Questions and Answers II
3/23/2004 (updated 3/23/2004)
Do you ever get to a show and just not feel like playing?
Hardly ever in my life have I not felt like playing. There was a show in Tokyo in the 80s when I had violent stomach flu - had to keep running to the side of the stage to throw up - and I felt so weak I could hardly sing, and had to stop the show after an hour (of course, being Japan, this was seen as suffering bravely through adversity, and I got a terrific ovation). Another show in Mendocino, when I had Giardia, and also felt extremely weak...in both cases, there was no question of not playing, but those were tough; I think most nights, it's a privilege to play, and I'm lucky to get paid for it; playing when sick, you really earn your wages. I think there are nights when you're tired, or ill, and you just push a bit harder, and the energy level is the same. You know that syndrome where you're feeling lousy and someone says how terrific you look, all that colour in your cheeks? For musicians, it's the show where you feel like shit that people love and say it's the best they've seen. I also, to grind on a bit, think it is a good thing that some shows are chatty (from the stage) and some quiet, some shows high energy and some reflective - different rooms and different audiences create different atmospheres, and it would probably be a mistake to impose one's will too much on the environment.
I should also say, in response to comments I've read occasionally, that I never 'go through the motions' - I am always 100% commited to the performance, and give my best. Sometimes the room or the equipment will impose limitations - I may not be able to hear anything approximating a real sound, or balance, or pitch, in a room - but my commitment to every performance is total.
Back in those halcyon days, when you jammed with Jimi Hendrix, did he ever offer any advice on guitar playing?
Well, having borrowed my guitar to sit in (I think it was my Grimshaw Les Paul copy) he suggested I raise the action to get better purchase on the bent strings - at the time I had it low and jazzy - good advice, which I follow to this day. James Burton told me the opposite though...
I would love to know, if you don't mind, what the individual gauges of the strings are on your electric. Whatever they are, I want to switch to them ;-)
I use light gauge electric strings by Elixir, gauges:
016 or 015
011 or 010
009 or 008
These are pretty much what I've always used, and correspond to the old days before light strings, when you moved your so-called 'medium gauge' over one course and added a banjo 'A'.
My two favorite guitarists hands down are RT and Peter Green circa 1966-70. I'm curious as to what your opinion is of Peter in terms of technical ability and phrasing, as well as song writing.
I thought Peter was the best of all the British Blues players - he had originality and finesse, and probably better technique than anybody else. As with all the British Blues players, I thought it got valid when they started to write their own material, and Peter penned a few classics. I don't think he has that spark any longer, sad to say - I know he had mental problems, and it's good to see him alive and working.
You are the only person I’ve seen live on three continents – Free Trade Hall (Manchester), at the Ritz (I think it was called) in New York City and most recently at Club Quattro in Shibuya, Tokyo. I was wondering how your distinctly English take on things is perceived in places like the US and, especially, Japan. What do you think they like best about your songs?
I probably write for the British sensibility, without too many concessions, but that translates reasonably well to the U.S., as Muddy Waters did to the U.K. Japanese audiences work very hard to understand meanings of songs in English, and will often do their homework before a show. Promoters in Japan will sometimes translate the lyrics of the potential set, and have copies on every seat for the show. I can't say what they like about the songs - I think, as in a less English-speaking country like Italy, they focus a bit more on the guitar-playing.