The following is excerpts from an interview written by Matt Resnicoff and Joe Gore, originally published in Guitar Player, February 1990. It is reprinted here courtesy of Guitar Player.
Parts of Soul To Soul and In Step are complemented by organ work. Is the organ trio something you’ve thought about exploring?
Yeah. I’ve gone through phases like that, off and on, through the years. Ive always really liked that kind of playing. Infact I got ahold of a Gibson Johnny Smith guitar I really like. But so far on record – except when I used the Johnny Smith on “Stangs Swang”, it’s always been one of the Stratocasters. “Riviera Paradise” and “Lenny” [Texas Flood] are both played on the same guitar, and for some reason that guitar works for songs like that more than anything else.
It must have special meaning to you.
It’s called Lenny. I found it at a pawnshop and didn’t have the money to buy it, and my and several other friends of mine put a pool together and bought the guitar. It’s always meant a lot to me. And I love what it sounds like.
Is your playing different around the house than what your public knows you for? Like on the Johnny Smith?
Sometimes. When I play it right [laughs]. There are times when I pick it up and I want to play “The House Is Rockin” on it and it just didn’t seem right, you know? I’m always trying to find a balance, in life in general and in the music. You know, I used to feel like I needed to sing things at people, to play at people, and later on then I was getting high all the time I found that I was drinking at people and getting high at people. Now I’m learning how to deal with all those emotions, I think we’re all probably really looking for peace of mind in those kind of songs. Like “Riviera Paradise” – there’s a gentler, peaceful place there, if you look real closely.
What about a relatively complex piece like “Riviera Paradise”?
“Riviera Paradise” was one take. We tired to do it again on another day, and it sounded like Muzak or something I never thought we would play that song more than once in the studio, and when we tried it again, everybody sounded like they were just playing a bunch of notes. It sounded okay, but like it should have been in an elevator or something. Nobody except for me even considered that we were going to do that for a take. Everybody was getting ready, and I turned the lights off in my little isolation booth, and was determined that it was the one. Everybody played real well, which was funny, because Chris was tuning his drums while we were doing the cut, and Tommy was figuring out what he wanted to play. It just fell together.
Had you written it, or was it entirely improvised?
I started writing it in ’84, and it went through all these different phases. The progression pretty much stayed the same the whole time. There was one stage where it had lyrics; at one stage it was a continuation of another song. I guess what the song meant to me changed over time. The song is written really to anybody who suffers. I was looking for the willingness to make right the wrongs that I’ve done throughout my life, I guess, but mainly the time I was using drugs and people and myself.
“Riviera Paradise” is a product of coming back. That’s the one thing that stayed constant: that song was always meant to soothe – soothe feelings, and especially pain. And that’s the same thing the song “Lenny” was written for. I guess that’s what music’s really for in the first place, whether it excites you, makes you go through something, painful or not. The end result should still soothe in some way.