Reese Wynans has been making music for over fifty years, and he's worked with some of the best that blues and rock have to offer. He's taken time out from playing with Joe Bonamassa to make his first solo album, which also features some more great musos. We caught up with Reese when he was in London to find out more about his life in music, the British invasion and why it took him so long to make his own album.
PG: After fifty years in the music industry you're about to release your first solo album, why has it taken so long?
RW: Everyone's been asking that, and it's a valid question. I'll tell you the real story. When I joined Joe Bonamassa I was getting tired of sitting at home and being a studio musician. I wanted to get on the road and play the blues in front of people again. I missed doing it, and I felt like I still had something to offer. I'm 70, I've been in this business for fifty years, and I need to put something out there with my name on it. It just struck me that it was time. I invited my friends to come along and play, and after putting this out, I wonder why I did wait so long because we had a great time making it.
PG: It's also Joe Bonamassa's first album as a producer. You're used to working with him on stage, what's he like working with him in the studio?
RW: Well, I had to convince Joe that he was exactly the kind of guy to produce this record and it took a little convincing. He'd never produced before, and he didn’t want to disappoint anyone, and he certainly did not disappoint me. I thought that he did a wonderful job. We worked together picking out all the material for the record, and we worked together on the arrangements. He made some great suggestions on instrumentation and how to get the songs sounding right. For example, on I’ve Got the Right to be Blue he took the whole song and ran it through an amp and miked the amp, I thought that was a really cool production idea. For the Otis Rush song (You're Killing My Love) he decided to run a big faze through the whole intro and this released into a whole screaming guitar thing, and I thought it was unbelievable. All kinds of cool ideas were coming from Joe, and he was a joy to have as a producer. I would do another record with him producing in a second.
PG: On this record, you've got a Who's Who of fantastic musicians: Doyle Bramhall II, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Warren Haynes, Noah Hunt and that's just a few.
RW: Let me say about Doyle Bramhall, I think he's leading the pack for being innovative in the blues. I think his songs are great and his records are underappreciated. I think he's putting out one masterpiece after another. Kenny Wayne Shepherd is a fantastic guitar player. Our drummer Chris Layton has been working with him for years. Chris, Tommy (Shannon, Bass) and I all made Trouble Is..., which is one of his great early records. I was so pleased that everyone came along to do this record, we had a great time making it, and it had to be those guys; especially as we're doing a couple of our old Stevie songs.
PG: The single from the album, Crossfire, also features Sam Moore on vocals, how did you manage to get him on board?
RW: When we were putting that together somebody mentioned that it sounded like a Sam and Dave song. So I called Joe, and he said let’s call Sam and see if he’ll sing this. And he did, and he's still singing great. He is a true legend, and it was an honour to have him on the record. If you listen to the track, that driving beat, you hear influences from early Memphis and early soul, and I’ve always loved that. A lot of people also don’t realise how much B3 there is in country music. And if you play it right, it fits right in with country music. A friend of mine told me a long time ago if you ’re having trouble playing jazz, don’t worry about it. Don’t call it jazz, play music and listen to the song and play something perfect for the song. You don’t have to call it rock, jazz, or blues, play it from your heart. So that’s what I always try to do.
PG: You obviously love collaborating with musicians, who else would you like to work with?
RW: I’ve never worked with Carlos Santana I’d love to work with him sometime. I’ve also never worked with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, I love their stuff. There’s any number of people, but I’d love to work with.
PG: You played with Larry Carlton too.
RW: He's one of our legendary guitarists, and I was lucky enough to go Japan with him and play the Blue Note and the Tokyo Jazz Festival a couple of years ago. I also played on his record Sapphire Blue which was eye-opening to me because he was doing his tribute to the blues. He started playing, and he just opened up. It was just remarkable to hear him playing this beautiful music. I think that’s a terrific record if anyone wants to hear Larry Carlton play at his best.
PG: I love the jazzy version of The Beatles Blackbird, which is hidden away at the end of the album. What made you pick that song?
RW: That's just me playing by myself on a piano in the corner, and I recorded that, and I thought it was a nice way to end the record. A little dessert if you will. Nobody told me to play it, sometimes I'm playing a song for a while and move on to another song, and that’s just one I was playing at that particular time. But the lyrics of that song are about freedom, sadness and joy. It’s an amazing lyric, and I love that song, I always have.
