JEFF PEVAR -
GUITARIST TO THE STARS
Intro: If you don't recognize his name, I am sure you have heard his guitar.Jeff Pevar is a much sought after session player, with over a decade's experience recording and performing with a wide array of music's finest including Ray Charles, David Crosby, Graham Nash, James Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Joe Cocker, Donald Fagen, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Shawn Colvin, Jackson Browne, Meatloaf and a host of others. In addition, Jeff has brought his masterful guitar style to dozens of national TV and radio commercials.
"The Peev" has frequently appeared on national television, including repeat performances of "The Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live." Last year Jeff performed on "The David Letterman Show" and the "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" with Jackson Browne and CNN and the Rosie O'Donnell show with Carly Simon and Jimmy Webb. Jeff is also featured in VH-1's "Behind the Scenes" documentary on David Crosby. In fact, Crosby has often said "Jeff Pevar is one of the best guitarists out there and he's my personal favorite". Because of his appreciation of Jeff's talent and friendship Crosby offered Jeff a partnership in his newest band "CPR" (as in "Crosby, Pevar, and Raymond"), which also features David's son James Raymond on keyboards and vocals. CPR recently released thier debut self-titled CD which showcases Pevar's guitar playing, and his songwriting abilities. CPR has played on various TV shows in support of the latest CD, including The CBS Morning Show, The Tonight Show, Oprah and others. PBS recently released a documentary of CPR's blazing performance at last years Montreux Jazz Festival.
I got a chance to catch CPR's East Coast debut, as well as Jeff's sold-out performance at BlackEyed Sally's, Connecticut's premier blues club. To the delight of the mesmerized crowd, Mr. Pevar displayed his mastery of the electric guitar, lacing original and cover tunes with amazing, nimble fingered yet tasty solos on a variety of vintage and state-of-the-art instruments.
Jeff stopped over recently for a lunchtime interview (and impromptu jam session), and I got a chance to catch up with him on his latest activities. His enthusiasm, knowledge, and skill made for a truly enjoyable afternoon.
Tom Guerra: Hi Jeff, why don't you start out by telling us about some of the gear you are currently using, both in the studio and on-stage?
Jeff Pevar: Well, having been a player for many years, I'm always interested in seeing what's out there. My main guitar for many years has been a '64 white Fender Strat that I acquired for the Rickie Lee Jones tour around 1983 from Norm's Rare Guitars, in Reseda, CA. At first I had some problems with that guitar. It felt great to play, but the original pickups were pretty weak sounding. They didn't compare with a wonderful '65 sunburst Strat that I picked up shortly thereafter, which left my '64 in the dust. Because the sunburst sounded so much better, I found I wasn't playing my '64 White Strat at all....and I felt guilty,.... like I was neglecting one of my children. I decided to overhaul it and make it unique and ultimately the most versatileguitar I have. I replaced the pickups on the '64 with Seymour Duncan pickups (who I am now endorsed by) including a Classic Humbucker in the bridge position with a coil tap switch so I could get a greater variety of sounds. Now I can get both Gibson and Fender type tones from it. If I could only bring one axe to a session or a gig, it would be that '64 Strat because of its wide tonal spectrum.
I also have a few other old Fenders, including a '61 Esquire and a '61 Jazzmaster. I have some older Gibsons as well, including a '68 Goldtop Les Paul Deluxe, a '53 ES-125 Archtop, a couple of late sixties 345's, and a mid- sixties ES-150 which I used on tour with Ray Charles.
For amps, I love old Fender blackface stuff, which I use a lot in the studio along with my Mesa Boogie amps. I have an old Blackface Deluxe Reverb, and a couple of Vibrolux Reverbs. I must admit, though, for the better part of the past 15 years or so, that Mesa Boogie combos have been my staple, especially for live performance.
Currently, my guitar goes through a pedalboard which includes a Boss Delay, a Boss Compressor, a Dunlop wah-wah, an Ernie Ball volume pedal, a Voodoo Lab Tremolo, and to a TC Electronics Stereo Chorus, which splits the output into two Mesa Boogie 1-12' combos, a Mark II-B and a Mark III-C. I've also used two Vibroluxes in stereo, which is a beautiful sound too. The thing I love about the two Boogies is it gives me even more of a variety of palettes to work with, both clean and dirty. Depending on the gig I'll sometimes go with a less is more approach in regards to my gear, but it also depends on the artist. In the studio, I look at the guitar as a paintbrush. I use a variety of sounds to color the song, ultimately depending on what the music calls for.
