Rich - Headstrong Amps by wuzhenguang


GBINTERVIEW                                                                                                   RICH ROBINSON

                                  THE BLACK CROWES ARE BACK WITH A FANTASTIC NEW ALBUM.
                     Rich Robinson, the                 possessed the true spirit of rock ’n’ roll   because we really wanted it to be
               ...   guitarist who, together            and more success followed. Their             special. We wanted to get everyone on
              with his older brother Chris,             sophomore album The Southern                 the same page so we could record the
              founded the American rock                 Harmony And Musical Companion                album as a full band.”
              band the Black Crowes, couldn’t           debuted at number one in the
              be more thrilled with his band’s          American charts, and total album sales       VINTAGE GEAR
              latest album. Warpaint, the               to date across the band’s catalogue          Considering the Black Crowes strong
              group’s seventh studio effort, is         exceed the 20 million mark.                  connection with the rock music of the
              everything that any long-term                                                          ’60s and ’70s, you’d expect vintage
              Crowes fan could possibly want.           BLACK TOGETHER                               gear to play a big part in Rich
              A monolithic slab of pure                 But life hasn’t always been rosy in the      Robinson’s sound. So what kind of
              rock ’n’ roll, it encapsulates            Black Crowes camp. Although the core         amps did he use on the new album?
              elements of blues, country, soul,         of Chris and Rich Robinson has always        “Obviously mostly old amps,” he
              gospel and southern rock,                 remained constant, the band has been         explains, “but a couple of custom
              blending them together like               plagued by numerous line-up changes,         amps as well. There’s a company in
              only the Black Crowes can.                the inevitable pressures of life on the      North Carolina called Headstrong that
                 Always the masters of the              road and the much-publicised                 made me an amp that’s sort of like a
              unconventional with their long adlib      inability of the two siblings to always      souped-up Twin [see box on page 30
              jams and retro tones, the Black Crowes    see eye-to-eye. This climaxed in 2002        for more]. I use that with my ‘61
              stormed onto the music scene in 1990      when the band announced that they            Gretsch White Falcon on five or six
              with their debut album Shake Your         were on indefinite hiatus, a situation       songs. I also have a Matchless – one of
              Money Maker. Seducing music fans,         that lasted three years.                     the original ones that were made for
              peers and critics across the globe, it       “We got back together in 2005 and         us for Amorica [the Black Crowes 3rd
              earned the band tours with the likes of   spent the first year really just             album] – a 50-watt Plexi Marshall and
              the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, AC/DC,        readjusting to being in the band again       a small tweed Fender Vibrolux from
              Metallica and Aerosmith, and record       and to playing every night,” explains        the ’50s. I keep to smaller amps and
              sales in excess of 3 million. The         Rich Robinson. “The next year, we            combos and really try to get the
              brothers Robinson, it seemed,             really focussed on writing this record       best out of them.”                    ➔

                                                                                                     Jul 2008
                                                                                                        y        guitARbuyER           27
 GBINTERVIEW                                                                                     RICH ROBINSON

         we wanted to get
     eveRyone on tHe same
 page so we Could ReCoRd
tHe album as a full band
The Gretsch White Falcon is one of
the most iconic electric guitar models
of all time, and Robinson’s 1961
example is understandably close to his
heart. “The White Falcon is one of my
favourite guitars,” he says. “It’s got the
original Filter’Tron pickups and it’s a
‘61, so it’s the double-cutaway and the
body is a little bit thinner. I traded a
Gibson ES-335 for it. I had two early
‘60s 335s, one that’s just great and one
that was OK. A friend of mine who I
buy a lot of guitars from said he had
this great White Falcon that I should
check out. I did and I was like “Wow!”,
so I traded it with the OK 335 and I’ve                                                                   n Brothers in arms: Rich
                                                                                                          and Chris Robinson

