WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT, YOU’VE HEARD Les Dudek’s guitar playing thousands of times. The Florida guitar slinger has been on the scene for many a famous session and countless bigname tours, but his name has never become the household word that many of his collaborators’ have. The names Dudek has been linked to include Allman, Miller, Nicks, Scaggs, and Cher—all of whom have called upon him to add his muscular leads and slick slide work to their recordings and gigs. And the guy is still at it, playing better than ever. Although his latest release, Freestyle! [E Flat], is from 2003, Dudek has an album’s worth of new material slated for a 2009 release.
How did you end up playing with the Allman Brothers?
It was right after Duane passed away. The keyboard player from my local band, Peter Celeste, knew Dickey Betts from Florida. Peter and I went up to Macon, Georgia, and I ended up jamming with the Brothers. Dickey would cut some stuff and then ask me what I thought. I gave him some pointers on what I thought would sound good, and after a while he said, “Why don’t you just come out here and play it with me?” I found myself out there in the studio, standing where Duane would have stood. It was a really magical, euphoric moment to be there with the original Allman Brothers band, minus Duane of course. That was probably one of the highs of my career. I ended up playing on “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica,” which I co-wrote with Dickey.
Your slide playing has some of the same great phrasing that Duane was known for.
Duane and I grew up in the same area, at the same time, listening to the same stuff, and that’s why our styles are similar. We both listened to a lot of Ry Cooder. Also, we didn’t use a pick. We used our fingers with the glass slide bottle. That helps the tone. It’s not as metallic. It sings better.
After playing on the Brothers and Sisters album, why didn’t you join the band?
At that time, Dickey was kind of into doing his own thing and not into playing with another guitarist. Some of the guys in the band wanted me in there but Dickey wasn’t really into that happening. So, I started playing with Boz Scaggs.
You played on his Silk Degrees record—another huge hit. That in turn led to hits with Steve Miller.
Yeah, it was pretty intense there for a while. I was touring with Boz and we were on the road with Steve Miller for the Joker tour. At the end of that tour, Miller invited some guys from Boz’s band and from James Cotton’s band—who were also on the road with us—up to Seattle to cut a bunch of tracks. He would cut them all and then see which ones worked best together. Fly Like an Eagle, Book of Dreams, and Living in the 20th Century were all from those sessions. It was great—phenomenal. I grew up listening to Steve, and we had real similar styles from the get go. To actually be playing and recording with him was a great honor.
You were asked to join Journey around that time. Did you ever regret not taking that gig?
No. I absolutely thought they were all great players, but I didn’t hear great tunes. If they had had the tunes that they would eventually write with Steve Perry, I’m sure I would have felt differently. That was the exact time that Columbia offered me a deal as a solo artist, and I knew I had to do that.
Unlike some players from your era, you sound like you keep getting better. Is playing guitar still enjoyable for you?
Oh yeah. I love it. I’ve got a new record that I feel great about—I’m just trying to decide on a label. I have a new song called “Take My Money” that’s like a Little Feat song with a lot of slide that’s blowing people away. My old catalog was out of print for years and now people can not only get all of my solo records on my website, but they can get autographed copies if they want. It’s a good time.