|An Interview with Blues
Guitarist Steve Ditzell
Rick: How did
you begin playing music? Did you start with a different instrument
and move on to guitar?
Steve: I actually started playing with drums when I was
a kid, like 12 or 13 years old. It was drums that originally caught
my attention, I was trying to get together a drum kit, buying one
piece at a time, and I saw this bass guitar. I saw it hanging there
and I could actually buy that. So I bought this base, and that's
where I starting learning where all the notes were and the frets
and how to do that. I got very good on bass and thought I would
do that and I went and saw this band called Cream, and I saw what
Clapton was doing with the guitar, I was third row center, and that
really made me think. I saw the kind of expression you could get
with the guitar so eventually I moved over. I still like playing
Rick: Do you still take up the
Steve: No, no. I stopped, the guitar pretty well, keeps
me busy enough.
Rick: What was the first guitar
that you ever played and was it the first one you ever owned?
Steve: The first guitar I ever played really was not very
well playable. I had a guitar when I was 12 and tried playing it
but because it wasn't really playable, I got discouraged and didn't
stick with it. Then back when I was about 15, is when I really got
serious about the guitar. I got past the early stage where your
fingers hurt; you don't have calluses so it's kind of painful, I
decided to push on through that phase. I bought me a little old
Montgomery Wards guitar for $9.99 that was when I was 15. I started
learning things that I could play, obviously I couldn't play anything
intricate, but I could play chords and stuff and I was listening
to a lot of Dylan songs; at one point I knew all the Dylan songs,
I could play those and all the verses. As I got better on the guitar
I played more challenging things.
Rick: Do you prefer to play
an acoustic or electric guitar?
Steve: Well when I'm playing around the house it's the acoustic,
but when I hit the stage, it the acoustic or electric. I really
like playing the acoustic, just when I'm sitting around and I get
an idea of something I want to play, I grab that, really I like
playing the acoustic more.
Rick: Any particular reason?
Steve: I don't know, I guess I just like the sound of it,
but when I get out there with the band, I really like the sound
of the electric, it's just louder and everything like that. But
I really guess that I really enjoy the acoustic. And I really like
listening to people who play the acoustic like Andres Sobgovia and
people like that.
Rick: Do you have any particular
things that you do to get ready for a performance?
Steve: No not particularly I don't think. I just get the
darn thing tuned up and go ahead and play. Make sure there are some
decent strings on it.
Rick: You're never really nervous
or need to get warmed up?
Steve: I have had several occasions in my career, I can
recall times when I was very nervous. Big shows, Carnegie Hall for
example, I was really nervous, but once I start playing I'm ok.
Waiting to do it kills me.
Rick: The anticipation?
Steve: Yeah, yeah.
Rick: Do you consider yourself
strictly a blues man or do you have other strong interests?
Steve: Well Blues are my main thing; really it's the finest music.
But you now, I really, if you look at my song lists and things for
acoustic and electric, you see quite an eclectic mix. I like Waylon
Jennings and Hank Williams and people like that; I do a few of their
songs. Rye Cooter is a big favorite of mine; Rye Cooter is one of
those guys that really gets into some really cool stuff that time
forgot. A real blues man, that would be Muddy Waters that would
be Howlin' Wolf, those are your blues men- the guys that play blues
all the time. See I'm not a blues man, but I am a blues player in
the sense that you know Eric Clapton is a blues player, he's a rock
star, but a blues player.
Rick: What was it like playing
live in front of an audience for the first time?
Steve: It was fun right away, I always liked it. Going back
to my early teens when I was doing my very first gigs, I've always
enjoyed playing for people. There's something kind of intangible
about that whole experience. It's a very fascinating thing; music
is something that people need more than they think they need.
Rick: When you are preparing
for your performance, how do you come up with your set lists?
Steve: It depends on who I'm playing for, I play for some places
where they like a whole lot of biker favorites so I'm going to do
a lot of ZZ top in places like that. Then I'll play another gig
that will be like a traditional blues type of venue, so I'll have
a lot of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and things like that in there.
And then most of my gigs their either going to be rock and roll
and blues and they are going to lean one way or the other. And it
depends on who I have on bass and drums that night, because certain
drummers are really strong with certain things and not as good in
other things, so. But I always do like to make a set list for each
gig. You know I've talked to band leaders who work off the same
set list every night, and I like the fact that can make a new one
every night, depending on what I'm into and what I've really been
getting into lately.