                                             been using it ever since.                  started – it was 19 years ago when I
                                                “I use the other early-’60s 335 a lot   made Shake Your Money Maker – they
                                             and I have a blond Tele that I’ve had      would make you sign these contracts
                                             and used since Shake Your Money            and you would only be allowed to play
                                             Maker,” Robinson continues. “That’s        that one guitar and shit like that. Fuck
                                             pretty much what I used on the new         that! Especially back then – new
                                             record from an electric standpoint.        guitars just weren’t that good a lot of
                                             From an acoustic standpoint, I have        the time. That’s when I really started
                                             this old Gibson Dove that I used, a        buying vintage guitars. They just
                                             1953 Martin D-28 and this really cool      sounded better and were better made.
                                             Guild 12-string. I think I bought it          “As time went on, manufacturers
                                             right before we made Three Snakes &        really started getting hip to that fact
                                             One Charm. For this record, I didn’t       and really started focussing on making
                                             want to bring everything just to be        better instruments, and now you can
                                             bogged down by choices, so I probably      find really good new guitars,” he says.
                                             brought 15 or 20 guitars and just          “People started taking a little more
                                             really tried to keep it pretty mellow      care in what they did and that came
                                             on the guitar front.”                      with the Custom Shop stuff – the
                                                                                        Fender Custom Shop and the Gibson
                                             GREAT GUITARS                              Custom Shop and things like that.
                                             Robinson’s “keeping it mellow on the       Then there are lots of great guitar
                                             guitar front” is clearly a relative        makers like James Trussart, who made
                                             concept – many might consider 15 or        a couple of guitars for me. Obviously,
                                             20 guitars rather a lot! So how many       Esquires, Teles, 335s and Les Pauls are
                                             does he own overall? “I don’t know,        great guitars, but to me someone like
                                             probably about 30 or 40,” he says.         James Trussart is really interesting and
                                             “Maybe even 50 – I haven’t counted         has a different approach. It’s cool to be
                                             them. I used to have more but I got rid    able pick and choose to give me
                                             of a bunch because I just didn’t have      different tones, because every guitar
                                             the storage space for the hundred and      has a different tone.”
                                             somewhat guitars that I had.”
                                                Given his passion for collecting and    CROWE SOLOS
                                             playing a variety of vintage makes and     Anyone who has had the good fortune
                                             models, could this be the reason why       to witness the Black Crowes
                                             he has never signed on the dotted line     performing live can testify to their
                                             of a lucrative product endorsement         ability to break into an impromptu
                                             deal? “Yeah, pretty much,” he says         jam at the drop of a hat. Is this
                                             matter of factly. “Back then when we       something that Robinson needs        ➔

28        guitARbuyER July 2008
 GBINTERVIEW                                                                                                                              RICH ROBINSON

                                                                                                                                unbelievable – I mean, straight out of
  HEADSTRONG AMPS                                                                                                               the Ry Cooder handbook. He’s just a
  WE FIND OuT ABOuT THE COMPANy THAT BuIlT RICH ROBINSON’S CuSTOM COMBO                                                         really talented player.”

  n We caught up with Wayne Jones           and it’s really the amp that put           a Headstrong amp,” Wayne
  from Headstrong Amps                      us on the map.                             explains, “is an amp that can
                                                                                                                                SONG LINES
  ( to find              “We also build our own Prima           become an extension of the player        So how does Robinson go about
  out a little more about this              series of amps. We currently have          and the instrument. All our amps         writing Black Crowes material? “I just
  boutique amp company whose                both 30- and 50-watt versions,             are straightforward as far as            believe in being natural. There’s
  client list includes members of the       with 5-, 18- and 100-watt versions         controls go, so you won’t spend too      nothing that I set out with, it’s just
  Black Crowes, ZZ Top, the Allman          to come later on this year. All of         much time turning knobs to find a        how the songs come out when I write
  Brothers Band and many more.              the Prima amps are my design,              good sound when you should be
                                                                                                                                them. I believe that they are supposed
     “We started Headstrong in late         which is to say that they are an           picking strings.”
  2002 and it’s basically just myself       amalgam of a couple of classic                                                               to come that way and it’s just
  and my wife Jessica, and we have a        designs – there’s a little Marshall                                                          how it’s meant to be. I send
  couple of good friends that help us       and a little Fender in those amps.                                                           them over to Chris and he puts
  out on certain aspects of the                 “Another thing we do is classic                                                         lyrics to them and they sort of
  company as well,” Wayne Jones             circuits custom-tailored for artists.                                                       take shape, and the record
  explains. “We basically do a couple       The amp that Rich used on the new
                                                                                                                                       becomes what it becomes. It’s
  of things. One is the whole Fender        record [pictured here] is based on a
  replica line that we offer. Those are     late-’50s high-powered tweed                                                               definitely a natural process and
  the amps I have always played,            Fender Twin, but we beefed up the                                                          not something that’s forced. It’s
  worked on, built and loved. For           filter supply and did a few other                                                         not like we set out to make this or
  example, we do the lil’ King amp,         things to really tighten the amp up.                                                      set out to make that, we just get in
  which was the first ever recreation       I think it worked very well for Rich                                                     there and write our songs and just
  of the 1964 Fender Princeton              and his style of playing.
                                                                                                                                     hope for the best. And we are
  Reverb. That’s still our best seller          ”The main thing you will get from
                                                                                                                                   always really happy with the record
                                                                                                                                at the time. Sometimes you can look

