Working Man

Working Man

There must be a lot of hats in Pete Anderson’s closet. In the past he has worked overtime as guitarist, producer, and arranger for such diverse talents as Dwight Yoakum, Michelle Shocked, and Jackson Browne. With the release of his new solo album, Working Class on his own label, Little Dog, Pete has stepped out of the shadows with tremendous vision and feeling for his beloved roots music. His songs and playing encompass the blues, country, rock and roll, as well as some other influences we’ll just call strange. Listen to the album, you’ll like it.

Vintage Guitar: How difficult was it for you to get this solo album made?

Pete Anderson:It’s something I’ve been trying to do for quite a few years. I’ve had a few aborted attempts at it, but nothing ever clicked. Making records for other people is really easy for me. Being objective about someone else’s career is something I have a talent for, but to be objective about myself, and what I should be doing as an artist was hard to unlock.

Approaching this project as I would one for another musician seemed pretentious. There were some false starts, where I’d set up the sessions the way I would for any other artist, rehearse, do the click tracks, and cut the tune …but I was feeling like I wanted to bring someone else to sing on it. I’d think, “Hmm, this tune would be good for Robert Cray.” It was hard to be objective and pull my own personality out of the songs.

Being a guitarist, producer, and artist would seem to be almost a handicap, then.

Yes! Then I broke into a completely different direction. I did a couple of album projects back-to-back last year, and I sat down with Dusty Wakeman and turned myself over to him. We did things I wasn’t doing before talked about the musical ground I wanted to cover, played guitar, and came up with ideas. I was giving thought to what a Pete Anderson record should be, what would I want people to say and what wouldn’t I want them to say!

I’ve been a fan of guitar players who’ve eventually come out with their own records. Mostly it’s a big disappointment. They seem to put pressure on themselves to become a singer-songwriter-artist, and miss what they were doing before that was so great.

One of the groundbreaking records was Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow. Nobody expected that kind of album when it came out. Now I’ve got a bunch of different musical styles that I enjoy playing in, and I wanted to explore those musical styles, those regions of the country. There are songs I’d written and liked, and when I put them in those situations, they seemed to work. I didn’t want this to be a guitaristic album full of whiz-bang solos and over-the-top stuff. What I bring to someone else’s record, like Dwight or Michelle, is a sensibility, like Amos Garrett or James Burton did for their people. To play something cool, for the song and especially that 8-bar period, but not overwrought. Certain people who do that, I’m in awe of, but I’d also think, “Why don’t they just start their own band?” It’s an injustice to the singer and the song.

If the reaction of someone listening to a Pete Anderson record is, “Well, it’s a guitar player record”, I’d be let down. I’d rather hear, “Man, I didn’t think he’d do this!” So to deliver something unexpected and good is what I wanted. I wanted to expose myself and my roots on this work.

Every one of those songs uses an approach I’ve taken as an arranger and producer in the past, but maybe I stopped short because you can only put so much of yourself in another artist’s record. Here I could be as wide open as I wanted to be. Hey, it’s not like I have a career weighing in the balance! (laughter on both sides). I saw that the only way to make this record was to be completely off the cuff, with no outside pressure.

What were the actual mechanics of cutting this album?

Most of this was recorded in between other people’s projects. I’d have maybe a weekend off, go into the studio on Saturday. We’d rehearse, and then cut the thing the next day. And we’d just about finish it. Mostly I didn’t wear headphones, I sang live with a mike. Some of the tracks were just me and drums, tuba, or 6-string bass. Freebo was featured on tuba, and he’s a gas to work with. I like those diverse elements.

Everyone that came in kept the spirit going. All the players I used are so great, they would hear it and we’d run it a couple times. Mostly I kept the first takes, because they’d get that L.A. session thing, “Okay, I’m getting it now, let me try another take!” but meanwhile, the first was it. I’d rather they swing with it and stay in that spirit than come up with a lick they’d perfectly designed that would stick out.

Is there any agonizing now that your done?

