<em>Neil Young's Bridge School Exclusive</em>: Dave Matthews' "Too Much," Plus Chatting With Johnny Winter, Queen's Roger Taylor and Yes' Steve Howe

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A Conversation with Roger Taylor

Mike Ragogna: Hi there, how are you Roger? What's up?

Roger Taylor: I'm not bad, not good, I'm just having a little glass of fine wine. I might point out that it's 7:20 here.

MR: Yes, the wine being well timed. (laughs) Roger, it is the 40th anniversary of Queen. What do you make of that?

RT: In my wildest dreams, I never thought this day would come. I can't believe it. Freddie left us 20 years ago, and Queen has been going for 40 years. I guess Brian and I are what's left, and we sort of proudly still fly the flag, you know?

MR: You do. And you're still making great records. I especially like the album you recorded recently with Paul Rodgers.

RT: You're very kind. It was more of a touring thing, mainly, that we did with Paul. It was great. Paul is a great vocalist, great singer, and he was a great favorite of Freddie's, so it was really good to work with Paul.

MR: Now, I love what your press release says: "Ditch the day job. Become a rock star." I'm in!

RT: (laughs) I didn't write that.

MR: I know, but let's dive into that. You're backing a talent search right now.

RT: That's right, and it's not a TV show--we're not dealing in humiliation or failure. It's called the Queen Extravaganza, and we're trying to find really exciting, young, talented, ferociously on fire musicians. We're reaching into the global bedroom via the internet to find some of that incredible talent that's out there. The idea is to form a great band. Basically, they'll be celebrating our music, I guess. We're putting together a really great show featuring the music of Queen over our entire career, but the star of the show will be the band, and it will be a young, on fire band instead of a bunch of old men.

MR: Now, the auditions are open to vocalists, guitarists, bass players, drummers and keyboard players.

RT: That's right.

MR: Is there anything in particular you're looking for? Do you want them to sound exactly like Queen?

RT: Obviously, we want them to be able to play the Queen stuff, which is not easy stuff, but we're looking for great musicians. If they love our music, that's going to be a great help, and we'd love them to look great too because that really does help, but we want them to be excited and involved. This thing is just starting. It's a very interesting project, this.

MR: It is. And you have some industry heavyweights working with you. You have stage designer Mark Fisher, who works with U2 and AC/DC among others.

RT: Yeah, he also did the Beijing Olympics, so you can't get much better than that. Also, he's done a lot of stuff for Queen over the years--the guy's a bit of a genius. This is going to be a great looking show. We've got a lot of unseen footage that will be used. Visually, it's going to be great, but of course, it's going to be mainly about the music.

MR: Yes. And you're going to be one of the judges for this talent search, along with some other well-known musicians, right?

RT: Yeah, that's right. There are three rounds--open auditions, which are on the internet at www.queenextravaganza.com. Then we'll pick 50 out of all those people that send an audition in, and the second round will be a public vote to narrow it to at least 10, and then we'll have a final thing live in L.A. in a big recording studio. It's not going to be in front of an audience; we're just going to try and make a great band. I think it's a really exciting thing.

MR: Could you tell some of the Queen story, maybe from right around when Freddie joined on or earlier?

RT: Well, it all started, really, with Brian May and myself. Brian was in Imperial College in London, and I was studying dentistry at a medical college in London. We met and we had the same interests; we loved Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck...we loved all those guys. Then, we had this weird guy named Freddie who used to hang around with us. Eventually, to cut a long story short, it was only natural that we form a band together. We went through about six bass players before we found John Deacon and that was Queen. That's it in a nutshell, that's how we started, and I guess that's been my life for 40 years ever since. Let me say, it's been a great roller coaster of a life. I'm very happy to be here right now.

MR: Do you remember getting signed to EMI? Do you remember what that was like?

RT: Yeah, I do. I remember one of the guys who was working with EMI saying, "I think we might have a new Deep Purple here," and I remember thinking, "Boy, I hope we're bigger than that." (laughs) I do remember, and it was a big thrill. I think they used to give us a cheeseburger when you signed, so we felt lucky.

MR: Did they give you more than a cheeseburger when A Night At The Opera became one of the biggest albums in the world?

RT: Yeah, we had two cheeseburgers from when we were the number one album...and a coke. In those days, life was simpler, you know? (laughs)

MR: The progression of this band is phenomenal. Your first albums, Queen and Queen II were hard-edged, and it was hard to predict an album as melodic as A Night At The Opera would come down the pike. I think it was with Sheer Heart Attack that you started integrating more fun styles.

RT: That's right. I think we were really finding our confidence. Sheer Heart Attack is one of my favorite albums, actually, because you can start to see our ambition and there is some really great stuff on that album. It doesn't hang around, it doesn't bore, nothing is too long, and it sounds good. I've always been happy with that album, and that was a good moment.

MR: I recently spoke with Graham Nash and Allan Clarke of The Hollies, and one of the songs we talked about was "On A Carousel," where they go, "Round and round," which is literally a round.

RT: I remember that song, yes.

MR: Were you guys inspired by The Hollies for the vocal arrangement of "The Prophet's Song" on A Night At The Opera? It just seems so similar.

RT: Well, really, the round thing is a very old, English musical form. So, I wouldn't say that we were inspired by The Hollies. I do remember The Hollies very well, actually, and they were a very good band. They were very technical as well because they had the harmony genius of Graham Nash. I can't say that they were the inspiration, it's a sort of classical English style of harmony, and it's one of my favorite bits, actually. That bit is actually featured in the Queen Extravaganza.

