Shane Theriot On the Terror of Trio Recording

“I’ve always been enamored with trio recordings, but I’ve never been brave enough to try to do one myself.”
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“I’ve always been enamored with trio recordings, but I’ve never been brave enough to try to do one myself.”

That might sound surprising coming from a guitarist like Shane Theriot, because fear has never really been part of his game. The Louisiana native worked for years with “N’awlins” royalty, the Neville Brothers. He got thrown into the deep end of the jazz pool when he went on the road to play bass for Larry Carlton with no rehearsal. He landed the gig as music director for Live from Daryl’s House, where he arranges and charts out tunes for the diverse guests who play alongside Daryl Hall, again, with little or no rehearsal. And he’s also the MD for the Daryl Hall and John Oates live band. How scary can it really be to do a trio record?

“Oh, it’s scary, man,” he laughs. “It’s hard not to feel like you’re all alone.”

But Theriot dove right in anyway, making a trio record—one guitar, bass, and drums (albeit with “little ear candy overdubs here and there”)—entitled Still Motion [Shose]. It’s a beautiful-sounding record that’s rich with dynamics, grooves, and inventive playing—all with plenty of room to breathe. Theriot cut the tracks with three different rhythm sections in three different cities—playing some bass himself along the way—but the album sounds completely cohesive, with Theriot’s big tones, tasty phrasing, and unexpected note choices being the glue that holds it all together.

You are an insanely busy guy. How did you find the time to make this record?

It wasn’t easy. I cut some stuff with Jim Keltner a few years back that I had been sitting on. I also did some things in New Orleans with a rhythm section. Ultimately, it came down to the support from my musician friends. John Scofield is my neighbor here in New York, and Leni and Mike Stern are good friends. We’re always bouncing ideas off each other, and they were really pushing me to finish this record. So I made up my mind and forced myself to get it done.

What attracted you to the trio concept?

When I listen to somebody who I consider to be a master—like John Abercrombie—playing with a trio, it just seems so fearless. He can maneuver the space, and get the listener involved. Johnny Vidacovich, a famous New Orleans drummer who is on this record, told me when we cut the tracks, “Don’t put anything else on there! Leave it.” He said it’s the spaces in between that are pulling you in. When you play a note, it’s ten times more effective because it’s coming out of nothing. I never really thought about it like that.

How much overdubbing did you do?

Not much. On “Yerba Mate Blues” I added a little bit of acoustic. On “Big Wig,” the things you hear in the background that sound like keyboard are me playing lap-steel through a Free the Tone Flight Time delay. It’s tricky for me, because I sort of have a producer’s ear, and I can always hear lots of parts that will sound good. I was determined to keep the overdubs to a minimum, though, and there are never more than two parts at any one time. A lot of it, like “F Thing,” is just one guitar for the whole song.

Your tones on this record are very clean for the most part. What gear did you rely on?

I’ve been into clean guitar tones lately. On “Iridescence,” I used my 1959 Gibson ES-330, and that guitar really has a soul of its own. It has P-90s, and those give you bark and bite, but also this glassiness and bell-like sound. “Big Wig” was my battered green Hamer Daytona that I’ve had for years—it’s like an old friend. “Yerba Mate Blues” was my Strat-style guitar that was built by my friend Gerard Melancon, who is a luthier in Louisiana. I call him the “Cajun Sadowsky.” I also used a purple Classic Artist T that he built on a few tunes, including “Cut and Dried.” For “F Thing,” “The Water Was Cool,” “Perfect, and “Mid-City Ditty,” I played an Ibanez JSM100 that was a birthday gift from John Scofield.

For amps, I used my 1971 Marshall Super Lead for “Big Wig.” That amp actually sounds really clean. I have a Fuchs ODS, which is a beautiful sounding amp that’s on the song “Just Sco Away.” It does that crunchy Dumble tone where there’s something in the low mids that makes you play differently. I also used a Dr. Z Maz 18. Some of the clean tones are really quirky amps, like this solid-state Yamaha with two 10s and a beautiful tremolo. I used a stereo sound for “Iridescence,” and half of it was that crazy Yamaha amp.

“F Thing” has a classic New Orleans feel to it. How did that song come together?

It’s funny—that tune was kind of a throwaway. Literally, the night before the session with the New Orleans rhythm section, I thought I might want one more tune in my back pocket—just in case we had time to record something else. I had this chord progression, but I didn’t even have a melody written for it. We did have time, so we just played the whole thing down, and I took a solo. It ended up becoming one of my favorite things on the record.

How can you explain that New Orleans pulse and pocket to a rock or blues player?

It’s hard to explain that feel. You really have to be immersed in that style and that sound to get it. It’s like pushing and pulling. There are these little moments of tension, and then the next thing you know, people are moving. Art Neville once told me that the spaces in between are what make up funk. James Brown was famous for being on the one, and [beat] one is a moment of tension. You’re anticipating it, and if there’s a pause right before it, it sucks you in as a listener. New Orleans rhythms are not on the one—there’s a big push on the and of four. Knowing those little pulse points is how you pull people in. Having a real New Orleans drummer really helps, and the drummer on “F Thing” is Johnny Vidacovich, who’s one of the icons of New Orleans drumming.

You play some great bass on this record. How come most guitarists don’t sound like bassists when they play bass?

That’s easy. Guitarists usually play too much when they play bass. They play too many notes. They think like guitar players. They also hold their left hand in the wrong position. You should angle your wrist back—that really helps the tone. You don’t have to have everything aligned with the kick drum, but you definitely want to keep that in mind. I generally come up with a bass part, and then I whittle it down. I think, “What’s the least amount I can play that will make this groove work?”

What’s a typical week doing Live from Daryl’s House like?

It’s more like weeks. At the time the guest is chosen, I’m in contact with the artist or their manager. Then, we have to come up with material, which can take a while. I go between Darryl and the guest artist, and I select the appropriate songs. Once that’s done, my music-director thing kicks in, and I have to do the arranging, pick the keys, and write the charts. If the guest artist plays an instrument—or is bringing someone who plays keyboard or guitar or horns—I’ll factor that in. I get together with Daryl the day before the show to quickly go over the tunes. I’m talking maybe two hours, and we run every song once or twice—just the two of us. That’s it until the day of the shoot, when the band shows up around 10 am, and we run through the songs once. Sometimes, we don’t even have time to do that. The guest arrives around 1 o’clock, and that’s what you see on TV. The car pulls up, the cameras are in their face, and we’re on camera until we leave that night. We go through the songs a couple of times with the artist, and we normally use the first or second take. Daryl likes to keep it really raw. So it’s weeks of prep, and then we shoot the show in a matter of four hours.

What were some of the memorable episodes, and why?

The Billy Gibbons episode was memorable—not just because he’s a legendary guitar player, but because that was my very first episode. I had just met everybody, and I didn’t know anything about the protocol of the show. I really like the Sammy Hagar episode, because I saw Sammy with Van Halen when I was a teenager. We hung out a lot after that. He let me sit in with his band with Michael Anthony, and that was a really cool thing. I liked having Aaron Neville on the show because we’re friends. Honestly, they’ve all been memorable for one reason or another.

With this solo record, the TV show, the touring with Daryl Hall and John Oates, and everything else, you have an incredibly diverse workload. Are you ever surprised at where your skill set has taken you?

I won’t say I’m surprised, but I am grateful, because there are so many great guitarists in the world. I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to make a living as a professional guitar player. I’ll say that.