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Scott Henderson - A Man On a Musical Mission

Check out this video of the Scott Henderson Trio:

1. I read a quote a while back stating that you profess to being a blues player at heart. Can you elaborate on that?

SCOTT: That’s the music I grew up listening to. I’m mainly self-taught. I did go to school much later at Florida Atlantic University and GIT, to learn more about jazz, but I didn't have one lesson for the first fifteen years that I played guitar. So I’m very much a self-taught player when it comes to blues. I learned a lot from listening to Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Albert King, BB King - those recordings taught me how to play guitar as far as phrasing and tone. So I was pretty much a pro player before I’d even heard jazz.

2. Who were some of the players that led you to jazz?

SCOTT: The first jazz band I really liked was Weather Report. They had everything; great writing, great improvising and great grooves. Then I heard bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea's first band with Bill Connors. Those are the kind of bands that got me interested in fusion. At that point, my understanding of jazz was very limited, but I wanted to learn more about straight ahead jazz because I realized those musicians weren't rock musicians playing jazz, but jazz musicians playing rock. I started listening to the artists who pioneered that music like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane all the way up to the modern guys like Micheal Brecker and Chris Potter. I should also mention that in my youth, I played with an all black band for six years playing nothing but Tower of Power, James Brown, Kool and the Gang and that kind of stuff. I think that experience is what opened my mind and got me into other styles of music besides just rock and blues.

3. You have recorded and toured with some heavyweights in the music business. One of the more notable being Chick Corea. Could you describe that experience?

SCOTT: It wasn't very pleasant to tell you the truth. It was during a time when Chick was trying to be very commercial and I wasn't in that frame of mind. Also Chick and the crew are Scientologists and I’m very much against Scientology. The funny thing is that most people ask me about playing with Chick, and I only played with him for five months. Then luckily I got the gig with Joe Zawinul and played with him for four years.

4. How was that?

SCOTT: That was awesome. I got to work with one of my biggest heroes. In fact, I had a chance to play with Miles Davis and I turned that gig down to play with Joe. That’s how important Joe's gig was to me. In my opinion, he was the Mozart of this century.

5. You formed Tribal Tech in 1984 with bass player Gary Willis which brought you to the forefront of modern jazz/fusion guitar playing. Did everyone contribute to the writing process?

SCOTT: At first it was mainly me and then Willis started to write some really great stuff. That’s why we changed the name to Scott Henderson/ Gary Willis/ Tribal Tech because he became one of the main writers. Some of the other band members would contribute a song now and then, but it was mainly the two of us.

6. Let's talk about Vibe Station. How did this project come to fruition?

SCOTT: During the making of Dog Party and Tore Down House, I was still in the jazz group Tribal Tech so the purpose of making the blues records was to get back to my roots and play some of the music which I never got to document. By the time I recorded Well To The Bone, I didn’t want to play straight blues, but a mixture of blues and jazz. When drummer Kirk Covington left the band, who was the vocalist, I started writing more instrumental music for a trio situation. After Well To The Bone, my daughter was born so I was pretty busy being a dad and didn’t compose as much. Now that she’s eleven, she's more independent so I have more time to write again. So Vibe Station is my return to being a composer and really getting back into it. It's challenging after writing so much music to come up with fresh sounding stuff. One of the challenges was figuring out a way to play the chords and melody with distortion in a chord melody style and develop my own voice in that style. I think I accomplished that on Vibe Station. I’m pretty happy with the results but of course I’m always a work in progress. There’s always room for improvement, that’s for sure. I’ll continue on this path of writing trio music for guitar and we’ll see if I get better at it next time.

7. It sounds like you are using lots of chord partials and smaller voicings.

SCOTT: Yeah I’m trying not to use big full chords, and I’m using a lot of open strings. I don't have the kind of reach that Allan Holdsworth has and I like those cool small intervals in the chords which I can't get by stretching.

8. I also like your use of the tremelo bar. That is a pretty big part of your style wouldn't you say?

SCOTT: Absolutely. It’s very vocal. You can make make some pretty weird sounds with it and even simulate slide guitar.

9. It sounds like you leave lots of room for improvisation in your music. When you record your solos are you improvising live or do you play your solos later?

SCOTT: My intention is to keep as much as I can from the basic tracks but that doesn't always happen. If the drummer and bass player don't react to anything I play and I don't like the solo, I can just play a completely new one and it wouldn't matter since they didn't react to me. But if they did, then I can't just go in there and burn a new solo because it wouldn't make any sense with what they’re playing. There were a couple solos where they reacted to me a lot - I didn't like my tone in the basic tracks because I had to turn down my amp really low to prevent bleed into the drum mics, so I actually learned big parts of my original solos and re-played them with a better tone. I may have made some improvements but the rhythms had to be there or they wouldn't sound right against what the guys played behind me.

