Here’s the guy who loves to be versatile and diverse with his guitar playing style. So many guitarists look up to him, and what’s unique about him is that he’s one of the rare guitarists who can gather the blues, jazz, rock and funk musicians and fans under the same roof, blending together in harmony. Such evidence also occured at his gig with his trio at Hard Rock Cafe just a couple of days ago (March 20, 2011). He’s none other than Scott Henderson, who recently is having a lot of fun with his current team, the son of Larry Carlton, Travis Carlton (bass) and Allan Hertz (drummer). Grew up with having blues and rock bands/musicians as his heroes, he went on by adding up his backgrounds to meet jazz. All these wide variety of musical backgrounds, along with the experience of working with different musicians or bands shaped him as one of the most unique guitarists the world has ever had.
He has the kind of style that can never be trapped into one particular genre. And he never wants to be that way. He is spontaneous, he is explosive. His way of playing can always hypnotize the audience to focus totally on the stage while forgetting everything else. He can go from blues, rock to jazz harmony along with other side dish like country all at the same time in one composition. He might be famous with his Tribal Tech, the groundbreaking group that streched way further than just a fusion band, then he was also known with the Vital Tech Tones. His surprising “going back home” move by pushing blues in front for his solo albums were brilliant, and now he’s having fun with Travis and Allan that can accomodate his taste of incredible mixture. Not only that, he also loves to teach. He enjoys passing up his unbelievable knowledge and skills to younger guitarists everywhere. In one simple way, Scott Henderson is different and unique, someone that will be difficult to find the match anywhere else.
Scott Henderson Trio arrived in Jakarta on his Asian tour through the lovely work of INTERLUDE as the collaboration between Beyond Production and INA Blues. INTERLUDE is dedicated to facilitate the crossover kind of music that can’t be fitted in one genre, and they just did a solid start by inviting Scott Henderson Trio as their first step. When the gig was on at Hard Rock Cafe Jakarta last Sunday, the fully crowded audiences became the evidence of how big the demand of this “alternative” music presentation. (Check out the full report here). Even more, many rock/blues/jazz/funk musicians especially guitarists were spotted among the crowds. Lucky for us, we got the chance to do an exclusive interview with Scott Henderson. Taking place at the MU Cafe, for about 40 minutes this really nice guy answered all of our questions and guided us to see what’s been happening during his journey from the first moment until now.
You were in Japan when the earthquake tragedy happened. What did you experience at that time?
It was really scary… it was a weird thing that happened. We were very, very lucky. Every night in Japan throughout all 4 cities, the concert started at 8:30 pm. So we would normally be in the club around 3 o’clock for soundcheck. But because the club in Sendai was a small club, our promotor said, “you know what guys, let’s just leave an hour later because the guy has already know how to set up your equipment, he’s been doing it every night, it’s really easy, it’s an easy gig, so let’s leave an hour later.” But because of that we weren’t in Sendai when the earthquake happened. We were about 30 miles South.
It wasn’t that far either..
Not so far. We felt it, but we were in an area away from buildings, we were on the freeway. We pulled out for gas, we felt the earthquake happened so we drove to a spot where nothing could fall on us and we stayed in the van. The fan went shaking from side to side we even felt it might tip over. We saw all the pavement rolling like water. But there wasn’t very much damage to the gas station. It was definitely a long earthquake but we didn’t see any major damage so we thought everything is okay. When we got back on the freeway heading towards Sendai thinking that our gig was still going to happen, then we started receiving these texts from the club owner saying the town was completely wrecked…tsunami’s coming, it’s going to wash out the airport..oh my God, that’s why it’s freaky, because we didn’t know how bad it really was. So we turned around and drove back to Tokyo which took 19 hours. Normally it took only 1 and a half hours drive. It took longer to drive back to Tokyo than flying from LA to Asia. So we got back to the hotel in Tokyo around like 10 in the morning and stayed in Tokyo for the next three days. Then we missed our Taipei gig, but they were kind enough to move it, so we will have it tomorrow. (March 22, 2011). Lucky we don’t loose the gig.
Actually I feel guilty using the word “lucky” because all the people that died..it’s terrible. I mean, our gig means nothing compares to that. But for sure, if we had been in Sendai the earthquake happened we could’ve been hurt. Even if we didn’t get hurt, the rest of the tour would have been cancelled, because there’d be no way to get out from Sendai to make the rest of our shows. So it was just only luck that made us leave an hour later. Otherwise we would have been right in the middle of the whole thing. The next day we get to Hong Kong we heard about the nuclear thing, we’re just going, Holy s***, this is horrible, like it’s getting worse and worse..really, really sad.
