I N T E R V I E W S
Michael Landau & Raging Honkies Part 1
When Steve Lukather stopped working as a studio guitarist over a decade ago, long-time friend and one-time bandmate Michael Landau filled his shoes. Landau was of the same musical midset as Luke, drawing from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the blues. So while Steve was recording and touring with Toto, it was a natural progression for Michael to fill in those studio dates.
Since then he has gone on to become one of the A players, a musician combining the best of both worlds remarkable tone and an infallible sense of always playing the perfect notes. But like most studio players, Landau, too, has always yearned to play and record his own muic. This has been developed under the moniker Burning Water, a quartet which released ist first self-titled CD a little over two years ago and the more recent Mood Elevator recorded in 1994. Several years ago Mike put out his won solo album of jazz tinged guitar music but he does not talk much about it.
In the past few months, he has been working with a new band called The Raging Honkies. They have yet to record.
Michael Landau is a quite one, speaking almost in a whisper and a little reluctant to participate in the media ritual photos, interviews, and that sort of thing. But he is honest and sincere and very self-effacing about his own playing (compliment him on a particular solo and he´ll blush). His playing (imagine Hendrix marrying Stevie Ray Vaughan) is brilliant and his tone awesome (he was the second instrumentalist to work with Bob Bradshaw in developing a workable switching rig for effects). Not to mention, he owns a wonderful guitar collection and in the following conversation which took place at his Pacific Palisades home, you´ll learn more about it and him.
S.R.: There are a lot of guitars here so just start talking, Michael.
M.L.:This is a `68 Fender Strat and I play this with my new band, The Raging Honkies. It has two Vintage Rails in it and I kind of change pickups every week and the back Humbucker is a Lindy Fralin. He´s a pickup maker here in town and just for the record I didn´t rout it out. I bought it that way. (Note: the excessive routing around pickup). It´s been re-fretted, (Jim) Tyler works on my guitars, and he did the frets and put locking Schallers on there. It´s a three-tone sunburst with a tremolo (not shown) and a stock five-way (tone control). And volume, tone, and tone controls.
S.R.: Rosewood neck?
M.L.: Yeah, I prefer them but I do have some blond (maple) necks. And I´ve used this with Burning Water but only live. It´s kind of a new guitar, I´ve only had it for a few months.
S.R.: Talking about the last several months, what have you been working on?
M.L.: Solo-wise, we´ve been putting this new band together (Raging Honkies), writing tunes, and playing gigs around town locally. We´ve recorded some demoes at A&M that Chris Lord-Alge mixed. Abraham Laboriel Jr. (drums), my brother plays bass, and some other guy is in the band.
S.R.: Burning Water has had two records out?
M.L.: Yeah. Burning Water came out in November of `94 in Japan and Mood Elevator.
S.R.: Is it the desire of every studio player to have his own band?
M.L.: When I grew up playing guitar listening to the Beatles and Hendrix and Cream, I didn´t know what a studio guitarist was, I didn´t aspire to be a studio musician. But´s it´s something I fell into and it´s been cool, I´ve played with a lot of great artists. So for me, it´s not like going astray and being in a band.
S.R.: No, I didn´t mean to imply that, I was just wondering.
M.L. And I´m bagging on you. I was in high school bands and I´ve just come back to that.
S.R.: Some of your influences are obvious Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan but it´s hard to pin down everything.
M.L.: I´ve listend to a lot of jazz when I was in my teens, Weather Report, Miles Davis. I love Jaco, Wayne Shorter; Jaco was a big influence. So if that stuff comes through, that´s where it comes from. Jaco was one of my heroes.
S.R.: Yeah, Jaco was a funny bird. Did you guys hook up?
M.L.: Yeah, we met a couple times. One time, Weather Report was recording and I had to play ping pong with Jaco before he´d talk to me. I beat him so that was sort of my trial by fire.
S.R.: Even though he was a bass player, you were able to take things from him as a guitarist?
M.L.: Yeah, musically, and compostion-wise he wrote some amazing things. I was a big fan.
S.R.: So your strange sense of timing and the stranger guitar riffs you play were influenced by Jaco?
