What’s the impetus for the sound of your records?
I was trying to figure out how they got that sound on old records such as Pat Hare’s Sun recordings. I began using multiple microphones, and pulling them back from the amps to get that roomy sound. But you can lose punch by overdoing the room sound, so now I use a combination of close and ambient mic positions. The most important thing is using real ambience—rather than signal processing—which I get by feeding the original guitar, drums, sax, vocals, and any other tracks that need air through an amp in a big room with a microphone placed ten to 20 feet away. Then, I’ll mix that sound with the drier, punchier close-miked tracks. It sounds better than using reverb tanks or digital reverb—though I sometimes use my Roland Space Echo on those tracks before the signal hits the amp. I think delay sounds fatter than reverb. Reverb washes things out, while delay, when used right, makes them stand out.
Speaking of the old way, “Better Way” is an 11-bar blues.
I was thinking of Jimmy Reed for that one. I once wrote a song called “One Bar Short” that we did on a Kid Ramos record, and the guys in the studio were scratching their heads trying to figure out what was going on. I kept telling them it’s because it’s “one bar short” [laughs]. It doesn’t matter to me how many bars there are—you have to follow the melody and the singer.
What gear do you use to get your killer guitar tone?
I have two early-’50s Harmony H44 Stratotone solidbodies, a Harmony H62 hollowbody, a Telecaster, and a ’49 Gibson ES-125. I use a custom set of GHS strings—gauged .012, .015, .018, .032, .042, and .052—and Clayton .80 picks. My main amps are an early-’50s Valco Bronson and a Valco McKinney—each with one 10" speaker. For effects, I have a Line 6 POD, a Roland RE-201 Space Echo, an SIB Echodrive, and an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man. Sometimes, I run a line out from the Valco to the Space Echo, and then into a modified Fender Super Reverb with one 15" speaker.