PG: On stage, there's quite a bit of room for improvisation, did you incorporate that freedom in the album too?
RW: Well on this particular record it's very song orientated, so it was a little structured, but within the structure, there is room for me to say what I want to say. I tried to make each song as heartfelt as possible.
PG: Soul Island sounds like it was one of those tracks where you had the excitement of just seeing where the music goes?
RW: It is relaxed, but it is also funky. Lamar Carter's drums, the way he comes in cracking that snare drum, that just blew me away. And Paulie Cerra on saxophone, Travis Carlton on bass, and all the guitar stuff from Josh Smith and Jack Pearson, that’s one of my favourites. I love that track.
PG: Will there be any live shows soon?
RW: We've got the Joe Bonamassa tour coming up, we have two different cruises and a couple of days at the Royal Albert Hall, and then we're coming back to London to record at Abbey Road. Then various concert dates around the world this year, and we're going to Australia. We are circling the globe if you will. So that’s this year, but during the short breaks that we have if I have time to get something together to play some songs of this CD I would love to do that, but it’s hard to schedule things right now.
PG: The album shows off your skill in a full range of genres (country, jazz, blues etc.), that's not something every musician can do, were you interested in playing different music from a young age?
RW: Well everybody took piano lessons whether they wanted to or not, but they quit pretty soon afterwards. I decided to stay with it. I really enjoyed playing classical piano. Actually, that's a little known fact: I still play classical piano to this day. I love Bach and Mozart and Brahms. What happens with the classical players is they can't improvise, they can only play what's on the paper. I'm one of the lucky ones who got the whole package. I didn't play in any rock and roll bands until I was about 17 years old and in college. Then I discovered the world and I could play in bands because I knew what the chords were. I could play Zombies songs, Rolling Stones, Rascals songs. I had a Wurlitzer piano, and I was conquering the world.
PG: How did you get into playing the Hammond?
RW: The first time I ever heard the Hammond was probably a Jimmy Smith song called Walk on the Wild Side. It had this 12/8 Hammond solo in the middle, and it just came out of nowhere. I thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. Another band I loved was The Rascals with Felix Cavaliere. He had this fantastic gospel organ sound. I loved Santana's organ sound, and Steppenwolf. Also Deep Purple and John Lord, that guy was great. Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I listened to all those guys. Just listen to what you could do with this instrument. They are very influential to me, all of them.
PG: Talking of The Zombies, Rod Argent had a similar musical grounding before moving on to more jazzy influences. Is that a perhaps natural progression with the music?
RW: Well how eye-opening is it for a young keyboard player to be in his first rock band and listen to The Zombies. They’re playing these energetic pop songs and all of a sudden there comes this jazzy piano break. For a young Reese Wynans that opened my mind and made me realise that you can do anything and be as free as you want: you have to find the perfect thing to play in the song.
PG: You've said that playing with Stevie Ray Vaughn encouraged you to up your game, do you think that helped with the diversity of your playing?
RW: Well playing with Stevie I had to up my game because he is, without doubt, the most dynamic guitar player I’ve ever heard, or I’ve ever played with. It was like running alongside a racehorse, so you had better keep up. I felt like I was really trying to do that and it worked out okay. Those five years with Stevie were just one dynamic legendary show after another, and I was pleased to be a part of that.
PG: With your background, you could have easily made a piano-based album. Do
you think that might be something you'll consider in the future?
RW: I’m not saying no to anything at this moment, but I haven’t thought about it. Let’s see how this one does and if this one does well what I’d like to do is play a few more funky instrumentals and mix it up with a couple of B3 songs and a couple of piano songs.
PG: You talked about The Beatles and The Zombie's music, the British invasion must have had a significant impact on your playing?
RW: Well let me say that for us Americans we owe all the Brits a debt of gratitude for bringing the blues back to America. And for all of the fresh and creative bands and music that came over here, thank you so much. And there is something to be said about how the blues in America was forgotten a little bit at the time, but it wasn’t so much forgotten over in the UK, and I appreciate that.