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What first turned you on to slide?
“Well, I didn’t listen to that stuff until later than you would expect. I was 12 or 13 years old when I started playing guitar and I didn’t pay attention to slide guitar and all that stuff until I was about 30 years old. So I’d been playing guitar for nearly 20 years before I gave slide guitar playing some real attention.
“By the time I got into my late teens, I was already immersing myself in jazz music, so I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to slide guitar music. And the first thing that I remember listening to was all that Robert Johnson stuff, but in terms of hearing something that made me want to play slide guitar, almost all the credit goes to [Mississippi] Fred McDowell.
"There was something about his playing that touched me in a very deep place. I still don’t understand what that place is, necessarily. The sound of the slide guitar opened up for me and I could, in terms of a kind of vision, see how I might be able to do it.”
What are the pros and cons of lap-style playing as opposed to upright, bottleneck slide? You’ve done both...
“I feel like the lap style has more restrictions inherent in it. The main problem with lap style is simply because the player can’t fret any notes at all, so every single note that’s played with lap style is either going to be an open string, or it’s going to be a string played with a slide bar.
“It is a great sound, and I had a lot of fun doing it when I was doing that, and felt creative with it and everything. So I don’t have any issues that way, but at some point I thought, ‘Wow, man, there’s really going to be a limit to this. There are only so many notes.’ And because you’re essentially handcuffed by not being able to fret anything, you’re stuck just trying different tunings and playing just a few songs.
“So I saw that as a limit, and more and more I saw it as frustrating. And that’s not to say there aren’t similar things about bottleneck playing, but it is very freeing to be able to fret things, to change chord voicings or fret notes behind the slide while holding the slide on the strings. And because the player can fret things with or without the slide, you can go from minor to major tonalities just by pressing a finger down, so there’s a lot more colour and variation available.
“Another thing I like about it, too, is that there are fewer slide notes, so they have a chance to stand out more. It gives me a chance to really bring out the sense that the slide notes are the melody notes – they’re being sung. So it feels to me like there are enough options with bottleneck that, while it may not be an infinite study, it’s going to be a longer one.”