M.L.: Yeah. I kind of went through a Mahavishnu Orchestra phase when I was in high school. I used to play that shit and try and make people dance to it at proms. Before I forget, this is 1968 Martin D-28.
S.R.: Are you much of an acoustic player?
M.L.: I kind of am lately. I like it.
S.R.: I couldn´t hear any acoustic guitar on the Burning Water records.
M.L.: There isn´t any, none. But I just did Vonda´s record (Shepard, solo artist and Landau´s fiancee) and it´s mostly acoustic guitar and piano. It´s kind of roots thing. No I haven´t played this (Martin) but on a few sessions, I played it live with her (Vonda) quite a bit. I didn´t even play acoustic on James Taylor´s gig (did the recent Taylor tour). He played all the acoustics.
S.R.: Here´s the second of what looks like a bunch of Fenders (Fender cases are stacked all around the livingroom).
M.L.:It´s a `64 Olympic white Fender Strat. This is the guitar I used on Mood Elevator (Burning Water), 90 % of the record. It´s got Lindy Fralin single-coil pickups in it. His pickups are true to single pickups; his thing is doing real true replicas of those old Fender pickups. These are called Woodstock single-coils and they´re a little hotter than normal single-coils, darker and hotter. More like a late-70s Strat as opposed to a 50s Strat. And then he makes the Vintage pickups which are more like a 50s Strat sound.
S.R.: I guess it would be safe to say that you´re a Fender player as opposed to a Gibson player?
M.L.: Yeah. I´ve always played Strats.
S.R.: Was Hendrix the driving force behind that?
M.L.: Probably. My first guitar was a Telly but Strats are so versatile. This is a ´61 black Strat and it´s been re-finished. It´s all stock expect for that and I think it was re-finished at Fender. And it has a rosewood neck but I don´t think I´ve used it on any records. Actually the tuners I think are those staggard Schallers. Oh yeah, going back to that white ´64 Fender, I keep it strung with .O11s through .049s and it´s tuned down Eb so I just designate that guitar for one thing. For sessions, I play in standard tuning and we´ll get to those guitars. This is a ´64 Telly but I think the neck is a `64 and the body is a Schecter.
S.R.: Do you play much Telecaster?
M.L.: Nope, but I just got´ em. I also have a (Fender) `52 which I bought last year. But I knew this one wasn´t a Fender because it was kind of funky and real cheap. And in the back where the strings go through it´s supposed to be inset. And it has Lindy Fralin pickups in it and it sounds good. Blond neck.
S.R.: What string arrangement do you use for the tremolo?
M.L.: I use three.
S.R.: You mentioned you use .011 gauge strings which are a bit heavier than normal (which tend to be .009 or .010).
M.L.: Yeah, I use .010s on standard tuning guitars and the .011s if I tune down. And I´m defenitly into higher action these days and bigger strings. I´ve measured that action and it´s two millimeters at the 12th fret (from neck surface to string). That´s on the G string.
S.R.: So your action has gotton increasingly higher? Why is that?
M.L.: I don´t know. It sounds better and I´ve been experimenting. The guitar rings better and just to try and maybe cop some Stevie Ray Vaughan shit. It definitly makes a difference. The strings aren´t going plink, plink (imitates high tinny sound). This is a (Guild) X160 which I´ve had for six or seven years. Our singer David Frazee played this guitar live with Burning Water. I haven´t really used it on the record but I just thought it was cool.
S.R.: You´re not much of a hollowbody strummer?
M.L. No. I mean I´m kinda into all guitars now but I don´t play all these all the time. It´s still basically just the Strat. But this next one is a ´92 (Gibson) custom shop re-issue. Actually, it´s more like a ´60 because it has the thinner neck; I think the 59s were real fat necks. I can´t afford old ones.
S.R.: Do you play Les Pauls on records much?
M.L.: Yeah, I use this one on sessions a lot for crunch, distorted guitar and for some solos. I used this for a guy named Jamie Walters, an artist on Atlantic. I used it on his album a lot for some solos. Yeah, for sessions I bring this one and two Tyler guitars.
