A Conversation with Willy Porter
Willy Porter: Hello, is Frank there?
Puremusic: This is he.
WP: Hey, Frank. It's Willy Porter.
PM: Willy, how you doing?
WP: Good. I'm sorry, I was in the studio, and I didn't--my phone doesn't reach down here, and I should have let you know that.
PM: No sweat. What are you working on today?
WP: I'm just rehearsing. I'm going to England to do a tour with Martin Barre. [legendary guitarist for Jethro Tull]
PM: Oh, wow. Do you have him in the studio with you?
WP: Well, no, we've exchanged all this music through the mail, just sending work CDs and stuff to each other. And we're doing a tour of England in February.
PM: Are going to tour as a duo?
WP: Well, we're doing a whole bunch of duet songs, but it's actually--Martin is opening for his band Jethro Tull on the tour, and I'm the featured guest. So it's "Martin Barre and Friends," and what that basically means is everyone in Jethro Tull except for Ian Anderson--
WP: --and then me. So it's really a pretty cool band. And we're doing a mix of Martin's tunes and my tunes.
PM: Wow. Although I was never a dyed-in-the-wool Tull guy--
PM: --I've always liked him because he was a real Beefheart guy. [That's Captain Beefheart to the uninitiated, one of the greatest DaDa rockers in history, a pure genius, now a celebrated painter and retired from playing music, one is, sadly, led to believe.]
WP: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's evident in his playing, too. I've been digging into Martin's playing, and I'm hearing so many different genres of music in what he does. There are obviously the Celtic influences and the British Isles, but a lot of Spain, too.
WP: Yeah. His latest record is called Stage Left, and it's a beautiful album of guitar music.
PM: What label does that come out on?
WP: Fuel 2000 is the name of the label.
PM: And what kind of a dude is he, if I may ask?
WP: Man, he's just righteous. You know what I mean? He's all about playing guitar, and he's a regular guy. If you were sitting in a room and you were the only other person there, he would definitely talk to you. I mean, he's the most anti-rock star I think I've ever met.
PM: Right. It's good for your health, they say.
WP: Yeah, exactly, man. But when I listen to his playing, I say to myself, "Okay, now I get where Steve Morse [the phenomenal guitarist from the Dixie Dregs] was coming from."
WP: Because there's a whole bunch with this kind of phrasing on those Dregs records. But anyway, digging into Martin's music has just been great for my own chops, because I'm getting to get out of my own little sandbox and play in somebody else's for a while.
PM: You're doing something else, because you're his guest, you're playing along in some other way.
WP: Yes. Well, I'm playing a lot of rhythm and harmony lines and stuff on his stuff, both electric and acoustic, and then he and I are doing a bunch of my songs, too. When it's all said and done, we've got about 25 tunes that we've worked up through the mail, and then we'll get together for about five days of rehearsal and put a show together.
PM: That's beautiful. When you play electric with him, what axe will you use?
WP: I'll use a Strat, a Deluxe and--
PM: Tried and true. [Just to clarify the shop talk, that's a Fender Stratocaster guitar, and a Fender Deluxe amplifier.] And host of pedals or straight in? [Guitarists use all manner of foot pedals to alter the sound in a myriad ways. A reaction to this tendency is to plug straight in to the amplifier.]
WP: Straight in. In order to not have to carry so much gear, I'll probably use a Rocktron Voodoo Valve.
PM: A Voodoo Valve.
WP: Yeah, which is basically a guitar preamp that has stereo outputs. And I can use that in a pedal, and then I'm just programming all the sounds into it. It's got a tube on board. It's not the same as having a Marshall Plexi, but I can show up. And I've got all the sounds programmed into it. And then I just use that with two Fender Deluxes, and a stereo configuration, and it's good to go.
PM: So you're no stranger to a Marshall Plexi, then? [a classic vintage British amplifier, the sound of Hendrix, early Clapton, and a pantheon of others. The remark is intended to make a distinction between folkies and rockers, just getting a bead on the artist.]
WP: Well, I have a deep love and affection for that, but it's not really how I've made my living. I'm an acoustic guy, really my stock and trade, and more of a songwriter guy. But this has really been great, letting me dig into the guitar on a different level. And I've always been a rock 'n' roller at heart, but just electric guitar never spoke to me. Now it's really taken on a different dimension. It's great.
PM: But is one to assume, though, that in your youth you had your band days?
WP: Oh, yeah, man.
PM: Because, I mean, even though you're a quintessential acoustic guy, I can hear the rocker in your playing.
WP: Exactly. Sure, man, I was 18 when the Police were hitting really hard. So we were all dreaming of being in a band like that.
PM: Absolutely. continue