Gregg Allman Band - Rams Head On Stage - 8/5/14
Photo: Steve Hefter
A Conversation with Scott Sharrard
June 2, 2014
Hi, I’m Tom Pragliola for Rock, Roots, & Blues - Live. We’re here with Scott Sharrard. Hi Scott. Thank you. We’re here at Gibson showroom and studios, so I thought I’d ask you what model Gibson do you play?
My main guitar for well over a decade has been a Custom Shop 336 and I get questions about it all the time. Mainly because Gibson made something called a 339 and also shortly after that was a cheaper version of the guitar, an ES 339. Then they stopped making all of them and then they started making 339’s again but the 339’s were custom shop built quality. So it gets a little confusing. Mine’s a CS-336 from 2001.
Which they don’t make anymore?
And to make it even more confusing, just recently they started making them again.
And the more popular model is the 335?
Well the 335 is the classic model. That’s the original semi-hollow Gibson guitar. And it’s what the 336 is patterned off of. I played a 335 for years but mine weighed like 12 pounds. It weighed more than a Les Paul and it’s huge, well, not huge, it’s bigger than a 336 and when I played the 336, sonically it landed somewhere between a Telecaster and a 335, which is exactly what I was looking for. It has a brighter sounding top on it for some reason, I guess it’s the tone wood or how they carve the tone chamber, but it’s got, for me, the neck and the ring of the guitar. It’s just perfect. So I haven’t really, I mean this is my go to, I can play whole shows with everybody on that guitar, and it works for everything. It’s like a swiss army knife. But I’ve got other Gibsons that I love. I’ve got my own 335 which, my friend, an old student of mine but now really coming up, a guitar prodigy, Connor Kennedy, he has my 335 that I grew up playing and so now he plays that. It’s on permanent loan I guess you could say. And then I have a Firebird which Gibson was nice enough to hook me up with, which I love. I use that for slide, mostly in the studio because those guitars don’t travel well, they’ve got weird headstock and you’ve got to get like a giant case for it if you really want to take it out. So I’ve been procrastinating on that. So those are probably my main Gibsons. But the 336, that’s my, the Custom Shop 336 is my thing. And I put, I have a few appointments in it. I have a master volume, … I have a great guitar tech named Paul Schwartz who has a shop called Peek-a-Moose Guitars, here in midtown New York, and he had a brilliant idea. I wanted a master volume and I didn’t want the pick guard, so he had the brilliant idea of sticking the master volume right in the top of the F hole. So we didn’t have to drill a hole in the body or anything. And then he replaced all the wiring with high grade speaker cable, and put locking tuners on it and took frets out and put nice frets in.
So your’s is really a custom model.
Yeah it’s got its own nuts, it’s got its own saddle, it’s like everything’s been upgraded ... the mechanical parts of it have all been upgraded.
And you only have one of those?
I have two, and they’re identical. Both have the same mods, the same frets, the same wiring, the same, … I have two, although the neck on the other one - it’s a sunburst - the other one. My main guitar is tangerine burst, which I don’t even know if they make anymore.
It kind of looks striped almost.
Well it’s got that wood, that grained wood …. I haven’t seen any like it since I bought it. And the other one I have I can’t remember if it’s sunburst or tobacco burst. That basically lives in the trailer with Gregg Allman, just cause I haven’t had to use it yet, so (knocks on the chair). It sits on the side of the stage most of the time.
That takes me right into what I was going to talk about next. You’re the guitarist in The Gregg Allman Band and you just got off the road, a little break in the summer tour with Gregg.
So you’ve been playing with Gregg for about five years now?
It’s almost, well it’ll be six years in November of 2014, so yeah, about five years, and I’ve been, recently I also started ….. I took up the role of music director too a few months ago. I’ve been doing that for him now. We’ve also been writing a lot of songs together - so it’s been a good, it’s been a really good ride. I started out as sort of a sideman playing the music, learning the music, and, you know, I grew up seeing The Allman Brothers as a kid, so you know, they were, like many guitar players, one of my main inspirations, and Gregg’s singing and songwriting has always been a main inspiration for me as well. So joining his band and getting to work with him was amazing to start with, you know. We’ve continued to evolve our relationship and now it’s at the point where I’m helping with material.
