|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS ALASTAiR GREENE
NOT SOME WEEKEND WARRiOR GUiTARiST!Recently, legendary British producer/artist ALAN PARSONS had stated that L.A. based blues guitarist ALASTAIR GREENE ĎÖshould be out playing with the biggest bands in the world. I believe itís just a matter of time.í Since the release of his debut CD A LITTLE WISER back in 2002 and his live recordings with French blues guitarist FRANK ĎPARIS SLIMí GOLDWASSER, GREENE has earned a reputation as one of the L.A. blues sceneís most reliable and entertaining players. Now, THE ALASTAIR GREENE BAND has released the CD WALKING IN CIRCLES Ė a seamless catalog of smokiní originals and electrifying covers that pay homage to a sound that GREENE wishes to preserve. ďI love this music and want to be respectful of the form and history yet still be true to myself and my musical goals.Ē says GREENE ďIf that means that things start to rock out, get experimental, loud and crazy, or I choose to cover more traditional territory, itís all part of what I love about the Blues and itís musical off shoots.Ē
ALASTAIR GREENE TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HiS BAND'S LATEST CD WALKiNG iN CiRCLES
WORKiNG WiTH MiTCH KASHMAR
AND MAKiNG MUSiC HiS BUSiNESS
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with ALASTAIR GREENE over the phone. Here is how it went.
With regard to ALAN PARSONS, are you working on an album or a series of shows?
He is working on somebody elseís track and I just went in to record some additional guitar work and things like that.
Just by what Iíve read, the guy has some complimentary things to say about you.
Well yeah. Itís pretty flattering obviously.
How did that association begin?
I started in a similar way. I was playing on a friend of mineís CD and the guy that was doing the engineering was a friend of ALANís. They were using ALANís home studio so I came up and played on my friends record and ALAN was in and around the control room at this time and then came in for a while to listen to the stuff that we were doing. At the end of the session, he asked me for my phone number and about eight or ten months later he called me up to see if I would play on his new record. Since then weíve become friends and Iíve sat in with his band on a few occasions and now, his regular guy canít make a few gigs so I was asked to fill in.
I hope these gigs donít interfere with any promotion regarding WALKING IN CIRCLES.
I think anything like this is only going to be a good thing. There is a chance that Iíll be opening one of the performances in addition to playing with his band. I may be opening the San Diego show. Itís tough to go out there and promote a blues record so something like this is actually a great opportunity as a guitar player to be associated with a guy of his stature.
Now that WALKING IN CIRCLES is out there for people to hear, whatís all going through your head at the moment/ How do you feel about the finished product?
Iím really happy with the CD. I had been wanting to make more of a straight up blues record for a while and Iím really pleased with it. Right now itís just a matter of getting it out there and getting some press and then play some gigs. I hope the album will get me some more gigs now that Iíve got a new record that is probably a little more traditional than some of my earlier releases have been. Iím hoping I can zero in on the blues audience a little bit more and get some club gigs and maybe even get on a couple of festivals.
Whatís different this time around in terms of the album?
Weíve got a new bass player on this record named JIM RANKIN and Iíve also got MITCH KASHMAR playing on over half of the record. Having him on this album makes all of the difference. As far as song selection and songwriting goes, I didnít take so far outside of the box. I wanted to zero in on making one definitive statement all the way through. The first solo record that I did in 2002 ĎA LITTLE WISERí was kind of all over the map. I feel like this one is a lot more focused. I also tried to make this album sound a particular way. I used some old amplifiers on the record and about ninety percent of the music is recorded live with very few overdubs. In fact, only the vocals are overdubbed along with some piano things and a tenor sax that I put down. Itís got all of the tones that one would want to hear when they are listening to a blues record.
Talk about working with MITCH KASHMAR.
MITCH is a pro and Iíve been going to see him play since the early nineties to see his old band THE PONTIACS. He is kind of one of those guys that has done all of this before and has played a lot of shows and has played with a lot of greats. Heís had the opportunity to play with a lot of the great blues artists that were still alive in the late eighties and early nineties. He was great in the studio. I just kind of let him and the other guys know about the feel that I wanted for each of the songs and we just kind of ran it down. Everything was done in about two or three takes. He was really easy going and he came in and knocked down everything really quickly. It was a lot of fun.
Talk about TOM LACKNER (drums) and JIM RANKIN (bass) and what you think that each of them brought to the project both musically and personality-wise.
JIM is a really easy-going guy, which is great for a bass player. Heís got such a vast knowledge of songs and feels. Bass players are typically guys hat can play all of different styles. There are guitar players like that as well but guitar players tend to focus in on a few genres. He can play a lot of different things and he was just really solid. You want to have strong personalities but you also want people that are cool just hanging out and playing. He was definitely that guy. TOM LACKNER Iíve worked with off and on for over ten years. He was actually a friend of my familyís when I was a kid growing up. I knew that he was a professional drummer and when I came back to town from school in í92 he was the first person that I called. I would put him up against any drummer for this kind of music. His time and his fills are always really tasty and I canít say enough good things about his musicianship. We recorded the basic tracks in his home studio. He also engineered the record and that was a blessing. Those two guys were great for the entire process of recording.
The album is half covers and half originals. What drew you towards the cover material?
