BY BOB CIANCI
“I DON’T EVER WANT TO HEAR ANOTHER CLOWN PLAYING
a bunch of SRV and Clapton licks at warp speed over some Texas
groove again,” exclaims Wilson T. King. The 39-year-old English
guitarist, has turned heads and ruffled a few feathers among
the blues cognoscenti with his first CD release, Follow Your First
Mind [Interscope Digital], a startlingly deep, raw, and stark
recording that breathes fresh life into the blues genre, while
simultaneously acknowledging and paying respect to the
King counts writer Charles Bukowski
and painters Van Gogh and Caravaggio
as influences, and cites astral projection
and quantum physics as having informed
his music. Deep stuff, yes, but most definitely
in keeping with his penchant for
pushing the blues envelope in fresh and
exciting directions. King spent years slogging
it out making records with British
indie rock bands, playing myriad venues
throughout England, Europe, and the
U.S.—but the deep blues was never far
away and eventually called him back
What was it about the guitar that first pulled
you in, and who were your influences?
I can remember being five years old
and playing the Allman Brothers’ At the
Fillmore East. That was the beginning of
my journey with both the blues and the
guitar. I realized from an early age that
you can’t fake the blues, and that’s what
pulled me in. Then, when I was around
12, it was Jimi Hendrix who for the next
five years was stuck on my turntable. My
other influences were ’60s and ’70s Clapton,
Santana, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy,
and the three Kings. As for their influence
on my playing, I do a lot of wild but
accurate bending like Hendrix, Gilmour,
and Albert King.
Is it true that you view the blues as a sort
of cosmic force?
To me the blues is in everything. It’s
a force and energy that gets the neural networks and the heart resonating as one.
It is in Bukowski’s poetry and Caravaggio’s
paintings. It’s not something we invented—
it’s an energy the early blues players
discovered. It’s one of pure escape and exhilaration,
and it just reinforces my belief that
the blues, along with all great art, is our
greatest contribution to history. Hendrix’s
“Machine Gun-Part 2,” for example, seems
so otherworldly, but at the same time you
know he is down in the vortex kicking the
dark into the light. The guy was a one-man
Hadron Collider, smashing atoms with his
Strat and Marshall. John Coltrane with “A
Love Supreme,” and Van Gogh on his canvases,
are similar in that they managed a
duality of expression. That’s the feeling that
I have always tried to tap into as a songwriter
and guitarist, and it comes straight from the
blues. “Vigilante Man,” from my CD, has
that deep, dark vibe.
You have said that you reject the “karaoke”
aspects of modern blues.
Blues has become highly constrained, like
classical music. It’s the fake growling-likea-
bear blues voice; the endless “Crossroads,”
“Goin’ Down,” and “Red House” rewrites;
the terrible lyrics; and the lack of original
ideas that I dislike. I love those songs, but
how about doing something original? The
blues to me was always about taking risks
and kicking open new musical doors, which
is why I tried to make a record that looks
forward. For example, for the track “Hurricane,”
I wrote a Radiohead-style bass line,
but the guitar is total blues.
To help me avoid the clichés that all of
us tend to fall into as soon as we pick up a
guitar, I try to start with a great lyric and/or
bass line, which will inspire my guitar playing
to new heights. Some of the guitar
playing on the album is wild and very
freeform, and some is super controlled, but
it all began with the lyrics and the bass lines.
Beyond that, I’m very open-minded about
the writing process, and some of the songs
come from jams and are recorded real quickly.
What are your main guitars?
My two main guitars are ’69 and late-’80s
Fender Strats. Both have DiMarzio Fast Track
pickups in the bridge slot, which give me
lots of tonal flexibility. I think a Strat is a
harder guitar than a Gibson to get a good
tone from, but when you do get the right
tone, it brings out the style of the player
more. In my experience, the more a guitar
is played the better it feels and sounds. A
really great guitar is one that makes you want
What do you string them with?
I use Ernie Ball Power Slinky sets, gauged
.011-.048, with the action on the guitars set
high so I can bend like crazy.
Vibrato is a big part of your sound, but you
don’t use a vibrato bar. Why not?
I get a slide-like vibrato sound without a
vibrato bar, so I never felt the need for one.
Using my fingers sounds more natural to my
ears, and it blends into my other lines more
seamlessly. Also, about four years ago I began
playing without a pick, which gives me more
control over dynamics and attack, and makes
everything more fluid. I use all of my righthand
fingers other than my pinky, and I often
attack the strings quite aggressively with my thumb when bending notes, and use my
middle finger for fast legato lines and some
bends. So, to a large extent my tone comes
directly from my fingers.
That tone is downright scary in its intensity.
Are there particular amps or pedals that are also
important to your sound?
I play through a Marshall JCM800
Anniversary head that was modded without
my permission by my local amp repair
guy. He removed all of the “modern circuitry”
and promised me it would sound
better, which, thankfully, it did. I set all of
the controls straight up except Gain, which
is up full. I also have a Fulltone Full-Drive
2 pedal that has two settings that determine
how much gain hits the amp. For solos I hit
the Boost button, which has a lot of
midrange and really cuts, but at the same
time provides a full range of overtones and
harmonics. I also use a Fulltone Clyde
Is that the rig you used on the album?
Yes. I mike the Marshall cab with Shure
SM57 and Sennheiser MD 421 dynamic mics,
positioned slightly off axis about an inch
from the speaker, and chose whichever mic
or blend of mics works best for a particular
track. From there the signals go through
high-end mic preamps and into an Empirical
Labs Fatso, which gives me two channels
of analog compression and tape emulation.
I only use about .5dB of compression, but I
use the Warmth function to subdue any shrill
high end, such as you sometimes get with a
wah. Interestingly, however, on some of the
demos I played through IK Multimedia
AmpliTube models—instead of the amp—
running into the Fatso, and they sounded
super close to the Marshall.
What did you record to?
I recorded to Pro Tools, with no overdubs
apart from one track on which I wanted two
guitars soloing at the same time. I also produced
and mixed the record. It was mastered
at Abbey Road, where the tracks were run
through a vintage EMI desk.
How does a guitarist go about finding his or
her own sound?
I think it’s just a case of not being afraid
to try something different. The only rule I
adhere to is that there are no rules—the song
always comes first. We all have learned a ton
of stock licks, but just one slight change in
timing or phrasing can create something
new. Remember, there’s no point in slavishly
copying Clapton, SRV, or Hendrix. Sure, learn
their moves, but try and take the sounds and
Where do you see and hear blues music and
blues guitar going in the next five to ten years,
and what will be your role?
I want to see people take more risks,
like Chris Whitley, the White Stripes, and
the Black Keys have over the last ten years.
The blues is about freedom of expression,
and not about feeling artistically trapped.
The critical acclaim my album has received
has been a huge inspiration, so I have
started work on the second. In fact, the
first track, “Born Into This,” has just been
roughly mixed, and one critic said it
sounded as though Jimi, the Allmans, and
Rage Against the Machine were jamming