With the recent release of his third solo album, Screamin’ in the Wind, guitarist Dudley Taft is serving notice that for all of his years of experience, his guitar playing is still a considerable force. Taft grew up in the Midwest, listening to ’70s bands such as Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, and others.
“Machine Head is one of my desert-island albums,” he said. “And, from the age of 13, I just wanted to play lead guitar.”
As a teenager attending boarding school, he played in a band with Trey Anastasio, who would go on to found Phish. He went to college in Los Angeles, but found that the music scene was “…more about image than great songs, so I visited Seattle to check it out, and knew that was the place for me.”
There, Taft played with Sweet Water, then shifted gears to go in a loud, bluesy direction in a power trio.
“After 17 years in rock bands, I need a break, and decided that doing some sort of ZZ Top tribute show would be really fun,” he detailed. “While learning those songs, I realized how much blues were the foundation of the Southern and British rock I grew up with, and then I discovered Freddie King, which changed my life.”
Screamin’ in the Wind opens with Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor,” followed by a Freddie King tribute, “Pack It Up.” The rest of the album is comprised of originals.
“The songs are very different, so sequencing is difficult,” Taft explained. “I would like the listener to be able to experience the whole thing from start to finish, like I did with Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. There’s a great variation in the mood and styles of the songs, and I tried to pace it like a live set.”
Numerous raunchy tones are found on the new album, most evoked from Fender Stratocasters. He owns an ’83 vintage reissue, a ’91 Custom Shop in Sea Foam Green, and a ’94 Custom Shop Relic. Taft cited the setup for “3DHD” as an example of his approach to utilizing the tone of a Strat.
“That is a song about a split personality, so I incorporated that in the tones of the left and right solo tracks,” he said. “The cleaner solo sound was my Relic Stratocaster through a Velvet Minotaur – a Klon clone – and Fulltone OCD pedals into my ’66 Fender Deluxe, and the other (track is) much the same, but with the addition of the Fulltone Proctavia pedal. It’s the ‘Purple Haze’ solo effect – both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.”
Another tune with a banshee-like lead guitar is “Say You Will,” which has an extended final segment.
“I used a Whammy pedal at the end of ‘Say You Will’,” Taft noted. “It seemed appropriate for the epilogue at the end of that song. I saw a concert on TV where David Gilmour was using one, and I thought it sounded haunting and beautiful.”
On the other hand, a Gibson Les Paul was needed for “Red Line,” an obvious tribute to ZZ Top.
“It’s easier to get those pinch harmonics off the edge of your thumb with humbuckers and a healthy dose of gain,” Taft said. “I used my 2006 Custom Shop VOS 1960 Les Paul Standard. I had the neck shoulders shaved down a bit – I like thin necks – and put some Lindy Fralin pickups in there. I used my ’74 Marshall JMP Super Lead head through a Bogner 4×12 cab with the Velvet Minotaur for a big fat boost. Somehow, the verses turned out more Thin Lizzy than ZZ Top, but the jam at the end delivers at live gigs like ‘La Grange’ does.”
Acoustic guitars on Screamin’ in the Wind include a Martin 00-18V and a new Martin dreadnought.
Another positive addition to the new album was veteran keyboard player Reese Wynans, formerly with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band.
“I asked (producer) Tom Hambridge to find a great B3 player, and Reese was his choice,” Taft recounted. “So, I got lucky! Reese is great at playing in strange keys. I tune all my guitars down a half-step, so you end up with a lot of stuff in Eb, Bb, and G#.”
Like many artists, Taft is popular in Europe, even if he’s not a household name in the U.S.
“The band did a tour of the E.U. in May, and is heading back in September,” he said. “We are branching out a bit there; we’ll be playing Poland for the first time. We just played CD release gigs in Tacoma, Seattle, and Cincinnati, and will be doing regional shows in the Midwest in the fall.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s December 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.