S.R.: Here´s one of the many Fenders.
M.L.: Yeah, a ´62 re-issue, red, with a Tyler neck, and it has two Vintage Rails in the neck and middle position and a Gibson ´57 PAF re-issue (bridge). It´s the re-issue guitar. And it has a Gotoh bridge.
S.R.: Can you hear the difference, say, between a 1961 and a 1962 Strat?
M.L.: The real ones all sound different to me but this one I´ve kind of put together and use with the Raging Honkies live. I don´t like to bring the old ones because we play a lot of shitty clubs.
S.R.: So is there a difference in sound between the vintage guitars and the re-issues?
M.L.: Yeah, and another reason I play this one live is because it has the non-humming pickups which don´t sound as good to me as the single-coil. But the single-coils most of the times are way too noisy in those clubs.
This is a ´63 (Gibson) Firebird. I´ve always kind of been into Johnny Winter but that´s not why I got that. I just wanted a few Gibsons because I didn´t have many. I´ve had it for about five years but I haven´t played it on any recordings or anything.
S.R.: You mentioned earlier about playing in high school bands could you talk a little more about that?
M.L.: I used to play at proms and stuff and at parties, with Luke. There was a little buzz going on about us. The name of the band was Stilllife and Steve Porcaro was kind of the leader of it and actually Jeff Porcaro sat in a couple of times with us. It was a Top 40 band, a cover band.
S.R.: When did the studio work start happening?
M.L.: When I was about 20 or 21. When Toto started, I auditioned for Boz Scaggs because they all stopped doing Boz (Lukather and the Porcaros were Scaggs´ recording/touring band). I did that when I was 19 and I started touring and thas was like joining The Beatles. Because he was huge then, it was right after Silk Degrees. He was played full on packed houses and it´s been downhill ever since.
S.R.: After getting the gig with Boz, didyou feel a sense of confidence? Did you say to yourself, "Yeah, I´m good enough to be a session player?
M.L.: I just started getting called. I started getting them. Lukather was too busy so I did them. But it was rough at first because I wasn´t a reader; I did a movie date and it was a real disaster. I did one and I was really lame and I couldn´t read. It was with a 40-piece orchestra, a documentary on some industrial thins, a full-on classical piece. I blew it! I didn´t play any more movie dates for the rest of my life. But the record dates were always easy to I just kept doing them. This is a ´63 (Gibson ) Country Western. I don´t have that many acoustics but the Martin is the main one I play on sessions. The Martin just sounds great and plays great. I haven´t used this Gibson on any recordings.
S.R.: Is there any single session or certain period where you can look back and say, "That´s the best work I´ve ever done".
M.L.: Our records, Burning Water and Raging Honkies are the best representations of what I do. But I liked working on the Joni Mitchell records. It´s not like there´s a lot of burning guitar or flashy stuff but I think it´s some real cool music.
S.R.: You mentioned earlier that there´s another Jim Tyler you typically take to sessions; is this it?
M.L.: Yeah, this is like the main one I use. It´s not a maple neck and top and the body isn´t alder or ash. It´s something he calls it southern swamp wood but it has an 1/8th of an inch of maple top like a Les Paul.
S.R.: When people call you up for a session, is this the guitar that they pretty much identify you with?
M.L.: Yeah. Most of these guitars don´t have the bars in them but I do use them a lot. This one is kind of a vintage guitar, it´s foam green with a rosewood neck and it has Lindy Fralin single-coil Woodstock pickups. It´s pretty much stock, volume/tone/tone and a Gotoh bridge. This one has those staggard tuners.
S.R.: So you bring the Tylers to a session but typically you wouldn´t bring any Fenders?
M.L.: Typically not unless somebody requests it.
S.R.: This is different.
M.L.: A (Gretsch) Country gentleman. I don´t know the exact year, somebody told me it was a ´61 and somebody else told me it was a ´68 or ´69. I used to take this to sessions and I used it for funk parts because it has a real twangy sound. I haven´t brought it out in a while but I used it for a Lionel Richie record. It´s got a nice sound. It has those filter-tron pickups in it.