MR: Nice. That would show off the contestant's vocal talents very well.

RT: Exactly.

MR: Before we leave A Night At The Opera, there's another song I want to talk about. It's sort of an unspoken classic, unknown to the masses--the song, "39."

RT: It's strange, actually. When we did the tribute to Freddie, we asked George Michael, "What do you want to sing?" And he said, "'Somebody To Love' and '39.'" I thought that really came out of left field and I wasn't expecting that. That's quite a popular song, actually. It's kind of like a space folk song, so it's kind of in its own category.

MR: My old producer and mentor, Tommy West, branded it, "Peter, Paul and Mary on acid."

RT: Well, you could come at it from that direction. (laughs)

MR: Looking at all of the run of hits you guys have had, are there a couple that really stick out to you?

RT: A particular favorite of mine wasn't a massive hit in the States, but I think it gets used a lot and heard a lot. It's a song we did with David Bowie called, "Under Pressure." I love that song. You know, there are not many I don't like. Then, of course, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was an unusual record of high quality.

MR: And what did you think when you saw it in Wayne's World?

RT: I thought, "Great!" I thought it was even better when we had a number whatever it was album out of it. I think it brought Queen's music to a whole new generation that probably wasn't expecting it--I'm not sure Mike Myers was either--but I thought it was a hilarious thing. I love Wayne's World, and I thought it was a hilarious scene as well.

MR: I think the most amazing thing that could have topped that would have been the two of them singing it with Queen.

RT: Yeah. I loved the whole thing. It was great, and I thought it was good for everybody.

MR: As far as albums go, do you have a particular favorite out of those?

RT: Well, Sheer Heart Attack is quite a favorite of mine, and I think one of the best albums we did was probably the very last Queen album featuring Freddie, Made In Heaven, which was a very good album. Before that we did Innuendo, which I thought was good. I like The Game and The Works. Yeah, it's hard to think of my favorites.

MR: I have to ask you, how did The Highlander connection come about?

RT: Well, a friend of ours was directing the movie, and we loved the look of the movie, so we just agreed to write a couple of songs for it. So, Brian wrote "Who Wants To Live Forever?" which is a very good ballad, I think. I wrote "A Kind Of Magic," which was a very big hit in Europe and other parts of the world, but I'm not so sure what it did in America. That was our involvement in that movie, but we had sort of gotten on a roll, so we had a whole album then. It ended up not being a movie score album but a bonafide Queen album.

MR: And I love how that worked out, as opposed to Flash Gordon, which was definitely a soundtrack album.

RT: Flash... was merely a soundtrack album, and it wasn't pertaining, really, to anything else. It wasn't really the next Queen studio album, it was the soundtrack album to Flash Gordon, which was very much a film of its time. It was retro even then.

MR: Yeah, they dressed Flash in a gladiator outfit and had Ming in that '20s diva outfit...

RT: We thought it was funny, but not everybody did.

MR: Did you guys bond a little with Dino De Laurentis?

RT: Sort of. I don't know if you'd call it bonding. What he said really was, "Hey remember, Flash Gordon is saving the world." That was Dino's contribution.

MR: Roger, you recently did something called Freddie For A Day, which was a global celebration. Can you describe that for me?

RT: Freddie For A Day was really a celebration of Freddie's 65th birthday. We had kind of a big dinner in The Savoy Hotel in London, we had some great comedy guests, and then Brian and I did a little set. We had the guy from Keane, Tom Chaplin, and we also had the fantastic Jeff Beck, my favorite guitar player. It was a good night, it was a real good night. That was about two weeks ago, and I really enjoyed that.

MR: Do you feel the same way I do about Jeff Beck, in that if he's on stage with other guitarists, he just wipes the stage with whoever is up there with him?

RT: He does tend to do that, yes. There is only one of him. He's the governor. He's just extraordinary. You know from the first note that that could only be him because nobody else plays like that. He plays so musically and that's why it's such a joy to play with him.

MR: Roger, it's the 40th anniversary of Queen, and all the albums have been remastered with bonus tracks added. Were you involved in that process?

RT: Absolutely. Brian and I were just sort of the quality control filter...whatever you want to call it. They sound so much better--crisp and fresh. With today's technology, things do get better. We also have a feel about bonus tracks, that they have to sort of go through us and that's quite a tough net to get through sometimes. You know, we just want to keep the quality high.

MR: Do you miss Freddie?

RT: Yeah, I've been asked that so much...of course. Brian and I would probably give you the exact same answer, he's like part of our personal mental wallpaper. He's always there, and if we're ever having an argument about something, we feel like he's almost in the corner. We normally feel like we know what he would have thought. So, yes we do miss him, but it's not as bad as it was, you know? Time does heal. He was great, and I'd like him to be remembered great too.

MR: For both his work with Queen as well as his solo works.

RT: Yeah, I have to say that I think his best work was done with the band. (laughs) He was a great talent. Amongst all the glitz, glamor, the dressing up and all the outrageous theatricality, people forget that at the heart was a brilliant musician, and I would like to continue to fly that kind of flag for him.

MR Beautifully said. Earlier, you mentioned "Under Pressure" with David Bowie. Were you all in the studio for that? What was the recording process?

RT: Oh, absolutely. We wrote it all together, and it was very much a joint effort. It was a bit of a joy, really. We started it in Switzerland, all together, writing it, and we went for pizza halfway through and nobody could remember the bass riff. Then, I think I came over to New York and finished it with David, Freddie arrived late and Brian never turned up. So, that's the story of "Under Pressure" in a nutshell.

