Posted October, 2012
Photo by the Legendary Bob Gruen
Last month I had the privilege of reviewing a CD of an artist who I had only very recently became aware of. The CD was entitled Detonation and the artist is a great guitarist by the name of Dave Fields.
The album is great, the sounds addicting and the whole approach is fresh and new. I knew that, after listening to the CD for a bazillion times, I wanted to interview the up and coming guitar slinger and so it was. Mr. Fields called me from his Manhattan apartment to discuss Detonation, his career and, of course, guitars.
As we started off our chat, I asked Dave what the reception has been so far to Detonation.
“It’s been amazing. People have really loved the CD and I’m pleased with the way it’s been going. You know, it’s already number eight on the RMR Top Fifty Blues charts after ten days. I just couldn’t be more pleased. It’s number twenty on the House of Blues charts. It’s been wonderful. Everybody keeps telling me that this is a great next CD for me to do. It’s my third one. Exactly what I wanted to have happen is people embrace it that way.”
As Fields mentioned, Detonation is his third album, following 2008’s All Wound Up and Time’s A Wastin (2007). I asked him how this album was it different for him personally, technically, musically, and process-wise, than the other albums.
“Well, you know, I’m a producer in my own right. I produced a CD that one ‘Best Blues CD’ in 2006 at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. I have a long track record of producing things. And on this CD we actually hired David Z – who is a Grammy winning producer – to do the CD because I wanted to try to capture something live in the studio. I wanted to capture the essence of Dave Fields live and it’s very hard for me to be playing and doing my thing and producing myself live. It’s very tough.
“We put the whole band in the studio which is, basically - what the CD is – with minimum overdubs. We just kind of did the whole thing live. All the guitar solos and lead vocals are basically live.
“So, what I had also done in the process was I rehearsed the band as best as I could. We picked the songs with David Z. He came a couple of weeks earlier to New York. We had it all ready to go, went into the studio, we played, got the best takes and, hopefully, people will hear the fire.
“My first two CD’s were more ‘studio’ CDs. There were a couple of tunes that were live in the studio like this. I crafted some of the songs – and being that I’m an engineer, too – I record in a certain way. David Z had a completely different approach to the way he did things. He’s more old-school about everything. It turned out beautiful. I’m still pinching myself from working with him! He’s a wonderful guy.”
As I’ve said before in other interviews: Long ago I gave up on asking artists what their favorite song on their latest album so I wasn’t going to ask Dave any question of the sort. However, what I did ask him was: if there was only one song off of Detonation that could be listened to as a sample before one were to decide whether to buy it, what song would he point them to?
“Well, you know, that’s a very subjective question because it will change with how I’m feeling that day. If it’s somebody off the street and I have no idea who they are – hmmm, that’s a good question. I will tell you that all of the songs are about personal things that have happened to me – with the exception of one that I kind of crafted. Lately, though, I have been loving, You Will Remember Me, which is the last song. To me it’s the most powerful one on a personal level. They all have different meanings to different things, though.”
As Dave was giving his answer, the thought popped into my head as to how raw those emotions can be when pouring your heart out into a song. I asked him if it’s difficult to open one’s heart up in a song for the world to see.
“You know what? My favorite artists always did that. They always poured their souls into their music. That, to me, is what made them so powerful. That was the connection. They shared something – some human emotion that they went through that was very powerful – that we all felt. I’m always driven to do that.
“That’s not to say that I don’t ‘craft’ songs. Doing Hard Time, for example, I kinda crafted. I mean, I don’t aspire to be in jail! Ha! Ha! It’s a funny song. It’s also a part of me that likes to have fun and silly with my songs. Like Bad Hair Day – a silly song. On my last CD I have a song called Big Fat Ludus. It’s a song about nothing. It’s about silliness. I think that’s important, too. There are many different facets to who I am as a person and I don’t mind barring my soul. I have a song called Rabbi Blues. I grew up as a Jewish boy in New York so I had to do a little dig at my heritage – but in a fun way! It goes both ways.