I've been a Mesa Boogie endorser for many years. I'm currently experimenting with a new setup for the CPR tour with the help of Sean Beresford at Mesa Boogie, which includes a TC Electronics G-Force which will involve programming and combining sounds from my Mesa Boogie amplification, the G-Force effects, and also my favorite vintage pedals.
TG: How about that Dumble Overdrive Special I saw you with the other night? That thing sounded amazing-
JP: Well, while we were recording the CPR record at "Groovemasters," Jackson Browne's studio, Jackson was incredibly gracious to me. He said "Listen Jeff, I've got a lot of gear here, so let me know if you need anything." I said, "Well, Crosby brought along some Boogies and a Fender Vibrosonic, so I think I'm pretty much all set....hmmmm.....but actually.... there IS one ampthat I've always wanted to check out! ... Ever heard of a DUMBLE??!! Jackson smiled and brought me to a secured area and pointed to an amp on a rack of stuff. "Why don't you check THAT ONE out" he said. I was so excited. It was a Dumble Overdrive Special, which I ended up using on the CPR record for a number of solos.
As my good fortune would have it, that same afternoon, Crosby was on the phone with our friend, Graham Nash, and Crosby said "yeah, Peev was playing through Jackson's Dumble, and just loves it!". Crosby told me that Nash's reply was (in English accent) "Hey, I've got a Dumble... and its just sitting in storage-why don't you tell 'Peev' he can HAVE IT!"
When Crosby told me this, I literally fell on the floor. I was literally stunned. It was an absolutely amazing gift. Besides being one of the best singers and songwriters around, Nash is a prince of a guy.
Actually, Crosby and Nash are two of the most generous, heartfelt people I've ever met-
TG: Do you remember your first good guitar and amplifier?
JP: OK, well, a "so-called friend" did a Jimi Hendrix smashing act on my first electric guitar (laughs!). When I was growing up, the thing that I really was jonesing for, thinking about night and day, was a black Les Paul Custom.
I was about 13 years old and I would look at the shape of this guitar, like it was in a Playboy magazine or something- so I just waited and waited until I was able to get that guitar.
Actually, my first Les Paul style guitar was an Aria that I put Gibson humbuckers in, and then I found a mid-60's Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I was strictly a "Gibson guy" for many years.More recently I have tended to be more of a Strat guy. My preference is a strat outfitted with single AND double coil pickups. As I'm a big fan ofdynamics and tonality, I like having access to the thinner single coil pickupsound as well as the fat humbucking sounds.
And there's something about that bell-like quality that you get from the in- between sound on a Strat. It's such an intimate sound. The single coils seem to bring out nuance. I've recently acquired a fantastic Tom Anderson guitar with single and double coil pickups which I like a lot. Their workmanship is incredible!
The first good amp of note was a 50 watt Marshall half-stack that sounded great, which I unfortunately sold because of the portability factor, and I've been kicking myself ever since. So now I have a tendency to keep everything I get, so I'm starting to amass a bit of a collection (laughs).
TG: How about acoustics?
JP: I have worked as an endorsee of Ovation and Takamine instruments for a number of years. I have a number of their acoustics, as well as an Ovation mandolin that I often use live. But I recently received a wonderful gift from Crosby.
David is definitely a purist as far as his acoustic guitars go. In addition to the other amazing acoustics in his collection, he's got some of the nicest Martins I've ever seen or played. When we were recording the first song that Crosby and I wrote together called "Little Blind Fish" for the CPR record, he suggested I use his custom made Brazilian Rosewood Martin D-28 Herringbone.
The action was a bit challenging, but the sound of that instrument was so amazing!
As someone who is no stranger to the joys of owning a great acoustic guitar, Crosby seemed quite bothered by the fact that I didn't have a great Martin acoustic of my own.
One day as we were just about finished with the CPR sessions, he actually gave that D-28 to me! I was blown away! Because it's a "one of a kind", I've decided not to take it on the road. Instead, I picked up a really beautiful Taylor 614-CE acoustic that I really love to play live. The action is
incredible and it has both a pickup and mic installed in the guitar. I also have two wonderful nylon string guitars, one made by Rick Turner and another made by Godin.