MR: At the time that it was written, did you know how "We Will Rock You" became the biggest sports anthem ever?

RT: No, we had no idea. It was conceived as sort of a participation piece with large audiences, but who would have guessed that kind of thing. I'm just pleased it happened that way.

MR: With the incredible career that you've had, what advice would you give to new artists?

RT: Oh, believe in yourself and stay with it. Don't let anybody tell you different. Just have faith in yourself.

MR: Beautiful. Well, this has been a wonderful experience. Roger, I need to have you back sometime, maybe after the Queen Extravaganza is finished and you've chosen a band, you could come back for another chat?

RT: Fantastic! That would be a great idea, Michael. I would love that. And the band will have been chosen with no humiliation involved.

MR: That is something that I do harp on fairly regularly, these talent shows that are based humiliation. It's great that you're bringing some elegance to your project.

RT: I hope so. We're just looking for great young, brilliant talent. It's exciting.

MR: Good luck with that, and I really appreciate you spending some time with us today, Roger.

RT: Thank you, Michael.

Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney


A Conversation with Yes' Steve Howe

Mike Ragogna: Steve, hey.

Steve Howe: Hello Michael. How are you?

MR: Extraordinary, how are you?

SH: Everything's good.

MR: Last time we were together, it was with Dax Kimbrough and you were with Asia.

SH: Yeah, we've been very busy, we've had to cool our heels after we finished on June 18th. We did South America, Europe, and the States.

MR: You're invested in a lot musical projects, one being the new album by Yes, Fly From Here. How did you guys approach this recent record?

SH: Well, I guess we just approached it like doing a regular record. We all bring different things to the record, we started with doing some demos and mucking around. Eventually, we got a call and started Fly From Here, then we went off and came back and did a few songs in January. We've got Geoff Downes on keyboards, and the whole thing turned out to be pretty fabulous.

MR: Who's the lineup on this album?

SH: Well, Benoit David is our vocalist, he's from Montreal, Canada. Then, of course, you have Chris Squire on bass and Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes on Keyboards, and myself on guitar.

MR: I believe it's your 20th studio album right?

SH: I think it might be, I haven't been counting, but if you've been keeping count, I'll take 20.

MR: (laughs) I think it's Yes' first album since Magnification came out.

SH: Yeah, that's definitely right.

MR: So, this is like 10 years since then.

SH: Yeah, for about three of them, we were busy touring, until 2004. Then, Jon got a bit sick and had a few accidents and became unwell, so about three years we didn't do anything. That's when I reformed with Asia and got going with that and did some solo projects. So, by the time 2008 came around, (we) met up with Benoit and Oliver Wakeman, then Oliver kindly did a few years with us which was great. So, then that took us up with Trevor Horn.

MR: How did you find about Benoit?

SH: We heard about him on the internet, we tipped Alan (White) off, Alan tipped us off, and I met him first in Montreal because I was doing a solo show and a trio show that year in Canada. I was in Montreal for a few days. I put a few days aside to meet up with him and confirmed that he could do it, and that's when we kind of firmed it up really.

MR: The other day, somebody asked me for Benoit David music, if I had it in my iTunes.

SH: Of course, he has done another project called Mystery; he keeps going on, that one. He sounds like a full on rock singer there, but he brings a lot of character to Yes. The whole thing is really quite in-house.

MR: Yes has been known for its amazing musicianship, and the reason why it doesn't get stale is that you're always mixing it up. There are those members who have been on and off for years, but it does seem like one big Yes family.

SH: Well, in a way, we compare it to an orchestra. If the lead violinist isn't doing a very good job, get somebody else. It wasn't that we were ruthless, we just cared about the general quality of the group, and if anybody fell below that, than maybe there was a replacement. Of course, that's kind of funny saying that because, of course, there is a hierarchy of original membership. It's good though to have us guys who've played on for many years to steer the ship, because sometimes, it does need a little steerage.

MR: While we're on the subject of Yes, I wanted to talk about the different periods of the band. What's your take when you look back to the days of the Fragile and Close To The Edge albums, and then the Yes music that you're making now?

SH: We were young and excitable, and we were all trying to make careers out of this business, so we put a lot into it. We lived in a town called London, England, and because we lived in that town, we were a band that lived in a town. That changes, obviously; people live in different countries, different parts of the universe. In a way, that makes it hard to run a band...what you're asking me about is really hard to put a finger on, really. Of course, when I look back, the three albums with Bill Bruford were very outstanding, because Bill invented the kind of way the drummer didn't splash around like most drummers did. He was very contained and quite influenced by jazz, so that was a very compelling element in our music. It fitted with Chris in the most unusual kind of way, because they were quite opposite but they fit together perfectly. So, to have Bill on the three albums that I played on and, of course, the two before, I played on with Peter Banks on the guitar, basically, Bill was a gem of a drummer. Alan was terrific too, but he wasn't Bill. Bill fit in much more to the jazz side of rock, that's why he went off and that's why I like him so much, because he did follow his heart and his music.

MR: When other bands attempt music as complicated as Yes', they mostly don't capture the emotional element that your band does. How do you get that discipline to translate along with emotion?