You’re too loud to be called a jazz musicians but at the same time you have too much harmony to be a rock musician. How do you comment on that?
I’m glad, because I don’t wanna be called either one. I just wanna be called the musician whose influenced by a lot of different kinds of music. I’m not a jazz musician and I’m not a rock musician. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Many things inspired me. I love all the great jazz musicians..John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and I love all the great rock guitar player. Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. You know, because of this attraction to many different kinds of music, when I play the guitar all of my influences come out. I’m also really into funk, you know..like Tower Power, Kool and the Gang, all these black musics, RnB..
And I could hear that you played a lot of funk last night too.
Yeah. You know, it’s so much fun to be versatile and to be diverse. Being a purist is for other people and I enjoy listening to purists, I love to hear them play but I can never be one because I’m just too easily drawn to good music in whatever shape or form. It just doesn’t matter to me. If it’s good, it’s good. I don’t care what style it is.
If I could use the word “music snobs” for people who always try to put different kinds of music in one certain small box..what do you think of people like that?
Well they are close minded people. I mean, you have these kind of people in every form..art, sports, business, you have people that don’t know how to think outside the box. They have blindness to make them think like this(closing the side of the eyes with his hands). You have this kind of people that work in bank or in television..in music..they are everywhere. This people are a little bit conservative. I feel sorry for these kind of people, because they don’t know how to expand their thinking.
While they are thinking that way, I personally think that even Led Zeppelin might have been jazz too in some sort of way. I mean, they jam, they improvise, they never play the same in their gigs..
I think so too! I think Led Zeppelin probably was one of the very first fusion band. Yes, they didn’t play the music live exactly like it was in the records. They stretched, they grew as the musicians. The same with Hendrix. It’s all about jammin’ and creating new stuff all the time, and this is the essence of jazz. So just because you play rock doesn’t mean that you can’t have the mentality of a jazz musician.
Since you’re pretty handy in diverse styles, how was the way for you to learn the whole different kinds of music?
I went to every kind of music backward, in chronological order. The first blues I heard wasn’t played by BB King or Albert King or Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. It was played by Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton..you see, I didn’t know, because at that time those people were like my heroes and I didn’t realize that those weren’t the people that invented that kind of music. They were second generation or even third generation. Later I learned in school that this wasn’t where the music started, it was actually started a long time ago. So these people that I was listening to were actually like taking the music from Robert Johnson and Albert King and actually adding their own vocabulary too. So that led me to go back in time and listened to the music of Robert Johnson. And it kind of opened my eyes, this is where they were coming from. And I became a big fan of the traditional blues..
Like the Delta Blues, the Mississippi, New Orleans..
Yeah sure. Though I don’t know so much about it because there were so many artists and these guys were all before my time. So I’m more like the expert on the people that I grew up listening to than the people who lived before I was born. I know about them enough to appreciate their music, I have the records..
So you started with blues basically..
Yes, blues and blues rock. And then the same thing happened to me with jazz. I didn’t really understand straight ahead jazz, because I was a rocker. I started listening to Tower Power, Chick Corea, Wheather Report, and the same exact thing with the blues. I thought these people were originated these kind of music and then I realized that this music came from Miles Davis and then in the way before him there was Louis Armstrong. Well, so I went back listening to straight ahead jazz. After a while I learned how to enjoy it. But I had this learn from Weather Report and these other bands on how to understand the harmony of this music. Then when I finally went back and listen to straight ahead jazz it made more sense to me because I understood the chords. And I was just a change of the dial in playing instead of just using rock beat for using walking base and swing, and feel.. but really the vocabulary is pretty much the same, it’s not that different. Except for in fusion they use more sonic, more synthesizers and electric instruments than the old jazz that used mainly acoustic instruments.
Let’s talk about Tribal Tech now, where you worked together with Gary Willis. Many people refer it to fusion, but I think it’s pretty groundbreaking as an album because you added a lot of sounds in it, being more experimental and progressive. How did you came out with it?
When Tribal Tech started we were kind of acoustic band really. We had acoustic piano and a little bit of Fender Rhodes.. we had saxophone player Bob Shepherd..we had percussion, and synthesizer was just still kind of a new thing. So when we started using synthesizers, that’s where the name Tribal Tech came from, like a little bit of old mixed with the new, and the band just sort of to continue to get more into sense. When Scott Kinsey joined the band, he’s such a Joe Zawinul influenced guy, he brought all those sounds and that’s when it really became the band that kind of known for…the combination between me, Gary Willis, Scott Kinsey and Kirk Covington, to most people that’s the Tribal Tech they remember, because we were together for about 10 years. Actually we started changing the way we did music.
