My Back Pages: Thirty Years Ago in Guitar Player (August 1989)
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In August of 1989 I was getting ready to go back to my first year of college, and I also attended the wedding of the lead guitarist of my short-lived band, Bräinhämmer–the first time a friend of mine got married, which made me feel like a real adult. The August, 1989 edition of Guitar Player had several good articles that I enjoyed at the time, and I have found them to be quite interesting upon review three decades later. This issue’s highlights include the cover story on Jeff Healey, an article about the Allman Brothers compilation Dreams which included a new interview with Dickey Betts as well as excerpts from two interviews with Duane Allman from 1969 and 1971, and an interview with bass legend John Entwistle. There was also a cool “Day in the Life of GIT”, which was neat because my teacher Jim McCarthy was a graduate, but reading it now I’d like more video and less black and white pictures–I’m spoiled by the 21st century!
I remembered the interview with Jeff Healey to be really interesting, but I don’t find it quite so engaging now. That said, there were some cool highlights, such as the fact that Healey’s role in the Patrick Swayze action flick Roadhouse was actually written for the blind musician who played blues guitar on a Strat laid across his lap. It was also interesting to learn that Healey’s “apartment houses a world-class collection of 10,000 early jazz, blues and gospel 78s and reissue albums” and that his favorite musician was Louis Armstrong.
Healey said that “I don’t class myself as a guitar player. I’m a musician whose forte or most prominent instrument is the guitar…” and his encyclopedic understanding of 20th century music comes through loud and clear. He also seemed like a very realistic person; when asked why he plays in a “postwar blues style” if he likes older music, his answer was a sensible, “Probably, with the prewar stuff, it would be pretty hard, as far as surviving and making any mark or money off of it goes. When you’re living in this world you have to earn some money somehow.” Later in the interview he is asked if it feels like he has come a long way in a short while, and responds “I haven’t changed very much, aside from getting a little thinner maybe. I’m still doing the same things, as far as I’m concerned. For example, I’m still sitting here sorting and listening to records, which is my major obsession in life.” That said, the 23 year-old noted that “between the months of October and May I have easily done somewhere between 600 and 700 interviews dealing with basically the same stuff”, and that he was getting tired of it.
Jeff Healey lost his eyes to cancer as an infant, and sadly he battled cancer frequently before succumbing to sarcoma shortly before his 42nd birthday. I have always enjoyed his playing and singing, and he is one of the musicians that I really wish had been able to have more time. If you haven’t heard the Jeff Healey Band, or if it’s been awhile, check out his studio debut See The Light and the live set from 1989’s Montreal Jazz Festival in this month’s playlist–it’s really good stuff.
The feature on the Dreams compilation was quite good. There was an article about the making of the set (which is in the playlist below), an article about the issue’s flexidisc Soundpage (a recording of “Statesboro Blues” from Ludlow’s Garage–that whole concert is also in the playlist), as well as the interviews with Dickey Betts and Duane Allman.
Jas Obrecht, who interviewed Betts, also wrote about the Soundpage, and it was pretty interesting. He quoted “Allman Brothers authority Kirk West” as describing the April 11, 1970 gig at the former car dealership:
“They were just beginning to headline, and they were feeling real confident about their music….The buzz around town was big, and the place was real full and the audience was anxious. Ludlow’s Garage wasn’t very big–only about 2,000 people–and it just had an open floor, but it was one of the Brothers’ favorite places. They really dug those little hippie theaters–more so than the college dates.”
West notes that at that time “Statesboro Blues was always the first blues of the set, and the thing that really comes through is Duane’s opening slide bar. The very first half-dozen notes just woke everybody up and put them on their ear….It’s not quite as fast as the majority of them, but the guitar has a lot more of a sharper, old Albert King kind of edge to it, like “Crosscut Saw”.
The interview with Dickey Betts is focused largely on the box set, but also discusses the band’s music a bit. Sadly, I think this is the first and last interview with Betts in my entire collection of 20+ years’ worth of Guitar Player issues. Betts seems a little unhappy with the lack of involvement he had in assembling the tracks on the compilation, and also with what he seemed to be “mostly Duane’s and Gregg’s history” and that it “doesn’t quite show you a picture of how the Allman Brothers Band sound came to be”–I guess the public relations people didn’t get the official message to Dickey! Anyway, here are some highlights from the interview:
We’re releasing a 1970 Ludlow Garage version of “Statesboro Blues” as our Soundpage.