SH: I don't really know, it's just because we are who we are and we play in particular ways. Some of it's down to how we individually like our instruments to sound, and you put those together, and you get Yes. It's what we are looking for, a band with a lot of musicality, a lot of counter harmonies, counter singing--we definitely wanted to do a lot. We wanted to make a real splash and be the band that was capable. That's why we went on to do things like Case Of Delirium, Awaken, and Machine Messiah, after we did Close To The Edge, as if we hadn't done a lot of big music. Basically, we've been really ambitious, and that's been fueled by the energy of us all--partly by me, partly by Chris, and partly by everybody who's in the band. To calm any further question, if you were going to ask this, people like to try and define who leads Yes. Yes leads the group. Of course, Jon was a great orchestrator; he would just sit there, he wasn't playing an instrument. He could give ideas and he did give a lot of ideas and we had to interpret and play them. We enjoyed doing that because we all had ideas; it's not like he had to fix anybody's parts or tell anybody what to play; he would push ideas out. So, everybody was useful, and after all, he wasn't playing an instrument. That was contributing as much as we were contributing, and he didn't contribute more, he contributed the same. He could contribute ideas, while we were giving our own ideas as well. There was a lot of work that went into the song.

MR: Steve, I wasn't actually going there with that question, but thanks. (laughs)

SH: (laughs) Well, I had to answer that question in an interview yesterday, and I just thought about it again. In Yes, it's quite a deceptive sense of coming about and leadership, it's so dependent on what we do.

MR: But where I was going was the group's precision was so spot on, I wonder if there was any notation going on.

SH: Notation?

MR: Writing down on staff paper.

SH: Not really, we used to kind of laugh at people that did that. Rick did it and we would say, "Only you know what that means, because we didn't do it that way." We had our own charts; Chris would write notes down, I would write chords. Sometimes, I would have a huge chord chart when constructing the song. I usually just write out the sections so I can look at it. When you're arranging with a band, it's actually very hard to remember what you're doing at first, because if you decide to change something, when you get there, you don't remember. To avoid that, you keep your chart up to date; I can't really play and look at a piece of paper very intentionally. I look at it a few times when I wonder what's the next chord.

MR: Are you comfortable considering Yes one of the best rock acts of all time.

SH: I don't want to be facetious and so, "Yeah, of course it is. It's great." I don't want to say that. Then again, I would now, because it's what I put so much time into enjoyably. It was absorbing in those first three years with Bill, then we started moving to solo projects and starting writing solo guitar pieces, and all that worked. I don't have to push myself to write a few tunes, it involves work, enjoyably so. Nevertheless, you do have to go through the motions. You don't just wake up and you've written a song, it takes many years of going back to it; you haven't written it yet, you're developing it. No music comes in a packaged box, it's about developing ideas from almost nothing. Things are much more complicated than you really want to think about, that's why songwriting is something you do at home, it isn't about the band. You have to have something going on in your life to write songs about, that's what songs are supposed to be about.


MR: Let's move on to your solo work. Lately, you have the Remedy Live DVD. That's a 2004 tour capture, isn't it?

SH: I made a record called Elements and on it, I used as the bass player (my son) Dylan, and he plays on most of my solo albums. Inside Out, liked it a lot when they released it. It's got a big mixed-up feeling of having rock stuff on it and some jazz tunes on it. Then, there's some solo electric guitar on it, weird psychedelic stuff on it. So, what we did after that was go out on tour and create a solid line-up. I had Ray Fenwick on guitar--he's quite versatile and an old friend of mine. I know he can play stuff I can play, so he was playing my parts in the rhythm area. So, I picked a whole lot of songs, but the thing I didn't do was go into many improvising opportunities. There was a tune called "So Bad," and that was the only one that was really improvised; a lot of it was very structured. At that time, I wanted to have that really structured guitar music. It was very much worked on in arrangements. So, we went out, basically toured Great Britain and then Europe. In the DVD, you see moments where we were playing in different environments and you see how much wilder we were. When we were down in Spain and you see clips of us playing in Barcelona, it's very intense. Yet when we played in the opera house in New Castle, it's much more subdued. It was very thoughtfully controlled. In the DVD, you get to see that and you get to see it in the rehearsal too. I think DVDs are great, I think this one takes kind of a stance. It's very thoughtful and I didn't enjoy it. It was a very nice time.

MR: Also, one of the bonus features on the DVD is your acoustic set.

SH: In that show, there's a very big part where I play solo guitar. That's a condensed solo version of the big song from Relayer that Yes did, that we never played it after the Relayer tour. I've been playing it a lot, and I hope to get Yes to play it eventually. My repertoire has grown so much, I need a whole show to do it now. I'm working on Motif Volume 2, but I released Motif Volume 1 with 20 tunes of solo guitar, and what I want to encapsulate with the two volumes is that whole repertoire. It's kind of shifting around and I change things around, but it's a repertoire that really interests me about writing and solo guitar.

MR: So, there will be a Motif Volume 2 any day now?

SH: Well, not any day, but maybe next year. It proves that country western had an amazing effect on me when I was young. I was really a rocker; I liked Little Richard and Eddie Cochran; I got all of these influences from Tennessee Ernie Ford who had some great guitarists playing with him. They kind of invented the guitar break. Tennessee Ford's hillbilly music was so dynamic that it became an ingredient in any song that a guitarist would take a solo in. Take James Burton in Rick Nelson. Those solos sound just as good today as they sounded 40 years ago. I hear them playing on "Hello Mary Lou," it's sensational. James Burton did all of his best playing with Rick Nelson.

MR: Do you remember how you discovered that music?