10. Was it a challenge to try to recreate the solos and keep the spontaneity in the delivery?

SCOTT: No not really. It’s pretty easy to hear what I did and do it again. I hear familiar phrases that I play and can recognize them easily. The main thing is to keep the rhythmic ideas that were on the basic tracks.

11. Now while we are on the subject of improvising, learning how to improvise can be really challenging to some guitarists. What are some effective ways to practice it?

SCOTT: There are parts of the jazz vocabulary which everyone should learn from the masters, so it definitely doesn't hurt to transcribe. But when you transcribe something, it’s important to try to make it your own. Play it with different rhythms, start it on different places on the beat, play it in different modes in all keys, play seamlessly into it from something you already know (that’s the hardest part), and keep playing after the idea is finished. That way it sounds like a natural part of your playing and not just a lick you stole off a record. After doing that hundreds of times, you end up with a pretty big vocabulary of ideas. I’m not saying to only transcribe, but that’s part of it. It’s like learning a language. After you learn the words, which are chord tones and scales, you start working on sentences, which are lines and phrases, and then paragraphs, which are longer motific statements. You learn how to put all that together to tell a story, which is what a good solo should sound like.

12. Let's talk a little about equipment you used for Vibe Station. How about guitars?

SCOTT: I used a few of my favorite Suhr strats, a Les Paul, a Suhr Telecaster and for Chelsea Bridge, a beautiful Sontag hollow body which Bruce Forman loaned me. It’s one of the best sounding hollow bodies I’ve ever heard. I want one! It was really a privilege to get to play it on that last tune. Thanks Bruce!

13. How about Amps?

SCOTT: I used three amps on the record. The main amp was a ’71 Marshall which was modded by John Suhr with a master volume, a Fender Bandmaster, also modded by John, and a Suhr Badger. My main pedal was the Xotic RC Booster, but I played a few high gain solos using the Klon Centaur and Maxon SD-9. Then I used a ton of other pedals for sound effects, and also used a lot of plug-ins. EchoBoy is great, not just for delay but for weird sound effects.

14. Do you ever use any digital modeling processors such as Guitar Rig?

SCOTT: No, I’m completely old school. I like using a Marshall amp cranked up nice and loud. I don't really care for any of the modeling stuff out there. I use a speaker cabinet made by Kerry Wright who clones the really ancient Marshall 4x12's to the tee and they create a tone that no speaker model could possibly come close to.

15. What about touring plans?

SCOTT: East coast tour in September, Europe in October and South America in November. All the dates are on the touring page of my website at http://www.scotthenderson.net

16. You are also known for being a great educator and teacher. What do you like most about teaching?

SCOTT: When students work hard and I can see them grow into better musicians. And of course teaching provides extra income which is helpful for any working musician.

17. Could you see yourself playing in a pop band such as Steely Dan or Sting?

SCOTT: Steely Dan would be one of the few pop gigs I'd probably enjoy. Mike Landau plays in James Taylor's band and James lets him play a lot so I’m sure that’s a fun gig for him. But unfortunately that’s an exception. Most pop gigs don’t need an advanced player, and I’m too old anyway. Also you have to be a good actor and make them believe you're really enjoying yourself - I’d suck at that.

18. Who are some of your favorite guitar players?

SCOTT: That's a tough question to answer because there are so many different genres and styles. But if I had to drop some names I’d say Tommy Emmanuel and Ralph Towner are my two favorite acoustic players. For jazz I love Kurt Rosenwinkel, Scofield and Bruce Forman, who I go see play all the time. For rock, I love Van Halen, Beck, Page, Hendrix and Blackmore. And for country Johny Hiland, Albert Lee, Jerry Douglas, Junior Brown and Steve Trovato are terrific players. There are so many. Without mentioning all the great blues guitarists of the past who I love, Kirk Fletcher and Mike Landau are my favorite modern blues players.

19. Any advice for some players starting out on a musical level?

SCOTT: I think it is really important to keep your ears open and not be too influenced by any one person because it is very easy to be a clone of somebody else. Listen to many diffent types of music, pop, jazz, country, rock, gospel, blues, funk and classical music. If you only listen to metal, good luck. You’re going to sound like another metal guy and it’s hard enough to tell them apart as it is.

For more information on Scott Henderson visit his official Website