|“I PLAY LIKE 200 NIGHTS A YEAR,” SAYS WORKAHOLIC AND JAZZ LEGEND JOHN
Scofield. “If I want to go back to, say, Phoenix, I can’t show up
with the same band I was there with two years earlier. They want
another project.” That’s how Sco explains why he finds himself in
so many disparate music environments, from his jazz trio to Phil
Lesh & Friends to collaborations with Medeski, Martin & Wood to
his current bag: gospel blues. His new record, Piety Street [Emarcy],
features Scofield doing his thing alongside pianist Jon Cleary, bassist
George Porter, Jr., and ex-Rutles guitarist Ricky Fataar on drums.
Like always, he manages to sound like himself while simultaneously
fitting right in with a whole new style of music.
In the literature for Piety Street you talk about
wanting to do a blues project, and how that led
to this gospel record. Why didn’t you just do a
The reason I’m hesitant is that there
are so many blues bands out there. It’s
been done so well. I was always a bit of
a blues snob—I was into Albert and B.B.
and thought that that was the shit and
still do. Then SRV came along and he
played incredibly and a lot of people followed
in his footsteps. Now there’s a
blues band on every corner, and a lot of
bad ones, unfortunately. It’s like bebop—
it’s something that you love so much that
was done 50 years ago and there get to
be these parameters around it. And I get
a little bit too in my head about that—it
has to be like this to be right. So it helps
me, actually, to get into some areas that
are a little off center and then I don’t feel
like I’m tampering with sacred ground. I
knew I wanted to go to New Orleans and
record a bluesy kind of record, knowing
the musicians and the feelings you can
get down there. I’m a fan of old gospel
stuff. I’ve collected it over the years. So
I thought, “Why not just play those
tunes?” Even though we did all gospel
songs on this record, I think it’s a return
to real blues playing for me, which is
where I started. Blues and R&B were my
favorite things when I was a kid, before
I became a jazz head.
The guitar on the opener, “That’s Enough,”
has a real naked, intimate quality. How did you
record to get that sound?
First of all, we had a great engineer,
James Farber, who specializes in recording
jazz and getting the sound of an
instrument with as little tampering as
possible. They would set up the mics and
try to avoid the preamps and even avoid
the board if possible. Just straight
through. We recorded to Pro Tools and
we mixed down to 1/4" tape. I wanted to
get a real natural sound for everything.
My sound has become less processed the
older I get. For this, I just plugged into
the amps with no effects, except for one
or two tunes where I used a pedal. It was
my Ibanez into the amp.
What was your amp?
Here’s what happened. I’ve been playing
AC30s and because the session was
in New Orleans, I wasn’t able to bring
my amps. I asked Vox to send me some
really cherry amps from their hand-wired
Heritage series—an AC30 and an AC15.
We had to delay travel by a day because
of hurricane Gustav. They were afraid it
was going to cause flooding and they evacuated
the city. So, UPS never made it with
my amps. There was a Music Man in the
studio and George Porter, Jr. was able to
get me an AC30—a weird old half-stack
with a 4x12 cab—and a Matchless DC-
30, so that’s what I played through. I used
the Music Man only on the one tune,
“Angel of Death,” where I wanted vibrato.
On the other tunes I’m playing through
both the Vox and the Matchless.
On “Motherless Child,” you play what start
off sounding like typical blues licks, but you
have a knack for landing on an unexpected
note. Talk about your phrasing on that tune.
That’s just part of my repertoire. To
me those notes don’t sound unexpected
because I’ve been doing that for so long.
That comes from my jazz background and
what I learned from the way Miles played.
It’s no one thing—it’s not a scale or an arpeggio
exactly. I am playing blues but I’m also
arpeggiating the chords and stuff. At first
it’s all B minor, then it goes to D, E7, and
Gmaj7, and that’s where I play more like bop
lines and it comes out more jazzy.
The tone changes under the vocal to a thinner
tone with more sting. How are you getting that
On that tune, I’m sure I was just playing
through the amps. So, if the tone changes,
it’s because I changed pickups, or more likely
I just backed off the volume. I used mostly
the bridge pickup on that tune, and when
you back off the volume the tone get a little
thinner, on my guitar anyway.
Your solo is fatter and more overdriven.
I just turned up all the way for the solo.
You get totally different tones on “Something’s
Got a Hold on Me.”
That’s the one tune I put some effects
on. First, I did the rhythm track through a
Leslie and then I did an overdub for the solo.
The solo has an auto-filter from the Digitech
Whammy Wah, and I’m using a Pro Co Rat
pedal too, so it’s not just distortion from the
amp. It’s overdriven with a pedal. Other than
that I didn’t use any distortion pedals.
The classic jazz/gospel rig of a Whammy Wah,
a Rat, and an AC30?
Oh yeah [laughs]! The purists gave up on
me a long time ago, man. I can do whatever
On that subject, you’ve really put yourself out
there in several different styles. Once some players
achieve a little notoriety, they’re afraid to
deviate from what brought them success, but you
never have been.
I’m still a victim of fear, I’m just afraid
to do the same thing twice. At this point
everyone expects me to do something different.
Back from when I was a sideman, I’d
be playing with four or five different bands.
It was a great thing. It all felt fresh, and I’m
addicted to that feeling of freshness to this
day. I’ll play with my trio with Steve Swallow
and Bill Stewart; and then I’ll go to
playing with Trio Beyond with Jack De-
Johnette and Larry Goldings, which is a real
wild, free thing; then to MMW, which is a
whole different thing; and then to this gospel
project. They all feel great to me and I never
have time to get sick of any of them.
It’s important to be yourself, but you want
to get into the music and have something to
say in it that really fits the songs. I’m not a
jack-of-all-trades like some people. I’m not
saying this in a negative sense, but there are
studio guys who play a Strat on one tune,
an L-5 on another tune, and a Martin on the
next, and they sound like a rock guy, a jazz
guy, and a country guy. I’m not like that at
all. I play the same guitar all the time and I
play my licks. Even though I do these different
bags, there are a lot of places I wouldn’t
go. It wouldn’t be right. I don’t see much
difference between John Scofield the jazz
guitarist and John Scofield the gospel blues
guitarist or whatever I am. Those two guys
are very similar. The trick is to not play everything
you know every time you play. Because
then you’re going to be playing too much.
If you’re really into a style of music, you
don’t want to just cram stuff in that’s out of
place. Intellectually we can all say, “Oh, it’s
so interesting,” but it’s not unless it works
at a gut level.