10 Questions with Wolf Marshall

Wolf Marshall's name has become synonymous with guitar education and has been so for the latter part of the last twenty-five plus years. His transcriptions have graced the pages of many of today's and yesterday's finest guitar publications. Whether you're trying to figure out the subtleties of a Randy Rhodes passage or delve deeply into the complexity of Ynwgie Malmsteen's Black Star, Wolf can show you precisely, how it is done; both on the guitar and on paper. An impressive feat to say the very least.

And you can always find him online.  To say that Wolf keeps busy would be an understatement. Find out what Wolf likes to drink, what his favorite recording of all time is and most importantly, why he wouldn't let a mechanic with one wrench fix his car.

Guitar.com: So first thing's first, what was the impetus for Wolf Marshall to pick up a guitar?

Wolf Marshall: Today or in general?

Guitar.com: In general

Marshall: The impetus was, I always had music in my family. After trying three instruments with different results, by the time I was about 14 years old, rock music totally captured me. And I wanted to play that way. But I had background in classical violin, piano and cello, briefly. Cello is almost not worth mentioning because I had it for about six months and I never took to it. But I always thought they should have invented a clear cello for female cellists. But anyway.

Guitar.com: What album changed your life?

Marshall: A bunch of them but the one I would say that's most significant was Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (John Mayall 1966) in the beginning, that had the first tune I ever transcribed, note for note and then played with a band. So to me that was a big breakthrough because that's the two things I do right now for a living. I transcribe music that hasn't been written down before and I play it so that people can perform it on the CDs that come with my books. But in those days I just learned to play it without the notation and simply went on stage like a 15-year old kid.

Guitar.com: What was that tune on that Bluesbreakers album?

Marshall: It was..hmmm, lemme see if I can get the sound out of this amp? (plays small sample of Hideaway) It was called Hideaway. I still play that whenever possible, whenever I do a live blues gig, they always want a showcase for the guitar player they hire or for the guitarist in the band. So that's always been my showcase since I was like 15 years old.

Guitar.com: Back then Clapton was playing Gibsons, he wasn't playing Fenders.

Marshall: Yeah, that's the sound that got my ear. Nothing like a Les Paul through a Marshall.

Guitar.com: And then later by the time Slowhand came out, all of a sudden he had all these Strats.

Marshall: Well actually it was right about 1969 to 1970, at the end of Blind Faith because Slowhand was around '76.

Guitar.com: So Delaney and Bonnie was about.

Marshall: Yeah, Delaney and Bonnie, Layla, 461 Ocean Boulevard and then he had a couple of other solo albums. And then at the end of that spell, he had that big hit with Cocaine on Slowhand. But it was during that period when he moved to the Strat. I think what happened he just got tired of the guitar hero thing. A second of all, he got tired of the stereotypical sound. He wanted a real personal, direct, kind of rootsy, bluesy sound. Rather than that big thick horn-like sound, which at first, when you're first playing, is very seductive.

Guitar.com: You must have a pretty respectable guitar collection. What is your number one?

Marshall: Well it depends on the gig that I'm doing because I do so many different kinds of music. So it's a bit more involved of an answer because if I just played one style of music in one style of band, it'd be different. But since I have to be B.B. King one day, Eric Clapton the next day, Stevie Ray Vaughan the next day after that, Pat Martino the next these are all people that I've done books on. So, my main Strat, my main rock guitar is a Jeff Beck Fender Strat. When I do rock clinics or I do a lot of traveling and I know it's going to be a series of rock stuff, that's the guitar I bring. This one, I'm playing a Pat Martino model, because I'm doing more jazz stuff here. I can also play some blues stuff on this. It's a good compromise guitar that I can still get a good jazz sound out of. But I mean there are other guitars. I have a Martins. When I did the Eric Clapton book, I got an Eric Clapton Martin for that, the 000-28EC. And I also have B.B. King Lucille, I mean the highlights are enormous. I have a guitar that was actually owned by Howard Roberts, that he had modified himself. It's a historical guitar that appeared on his two most famous albums. So that is a pride and joy. And a 64 L-series Strat, which is like my main guitar but I don't take it out anymore because it's not as versatile. But it was the guitar that Stevie Ray Vaughan played, when I was with him. I handed him the guitar and he broke a bunch of strings on it and then finally showed me how to set up the guitar so it would not break strings with his kind of style. And Eric Johnson has played on it. Allan Holdsworth and Steve Lukather, it just kind of been my guitar for many, many years and it seems like all the guys I've either interviewed or hung with, like that guitar.