The cover songs are songs that Iíve played over the years with other bands or with MITCH before he got the gig playing harmonica with WAR. He and I kind of have a repertoire of songs so there were a couple of songs on this record that we grabbed from there like DONíT LOSE YOUR COOL by ALBERT COLLINS. That was a song that we did live a lot. The HOUND DOG TAYLOR song GIMME BACK MY WIG came about because of my association with FRANK GOLDWASSER who is a huge HOUNDOG TAYLOR fan. Because of him I had gotten into some HOUNDOG TAYLOR CDís and thought that that song was hilarious. The song has a great feel to it. Itís got a real party feel to it. GET OUT OF MY LIFE, WOMAN is a song that I had heard through the PAUL BUTTERFIELD BAND and a couple of other people. I thought that that song was just a little different than a basic straight blues progression and it was a classic song with a cool vocal harmony. We used that song as the vehicle for the big extended jam on the CD. MERRY-GO-ROUND is a PETER GREEN song from the first FLEETWOOD MAC. I recently discovered that one. I know that that sounds silly but the blues genre is so vast. Itís got so many different players and I could see spending the rest of my life still finding out about artists that Iíve not heard of before. I hadnít really discovered PETER GREEN or FLEETWOD MAC until a few years ago and I was just taken in by his playing and have read his story. I was drawn by where he came from as a person and how he played. Heís a LES PAUL guy and Iím a LES PAUL guy. Itís a love song and a slow blues song. Slower blues songs that Iíve listened to up to this point tend to be sadder and all about whiskey and bad women but this one is a love song. That was why I chose that song. CUT YOU LOOSE is a song that I found on a live OTIS RUSH CD. I know there are a bunch of versions of that but I wanted to take what I heard from the OTIS RUSH version and kind of mix it with a ZZ TOP kind of feel and do one of those boogey type of tunes.
From the last time I interviewed you, has songwriting changed for you at all?
Thatís hard to say. Sometimes I have to force myself to get into the songwriting mode. When this album came up it was one of those things where certain star aligned and I was like Ďshoot, I really need to go in and make a record!í. I had just recently started playing with JIM and TOM had had his studio up and running and MITCH was around for a little bit . I kind of had to finish off some ideas that I had hanging around for a while. For this project, I had to force myself to finish some songs because I didnít ant to do a whole cover album. I felt that a good blues record has a few covers. I had a few ideas knocking around so I sat myself down to try to finish them off. Typically, I kind of wait for lyrics to pop into my head and Iíll write them down and have them stockpiled for a while. As far as guitar ideas go, I record those very often at home. I sort of like having that pressure to write because it gets you into the discipline of it. Maybe I need to decide to do records more often, that way I can come up with more songs.
Of the original material, what moments stand out for you and why?
The day before we were going to go into the studio with MITCH, We had one day where we were a trio and we just laid down a couple of things. The next day MITCH was going to come in and I actually set up that night before we went in and wrote the instrumental called BACK ALLEY STRUT and I really wanted to have a funky tune. So I sat up the night before and kind of came up with the melody and I knew that MITCH would be able to play it really easily. I wanted there to be a good solo section for him and I to go off on. I actually named that song after where my wife and I used to live which was in this run down apartment building. The other originals like WALKING IN CIRCLES and SAY WHAT YOU WANT were songs that I had kicking around for quite a while and I just tightened them up a little and changed some lyrics. Both of those songs are fairly traditional in structure. The title track is kind of my salute to ELMORE JAMES and that style of Chicago-styled blues guitar playing. SAY WHAT YOU WANT is a not-so-sly tribute to BO DIDLEY who passed away recently. With DRUNK AGAIN I wanted to capture JIMMY REED kind of thing. I also think that song took on a kind of VAUGHAN BROTHERS kind of vibe as well. That was the only song on the CD where I played a Stratocaster. It was all about capturing vibes for me either lyrically of melodically.
Earlier in the interview you had suggested that itís harder to promote a blues album. How about getting live shows booked in Southern California?
Itís interesting. Iíve been struggling a lot with bookings but I think itís hard for anyone no matter what style of music that they do. Not as many people are going out to clubs right now and spending money so these clubs are kind of tightening their purse strings a little bit and I think that hey are little less willing to book out of town acts and stuff and I donít blame them. If there are bands that clubs are booking that consistently do a good job for them, I think itís hard for those clubs to go out on a limb. There are places from San Diego to Long Beach and Los Angeles that Iíve been in touch with that are willing to book the band so Iím planning to do some shows down there in the latter part of this year. Iím also looking at doing some dates in the Bay Area in September. It is difficult but there are ways to try and get your foot in the door. Iím hoping that through my associations with these other musicians, that I can let these club owners know that Iím not a weekend warrior guitar player who is a lawyer during the week and then off to play a little bit of blues on the weekend Ė not that there is anything wrong with that. I think itís wonderful that there are so many people playing music and are able to go out and play shows. The only downside is that the gigs that are available to me as an independent blues artist are the same ones that are available to people that arenít professional musicians that are just getting together with their buddies and doing it for fun and not doing it for a living. It makes it difficult for those of us that are trying to do this for a living. Whoís to say whatís right and whatís wrong? Iím just observing it from where Iím at.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this CD?
I would like to think that Iím offering up a fun take on a traditional art form and that Iím giving it a little bit of a different spin. Most importantly I want people to come away having had a good time. I think that itís fun record. I tried to keep it pretty light subject matter-wise. The CD is about forty-five minutes long, which is about the length of a set that you do at a typical bar gig. Iíd love people to walk away thinking that they heard a kick-ass band.