S.R.: Normally, what is your amplifier situation for a session?
M.L.: I use Custom Audio preamp and some outboard effects (see equipment list). I basically have two racks, a lot of shit in one rack and a smaller pedal board I use for the Honkies and Burning Water. For the last Burning Water album (Mood Elevator), I had a different pedal board which was basically a switching system with effects mounted on this board. It had a Voodoo-1 and a Tube Screamer and a Wah-Wah pedal and an old Univibe. It´s like an oversized A/B box: there are three amp outputs that can be programmed to switch on either one or have all three amps on. There´s also a Demeter tremolo on it, I used that on Burning Water. But I´ve since re-vamped it. For sessions, I also bring a 50-watt or 100-watt marshall; I have two plexiglass heads and they´re both stock. They have EL-34´s in them. One of them is a ´67 and one is a ´69 (former is the 100-watt, later the 50-watt). I use those for solos a lot. On Burning Water I used a (Fender) Pro-Reverb for most of it and then the Marshall 100-watt. I´m happy with the sound on this last album. It´s just the Pro-Reverb through a Matchless bottom. I had the amp right next to me so I ran an extension cabinet, a Matchless 2x12, so it matched up with the Pro.
S.R.: It sounds as if you don´t play that loudly in the studio.
M.L.: No, I don´t. It´s just a 40-watt amp cranked up. All the effects I mentioned on that little pedal board are all before the amp so if you plug a Tube Screamer into it before and you have the amp up, it´ll get really dirty.
S.R.: The Wah-Wah is also a big part of your sound. You use it on both Burning Water albums.
M.L.: Yeah. Bradshaw does a little mod to those where he buffers it a little so it doesn´t lose gain when you engage it.
S.R.: Weren´t you one of the first players to work with Bob Bradshaw in developining hese types of pedal boards?
M.L.: Yeah, actually Buzzy Feiten was, he got the first board, and I think I got the second one. We just became friends and started working together. He´s building a lot of cool shit these days he´s building a tremolo box and he´s going to do a re-issue of a univibe.
S.R.: Had you checked out other guitar makers besides Jim Tyler?
M.L.: Well, Tom Andersen makes great guitars but Jim has always worked on my guitars. So when he started building his own we worked together and I just gave him my input and he´s built me a bunch of guitars over the years. They´re great.
S.R.: I´d like to talk about some specific tracks on the records and maybe you could tell us what´s going on. How did you get the sound on "Dream Out, Dream In"? I describe it as a very woody sound, very natural.
M.L.: That was just a 50-watt plexi (Marshall) with an old 4x12. A lot of that is the old 25-watt speakers.
S.R.: A lot of your guitars use different wood maple, alder...can you tell the difference in sound?
M.L.: I think I like alder best. It´s hard because even from guitar to guitar, if they´re all the same type of wood, they can all sound different. I usually go by if it sounds good; I mean I can´t tell the difference between years in guitars. But getting back to "Dream Out, Dream In", that was a Fender re-issue I don´t have here today, It had Seymour Duncan Classic Stacks pickups. I liked the sound of that track.
S.R.: "Slave To My Passion" had a distinct Hendrix feel to it.
M.L.: Teddy, my brother, wrote that song. Oh, this guitar here is a Dobro, a Zephyr, and it´s not really that old, about six years old. I don´t play it that much and I´ve played it on record. Actually I did play it on one little Bruce Hornsby thing; I tried it but I don´t know if it ever made the record.
S.R.: Here´s the odd Gibson.
M.L.: A Les Paul Jr. that I bought about a year ago. I think it´s about a ´56 or something, sunburst. Stock and I have it set up to open D for slide. I´ve been messing around with that but I haven´t played it on any records yet.
But "Slave To My Passion", I´m the first person to say I´ve been influenced by Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and Beck. And all that comes out in a lot of our stuff.
S.R.: You produce or co-produce all your records. Can you stand back and be honest enough with your playing to know when it´s right?