We have our reason to say that Tribal Tech is a groundbreaking group, but what is the groundbreaking point of this group in your own opinion?
For me, in my opinion, this is the groundbreaking part. When we first started up until the time Scott Kinsey joined the band and really up until the time of the album “Thick”, we were making music just like the way everybody does. I’d write a song at home, Gary’d write a song at home, we’d bring the song and we’d rehearsing, we brought it on the road and played it and then go recorded it just like every other band does. But then we started getting really good at just jamming, from nothing. Nobody talks, we just play.
I think I could hear that from the first album to the fourth one, you were all moving towards more freedom of playing..
Yeah, we just thought it would be cool to just go and do a record where we don’t talk. Nobody writes any music. Just go in and jam. We taped those jams and then we over-dubbed over the top of them, creating melodies where there were none. Since everything is recorded on separate tracks, you can take out tracks, we can add chords, for example if I added a chord I could ask Gary to play bass over this chord. It’s like painting over something that’s alerady been done. I don’t know any other group that does this. I know there was this “Bitches Brew” (Miles Davis‘ 1970 album), but they were pretty much just played and left it alone. But we’re doing that same kind of thing they did with Bitches Brew, just jamming but then we’re going in later after and we’re adding more sounds, melodies, layering, making them more like compositions. So it’s a really fun way to make music and it’s really different. We really enjoy doing it this way.
You were a part of the first cast of Chick Corea Elektric Band, then you were also in Joe Zawinul Syndicate, and also with Jean-Luc Ponty. I’m curious to know, were they different in any way? How was it working with each of them?
Really different. Jean Luc’s music was very composed. Both Chick Corea and Jean Luc Ponty are really influenced a lot by classical music. Composition is a really big part of their music. Though Chick Corea has participated in some really loose type of music which is actually my favorite of his music, but still he’s into composition. Basically both Jean Luc and Chick had the same concept when I was working with them. They really wanted to be a pop musician. They were sort of like jazz musician that wanted to draw bigger audiences. And really at that time their music was really close to pop. Very structured that we were playing from night to night. That was kind of boring for me. That’s not my style. I like the music to be looser, it has to feel more organic. I totally respect Chick Corea and Jean Luc Ponty, they both really great musicians. But at that time their presentation of music was a bit too commercial for me. I’m more progressive musician. I like it to be more experimental. So, playing with Joe was way closer to home for me because that’s exactly where he was coming from. He likes to jam, he likes to keep things open, he doesn’t like to count bars, he hates that arranged music. He likes to keep it very loose. That’s why I stayed with him for like 3 or 4 years, while with Chick and Jean-Luc thing I didn’t do it for nearly as long. Plus there was the lifestyle-wise. He was more the kind of people that I’d like to hang out with as he was like a normal musician. Chick Corea had this kind of religious overtone to his thing..there were Christians and Scientologist everywhere, I was like, “Get me out of here!” (laugh)
How about when you joined Steve Smith and Victor Wooten in Vital Tech Tone?
Well, Steve Smith wanted to do a record and they asked Smith which two musicians would you like to do the record with and he suggested me and Victor Wooten. Mainly because we’ve never played before together. I thought that would be fun to play together.
It’s interesting for me because you and Wooten are like the frontman in your groups. Did you ever had problem in playing with Wooten?
No.. at first, not knowing much about him I thought that maybe there would be too many notes, I didn’t know Victor so I didn’t know what to expect. But it turns out that he is a very supportive bass player. He plays all of his crazy stuff when he got time to do it, but when it comes the time to have the guitar solo he’s very happy to really groovin’, playing really supportive base. He’s also a very good jammer, great ears, he’s really an amazing musicians. I’m very happy playing with him. It was really a fun experience.
What happened then?
The only thing that wasn’t fun is that we had no music.. they didn’t want it to be jamming record. They wanted us to write music in the studio which was difficult, because I don’t really enjoy writing under pressure. It’s pretty hard. So I don’t feel like it’s my best writing at all, I’m not very proud of the writing. We just had to do that quick. To me when I listen to those records it sounds like music thrown together fast. But that’s just the way it is. It was that kind of record and I feel that we’re even lucky to get what we got. We did those records in just 7 days, that means writing, mixing..everything.
I can imagine how it put pressure on you. And then you moved on making your own album which deeply rooted in blues. Was it like some kind of “coming home” to you?
