Well To The Bone

For his third outing as a leader apart from Tribal Tech, the band he co-founded with bassist Gary Willis in the mid-'80s and which remains one of the freshest and most formidable forces in fusion music today, guitarist extraordinaire Scott Henderson returns to his bluesy roots.
A program of earthy offerings and blues-oriented fare filtered through Henderson's uniquely modernist sensibility, Well To The Bone pays homage to the blues rock of the 60's and 70's while mixing in the guitarist's natural jazz leanings.

"Just the fact that it's got vocals puts it in another zone from Tribal Tech," says Henderson. "And it's definitely way closer to blues, though it's not traditional blues because the songs aren't strictly 12-bar, i-iv-v forms. It's blues with more changes than what's typical."

While it may not be blues in a Mississippi Delta or Southside Chicago sense, the music on Well To The Bone will immediately register with fans of blues rock.
"Some blues purists get mad if you try to call this kind of music blues" says Henderson. "It's all rock 'n' roll to their ears. I just consider it modern blues or blues with a twist. It's my little spin on the blues feel. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and so many other great players have done it before me, but my thing is to start from there and then get a little more harmonically adventurous. Since I've been involved with jazz most of my career, it's influence usually appears in one form or another in my songwriting."

The guitarist applies his sizzling six-string virtuosity to inspired numbers like the opening "Lady P" and "Devil Boy", both delivered with bluesy gusto by singer Wade Durham.
The rocking bar band flavored title track, belted out with gutsy abandon by blues diva Thelma Houston (who appeared on Henderson's last rip-roaring blues outing, 1997's Tore Down House ) is a sludgy blues shuffle, while the slow blues instrumental "That Hurts" gives Henderson a chance to blend his harmonic sophistication with toe-curling, string-bending intensity.
The funky "Dat's Da Way It Go" is a syncopated, funky vehicle that provides some humorous repartee between Durham and Houston (a reprise of Thelma's sassy call-and-response with Masta Edwards on the darkly ironic "I Hate You" from Tore Down House ).
"Ashes", the Middle Eastern flavored "Sultan's Boogie" and the bluegrass breakdown "Hillbilly in the Band" (featuring some nifty banjo licks from the guitarist himself) fall well outside the realm of standard blues. Henderson flaunts some nasty slide licks on the 3/4 vehicle "Lola Fay", sung with earthy urgency by Houston. And he creates an intricate latticework of shimmering acoustic guitar tracks on the album's evocative closer "Rituals", a hauntingly beautiful Henderson composition which was previously recorded by Tribal Tech on 1988's Nomad .

Of his apparent ease at shifting gears from Tribal Tech's incendiary fusion to this rootsier blues bag, Henderson says: "Ever since (1994's) Dog Party I've been just really getting back to my roots more, not that I stopped playing jazz, but I just wanted to do this too. I've probably played more blues than jazz since I picked up guitar, even though I've not had much chance to record that side of my playing. So it's nice now to be able to write songs in that direction, record them have people accept them for what they are. Sometimes you get pigeonholed as a certain type of player and then when you make a move doing something else it seems contrived or not heartfelt. But for me, this is the kind of stuff I grew up listening to, so it's very heartfelt."

Henderson adds that the process of methodically layering multiple guitar parts throughout Well To The Bone is something he has never attempted before in the studio. "When I started this record it was going to be a live in the studio trio album, a document of tunes that we've been playing on the road for a while".
Henderson has been touring for the past three years with bassist John Humphrey and Tribal Tech drummer Kirk Covington. "But when I got into the studio and started experimenting I started layering tracks and the whole project just became something else. After the first tune I realized it was going to be more about tone and textures -- more a kind of sonic painting -- than it was going to be about a live-sounding trio thing. So we did the basics and then I overdubbed quite a bit at home. The songs became palettes to put different guitar tones and sounds on. I have a lot of new guitars and a lot of new equipment and I wanted to see what kind of color scheme I could make with the gear that I have now. My job on a record is usually one track of guitar and I'm done, so this was my first experience with multi-layered tracks of guitar and I really had a good time doing it. And I learned a lot about recording techniques in the process."

Scott's main axe throughout Well To The Bone was his trusty white Strat made by California luthier John Suhr. For the layering effects he relied on several different guitars, including a Les Paul and a series of Danelectro guitars -- baritone, 12-string and a U3 with three lipstick pickups. He also alternated amplifiers between a Fender Bandmaster customized by Alexander Dumble, an old Marshall '68 100-watt and his traveling Custom Audio amp. "I did a lot of experimentation with combinations of sounds and mic-ing and different things that I'd never really messed around with in the studio before. I had fun with it and I think the sounds and tones that I came up with are my best so far."

Going through the trial-and-error of finding just the right tones from track to track meant that Henderson ultimately spent more time twirling knobs in the control room than actually playing. "It was all pretty new to me, learning about layering and how to make all the sounds separated in the mix," he explains."I was pretty methodical about tone on this record .
I wanted to make sure that the tones all fit the parts and that they really had a vintage sounding quality to them. And I think they do, except for the one tune "Sultan's Boogie", which required a more modern tone. I was going for a completely different sound on that one. But I think the rest of the songs sound pretty vintage, which is cool."

That marriage of vintage tones, unrestrained bluespower and undeniable talent made a formula for success on Well To The Bone.

Bill Milkowski