Eric Krasno Channels Muddy Waters on 'Blood From a Stone'

As Eric Krasno is well known as a groove-jazz cat for his ongoing work with Soulive and the funk ensemble Lettuce, “Kraz” fans may be surprised that his eclectic second solo effort, Blood from a Stone [Feel Music], features the nastiest-sounding riffs he has ever recorded.
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As Eric Krasno is well known as a groove-jazz cat for his ongoing work with Soulive and the funk ensemble Lettuce, “Kraz” fans may be surprised that his eclectic second solo effort, Blood from a Stone [Feel Music], features the nastiest-sounding riffs he has ever recorded. “Torture” is a fuzzy, wah-drenched blues rocker, “Wicked This Way” is a psychedelic opus, and other heavy cuts—including the single, “Waiting on Your Love”—are designed around stabbing, reverb-edged clean tones. In addition, Blood from a Stone features an instrumental duet with Derek Trucks entitled “Curse Lifter” that will surely make fans of Santana and the Allman Brothers Band get off.

You’re performing at the Warfield tonight with Bill Kreutzman’s Billy & the Kids, essentially channeling Jerry Garcia. What’s the biggest challenge taking that role to perform Grateful Dead music?

The whole thing about playing this music is that it’s a lot more intricate than what you might think, and there’s a lot of really amazing harmony going on. And, man, the catalog is deep. I’ve played about 15 gigs between Billy, Phil Lesh and Friends, and Bob Weir, and I haven’t repeated much music at all. I’m always learning new material.

What’s it like playing with Bob Weir?

It’s amazing. Bob has his own style. With both him and Jerry, as soon as they touch the guitar, you know it’s them. Bobby’s rhythm thing is so sharp. A lot of these songs have all these intricate changes, and Bobby’s voicings are really cool and different. It’s never a barre chord or an open chord—it’s always these crazy inversions that he found on his own.

Can you share the main concept behind your solo album, Blood from a Stone?

I didn’t allow for any boundaries. I experimented with different amps, guitars, and weird sounds. I wanted to focus on songs, but really feature the guitar.

Did you use any references for the sound of the record?

When my songwriting partner Dave Gutter [of the band Rustic Overtones] asked for some sonic examples, I sent him “She’s Alright” from Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud, which is heavy-sounding guitar riffs over heavy grooves. So we started writing a couple of songs in that style, and then we went all over the place. I was also listening to Bobby “Blue” Bland’s Dreamer.

How did you record the album?

We did a lot of it in Maine at Dave’s studio. It’s a little barn where we set up a bunch of gear and tracked to an Otari MX-5050 analog 8-track for the basics, and overdubbed vocals and other stuff on Pro Tools. Most of this record was done organically, because what started out as a writing session ended up as the actual recording.

You said you experimented with different gear, but were some pieces used more than others?

I had a Fender Super Reverb on hand, but I mostly used my ’69 Fender Vibrolux, because I could crank it without blowing out everything else. It was very helpful to have an Xotic RC Booster in front of me for tone shaping, because the amp was usually in another room. I used the Analog Man King of Tone a lot, and a Pigtronix Disnortion with everything turned all the way up is the sound of the solo on “Natalie.” I recorded the guitars for “Waiting on Your Love” direct through an Avalon 737 preamp, but then I re-amped them through the Vibrolux, and cranked it up. I used other effects, but I mostly experimented with gain structure. My main guitar was the same instrument I use onstage, which is the prototype for my Ibanez EKM100 Eric Krasno Signature.

What was the inspiration for your signature guitar?

Early on, I was playing a Strat and a PRS, but I picked up a crappy Sebring hollowbody a few days before the first Soulive rehearsal—just to try one out. I ended up making the first Soulive record with that guitar through a Roland Jazz Chorus. Eventually, I started playing an Ibanez GB-200 George Benson model in Soulive, and, later, John Scofield hooked me up with Ibanez. I was playing an AS200 by then, and when we talked about doing a signature guitar for me, it became a deviation of the AS200 with hotter pickups, a different headstock, a Bigsby, and a few other tweaks—like a bigger neck. That came about because I was working with Derek Trucks many years ago, and he handed me a Gibson Custom Shop remake of a ’59 ES-335 Dot to use on some sessions. The next thing I knew, he sent it to my house. So I got used to that neck, but I liked the sound of the Ibanez. So I sent Derek’s guitar to Ibanez, and they put it through some digital device to match the neck.

Trucks guests on “Curse Lifter”—which I think sounds like a modern take on the Allman Brothers Band’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

That was the vibe. I wanted to have an instrumental track, and when the song started coming together, I realized I had to get Derek on it, so I left a place for him. I recorded the demo a few years ago, overdubbing the harmony guitar part myself. Derek loved the song, and he agreed to play on it while I was working with the Tedeschi Trucks Band at their place in Jacksonville. We set up two amps in one room, did about four or five takes, and I sorted out the best parts afterwards.

It’s wild to hear Trucks with effects.

He doesn’t want to have a pedalboard, because his signature thing is not to have one, but I’ve been trying to convince him to put a tape echo unit on his amp. I went crazy with a Roland Space Echo on “Curse Lifter,” and Alan Evans took it further when he mixed the track.

What’s going on from a musical standpoint? For the bulk of the song, I’m flowing between Am9 and Gm, which makes the melody. I love playing over a two-chord change, because you can open up and spread out. I’m trying to make gradual hints at the two chords using A Dorian and G Dorian while staying in the fifth position. My original harmony idea stayed parallel, but Derek shifted it into something a little bit less deliberate. He said, “If you want this to sound like the Allman Brothers, they didn’t necessarily work in a linear way where it was, say, a third or a fourth apart all the time.” So he’d harmonize with a third, and then a fourth, or even something that didn’t necessarily make harmonic sense—whatever made his part strong enough to stand on its own. In a sense, either line could be the melody. He also suggested that we do some of the pull-offs at the same time.

Overall, there’s more of a rock feel on Blood from a Stone than what we’re used to hearing from you.

I came up listening to Hendrix, Zeppelin, and the Dead, but I was getting into Wes Montgomery and Grant Green before I went to Berklee and got seriously into jazz. At that point, I really dove into Grant Green’s catalogue, and I started checking out Lonnie Smith, Lou Donaldson, and George Benson’s early stuff. I started creating music in that genre, but as Soulive evolved, I started slipping in some psychedelic effects, and now I play way more with a distorted vibe.

The outro solo on the R&B-tinged closing track, “When the Day,” is a fine ending to the album.

There’s some D’Angelo stuff going on that’s crossed with a weird, country-esque chord structure that never quite resolves. That’s a cool progression to solo over—especially live.