Aw, now that ought to be good! That was one of our favorite roadhouse gigs back then. That was a real dungeon, but it was a great place to play. Just a great crowd, and Ludlow, the manager of the place, was always a great guy….[t]hey had a stage and a good sound system and it was hot and sweaty and people came there to hear.
When was the first time you heard “Statesboro Blues”?
I think I heard Taj Mahal’s before I heard Blind Willie McTell’s. Jesse Ed Davis played good on that.
Duane’s slide figures are almost the same as Jesse Ed’s.
Yeah, but that’s not really embarrassing. Jesse Ed Davis was great, and….he was always a hero of ours. All of us talked about his playing a lot, and Duane really liked him.
Why was Warren Haynes chosen (for the upcoming reunion tour)?
He’s great. I like his slide playing because he’s from that Duane Allman school, with that real spitfire kind of sound–but he don’t copy Duane’s licks. I like that. He’s got his own definite style.
What has your experience taught you about getting a great two-guitar sound?
We usually try to get the guitars to sound like the same guitar, and then put one of them on a little different pickup setting. We only have better luck getting two Les Pauls. If you don’t have two Les Pauls, make the other guitar sound like a Les Paul. And then change one of them—maybe a little more treble, while the other has a little more bass. I’ve never had much luck trying to blend a Les Paul and a Stratocaster. And I always use a keyboard–usually with the two guitars–and there’s always another guitar playing the third higher than the tonic, which gives it that real pretty sound like “Jessica” and that stuff. And then the keyboard usually plays the fifth lower. That is the formula I use for my stuff.
Pretty cool to learn the secrets of Dickey Betts’ trademark harmonized guitars! A few weeks ago I saw an amazing concert by Skydog, an Allman Brothers tribute band based here in Richmond, VA. They absolutely nailed the Allman Brothers sound (you can read about their gear and it seems that they spare no expense to cop the tones). I think they must totally take the approach of getting the guitars to sound the same, and then varying one of them. Anyway, it sounded spectacular.
The interviews with Duane Allman were excerpts from radio interviews he did while the band was on tour in 1969 and 1971. He’s interesting, but definitely comes across as a “hippie”. One thing that is important to remember is that Duane died when he was 24, so the person talking is a very young man. I hope you find these highlights interesting:
…Some of your music sounds like British Blues…
So we’ve all been involved with music, I guess, since our late teens, and stuff just soaks into you. The British approach to the blues certainly was a lot fresher than anything that anybody had any access to back when I was younger, when we were doing the Beatles songs and stuff like that, and it was getting to be pretty tiring. There was all that other slop, like the Searchers–remember all that? So we just got sick of traveling around playing it in bars for so long. So finally we just said “Well, this has been a lot of fun but we’re tired of it.” so we all quit our respective groups.
You were working where?
All over man! There’s a garbage circuit of the South, man, that you work at and you make about $150 a week and eat pills and drink–it’s a bad trip! It was killing us, so we just all quit about the same time. Berry [Oakley] was staying down in Jacksonville, and we got together and jammed a lot. And none of us were working then, it was just like we needed a reprieve from all that set. I was doing some sessions in Muscle Shoals–well, I was in California before that, but we won’t even talk about that. But it was essentially the same thing–I was tired of it man, because it gets really old. So we were all getting together and jamming, and saying “Well, before we start anything, let’s just say the hell with it, man! Let’s don’t get that same shit started up.” The more we jammed, it got a little bit better. I knew these people at Atlantic Records, and I talked to them about trying to get something for real, something that we could do that would just sound like us….We’re proud of this [The Allman Brother Band album]–it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to us.
Compare this to working in studios.
Oh man! Studios–that’s a terrible thing! You just lay around and you get your money, man. All those studio cats that I know, like, one of them gets a color TV see, and then the next day, man, they’re all down to Sears or wherever–“Hey man, I’d like to look at some color TVs”, you know. And this one place I know, man, all these cats–five cats at one time–had Oldsmobile 442s. One of them traded on a Toronado, see, and so all of them traded on a Toronado. And now one of them’s got a Toronado and a Corvette, and now they’re all looking at new ‘Vettes! It’s sickening. They’re just keeping up with the Joneses and not playing their music. Their stuff sounds like crap now. I was down there working with them for about half a year, and I got sick of it man.
Do you feel restricted playing in a ballroom as opposed to, say, free concerts in the park?
Well, anytime you’re getting paid for something, you feel like you’re obligated to do so much. That’s why playing the park’s such a good thing, because people don’t even expect you to be there. And if you’re there to play, that’s really groovy, and so playing in the park’s really a nice thing. And the nicest way you can play is just for nothing, you know. And it’s not really for nothing–it’s for your own personal satisfaction and other people’s, rather than for any financial thing. That hangs a lot of people–a lot of bread and you try too hard.
