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Interviews

Guitarist Steve Khan

By Published: March 25, 2004

AAJ: What was the inspiration for Got My Mental ? That's such a great band with DeJohnette, Patitucci, and percussionists Don Alias, Bobby Allende, Marc Quiñones, and Café!

SK: The "inspiration" was simply that I was afforded a chance to record by a label from Japan, and I sought to find a combination of players which none of my guitar brethren had used before. I love Jack's playing just too much to labor on any one part of it, and John Patitucci is simply one of our great, great bassists and musicians period. They both made things easy... I don't know of two players who come to play with better attitudes than either of them. They both play hard and tough.

I am not one who likes to do more than 1-2 takes anyway... one cannot blow out a great drummer like Jack by demanding take after take after take. I try to be mentally prepared to get it on the first one, if not that, the second... no more! That's what all my practicing in private is for. We only had one short rehearsal before the date!

I love playing and exploring what I like to call "odd-ball" standards(things I listened to during the mid-'60s)... I had been preparing these tunes for quite some time... as the date drew near, I knew that I wanted to include the Latin element as well, and so these great percussionists were added for mood and the "sabor" (the flavor).

AAJ: What are your current road and studio rigs?

SK: I've been playing my Gibson 335 (from their early '80s Heritage Series) for nearly 20 yrs. now, and when I travel that's the ONLY guitar I take out with me. Simple as that. Acoustically, when it's steel-string, I use my Martin MC-28. And when it's nylon-string, I use a Yamaha APX-10. Both are set-up with an "electric guitar feel" for my left hand. On my electric guitars, I've been using Dean Markley SLP strings for years now with the high E string being a .009 gauge. I guess this means I'm a wimp! I like the elasticity of the feel of those gauges. However, I think one does sacrifice a certain "richness of tone" which lighter gauge strings... and I pay the price at times when I hear certain notes, attacked a certain way, on my E and B strings. It can really drive me crazy!

My "rig" has been the same for years now... more or less. Because of a very serious back injury (a slipped disc, from too many years of basketball at the local YMCA at 6 A.M. w/out warming up or cooling down properly!), I have been using a Walter Woods stereo amp/pre-amp because of its great power and light weight. I have two sets of matched speakers but I am almost never able to afford to take them on the road. They are both Marshalls. A pair of 1x12" cabinets and a pair of 2x12" cabinets.

Obviously I like to throw as much sound as is possible so the bigger ones are my favorites. Prior to this, most of my recordings after '84 were done with two Pearce G-1 heads. I wish I knew more about the real inner-workings of amps (like Allan Holdsworth or Scott Henderson... two brilliant players with tremendous sounds!), because when an amplifier offers even ONE mid-range control I am lost. And, I often hear this "honking" sound in the middle register.....and then, I have to send out an S.O.S. to the engineer to help me get rid of it!!!

The main "pedal" (effect) which is the "key" to my sound is an old Ibanez DCF-10 (Digital Chorus/Flanger 9v pedal). The sound is incredible to me because it's the only pedal of its kind (at least to my knowledge) where, when you play single notes, they sound unchorused... and then, when you play a voicing, suddenly it (the sound) opens up and the chorusing appears rich and lush. There are also two Ibanez delay pedals sent left and right (for ping-pong effect) and finally a Lexicon Alex Reverb unit. It's all very simple, but functional.

Oh, I forgot there's also an old Ibanez Tube Screamer in the Ibanez pedal board which houses 5 of the pedals mentioned, but they stopped making this unit long, long ago. I guess they couldn't compete with the one made by BOSS. Bassist Mark Egan is the only other player I've seen who had one. Finally I use an Ernie Ball stereo volume pedal.

I do have a very serious 'rack' which Bob Bradshaw built for me (when I was with Joe Zawinul's Weather Update, foolishly thinking that this group would stay together!)... but, stupid me, it's the size of a refrigerator and I haven't had the money to cut it down to about 8-10 spaces where I could actually USE it again. There's just too much crap in it to discuss here. But I do absolutely love my Soldano 3-stage pre-amp. I yearn to use those sounds again someday.

AAJ: How was it playing w/ Zawinul for Weather Update?