Yeah, kind of. The reason I did it was because at the time with Tribal Tech mainly due to Willis’ tunes, and I’m not saying anything bad about Willis’ tunes. He’s a great writer. But Willis’ music was really, really sonicly technical. Lots of synthesizers, lots of midi. Those were the days before hard disk recording. So you couldn’t have layers of layers of tracks. We were recording on tape. So it was a technical nightmare. I was really happy with the result, but often I was frustated with the technicality of the experience. It took so long. There were so many hours of sitting around, waiting to fix the technical thing, and I was like, “Man, I’d just like to go to the studio, turn on the mike and just play.”
So I said, let’s just do a blues record so we could just have some fun. I didn’t really think about that I’d started my blues career, I just did the “Dog Party” because I just wanted to make a fun record that isn’t technical.
Make a fun record.. that’s why I notice you put a lot of humor in everything. In the title, in the music, in the cover..
Yeah, at that time I was really needing humor, because the Tribal Tech record was so serious. I thought, “let’s just do the complete opposite. Go to the studio, play, and we’re done. And have a good time. I love blues, so that’s just the way to have fun. Then when people really liked the record I thought, “okay, let’s do another one.” And then when Willis moved to Spain, I kinda lost Tribal Tech. So my blues record became more harmonic. I think “Tore Down House” was more harmonic than “Dog Party”, “Well to the Bone” was more harmonic than “Tore Down House”, and my upcoming new album, as you’ve heard the three new tunes that we played last night, they are even more harmonic than “Well to the Bone”. It’s like that because now I have both band in one. I have Tribal Tech and the blues band all in the same band (with Travis Carlton and Allan Hertz). So now I’m kind of just doing the mixture of everything. Blues, jazz, funk, whatever.
Let’s talk a bit more about “Dog Party”. The album clearly showed a lot of humor by putting the dog as the main character. The cover even pictured a dog took a leak right on your guitar. Do you like dog very much?
Oh yeah, I’ve always had dogs (smiles). I’ve always had dog since I was like two. I have two puppies at home, Buster and Ruby, they are still one year old.
Was it also your dog who took a leak on the cover of the album?
No, that was a friend of mine’s dog. That was funny, yeah! (Laugh)
In your blues album, you featured Thelma Houston. I think you’ve successfully brought her into a different personality in the album, transforming her into something that we’ve never heard from her ever before that. Can you share us the story?
Sure. Well, my friend John Humphrey the bass player, he had worship her on different gigs. They were playing music that was not like the Thelma Houston from the sixties. She was stretching and improvising, she was singing standards, and he said, “you know, not many people know that Thelma could sing way more stuff than her big hits.” He suggested that I should hire her, and I did. She really liked it because for her it was something different than the usual stuff everyone asked her to do. So she was really happy because it was such a challenge for her. She was a lot of fun to work with. She’s a sweet lady, simply is the sweetest person and a lot of fun. And it was a really great experience for me to work with her.
I’m not trying to compare between Humphrey, Covinton, Willis and your team now, Travis Carlon and Allan Hertz. But what do you think about your current companion? Anything different with them?
Definitely. I don’t mind comparing them at all. Kirk (Covington) was great with Tribal Tech but he’d just played too much for a trio. I mainly kept him because of the singing. But his drumming was just too over the top, too bombastic and it didn’t groove as much as I needed to. That’s why I got Allan. It’s time to get drummer that can really groove. Allan has all the chops too, but he’s happy to groove to make the music sounds solid. And then John (Humphrey) joined the band when we were only playing blues. He’s a good blues bass player but his strong point is not jazz and funk. So I had to get rid of John to get a bass player whose more comfortable playing jazz and funk music.
And then you got Travis, an all rounder who has played jazz, funk, gospel and many more.
He’s great. I mean, he grooves, but he can play outside the normal bass player role. He can solo, he’s funky, he’s just the perfect guy for me. I love Travis’ playing. I’m just happy to have Allan and Travis, they are both my favorite rhythm section. I love playing with these guys.
What’s your future plan with this trio?
We want to do a record. I need to write some new songs. We only have four, I need to have six more. Two or three of them will just be jamming, that’s easy. I just need maybe 2 or 3 more written tunes, and I’ll be ready. But first I got to finish the new Tribal Tech album or write in the middle of that.
A new Tribal Tech album?
Yeah. Since Willis moved to Spain he hadn’t seen his mama and sister for a long time. So he went to Texas. And I was like, “as long as you’re coming to the State let’s do a record.” So he came to Los Angeles and we went into the studio for about four days. There we did the basic tracks and we came out with some really good stuff like about 30 jams.
Wow! That many?
