzy and bluesy
organ combo stuff from Prestige Records
of the ‘60s.
Do you get into much improvisation
when playing live?
46 PREMIER GUITAR DECEMBER 2007
Sure. When you play any song a number
of times you remember what it was you
played. Naturally, you’ll often go for what you
remember as being the best of what you
played before, but I always try to come up
with something new. Some nights the solos
are totally improvised and sometimes I’m
relying on the best licks I’ve played before.
You never know. That’s the beauty of music
– you never know what’s going to happen.
You used a ‘ 58 Les Paul reissue on the
next song, “You’re Killin’ Me Baby,” and
it has an incredible tone. Where do you
think the reissues and historics sit, in
comparison to vintage instruments?
I take each instrument one at a time. I don’t
think you can say that every old Stratocaster
or old Les Paul is a great guitar. I’ve owned
some that weren’t and I’ve owned some
that were. To me, the age only matters
when it’s got an acoustic body. An arched
or flattop guitar is when it matters most,
because when the wood gets old it dries
out and sounds better. It’s true with solidbody guitars as well, but I’m very happy
with the vintage reissues of all those instruments, whether they be Gibson, Epiphone,
Fender, or Gretsch. They’re all really nice
and extremely well made. I hate to think
where we’d be if they didn’t start doing that
because there’s only so many of those original guitars – they’ve become too pricey for
people to buy. I love the fact that I can buy
a Les Paul with a big neck like a real ‘50s
Les Paul. They make the pickups great now
– those ‘ 57 classic pickups sound incredible.
To me, they’re just as good as the old ones,
though I’ve never had a real ‘ 58 Les Paul
because I’m not rich. [Laughs]
Except for a ‘ 58 Les Paul, I’ve had nearly
every desirable vintage guitar. I’ve had ’ 57
and ‘ 54 Stratocasters and a Broadcaster. I
had an early goldtop Les Paul. I’ve had an
L5 and a Super 400. I’ve had nearly every
classic guitar and I don’t think I paid over
$500 for any of them. If I had all of those
guitars now, I could retire with what they’re
worth. But I only own instruments when
I play them. If I get an instrument and it
sits unused in my guitar closet for too long
then I just sell or trade it. They’re there for
me to play, not for me to collect. I get them
playing as good as they can possibly play. I
set them up. If they need refretting, I refret
them. I put them out there in the hope of
someone using them as a player’s instrument and not as a collector’s item.
Do you do the labor on the guitar yourself?
I do the setups but I don’t do the fretwork
or anything. I do some of the electronic
work, depending on the guitar – I let someone else do archtops, because it’s just too
much of a pain to pull all of the stuff out of
those little holes.
Let’s talk more about your gear.
Well, as far as amps go, I have several amps
that I like, but the ones I use mostly are either
a Fender Deluxe Reverb reissue or a Louis
Electric amp that was custom made for me.
Louis [Rosano] calls it “The Duke.” I don’t
know if he has another name for it for other
people [or for retail purposes], but originally
it was a 12” and a 10”. I had him build me
another cabinet that was smaller because I
like them to be a little more compact. I have a
2x10 version of it now, and a 40-watt amplifier.
As for guitars, these days I use several
Gibson models, and Epiphones are my guitars of choice. I do occasionally use a Strat or
a Tele, but I’ve got an ES-355 Custom Shop
guitar with a baritone switch. It’s particularly
beautiful and a beautiful sounding instrument. I’m also using a ‘ 57 Les Paul Goldtop
Reissue, as well as an Epiphone John Lee
Hooker Sheraton, which is an incredible guitar. I use my Zephyr Deluxe Regent quite a
bit – an old 1949 model. I also have a Strat
that I built myself out of Warmoth parts,
and an Esquire. I also use a contemporary