|BIG AL ANDERSON – PAWN SHOP GUITARS
(From left - The Balls' guitarist Jim Chapdelaine, Big Al Anderson, Tom Guerra. Photo by Joe "The Cat" Lemieux)
Big Al Anderson – Pawn Shop Guitars
In the past two years since we last spoke to him, songwriter and master of the Telecaster Al Anderson has been extremely productive. Over a dozen of his songs appear on Vince Gill's new quadruple disc set “These Days”, and Anderson has recently broken his moratorium on touring to be part of Vince's band. In between his songwriting and touring responsibilities, Big Al has managed to put together a new album entitled “Pawn Shop Guitars”, his most cohesive and rocking effort since he left the legendary NRBQ in 1993.
Tom Guerra of Vintage Guitar recently caught up with Big Al as negotiations with a major label were taking place regarding widespread distribution of “Pawn Shop Guitars.”
TG: Hi Al, what have you been up to since the last time we spoke for VG in 2004 when you had just released “After Hours”?
AA: Since we last spoke, I've been writing a lot, and also have been involved with Vince Gill, doing an extended tour…I guess it's an extended tour; anything over a month to me these days is an extended tour (laughs). He recorded 13 or 14 of my songs for his latest album “These Days.”
TG: Have you picked up any gear since the last time we spoke?
AA: Not really, I'm kind of retired from collecting, but I recently bought a D'Angelico that's a 1943, with a '64 neck. I'm also about to get my paisley Tele back, which I owned in the ‘80's. A great guitar…
TG: Getting to the new album, “Pawn Shop Guitars”, let's talk about the title track. Was that the way it was, did you scour pawn shops for cool guitars like the robin's egg blue Stratocaster mentioned in the song?
AA: No, it's just a song, I'm sorry! (laughs)
TG: How did you go about writing the songs for Pawn Shop guitars, it definitely has more of a band feel than your last album “After Hours”? For each song, did you write it with any artist in mind or just for your own purposes?
AA: I didn't specifically write these fourteen songs for this album, some of them I've had lying around since 1994. I originally just picked twenty or so, and was going to put them all on, but I ended up doing the Vince thing, so it ended up being just the fourteen. I don't really write with a particular artist in mind, unless I'm desperate (laughs).
TG: This album rocks…a lot of the songs capture a lot of classic rock and roll feel and it probably comes closer to classic NRBQ than anything you've done as a solo artist.
AA: Thanks, I think so too. The disc has a band feel to it because I've been playing with those guys since 1991. I don't see bands cookin' anymore, its just all really stiff with angry guys with black hair…I played SXSW and that's all I saw…they never are happy and they never cook, and I miss that. And that's what this record does, it cooks! I liked playing with the other guitarists on this record: Richard Bennett, Mike Henderson, Tom Bukovac and Miles Zuniga…they were just great.
TG: Your roots are well displayed all over the album, for example, “Just a Thought” reminds me of the classic Stax sound…
AA: That's exactly what it is… “Just a Thought” is a tribute to Steve (Cropper). I'm just starting to realize how great he was. I recently got this cd by Ruby Johnson, and he's playing on it with Isaac Hayes….just great.
TG: “Drinkin' on the Weekend” has a definite Chuck Berry, “Almost Grown” vibe to it.
AA: Sure does!
TG: Speaking of drinking, I noticed that a lot of the songs deal with alcohol both as a celebration and warning, did you write songs like “Drinkin' on the Weekend” when you were still drinking?
AA: Well I'm fifteen and a half years clean and sober, and I just wrote “Drinkin' on the Weekend” last year, with Stephen Bruton, who is too.
TG: Speaking of your co-writers, how did that come about? Do you typically have an idea in mind or a co-writer first?
AA: No, these are just songs I wrote through the years, but they come about in different ways. One of the tunes was written with Dan Wilson, who used to be with Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare, he also has got six songs on the new Dixie Chicks record. I was out doing a songwriters' thing in Santa Barbara last year, and he, Tony Scalzo from Fastball and me got together and wrote the tune “Animals.” I've also been writing with Miles Zuniga over the years, he was with Fastball too. He's just a real good songwriter, as in ‘Ray Davies' good! We wrote “Airstream” together and “Let's Get Away for the Weekend” and “Another Place I Don't Belong” off my last cd.
TG: A few of the songs are more modern sounding, more funky even with one track using loops. Any particular influences on those tunes?
AA: They do have a modern tint to them, there's no doubt about it. “Shake That Thing” is one of those that was just glued together, and that was really all Jim Chapdelaine, who sequenced it and mastered the disc. With the exception of this, all the tracks were cut in between 20 minutes and a half hour with most being one take, maybe two.
TG: As fans of yours probably have come to expect, “Pawn Shop Guitars” has some great Tele tones on it… what were you tracking with?
AA: Some of it was a '56 Esquire that (luthier) Joe Glaser turned into a Tele for me. I'm gonna have him put it back the way it was though, as I'm not gonna use the bass pickup. I used a brand new SG too, and my Sadowsky Tele.
TG: How about amps on this record?
AA: I used a '62 Fender Deluxe on this record and I also used the two '62 Supers…they are all brown, with the volumes on the side (vs. center). One of the Supers has the dark grillecloth, the other has the light cloth. The one with the light cloth still has the original tags on it, it's like brand new. I don't record with the speaker on the Deluxe though, the signal gets routed upstairs to another cabinet, and I don't even know what that is.
TG: What are you using for amps as part of your live rig?
AA: I'm using a Matchless DC30, and still using the Sadowsky Tele. I also just got a pedalboard for the first time in my life. I have a Boss vibrato and Blues Driver, a Keeley echo, a Fulltone tremolo, and an old green tube screamer.
TG: Are you going to tour to support the record?
AA: I'll be doing some shows but it will all depend on how the record deal comes down. At the moment, it looks like it will be officially released on May 1 on a label but I don't know yet. I'd like to use The Balls (current band members include Chad Cromwell, drums; Glenn Worf, bass; Reese Wynans, keyboards, and Jim Chapdelaine, guitar), who play on the record, if I can afford them (laughs). I also love playing with Jim Chapdelaine, Terry Anderson and Steve Mackie, we have the same brain as far as making dumb good, which is the secret to everything (laughs).
TG: I was fortunate enough to see the NRBQ reunion in 2004, which was outstanding. I'm hearing rumors that there may be another…any truth to that?
AA: I'm hearing rumors too but I don't know yet. We'll have to wait and see…
For more information about Big Al Anderson, please visit his website at www.BigAlAnderson.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Guitarist Tom Guerra just concluded a short tour of the Northeast with Mambo Sons in support of the trio's third cd entitled “Racket of Three.” For more information, visit www.TomGuerra.com.
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