Bread’ll stop you, too. It’ll keep you there to make more…
Oh sure! Yeah! I quit doing sessions because of that. I was getting to like it too much.
Interesting, though I take these statements about Muscle Shoals with a grain of salt. Those musicians made so many great records, in so many different styles. It might not have been “their sound”, but it reflects amazing versatility and creativity. And Duane saying he quit sessions because he liked the money too much is not as moving a statement as Miles Davis saying he stopped playing ballads because he loved them too much. But again, maybe I’m expecting too much from a 22 year-old kid hopped up on who knows what illicit substances.
Moving to the 1971 interview, which was recorded shortly before the Live at Fillmore East concert but after Duane had worked with Eric Clapton on “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”, Duane is full of praise for Clapton and has some interesting insights about my favorite album:
….Eric Clapton, man–let’s talk about him. He’s a gas. He’s a real fine cat, and I consider it a privilege and an honor to play on his Derek & the Dominos album. He’s a true professional in his field.
He has some nice things to say about you in Rolling Stone.
Oh yeah. Man, it just tickles me to death to hear him say anything about me ever, man! He wrote the book, you know. Just Contemporary White Blues Guitar, Volume 1. But his style and his technique is what’s really amazing—he’s got a lot to say, too, but man, the way he says it just knocks me out. He does so well. “Layla”–the title tune from that album–real proud of that one, I am, for sure!
I went down there to listen to them cut, and Eric had heard my playing and stuff, and he just greeted me like an old partner or something. He says, “Yeah man, get out your guitar, man! We got to play.” So I was just going to play on one or two, and then we kept on going, it kept developing. Incidentally, sides 1,2,3 and 4–all the songs are right in the order they were cut from the first day through to “Layla” and then “Thorn Tree” was last on the album. I’m as proud of that as I am of any albums that I’ve ever been on, man–I’m as satisfied with my work on that as I could possibly be. I was glad to have the opportunity to work with people of that magnitude, with that much brilliance and talent. Eric is just a real fine cat, an awful nice dude. It’s hard for me to talk about him, because I admire him so much, you know. It’s hard for me to put him in a street context, but he surely is a man of the street, a gypsy–just like everybody else these days.
The interview with John Entwistle was pretty cool to read. It also makes an interesting combination with next month’s cover interview with Pete Townshend. The Who were gearing up for their first tour since their “farewell” tour of 1982. We later found out that the tour was put on to rescue Entwistle, who was a compulsive spender and who very badly needed the money. In fact, that was the motive for every subsequent Who tour until the bassist’s untimely death in 2002.
Chris Jisi’s interview also includes a separate feature on “The Ox’ Axes” which is interesting, but doesn’t get to the details of Entwistle’s need to sell a vast number of his collection to pay his bills, though the bassist jokes that “one of the million reasons I’m doing the Who again is so I’ll have money to lose on my solo career.” That said, the interview does give a good perspective on the Who’s early days and their rise as a group, and the perspective is interestingly different from Townshend’s (obviously); beyond that, Entwistle seems to be an engagingly opinionated person who (rightly) recognizes his important place in the history of rock. Here are some highlights:
As explosively as you played with the original Who, you still appeared to be the most responsible for holding the band together. Was it a problem then, that Keith Moon played with such abandon, and then later that Kenney [Jones] didn’t?
Not really. With Keith, a lot of times I would have to find a note and sort of hang onto it with my left hand–making sure I didn’t hit it with my right hand, because it would be too loud–until I could figure out his next move. Or I’d play a part with my left hand that was roughly based on what I thought he was playing until I could walk over and look at his bass drum to find the beat. But that was part of the way he played. I knew that if I went off on a tangent, he’d follow me, so if he went on a tangent, I’d follow him. Kenney was more supportive, so I was able to go off on more tangents, and he’d stay right with me. But because of that, some of the things I’d done when Keith was in the band didn’t work out as well.
How long did it take for your sound concept to begin developing?
Well, I’d learned to play by ear, by playing along with records by Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, the Ventures, Buddy Holly, the Shadows and especially Duane Eddy–his guitar had the sound I wanted my bass to have. When I began experimenting, I still had a sort of thuddy, boomy bass sound, but I remember a turning point a few years later. We had our first hit record with “I Can’t Explain”, and showed up at a big hall for a concert….I had a Rickenbacker bass and Marshall amps at the time, and after we started playing, our manager came up to me and said “It’s all very well, you playing that fast, but I can’t hear the notes you’re playing at the back. Why don’t you try putting a bit of treble on it?” I’d always been tempted to turn up the treble, but didn’t dare, because bassists just didn’t do that. So I opened up the treble on my amp and bass and started playing like Duane Eddy.
