Back from barnstorming the globe, blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher’s latest is music for the people. Heartache by the Pound is about love, sorrow, joy, and pain, driven by freakishly excellent guitar playing. Mostly recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Fletcher checks one off his bucket list by recording at the legendary studio and crafting a record fueled by virtuoso playing and vocals that connect to the heart.
You produced Heartache by the Pound.
Yes. This album was the most-challenging in terms of putting it all together. It was a big undertaking. I was living in Switzerland, recorded the album in Muscle Shoals, and did overdubs in Nashville, Switzerland, and Los Angeles. I called Reese Wynans to play some organ, and this young guy from Memphis named Terence Clark, who played with Robert Cray, played drums. Randy Bermudes played bass on the FAME Studio sessions, and the vibe was so much fun.
The one thing that I did differently on this record was GarageBand demos. I had everything mapped out with the help of my co-writer, Richard Cousins. I played bass, had all the grooves and tempos, and wrote out all the guitar parts. It also gave me the opportunity to play the bass lines I wanted. Bass lines and tempos are very important to me. I like to know how it’s going to sound.
The album gives the impression it’s going to be old-school R&B, then expands with Albert King and beyond.
For a guitar player, if you go too R&B, it’s not as hard-hitting as I like. I need to have that edgier thing, too. I won’t say rock, but it’s edgier – more blues and other textures with edgier guitars. I wrote these songs during the pandemic, so I call the album my “Mid-Life Crisis Sessions” (laughs).
If I could record anywhere, it would be Muscle Shoals. You hear guys say, “It’s my dream to record at Abbey Road,” or “Sun Studios!” My dream was to record at FAME, where Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and all these different people recorded. A lot of great blues players, too. So I had to. I saved money, sold a guitar or two, and made it happen. I recorded six songs at FAME and the rest at other studios, including Josh Smith’s studio in L.A. I recorded the organ trio in Italy. It turned out very cohesive and yet has different colors. It was a challenge to have all these twists and turns with different ideas for the rhythm sections and still make it cohesive.
“Wildcat Tamer” shows your range as a bonafide chicken pickin’ enthusiast.
That was on a baritone guitar (laughs)! The way it was mixed made it brighter-sounding, but it was a baritone.
Which other guitars do we hear?
I endorse Gibson exclusively, and just before the sessions I got my Custom Shop Murphy Lab ’59 ES-345 with an ebony fretboard. It’s on a lot of stuff. On “Wrong Kinda Love,” I played my Custom Shop Les Paul, and I used my Les Paul Special with Ron Ellis pickups on the solo to “I Can’t Find No Love” and “Wrapped Up, Tangled Up In The Blues.” Everything else was the Custom Shop 345.
I don’t like having a million guitars; I’m like Larry Carlton – I like guys who can get a lot of things out of one. Switching guitars onstage, for me, is weird, but there are exceptions.
How about amplifiers on the album?
I borrowed an amp from Joe Bonamassa – a late-’50s tweed Bandmaster – and the house amp at FAME, which is a silverface Vibrolux. I always use Josh Smith’s Morgan PR12 combo for overdubs. In Switzerland, I used a blackface Princeton.
You have the ability to channel ’60s soul, B.B. King, Hendrix, and Prince, but you always show discipline and restraint.
I still go to Hendrix and Joni Mitchell for inspiration. Those are my two biggest influences. It’s hard for a lot of guitar players to rein it in. They may feel like playing authentic ’60s soul is not who they are as artists. But I really dive into that. I like reining it in for certain things. It’s special to me, my music, and my songwriting. Tomorrow, you might hear me play the freakiest Eddie Hazel thing because that’s in my brain.
I think of music as different colors. I also love Allan Holdsworth. I’m a child of Hendrix and all the colors and influences he heard. I dove into Chicago blues really heavy, but grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, and that’s the stuff I like. It’s also fun. I wanted to write an album that people could relate to – non-guitar players, too!
This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.