of Alan Iglesias for The San Diego
Reader by Roy Sanford
RS: Can you encapsulate your own musical background, such as the bands you were involved with before the tribute project?
AI: I'm only few months younger than Stevie would have been, so we grew up at the same time and with many of the same influences. The main differences were that he was in Texas, and I was in New England, so he was much more aware of his local blues-oriented performers than I was. I knew that the newer, harder rock in the late sixties (Jimi Hendrix, Cream, etc.) was largely based on the blues being played for many years in the southern states and Chicago area, but was so enthralled by what Jimi and Eric were doing with it that I sort of jumped right in with what they were doing. I did make it a point to listen to many of the original blues masters a little later on, though, so the roots of where all this came from were firmly planted in my heart and mind. I remember thinking that it was just a perfect and natural progression from the original acoustic blues, to the traditional electric blues, to the louder, harder blues-based rock that was emerging in England and the United States at the time. The key was that the traditional music had so much feeling and soul, that when you turned it up it really, really got to the younger people. It certainly got to me!
The other primary difference is that Stevie stayed with a more "American" approach based on Stratocaster guitars (with single-coil pickups) and Fender amplifiers, and I went for the more "English" approach with Les Paul Guitars (with humbucking pick-ups) and Marshall amplifiers, a la Led Zeppelin, Cream, etc.. Although I always felt that the blues was the heart of everything, I wanted to be a bit more progressive, and got into people like Jeff Beck and Al Dimeola and other more progressive players. As the 70's wore on, Edward Van Halen's playing seemed to take everything in blues-based guitar rock to the next level, and I was right there riding the wave. Stevie, on the other hand, was hanging in Texas, still primarily billed as a blues artist.
But these two stories may not be as different as you might think. During the ten years or so that Stevie lived and played in Austin before he broke through, there was always a heavier, more progressive -- Hendrixian, if you will -- approach tugging at him. He would interject this music whenever he could, often to the great chagrin of his band mates and others. Heck, it's often said that one night his brother Jimmie -- never one to succumb to the temptations of turn-up-your-guitar hard rock -- even accused him of sounding like "fucking Robin Trower"! "You're a blues player -- play the blues!" They'd tell him. But the crowd loved this seemingly taboo juxtaposition of the blues with a special fire -- the same fire that people like Stevie and myself knew that Hendrix heard and I was hearing from other artists at the time.
As the Eighties wound down and mainstream hard rock fell out of favor, I got older (funny how these things happen...) and was attracted to the old, black Fender Amplifiers of my youth. Stevie always blew me away with what he was able to do with a Stratocaster -- traditionally a much harder instrument to play than a Les Paul -- So I picked one up, plugged it in, turned it up, and the magic blew me away.
RS: When did you first hear SRV's music - under what circumstances and did it have an immediate effect on you?
AI: Like many non-Texans, I first heard Stevie on the radio in 1983 when he was getting airplay on two different albums simultaneously. One, playing Albert King inspired blues licks for David Bowie's Let's Dance and the other, his first Epic album with Double Trouble, Texas Flood. I had actually heard of him through the "guitar grapevine" before that, but did not actually hear him until his music got national airplay.
I must admit that the initial effect didn't completely blow me away. I was so focused on creating music in the harder blues-based rock vein, that, while I thought it was very cool that someone was still playing a Strat and doing things a bit more traditionally, I didn't fully appreciate what he was doing until a bit later on. I remember saying to myself that yeah, they call this guy a blues player, but listen to all the Hendrix influence and the way he turns it up! Look at what he did with Voodoo Chile -- about the same thing as Van Halen did with Really Got Me. This guy is a rocker too, and deep inside he's just like the rest of us. The more I heard him (especially his live stuff, when my brother gave me Live Alive for my birthday), the more akin I felt to what he was doing. Before long I considered him a contemporary who although went down a slightly different road, was still speaking the same language I was.
RS: Did you ever see SRV perform live or meet him? If so, please elaborate a bit.
AI: Unfortunately, no. I was on the road at the time myself, so like many artists that I wanted to see, Stevie would come through town on a night that I was already playing or not at home. Heck, I don't think I saw a single concert between 1976 and 1987. I think one night he was playing in Providence R.I. down the street from where I was playing, but there was just no way for me to get over there. These days, I sit at home with the DVDs of Stevie playing live and because I can watch them over and over, I can really get a lot out of them. Thank God for video!
