The very first cut of The Promise features a lovely duet with Jeff Beck
called "Django." There's some delicate interplay between you two, as if
you're finishing each other's sentences and thoughts.
Absolutely. Jeff and I, we go back a long time.
How long do you go back? I know you were on tour in the '70s, you with
Mahavishnu, him for the Blow By Blow tour.
And you played together on that tour.
Of course we did-not just me and Jeff, but we had the whole band onstage.
What was it like playing with two bands?
It was great-two drummers, two bass players. It was Jeff with Bernard
Purdy and Max Middleton, and me with Narada Michael Walden, Ralphe
Armstrong, and Stu Goldberg. We were all onstage. But Jeff and I hadn't
played for 20 years, so I called him. I wanted us to do this piece for a
long time. I thought this was very powerful, really poignant, for Jeff and
I to get together to play "Django." We went into the studio, we plugged in,
and it's like 20 years just disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was
spooky. We just played, and it was on the first take also, the one we used.
Was there a concerted effort to get your sounds to match? There were a
couple of times I could barely tell the moment you traded off.
No, Jeff's got a unique sound.
But you didn't try to get the qualities similar?
No! We plugged in and played. That's it, really. No tricks.
What was your sound setup for the Beck song?
I went through a Sony M7 [effects processor], with a stereo output going
into two amps-I don't know which ones. In fact, I only used the amps like
onstage monitors. Jeff had some old standards in a cabinet, and they were
miked and pretty loud. But I used my amps just as a monitor. It's not
enough to just hear the music with the headphones, you need to hear the
drums, and hear it through your body too-the bass, you need to hear it. So
that's all. But I don't think the amps are recorded on the tape. I'm
What do you like about the Sony M7?
It's a very powerful unit, in the sense that you have digital delay, but
what you have I think is very powerful. It splits the signal into stereo,
and you have very powerful digital graphic equalization. You have so many
parameters in there, and just to get the sound involves a lot of going
inside to check each parameter. I'll be glad when they get some software
for the Macintosh, so that I can adjust all the parameters onscreen instead
of one at time. But, it's a very good unit. Also you have special panning
features in the stereo output, all different kinds of panning, and it can
be like a random thing, but you can control it in such a refined way. You
don't really know what's happened to the sound in there, only that it's
somehow moving in some unusual way, in a random way. In the end, it becomes
quite a natural sound, and it's taken quite some time just to do it, but I
really like it. I like what it does.
Michigan luthier Abe Wechter has been making your nylon-strings for
years. Have you found in his guitars what you're looking for?
Yes, because Abe's guitars are great. I mean, there's always room for
improvement, but these guitars were made for me, including my current one,
"Notre Dame," as they say in France. The guitars prior to that were more
like standard classical cutaways. I was very happy just to play them the
way they are. But I think between Abraham and I, we probably went about as
far as you can go in the development. We've been working many years
together on acoustic guitars. These guitars are really made for me, with my
physiognomy. Because I have long arms, and I'm tall, I need a big-body
guitar, which is one of the reasons why I play an acoustic-electric guitar
today. A little solidbody is lost on me now. After all these years of
playing acoustic guitar, I want to feel a body, I need to feel it. It's
weird, but it's true. So this guitar, the size is perfect for me. I have a
student, and it's too big for him.
You've said something to the effect that nylon strings are better
Yes, that's absolutely true.
My understanding of "percussive" is a sharp attack and a rapid decay,
which is really more characteristic of steel strings than nylon, isn't it?
Not my strings.
Can you explain that?
I don't know how, but you have more of an impact from a nylon string than
you do from a steel string. A wider impact. A steel string will sustain
longer, too. I'm talking about upper register. The nylon strings are only
three; the others are silk and nickel. So I'm talking about the
upper-register nylon strings, G, B, and E, and, I mean, there's no doubt
about it, you have much greater percussive impact.
Can you play a nylon string louder than you could a steel string?
No. Not louder, but you have superior dynamics.
Have you ever played fingerstyle?
