JLTT: Good morning to you Leslie and it’s afternoon here in England. I’ve got some questions about your new ‘Still Climbing’ set and an off-the wall question for later, please. Now on this record you’re making the guitar sing like a bird aren’t you? I’m wondering which amps you use to get that sound?
LW: Oh I recently switched to BlackStar amps..currently I don’t use any floor distortion pedals, Pete – so it’s the amp creating that sound. In fact, my co-producer Mike Goldberg just adds a little delay or reverb or something like that, occasionally. I think on one song I used my Octaver… but that’s it. Y’see, I wanted it to sound like what’s really coming out of the cabinet
It sounds very personal and very lyrical because you’ve always put melody into your playing but you seem to have really been going for the aching melodies a lot on these tracks…
Yeah, the thing was I started the album up a year ago in June and I never did that before where it took so long. But I was writing the songs instead of having a record company say ‘you’ve gotta get an album done in two months.’ This way I think I found a new way to do it for myself because I don’t want the ‘one day I’m gonna do this song and then I’m gonna do this track the next day’ thing. Hence I found I wasn’t repeating myself..
I understand. Now the previous ‘Unusual Suspects’ album had quite a Californian sound to it because you were working with Slash and Joe Bonamassa
Yeah ! Now I had the songs done already and then with Joe Bonamassa I was out in L.A recording. My producer’s studio was out there. I went out to California and Joe had told me that one of his favourite songs was ‘Third Degree’ which was the song we did with West Bruce & Laing.
Ah yes ! I love it and Jack Bruce loves it. We talked about Eddie Boyd at Jack’s house
Well…so Joe says to me when I ask him to play on the album ‘One of my favourite songs was your ‘Third Degree’ do you wanna recut that?’ I said : ‘Consider it done.’
So I had the track with the bass and drums, went out to L.A. Joe and I sat in the control room away from each other and …played. That’s an interesting blues song. It’s not just twelve bar blues when it starts with that dynamic. I love that song and then redoing it with Bonamassa was the icing on the cake for me
Now I listened to this new record, now where was this one recorded?
We recorded the tracks and overdubs in Paramus, New Jersey. It was five minutes from my house and one of the guys I went to school with Joe he wrote ‘One More Dream for the Road’ and there’s another song he wrote on the first album. He owns the studio and we went to high school together.
So I started recording there and I did a few overdubs on the last album there. This time, I didn’t go out to California I recorded it right here in New Jersey. Then we sent the album to Mike Fraser to mix it. Are you familiar with Mike Fraser?
I have heard his work..Metallica ?.
Metallica, Joe Satriani, ACDC. I thought this was a great approach because me and Mike Goldberg were recording it. We sent it to Mike and he had a clear perspective on the whole album. He mixed it and when it came back, we only had to make one or two changes. He did such a good job mixing it and I think there’s something to be said for giving a guy an album to mix and he wasn’t in the daily grind of what it took to put the songs together. Therefore, it was all fresh to him….
On the first track ‘Dying Since the Day I was Born’, it’s a very strong vocal and presumably that’s you?
Yeah that’s me
Mark Tremonti and you are hanging bends throughout that
Well Mark did the middle solo and the ride out. I can’t play as fast as that! He has a great sense of melody also
The second cut ‘ Busted Disgusted or Dead..that’s so earthy… Winter’s distinctive because what he does if he’s playing in C he’ll hit the E flat, zing it up to G and come back again. Those four semi-tones, it’s a very distinctive thing that Johnny does when he’s playing isn’t it?
Yeah. Some of the things are amazing, original, pure Johnny.. I’m playing slide and the thing is I didn’t know how it was gonna come out. On that style, I don’t know if you’re familiar with ‘Hatfield or McCoy’? they had two families against each other and supposedly it’s about someone stealing a pig from another family! The original story in the United States is ‘Hatfield and McCoy’; the title on my album is ‘Hatfield or McCoy’ in other words, you’re either this or you’re that man
Ok. It’s an entertaining track. I was listening to ‘Tales of Woe’ and it’s got that great Segovia introduction, but it sound like you were writing that for Bad Company/Paul Rodgers
(Whistles ) Really?
Yeah I know Paul and he would LOVE that song
I love Paul Rodgers and the beginning acoustic intro was played by David Bigone, he’s the only guy I use in addition to the sax player. He played organ, he played piano, he played acoustic when I couldn’t. I figured he’d do a better job than me, there
On that track, are you playing slide off straight tuning like Jeff Beck would do ?
Yeah on ‘Tales of Woe’ I’m playing slide, that way
Ok I did wonder about that. The other track I really go for on this one, is ‘Not Over You at All’. There’s something about that that’s got a real intensity
You know what? I’m glad you said that because that’s my favourite track on that album. It was so ****ing heavy!