TG: How about your early influences? Was there anyone in particular you tried to emulate?
JP: Well, like everyone, I was a huge Beatles fan, but guitar player wise, believe it or not, it was John Fogerty I was first inspired by to learn to play lead. I was very into Creedence at the time. One of the things that was so striking to me about his playing was his simplistic, gut-level pentatonic approach. It really moved me. I could actually sit down and learn his lines, because they were so simple. He was such a great influence in the early years of my playing. I'm a self taught player, and I've never taken any lessons so my instruction was from listening and watching. I'm not a good sight-reader. When I was touring with Ray Charles, I had to sight-read charts, but the reason I got the gig was because of my playing ability, definitely not my sight-reading ability. Ray loved the blues and that was my forte.
TG: Wow Fogerty, I never would have guessed that! I would have said Jeff Beck or someone like that-
JP: Jeff Beck WAS a huge influence on me later on, but for playing lead it really started with Fogerty. I also listened to and was influenced by a number of other blues/rock style players, including Ten Years After's Alvin Lee, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, and OF COURSE I listened to Hendrix.
Later on I was attracted to the melodic vocabulary of certain jazz-rock players. I was enthralled by Larry Carlton and Robben Ford's use of melody, sound and technique, which really influenced my live and studio playing profoundly. Besides the R&B guitarists we all love, BB King, Albert King, Stevie Ray and the other REAL roots guys, I also love the cutting edge musicality of Eric Johnson, Steve Morse and Buzzy Feiten, to name a few..
I am quite fortunate that I grew up and started playing guitar at a time when the music buisiness was more about art and less about marketing. Unfortunately, it seems that big business took over music and said, "enough of this art ****, we can make money at this". Because of this we've all suffered and it seems harder to have access to as much great music as we used to. Maybe we just have to look a little harder for it now.
TG: Typically, how does your session work materialize? Do you have a manager, and is it usually through word of mouth, through an audition, or just by getting out there and getting exposure?
JP: In a way, I'm my own manager. Opportunities have surfaced many different ways. Word of mouth, exposure, and good luck all have had a lot to do with it. Of course I have been quite dedicated to playing music for a long time. It was a sort of a domino effect, cause the more you're out there playing, the more people are going to see you. I met Crosby when I was touring with a singer/songwriter Marc Cohn ("Walking in Memphis"). We were opening for CSN, and we were doing our first sound check when Crosby walked out on stage to check us out. When I first saw Cros I started playing one of his songs I that I learned years earlier ("Triad"). He looked over at me with those huge, starry eyes and smiled, and well, things just haven't been the same ever since.
My interests are so varied, in a way, its been a blessing and a curse. I love to play a variety of styles: jazz, rock, blues, bluegrass, etc. It keeps things quite interesting. For example, one day I'll play some mandolin on an album, and the next day someone asks me for a heavy metal solo on something else-One of my favorite things about the music business is the ability to be so promiscuous and not have to worry about the consequences (laughs).
There was also a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, you know "no pain, no gain." Finally after many years as a sideman I'm now in a band that my name and my compositions are a part of. And I'm very excited about it. In 1997 CPR was a headliner at the prestigious Telluride festival, and last year we played at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. A documentary of our performance is being shown on PBS. As you could imagine, I'm certainly very proud to be in this band!
TG: How does the whole session process work-are you given a tape, or charts, or do you rehearse with a band to lock into a groove?
JP: All of the above, but more so than not, there are charts. If there is notation, I'll hopefully have time to sit down before hand and shed it. For example, last year I was asked to play on a track called "Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year" on Carly Simon's "Film Noir" album. It's a duet between Carly and Jimmy Webb, just piano and vocals. Jimmy said "I want you to play through the biggest amp you can find, and I want this solo to have feedback and lots of distortion." As I have worked with Jimmy in the past, he's aware that my ear is faster than my reading chops. He had composed a melody for me to play and instead of writing it out he just sang it to me. I played around with it a little and it came out great. It was a much more effective way to communicate what he was hearing, as his singing evoked so much more feeling to me than a written melody.
TG: How much say does the artist usually have over the guitars and amps you decide to use for a particular track? How do you decide which guitar and amp to use?
