Dudley Taft- Rockin’ The Blues His Own Way
Guitarist Dudley Taft is a tour de force in the blues world. His unique sound blends Delta riffs and Texas Twang with edgy Seattle rock intensity. His Music reflects the eclectic journey of a thirty plus years in the business. Taft embraces the Blues as the foundation of all the great late ‘60s and early ‘70’s rock he loved as a teen. He gained initial fame as member of Seattle band Sweetwater, Omnivoid and Spike and Impailers then began his solo career with Blues Overkill. Now touring in support of his third album Screaming In The Wind, I chatted with him briefly before his show at Jazzbones in Tacoma.
Rick J Bowen: Hello Mr. Dudley Taft …guitar icon in training.
Dudley Taft: Still training man, yeah.
RJB: Screaming In the Wind is the new CD.
DT: I heard the phrase on NPR. A reporter was talking about someone “Oh he’s just screaming in the wind,” I thought ah that’s a cool phrase, and then I got this little tune in my head.
RJB: You wrote several of the tunes on the album with Tom Hambridge.
DT: He helped me finish the lyrics; I had sort of sketches of the words or like two lines.
RJB: Who introduced you to Tom?
DT: Lance Lopez told me about him. We are both on the same German record label. John may have too because John Kessler knows everything about the blues.
RJB: You recorded in Nashville and at home correct?
DT: We did basics at Soundstage Studios in Nashville and some over dubbing at Brian Harrison’s place, The Rendering Plant. Unfortunately Brian passed away just recently from a heart attack, he was real sweet dude. I took it home to North Carolina, did some over dubs there, and then we moved. I bought Peter Frampton’s house with a studio in it. We have an SSL board there. It took a few months to get dialed in there. So I sent it off to Tom’s engineer to mix, but it wasn’t quite right, it was quickie mix. So I ended up mixing it at my studio on the SSL all by myself.
RJB: Wow, tell us about getting Frampton’s house in Cincinnati.
DT: Well my kids hated North Carolina, and the fact that we weren’t close to a big city. It wasn’t affordable to stay in Seattle and try to keep the peace with two teenage daughters in our tiny little house. My family lives in Cincinnati and they encouraged me to move back. Frampton bought the house when it was being built. It’s on the side of the hill so is long crooked and skinny like me. It has a three car garage and they had to dig down under that for supports and he thought what a great spot for a studio. He hired Dave Mattingly, who designed Jack White’s studio and The Black Key’s studio, so it was done completely right. It was on the market for a year and no one wanted to buy it. No one around there knew what to do with a recording studio. My brother said to him, “Look man there is only person who would be interested in this house.” So he took it off the market and we made an offer. We paid about what he bought for. He put over five hundred thousand into it for the studio and got nothing in return. But he was glad to get rid of it.
RJB: A perfect opportunity.
DT: My mortgage is pretty big but I was able to put 60% down on it. I sold my house in Seattle after we made a lot of equity. You’ve got to work hard to take care of your family being a musician.
RJB: Let’s get to some guitar geek questions. How do you decide what guitar sounds to use on particular songs.
DT: Some songs are just Strat (Stratocaster) songs, and some are humbucker songs. Usually when I’m writing and I have the Strat on, I know if it needs that jingly jangly thing or it needs the whammy bar. But when I write stuff on the Les Paul it comes out different or when I write on the 335. Most of my stuff is kind of Strat based but “Pack It Up,” is a good example of a song I wasn’t really sure. I ended up playing it with the 335 but I am using a Strat tonight, that could go either way. ‘Screaming In The Wind,’ has to be a Strat, Period. “Red Line,” Has to be a Les Paul, it’s got that Billy Gibbons thing.
RJB: What is that?
DT: Pinch Harmonics with your thump. You strike the string with your thumb and its sort tapping the harmonics. There is so much gain and distortion it’s like phooff…you could just blow on the strings and it’s loud. That’s the trick.
RJB: Did someone teach you that?