M.L.: I´m critical to a point but what I´ve heard and read about other guitarists, I definitly don´t work things out before I go in and do solos. I don´t get too anal, if it´s a little fucked up that´s OK with me. I don´t think playing the greatest solo is the point; I think it´s nice to show the non-superhuman side. I mean you hear about Eric Johnson and stuff and that´s great but I don´t have the patience. I am pretty critical though; I´ll do a few of ´em ´til I like it.
S.R.: How much of your soloing is live as opposed to overdubs?
M.L.: Some if it is live on the last record. "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp" was live.
S.R.: I´m curious why you picked that Hendrix song to cover?
M.L.: Because it´s obscure and I just always loved it. Our singer sounded good singing it. We tried "Spanish Castle Magic" but it´s been done a lot. I read somewhere recently where it was the second or third song he ever done it blew me away. It´s a pretty fuckin´ deep tune. Getting back to the live thing, "Save Sweet Sister" was live. And this is another Gibson, a ´68 Les Paul Gold Top. It has PAF´s in it and the rest is pretty much stock. I bring this to sessions too sometimes; I played it on that guy, Jamie Walters´ record. I played it on Vonda´s record through a Leslie. This is a ´56 (Gretsch) Duo Jet. I used this on Curtis Stigers record which isn´t out yet. That´s the only session I used it on.
S.R.: How does a session typically work in terms of guitar selection? Will you just bring the standby guitars or bring an instrument they specifically ask for?
M.L.: It totally varies. Sometimes I´ll get a request for a certain kind of guitar sound. Oh this Stigers record, I just brought some different things just to mix it up a little bit.
S.R.: Have you learned how to use the studio as a tool to improve your guitar sound? That is, is your sound on the Burning Water records better as a result of doing so many sessions?
M.L.: Yeah, and I´m thankful for that. Being able to work in studios, you get to know mics and preamps. Most of it is just experimenting, mic placement. I normally use (Shure) 57´s and sometimes 414´s. I just try and get the best sound that is needed, on my record or for a session. Some people like that processed sound and I know how to get that real easily or straight ahead amp sound. Just from doing it so often.
S.R.: What about "I Herja". The opening lick is cool because it´s overdriven and yet you can hear all the notes.
M.L.: That´s an Octavia which is mounted on that pedal board we talked about. Tycobrahe. And here is another Gibson, a Les Paul Special double cutaway. I took the pickguard off. It´s all stock except for the bridge which is a Badass bridge with the intonating things. Not on any records. This is a Fender I played live with Burning Water and on the James Taylor tour. I have another re-issue like this but it has a Humbucker in it in the bridge position. The pickups in this are Seymour Duncan Classic Stacks.
S.R.: Is there a big difference in sound between Duncans and the Fralins?
M.L.: Yeah, these (Duncans) are stacked and don´t hum but they don´t sound as good as single coil. This Fender was made in Japan, they make good shit. And that other one, the red one, was made in Japan. I use these a lot live.
S.R.: On "I Wish You Were Mine"; is that the tremolo unit you talked about on the opening lick?
M.L.: That´s the Demeter but I´ve since replaced that with the Custom Audio Tremolo that I like better. Have you heard of this band called the Screaming Blue Messiahs? The guitar player is Bill Carter and I was a big freak of their stuff. They´ve had a few albums out (Elektra) and he was a tremolo nut. Like a Telly and really rude tremolo stuff. I heard it about five years ago and I really loved it. This is another custom guitar made by Don Grosh, a sparkle Telly. I haven´t used this on any records and I´ve only had it for about a year. But I couldn´t resist it.
S.R.: The solo on "Hot Blood" was great it really built. How did that come about?
M.L.: I try to get a whole take. I don´t do much punching. If I like the beginning of a solo or the first half of something, then I´ll punch in. But I think that one was all one pass. That´s just a Tube Screamer and Wah-Wah, a Custom Audio extravaganza. I don´t know what he does to them but they sound good. This is a Tyler 7-string Telly. Not only have I played it on records but I´ve barely touched it. I´ve only had it for about a year or so and I haven´t really had too much time to get into it. It has a standard low B string. No tremolo, Seymour Duncan pickups which I guess are custom wound for a 7-string. And here´s a ´63 Fiesta Red Strat (Fender). I used this one on the first Burning Water album.
