PETE ANDERSON FIRST GAINED NOTORIETY AS the Tele-wielding twangmaster backing country superstar Dwight Yoakam from the mid ’80s onward. In his spare time, he gained additional acclaim for his fine work producing acts such as Roy Orbison, Michelle Shocked, and the Meat Puppets, and by the mid ’90s he’d also formed his own record label, Little Dog Records. Anderson’s fourth solo album for the label, Even Things Up, marks his most pronounced foray into the blues yet, and finds him throwing down an impressively varied selection of smoky riffs, wiry leads, and slippery slide licks on 12 old-school romps.
What prompted your move toward the blues on Even Things Up?
The first thing that inspired me—besides Elvis and Scotty Moore—was the blues. When I started to actively play music with my friends, it was all blues. We played folk blues and Chicago blues: Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and all that kind of stuff. Although I’ve had success as a guitar player and a producer in the country world, as an artist and songwriter left to my own devices, I’m not a country player. I wanted to do something that made sense to me, and concentrate on my career as a performer, rather than make a record to appease what people think I should be doing.
How did the songs come together?
I’d written a few songs and they were just kind of lying there. They weren’t in a genre yet, and could be twisted in any direction. “One and Only Lonely Fool” was more like an oldies Elvis country song initially, but then I thought about doing it as sort of a T-bone Walker or B.B. King thing. So I turned it around and it was like, “Wow, this really works.” That just set me off. First and foremost I wanted the guitar playing to represent the styles of the guys I grew up listening to.
The solo in “Booker Twine” has some pretty badass hybrid picking.
There was an old song called “Twine Time” by Alvin Cash and the Crawlers, and then of course there was Booker T. & the MGs, and I wanted to do something that had a little bit of that vibe. The solo was all improvised, and once I got the melody—the signature lick and the way it goes in the bridge—I could have tried to just play more like Steve Cropper, who also had a Tele and did poppy stuff, but I guess my basic right-hand technique kind of took over.
You also throw down a pretty chewy slide solo on “That’s How Trouble Starts.”
I’ve played slide almost as long as I’ve played guitar, but for 20 years with Dwight there weren’t really a lot of opportunities to play it. I wanted to resurrect that and do it more, so I created a dedicated slide guitar. I took a Reverend Flatroc and put a Gibson-scale neck and two Seymour Duncan humbuckers that look like Filter’Trons on it. I lifted the nut to raise the action, put some flatwound strings on, tuned it to open G, and then capoed up to A. I also put a little piece of metal behind whichever fret I was capoing at to create a zero fret and keep the action high. When I started using that, I was amazed with the sound of the flatwounds. Without the winding on the strings, you get a really clean sound. To get more of a grinding sound, I add in another string and put two intervals together.
You also have a new Reverend signature model. How did that come about?
I was touring with an artist on my label and we were doing really hard honky-tonk stuff. When I made the first record with him, I assumed I would use my Telecaster, but it just didn’t work because it was all late-’50s Web Pearce and Hank Williams stuff with tetrachords [Ed. note: A tetrachord is a four-note scale segment.]. Most of Dwight’s career he played triads—three-note chords with lots of dominant 7s—with chicken-pickin’ and steel licks. But in that late-’50s-style honky-tonk period I was playing more 6ths, 13ths, and 9ths. It was a little more swingy and jazzy, and it opened up a whole different sound palette. Within that, the tones of the guitar were a little different, too—a little rounder. And the Telecaster is kind of that ’60s Bakersfield sound. Everyone associates the Tele with country music, but I don’t think it was as big a player in ’57 and ‘58. People were using Gibsons. So I had this Epiphone Joe Pass guitar that was my faux jazz guitar, and I started morphing it into something different. I put my higher frets on it, put a Bigsby on it, and then put P-90s in it. I also put little sound posts in it because it howled. I finally got it to where it was pretty much the guitar to use for that type of stuff, but it had a lot of lamination so it had the sustain of a set of car keys—it was like playing a clothesline. I was like, “Man, what if I had a guitar like this that had some inherent fidelity to it because of the wood’s sustain?” So I sort of went on a quest. I went to Epiphone and they said, “Yeah, we’d love to do that.” But then it turned out that some of the things I wanted to change didn’t fit into their program. And then I had a good friend at Gibson and they were interested in doing something, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t know anything about Reverend guitars, but I’d met Joe Naylor once at NAMM. He’s also from Detroit, and his shop used to be on the corner of the street I grew up on, so I called him up out of the blue when he was at the NAMM show in Austin, and asked if he would be interested. He said, “Yeah, I think I would. Come on down to the show and bring your stuff.” So I took my drawings and I flew down and said, “Can you do this?” “Yep.” “Can you do that?” “Yep.” So we started, and he stuck by his word. He builds his guitars in Korea, and he just kept hammering on those guys to get it right. He stuck with me on everything I’d wanted to do, and he also came up with his own bracing style to knock down the feedback.
Do your signature guitars have Reverend’s standard Bass Contour control?
I have the Bass Contour control, and it works best for me on the slide guitar, because I can thin it out or really overdrive it, depending on the position I’m in. Usually I have it cranked, though. I’ve also experimented with other stuff. The latest thing I’ve done is put in Duncan P-100 pickups—they’re like noiseless P-90s. I can play the P-90 sound, then pull a pot up for a humbucker sound. I’ve got pushpull pots on all three knobs: One puts them out of phase, one adds the second coil in the neck pickup, and one adds the second coil in the bridge pickup. But the coolest part is that I can pull it out of phase, put the pickup selector in the middle position, and pop up the back coil on the lead pickup—it’s totally the T-Bone Walker sound. T-Bone had three P- 90s. The middle one was wound out of phase, and he used one of his three volume knobs to bring the volume up on that out-of-phase pickup. It wasn’t committed fully to the outof- phase sound, though—he could vary it. I can get that sound really strong with this setup.
Did you use the signature Reverend on most of the album?
I used the Reverend prototype on “Booker Twine,” “One and Only Lonely Fool,” “Stop Me,” and “That’s How Trouble Starts.” I used the Epiphone prototype that started the whole project on “West Side Blues,” which is sort of a Wes Montgomery-type thing I play mostly with my thumb. I also used a Reverend Volcano flying V on “Even Things Up,” and a little late-’50s Harmony Stratotone with those gold foil-like toaster pickups on “Room with a View.”
Which amps did you use?
Everything is done through my Line 6 POD. I was very fortunate to get them to model my Silvertone 1482 and my blackface Deluxe—the one I used for touring and some recording with Dwight. It had an EV speaker and the largest transformers. The Silvertone is a killer amp that I’ve used on all my slide stuff. I’ve A/B’d these POD models with the real amps, and they nailed it. We also used a Demeter RVB-1 Reverbulator post-EQ, as well as an old Boss DM-2 analog delay box.
Do you do anything else to the tracks to get more of an analog vibe?
I used to always send my Pro Tools tracks through an old Studer 16-track tape deck just as an analog “effects” box, but they’ve really improved the sound of these programs that imitate tape machines. There’s an inexpensive tape-saturation software called TapeHead that I did a blindfold test with and picked over the Studer deck and a couple other software programs every time, so I use that now. As much as I love the image and romance of the tape machine, if I can fool myself in a blindfold test with a piece of software, there’s not really any reason to keep the tape machine.