There’s a reason superstar artists such as Prince, Justin Timberlake, and Rihanna have all featured Mike Scott in their bands—it’s the same reason super-producers such as Timbaland and Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis have featured the guitarist on records by everyone from Janet Jackson, Lionel Richie, and Boyz II Men to Michael Jackson and Beyoncé. That reason? Mike Scott is funky.
On the latest episode of No Guitar Is Safe podcast (listen via the link below), I visit Scott at his home studio in Orlando, FL, where the dynamic guitarist plugs in his favorite Paul Reed Smith hollowbody and shares—in stories, in music, in his own licks, and in guitar jams with me—how he arose from the Washington D.C. go-go and R&B scene to become one of the world’s most in-demand funk players.
There’s that word again: funk.
In any other context, it’s usually negative—i.e., “funk-y accommodations,” or “an emotional funk.” But in music, whether describing a riff, song, bassist, drummer, or guitarist, the F-word nearly always connotes an irresistibly pleasing groove and vibe.
And "irresistibly groovy" is the perfect way to describe Scott's guitar playing. (Go ahead—try to sit still and not at least tap your foot when you hear Scott play on this podcast.)
Scott’s big break in the world of groove music came after he moved to Minneapolis to work in the region’s cover band circuit. At first, times were tough. With no permanent residence of his own, Scott would literally stash food in a snow bank that acted as his refrigerator.
“In Minnesota,” Scott reminds us in the podcast, “a snow bank in October will be there until the Spring thaw.”
Left: Mike Scott on stage with super-producer Timbaland (left) and
Justin Timberlake. Co-guitarist Skip Dorsey is in the background.
Luckily, word of Scott’s great guitar feel and commanding stage presence soon got out, and after paying his dues in the Twin Cities for a year or more, he got a call to come to a jam at Paisley Park, the recording studio owned by Prince.
“That first day, there were a few of us just sitting around with guitars and amps, just like you and I are right now,” Scott tells me during our interview, “and Prince told me to take a solo. Man, I went for it. I tried to tear the ass out of that thing.”
A few days of jamming at Paisley later, Scott found himself on a tour bus heading to his first gig with Prince, though he was never formerly hired.
“I finally went up to Prince and said, ‘Um…we haven’t even discussed terms or anything,’ ” says Scott. “Prince called someone over and said to him, ‘Hey, write Mike a check.’ I looked at the check and I was shocked. I was like, ‘Am I supposed to pay the whole band with this?’ It was the most money I had ever seen.”
At his second gig with Prince, Scott performed a huge concert in D.C. It was a sweet homecoming.
“Opportunities like that only come up once in awhile,” says Scott of the night he cancelled a club gig last-minute to make that first jam with Prince. Scott ended up playing with Prince for ten years and has gone on to tour with Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Jermaine Jackson, and other stars. “An opportunity like that is like a window coming by—you get only one shot to jump through it. If you don’t go for it, that window may never come by again.”
As inspiring as Mike Scott’s story is, it’s a hundred times more interesting to hear how he plays guitar.
Listen to Mike Scott’s complete interview and jam with me on No Guitar Is Safe by opening the Podcasts app on your iPhone and searching for “No Guitar Is Safe,” or by simply clicking the link below. You can also find No Guitar Is Safe on Soundcloud or any other site/app that hosts podcasts.