S.R.: Is there an ideal Michael Landau guitar tone?
M.L.: No, I wish I could stick to one thing. But I am pretty happy with most of the sounds. Sadly, the guy who engineered that first Burning Water record, Greg Edward, shot himself last week. The main difference in sounds with most of these guitars is just single coil versus Humbuckers. For instance, on "Yes Man", that´s the re-issue Strat with Humbuckers, that´s what that sound is. That´s more like a Les Paul sound than a Strat.
S.R.: On the last Burning Water album, Mood Elevator, "Brave New World" is track one, side one, so does that in a way set the tone guitar-wise for the rest of the record?
M.L.: Yeah, pretty much. We did that one, that whole record, in about three days. The first Burning Water album were a lot of demos and the recording of that album actually spanned about three years because we were just using demos we loved and fixing them up a little bit three years later. But on the second one I brought my guitars and pedal board and we did it.
S.R.: Is the guitar sound on Mood Elevator better than the first album?
M.L.: Yeah, I think it is. We wanted to do something more cohensive that sounded like a band playing. Before I miss this one, this is an Epiphone Sorrento, a ´63. I play it around the house a lot, it sounds great; it´s got these mini-Humbuckers in them which are brighter than the regular-sized ones. It feeds back pretty easily so you can´t crank it up too loud. I haven´t played it on any records yet.
S.R.: The title track of Mood Elevator was a powerful sound.
M.L.: That´s the ´61 black Strat, the one that was re-finished. Yeah, I like that sound, I did it at my house. The black Strat through a 50-watt Marshall and one 4x12 cabinet. I have a Soundcraft board but API mic-pre´s so I just go straight to tape.
S.R.: Mic preamps are a big part of producing a good guitar sound?
M.L.: Yeah, that´s the part that usually suffers with those cheaper kinds of boards. So basically I was using the board for playback. It´s like having a $300,000 board. Everything is so modular these days that it´s pretty easy to get a good sound. This is another Tyler Classic Strat, Shoreline Gold with a maple neck and Lindy Fralin pickups (Woodstock). This one has a Wilkinson bridge.
S.R.: Do you do anything special to your guitars to keep them in tune?
M.L.: Tyler does certain things and it´s mainly the nut to make sure nothing´s binding. If the bridge is pivoting OK and nothing is getting caught up and the nut is cut right and it´s kind of lubed up a little bit, it stays pretty much in tune. They go out of tune a little but I don´t like those Floyd Roses. No good. I tilt my bridges a littel bit so I can pull up a little on the bar. Like 1/16th of an inch or something from the body.
S.R.: Can you notice any difference in sound with different nut materials? Bone and metal and that type of thing?
M.L.: Not really, I can´t tell. With open strings I try to get it to sound good and if I don´t like the sound of it, I change it.
S.R.: "Can´t Buy My Way Home" is a good example of your right hand very active, very mobile.
M.L.: I kind of learned from playing off Hendrix records and he was definitly a brilliant rhythm player. So that´s where that probably came from very early on. Just trying to learn all that shit.
S.R.: So Hendrix was the main guy for you?
M.L.: Yeah, definitly. When I was growing up, yeah.
S.R.: Did you listen to the other guys, Beck and Clapton and....?
M.L.: A little bit but I was always into Hendrix. You know how you took sides when you were a kid, like ´Hendrix is better than Clapton´. Since then I have aprechiated Beck and all those guys.
S.R.: Do you listen to any more contemporary players?
M.L.: Yeah, Bill Carter (Screaming Blue Messiahs) and I love Nirvana. Not so much Green Day, they´re lovely lads, but Nirvana and some Pearl Jam. No one really sticks out. I was a big Stevie Ray Vaughan fan.
S.R.: And another Strotocaster?
M.L.: A ´59 maple neck three-tone Sunburst stock Strat as used on James Taylor live recording album. All original and stays in tune; the frets and tuners have been changed and this one also has the staggered tuners on it. That helps it stay in tune a little better.
