There are a lot of retro bands, but few get the sonics correct. Hailing from central Canada, The Sheepdogs conjure an authentic vintage sound right down to guitar tones once lost to history. Their latest, Outta Sight, is a time-machine ride to the days of the Doobies, Lizzy, T. Rex, and the ABB. Frontman Ewan Currie shared the guitar-grooming tips behind the Sheepdogs’ hairy sound.
“Find the Truth” has a perfect ’70s vibe. How do you nail that kind of authenticity?
I don’t really listen to much music beyond 1979; I’m firmly in love with the sonics of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Not just the sounds and tones, but the style of songwriting and guitar playing. We use a lot of old guitars and amps, but also some modern equipment. A lot of that old vibe comes from the songwriting and way we play and sing.
What is the music scene like in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan?
The scene we came up in had a lot of punk and alt-rock/indie bands doing original songs, and roadhouse-blues cover bands on the other end of the spectrum. We’d spend Friday nights drinking beers and listening to Led Zeppelin and Creedence, but we couldn’t find any bar bands playing the sort of music we dug, so we just basically started the Sheepdogs to be that band. More than the sounds around us, it was the absence of what we liked that drove us.
There’s overdrive on your guitars, but not too much.
A guitar tone that’s just breaking up is a beautiful thing. We’ve gone through a lot of amps to find that perfect combo of the clean/dirty thing. I’m quite fond of little amps – Fender Champs, Princetons, even this ’50s Gibson lap-steel amp I found; just plug in and dime it. I remember reading that John Fogerty lamented his lack of a searing blues tone in his early CCR days; to me that’s crazy. His tone on those records is almost the holy grail for me.
Were guitars on “Waiting for Your Call” recorded direct?
Yes, those are DI, and we did a fair amount of that on this record. “Scarborough Street Fight” and “So Far Gone” are DI, as well. When you crank those [mixer] preamps, you just get this awesome fuzzed-out tone we describe as “’70s sci-fi guitars.” I think we got into that because we were trying to get the guitar tone that Hot Chocolate had on “Everyone’s A Winner.”
“So Far Gone” has echoes of “Lay Down Sally.” How do you get that twin-guitar Tulsa sound?
J.J. Cale is the big influence. You start with the Acetone drum machine, which is what J.J. used, and then it’s about that guitar shuffle, and not overplaying. I’ve listened to so much J.J. Cale in the last few years that playing a shuffle is my go-to almost every time I pick up the guitar.
What gear did you use on Outta Sight?
I’ve been playing two ’73 Les Paul Customs for the last few years, and I just got a brand new Custom Shop ’64 ES-335 that has become my new favorite. I have a ’74 Les Paul Deluxe with the mini-humbuckers when I want to feel like I’m in Thin Lizzy. As for amps, I’ve mostly used a pair of Silvertone 1484s. They’re cheaply made, but super rockin’. I’ve also used a Supro Big Star and an amp made by our front-of-house tech, Marc Crain. He got into amp building over the pandemic and made this ripping lil’ Princeton knockoff with a boost.
For pedals, I just have an Ibanez overdrive for a little extra juice on a solo or riff, and a tuner. My dream is to plug straight into the amp, but I’m not there yet.
How do you divide up the solos?
I take probably 20 percent of the solos. Our new guitarist is Ricky Paquette, who is a bit of a guitar hero and can really take solos that explode into the stratosphere. I’m more a change-of-pace soloist, and we do a lot of harmonies and coordinated interplay.
The Sheepdogs’ sound seems custom-made for live performance?
Live is where we shine, and I think folks are pleasantly surprised when they see us for the first time. We’ve been playing with this band for 18 years. My brother, Shamus, plays keys and the rest of these guys might as well be my brothers – it’s a real family vibe that I hope strikes the perfect mix of tight, yet loose. What sets us apart from a lot of other bands is that all five of us sing together, which is an unbeatable combination.
This article originally appeared in VG’s December 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.