I had the chance to chat with Number 9 Blacktops singer, Skinny Jim, and see how things are going right now with the audiences and their responses to the new material, his gear, and what it was like to work with Eddie Spaghetti. Check it out:
The Fifth Fret: 1) How has the reaction been so far for the new material?
Skinny Jim: It's been great so far. I've got a lot of pretty hard core rockabilly fans who want to hear me write rockabilly again, and they still like Horsepower! Horsepower! and Daredevil Action better, but the majority of people who have checked out are really digging it. I've noticed my friends who aren't really stuck in liking a certain genre of music, the "average music fans" I call them, dig this CD the most.
2) The new album, Cool On My Right, has a very different sound than your previous two albums. What inspired the change in direction?
Boredom! I was exhausted on rockabilly, and wanted to write a rock 'n' roll album. We had played so many rockabilly shows with rockabilly bands that I was ready to try something different. Many of the songs had been floating around in my head. Perhaps some of the new direction came from what I had been listening to in the past year. A lot of ZZ Top, and a lot of the stuff I used to listed to when I was younger... Local H, Black Crowes. More rock stuff.
3) Was there any primary pieces of gear that you used in the recording of this album?
Morgan Demling's Stonecutter Amplifier, my old Les Paul Deluxe, and my Gretsch 6120. To anybody reading this, if you haven't checked out Stonecutter Amps, you need to! Morgan was cool enough to lend us an amp to track with, and, if I remember right, it made it on every track. The amp set ups we used were the Stonecutter, my main 1970 Fender Twin Reverb, and Bob's old Marshall head and Marshall cabinet. Thats it! I used the Echoplex on a few tracks as well, and a few pedals. Guitar-wise I used my old favorites: my 6120, Gibson Les Paul Standard, my super awesome Les Paul Deluxe, Falcon, and my 1960 Gretsch 6120. I also used my Martin D-28 Herringbone on some rhythm tracks. Pretty cut and paste stuff, which sometimes is the best way to go.
4) Is this different than your touring rig?
I'll admit that when I tour, I'll sacrifice tone for durability. Of course I can't, and won't, take a vintage 6120 on an airplane. My 1970 Twin has been with me through thick and thin. Vintage tubes man, thats the way to go! They will take WAY more abuse and keep on glowing. I just picked up another master volume late 70s Twin as well. I used to bring a back up amp with me on tour, now I just bring a small amp repair kit with me. I don't think I'll ever go as far as touring with a solid state amp, I won't give into that! Old amps are temperamental, but that's the price of good tone.
As far as guitars, my Falcon is still my main stage guitar. I actually had to go see luthier George McIntosh last night, because my belt buckle was wearing a hole in the back of my Falcon!
5) You're playing your Gretsch White Falcon in almost every picture i see of you. Any tips for traveling with a guitar like that?
De-tune the strings. That is really the best trick to traveling with a guitar, especially a hollowbody. I've been looking at a few aftermarket cases for more protection. Our last Europe tour took its toll on my stock Gretsch case. Also, when taking my Falcon on the plane, I'll pad it with bubble wrap in the case. I'll put it around the neck heel, and around the headstock.
A lot of good luck helps as well! The gate agent in Berlin last week wanted Bob and me to check our guitars with the luggage. I asked her to ask her supervisor if an exception could be made, and while she was asking I pulled our CD out of my bag and had it waiting for her when she came back. Luckily, it worked! I was even more lucky that she didn't listen to how bad we are first. Haha!
I've had some stressful times taking a guitar on the plane. My bitter, bitter hatred for the airline industry grows every tour. In Minneapolis last week, the gate agent wouldn't let me gate check the guitar, and the gate baggage guy kept arguing with me that in his 15 years of working for the airline, he's never gate checked a guitar. I asked him what the big deal was, and he said "that's just policy". Me, being the old asshole that I have become, said "If I had worked for this shit airline for 15 years, I would give a rat's ass about their policy!" That didn't go over good, but get this....the pilot happened to walk by and mention that he was a musician, and instructed the guy to let me gate check it. So remember kids: Detune, bubble wrap, and be nice!
6) Has there been any discussion of a signature Gretsch yet?
There has not been. I don't know if I have enough pull as a musician to ever get a signature Gretsch. There's really not much I would change about my Falcon. I do hate the cheesy headstock plaques they put on them. Also, I wish they had bigger fret dot markers along the binding on the neck. Its hard as hell to see those dots under stage lights!
7) What was it like being produced by Eddie Spaghetti?
It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. We opened for the Supersuckers last February at the Hangar 9 in Carbondale, Illinois. I said just a few words to Eddie, and he signed the back of my guitar as they were leaving. That was the first time I had seen them live. Bob has been a Supersuckers fan forever, and hooked me up with some CDs, and I just jumped right in. I sent Eddie an email a few months later asking if he would produce the new CD, and he agreed!
We recorded at Prolaterian Studios in Indianapolis, IN. The owner is Ken Avery. Ken and I were in a band called Mayflower Jones back when we were in high school! Our good friend Scott Alexander who ran Traxside Studios in West Frankfort, IL (where Bob and I used to record the Accelerators albums at) was in Mayflower Jones also, as well as Sean Hopkins from Dallas Alice (former Blacktops drummer).
Ken built this great studio in the basement of his house, and it was perfect for us, because we could track all night long, then just go upstairs and crash out whenever. It really made the whole process comfortable. Whoever wasn't tracking would go upstairs and grill food for everybody, or fetch booze, whatever was needed!
Eddie flew into the Indianapolis airport, and Ken and I went to pick him up. Its funny, Ken and I were waiting at the bottom of the stairs for Eddie, and Ken asked me "what does he look like?" I said "beats me man, he's always got on sunglasses and a cowboy hat!". Well, we found him no problem, and off to the studio we went.
Eddie has this crazy amazing focus, and gave 110% effort towards helping with the album. We are a hard working band, and wanted to give him the best effort we could as well. He put his neck on the line to have his name on the CD, I wanted him to be proud of it.
The recording went super smooth. You know you'll always run into bumps here and there. I usually write my solos in the studio. Part of me does this because I'm not sure how long the section in the song will be for the solo. Will it change key? Will it go an extra measure? I like to wait until the studio to write the solos for that reason.....but mostly because I'm lazy. I had a hard time coming up with the solo for the song Kentucky. Eddie, Ken, and I pretty much brainstormed on that one for a while. I'm so used to playing rockabilly solos, that doing something a little different throws me for a loop. I have to create solos again? What the hell! I'm used to faking them! Haha!
Eddie's advice on vocal melodies and harmonies was great. I came out of that session with a lot of knowledge. We even scammed Eddie into singing background vocals on a few tracks!
I think the coolest part about having Eddie produce the CD was having the opportunity to pick his brain on band stuff that is not music related. One of the coolest compliments I got from him, is when he told me he wished interviewers would ask him the questions I asked him! For example: Who is the toughest guy in the Supersuckers? (Marty) Who washes the van after tour? (Dan), etc. I asked him tons of questions about Supersuckers lyrics, meanings behind songs, band business questions, and all the stuff I wanted to know. I'm actually a pretty shy and timid guy, and it took me a while to work up the courage to ask him stuff. Eddie Spaghetti is a talented, kind dude, and I will always respect him and look up to him.
8) Why the name change to The Number Nine Blacktops?
I had thought about it for a while. It just seemed a little more rock, and a little less honky tonk. PLUS, I hated having to type "Skinny Jim & the Number 9 Blacktops" at the end of every email, it takes too long :)