Who are your main influences?
That’s a hard question, because
there’s so many. I grew up listen-
ing to a lot of classic rock, like
Tom Petty, the Rolling Stones, and
Sheryl Crow. Keith Urban was
also a real big deal for me, grow-
ing up. When I was 17, I went to
his concert, and I wanted to learn
how to play lead after that. Stevie
Ray Vaughan was also a big influ-
ence on me. I take influences from
different styles of guitarists, but
when I got into the blues it was,
like, Freddie King and the old
Delta guys. Right now, I’m really
into Elmore James and contempo-
rary guys like Mike Zito, Ronnie
Baker Brooks, Michael Burks,
Tommy Castro, and Tab Benoit—
who is huge for me.
How did you make the shift
from Sheryl Crow to the blues?
I was 18, and I wanted to go
out and jam in Kansas City. I
live in a blues town, but I didn’t
really know much about it until
I started going out to the open
jams. I didn’t even want to play
the blues at first. I was into classic rock and I wanted to be a
rocker, but then I started playing
the blues and I felt the soul in it.
I fell in love with it and started
doing my homework by listening
AS FAR AS BLUES GOES, IT’S MORE
ABOUT TALKING AND PHRASING.
THAT’S SOMETHING I’M TRYING TO
MAKE MY PRIORITY.
to the old guys like Son House
and Skip James.
Did you ever take guitar lessons?
Not really. I took a couple of
lessons here and there, but I’m
mostly self-taught. When I was
about 18, I started hitting the
scales hard, trying to be a lead
player. I started just making up
my own solos, picking up little
bits and pieces from things that
I heard. I never had the patience
to sit down and learn somebody’s
solo, note-for-note. I kind of
wish I did have the patience, but
I would get distracted and start
doing my own thing.
After you got a grip on blues
scales, how did you develop an
ear for the subtler aspects of
blues—like accurate intonation, expressive yet controlled
vibrato, and pacing?
Honestly, I just watched other
Let’s talk about the new
guitar players. If you watch
enough guitar players, you start
to see and feel what you’re miss-
ing in your own playing—you
start to pick out things you
want to learn. I could hear them
do the stops and the pacing and
the talking and the vibrato, and
it was like, “Okay, I’m missing
that. I need to work on that.”
Also, a lot of it is that you just
play what feels right. Bending
and vibrato are such a big part of
being a blues guitarist that you
can’t ignore them. When I’m at
a jam and they’re just shredding
my ass, I have to pay attention to
what they’re doing.
album. Your solo phrasing is
very musical—it sounds like it
As far as blues goes, it’s more
about talking and phrasing.
That’s something I’m trying
to make my priority. I’m still
working it out. Shredding’s
cool, but it’s not the priority
when you’re a blues guitarist.
The main riff and rhythm part
for “Down in the Swamp” has
some evil-sounding half-steps
and is kind of reminiscent of
the riff to “Politician.”
Yeah, I play “Politician,” too,
and I love it [laughs]. I’m the
half-step queen. I love that
minor-y, half-step feel, and a lot
of my songs have that. “Down
in the Swamp” is kind of my
swampy, dirty, evil song.
Is a riff-based rhythm like that
trickier to sing over than a
strummed, chord-based part?
Not really. I’ve written a bunch
of songs like this where, at first,
it was like, “I’ll never be able to
sing over this.” But with a lot of
practice, I taught myself how to
sing and play guitar at the same
time, and now I can split the
brain in half a little bit. I try to
do the weird riff, and sometimes
I mess up, of course. I don’t
really think about it unless it
feels unnatural, and that one just
felt natural. It took a little bit of
practice to get the timing right,
but I’ve played it so many times
now that it’s second nature.
There are a lot of neat fills in
“Money to Burn.” Are you
articulating them with your
I hold the pick between my first
finger and thumb, and sometimes I’ll pluck with my three
other fingers. Sometimes, I’ll