I have recently spoken to a number of folks who knew Stevie quite well. Between that and reading as much as I can about him, I feel a real sense of getting to know the guy a little bit. Stevie was a master at channeling who he was and what he was feeling through his playing -- it is extremely important for me to know and understand as much as I can about him to do an authentic, respectful tribute.
RS: Had you ever been in a previous tribute group?
AI: No, and I never, in a million years thought I'd ever do anything like this.
RS: When was your group formed, and by who/under what circumstances?
AI: I formed the group just last year, so we are still pretty new. After beating my head against the wall for years trying to attract good players in an area where I was not well known (my musical career was in New England), things were getting critical. I desperately needed to play great music, with great players, for folks who wanted to hear that music. I figured it would take me 4-6 years to build up the reputation needed to do what I wanted to do here in San Diego. At 46, I just didn't feel I had that sort of time, so I started looking at alternatives that I would never have considered before.
The tribute idea just came to me as I was learning some Stevie songs as part of my "stratocaster set". Sheesh, I whispered to myself, I don't look unlike the guy -- I can sing pretty much like him, I can (if I work on it REAL hard) play pretty much like him -- would I actually dare to put that hat on and go out there in front of people and try to bring back a little bit of Stevie for an evening? What would people think? Would they consider me a complete fool for trying to emulate one of the greatest, most loved guitarists that ever lived? Scary stuff.
I thought about it long and hard. I talked to as many people as I could about it, and the reaction was "Go for it, Alan". Even people that knew Stevie (like Joella Gammage-Nolen of Texas Hatters, whose father made Stevie's hats -- she now makes mine) told me that as long as I played from the heart like Stevie did, then it would be all right. So I made the decision and this is what I'm trying to do.
RS: Prior to this, what was your opinion of bands playing full-length tribute sets of other bands' music - had you seen many such bands?
AI: Well, it depended on the time and the band. 20 years ago it didn't make much sense to emulate a living, viable band. Heck, if it's already being done currently, why recreate it -- especially when you are young enough to pursue your own original stuff which is the same style as what is currently being listened to on the radio. But after a decade or two, the idea made a little more sense to me. A few years ago I saw Ralph Saenz with the Atomic Punks, a Van Halen tribute from L.A. Certainly the fact that Ralph "did Dave better than Dave" helped, but it also struck me that if Van Halen is all but completely gone, why would it be a such a bad thing to recreate the wonderful energy that they brought to the world of arena rock -- especially when there are plenty of people out there who still want to hear it? Stevie has been gone for well over ten years now, and there are still so many that loved what he did. If I can remind them just a little bit of what he was able to do, then perhaps we can all benefit from it.
RS: Is this your favorite music and, if so, is it possible to encapsulate why the music appeals to you over other performers' music?
AI: I guess you could say that blues-based rock has always been my favorite music to play and perform. If ultimate musical success can be defined as when your playing or singing touches another person's soul directly from your soul -- even transcending the instrument to do it -- then what better medium than a heart-felt blues style with a little fire thrown in? I can't think of anything more natural or real.
RS: How precisely do you recreate, on stage, the original studio recordings? Is there room for improvisation?
AI: Lots and lots of practice, research, rehearsal, communication, all these things. We are using whenever possible the live versions of the tunes for reference. Although Stevie and the band sounded great in the studio, the live experience was something else all together, and this is what we are going for. This is truly where the fire is. The live DVDs I spoke of before are our bible. We watch them and listen to them over and over, looking for the subtleties and nuances that are the fiber that the live SRV experience was woven from.
I try to play everything I can as closely as possible to the way Stevie played it live. But because he played things sometimes differently at different times, there is a little room for improvisation as long as I improvise the way I think Stevie would have at the time. I even have different parts of the same song gleaned from different actual performances that I'll do depending on the night or how I'm feeling. That being said, I'm constantly trying to hone certain songs or passages to recreate certain memorable performances -- the version of Little Wing from the music video and released post-humously on The Sky is Crying come to mind -- just an incredible performance.
