With his second album, Trouble [Provoge}, Scott McKeon
has deftly pivoted from the straight blues approach of his 2007 debut
Can’t Take No More by tastefully couching his Texas-infused playing
in a more sophisticated, tuneful style. A pretty big leap considering
McKeon is just 23 years old. Still, the young Brit isn’t exactly a greenhorn,
as he’s recently garnered opening slots with Eric Clapton and
Sheryl Crow, and he made his debut on U.K. national television when
he was seven.
Has your playing changed since your debut?
I think I’ve gotten a bit funkier with
my playing as well as with my tunes.
Song-wise, I’ve always been into non-guitar
music, like Questlove and the Roots
and lots of ’70s soul music. On Trouble I
did a version of the Babyface tune “Talk
to Me,” and I’ve always liked that tune
because it was R&B, but with cool blues
guitar licks played over the top. That’s
really appealing to me—pop song structure,
but with a solo. Sonically, I’ve been
getting into getting Stevie Wonder’s tones
from the ’70s, like his keyboard bass and
clavinet sounds rather than the straight
blues guitar sound, so I’ve been using
effects such as an Electro-Harmonix
Micro Synth and a Roger Mayer Octavia.
Trouble has a ton of fuzz on it. How did you
get into that?
Jimi Hendrix and Doyle Bramhall II
turned me on to how cool fuzz is. I made
a fuzz pedal a couple of years ago from a
schematic I found online. It’s basically
the classic Fuzz Face circuit. I was surprised
that it worked considering my
soldering skills, but it’s my main fuzz
now. I call it the Sweet Fuzz.
Do you play differently with a fuzz pedal
as opposed to, say, a Tube Screamer?
Yeah. When you dig in the attack is
more pronounced with a fuzz pedal, and
it sustains more—but you can’t really play
complex chords with it. Still, there are
crazy effects and weird intervals that you
simply can’t do with a Tube Screamer. I
also find fuzz to be inspirational. For example,
Trouble’s first track, “The Girl,” has a
riff that came out right after I plugged into
my fuzz—sort of this Hendrix/Kravitztype
of thing. “Broken Man” is another
one that is pretty reliant on that thick fuzz
Robbie McIntosh played on “Scarecrow”
and “So Much More” on the new record. What
was it like working with him?
He really opened my world up. Before
I met him, I just wanted to play blues
[laughs]. The amazing thing is, Robbie’s
not a flashy player. It’s the library of experience
and styles that he can draw from
and, most importantly, put to use when
he plays on a tune. It’s amazing. When
he came in the studio, he had never heard
“So Much More,” but he sat down and
came up with the coolest guitar part and
executed it in one take.
In nearly every photo of you, you’re playing
a Stratocaster. Are you exclusively a Strat
Yeah, I’ve played one since I was four.
My parents took me to the West End
musical The Buddy Holly Story and that
was where I first saw one. I came home
and said, “That’s the guitar I want!” I’m
still playing the same ’62 my dad bought
me when I was 11—although, I think he
bought it for himself. I did use a Tele on
the tune “I Can Tell” from the new album,
Do you use all of the pickup settings on the
Yeah. Messing with the controls is a
habit for me—I do it even when I’m not
plugged into an amp. For the warm Strat
thing, I go for the neck and middle setting
and turn the tone and volume
controls down a bit. Oftentimes with the
fuzz, I’m on the bridge pickup, and I try
and make it sound like a Gibson through
a Marshall by rolling back the tone control
slightly. When I use the Octavia, I’ll
use the front pickup with the tone rolled
all the way off for a Stevie Wonder synthlike
What’s on your pedalboard?
From my guitar I hit my homemade
fuzz, an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, a
Keeley Katana boost, the Mayer Octavia,
Fulltone Deja Vibe and Clyde wah pedals,
and a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. I run
my wah after the fuzz for a more exaggerated
sound when the fuzz is on, otherwise
the wah gets sort of drowned out.
Did you take lessons?
Yeah, but they were classical lessons
when I was really young. When I got older
my dad showed me the basics of playing
rock and roll on the electric guitar with
stuff by Elvis and Buddy Holly. And I realize
its quite cliché, but when I first saw
Stevie Ray Vaughan I was blown away.
When you’re ten years old, seeing someone
play with that much power is pretty
moving. I was also big into Doyle
Bramhall’s albums Welcome and Jellycream
when I was 14. I loved the sound and production
of them, from the drums to the guitar tones. Now I’m really into Derek
Trucks and have shared some bills with him.
He’s the most humble guy you’ll ever meet,
but when he starts playing it’s unbelievable.
He wanted to jam and I just thought to myself,
“After he’s done, what am I going to do?”
When you sit down to practice do you break
down techniques or do you just jam?
I’ve never sat down and practiced scales
or broken down each element of my playing.
I don’t like to over analyze stuff. I can’t
really read music and I don’t know many
chord names, although I know I should learn
more theory. I was always scared it would
interfere with playing from the heart. I don’t
know that for sure, but a lot of my favorite
musicians from Hendrix to SRV to Michael
Jackson couldn’t read or write music.
Do you practice with a metronome?
Yeah, I began using a click track a couple
of years ago when I first started recording.
In the studio your time gets put under
a microscope so you need to have things
together. Now I think I can play to a click
track and push or pull the feel and play all
around the beat.
What amps did you use to track Trouble?
I used a Fender Quad Reverb, a Fender
75 into a Marshall 4x12, a Vox AC30, and a
Fender Vibroverb. We miked them all, and
then mixed and matched when mixing. I
must say, in my head, I thought that was the
best way to do it—but in reality having all
of those amps available in a mix was just too
much. There are too many options and too
many frequencies if you use them all. I think
it’s better to focus on getting one cool tone.
I found that you could get so many frequencies
going that there isn’t any room for other
instruments. I also used IK Multimedia
AmpliTube and Native Instruments Guitar
Rig blended with a miked amp for a few
What are you using live?
I’ve really gotten into using one amp: a
Fender Vibroverb. I used to do the multiamp
thing. I would even take an amp and
put it in a back room at the venue to be
ambient miked for the P.A. It sounded cool,
but it’s a lot of work. Plus, you should be
focusing on having a good gig, not trying to
hunt down a bathroom or closet to put your
Do you crank the Vibroverb?
No, I’ve actually been playing the amp
quieter than I used to. I have the volume set
to where the amp barely breaks up when I
hit it hard and I use my pedals for any distortion
after that. I use just a touch of reverb,
but I’m more of a delay guy.
How tweaky do you get about your tone?
I go through stages of being fussy about
little things like batteries and cables and
what pedal goes where in the signal chain,
but then I remind myself that Albert King
didn’t care about his cables. He plugged into
what he had and he made it sound good and
there was no mistaking—what you heard
was coming from him.