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On the road: Riding with the King
They're not exactly "on a TWA to the Promised Land," but Sonny and the rest of John Hiatt and The Goners are traveling in fine style on the road with B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Tommy Castro. The band's tour bus, Sonny reports, is "brand new. There were 12 miles on the odometer when it left Nashville. Two satellite TVs, screens in all the bunks. We're definitely in the lap of luxury, which helps when you're doing 700 miles a night."
The intrepid musicians are on the road in support of Hiatt's new disc featuring The Goners, "The Tiki Bar is Open," due in stores Tuesday, Sept. 11.
"It feels good to be back in the groove playing these wonderful songs of John's with this great band and crew," Sonny says. "Easily the most impressive place we've played in this long stretch of dates was actually the second gig, at The Gorge in Washington State. Imagine a stage high up on a cliff with the Grand Canyon as a backdrop and you get the idea."
"The last time I was there I was playing in Sue Medley's band opening for Bob Dylan, I think it was the summer of '91. It's absolutely beautiful, and we will have some pictures for the web site soon. Kenneth (Goners drummer Blevins) and Wayne (front of house engineer Trevisani) each have digital cameras."
"B.B. stopped by our bus to say hello and welcome us aboard the tour. He is the most gracious host, with a heart of gold. Buddy Guy stopped by too, and he and B got to talking about old times. We really had fun, lots of laughs. Listening to them reminded me to count blessings. These are the kind of moments I'll never forget."
Another memorable moment came a week later in Concord, Calif., when Carlos Santana sat in with Buddy and his band. "Talk about Mr. Soul, Carlos is no stranger to the blues. He just borrowed a rig onstage, a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop through a Bogner Ecstasy head and cab, and wailed. He and Buddy sounded great together."
The tour rolls through the U.S. until at least mid-October. More dates for Hiatt and The Goners are in the works after that; check pollstar.com or johnhiatt.com for the latest.
A new featured mp3
By popular request, we've posted "Son of Native Stepson" in the Lagniappe section of the site. This is the rare acoustic version of the electric "South of I-10" instrumental that opens Sonny's web site. Dave, Sonny and drummer Mike Organ laid down basic tracks in New York, and Steve Conn overdubbed accordion and Hammond B-3 parts with Sonny's co-producer R.S. Field in Nashville. "We were on the road and decided to do this acoustic version of the song, which I like doing, because there's always a flip side to a song, it just gives it a whole different vibe," Sonny reports. He played his Martin D-28 on the cut, and says it offers a taste of the direction a future all-acoustic album might take.
Check the Lagniappe Photo Album for some cool subscriber submissions from recent gigs in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh, and a vintage shot from the 1995 edition of Austin's annual South by Southwest Music and Media Conference.
Sonny's backline blueprint, pt. 1
Just call this section "traveling light." Before we get into all the gear Sonny's got with him on the current bus tour, we thought we'd take a look at the stripped-down "flight" rig he carried on the recent string of trio dates.
The signal chain starts with a Gibson Les Paul Classic equipped with the TransPerformance system (the guitar is in a gig bag for carry-on). "At the push of a button, I can call up any of my pre-programmed chordal tunings thanks to the brilliance of inventor Neil Skinn of Fort Collins, Colorado," Sonny explains. "The onboard computer controls a servo motor on each string that mechanically moves the strings into position for the different tunings, which means you are physically playing these tunings, they're not virtual or simulated. Absolutely amazing."
"The setlist determines which pedals I need. It's give and take, and with limited space you do have to compromise somewhat. With this particular combination, though, I can pretty much cover the bases." First comes a MXR Dyna Comp, followed by a Fulltone Fulldrive 2 distortion pedal, a Big Muff distortion pedal, a Boss CE-5 chorus pedal and an Ibanez Echo Machine delay pedal.
Sonny's tried-and-true 75-watt Demeter TGA-3 amp head gets "checked" along with the pedals. "I've used it for the vast majority of everything I've recorded since 1980: it's old faithful." The speaker cabinet, usually a Marshall 4x12 loaded with Vintage 30 speakers, is provided by the venue as part of Sonny's backline rider requirements. "The newer Marshall cabs sound great and give you the flexibility of switching to either two of the 12s for lower volume in clubs and theaters, or all four 12s to crank it up for the festivals and sheds."
Spread the word
Next time around we'll take a peek at Sonny's rig on the road with John Hiatt and The Goners and share more tales from the "Tiki Bar" tour. Until then, please help us spread the word about the web site and enewsletter .
See you down the road!