S.R.: Getting back to "Can´t Buy My Way Home", the first note of the solo is a long sustained note. How did you do that?
M.L.: We did that album at Conway and I was out in the room with the amps. I did it with headphones on. I was right near the amps and I could pretty well sustain any note. Normally I cut solos in the control room and listen to the music over the speakers. Sometimes the band is milling about when I do solos.
S.R.: Do you take input from them?
M.L.: (laughs). My brother helps out a lot, he´ll say do that one again, that one sucked. Here´s another Strat, a ´69 rosewood, black, and I´m not sure if that´s the original finish. I´ve had that one for about a year or so and it´s stock except for Duncan Classic Stacks.
S.R.: All these guitars have tremolo bars but you don´t use it the same way as, say, Van Halen, might.
M.L.: Right. I do use it a lot for chords and shit.
S.R.: What type of effect are you using on "Watch It Burn"?
M.L.: That´s a Univibe turned up to create a Leslie-type effect. An old Univibe.
S.R.: So does a song evolve, for instance, from messing around with a Strat and a Univibe, and the sound will suggest a certain type of lick or song?
M.L.: Yeah, Carlos (Vega, drums) kind of sparked that one day. He started playing a groove and I started playing that. That was just basically a blues tune, a kind of Stevie Ray Vaughan blues. And the shuffle on "Can`t Buy My Way Home" was a Stevie Ray kind of trip. And this is a ´63 Lake Placid Blue Strat and what they did was shot the color right over a regular ´burst Strat. If they didn´t have a blue one there, they´d paint right over a sunburst. And this is all stock. This one I used for the solo of "Brave New World". This one is tuned standard with a low D; I leave this one set up like that so for the tunes like "Brave New World" I would use this guitar. I also take the little string tree for the high E and B strings because they bind the strings up. This one has staggard tuners for tuning. I do that on a lot of them (remove the string trees, use staggared tuning assemblies) because it´s a tuning mood I´ve had done on a lot of them.
S.R.: Here´s a rare Gibson.
M.L.: A 1959 dot neck 335. (Landau picks up the guitar and starts playing with it and a brief discussion starts over his picking technique).
S.R.: I noticed just now that you play with four fingers do you use a pick?
M.L.: Yeah, but I use my fingers a lot. If I´m holding the pick with my thumb and first finger, with my thumb I´ll move the pick between my first and second fingers. I hold it about halfway between the fingernail and the base of the finger and it just rests there. And that frees my fingers up to a fingerpicking type of thing.
S.R.: "Killing Time" is a cool sound.
M.L.: That´s the one with the sitar on it. There´s no real solo on that one, I just kind of layered a few guitars.
There´s an Octavia part, the same sound as on "I Herja". And most of the tune is played with the fingers. The main guitar part is that white Strat with the tremolo and the Fender amp. And some of the real dirty stuff is the Marshall. I just kind of layered stuff on that one.
S.R.: Do you tend to layer guitar parts?
M.L.: No, usually not. Usually I just do one overdub at most. When I do rhythm guitars, it´s just one track, live. Oh, and this is the sitar, a replica of that Coral sitar, only it plays in tune. This is made by Jerry Jones and I only used it on that one small part on "Killing Time" and I used it on Vonda´s record. I just thought it would sound good on that song and we tried it. I mean I didn´t write the song around this sound, with this sound in mind. Generally, there´s not a lot of overdubbing. I don´t think I used any acoustics on this album. This is another Jerry Jones guitar, a copy of a Danelectro. I haven´t used this on anything.
S.R.: The vocalist in Burning Water plays rhythm?
M.L.: Yeah, he plays guitar on "Mood Elevator" and he played on the first record on a couple of songs. "Slave To My Passion" and "Yes Man" I think.
S.R.: Live, do you like playing with a second guitar?
M.L.: (waits a moment before answering). Yeah, it´s OK, he does a lot of tremolo stuff live. So it works out good. I usually try and do both parts (rhythm and solo) but we usually drown him out so...It´s a prop thing! This is a Ferrington baritone acoustic/electric. I used that on that solo record I did, Tales From The Buge, on a song called "Judy" . I just did the one solo record in ´90.