RS: Ever get any feedback from anyone connected to SRV? Either band members or folks who worked with or for him?
AI: Just a little bit of encouragement from a few different folks I've spoken to that knew him. It sure would be nice to hear from Chris or Tommy one day. I hope they don't think that I am doing something terrible. Then again I watched both of them play four or five signature SRV/DT songs with Kenny Wayne Shepard at 4th & B last year so I'd suspect that they are not too sensitive about the whole thing as long as it's done well.
RS: What kind of feedback do you get from fans who take issue with the way you may play and sing a certain song? Or, more to the point, if someone is to find fault, what is the most common criticism? "Too much like the album?" "Not enough like the album?" "You don't look enough like SRV?"
AI: Well, we haven't really heard anything like that yet, although I'm sure we will soon enough. I must say that the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and I have the legacy of Stevie's wonderful music to thank for that. But I'll have to take these criticisms (when they come) as well as I can and continue to improve the show -- heaven knows that there is always plenty of room for improvement. To look at it any other way would be a disservice to the memory and legacy of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
RS: How important do you feel your look and appearance is to the audience compared to the musicianship?
AI: Looks, appearances, and body language are extremely important if you want to present a world-class act, but never at the expense of musicianship, of course. They are both actually quite entwined, I think. I explain it this way: It's perhaps not so important that I try to look and sound exactly like Stevie looked and sounded (although I certainly give that a lot of effort), but rather to strive for a situation in which I am feeling some of the same things that Stevie was feeling when he played a live show. If I am successful, then these feelings will manifest themselves as sights and sounds that will strike people as authentic, and very much like experiencing the original act -- I hope!
The bassist and drummer, John and Eric, also strive to recreate their parts as authentically as possible. No matter how good a guitar player might be, without a blazing rhythm section you are nothing.
RS: How would you respond to musicians who resent the fact that you can sell out shows on the strength of SRV's reputation, while all-original bands have trouble getting gigs?
AI: On one level, I don't blame them a bit. But these days the people you describe are going to be typically a lot younger than me, and are already considering me a musical fossil anyway. They have a wonderful chance (like I once had) to break into an industry in which the vast majority of current popular music speaks to them and the material that they are creating. This will never again happen for me. So I say to them fight the good fight, and if they are lucky, they will have wonderful, soulful music like Stevie's (and perhaps an audience who cares) to play when they are old and washed up! (laughs)
RS: What's the hardest part about being in a tribute band?
AI: Just the occasional thought that you are giving up a certain amount of your individuality for the tribute can be a trying one. Happily, though, the reaction I get from people (and I noticed this with Ralph and the Atomic Punks too) seems to indicate that they are extremely aware that, at the end of the day, you are you and not anyone else. They want to know who you are, about your original material, and other things that allow you to keep a considerable amount of cherished autonomy. This, coupled with the fact that doing the tribute allows me to perform wonderful music with great players for folks who want to hear that music (an incredible situation), goes a long way toward making me feel pretty good overall about doing the tribute It's like a friend said: "What better tribute to do than a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute?" I tend to agree..
RS: When choosing songs for your set list, do you steer toward the recognizable hits or more obscure, less-heard material geared toward hardcore fans?
AI: We pretty much do it all, I think. Certainly we will endeavor to bring out all the big hits as well as some of the album cuts. I have set lists from Stevie's actual shows that I use to create the sets, so we are trying to stay as authentic as we possibly can. We are always learning new songs, adding to the list. There should be something for everybody in every show.
RS: What was the most successful gig you've done - not necessarily the most attended but the most satisfying.
AI: Well, we are still pretty new and we haven't done a whole lot of gigs yet. That said, I must say that the recent gig at the Cannibal Bar at the Catamaran Resort in PB was one of the most satisfying experiences of my entire musical career. We had a great supporting act and a full house of Stevie fans who were tremendously appreciative. They made me feel incredibly good about what we were doing, and I really can't ask for any more than that.
RS: What was the most difficult or disappointing gig and what happened to make it so?
We once played at a bar up in Riverside and the show's promoter was not able
to get to the Stevie fans in the area. Very dead, and very difficult. But
as a friend and big Stevie fan said, "If Stevie were here, he would have
played his butt off regardless". So that's what we did.