So he’s been performing some of your songs on the tour?
He does one of my songs every night. He’s been doing it for almost
six months or a year. It’s called “Love Like Kerosene”. He does that
song every night. It’s usually our second to last tune on the show, or
last tune, depending. And it’s been going over really well with his
audience. It’s a really uptempo kind of barnburner type of blues song.
Especially at festivals, people seem to really get into it and dance and
stuff. Yeah, I’ve been lucky enough to have him do that and he usually
takes a break on the gig for one song, and he’s been allowing me to sing another one of my songs, “Endless Road”, so that’s been very generous of him.
So how’s the songwriting with Gregg been going? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Well, we’ve got a couple of things. We’ve got two songs that are damn close to finished. One of them I’m actually pulling out on my gig coming up this weekend with my band, just to try it. We’ve run it with Gregg’s band but we haven’t tweaked it to the point where he wants to start performing it. And we’ve got a pretty nice ballad tune that’s also pretty much finished. We kind of got sidetracked because I started working with him really in earnest back in February. We had a great weekend writing session at his house and then I came and saw him at his hotel when he was doing the Beacon run in NYC and we finished those two songs. And then he got bronchitis and then he broke his arm. So our extra time to really learn and develop stuff was put on hold, but hopefully we’ll get back to that after this summer.
Do you guys rehearse much before the tours, or during the tours?
Not as much as we’d like to cause Gregg is really busy, you know, especially between The Allman Brothers and all the other projects he gets tied up in. Obviously he’s very in demand on many levels, with the book, the movie, and everything else that’s going on, so the last tour we had a couple of days to rehearse and, the band right now is just awesome.
I know there’s a DVD that was recorded and will be released soon of a recent show , at the Grand Opera House in Macon?
In a recent interview, Gregg said, talking about the DVD, he said, “That band is a smokin’ motherfucker, absolutely smokin’ ”. So I guess he’s feelin’ really good about it.
So when you’re not on tour with the Gregg Allman Band, you continue to perform with your own band, Scott Sharrard and The Brickyard Band. When I first became aware of you, from your playing with the Gregg Allman Band, I went out to see you and the Brickyard Band here in New York City, and subsequently, that was about the time you were set to release the CD, and I bought the CD (Scott Sharrard and The Brickyard Band) at your CD release party. But then I started working my way backwards thru your three solo CD’s and then your music with The Chesterfields, so let’s start at the beginning. You’re very first CD was “Henry Street Soul” with The Chesterfields?
Well, there was another release, but you can’t, … I don’t even know if I have a copy of it anymore. So the first official release, it definitely had a barcode so I guess it was official, it was just called The Chesterfields. And that’s when we were a trio, kind of like a power trio, doing blusier stuff. I think I was about 18 when we did that record. The Chesterfield’s “Henry Street Soul” was I’d say, like a wider release for us. It was still independent, and it was a larger band. I mean, on the recording there’s as much as 12 or 14 pieces on some songs.
Yeah, that CD seemed to be quite a strong statement coming out. It had a lot of elaborate arrangements and production.
Yeah, we really went for it.
It encompasses many different styles and influences, primarily soul and R&B.
Definitely, that band,... really the core of the band was myself and Sean Dixon, who’s a multi-instrumentalist. He’s primarily a drummer, but he also plays great bass, and he plays piano, and he arranges for strings and horns. He and I, it was one of those partnerships where we would use a pool of sidemen that we loved to work with and that would make up the band. And depending on what the gig was we would go from an organ trio to a five piece. But the main touring band was a nine piece band. We didn’t get out that much. We got out of New York a few times. We used to play at The Bitter End regularly on weekends. We had a nice run there. It was just one of those things where we just couldn’t sustain it, … all those horn players and backup singers. But I’m super proud of that record. It was definitely a collaboration between Sean and I, and you can hear as much of his input and talent on that, as you can mine, if you really listen to it. And I was relatively young when we did that. I was like 21 or 22 when we did that. There are some things I would do differently now, but I like to say I don’t really have any regrets about any of the records I’ve ever done because I know I gave the best I could at that time from what I could do.
I think they hold up pretty well.
