Michelle Malone

Over the last 25 years, roots-rocker “Moanin’” Michelle Malone has averaged 200 days per year on the road, and her sensual, raspy vocals—think Janis Joplin meets Bonnie Raitt—and energetic guitar work have earned her a place onstage with the likes of ZZ Top, Johnny Winter, Indigo Girls, and John Mayer. Through the inevitable ups and downs—including a 1990 major-label deal with Arista that went south—Malone has consistently thrown her hands in the air and screamed joyfully, rather than clinging to the rollercoaster’s handlebar and waiting until the ride ends. Still, the wild trip has required a few adjustments.

“After I got through licking my wounds and thinking about quitting, I started another band, and I played all of the guitars,” she says.

Malone also started her own SBS record label, and her ninth studio album, Sugarfoot, demonstrates how she has become a master at adding variety to her energetic mix of blues and Americana by intertwining acoustic textures, saturated power chords, and alternatively raucous and sinewy leads.

One of her biggest epiphanies as a guitarist came when she took the plunge into playing slide (check out “Tighten Up the Springs” on Sugarfoot for a taste).

“I played for 25 years before I picked up the slide,” she recalls. “I don’t want to say I was bored, but I wasn’t as creative as I had been previously. I had tried to play slide off and on for years, but it never really took. Bonnie Raitt, Lowell George, and Mick Taylor were so amazing at it, and I didn’t sound like them, so I didn’t want to try. Then, when I was recording Stomping Ground in 2003, a few songs screamed for slide, and there wasn’t anybody else to do it, so I did. I thought, ‘Well, it sounds like me, so that’s okay.’ That’s when playing got exciting again.”

Malone’s favorite slide guitars are a ’58 Supro Dual Tone and a ’59 Supro Belmont, plugged into either a ’58 Supro Dual Tone amp with an 8" speaker, or a ’59 Supro Super with a 6" speaker. She also plugs her ’73 Stratocaster, mid-’90s Martin D-28, and ’91 Gibson Everly Brothers acoustic into the Supro amps.

“The Martin and Supros rock like a mother,” she enthuses. “They sound better than my Strat through a Marshall Super Lead. The Supro doesn’t compress and kill the sound if I hit it hard.”

Asked how she wrestled the slide into submission, Malone says, “An open tuning opens the whole world up. It’s ridiculously simple. You can hardly hit a bad note in an open tuning. That’s really the only secret—that and keeping it simple. A lot of players are more worried about impressing the audience than communicating with them. Somebody will always be able to play better than you, but if you’re really in the moment, and the audience is smiling and laughing, then that’s the best time everyone can have—and entertaining people is what it’s all about.”