SCARVES ARE TRAILING OFF THE WAIST OF guitarist Nick Perri as he
brandishes a black Gibson Firebird. The 24 year old considers himself a
bluesman, steeped in the licks of Johnny Winter while fusing his style
into the rock-metal groove of Shinedown. Perri previously played with
Silvertide, and also enjoyed a stint with Perry Farrell’s Satellite
Party, before settling in as Shinedown’s new axe man. Now, with the
release of Shinedown’s third album, The Sound of Madness [Atlantic],
Perri is ready for the road and amped to sweat the blues with his
arsenal of Gibsons.
You’re solely a Gibson player?
Yes. My number one is a black Les Paul Custom. It’s a ’57 reissue that’s all mahogany with no maple cap—which is great, because I prefer a slightly darker tone. Throughout the set, I play the Les Paul, a Firebird, an ES-335, an SG, an Explorer, and a Flying V. They’re all black.
Do the Gibsons define your sound?
I love my guitars, but I’m not sure they “define” my sound. I’ve always been a barebones guy, and I feel that tone comes from the guitar, the amp, and your fingers—but mostly your fingers.
However, you do run a multitude of effects.
The effects are just for color and accents, because it takes a lot of textures to pull off the sound of the album live. But the main tone you hear all night is my Les Paul through a Naylor Super-Drive 60. There’s no distortion or overdrive pedal—just the natural sweet overdrive coming from the amp.
What elements led to your current style?
Like most guitarists, I started off being inspired by the greats—in my case, players such as Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, David Gilmour, and Johnny Winter. The blues elements I learned from those guys early on will always be a part of me no matter what. Once I figured out what Angus and Page were doing, I took all of that and mashed it up with everything else that has inspired me over the years. That’s how I created my own style. I’m definitely a blues-based guitar player who enjoys playing heavy-ass riffs that get you moving.
What scales do you gravitate towards when improvising?
I never learned any scales. I took lessons for a few years, but I decided I just wanted to rock out, so I started learning from records. I know if something sounds right, and I know where my fingers should be going.
What was your first breakthrough on the guitar?
I know the exact moment. I was 15 years old, and I was really fascinated with playing many notes as fast as possible. I remember I was sitting in my room and “Machine Gun” from Band of Gypsys came on. When Hendrix goes into the first note of the solo, he holds that one note for 16 bars or so, and that floored me. It changed my whole life, and my whole perspective on guitar playing. I don’t think you can really tell somebody that less is more— they either get it or they don’t. But hearing Hendrix screaming with that one note was the turning point in my world.
How have you grown as a player over the years?
Growth just sort of happens. When I listen to older shows and compare them to newer ones, I can hear development in my vibrato and the way I phrase things. For me, the growth probably came from nonstop playing. I just love the guitar, and I play every day for at least three or four hours. Sometimes, guitar players feel like they’ve reached some kind of plateau, but you just have to keep playing through that in order to stumble across something new. I like to play something old, but discover a new way to play it. I think those moments are what we all live for, because they’re exciting and fresh.
What elements of Johnny Winter did you develop into your style?
He taught me that you can be a blues player and still shred. He was the fastest and cleanest blues player on the face of the earth—that forced me to go back and look at my technique.
As a wee lad, he put the fire under my ass to get up on stage. I learned how to put on a rock show from him.
He was the king of soul and feel. As I mentioned earlier, I learned the power of one note from him. I was no longer afraid to let notes hang.
What elements are necessary to be considered a solid blues player?
Most importantly for me, it’s feel, phrasing, and simplicity. Less is more. When you run with that as a blues player, you’ll do just fine.
What do you think of younger blues cats such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang?
Well, to be blunt, I was never into them. I mean this with all due respect, but I felt like they were ripping so much from my heroes that, at times, it was almost blasphemous. I’d much rather hear someone doing something fresh. It’s not wrong to be heavily influenced, but I think the importance of finding your own voice cannot be overstated.
How did you approach the guitar playing in Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party?
Guitar-wise, it was very straightforward blues-based rock. My Les Paul through the amp was most of my sound— except for using delay here and there. Perry gave me freedom to be myself, and he even added a guitar solo to his Jane’s Addiction song “Jane Says” that was quite an honor for me. Speaking of Jane’s Addiction, when I studied the records, I noticed that Dave Navarro recorded all these little nuances that will blow your mind. As the sole guitarist in Satellite Party, I had to decipher those things, and figure out how to play them as one guitar part. Of course, the entire Jane’s Addiction catalog is brilliant, so it was a joy to play that stuff every night.
Given Farrell’s arty approach, did you find yourself playing more theatrically in that band?
No. To be honest, I never think about my performances on stage, because what I do comes very natural to me. There is always an element of the theatrical in my playing, because I grew up doing theatre in school. I’ve always believed in the power of entertainment. Watching fans night after night, I know they don’t want to pay for tickets, pay for parking, stand in line for an hour, and then watch a bunch of dudes staring at their feet.
What modern players do you dig?
First and foremost, Tom Morello. He wrote some of the heaviest, most asskicking riffs this world has ever heard. Matthew Bellamy from Muse is an amazing riff writer, and he’s also one of the most melodic singers, piano players, and frontmen out there. I also like Nick Maybury from Mink. He may be the most badass blues cat playing now. We toured together when I was with Perry, and he would make me sick to my stomach each night because he is that good.
Why do you think the good guitar players these days are getting younger and younger?
Because they now have the means via media and technology to hear and see all the guitar greats any time they want. You can YouTube any artist you can think of, and watch thousands of clips of them performing. I think the kids are soaking it up better and faster than I ever could.
I heard you once played with Les Paul.
I was asked to sit in with him in New York a few years back, and the highlight of my career so far was having the honor of playing with him. That’s where my Les Paul tattoo came from—I asked him to sign me! What can I say? We all owe everything to him.
Why would guitar players dig your style?
I put my heart and my soul into my playing from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed. The reason I live is for the guitar. The guitar has always been my voice. I was given a gift musically, and that’s how I speak to people. I’m much more comfortable speaking with my guitar than having a normal conversation.