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“This one might be a shocker. ‘What is he doing?’ [laughs] When I was growing up, I was never a big blues fan – I was more into rock and complex things. All the blues I heard sounded simple, and I really didn’t understand it. It wasn’t until I got older that I went to the roots, and that’s when I really appreciated it. Anything that has an authenticity stirs me.
“I was talking with Tom Waits, who told me about this guy Harry Smith, an eclectic archivist. He collected these amazing tracks which the Smithsonian turned into The Anthology Of American Folk Music. I never go anywhere without it. I listen to it over and over. It’s an essential collection, and I’ve researched so many artists who are on it.
“When it came to Blind Willie Johnson and John The Revelator, I was completely stunned. It’s so mysterious and heavy – and I started hearing it in my head with heavy guitars. I licensed a sample of the recording from Sony and built John The Revelator around it.
“I noticed that there have been other versions of it, one of which being from the Counterpoint Singers, this choir in the Midwest. It stunned me – so good. I tried using their recording, but it didn’t work out sonically. I loved their vocal arrangement, so I hired ten of LA’s best singers who came in and sight-sang it for me. I triple-tracked them and turned it into a huge vocal thing.
“It’s not conventional, it’s not gospel – it’s got these huge heavy metal guitars. I love it. I used an Ibanez Strat on it, and it’s plugged into a [Carvin] Legacy. The sound came from the room. It was the first thing I recorded in the Harmony Hut. I pounded the room with mics.
And then there's Beverly. I knew I wanted vocals on the song, but I just didn’t think I had the voice for it. As it happened, I was hosting this event for NARAS, and Beverly McClellan was there, too. I was totally blown away by her – the way she emotes, the power in her voice. I just said, ‘There it is. There’s my John The Revelator.’
“It’s funny. A lot of people who aren’t in my particularly genre, I guess I think they have a perception of me as this weird guitar shredder from the ‘80s. But Beverly was waiting for me in my dressing room, she had her CD, and she said that she was a big fan of mine. I was pretty surprised. I said, ‘I want you to sing this song on my album, you’d be perfect for it.’ And let me tell you, she nailed it! She’s coming out on tour with me.”