How much of an influence was Motown bassist James Jamerson?
I can’t really say that he influenced me, first of all because he was a peer of mine, and second, because to me he was a real bass player, and I’ve never considered myself to be a proper bass player. I’ve always been a bass guitarist, emulating guitar players and using a guitar sound, so I couldn’t get worked up about straight bass players. I admired his playing and feel and probably nicked a couple of his syncopated rhythms, but I was always more excited by lead players.
How did the “My Generation” solo come about?
Originally, we wanted to feature the sound of a Danelectro bass, which had thin strings. We did three takes, all of which were faster, more trebly and more complex than the final one, and I kept breaking the strings. You couldn’t get replacements, so I had to keep buying Danelectros. When the store finally ran out of them, I bought a Fender Jazz Bass, put on LaBella strings, and used it to cut the recorded version.
The solo suggests that electric bass was entering a freer, more improvisational phase. Where was the line drawn for you with regard to extended soloing?
I guess you’d have to ask the others about that….A lot of times I would sneak in a lead part and everyone would think it was Pete playing.
So such flamboyance wasn’t too far out for the time?
Oh no. I mean, if you listen to Live at Leeds, I’m soloing the whole time. I’m making sure I’m holding the band together, but any chance I get to play something flashy, I play it. That whole album is like a free jam. We would have “islands”, certain riffs or ideas that we could clutch onto if what we were doing between the islands wasn’t working after a while. We knew we’d have this or that riff coming up, so in between we would play completely off the top of our heads. If I had an idea, Pete would follow me, and vice versa. There’s a section on Leeds where Pete introduced a lick I’d never heard before, and you can hear me working it out until I finally get it under my fingers, and then we blast through it. That used to happen every night.
There were a few solos after that: “The Real Me” on Quadrophenia and there was one on The Who By Numbers, “Dreaming From The Waist”. But I was never really satisfied with what the Who did with my bass playing, because I always found things very restricting. We never managed to get the sound or the stylee on record. The only Who stuff I feel happy about is the live stuff, but on a lot of that the bass is mixed so low you can’t hear it.
Can you hear your influence in the playing of other bassists?
Yeah. A lot of people have been influenced by my sound….Noel Redding rang me up directly to find out what I was using. I guess Chris Squire was imitating my sound, and Greg Lake as well. Later on there was Billy Sheehan.
How was Jack Bruce’s approach different than yours?
Jack was and is a good technical bass player who can play fast when he wants to, but he’s more of a straight bass player. He was trained on upright bass.
Were you aware of players like Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius?
Yes. They were virtuosos who took bass in a different direction than I did: not in a rick way, but in a funky, jazzy way. If you drew a family tree, you have me going up in one direction, then you have James Jamerson, with a branch for Jack Bruce and Carol Kaye–they’re sort of the early funk, real bass players. They lead to Larry Graham, with branches for people like Stanley Clarke and Jaco, which then lead to people like Mark King and Pino Palladino.
Where do you see current rockers like Sheehan and Doug Wimbish fitting in?
Doug Wimbish is kind of on the Larry Graham branch. Billy Sheehan is my branch, but the sound isn’t quite there. I know I influenced him because he sent me a fan letter and some tapes back when he was with Talas, and I’ve met him a few times–he’s a nice chap. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone using the amount of treble and distortion I use, plus, I alway make sure that there’s a clean bass sound that’s the backbone of whatever band I’m in. Then the treble is the part that makes it fun for me.
There is a lot more really great stuff in this article–John Entwistle was a total gear head, and loved talking about his strings and stuff. It’s also cool that he makes a reference to Pino Palladino, who replaced him in the Who. It will be interesting to see how Townshend’s cover story in next month’s issue re-reads–I remember being a 19 year old and struck that Pete was so full of himself, but now I realize that he had reason to be. Similarly, it’s cool to see that Entwistle rated himself so highly as a bassist and as an influencer.
Finally, this month’s Spotlight feature highlights people I’ve actually heard of years later. Thal played with Guns n Roses, James played with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Jimmy Vaughan, and Foucher was a really good player who now races sled dogs!
That’s it for this month. I think that the playlist is one of the best ones in a long time–I hope you enjoy listening to it! The August ’89 issue with an 18-page Pete Townshend interview should be good. Until then, keep on picking!