As it started to finish up, I’d think, “Hey, I really like this.” I was happy with the music. I could have ground myself over the solos, but a lot of it was played while I was singing. There were all intentions to schedule “guitar days”, but I’d keep moving on to another track, since things sounded so right.

You did a brave thing recently, by starting your own record label, Little Dog. How’s that going?

So far, so good. My basic plan of attack for this solo album is running ads in the trades for the first few months. The response has been great we’re getting more orders every day. Besides Vintage Guitar, we’re using Guitar World and Country Guitar, and I’ll go after radio in early 1995. Working Class will be our choice for a single, and we’ll go after Triple-A radio first. Our distribution is through Valley-DNA, which operates under Rounder, and they seem to have their act together.

Are you looking forward to playing live to support the album?

I’m getting together with the guys in the next few weeks just to see what we can recreate, and kinda be ready. There’s always events around L.A. that come up, and I’d like to be able to step out and do them. A lot of this depends on the response to the album. There’s nothing more fun for me than playing guitar. I’d do that alone, forget about playing my own music, and be happy. But, as we know, it’s not the highest paying job.

Let’s talk about the songs you’ve written for the album. There’s a little commentary with each tune, giving some clues as to its origins, including the title track, “Working Class”. The song is loose to the point where the listener can feel the energy of a real band playing it live. Could I expect to hear that on the radio?

That was a lot of fun. The energy is real, and I think it shows. “Working Class” is our first single, but we edited a version of it for the video, and even more for radio. AC (Adult Contemporary) is not what it was when we were kids, it’s now Prince, Bonnie Raitt, and Bruce Hornsby …soft stuff. Triple-A Radio is our best shot. I might aim at the college market.

What about that “Stateside Charlie”?

Well, that’s a whole story too. I went to Japan and played at a Country Music Festival. It was surreal. I can’t read anything there, and felt like I was on another planet. We were watching the World Series, which was comforting, but it was all in Japanese. Charlie Nagatani is this guy who had a club there, and it looks like a country bar in the Valley. When I first saw it, stepping off the elevator, I said, “What the hell?” Charlie was a real character, and he’d always get excited and say, “You guys go stateside soon?” It was mythic and it stuck in my mind.

I found myself walking down the street singing this song. That one was cut with just me and drums. I played a guitar tuned down to C, it’s Fender’s Bajo Sexto, and Fred Stewart from the Fender Custom Shop first showed it to me at a NAMM show. He said he’d made it after hearing me play on “Little Ways”, and he was sure that was what I’d used on the tune. I reluctantly replied, “No …it was just a Tele with really fat strings.” Valley Arts had supplied me with a bunch of the biggest strings they could find, and I experimented. That tune ended up in A, and the sound was as thick as could be. I used the Japanese Tele for a long time, and I finally replaced it when Jerry Jones came out with their version of the baritone guitar.

I guess Fred felt bad, and one day sent me that neck through the mail, and told me I could bolt it up to any Fender and get instant baritone. This one ended up in C, but I’ve got a bunch of the Jerry Jones guitars, including a high-A guitar, sort of a tenor instrument, and the low one. Also, Ripley came up with a great idea a number of years ago, along these lines; he said, “What if you came up with a straight Fender neck, but added a couple of frets at the bottom?” Then you’ve got a guitar playing in D, and the tension is the same. I love it! My Fender Custom neck ended up on a vintage ’59 Esquire body, and it’s really twangy and full.

I understand that you were asked to add some guitar to some Ricky Nelson material that was just unearthed.

That just fell in my lap. Ricky Nelson had recorded some songs before he passed away, and different people came in to fix the bass and piano tracks. I played guitar on a few tracks, and I think John Jorgenson played on a few as well. I was very honored to be asked to participate in that.

You’re known for a natural, edgy, and extremely full guitar sound both in the studio and onstage. What kind of exploration have you gone through to achieve that?

On the last Dwight record I did practically everything on a ’59 hard-tail Strat. It’s been refinished, but it sounds great. There’s a killer blackface Twin with the bright switch changed. The big problem I’ve found in the past with Twins, especially in the old days when we’d rent them on tour, was that with the bright switch up, it’d be too thin, and with the switch off, you couldn’t get enough treble.