SH: Well, I guess it was on the radio, partly. I actually bought rock 'n' roll records on 78. In England, they came in small singles, so you had these breakable records, and I used to buy Little Richard on 78s. I've got a couple of them--I kind of collect 78s. Those early records were such a lot of fun, when you hear the music you kind of remember where you first heard it. Of course, it used to move me, and it used to make me jump around the room--much more exciting than what my parents like. My brother and sister didn't really like rock 'n' roll, they turned me on to classical and jazz. They said, "That's rubbish, listen to this, this is authentic music, this is real music." I kind of shoved it off and then listened to it and thought it was great. It became very easy to be pursued; if it had a guitar in it, I was going to listen to it. So, that introduced me to every kind of music where a guitar ever played, and it played everywhere. I was bound to explore most of popular music by saying, "Where's a guitarist in 1920?" And somebody would show me someone that played back then.

MR: This is probably explaining how you got your amalgam of different tastes and different approaches when playing guitar.

SH: It shows that I became open later when I suddenly heard Vivaldi or something I liked it. Eventually, I listened to trumpet music and thought it was amazing, and I got into jazz. It's so easy to get into; you have such a rich place to go. It's interesting, there really isn't a type of music I don't like. Even instruments that I used to hate like the accordion, but I don't know, I actually like it.

MR: Can you remember what your first guitar was and how you got it?

SH: Sure, I was 12 and I had been begging my parents for about two years until they said, "We'll go." I went with my dad to a place called King's Cross in London to the guitar shop. This guitar had no make on it. It cost 14 schillings and for that, you got a guitar and a case, and that was it. I was a complete idiot, I thought I could play it instantly. I was just somehow driven by believing I could do it; in a way it helped me. As soon as I learned my first song, I went, "Okay, I'm there." Then I learned The Shadows--I almost spoke about that a minute ago, because on the radio when I first heard them, I heard them play "Apache" before it was released. The next week, I went out and bought it and I didn't like it. My brother had recorded it on The Saturday Club, and The Shadows played "Apache" on it. I went out and bought the record of it and it was really dull. Then I played the tape again and the difference was they were playing live in the studio. There was strange reality between a recording and live; I much preferred the sound of live because it was so exciting to hear. The record was done like a schmaltzy, middle of the road record. It didn't have any edgy rock 'n' roll EQ on it; it was very mellow. Mostly, they weren't that adventurous, but they ended up getting more adventurous.

MR: Some of your other hero's must be people like Chet Atkins and Les Paul.

SH: Well, I heard Les Paul before I heard Chet Atkins, because my parents had Les Paul. But when I heard Chet, I thought, "Now we're talking." I heard somebody who had a lot of things going on. He was doing stuff nobody else was really doing because it was the country picking. The first thing I wanted to do was that. I had heard Scotty Moore doing it with Elvis Presley. So, Chet was the broad stroke; he had original music, he was playing traditional music, jazz, and he was playing all sorts of stuff. I was really up for that, a record that didn't just have one type of music on it. It showed that on a guitar, he could make something speak. I loved the way he played so much.

MR: Let's go on about guitars, so you had the unnamed guitar, and...

SH: ...that wasn't for very long. My parents actually saw something in me, because when I turned seventeen, they got the money, 60 pounds, to get the great Gibson ES-155, the guitar I play with Yes, mainly. I play it everywhere when I want to improvise. It's a great improvising guitar, it still is my most important guitar. Currently, that's what I'm playing, I'm playing that guitar. On the Yes album, I played some of that and I played a Stratocaster. The Les Paul Junior, the Les Paul Custom is all over a track called "Life On A Film Set." Steel guitar, I play a Fender steel; I play 12-strings, they're very colorful guitars. I'm playing a lot of Steinberger again for a couple of reasons. I used it on the Fly From Here album, both the 6-string and the 12-string. I don't play a Rickenbacker 12-string anymore, because I can get that sound from a Steinberger. Rickenbacker is hell to get into any kind of regular shape easily. I play a lot of acoustic because I write on it; I am playing my Martin MC-38 Steve Howe model, which Martin still has a few left. That's a lovely guitar, it's a bit better than the 00-18 that they brought out with my name on it, which was originally my guitar that I played. I moved to an MC-28, which is the predecessor to the MC-38, which is really a lovely high-end guitar.

I've been working to death today on the Yes show, we have a tour starting on the 2nd of November, which is in six weeks. I just rehearse on a Steinberger, because it's so easy to play in an armchair. You can just sit there and play all day, the fingerboard is a guitarist's dream. Also Line 6 just set me up with a whole new pedal board and amp arrangement--the HD 500 POD is amazing. I'm on a whole new level of technology having moved in with them full time in 2006, because all of my amps before that. Everything before that was an irregular pedal board, something we'd make ourselves, with boxes and power supplies on it. Now, we can create exactly the sound that we think, exactly the sound that's on the record. So, the guitar sound I used on stage the past four years, is amazingly close to what the records sounded like. To get the same sound, usually things are mic'd different, so to program up songs is really worthwhile. Instead of selecting effects, I just go to the different programs. For each song, I have a bank.

MR: You were placed by Guitar Player Magazine in their gallery of greats along with Steve Moore and Eric Johnson, and for five years in a row, you were their best overall guitarist from '77 to '81. Nice.

SH: I was pleased about that because it's kind of a nice caché. Steve Moore deserves it so much, and Eric has done brilliant things as well. He's such a musical guitarist, that's what the three of us have in common. We're not crazy wild screaming amazingly fast--well, Steve is incredibly fast, and fast isn't fast anymore. It's about music and it's about the sound you make, I think Steve and Eric have both produced great sounds.