S.R.: How different is a solo as opposed to a group effort like Burning Water?
M.L.: It´s not that different. The solo record was all instrumental and I guess, it was different. It was definitly different. It was more jazzy, freaky jazz Weather Report kind of music.
S.R.: So there are really two distinct sides of your music personality that edgy jazz thing and the more vocal side?
M.L.: Yeah, that blues thing. With this new band, it´s all kind of in there (Raging Honkies). There´s a little bit of everything in that band. That one is a ´56 Les Paul Special, all original with a TV finish. And this is a Hector Pimental gut string. I use that for sessions when I need a gut string. It´s more a classical guitar sound. I use fingers mostly with that. I mic it pretty much the same way as the steel-string acoustics, a condenser mic about 6 or 8" away, Pretty straight ahead.
S.R.: So what are you working on at the moment?
M.L.: The Raging Honkies album which should be out in the next month or so. And some miscellaneous sessions here and there.
S.R.: Do you still actively pursue the session work?
M.L.: I only turn it down if it´s a person I don´t like. I just try and find the time for my band but I won´t turn down a date just to turn it down. But if we have a gig, I will turn down a session.
S.R.: When you look back at your body of work, do you feel good about what you´ve done?
M.L.: Some of it, yeah, but yes and no. Some of it was just basically what was necessary for the pocket and maybe I wasn´t particularly a fan of the music or the artist but it was a job. On some projects, they still want to play certain parts and certain sounds and on others it´s free reign to do whatever I want.
S.R.: Were people like Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour contemporaries when you started in the studio?
M.L.: No, I was right after those guys. I was working with Lukather and Dean Parks who has always been doing it. I still work with Paul Jackson a lot and David Williams and Dann Huff; I worked with Mike Thompson once in a while.
S.R.: Tim Pierce?
M.L.: I haven´t worked with Tim but he´s a great player, I like him a lot. I haven´t heard his new album but I heard it´s really cool (Guitarland on PRA Records). He´s a good dude.
S.R.: At a point in time, would you like to do another all-instrumental guitar record?
M.L.: Most of our records have so much guitar on them anyways, but I would maybe like doing an instrumental record?
S.R.: Keyboards are conspicuously absent from your records.
M.L.: I like piano, jazz piano, but I don´t like synths. I would maybe do that on an instrumental record.
S.R.: How would you characterize the state of guitar playing?
M.L.: I don´t know if it´s exciting for the fact that no one is doing a whole lot of new stuff. Including me. One good thing that is healthy is that a lot of young players are forming their own bands and putting their own records out and that whole do-it-yourself trip is great. There are a lot of people playing now who maybe wouldn´t have started playing ten years ago or five years ago even. With all the disco shit and Whitney Houston. It´s more open now and it´s a lot better.
S.R.: Did you know that you´d be doing this years later when you first standard?
M.L.: Yeah, I just wish I had started a lot sooner. Started my own band.
S.R.: Talking about people who have started their own bands, do you still stay in contact with people like Steve Lukather?
M.L.: Yeah, we´ve been best friends since the age of 13. I remember when he was 14 and I was 13 he was riding his bike and he had a t-shirt on that said, "Born to Raise Hell". And he was riding into trashcans and knocking them over. That was it and he hasn´t changed a bit. He´s more crazy now than ever. He´s one of the sweetest persons I´ve ever met.
S.R.: In general then you´re happy with the direction your career has gone in?
M.L.: Yeah. I just wish we could tour more and play more. But it´s hard to play around town with any consistency and try and get people to come out.
S.R.: Are you a better guitarist now than you were five years ago?
M.L.: I am different. I´m not as technically conscious as I was but I´ve replaced it with other things. Trying to get down to the core, more meat.
S.R.: What is it that people want when they call you for a session as opposed to someone like Tim Pierce?
M.L.: It´s the sound, I consistently have a good sound. I try and come up with good parts.
S.R.: Do you save your best playing for your own records?
M.L.: No, I try and play and come up with stuff as best I can.