JP: When you get hired to do something, its often because whoever calls you is pretty sure that you can come up with what they're looking for. The more experienced a producer or artist is, the more likely they are to let you do your own thing and make those kind of decisions. I mean, would you tell a carpenter which hammer he should use? One thing I've learned as a player and as a producer is, if you're going to bring someone in, you should allow them as much creative space as possible. What will happen, more often than not, is they will come up with something you haven't thought of, and that's one of the most magical things about music. Its a very nebulous and fragile thing. We all want to be able to spread our own wings-
TG: I am certain one of your recent career highlights was when David Crosby asked you to join his new band CPR. Tell us what we can expect from the CPR album, what styles it incorporates.
JP: My musical relationship with David is an interesting one. Its been a very profound experience for me having a musical hero become a bandmate and partner. Being familiar with a great body of his work, my musical interests in this ensemble involve a combination of many things. I'm influenced from the varied styles which Crosby and his past musical endeavors have brought about but ultimately my goal is to add something fresh and honest to the music that we create together.
When we first started playing together, we both felt that there was a great synergy there. He's the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He let me know how much he truly enjoys playing music together. The fact that David is an accomplished songwriter really kicked me in the ***. David's son, James Raymond is also a great songwriter which also inspired me to further push the envelope to bring some of my own compositions into the CPR band. Because David and James both live in California, I flew out west to write with them.
A few times I stayed on David's boat "The Mayan". Luckily every trip west brought about at least one tune that made the debut record.
One time while staying on "The Mayan", David had an Alvarez guitar on board. I was very determined to write something that day so I sat on the deck of his boat and came up with a watery sounding theme with his guitar. I brought the idea to James and David and they both added ideas to it. This piece became the song "That House" off the new CPR album. It came out great in the studio - David sang beautifully and an old friend of David's, Russ Kunkel played drums on this tune.
I also really wanted to write a rock and roll tune for the CPR record. I had this idea-a few years ago when I played on David's live album on Atlantic called "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" (by the way, if you can find this, pick it up ...its a great live record).
Our friend and David's guitar tech, John Gonzalez, came up with the title for that album. I thought, what a great title for a song, too! So I came up with some music, partly influenced from David's "Long Time Gone." I came up with the musical concept and David and I co-wrote the lyrics. In the studio I used Jackson's Dumble for the solo with a wah-wah. I'm proud to say that I co-wrote 5 of the 11 songs on the CPR album. It was a very spontaneous record. Most of the tracks are first takes, so there's a lot of that freshness there. The tracking process for the entire album took only 20 days.
TG: When I saw CPR last year, your set included an emotional "Eight Miles High" and a great cover of Joni Mitchell's "For Free". I also really liked that new song "Morrison" which had kind of an ethereal feel to it. That's about the old Lizard King (The Doors' Jim Morrison), isn't it?
JP: Yeah, that's the opening track on the album, and you're right "Morrison" is about being lost-it's also the very first song David and James ever wrote together.
TG: Kind of a de-mystification of that legend-
TG: What are some of your all-time favorite "Desert Island" guitar solos, and what is it that you like about them?
JP: There are so many, but off the top of my head I'd have to say
1) "Kid Charlemagne" by Steely Dan, solo by Larry Carlton - the composition and the agility in his playing-one of the true masters, a huge influence on me
2) "Monmouth College Fight Song" off The YellowJackets' Casino Nights album,solo by Robben Ford - a beautiful tune with some astonishing melodic lines, played like a horn player
3) "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" by Jeff Beck, absolutely beautiful!
4) "Machine Gun" from Band of Gypsys, solo by Jimi Hendrix - there are places in his solo where it sounds like someone is screaming, being riddled by a machine gun-Amazing!
TG: How about your own solo, is there one that stands above the rest that makes you particularly proud?
JP: I don't think I've recorded it yet! One of my problems is that I'm very self critical and that's often got in the way of me putting my own record out, but I'm more recently I'm realizing that music isn't meant to be perfect - its about capturing a moment and moving on. I'm currently building my own studio and I do plan on recording my own CD in the very near future!
TG: Thanks for your time today, we're really looking forward to hearing the new CPR album!
JP: Thanks a lot!
(More info can be found at www.pevar.com and www.crosbycpr.com)
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