MR: We've yet to talk about your being in GTR. You had fun in GTR, right?

SH: I had fun in GTR, it was great band. It was one of those things; it kind of came and went. It was like Asia at that time. I don't think we care to resurrect it as an original band, but as an idea, it's quite good.

MR: What advice would you have for new artists?

SH: Well, everybody's tried to give advice. People just don't usually take advice. (laughs) I can be light about it. There's one thing that makes a professional guitarist stand out--particularly on an acoustic guitar--is that you don't squeak too much. You've got to squeak occasionally, but not when you change a chord and not when you change a position. When you're actually playing and you can't avoid a squeak, then bless you, we've all got to live with that. But squeaks should be kept to a minimum. I think your career should really be about pushing on and not being distracted. Your playing won't keep ascending in a straight line higher and higher. You get to a point and you think, "I can do this a bit more," and it climbs another step of the ladder. That's how things grow. To have an interesting career, you have to be pretty determined; you've got to find a way of making a living at it. That's the third part of my advice, is as soon as you can, don't be free, because that is not a career. You've got to charge, you've got to realize that at some point, you have to feed a family off of music, and that's a very tall order. There's a lot of quick roots to success, and we really see there's just one, and that's determination. I don't think you should step out into the big wide world unless you've been playing for at least 10 years. Some people get on very rapidly; but at first, don't try to be everything.

MR: That's a very all-encompassing answer. We also didn't mention The Steve Howe Trio, that's the one you're in which you're playing with your son Dylan.

SH: When we can we get together, I have Dylan on drums and Ross Stanley on organ. We've done two albums--The Haunted Melody and the live album Traveling. We keep evolving and doing different things. Next year, we plan to...they haven't exactly agreed yet, but I'm sure they will--we have a little bit of a run where we get a new album and some new tunes and jazz them up. I love that because I just take my best guitar and plug it in and don't do anything with the pedals, I just have a volume pedal. I don't actually use effects or anything. An organ is a great instrument, that thing really hops around, it does the bass as well.

MR: It's always good playing with family isn't it.

SH: Yeah, Dylan has been so supportive and very inspiring. Dylan has really put his head down on the drums; that's his whole world and that's fantastic. I actually have a big secret that nobody knows yet, but I have a new record coming out on Warner Classic called Time, and it's a Steve Howe meets orchestra kind of record. We do two kinds of music--we do traditional classical pieces and we do some original pieces. I hope you like it, it's a very special album that's taken a lot of work and it's really been worked on. It's got a real orchestra on it, so there's no compromise. It's called Time and it's coming out on the 21st of November.

MR: What was the recording process for the new album?

SH: Basically, what happened was, I was working on this idea with my friend Paul Sutin over in Switzerland. He had some music and I played on it. So, about four or five years ago, I got some of this music and it's kind of almost there, but we hadn't had a complete album. I met up with the composer and conductor on some of the songs on the record, Paul K. Joyce. Basically, he and I got stuck into this idea, and he had a lot to contribute in how we could make this really beautiful record. We gradually developed it with the synthesized orchestra first so we could see how it was shaping up with my guitar work, and develop it. So, once we had got it, we then said we need the real orchestra. We went into British Grove studios in London and all of the people came in--harp, horn, violin, all of that kind of stuff. Then with the arrangements Paul had done, they played it all and they had real instruments. So, we then gave it to Curtis Schwartz, who mixed all of my solo albums, and it was pretty much all finished and he took a look over it, because he understands how my guitar can work best. He's learnt over the years not only how I like it, but also how it works best. So, we really did pull it together.

MR: Are there any songs on this record that you had and looked back on and thought, "Wow, this is a great track"?

SH: Well Paul Sutin wrote a track that we rearranged considerably called "The Explorer." On this track, I play a 12-string Steinberger guitar, with a classical ensemble and that tune really worked out well. Another favorite of mine is "Rose." It's a Spanish guitar tune that I wrote, it's a melodic tune where I don't really play much more than single notes. Some of the other ones are more involved, like when I play Bach, it's really more involved, and those are some of the more enjoyable pieces to play. When you're a musician that decides to play Bach, you have to wake up because it's a real challenge.

MR: When you're tour, how do you choose what to play?

SH: It's about what I can play and what's possible. We would like next year to do some shows and take 12 people and play this live. That would be a luxury. We would be hoping that there would be some other forms of watching us play and do this. We would love to tour, but that's not the big emphasis at the moment.

MR: Steve, thanks so much for this. As always, it was great.

SH: Well thanks for calling, it was fun.


Disc One - CD
1. Fly From Here (Overture, pt. 1-5)Listen
2. The Man You Always Wanted Me To BeListen
3. Life On A Film SetListen
4. Hour Of NeedListen
5. SolitaireListen
6. Into The Storm

Disc Two - DVD
1. "Making of" the album
2. Live footage

Transcribed by Theo Shier


A Conversation with Johnny Winter

Mike Ragogna: Johnny, you are on tour in Denmark right now, right?

Johnny Winter: I am, yes.

MR: Are you having a good time on the road?

JW: Oh, yes.

MR: Is this tour a little different from your others?

JW: No, it's about the same.

MR: (laughs) Alright, let's talk about your new album Roots, which explores your musical roots. Now, there are songs like "Further On Up The Road" on here, which has Jimmy Vivino playing on there. How did you score him to play on this?