You and I are together on that then.
Oh my God! It came right off the top of my head. The intro which sort of reminded me of Metallica but just the chord intro. Then when it goes to the heavy lick, it just came out of me all of a sudden. I can sing it. Then I’m singing along with the guitar and the verses and I love the overall sound of the guitar. Even my manager said ‘It’s one of the best heavy riffs you’ve ever come up with.’
That’s what I’ve written down here and leads me to my off the wall question if I may. Your phrasing is not really American, it’s much closer to Roger Daltrey. I would say, even on ‘Flowers of Evil’ your vocals on the title track is so Roger Daltrey. I always wanted to ask you because I heard you recorded with The Who
Well actually, I played on the original ‘Who’s Next?’ we recorded at the Record Plant. Chris Lambert rang to say they had asked whether I could play some guitar on the Who’s album that they’re working on?’ I replied ‘Guitar? They already have a guitar player!’ He explained ‘ Pete would like to try recording with less overdubbing.’ So in other words, Pete play rhythm and I play lead..But then they went back to England had transfer problems on the masters and rerecorded it with Glyn Johns. Then it came out, but a few years back I think it’s like seven years ago they came out with the ‘Who’s Next: Remixes’ a box set. You can hear the stuff I did with them in there and it finally came out. I was so thrilled but I gave Pete Townsend my Les Paul Junior after those sessions
Cool. Are you aware that you sing with that English slant in your phrasing often?
You know what? I never really was a singer. Somebody once said ‘My guitar playing was something to do until I got to the singing!’ (Laughs) I don’t really consider myself a singer. I love the sound of my voice now and I stopped smoking around seven years ago. I had bladder cancer and I had to stop. I was very lucky that it hadn’t reached the wall and they got it by accident and it was benign. But after that I stopped smoking, stopped smoking weed and it definitely helped my voice..English phrasing, Pete ? You know what? That may very well be. That’s what I try to emulate, I mean don’t forget that the British were copying all those guys from the United States! I don’t think of myself as a singer, but I love the phrasing by British singers and Paul Rodgers is absolutely my favourite
( We discuss practice and rehearsing )
Somebody asked me yesterday ‘Do you practice?’ I wrote back my answer ‘No.’ Then he wanted me to elaborate and I wrote back ‘I don’t practice but when I walk by a guitar in the house, it looks at me and makes me feel very guilty so I pick the guitar and play. I don’t like to call it practice, I like to call it playing
I have to go from show to show so I don’t have time to practice. So when I play, I figure what’s coming out is fresh to me and the audience
That’s exactly the way I think. I’m a big baseball fan and usually before the game, pitchers are warming up in the ball pen and so I don’t wanna warm up! I don’t want my best playing in the dressing room. It’s new to me and it will be new to them
Jonny Lang’s with you singing with you on the Percy Sledge number. That guy speaks quietly but he sings like a demon
It’s amazing. I hear him sing and I think he sounds like a sixty year old black man! (Laughs) he doesn’t play with a pick and I was fascinated by that. I know that Jeff Beck doesn’t use a pick and the sounds are totally different when you use a pick. The thing with Jonny Lang is, his singing I don’t know where it comes from but there’s a lot of air in his singing. It amazes me.
Most people sing and emote, he seems to actually float in a gritty haze. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Absolutely right !- the air comes from the throat…
OK – ‘Fade Into You’ – I’ve got written down here ‘ acoustic intro, guitar stately elegiac’. It sounds very noble to me like a film theme
The way the guitars and the band comes in yes it’s cinematic..thanks
Can I quickly ask you if you’ll be doing any promotional dates for ‘Still Climbing’?
Yeah. We’re picking a venue in New York right now for a show soon after the release. I have other shows but it’s not easy to get around anymore because no tour buses are equipped to handle a wheelchair. I’m not really good with the prosthetic yet. When I went to the rehab hospital, a famous one and Christopher Reeve went there. So the therapist says ‘When you wanna play one of your guitars, we’ll strap it on, I will put you in between these parallel bars and see how long you can stand playing the guitar before you need to grab something. The most I could do was forty seconds. I said ‘That’s not gonna work on stage man. The last thing I wanna do is worry about me falling on stage as I wouldn’t be thinking about the songs.’ I sit down when I play but I have this chair which goes up high and goes back. I don’t like playing in a chair because I can’t get up and walk around. But I can move around a little bit but it’s a whole different ball game….
Ok. Well look, I enjoyed the record and it was great talking to you. There’s always things I wondered about you and now I know. Thanks for your time and I appreciate it
I appreciate it and I’m so thrilled that you like the album, man. It means a lot to me.
Leslie West’s album ‘Still Climbing’ was released on 28th October on Provogue Records.