That’s what I hope, you know. I mean the main thing is that there there. I mean, you know, I hope people know about them one day. They’re all there.
Oh yeah. And you obviously have a deep affection for those old soul and R&B records. Even you’re first solo CD “Dawnbreaker” looked like an old 45 record.
Yeah, that’s right, the CD itself.
So it seems like you’re on a mission to carry on the tradition. Tell me about you’re obsession with Johnny “Guitar” Watson.
It’s not healthy, at this point!Well, you know, the thing about Watson’s music is that, I was really into him when I was a teenager, and this goes back to me growing up in Milwaukee and spending all my time in the blues clubs and playing in blues bands with guys who were 20, 30, 40 years older than me. And he was one of those guys that all the real dudes were really obsessed with, you know. There was Magic Sam, Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker. They were kind of the deeper guys, you know, so I automatically got into them and that sort of scene, and from there I got farther down the rabbit hole - to Texas and the Louisiana thing, which is like, Guitar Slim and Johnny Guitar Watson. So I was really into sort of the early 60’s Johnny Guitar Watson. Which is like “Three Hours Past Midnight”, his version of “Lonely, Lonely Nights”, and, what’s funny is that in the 90’s, you could not access so many records. So I would spend all my days trying to find vinyls of Grant Green “Alive”, The Meters “Rejuvenation”, the list goes on, … “Donny Hathaway Live”, and I found all these vinyls, but I could never find the vinyls of Johnny Guitar Watson, and for some reason the older guys I knew, they had some compilation tapes, and I’d get a song here or there that was the 70’s stuff and I was, man, “this is amazing, where can I find the rest….”. I remember, what was that song…., there was one tune, “Lonely Man’s Prayer” I had, which was from that period. And then a few years ago I started finding all these songs on Youtube and then I realized some of it had been reissued. So I kind of had this new obsession with him and I sort of rediscovered it, song by song, you know, and I started bringing them to the band and I started playing them on gigs and it’s amazing, that music, when you play his music like “Loving You”, A Real Mother For Ya”, I Get A Feeling”, “Lonely Man’s Prayer”, when you play these songs, people just go crazy, at least in the club gigs i do, you know, it’s almost the songs that make ‘em go most nuts. And I think a lot of it has been sampled so I think that’s why a lot of people in their 20’s or 30’s get it. a lot of stuff has been sampled pretty heavily, and they recognize some of the grooves and beats. But the guy was a genius and his music is really - the coolest thing to me is it strikes this balance - I feel like where music’s at right now is it’s too serious or it’s too stupid. And I feel like his music falls right in the middle. And I feel like Sly Stone was like that. I feel like Miles even had an element of that. I think Hendrix had an element of that. Stax records and Motown, Muscle Shoals, I mean they all have that thing, you know? And I like the concept of just, you know, … the blues doesn’t all have to be sad, some of it is, but it’ supposed to be uplifting. I mean it’s melancholy music if nothing else. It depends on who you’re listening to too, but Johnny, he’s a great example of somebody who can celebrate the blues and he can also play soul and it all mixes perfectly. And his guitar style is just unbelieveable. He’s right there with the three Kings and all those guys who have that beautiful economy and can just play one note and you know who it is.
Well hopefully more people pick up on him as the years go on.
I think he’s been getting some love. I know Doyle Bramhall II is a big champion of his. I’ve seen Doyle talking about him in interviews a lot, and I’m a huge fan of Doyle’s music and his playing. I think a lot of guys are aware of him, tons of guitar players. I was just talking to Oz Noy about him the other day. Oz came to one of my gigs, and we were talkin’ about it. He was like “Man, I forgot about Johnny Watson. He’s so great. I gotta go buy all that stuff”.
That’s cool. So following “Dawnbreaker” you recorded Monolog Analog.
The other way around. Analog/Monolog.It’s a weird title.
Did it have any particular meaning for you, that title?
Why did we call it that?
Was it a statement against digital?