JW: My manager was the one who got Jimmy.

MR: Did you guys record this together in the studio, or did he drop by to add his parts later?

JW: He added later.

MR: Were you there when he added?

JW: No, I wasn't.

MR: Do you remember how you first learned the song, "Further On Up The Road"?

JW: When I first learned it, I was sitting in front of the record player, playing the record and trying to copy what he was playing. That was when I just started playing guitar, which wasn't very long after that song came out.

MR: Are there other instances like that on this record, where you can remember learning these songs for the first time?

JW: Yeah, but that was the main one that I really remember.

MR: A lot of blues guitar players cut their teeth on songs like "Got My Mojo Working" and "Mabeline," and you cover both of those songs on this project.

JW: Yes.

MR: Can you remember when you learned those songs?

JW: "Mabeline" came out before I started playing guitar, and it was one of the songs that made me want to learn the guitar. That came out in '55 and I started playing a year later in '56.

MR: Now, some of these songs are on here more because they are inspired by the blues genre, right?

JW: Yes.

MR: Was that the case with a song like "Got My Mojo Working?"

JW: I love Muddy--I've always loved Muddy. Muddy is one of my favorite blues men.

MR: While we're talking about Muddy Waters, we should talk about when you worked with him. You produced Muddy.

JW: Yeah, we did a couple of records together.

MR: That was a joy I imagine, right?

JW: That was very satisfying. I loved doing it.

MR: Do you have any stories about your time working with him?

JW: My favorite memory is of a time he made me gumbo over at his house in Chicago.

MR: How did you two work together in the studio?

JW: We were really close.

MR: When you're in the studio, you're really close to your players?

JW: Usually.

MR: Originally, you were "Johnny Winter And The McCoys," because you were put together a band with players from The McCoys.

JW: Yes.

MR: Right, working with Randy Z and Rick Derringer.

JW: Right.

MR: Do you have a story from those days?

JW: That was a period that I remember with the least happiness, because I was doing more rock 'n' roll than I really wanted to do. It was my biggest selling album, and it was the one I probably liked the least.

MR: Now, you and your brother Edgar obviously took two different approaches to music.

JW: Edgar never was a big blues fan like I was. He was more into jazz and rock 'n' roll.

MR: Can you remember early on in yours and Edgar's musical careers, what the dynamic were like as you both discovered separate musical interests?

JW: We just liked two different kinds of music.

MR: But you guys played together too, right?

JW: Oh, for a long time, yes.

MR: After making an album like Roots, do you feel like there's any kind of mentorship that may be taking place between you and the people listening to your music and now learning about the genre?

JW: I hope so. That's why I decided to do it. I'd like to keep turning younger people onto blues.

MR: What do you think the blues scene looks like today?

JW: It's not as good as it used to be, that's for sure. There are still some good people around, but it's nothing like it was in the '50s and '60s.

MR: Do you think that's because it's not being given the status it should, or is it something about today's culture?

JW: I think it's the culture, mostly.

MR: Do you think it's that people don't associate what their doing with the blues?

JW: Well, people don't grow up picking cotton anymore and they don't have the hardships that the guys did when they started doing it. That could have something to do with it.

MR: That's a good point. There has also been a generation of artists, like Stevie Ray Vaughan and George Thorogood, who have almost pushed the genre into more of a "joyful" blues.

JW: Yes. Well, blues can be happy too--not all blues is sad.

MR: Right, but it's almost like the genre has changed somewhat because of what you were talking about before--these aren't songs that are being written about hardship and despair.

JW: Yes. Those old guys really had hard lives. People like Muddy and B.B. King grew up picking cotton and stuff. They had a real reason to sing the blues.

MR: Getting back to your new album, Roots, you have a lot of wonderful guests such as Vince Gill, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Paul Nelson, John Medeski, Sonny Landreth, John Popper, and you have Edgar on here too. That's a pretty impressive list, but were there artists you couldn't get because of scheduling?

JW: We couldn't get everybody we wanted because some of them were on tour--not that I don't love the people that we did get, but there were several people that I would have liked to have had that we just couldn't get.

MR: Did anybody contact you, wanting to be on the album?

JW: Yes, several people did.

MR: Who were they?

JW: Billy Gibbons said he'd do it, but he was working, so he couldn't.

MR: Well, the people that you did get on this record are incredible. I understand that it is just logistics that keeps people from working on things like this sometimes, but you know that they're kicking themselves now.

JW: Yeah, exactly.

MR: I know that Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks adore you. How was it working with them?

JW: They are great people, and they're great musicians too.

MR: And they really live this music.

JW: Yeah, I think they do.

MR: Were you in the studio with any of your guest artists?

JW: No, I wasn't there for anybody except myself.

MR: Even when Edgar played on "Honky Tonk"?

JW: No, he did that in California. We were in Connecticut, and he did his in California.

MR: Okay, so everybody contributed long distance.

JW: Exactly. The people that were actually there in the studio were just a couple.

MR: Is this the first time you've done a project like this?

JW: Yeah, it's the first time I've done anything like this. It's really strange, really. Of course, I would have liked it if everybody could play at the same time, but we just couldn't do that.

MR: When you were hearing the musical contributions, how do you react to that?

JW: Well, I was really happy with everything that everybody played.

MR: Out of all the classic blues artists, who is your favorite?

JW: That's Muddy. That's definitely Muddy.

MR: With him being your hero and all the psychology with that, were there ever moments that you weren't sure if you wanted to be working with him?

