Leroy Powell

Leroy Powell is the guitarist for the .357s—the band that backs country outlaw (and Waylon’s son) Shooter Jennings. Powell has recorded two discs with Jennings—Put the O Back in Country and the recent Electric Rodeo—as well as a self-titled solo album, and half his riffs smell like beer and honky-tonks, while the other half sound like redneck cousins of Led Zeppelin.
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“My dad showed me how to play guitar when I was ten, and I learned chords and fingerpicking by doing songs by Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash,” says Powell. “Then, I started reading tab from guitar magazines, and I focused on playing Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” It seems like my whole musical perspective kind of spurred off of those three songs.”

A lot of the cuts on Electric Rodeo sound as if they could have been recorded in 1975.

That’s where our love lies. We wanted to make an album that was way more southern rock and way more country than anyone is playing right now. I suppose, in a subconscious way, a lot of the best southern-rock and country bands were playing in that era.

However, you also manage to capture a number of different vibes—it’s not all about southern rock and country.

Well, there’s Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, and then there’s Jerry Reed, Roy Nichols, and Neil Young. All of those guys influenced me, and, eventually, you start slopping everything together. It’s all paint that sticks on the canvas—I’m just taking it out of different buckets.

Do you have a favorite style to play?

I’m comfortable in just about any venue, and I’m really into the subtleties of each style—all the little details that you need to nail. Those things are the important parts. You can wank all day on the guitar, and screw a song up so that no one will listen to it.

When you play live, how do you pull off all the different sounds that you get on the records?

Volume! When I play clean through my ’72 Fender Vibrolux, it’s the cleanest sound known to man. I love that amp’s “cocaine reverb.” It goes on for days. But then, I can crank up the volume so loud that the amp sounds like it’s going to explode—and that’s when I play the big rockin’ styles. It’s from one extreme to the other. Everything else, I do with my fingers.

What drew you to play such an unconventional “country” guitar as a James Trussart steel hollowbody?

I love the sound of my Gibson Dobro, and to get that type of sound at the volumes I need to play at, I have to go to the Trussart. Those guitars have a really unique sound—especially for overdriven slide parts.

You’re also playing some pedal-steel on the road.

I’ve only been playing a short time. Robby Turner from Waylon’s band showed me some stuff, and my friend Steve Fishell—who played with Emmylou Harris—sat down and made me a kind of instructional DVD that I could work on. It’s a hard instrument, but it’s one of my favorites. Basically, we needed to have more country in the set, and the pedal-steel produces a sound that instantly makes you weep when you hear it.