I talked to Jim Williams, a brilliant amp tech out here in the Valley, and he said that the Twin was really similar to a big Deluxe, my favorite amp of all time, but the bright switch made all the difference. The bright switch is really there on the Deluxe, but it’s shorted out to the chassis. It’s always on. But the Twin has a bright switch that’s voiced incorrectly for guitar. So I gave him my Twin, and he played with it. When I got it back, he told me that with the bright switch down, it would be the same value as my Deluxe, and with the switch up, the same as a Super Reverb. I plugged it in, set the knobs up just as I would on my Fender Deluxe Reverb, and it sounded killer. There also a mid-switch on the Deluxe that’s shorted out, and I believe that the voicing is off there. If you’d jack up the bass enough to get a fat sound out of the treble strings, the bass strings would become muddy. Consequently, I’d come to Jim and asked him for a middle control on the Deluxe, to which he replied, “There’s already one inside.” So, he changed the value to ten, and it’s awesome. When I’d play after that, I’d have my treble on five, and my bass on one or two …but it sounded incredible! It was finally voiced properly for the guitar. There was no “bump” anywhere. The slope across the strings, and from pickup-to-pickup was finally smooth. When I first toured with Dwight we played with a pair of Deluxes, and I’d have the treble on five and the bass off, but the sound was so sweet.

Any preferences right now with amps?

The Twin is used a lot in the studio. It’s great for rhythm, and for country stuff. If it’s a bluesy track, I’ll punch the amp a little harder and play a Strat through it. A great versatile amp. Last summer however, Fender gave me the Tonemaster. Now I’ve known Bob Bradshaw for a long time, since he was working for a pressing plant run by Capitol, and one of the first things he ever did for me was put an effects loop in my Deluxe, while working on the side. I’ve never been able to use his stuff, because it’s so over-the-top, designed for people who just don’t play like I play. But his new thing is a device that re-amplifies any favorite amp you have, goosed by a 100-watt power section into any speakers. A lot of people are claiming to do that, but Bob really delivers. So I had the Tonemaster head and a Groove Tubes Soul-O 75 I’d been using, plus a Matchless, which was really a one trick pony. And when I toured this year, I decided to pass on the Soul-O, cause it ran too hot and went through tubes too fast. Their (Fender’s) Dual Professional was great though, and had a real brown sound that I loved. But I found it initially way too distorted, especially its reproduction of the lower tones, which I use a lot. But Mike (Lewis, of the Fender Custom Amp Shop) was great, and he asked me to work with him on it, and we fooled with the sound together, tightened up the bass.

They must have liked my ideas, because they reshaped the sound and made it like an ultimate Fender Twin Amp with killer reverb and tremolo, three knob control of course. The distortion was coming from the voicing, but the changes in the capacitor changes were like magic. Mike would pop in a cap, and “Bump!” I’d have my glassy top just where it belonged. Now the wild thing is that he was doing this while the amp was hot. I’d be playing through it and he’d be substituting parts! (Kids, don’t try this at home.) What I ended up using on the tour was a pair of what looked like Fender Twin extension cabinets, blonde with a brown grillcloth and two EV-12’s in each, and offstage the Tonemaster, which I used for the rocky stuff. Then I had the Dual Professional which gave me a clean sound for that hillbilly bluegrass, and channel switching for a grittier edge. I actually kept the Groove Tube out there, but just for a couple tunes where I needed to shred.

There is no single amp that does everything well. I love my Fender Vibro King, but would use it only on my own stuff, and if I was playing small clubs. And I played the Blues Deluxe recently, and just dug the hell out of it. It’s a great little amp. A pair of those might be really smokin’.

Do outboard effects come much into the picture with you?

Well, previously when I’d played in clubs through the pair of Deluxes, I’d use an Echoplex through one, and a Boss chorus to put a shimmer on the steel licks. The Tex-Mex border sound would come from the vibrato. But generally, I like the natural sound of the guitar.