“Same Old Me is another personal song. It’s about my dad. I’m definitely barring my soul on that one. I think it’s more powerful. I want to connect with people on that level, if that makes any sense.”
As for touring in support of the album, Fields said, “Right now, because the CD just came out, we’re working on doing an east coast tour. We’ve got a bunch of places lined up that are in the works right now that are coming down for the east coast. I’m also working on a Midwest tour which will probably be Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois at this point. We’re still working it all out. Oh, and I’m going to Norway in two weeks! I’ll be there from the 16th through the 30th of October and it will be my fifth time going back there. That’s really exciting. The crowds are there amazing! Norway is such a beautiful country. Everybody speaks English, which is wonderful for me. They love American music. They grew up listening to American music. When they actually get to hear a real American playing American music, it’s a big thing for them. I’ve got a great following there and it’s been a blessing to be able to connect with them. I love my Norwegian friends! I feel blessed. What can I say?”
While listening to Detonation, it was pretty easy for me to pick out some of Dave’s musical influences in his music. However, I asked him to share with who those musical influences were and are.
“There are so many. My gosh! As a kid, the first thing I loved was ‘50’s rock and roll. I loved Chuck Berry. I loved Fats Domino. I loved Jerry Lee Lewis. I loved Elvis Presley. My dad is a noted composer/arranger/producer here in Manhattan and he’s a virtuoso piano player. He started playing this kind of New Orleans thing on piano once. It was a boogie-woogie kind of New Orleans thing. When I heard that I went wild. It was like, ‘Oh, my god! I love this!’ From there it grew into blues.
“You know, early rock and roll is blues as far as I’m concerned. As I listened to more and more and more of it, I asked my dad, ‘Who’s the best guitar player in the world?’ ‘Well, some people say Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix.’ I started listening to them and I was, like, wow! I love the British rock guys. You can really hear Jimi Hendrix a lot on the CD. I was exposed to so many different kinds of music. Growing up in New York City, it’s a melting pot of music, as well, besides cultures. I listened to everybody from Roy Clark to George Benson to Alan Hallsworth to so many people – James Taylor to funk guys. I just tried to take it all in.
“I also studied piano. Piano was my first instrument. There are a lot of musical influences that go with my guitar playing that had nothing to do with guitar. They’re just musical influences. I used to listen to John Coltrane, the famous sax player. I used to listen to Charlie Parker. Lee Allen, one of my favorite horn players.
“Lately, I’ve been on this Chopin kick, believe it or not. Yeah! I just love Frederic Chopin! What can I say? My musical listening is so diverse. The thing is for me – the key component on everything I listen to, to me, I just like it to be real. I don’t like people lying to me or trying to take me out with their music – which happens with a lot of pop music or a lot of artists who are trying to sound like somebody else. We all have our influences but – it’s just about the sincerity. That’s the thing I judge it by.”
Dave Fields has jammed with some pretty impressive people. I asked the guitar virtuoso who he hasn’t worked or played with that are on his dream list of people to work or play with.
“Growing up in New York City and listening to a lot of jazz – it was something I was exposed to. I always wanted to play with Randy Brecker. He passed away a couple of years ago. I always wanted to play with Miles Davis. He’s passed away.
“People who are alive now who I would like to collaborate with – gosh, there are so many! Gosh! Eric Clapton. There are tons of blues rock people who are friends who I would still like to continue collaborate with. I got to collaborate with Joe Lewis Walker on my CD. I did that duet with him. That was amazing.”
The first guitar a guitarist owns is never forgotten. I asked Dave what his first guitar was and if he still owns it.