Yeah, well I think it was the most successful jamming experience that we’ve ever had. With “Thick” and “Rocket Science” we pretty much picked the best songs and the rest of it were thrown in the trash. With this record, I think anyone of those 30 jams we could do something with. We’ve actually recorded two albums worth of music.
Any plan of making it as a double album perhaps?
No..we’ll just do one but we’ll save the music for another one. But again, it came out really good. And what we did different on this record is instead of all four of us playing all the time altogether, we did a lot of stuff where it was just me and the drums, or me and Willis, or Willis and Kirk or Kinsey and Kirk. Kinsey is different. First, by nature he is a keyboard player, being able to play chords and melody which most keyboard players find easy. But Kinsey has the special gift of instant composition. He’s just very good at improvising, and that could almost sound like a song already. So there were like three or four songs where Kinsey was just jammed with Kirk, and it was like, there’s this song and it’s done. All we have to do is just to double the melody and maybe cut and paste this to this, and that’s like, wow.
How’s the new album will sound like?
This record will probably in depth sounding more like a mixture of the “Rocket Science” and “Thick” concept and the vintage Tribal Tech composition. Because there’s more harmony, there’s more chord changes, there’s just more compositions going on. It’s a fun record, I really like it, I’m really happy with it.
How far is it from finish?
We still have a lot of tracking to do, and it got delayed because of the touring. I have to play in Asia and then go to Europe, so I have to wait now until the end of May to start working on it again. We hope for it to finish by the summer.
I don’t know if you noticed it or not, but there were a lot of guitarists from jazz, rock and blues came last night to watch your gig. How important is it for you to pass your skill and knowledge to younger guitarists?
The same thing in every show. To me that’s the whole point of being a musician, is also being a teacher. I was a teacher from the very first moment I picked up the guitar. I lived in the neighborhood where on my block alone there were like five guitar players. One of my friend showed me the solo to (Led Zeppelin‘s) “Whole Lotta Love”, and I showed it to my friend. As long as I was a little kid I’ve always been a student and a teacher. To me this is what life and music is all about. It’s about passing knowledge, enlightening people and learning. You learn, you enlighten, it all happens at the same time. So I’m happy to be able to give back what was given to me from my teachers. Plus, I earn a living from it. It’s hard to believe people pay me just to show people stuff that it’s fun to show them. I enjoy teaching, it’s really fun. I even almost feel like it’s a musician’s duty to share what he knows to other people.
It’s just like sports, where records keep getting broken. Every year people break record, and it keeps getting better and better. And I feel the same thing is happening in music. We’re producing better musicians at the younger age. Oh my God.. have you seen that seven years old Korean girl that plays a classical guitar? That’s unbelievable. And there’s this young kid who’s just 12 years old plays (Coltrane‘s) “Giant Steps”…musicians’ just incredibly getting better at younger ages. The bar keeps getting raised higher and higher. And that’s due the people like me to share their knowledge to them when they are young. When a young kid gets his hands on information usually only 20 or 30 years old people get, they grow more. So I think it’s every musician’s duty to help spread the words and enrich the music experience by sharing their knowledge to other people.
Here comes the last question..do you have any message for the fans and to our readers?
I always say the same thing: Try to keep an open mind. Don’t just listen to the same band over and over again. Try to listen to as many different kinds of music as you can. You’ll miss out a lot by only listening to the same one all the time. I see these guys everyday. To me, the heavy metal guys are usually the worst offender if you know what I mean (smiles). Especially in the State, the music isn’t just about the note, but it’s also a lifestyle. Like rap. These guys, they all grew up in an urban environment, they are against the police, they are against this and that, and rap music, it’s not just music, it’s a social expression. The same with heavy metal. It’s bad to get your music tight up with your politics and your believes, because in that way you’d only listen to one kind of music. You associate a lifestyle with music, the lifestyle that fits you, that’s bad. I mean, you can still have your arrogant, hate your parents lifestlye and listen to Count Basie. (chuckles). You don’t have to listen to Judas Priest or Pantera all the time. Though I love Judas Priest and Pantera, but I think it’s bad to only listen to that kind of music every day. You can still be yourself and have your own personality but you can listen to anything you want. You’re free to listen to Philharmonic if you want, blues, rock, country, jazz, pop, anything, and still be who you are as a person. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t see it that way. They think if they listen to something else than what their friends are listening to they will be outcast. And that’s a sad thing because then they’ll become a very close minded people. So that’s my suggestion, don’t pull yourself into that mold of just being a conformist. It’s funny, because a lot of these rock guys they think themselves as the non conformist but they are just as conformist as George Bush or Republican (laugh). They are just as corporate and conformist as the people that they hate (laugh).
Well, it’s been a pleasure to interview you. Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.