what would Paul do with these chords?”
[Laughs.] I would never do that. It’s just happenstance if it ends up sounding anywhere
near Wings, Paul, or the Beatles.
Who are some of your other songwriting
Ray Davies, Randy Newman, Tom Petty,
and Bob Dylan. Those, to me, are the greats.
People who effortlessly write point-of-view
lyrics or personal lyrics. All of those guys
have a knack for putting themselves in an
imaginary person’s shoes and writing from
their point of view. Studies in character like
“Sunny Afternoon” or “Waterloo Sunset”
by Ray Davies. Songs like “Nowhere Man”
or “Penny Lane” are great imaginary songs
where you think to yourself, “Is this a real
person?” I love that. That’s my favorite stuff
Did you grow up with any guitar heroes?
I was really lucky to be around some
incredible mentors who were very generous,
the first being my sister Jean, who turned
me on to rock ’n’ roll when I was 3 years
old. She was 15 years older than me. When
she was babysitting me, she would play
records by Elvis, Little Richard, the Everly
Brothers, Chuck Berry, and Ricky Nelson. I
flipped out over their style and their sound.
I recognized the volatility and danger in
the music—which, as a footnote, is sorely
missing from anything that could be called
rock ’n’ roll now. The sense of danger that
anything’s about to happen—“Oh, my god!
Is Little Richard going to blow up this
So those were my earliest influences as
a 4 year old. It was then that I knew what
I wanted to do when I grew up. Then, of
course, Brian Wilson with the early surf stuff,
some of the R&B coming over pirate radio.
But my earliest guitar influences after hearing
the Beatles were the British Invasion guys.
Jeff Beck was my first real guitar hero—his
first record, Truth, with Rod Stewart singing.
Also Clapton and Mick Taylor. Peter Green
was a huge one for me. When I was 11 or
12, I listened to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
when they were a blues band.
I had another mentor who sold me my
goldtop Les Paul who was a giant blues fan.
He showed me the guys who informed all the
British guitar players. He turned me on to
B.B. King’s Live at the Regal and Otis Spann,
Buddy Guy, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters,
Ray with his 1958 Gibson Les Paul TV—his favorite guitar for his solo-artist work. Photo by Florenze Horstman
Howlin’ Wolf, and Junior Wells. That
cemented my early love for R&B and blues,
but I’ve got to be honest with you—I’m a
sucker for a pop song. [Laughs.] I love a pop
hook, but if it doesn’t have that swing, and
if it doesn’t come from some place deeply
rooted in black music, I don’t care about it. I
could hear a guitar player who has great tone
and great facility, but if he’s not rooted in
similar music, then it doesn’t resonate with
me. That’s not to say it’s not good. It just
doesn’t move me.
I was hanging out with Henry “The
Sunflower” Vestine from the group Canned
Heat. He not only taught me to drink Jack
Daniels as a 19-year-old kid, he also turned
me on to old country and western records—
Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, George
Jones, and all of the early guys. Put those
things together, and you’ve got the same elements that influenced all of the greats. Old
country, old blues, coming together to form
this thing called rock ’n’ roll. So I guess I’m
just a rock ’n’ roller.