There’s some interesting playing going on in the entire album, but I’m curious about your version of the Dylan song, “She Belongs to Me”. A guitar with a gentle tremolo and almost steel quality is there in the background. Where did that come from?

You’ve got a good ear. That’s me playing a Strat with the trem bar. I used a volume pedal to cut off the attack. I came upon this thing, where I’d play an E chord on the nut, with lots of open strings. Then, when going up to the A, I wouldn’t bar it. All those open strings resonate like hell. The modulation in that song works, and it’s cool. The fiddle part on that song is single tracked, not overdubbed he’s (Don Reed) a genius. He was born in Canada, has perfect pitch and total recall.

His Dad would play a tune for him at the age of five, and say, “Okay Donny, play it.” and he’d just duplicate it, phrase for phrase. Plus he’s a sweet, unassuming guy who’s easy to work with. I’ve used him on everything I’ve done since the third Yoakum record, including Michelle and Jackson Browne. He’d come along with me for fun to vocal sessions, and I could tell something was off, but Donny could tell me if it was sharp or flat. And you could throw a fork on the floor and he’d tell you what note it was! (laughter)

You’ve used a lot of old friends on these tracks.

There’s people I go back with 17 years and more. We all know each other’s pimples and bugs, and we’ve gotten over them, or we wouldn’t be still hanging out. The trumpet player, Lee Thornberg, was on tour with me in England, and did all the horn arrangements. I’d erase a few things, ’cause he’d overwrite a bit, but the takes were flawless. We have a great time, and I’d love to make a record with Lee. He actually plays blues on trumpet, not the highest note possible or that weird be-bop stuff. It’s rare. He began playing with Wayne Cochran when he was 17, played with Lowell George on his final tour. He’s in Tower of Power now.

Where did the need for your record company “Little Dog” come from?

Little Dog was born out of frustration. I found that my age group was not being serviced any more musically. Not enough of the baby boomers have a voice in what music is around. When I started in this business, it was frustrating that talented people like Jim Lauderdale, Lucinda Williams, and Dwight had such a hard time of it. There are a lot of in-betweeners, and the record industry has turned its back on them. Recently it got so bad that contemporary radio was either Seattle grunge, Madonna-type dance, or rap. There wasn’t anything else. So, if you were the new James Taylor, where would you go? Maybe Nashville, but they’d be likely to overlook James Taylor now. Or make the wrong record with him, because country radio is like a wasteland. I was trying to get a deal for an artist who’d worked with Neil Young and Stevie Winwood, a great singer and guitar player, with terrific songs, and after making the rounds of record companies, it got stupid. I’d sit across from the executives and say, “You’re missing this giant thing here, and you’re not marketing to a big chunk of people who buy records.” They’re just not being served. That’s why country grew so big …people couldn’t stand popular radio any more. They don’t really like country, they’re not embracing it, but it’s less offensive than the alternatives. So I decided that my future would not be just as producer-for-hire. There’ve been some great times, but it’s always frightening when you hand a great record over to the record company and wonder, “What are they gonna do with this thing?” The Meat Puppets record, prior to the last one, is a good example, because they had an excellent album, selling well at the college level, but the record company wouldn’t get behind it, and it just died.

The only way to alleviate that was to start my own record company. It’s a long road, finding talented people, making good records, getting them out to the public. But I’m learning as I go. We’ve been lucky so far, with our first release of Anthony Crawford’s striking into the top 20. Triple-A radio is a sign that there’s a place for quality new music on the radio, including people like Sheryl Crow and Freedy Johnson.

I did sign a Canadian artist Jim Matt, who is country, and we’ll bring that to the States soon. We’re using advertising and 800 numbers, but I may even use TV to sell this music, like Slim Whitman. I’m going to experiment.

Before we close, let’s touch on some of your early influences.

The sound and sight of Elvis really knocked me out, but I was even more attracted to Scotty Moore’s playing. That sound flipped me out. Because of where I grew up I was exposed to a lot of powerhouse blues artists, like B.B. King and Freddy King, and felt like I could play that stuff ’til I was blue in the face. Even now I attack music from a less-is-more, blues approach.