DT: You learn that early. I’ve known it for many years. First year playing guitar you learn that. Especially when you grow up in the 70’s and listening to Thin Lizzy, ACDC, you know Zeppelin, Foghat and ZZ Top.
RJB: That sounds like a list of your influences.
DT: Jeff Beck was important to me too. You know at the end of the day the more true to yourself you are, I think the more successful you can be with what you are trying to do. I was in successful bands, we got signed by a major label and went on tour, made giant budget records and videos and all that. It was cool but I always felt like it was just adding something to the picture I just wanted to do stuff that made me happy and is reflective of my early influences.
RJB: Like with the first track on the album Hard Time Killing Floor, you reconstruct it your own way.
DT: I do that a lot, I think that might make some people upset, but to me if I do a cover song that’s the way. ..We play some songs and they are just guilty pleasures; I want to play it like the record and that makes me happy. Other ones I want to put my stamp on It., like when we do “Killing Floor.” With that song I heard this Led Zeppelin “Black Dog,” thing where you play the riff and you stop and take a breath and then start the vocal. Then it kicks off again, I thought that would be really cool
RJB: There are preservationists or progressives in the blues and rock scene. You have a foot in both camps and have taken the Seattle sound and blended it with blues and classic rock.
DT: It’s not like “here’s a brand and I’m gonna stick to it,” its’ just sort of what happens with me. I know it means I may not win some blues fans, cause I’m not blues enough but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter to me. I’d rather play to a hundred people a night for the rest of my life doing what I enjoy than being the sideman playing to ten thousand people. Lying in your deathbed that’s what matters.
RJB: We pause and he picks up his prized modded out Stratocaster to warm up.
DT: It’s not modded out. This is one of the first relic series that Fender made, where they put in the fake cigarette burn and stuff. I bought it when Billy Stapleton at American Music said to me “I am ordering two of these, you’ll want one.” But I put it in my closet because I didn’t really like it. I was starting Second Coming and I wanted a heavier sound. I didn’t play it for seriously like eight years. Then I pulled it out when I started doing the blues thing and went”Oh My God! This guitar is amazing!” I had my guy Paul Stroh in west Seattle who is one of the best guitar fixer, and tweaker. He made the neck a little smaller and got rid of some of the tacky stuff on there and put in jumbo frets and put a couple pickups in.
RJB: How many guitars do you own?
DT: I have about twenty. I have two main Strats, a rosewood neck one that sounds different than this one. I have a 335 that is amazing; I used it all thru Second Coming. I have a Les Paul I bought in 2006 it’s a custom shop it top of the line deal, an amazing guitar. Oh I have a Tele that I bought for the jingles it’s a rock! I played it every once in a while, eh not that much. I don’t need a lot more electrically. I’ve got three Martin acoustics I’ve picked over the years. One I got when I used to work at Seattle Music downtown. I like amps and pedals; I’ve got a lot of those. I just got a 1966 Fender Deluxe Reverb from the guys at Emerald City Guitars. It is the most amazing sounding guitar amp I’ve ever heard in my life. I call it tone-gazzem. I’ll run the Les Paul through it and crank it up and it sounds like a Marshall. I’ll put the Strat on and get quite and it sounds like a jazz amp. Turn the volume up and hit an overdrive pedal and it sounds like Buddy Guy. Just a great frikkin amp!
RJB: Did you use that a lot on the new album?
DT: Yeah I did. I have I a 74 Marshall JMP Super Lead that I used on Red Line. It sounds really good; it has that Marshal Tone with being to chugga chugga. Then I have a collection of other weirdo’s that I use for tone that are in between. You know when you want to overdub something but it can’t fight with the others. A good example from the new record is”Tears in the Rain,” it’s layered a lot.
This last album is very much a “Make it in the studio then play it live,” album. The next album is going to be the opposite. We are playing two new songs off the next album tonight, so we are working things up from scratch.
RJB: That was my next question, what is next? A more live type CD?
DT: Yeah, one with less overdubs, less vocal delay’s and panning and all that stuff. Which is great but you know I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, now I’m going to have a hamburger, something like that.
Rick J Bowen