Rick: Who was the first big
name that you ever played with and how did that experience
Steve: I have to say that would be Junior Wells; I first
played with him I was about 25 then and I had gone to Chicago and
I was going down to Theresa's Lounge and hanging around and I eventually
got in the house band at Theresa's and Junior Wells was in Europe,
so he finally got back from there about a month after I had been
playing in the house band there, so now he's on stage and it was
pretty funny. He had this expensive looking briefcase with gold
all over it and everything, and when I was out in the audience I
can remember thinking that I wish I could see inside that, I imagined
all these sparkling harmonicas laying in blue velvet in there and
all that stuff, so that's what I thought it would look like in that
expensive looking briefcase. So now I'm up on the stage and he opens
the briefcase and I'm thinking, " Hey now I get to look inside",
and I look inside and he's got two bottles of booze and a harmonica
in there, and he played the one harmonica all night. Harmonica players
usually have harmonicas for each of the keys; Junior Wells didn't
have to do that, he just played that one harp in all the keys all
night long. That guy was amazing.
Rick: Not quite what you expected?
Rick: Given all the memorable
people you've played with, who are some of the ones who stand
out the most?
Steve: Well, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, very much so. Big
Mama Thorton, Jay Mc Shannon, I played with Jay Mc Shannon and Big
Mama Thorton at Carnegie Hall; I did that gig with them there. I've
been on shows with some really memorable people that I didn't actually
get to play with, but we were at the same bill so I got to hang
out with them, people like Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Bob
Marley and the Wailers, when I was with Koko Taylor we opened up
for them, so I got to hang out with them and that was a very interesting
experience. (Editors Note: Ask Rick
Why when you see him)
Rick: When you are playing,
what are some of the songs that people request the most and
do you have a song that you like to play the most?
Steve: I get a lot of requests, people request Crossroads
a lot, Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan, I get a lot of requests
for that. People like Stevie Ray's music; by the way Stevie Ray
Vaughan is a person I left off the list. He's one of the people
I got a chance to play with that made a big impression on me, he
was one a real down to earth guy and a phenomenal musician, and
he was one of the nicest people I have run into in the business.
B.B. King, I played Lucille, he let me play Lucille for a bit. He's
a really nice person. Those are some of the nicest guys I've run
into. As far as songs I like to play, I've got about a dozen of
them I have a lot of fun playing. Every time I play them it's a
bit different. Crossroads is like that, that's one that I like to
play, it's never the same twice, it's always different and I never
know how I'm going to play it. It's a nice song to solo over, because
of rhythmically the way it's set up; I just have a lot of fun to
Rick: Famous or not famous,
who would be you favorite performer to play with?
Steve: Well I would say Sammy Lawhorn. Sammy Lawhorn
was the guy down at Theresa's Lounge who played lead guitar
in the band there, and he traveled with Muddy Waters, toured
with him for 16 years. He was Muddy Water's favorite guitarist
for his music; Muddy told me that. He said that Sammy was
just the best. Sammy Lawhorn was one of those really unique
guitar players that you could watch play and you would be
shaking your head because you couldn't figure out what the
heck he was doing. Some people you can watch and pick up,
like Eric Clapton and B.B. King, you could watch them and
I could go and grab my guitar and figure out what they were
doing. With Sammy Lawhorn, that never happened, I could watch
him all I wanted to but I was still mystified with how he
did it. I wish he was still around so I could jam with him
Rick: If you could have the
chances to play with anyone that you've never played with
before, whom would that be and why?
Steve: Clapton, because I never have. I've played
with a lot of big stars, and I've met a lot of big stars,
you know when I was with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Koko
Taylor, I was with some big name blues acts so I had the pleasure
to of jamming with some very big stars, like Robert Plant,
from Led Zepplin, and Tom Wates, but somehow or another, never
crossed paths with Eric Clapton. He's the one, and really
just a huge inspiration to me, he's the real deal, he's a
real blues boy that guy.
Rick: He's really the one who
influenced you into guitar?
Steve: Yeah, really. I went and saw Cream, I was third
row center for Cream; the most expensive ticket you could
get at the time, $10.75 - it was an expensive seat. But I
was blown away by them all three of them obviously; Ginger
Baker is my favorite drummer, and Jack Bruce is my favorite
overall musician/bass player and singer, and Clapton is arguably
my favorite guitar player. They were fantastic, they really
were fantastic, I saw them in 1968 when they were probably
playing the best they ever played. It's hard to describe how
intense that experience really was, it really blew me through
the back wall.
Rick: Out of all the comic book
stores you've given a performance in, what has been your favorite?
Steve: (Laughing) Al 'n Ann's Collectibles. Of all the thousands
of comic book stores I've played..
Rick: After this experience,
what do you think the likely hood would be that you might
go on a tour visiting the comic book stores of the nation,
exposing the comic collecting and gaming masses to things
other than death metal, the Cure and their mothers screaming
down into the basement that the Domino's guy is here with
Steve: (Laughing) Well, if somebody's paying, I'm playing.
Rick: Any plans to headline
Alapalooza or tour with Al?
Steve: Same answer (Laughing).
Rick: I want to thank you very
much for this opportunity.