I guess it was. I should say this now, because it probably pertains to it. I’ve co-produced all my records with my engineer friend, Charlie Martinez, and he’s a phenomenally talented guy. He’s got an amazing resume, but it’s really about, … on “Henry Street Soul”, he mixed that album. That was when I was about 21 or 22 or so. Ever since we made that record we’ve been great friends and collaborators and, I suppose with that record, Analog/Monolog, I was having a lot of trouble coming up with the title. We were going back and forth, and I know I came up with the title, I ran it past him. And basically the idea was, you know, yeah, going back to the roots of analog, the warmth and the soul of analog, and I guess the monolog part was supposed to be something that has to do with the lyrics. it was a very vague idea. It seemed to make a lot of sense at the time. (laughing...)
I like the title.
It’s all right.
And then you followed that up with “Ante Up”, which was the name of the studio where it was recorded?
That’s right. Ante Up was a studio, actually I think they changed the name now, they definitely moved the studio, in Cleveland, and basically my friend Charlie got some free studio time to use there. So we got in my car and drove out, with Diego Voglino and Jeff Hanley and Charlie Martinez and I, two cars, we drove out to Cleveland. And we made the record. Basically we made the record in about 4 hours. We had a first day of setting up where we weren’t really getting takes, and we were all frustrated, and we just said screw it, let’s do it tomorrow. Next day we went and hit it and did all the songs. And then drove back.
It’s a lot of strong songs and it sounds like it took a lot longer than four hours, that’s for sure.
Thanks, man. We had a lot of fun making it. It was kind of like a big party. We spent most of the weekend figuring out what restaurants to go to.
So, something like that, is it recorded basically live, the three musicians at the same time? Or do you go through a more elaborate recording?
Well, … the recording method for me is cut up into two phases. Because Dawnbreaker and Analog/Monolog, my first two, I’m playing most of the instruments on those records. Dawnbreaker, we had Charlie Drayton on drums on a couple of songs.
He also did some drums on The Chesterfields stuff…?
He did, there was an EP we did. The Chesterfields EP, he did that. And he’s my favorite drummer of all time, pretty much. It’s just that he’s hard to get a hold of because everybody agrees with me. But he’s like, to me he’s the best drummer ever. if you haven’t checked him out for any reason, you gotta get on it. Because that guy’s feel and musicality is second to none. I hope I get to work with him again one day. It’s one of my deepest hopes. We had a great time working together and managed to hook up for that period of time. We did The Chesterfields EP. Charlie Drayton played all the drums on that. And then on my solo record we actually used a couple of leftover songs from that session, but I played most of the instruments on that record. I played drums on six songs on Dawnbreaker. Then, on Analog/Monolog, Shawn Pelton played drums on the whole thing, who’s obviously a phenomenal drummer. He did an amazing job on that record. And I played pretty much everything else. We had some musicians here and there. Charlie Martinez is a great bass player, he played bass on some of those. My friend Brian Charette laid down a lot of great organ stuff on those. Jay Collins came in and did horns on Analog/Monolog. So we did have some outside musicians, but I was playing bass, guitar, keyboard, and then, drums, on Dawnbreaker. For Ante Up and Brickyard Band records, we did everything live on the floor - bass, drums, guitar, lead vocals. Brickyard, we added Moses Patrou and Ben Stivers. So that’s second drum kit, and organ and electric piano. So, both of those records were done completely live. Anything else you hear we added later, there’s probably a couple of vocal fixes I did, maybe a song or two I re-sang the vocals. But those records are pretty much live, except for the horns.
So the Brickyard Band has two drummers, Diego and Moses, is that a premeditated decision as to how you wanted the instrumentation? How did that come about?
I couldn’t pick one. I just couldn’t do it. Not for that record. And I was hearing the two drum thing. I know it’s kind of come back in fashion, with Tedeschi Trucks - those guys are amazing in that band, Tyler and JJ - but I just genuinely love playing with these two guys. And Moses is such a great singer and songwriter, I just wanted to bring him into the fold as well, to have his contribution. That’s what made it the Brickyard Band. In fact, the name The Brickyard Band, that was even his idea. I was trying to come up with a name for it.
That’s from an Allen Toussaint song?
