Super-sideman Jesse Aycock (Hard Working Americans, Elizabeth Cook) has a new self-titled album highlighting his understated (but mindblowing) guitar, slide, and lap steel. Jesse’s singing voice is also surprising – a vulnerable cry that brings to life his earthy FM rock, country, and pop-edged material. Around the vocals, he wraps layers of shimmering Strats and steels, evoking the sounds of the ’70s with uncanny ability. We visited with the Oklahoma ace to unpack the album.
Cuts like “High Hopes” and “Wreck Like You” sound like long-lost cuts from George Harrison and John Lennon’s early solo albums.
Yeah, I’m definitely a sucker for that era of recordings, especially the stuff Phil Spector produced for Harrison and Lennon. My music goes well beyond that, but it’s hard to escape the Beatles’ presence. That influence always finds a way of making it into my recordings.
“Shed the Light” has many layers of cool, warbly guitar parts, but how did you keep it uncluttered?
I can thank co-producer Jason Weinheimer and the rhythm section of Paddy Ryan and Aaron Boehler for that, as we left a fair amount of space in the bedrock of the song. I started adding layers with a second and third guitar part along with backup vocals. By the end we had a ton going on and it was just overkill, so Jason started peeling back the layers. I can easily say of all the songs we recorded, that had the most going on and required the most surgery.
You seem to enjoy that Leslie guitar-type tone, as heard on “Wreck Like You.”
That was a real Leslie cabinet I ran through on “Wreck Like You.” I love the vibe it creates in a mix, and gives that instant feeling of ’70s nostalgia. Some of the other Leslie-type sounds could have been coming from my DOD Stereo Flanger.
“Past Life” has a great slide break.
That was on my ’56 Fender Deluxe lap-steel. In choosing an instrument to play for a solo, it’s usually about what color lends itself to the song. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying a different guitar or amp, but sometimes it’s pretty obvious that lap-steel, pedal-steel, or slide guitar is the thing to do. A good example of that is the slide part on the end of “Passing Days.” Lap-steel would have worked but wouldn’t have had the same feel as slide. With many of the songs on this album, I wanted the steel to add a feeling more than an actual sound.
Who are you main guitar influences?
I’m self-taught, but one of the first players I really connected with was Marc Ford, of the Black Crowes. Growing up, I spent hours playing along to Southern Harmony & Musical Companion, probably driving my folks crazy. I also love that back-and-forth you get with two players, like Marc and Rich Robinson, Neil Young and Stephen Stills, Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, Dickey Betts and Duane Allman, and so on.
You worked with the late Neal Casal.
Neal is another big influence, not only as a guitar player, but as a composer, producer, and writer. Working with him in the studio and live, interweaving guitar parts with Hard Working Americans, taught me more in a short period of time than I’ve learned in all my years of playing.
“Under the Gun” gets into some great psychedelia at the end. Was that a live jam?
Paddy, Aaron, and myself tracked all the rhythm live as a three piece, and I laid down the outro-guitar after. I was feeling inspired and recorded it pretty quickly. If I recall correctly, we got it in one take. I tried beating it a few times after, just for fun, but it didn’t have the same spark.
Which amps, and pedals did you use on the album?
I used my modded reissue Fender Princeton for much of the tracking, and a ’71 Vibrolux for guitar and pedal-steel. There’s a Trace Elliot Velocette for leads on a couple of the tracks, and an old Webcor all-tube tape player for lead guitars on “High Hopes” and “Shed The Light.” For pedals, I used my Catalinbread Echorec, DOD FX75-B stereo flanger, Ernie Ball volume pedal, Strymon El Capistan, BearFoot Pink Purple fuzz, Sarno Earth Drive overdrive, and Pedalworx Hellbilly fuzz/drive.
With everyone on lockdown, how did you manage to create such organic recordings?
We ended up going in as a three piece and tracking everything live to tape, followed by some overdubs. Fellowship Hall Sound, in Little Rock, has such a great, laid-back vibe, which made it easy to settle in and get good sounds. They also have the original Caddco mixing console that producer Tom Dowd used; it came from Atlantic Studios in New York City, which is really neat. Running through all that cool vintage gear was really inspiring – and a testament of how good those engineers were.
This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.