SK: Working with Joe and Weather Update (which consisted of Victor Bailey on bass; Peter Erskine on drums; and Robert Thomas, Jr. on percussion) was one of the great musical and personal experiences of my life. But also, one of the great, great disappointments! It all came and went during 1986, just after Weather Report, then really just after Wayne Shorter had finally decided to go it alone. Joe had recorded Dialects as a solo artist, and the last Weather Report CD, This Is This had just been released as well. I decided to join this group, and with great hopes. Hopes that we might actually be a band for many years to come. But our 7-week tour (four in Europe and three across the U.S.) turned out to be our maiden voyage and swan song all in one!!!

The truth is, in my opinion, we were not a very good band. Fundamentally because we did not have a very good book of music to play then, and Joe insisted that we not do any of the "old" Weather Report music. The rest of us wanted to do a lot of it because we knew that, what we did have, was not going to be truly competitive with the best music out there then. On the U.S. tour, where we shared the bill with an incarnation of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra (then with Bill Evans on sax; Jim Beard on keyboards; Jonas Helborg on bass; and Danny Gottlieb on drums), we were pretty much blown off the stage each night because John's presentation was much more organized and together. The pace of their set was beautifully done, and we were a raggedy-ass mess by comparison. It was some sad shit believe me! Though in stark contrast to what I'm saying, I run into people here and in Europe who thought that the band was great! Go figure!

Joe had come to hear "Eyewitness" when both groups were on tour in Japan during '83. That he was so knocked out by our group's music and approach was such a thrill I couldn't believe it. For him to sit there through two long sets of keyboardless music was amazing. However, I don't think he wanted a "clean" guitar sound for his group... and we had a lot of conceptual disagreements.

In the end, Weather Update was so loud that I found myself drifting back towards a sound and style of playing I had long since abandoned. Not long after the tour, as things turned out, when Joe disbanded Weather Update and started the Zawinul Syndicate, Scott Henderson was the guitarist, and I don't think that Joe could have made a better choice! Scott is one of the great guitar voices and has just the right blend of grit and blues to go with his own jazz vocabulary. I think it also should be said that Joe initially wanted John Scofield for Weather Update, but, John wisely chose to stick with his own music and to develop being a bandleader himself.

But, and bless his heart, Joe is a most difficult man to work with... and anyone who has "served time" with him would tell you the same. However, he is one of the most uniquely gifted musical minds ever and it was an honor to have worked with him. My best musical memories are simply jamming at sound checks... and, at times, just standing next to him at sound check while he played duo with Peter Erskine. Wow, the two of them sounded, to use contemporary horrifying slang, "stupid ridiculous good!" When Joe sits down at his keyboard rig, within a note or two, you know instantly who is playing and setting the mood and tone.

I would not use this word without great care, but he is truly a genius! One of the great things I learned from Joe comes from the following story. As our tour began in Europe and remember this was just after the demise of Weather Report, there were actually some very serious "press conferences;" and, the jazz writers wanted to know everything. What happened to the "old" group and what was to be the direction and purpose of this new group. Of course, Joe was asked some pretty ridiculous questions too. Here's a rough sample:

 Reporter: Mr. Zawinul, what do you think about "rock?" Joe: I don't think about it! Reporter: Well, who do you listen to? Joe: I listen to myself ! 


When I first heard this, I suppose I thought to myself, "geez, what an arrogant asshole!" But, believe it or not, I used to actually think about this response often. And, somewhere, during the middle of the tour, I realized: Wow, this is why he is who he is! Yes, it's a great thing to have an open mind, and to listen to all the music that's out there, but in the final analysis, if you don't hear Your Own Music, the music which exists Inside of You, then you will never "hear" a damn thing of substance. And, you will never have a musical personality or style. When you look at Joe's body of work, it is rich with personality and style. So, the lesson is: Listen to yourself! Hear your own music!

Beyond all the arguments, and there were many, we came away from it all with a deep and lasting warmth, and a great respect for one another. When my father died in '93, and I was away in California performing with one of my trios at the time, amongst the first messages of sympathy on my answering machine at home was Joe's voice saying beautiful things. For this, and many, many other moments, I will always love Joe and treasure my times with him.



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