Yeah. “Brickyard Blues”. It describes the sound of that band really well.Lately, it just got to the point where it was just a pain in the ass for us to deal with two drummers. We also have Moses playing keyboards on some gigs. It became too much of a hassle to get it set up and to get everyone’s schedule right. Lately, I’ve been splitting it into two bands, so I have an organ trio version and then I have a four piece version. The organ trio is with Moses and Adam Scone or George Laks, or Ben Stivers. The four piece band is with Diego Voglino, Jeff Hanley, and right now either Ben Stivers or Peter Levin. So it’s kind of sprung into two bands at this time.
So when you’re recording, how much suggestion or direction do you give the drummers?
Well, as much as they’ll take without me pissing them off!
Do you have a sound or feeling in your mind?
If you have the right guy, on any instrument, you have to tell them very little. You just have to know how to pick your men. I mean, that’s one of the most important things. If you pick the right men, they’ll know what to do instinctually, and then when they don’t, they’ll have the humility and the wisdom to listen and interpret it. And find the middle ground between what you hear and what they hear. And I’ve been extremely blessed, in my life, to work with a lot of musicians who possess that quality. And who I can trust. Certainly these guys in my band. They’re all good friends of mine as well as collaborators. There’s a certain sound we make when we play and you just have to accept that. You can’t turn someone into another player.
And you play a lot of different styles. Listening to your CD’s, I’m still surprised how seemlessly different songs, or even within a song, the style changes, and it’s impressive, and for the listener it’s like a little jiggle, it re-engages you because something has changed and it’s very interesting..So is it difficult keeping the band together and scheduling in between The Gregg Allman Band tours?
As I was saying I had to split my band into two separate bands because I can’t consistently get 5 guys together. Yeah I mean it’s a difficult juggling act. Gregg is getting more and more busy. So I’m looking at the Gregg Allman Band taking up most of Gregg’s time. And he definitely wants to make a record with his own band, so it sucks down my bandwidth quite a bit for my own thing.
So last time, Gregg’s CD, the project started out as basically session guys playing. Dr. John’s on that CD. So will he record with the touring band?
Well it started out as the touring band doing the record and then T-Bone Burnett and the team, I guess the management and Gregg decided that they wanted to go with T-Bone’s sound. You have to respect the man’s process. I produce records too. Someone like T-Bone, he has such an identifiable sound and thing, I think he wanted to make sure he got his mark on it, and of course, you have to totally respect that. He’s his own artist as well.It ended up being a collaboration between him and Gregg.
So what do you think will happen on the new CD recording?
Well Gregg tells me he won’t do another recording without his band. He swears that.
I like to hear that.
The band we have right now are a bunch of young, hungry, bad-ass musicians, who love Gregg and his music, so he would be well-served to utilize them because the level of dedication I’ve seen with this group of individuals in this band is awesome.
And I hope more than anything that the public gets to meet the Gregg Allman Band again, kind of like they did in the 80’s, cause in the 80’s, the original Gregg Allman Band that really made waves in the 80’s with the “I’m No Angel” album and “Bullets Fly” record, - with the Toler brothers, Dan and Frank - that band, they were in the videos, they were in the interviews, they were in publicity photos. It was a real band. I mean it was Gregg’s band, but it was a real band. I would like to see more of that come into the picture because you wouldn’t believe how many places we play - we play all over the world with this band - and I come off stage and I don’t know how many times I have people come up to me, musicians and fans, and they’re like, “Who’s this band? Who are these guys? Are you regularly in his band?”, like people don’t even know we exist. And I think it’s time for that to stop. I think it’s time now that the Allman Brothers are retiring, and Gregg’s gonna do his own thing, it’s time for Gregg and his band to grab their piece of the pie. Just like you see Gov’t Mule doing a series of gigs at The Beacon, Tedeschi Trucks doing a series of gigs at The Beacon, doing great shows and having great turnouts, I think Gregg should expect the same kind of career. And you see the same thing with their band. You know the Tedeschi Trucks Band. You know who’s in that band, they feature their band and I think that makes them stronger, makes the music and the fan following stronger. I think that would be a good thing for Gregg to get into. I think he has the right group to do that. As far as what goes on behind the scenes, that’s not my department.
That’s great to hear. I hope things continue to go that way.
Some selected videos of performances by Scott from 2013 and 2014.
The Secret’s Out: The guitarist – songwriter – vocalist, in an in-depth conversation about music, his recordings, and playing with The Gregg Allman Band.