The Great Gear Wars
The Great Gear Wars. I cannot tell you all how many times I’ve changed my Stage setups in the 50 some years I’ve been playing electric guitar, but it has to be massive. My first was when I got my 1957 Gibson ES 175 at the age of 14 and found a VOX super Beatle amp, which I would run through a speaker pilfered from a TV set by a friend of my older brother. Some kind of box with a 12-inch speaker, used on the set for a director to bark commands through. Took me about 2 months to blow that thing up as the power from the VOX was way more than it could handle. Oh, the woes of wanting to go loud and proud, although I must say it broke up nicely being overdriven like that, and then it just broke up in a puff of smoke.
I was fortunate to then be treated by Mr. Leroy Vinnegar, to a beautiful white Stratocaster with a blond piggyback showman amp. He took it upon himself to equip his garage for his son who played drums, with a guitar and bass rig so we could play together and start a band. We were just learning to play, and I’m pretty sure he got quite a kick out of hearing us blast away in the Hollywood hills. For those not familiar with Leroy, he was a Bassist whose trademark was the rhythmic "walking" bass line, a steady series of ascending or descending notes, and it brought him the nickname "The Walker". Besides his jazz work, he also appeared on a number of soundtracks and pop albums, notably Van Morrison's 1972 Album, Saint Dominic’s Preview. He came to public attention in the 1950s as a result of recording with Lee Konitz, André Previn, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Chet Baker, Shelly Manne, Joe Castro and Serge Chaloff. He played bass on Previn and Manne's My Fair Lady album, one of the most successful jazz records ever produced. He also performed on another of jazz's biggest hit albums, Eddie Harris and Les McCann's Swiss Movement, released in 1969, check out the song “Compared to What”.
Needless to say, Leroy was a great influence on me. Well, that ensemble turned into a blues band when we added an artist named Gary Wong on harmonica, even played Bido Lito’s in Hollywood. That was a club where Love and The Doors built their followers into national prominence. We called that group “Duckbutter”, a term which I won’t go into the meaning of in case there are young children reading this, but it was a raunchier name than the next band I played with, and that says a lot.
Flash ahead to age 19 and the garage band “The Led Enema”, that’s right we wanted to have a record called “hot s**t from the led enema”. Hey it was the 60’s and we were smart ass hippies. This is where the real gear wars began. Still no effect pedals, but with amps, we could overdrive with shear volume. This is when I spent $169.00 at the first Guitar Center in Hollywood and bought my own 1969 Strat, a thing of beauty I still own. I was lucky to be living across the street from Bruce Langhorne. A wonderful guitarist who worked with many of the major performers in the folk revival of the 50’s and 60’s that included Joan Baez, Richie Havens, Hugh Masekela, Odetta, Tom Rush, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Richard and Mimi Farina. He also recorded with Bob Dylan on “Freewheelin’” and “Bringin’ it all Back Home”. He sold me a 1957 Fender Vibrolux, which I still use, and have on just about every record I’ve worked on. A sweet clean sounding amp with one 10” speaker that when you turn it up growls like a beast. The gear wars were so much easier then.
When I finally joined Little Feat I started using pedals. The first was a Maestro Phase Shifter, similar to a vibrato but had only 3 settings. Next, I added a MXR Dyno Comp compressor, and a Fuzz Face, that was pretty much it for effects in the Lowell years. After Lowell’s passing I really got nuts. Spending thousands of dollars adding various delays, choruses, wah wah’s, fuzz tones and overdrives, clean boosts, and some I can’t even recall, too many to list but I had way to many stomp boxes for only 2 feet. I even went so far as to try a digital effects pedal that had multiple sounds, which I hated, so I went back to my stomp boxes and had a switching device made so I wouldn’t have so many boxes on stage, just one 3 foot by 2 foot black box full of buttons relating to each stomper. Total mayhem … in the last 5 years I’ve noticed I’m gearing down, although I have 3 pedal boards, small medium and large for various gigs, I think I like the small one the best. A delay, a tube screamer, a chorus, and compressor along with a tuner. Maybe I’ve gotten lazy in my old age and just like things that don’t weigh a ton, or perhaps it’s what I’ve known all along, it’s in the hands that you find the tone, if it ain’t there, no pedal will make it better.