A musical renegade with a slew of melodic tricks up his sleeve, Pete Anderson is a skilled picker of most things stringed, and a bountiful songwriter. He won Grammy Awards producing Dwight Yoakam and boasts a lengthy list of credits, including Cisco, Moot Davis, Rosie Flores, Michelle Shocked, Lucinda Williams, Roy Orbison, and kd lang. He owns and operates Dog Bone, a thriving recording studio, and the roots-music label Little Dog Records, situated in the heart of Southern California’s “Burbank Delta.” His first solo CD in seven years, Daredevil, just hit the streets. A raw, swampy blend of R&B, Cajun, spaghetti Western, and honky tonk, this instrumental album is bound to surprise those expecting Anderson’s trademark hillbilly rock.
So how many instruments do you play on the new record?
Let’s see, I play guitar, mandolin, mandola, Dobro, banjo, and harmonica. I made my own version of a hammered dulcimer: I put a guitar on my lap, fretted the high E-string, and trilled on it using a pencil. You can hear this on the “Ballad of Los Barilles.”
Why not just pull in “hired guns”?
It’s a lot easier to communicate my ideas to me, rather than to someone else. Like on the Cisco record: He and I would work on how we wanted a song to be and I would sketch it out. When you bring someone into the picture—let’s say it’s a mandolin player—they want to play something they think other mandolin players will deem cool. I don’t want that; I just want a certain color.
I’ve been making records for so long I can be a full-service producer. The broader the songwriting, the more I can fit in the colors I’m after. I like having a palette with lots of colors that don’t scream “virtuoso required.” I don’t have to perform in that fashion because I’m into American, roots-oriented music, not genre-specific music. The instruments support the song.
What acoustic guitars do you turn to in the studio?
I’ve got an old $90 Harmony archtop that plays really well. I’m infatuated with it. I think the frets have a lot to do with its sound. They sort of “tink” as opposed to “plunk” and create a tone I love. I also have a beautiful herringbone D-28 I ordered from Martin almost 20 years ago. They built it to my specs with a low-profile neck. It’s great on the real strummy stuff. There’s an old Guild I converted to a high-strung tuning. My multi-purpose guitar is a 00-style signature model Larrivée. It’s got a really scratchy, clawy tone. I worked sounds from some of these acoustics in to the loops you hear in Daredevil.
What instrument did you start on?
I saw Elvis Presley on television when I was a little boy. You know how when you’re a kid, grownups always ask what you want to be? In the ’50s, there weren’t a lot of choices: doctor, fireman, and policeman. After I saw Elvis, I said, “I want that job.” What attracted me most, in retrospect, was the sound of the guitar. I loved Scotty Moore, and it just struck a chord that’s stayed with me my whole life. I bought a guitar on my own when I was 16, a $50 German-made classical, and started down the trail. Initially, I was inspired by early Dylan records, and then I worked backwards into serious folk and blues.
Any parting words?
The biggest thing I can impart to anybody tackling guitar these days is this: Be subservient to the song and think like a musician who plays guitar, rather than a guitar player who is a musician. •