Kevin Eubanks: Refocusing and Looking Forward
KE: Absolutely, how you play the guitar is as important as the gear you have in your rack.
AAJ: Speaking of gear a bit. What are you using to get that crunch sound on the record? Is that a pedal or are you just overdriving the amp to get those sounds?
KE: I really don't like to overdrive the amp, I use a Stewart power amp mostly. Just clean power, no tones on the amp, just clean power. I had this preamp built so I can control the tone between the guitar and the amp. There are no tone controls on the preamp itself. I mean how many tone controls do you really need. The amp takes care of the power and I'll take care of the tone.
AAJ: There are two pictures of you on the album cover, one holding a solid body and one holding an archtop. Who makes your guitars for you and are you solely working with a luthier to customize your instruments or from time to time will you pick up an off-the-shelf Gibson and use that, too?
KE: A gentleman named Abe Rivera, who lives in Long Island, makes all of my guitars. He made the solidbody on the cover, which I used on The Tonight Show forever, as well as the archtop you see on the record as well. He makes all of my guitars with the exception being the flattop, which was specially made for me by Martin.
That guitar has a nice, big thick neck on it as well as a big body. When I'm playing well on that guitar, when I'm really warmed up, that's the tone that I really strive for in my playing. If I can't pull something off on that guitar, if there's a run that I just can't nail with the Martin, then I'm probably not warmed up or practicing enough. That guitar is like the acid test for me because that is not an easy guitar to play unless you're on point. Then, it's like butter.
Guitarists sometimes forget that we have to work to get a good sound. You have to work on long tones, just like a horn player, you can't just get up there and start playing. You have to warm up. You have to keep the instrument warm. As guitar players we forget all that because we just plug in and play. Your mind should be on your hands and your technique, which should be right at the root of what's going on in your playing.
It's so easy to just go well, "I'm not really warmed up today so I'll use more sustain on the amp." We've all had those days, but ideally those guitars really bring out the best in me when I pick them up and play. Dick Boak really did a great job on that Martin. He made sure that he had his engineers over there come up with a great guitar. It's just a wonderful guitar.
AAJ: Do you use the archtop for a clean tone and then switch over to the solidbody when you want to dial in that crunch?
KE: No, actually the whole record was done on the archtop. I didn't use the solidbody at all. Sometimes when I play those tunes live, I'll use the solidbody, but when we got into the studio the archtop just sounded better. But live, especially a tune like "Dirty Monk," I'll use the solidbody because that can be a really slammin,' rock-blues song when we do it live.
It's kind of funny, for songs like that and others, playing them with the solidbody will take me in more of a rock direction. But when I do the same tune on the archtop, it'll go to a whole other space for me. I kind of felt good about putting the picture of the solidbody on the album cover because even though I didn't use it on the record, that instrument inspired me along the way as I was writing and working out these particular songs.
AAJ: You mentioned earlier that you're doing some teaching. Do you have plans to be more involved in guitar education, either through publications or actually going out and working with groups of students in person?
KE: I would like to. I don't know where that's going to really lead. I'm developing a good relationship with Berklee College. I've been working with an ensemble from the school, writing music for them and then we'll rehearse it together and do a concert this fall. I work with the Monk Institute, as well. It seems like I'm being drawn into teaching more these days.
I'd like to find a more creative way of doing it, so that you don't lose any of the musician's personality while they're learning. So it's not paint by numbers, or do things just like I do them. Also, it's not just about jazz or guitar or whatever, it's about music and art. I'd like to relax that whole notion a bit that Kevin is jazz. I like all kinds of music and forms of personal expressionit's like this record. I used my solidbody, which is thought of as more of a rock-blues instrument, leading up to the album and it influenced my playing on the archtop, which is thought of as a jazz instrument. I just think that that kind of exclusive thinking stops you reaching more for things.
So I would like to somehow, if I do get deeper into teaching, which seems like it's happening, is to encourage people to see things not as jazz or blues or rock, but as a creative way to deal with sound. To not lose their personality along the way, to have a leader in the classroom and not necessary be a teacher. They need to pay attention to the "2 plus 2 equals 4" fundamentals of music, but it shouldn't be an exclusive endeavor. If you want to play the guitar with your teeth, fine. If you want to play with your toes, fine. I would rather focus on people expressing themselves, making music that people can relate to, that's what's important to me.
It doesn't matter if someone gets an A in a class or whatever. In the real world that stuff doesn't matter. "Oh, you got an A in that class. Well, no one cares because you sound terrible." Be more creative. Be more musical, I would like to encourage that more. That's not really teaching, it's more about instilling confidence and leading people down their own path rather than telling them what scales to play over what chords.
I also want to encourage the musicians, or students, or whatever you want to call them, to check out the fundamentals of their art form. There are certain principles in anything where you're learning or developing a skill, whether it is music or science, it's all the same. You have to be able to go into a room and study with passion or will, which are two different things. Passion is what drives people to work hard, to spend long hours on one thing because they feel that that's what they were born to do. No matter what you're studying, it's a universal thing.
But there are going to be days when you have to dig deep and work hard to take care of the things that passion did yesterday, that's where will comes in. Everyone has days when you just want to lay around and watch TV, but you need to bring your will to the table on those occasions so you can work through the laziness and continue to grow and further your learning.
Now, whether you continue in music, or science or business or whatever it is you're working on, or not, if you develop those skills and that high level of discipline then you'll be successful at whatever you do. You might have to leave your passion for a while to make a living, but your will kicks in and allows you to become successful no matter what the situation is.
If you can creatively discipline yourself to take care of business today, tomorrow and the next day, even if you don't stay in music, you'll build the fundamental skills needed to succeed in any field. The success is in you, the success starts with you and your actions. Unfortunately, there's just not room enough in any field for anyone who wants to pursue that as their careers, but people can learn to develop these important skills as a musician and then later apply it to a business situation or whatever and succeed.
If I get more into the teaching thing that's what I want to encourage, that student's focus on building these skills so that they can become successful no matter where they go in life or what they end up doing as their chosen career path.
Kevin Eubanks, Zen Food (Mack Avenue, 2010)
Kevin Eubanks, Soweto Sun (InSoul Music, 2006)
Kevin Eubanks, Shring (InSoul Music, 2002)
Kevin Eubanks, Spirit Talk 2 (Blue Note, 1994)
Kevin Eubanks, Spirit Talk (Blue Note, 1993)
Kevin Eubanks, Turning Point (Blue Note, 1992)
Kevin Eubanks, Promise of Tomorrow (GRP, 1990)
Kevin Eubanks, The Searcher (GRP, 1989)
Kevin Eubanks, Shadow Prophets (GRP, 1988)
Kevin Eubanks, Heat of Heat (GRP, 1987)
Kevin Eubanks, Face to Face (GRP, 1986)
Kevin Eubanks, Opening Night (GRP, 1985)
Kevin Eubanks, Sundance (GRP, 1984)
Kevin Eubanks, Guitarist (Wounded Bird Records, 1982)
All Photos: Raj Naik