“When we first envisioned doing this record, we talked about an instrumental record. We both decided that didn’t hold a ton of interest [for either of us]. But we could at least do one instrumental, since we’ve got the luxury of these extra tracks. I had this song sitting around that I had written as an instrumental. It was really a bluegrass guitar instrumental, the way it was written.
“So I pulled out my Telecaster and started messing with it and said, ‘Man, this could be pretty neat.’ It’s the one time on the record when [Paul and I] both are kinda blazing and playing fast. I never had a title for that song. I figured it’d be a great opportunity to just call it, ‘Buckin’ Merle.’”
It seems like you and Paul got just as into revisiting the sounds and techniques of the Bakersfield country scene – say, the Telecaster attack of James Burton or Don Rich – as the songs themselves.
“I think that not only did we get to honor Buck and Merle, but all the elements that helped make their music stand out like it did. It was those guys. It was guys like Don Rich and James Burton and Ralph Mooney and Roy Nichols. They were as integral a part of the inspiration.”
James Burton switched out the heavy strings his Telecaster came with for considerably lighter banjo strings. What difference did that particular innovation make?
“He put these light strings on there, and he could pull on ‘em and bend ‘em with his left hand in a way that, to me, as much as anything, it emulated the steel guitar. He could then play licks by bending the strings in the same way that the pedals on the steel guitar bend the guitar up and down.”
Something small can have a tremendous impact on the sound and capabilities of an instrument.
“Yeah. The [country] session players like, in that day, Leon Rhodes and Hank Garland and Jimmy Bryant, they were all playing fast. None of them were really bending strings like a blues player would. It seems like the blues players were the first ones to start bending the strings. Even the earliest blues players were playing with a bottleneck or something to make that sliding thing, make it bluesy. Even in rock ‘n’ roll in the ‘50s, nobody was really bending strings that much. Chuck Berry a little bit. Just a little bit. Watching it all evolve was pretty interesting.”