Yeah, I tried. When I was young, when I first picked up the guitar, I
didn't even know what a pick was. I didn't even know what an electric
guitar was. I tried, because I was listening to blues first, Mississippi
blues, and I became enamored of Muddy Waters, Leadbellyäand that was
fingerstyle, of course. But it's when I got really taken by jazz that I
realized I needed a pick.
Even with your association with Paco de Lucia?
Yeah. I mean, Paco is phenomenal on his instrument with fingerstyle. In
fact, I would go as far to say-and I'll get a lot of flack for this,
but-flamenco technique is superior even to classical.
Because you use four fingers [rather than the standard three for
flngerstyle-ed.], you strike the strings in addition to picking them, and
then you have the tremolos.
But you never found how it could be useful for you?
No, because the thing is, this kind of phrasing in flamenco is wonderful
if you're playing that style, and I love it, but it's not jazz music, and
somehow it doesn't lend itself in the sense that the pick does in jazz
music. Jazz guitar grew up with a pick, with the exception of Wes
Montgomery. There are other exceptions, like Jeff Beck. Jeff plays great
things without a pick, as does Mark Knopfler. They're amazing. But, for
your average mortal like me, I'm a pick man.
But there are wonderful fingerstyle jazz players other than the ones you
It's true. I admire them, whether it's Earl Klugh or Charlie Byrd, or
Laurindo Almeida. But I cannot, nor do I want to, let go of this particular
school, shall I say of jazz, which I really grew up with-people like Miles
Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, and then later of course with
Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock Their approach is essentially linear,
which is why I play the way I do, because of my predilection in that
direction. If my nature is to go that way, I don't want to fight with my
nature, so I just go. And it doesn't stop me from admiring the great
fingerstyle jazz players, but since I grew up with this school, I have a
preference for that way of playing.
What guitar did you use or "El Ciego," the trio cut with Al Di Meola and Paco?
The same guitar, the nylon-string.
And the panning setup never changes with the Paco, John and Al trio?
Right, except this is the first time we recorded with Paco panned to the
middle. Usually, I'm in the middle, and Al's to the left, but the way the
melody was, I thought Paco should be In the middle.
"The Wish" has a North Indian influence, much like your work with Shakti.
I was surprised to hear this song with electric guitar; I expected to hear
Well, Shakti was 75 percent Indian-North and South-and me. Now it's again
75 percent Indian, with the simple difference that Trilok [Gurtu,
percussionist] is an Indian who adores and plays jazz, and I really like
the juxtaposition of Trilok and myself with him playing percussion in a
jazz way. It has a very nice association with electric
guitar-acoustic-electric guitar-as opposed to playing with a [miked
acoustic] Shakti guitar, because in a way it's balanced from the point of
view of West and East, when you look at them like this. Trilok and I have a
very strong complicity, and he has this feeling for jazz that's incredible
for an Indian percussionist. It's phenomenal. So I like this kind of
juxtaposition of tabla and sitar, which Is pure North-Indian classical, and
you have Trilok coming with his percussion and his pots and pans, and me
playing electric guitar. For me, I like the way it came out. And of course
it's a surprise, because you expect the Shakti sound. But I was looking for
more equilibrium between East and West. And I like it, too, because there's
a point where it really shifts. The rhythmic cycles are identical and the
song continues, but we move in different degrees that interpret these
cycles in different ways. Like the way, for example, the Indian musicians
play the triplets. And then the jazz guys would come in with their version
of triplets and it's a totally different interpretation-really Western.
Now, I wouldn't be able to do that-to bring more of this world into the
music-which is one of the reasons for Shakti, I wanted to bring more
Western music into Shakti, at the end of it, but it was not easy. You have
to find the right way to do it.
Have you considered doing a reunion Shakti?
We did. But just in India.
Why not bring it to the U.S. and Europe?
I don't know, maybe we will one day.
So it's not something that you've evolved past and couldn't go back to.
You'd entertain the idea?
Are you kidding? What a beautiful group! In fact, I should have been in
India most of this year, but I had schedule conflicts. There are so many
wonderful musicians I want to play with. I have very close associations
with India, be it philosophically or culturally or musically. I have a very
strong attachment to India. I am a student of their music, culture, and