“Great question! The first guitar I ever owned was a cheap K-Mart guitar. I don’t even remember the name of it. It self-destructed after a week. Literally, it did! After that, I used to borrow my friends guitars. In fact, I was playing piano at the time, still. I’d be playing piano in the band and dream about playing guitar. I’d like, ‘Hey, let me borrow your guitar for a second’ and I’d noodle around on it. The first guitar after that was a Sekova = a Korean guitar. It was a Les Paul copy. I had no money. I was the son of a single musician parent. I begged my dad to buy me a guitar. Finally, a year later he took me to a music store and I bought a white Les Paul – which I still have – and Les Paul wound up signing it. So my first real guitar was a white Les Paul. I don’t remember the year of it off the top of my head.”
And how did Fields wind up playing a Fender?
“Well, I’ll tell you, first of all, most Les Paul’s are too heavy for me. I just can’t deal with how heavy they are. As I explored other guitars there were things I liked about the Strats. What I’ve come to now is I’ve decided that I don’t even want to buy a guitar off the shelf. I’ve just been playing custom guitars because I know exactly what I want in guitars.
“Basically, with the guitar I’m playing now – which is on the cover of Detonation – is a Fender style guitar. However, it’s kind of a hybrid between a Gibson and a Strat – a Fender. For example, the body is mahogany and maple, just like a Les Paul – like a maple top Les Paul. And even though the neck is solid maple like a Strat, it feels like a Gibson because it has a flat radius which means there’s no curve to the fret board. It’s completely flat which, is something that Fender doesn’t do. It’s something that I always liked. That’s what I loved about Gibson and it’s a really thin neck – like an old Stratocaster. So it’s really a hybrid of both things.
“I always tinker with my guitars and my amps. It took me all this time to finally realize this is exactly how I always want my guitars all be. Warmuth made the body, which is a custom shop out of Oregon and this company called ‘Musikraft’ in New Jersey built the neck for me. They’re building me another one, I liked it that much. I’ve got to have two of everything in case something breaks, unfortunately.”
When I asked Fields how many guitars he owned, I was a little surprised by the answer he gave me.
“Let me clarify this by saying I play electric guitar, acoustic guitar, a little bit of classical guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, ukulele, banjo, lap steel, and bass as well as upright bass. So, I have a lot of stringed instruments and living in an apartment in New York City, I’ve got a have storage space filled with them! But I have close to thirty if not more. But, truthfully, I’m really considering selling all my guitars I don’t play anymore because I really just want to play my custom guitars because I know what I want and the other ones I can’t play anymore. They just don’t feel right to me.”
Every serious guitarist has an idea of what they consider the holy grail of guitars to be. Dave Fields is no different.
“Yeah, there is a holy grail of guitars I’d like to own. It would be one I would like to build to my specifications. It would be a one piece maple neck Strat – with super jumbo frets, flat radius, and the body would be chambered mahogany - which means that they put holes in it so that it’s lighter – with quilted maple and would want it painted either a blue jean dye or if they could do a gold dye with gold glitter in it. I would deck it out with all the pick-ups I would want in it. It would only run me $1,500 – that’s it!”
As for what’s on the docket for the next year and planned for the next five years, Dave shared, “As I said before, I’m going to Norway in two weeks. Between now and then I’ve got a bunch of dates here in the New York City area that I’m playing – like in New Jersey, here in the city and Westchester. Next year we’re doing a tour through the east coast. I’m scheduled to do a couple of festivals next year.
“My five year plan is to connect with so many people. One thing that I love about being a musician is the opportunity to meet so many amazing people who love music. I get to see them, help them put a smile on their face and make them feel better. It’s really rewarding for me to entertain people. There’s nothing more exciting and more fun for me than to strap on my guitar, plug into the amp and just play for people. I get so worked up and fired up!”
Wrapping up our chat, I asked Mr. Fields to think ahead to when he’s stepped off the stage for the final time and has gone to that great gig in the sky. What does he hope that his legacy will be and how does he want to be remembered?
“I would like to be remembered as somebody who brought joy to this world and made people feel good – feel happy; brought happiness to people. I hope that my music touched and made their life better or made them not feel alone in this world.”