JW: Oh, I knew I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it more than anything in the world. It was great. It was like a dream come true. It was the most fun that I've ever had musically.

MR: Well, you can look at some of the other people you worked with, like Sonny Terry.

JW: Yeah, that was a lot of fun too.

MR: Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were a couple of my favorite acts ever.

JW: Yeah, it's rumored that they didn't even like each other toward the end of their career.

MR: I opened for them down in Tampa at a place called The Peanut Gallery, and they were yelling at each other before they went onstage.

JW: They hated each other.

MR: Yeah, but I love that they worked it out.

JW: They had been together for like 40 years, and they just got tired of each other after all that time. I wouldn't even mention Brownie's name around Sonny.

MR: When they were onstage--the looks they would give each other--it was like they were in a bad marriage.

JW: Well, they were together for years.

MR: Just because he's one of my favorite artists, and you've worked with him, what is it like working with Rick Derringer in the studio?

JW: He's a great producer.

MR: Was he around for these sessions or was he also busy?

JW: We didn't ask Rick.

MR: Johnny, you cover a lot of territory on this album. When you look at the genre of blues, is there any experience you can think of that really had an effect on you?

JW: I got to play with B.B. when I was 17 at a club in Beaumont. I went to see him at a club called The Raven and I got to sit in. He didn't even know if I could play or not.

MR: What was it like when he discovered you could play?

JW: He was really nice. He said, "You'll be successful someday."

MR: Very cool. Now, we talked about Muddy before, but who would come after Muddy among your favorites?

JW: B.B. is up there for sure. Ray Charles, of course. Robert Johnson--he was one of my favorite slide players.

MR: If you were to do a whole album of one blues artist's material, who would it be?

JW: Probably Robert Johnson. Between him and Muddy. Those are two of my favorites.

MR: With Roots coming off as well as it has, do you picture yourself doing something like this again?

JW: Yeah, there's a good chance we might do that.

MR: Were there any tracks left over from this project?

JW: (laughs) No, there weren't. Well, we did "Okey Dokey Stomp," but we didn't get to use that.

MR: Will that be showing up on a project in the future?

JW: I hope so. It turned out really well. I hope we use "Okey Dokey Stomp" on the next record.

MR: Do you have any advice for new artists?

JW: Listen to the older people. Listen to the people that came before and try to learn from them. You really need that background before you just start doing your own stuff--you've got to hear the older people.

MR: Do you think there is a tendency with new artists to try to do it by themselves and ignore history?

JW: Yeah. As I was saying, you really need the base from some of the older guys to start growing out on your own. You don't want to copy them, but you have to learn from them.

MR: That's what you did, and that's the whole point with Roots, right?

JW: Yes.

MR: When you sat down and listened to Roots top to bottom, was it a bit of a flashback to when you were a kid learning all this stuff?

JW: Oh, sure it was. Of course it was.

MR: What was it like experiencing that?

JW: Oh, it was a lot of fun. It was a whole lot of fun.

MR: You're touring right now, and I imagine you're playing most of these songs out on the road, right?

JW: A lot of them, we are.

MR: What are you combining them with?

JW: Older stuff--a lot of the older stuff.

MR: I suppose somebody coming to your concert will be kind of mad if they don't hear the classics too, right?

JW: Sure, they want to hear that.

MR: What are a couple of favorite classics of your material?

JW: That I'm doing in my set?

MR: Yeah.

JW: "Blackjack" by Ray Charles is one of my favorite ones to do. I love doing "Highway 61."

MR: Are you doing anything that is sort of unusual for you, something that you weren't sure about when you started playing it?

JW: No, I'm always sure before I start doing it.

MR: (laughs) When you play, is there a lot of improv going on?

JW: Yeah, there is, always.

MR: When you're playing improv, where do you feel it's coming from?

JW: It just comes in my thinking of the sounds. It really just goes there.

MR: Because he's your brother, what is your favorite recording by Edgar?

JW: Either "Tobacco Road" or "Frankenstein."

MR: Excellent. Looking at the genre of blues, when it comes to people like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page do you see them as being torch bearers?

JW: Yes, sure they are.

MR: Do you ever get tempted to do a super session with all of you guitar heroes together, like they did in the old days?

JW: That would be a lot of fun. I would love to do that.

MR: Do you have any words of wisdom for us?

JW: Just keep listening to the blues. Listen to as much blues as you can--that'll make me very happy.

MR: (laughs) Very nice. Johnny, thank you very much for visiting with me today. All the best with your new album, Roots.

JW: Thank you, very much.

1. T-Bone Shuffle - Johnny Winter & Sonny Landreth
2. Further On Up The Road - Johnny Winter & Jimmy Vivino
3. Done Somebody Wrong - Johnny Winter & Warren Haynes
4. Got My Mojo Workin' - Johnny Winter
5. Last Night - Johnny Winter & John Popper
6. Maybellene - Johnny Winter & Vince Gill
7. Bright Lights, Big City- Johnny Winter & Susan Tedeschi
8. Honky Tonk- Johnny Winter & Edgar Winter
9. Dust My Broom - Johnny Winter
10. Short Fat Fannie- Johnny Winter & Paul Nelson
11. Come Back Baby- Johnny Winter & John Medeski

Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney

Finally, here's a new video from The Box Story, and check out Noah's rap...FYI, he's only 15, folks:

And here's a replay of The Box Story video "Above The Noise" featuring novelist and award-winning international skydiver, Dan Bodsky-Chenfeld:

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