    I always put                                                                                                                back and say this wasn’t as good or
                                                                                                                                that wasn’t as good, but at the time we

  tHe song fIRst
                                                                                                                                make the records, everyone is happy
                                                                                                                                with them and we release them

   and so I don’t
                                                                                                                                because of that.
                                                                                                                                   “I probably write about 80 percent
                                                                                                                                on an acoustic,” Robinson explains.

    Really tHInk                                                                                                                “Sitting in a room with a great
                                                                                                                                acoustic guitar is a great thing, but to

   about solos
                                                                                                                                hear a great sounding electric guitar
                                                                                                                                really inspires me as well. Growing up
                                                                                                                                I was influenced more by songwriters.
to do to keep things interesting?                                                                                               You know, Keith [Richards] was great
    “I think everyone in the band needs                                                                                         but I loved Nick Drake. The way he
it,” explains the guitarist. “It keeps it                                                                                       played just moves me in a way that
fresh and keeps us on our toes and                                                                                              I can’t think many others do. Stephan
more agile as a band. You can get                                                                                               Stills was also a big influence on me,
stuck in a rut and get up there and                                                                                             not only for his songwriting ability
play the same set every night – you                                                                                             but his approach to solos and stuff like
can just go through the motions. If                                                                                             that. Jimmy Page is obviously
you get up there and challenge                                                                                                  amazing, Jeff Beck and all the
yourself I think it really helps the                                                                                            standard guys that everybody likes,
band move as a unit.                                                                                                            but there are also some people that
    “For me, soloing is pretty                                                                                                  I was really into that were a little more
spontaneous,” he explains. “I always                                                                                            off the beaten track.
put the song first and so I don’t really                                                                                           “When you first start out you want
think about solos. Live, I mainly play                                                                                          to be your heroes and by about the
                                                                                                       n Pride and joy: Rich
the song and whoever else is on stage                                                                  Robinson with his 1961   second record you sort of move on
                                                                                                       Gretsch White Falcon
with us will come on and play the                                                                                               and want to find your own voice.
solo. When we jam we will trade off                                                                                             I was 19 and living in suburban
and on and it’s always spontaneous.                                                 handled nearly all of the slide parts.      America when I made Shake Your
I may have a general idea of what I like                                            “We didn’t have a second guitar player      Money Maker and I had only been
to stick to and I’ll go from there.                                                 on the By Your Side album, so I played      playing guitar since I was 15. I didn’t
When writing, the most important                                                    all the guitar, and on Lions we just did    have a lot of experiences in life, but
thing for me is putting together a great                                            it the same way,” he says. “On this         when you get out on tour and play
song and coming up with great riffs or                                              record, we really wanted to make a          350 shows over two years, you really
a great chord structure.”                                                           band album so it’s mostly Luther            gain knowledge on how to play with
    Although Robinson himself is a                                                  playing slide on everything but ‘Oh         other people, how to really think
very accomplished slide guitar player,                                              Josephine’. We were all in a room           about music in a more holistic or
it’s interesting to see that on Warpaint,                                           recording with very minimal                 encompassing way, and that gives
new band member Luther Dickinson                                                    overdubs, and Luther’s slide lines were     you your own legs to stand on.” GB

30        guitARbuyER July 2008

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