I think Muddy Waters’ role in the evolution of blues and rock is really overlooked. And what always attracted me to people like Steve Cropper and Amos Garrett, the real greats, was that they were truly melodic, not technical. That’s what it’s all about.

Anderson Photo: John Scarpati.

This interview originally appeared in VG‘s July ’95 issue.

Pete Anderson Live at The Ace of Clubs
Nashville, March 23, 1995

Since Pete Anderson’s long association with Country Artist Dwight Yokam has given us so many great signature licks, one might assume that his live performance in Nashville would reflect that style. One would be dead wrong! Although hints and flashes of his brilliant country work shone through, make no mistake this was a rockin’, Bluesy shuffle night. While seated in the balcony viewing area that bar manager Billy Davis arranged for me at the warehouse-turned-showroom, Ace of Clubs (where I formerly interviewed Danny Gatton for VG, December ’94), I was waiting for the show to begin when my old pal Jimmy Nalls (guitar player for T. Grahm Brown, Dr. John, Greg Allman, etc,) walked up and said Hi. Since I had such a good vantage point, he decided to watch the show there with me. From time to time during the performance we would look at each other simultaneously, as guitar players do when they hear something that grabs them. We were in total agreement; this was GREAT!

The thing that surprised me was the power of Pete’s vocals. Anderson’s soulful voice could have easily carried the whole show. There were more vocal songs than I expected, much to my pleasure. Covers of Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” and a totally different version of Hendrix’s “Fire” brought the house down. Jimmy Nalls said, “He was half way into the song before I realized what it was!” Though the singing was great, the playing was the icing on the cake thick icing. His approach is a solid, raw, bare bones kind of feel, appearing deceptively simple at first. The key word here is TONE. He’s definitely got it. For amplification, he used a Fender Vibro King, which in turn ran into an effects loop into a small (4 to 6 space) rack. This had a sliding drawer with a combination of old and new effects. These, as well as the amp’s built in tremolo were routed to a multi-pedal foot switch that controlled everything. Most of the evening Pete played his Stratocaster, switching off, as the song determined to a custom-made looking Tele style guitar. It was a two-tone sunburst with a single Humbucking pickup. One interesting thing about this guitar, it has a ‘string dropping’ lever (Hip Shot?) on the high “E” string that lowers the note a whole tone, to “D”. He used this on the songs he played slide on as well as some straight finger playing.

His ‘this is my home’ stage manner hints that he has been a front man before. That is, before he became a producer. Anderson claimed to get into producing after “..going broke trying to be a guitar player.” The music was capped off by this wry sense of humor and the feeling was very laid back and very comfortable. On stage, his crack band laid down a groove big enough to hang pictures in! Skip Edwards (Dwight Yokam’s keyboard player) played keys and a small accordion (concertina?) For a sample of his work, check out “Fast As You,” a big hit for Yokam last year. What more do I need to say? He also contributed backing vocals. Drummer Jim Christy put down a ‘Fat Back’ beat that made everything super smooth. His kit was an interesting array of old drums (any vintage drum heads out there?). The bass drum, which was extra deep and the side tom were finished in copper, vintage cool. He locked in tight with bass player Taras Prodaniuk (say that three times real fast.) who used an interesting choice of instrument: a ’64 Fender Bass VI, tuned like a bass with two higher strings. Likewise, a monster tone. He also contributed on vocals and acoustic guitar. Joining the group for a couple songs was Al Perkins (Buritto Bros., Emmylou Harris) on Dobro. Al played on Anderson’s record and since he now lives in Nashville, he came in and Dobro-dazzled all.

After the show, the band was inundated with well wishers as Mr. Nalls and I went to pay our respects. While we waited, one of the people we had both played with, Jo El Sonier, walked up on his way to talk accordion with Skip, no doubt. We all agreed, it was a gig not to be missed. I would recommend that you go see this show if you have the chance. With his busy producing schedule and Yokam’s touring, he may not be doing this again for a while. Catch ’em while you can. – Dave Kyle