Interview: Micki Free
Mon, 21 Jun 2010 09:19:46
Micki Free hearkens back to a better time when being a "Guitar Hero" meant bleeding on six-strings, not bashing buttons on plastic.
It wasn't that long ago when rock bands were measured by the strength of their songwriting and soloing rather than the tightness of their jeans and the straightness of their hair. Thankfully, there's Micki's American Horse—straight-forward, balls-out blues rock at its best. From the groove-laden stomp of "Wounded Knee" to Micki's otherworldly interpretations of Jimi Hendrix classics, American Horse comes to life with every lick and lead.
"American Horse is not supposed to be in fashion," laughs Micki.
However, great guitar playing never truly goes out of style, and that's makes American Horse so crucial.
Micki Free sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about American Horse, getting personal on "Wounded Knee," Billy Gibbons rolling dice for a salad, what real rock music is and so much more.
You really stand alone in today's musical climate, and this album proves that.
I couldn't sell out my music on the level of what's happening now—meaning you have to look a certain way, you have to be almost a dork and you have to act stupid and look weird to get attention. I just couldn't do that. This is a record from the heart that I put out based upon how I feel about music—being in tune or not—this is what you get. In London, there's a huge blues rock resurgence, which is cool for me. America and Europe are two different beasts when it comes to music. It's not hard to get for anybody that knows music.
You channel Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, but you're playing is very unique. It definitely has a part of you on every song.
I agree, man. Gene Simmons discovered me when I was like seventeen-years-old. He's managed me for probably 20 years. One of the things Gene and my record label said about me is, "Micki Free is not a Jimi Hendrix impersonator, but a Jimi Hendrix innovator," which is very cool. I'm not the kind of guy who studies Hendrix records and Stevie records and tries to play them note-for-note. I simply don't do that. In my guitar style, there's a blend of all kinds of stuff I've taken in. They call me, "The Sponge." At present, Billy Gibbons is my favorite guitar player, and we're pretty good friends. You can hear a lot of ZZ Top influence in there as you can hear a lot of Hendrix influence, but it all comes through me. It's not like a copy.
What's the story behind "Wounded Knee?"
It's about a time in our Native American history where a bunch of Native Americans were killed at Wounded Knee in South Dakota. It was the result of the misinterpretation of a command that the Federal Army gave the Indians. It was freezing cold, and we were starving to death and the army was trying to put us back on the reservations. The commander said, "Lay down your weapons because to go back on the reservation, you can't have weapons." There was an Indian in the crowd that was deaf though, and he didn't understand the command. So they tried to take his gun. As they were taking the gun, it misfired, and the federal government opened fire on all of the Indians at Wounded Knee, killing women, children and everyone. That's what my song's about. If you listen to the lyrics, you can hear it. I don't really like to get political in my songs, but that one means something and it was written about a specific topic. I'll never forget this. When I was recording it, Santana stuck his head in the door and said, "Hmm, sounds like me on guitar," which is very cool coming from him!
When did you come up with the song's opening riff?
I wrote it based upon how I felt the groove should go. I write lyrics first sometimes, and then I put music to the lyrics—or I write the opposite way. For "Wounded Knee," I think it was lyrics first, and then I wrote the groove.
Do you have any favorite moments on the record?
There are two songs that I feel are some of my best work. Number one is "Lucky #7." That song is written about Billy Gibbons. Billy and I were in The Bahamas recording at this studio called Compass Point Resort. It's one of the biggest studios in the world—everybody has recorded there. Billy and I were down there recording and he wanted some Bahamian food. So we went up to this vendor on the street a block from the studio, and Billy goes, "How much is that conch salad?" The vendor says something like three bucks. Billy whips out some dice from his pocket and says, "I'll tell ya what; I'll roll ya for it." [Laughs] Can you imagine that? The lead singer of ZZ Top rolling dice for a conch salad! I'm rolling on the floor laughing. The guy looks at Billy and goes, "Okay, man!" Billy rolls, and it's like a six. The Bahamian guy rolls, and it's a seven! So I wrote that song about Billy rolling the dice with this guy for a freakin' conch salad. That's the best story! "The Drowning Pool" is my influence by Led Zeppelin and Robin Trower. Believe it or not, it's a love song about how you're drowning in love. If you look at me, it's not like you'd hear me writing a love song [Laughs], but I did. I also cover a couple Jimi Hendrix songs, but I do them in my own style. You've got to have some big balls to cover a Jimi Hendrix song and put it on a frigging record, but I've gotten some great compliments! [Laughs] I've been playing "Voodoo Chile" for years.
These versions definitely brandish your flare though.
No doubt! Some of my favorite Hendrix songs are on that record! No one's ever recorded "Hey Baby/New Rising Sun." I'm one of the first guys that's ever done it. If you listen to Hendrix's version and mine, they're totally different, but it still has Jimi's flavor in it. I've got my own style; there's no doubt about it. I'm just guy who grew up digging Hendrix and rock 'n' roll. This is what happened, period.
The actual guitar playing technique really separates a player though. The way the notes are played is crucial to creating a personal sound.
What you just said is very true. The whole flavor of my record is just good blues rock. At the end of the day, it's always been my way. If I can do a record, put it out and it's successful, cool. If I can put it out and it's not successful, but I did it my way, that's cool too. At least I did it my way, so I don't have the fat guy at the record label telling me, "This is the single," and he puts it out and it's the wrong record. I'm good with doing things my own way.
What records shaped you?
Obviously, Electric Ladyland is one of my all-time favorite records. When I want to drive my car and really dig on some music, it's Led Zeppelin's first record, Electric Ladyland, "Beck's Bolero," Santana and The Rolling Stones across the board. I love that kind of music; and those are the staples for me. I love Tommy Bolan too! There's some good new stuff out there, but it doesn't really do anything for me. I like Audioslave though and some of the music that's still considered rock. When you've got Madonna being inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame, it makes you wonder about rock 'n' roll, bro. I like classic old rock and blues rock. Freddy King and Albert King—ZZ Top is number one on my list though. Billy Gibbons is ridiculous. This is just my take on music, but if you're asking me if this is rock 'n' roll, yeah man this is fucking rock 'n' roll. Thank God Slash's new record is rock 'n' roll. Stone Temple Pilots' new record is rock 'n' roll. They're real.
You're drawing from the same well that your idols did.
Zeppelin and Stevie took it from the real cats—Albert King, Lightning Hopkins and guys like that. That's where they took their craft! They're not purists. It was Zeppelin and The Stones' interpretation of the blues that we're hearing. It really wasn't blues, but it was their interpretation that made it cool. All those guys had real swagger.
Have you heard Micki Free yet?