Guitar.com: On a desert island with one guitar and an amp, would that be the one?

Marshall: It would either be that one or the Howard Roberts one. And probably, the amp would either be, it would depend if I could get the rock kind of sound or would it be a more generic and versatile kind of sound. So if it was more of a jazz thing, I'd go with the Howard Roberts. I've got this beautiful vintage Gibson amp. It sounds just like that era. It's pristine. The guy kept it in the PA closet. They just brought it out, once a week at the Moose lodge with a microphone to announce the square dancing or something and then put it right back in the closet. So it's killer! It looks just like an antique radio. It's brown with all these wooden slats. It's an incredible amp. That amp sounds so good. And then if it wasn't for that, I have a really nice handmade Soldano that I love, that sounds great for rock stuff.

Guitar.com: Well the answer to the next question is an obvious yes but, do you still perform live?

Marshall: Yeah, in fact I perform live more than I did ten years ago when I was doing many more books. Now I'm picking and choosing the books and the projects I'm doing more. And I'm actually back to studio work more, as far as studio for hire. I did an album project last fall that ended up just finishing up at the end of February. So it's going to be released in Europe I understand, the guys over there are making the final deal for it now but anyway, I digress. When I moved to San Diego there was much more of an active jazz scene than then there was around L.A.. I was talking to one of the guys at the clinic and he asked me a similar question, in San Diego there was this kind of free-wheeling live gig thing. So you could be playing blues really easily, getting in to clubs there. There was just a scene for it. Usually, in L.A., when I got those kinds of gigs, I was being hired for one night or one week or whatever. It was never the free flowing like, let's meet at this club and play here or I'll book that one. You were just playing a lot, at least I was, in San Diego. That area has a wonderful blues, jazz, and kind of a free form, kind of a coffeehouse scene. It's really neat to be able to play at that venue. Normally, I have to play bigger shows so its kind of fun.

Guitar.com: Sounds pretty cool. What does the Wolf Marshall rig consist of?

Marshall: The rig, hmmm. Again, it depends on the sound. The typical rock rig these days, if it's not auditorium volumes although maybe even auditorium volumes, though come to think of it. I'm using the Fender Cybertwin, either the head or the one with the cabinet built in. It's either the 2 x 12 combo or just using the head with a Marshall cabinet. That's probably the most versatile set up because with that I could bring the 335 or I could bring the Jeff Beck Strat and get a good metal sound, if I needed that. Or I could still play blues, semi-clean or some pretty chord stuff, so it kind of covers a nice range. That would be my main live rig. All the effects are in it and it has a real nice pedal board with two pedals. It's all programmable so the pedal can be either be a wah-wah or a speed up or slow down a leslie effect. You know it's that kind of thing. For me, it's a wonderfully versatile amp, great for live playing. In the studio, I'll got like 15 or 20 amplifiers and last time I counted, I think Ive got 47 guitars, that I use. Each one is a tool though. It's like I tell people when they look at all my guitars hanging in the studio, "Why do you need all these guitars?" And I always say, "Would you trust a mechanic with one wrench, to tune up your Ferrari?"

Guitar.com: That's a good analogy.

Marshall: Well, it's like that for me because when I get hired to play like B. B. King one day or like Eric Clapton or like Eddie Van Halen or whatever and then I have to have the appropriate rig. And it's different, this guitar has heavy gauged strings and it get's a good sound. I can get play a good Stevie Ray Vaughan type of blues. But if I'm going to do like an Eddie Van Halen type of sound, I need a wang bar and loose strings because thats his sound. Same thing if you were doing Brian May. You have to have kind of a different sound for that. You can't get a Gibson to necessarily sound like that.

Guitar.com: As a musician and an educator, you've had an interesting perspective on the changing faces of rock guitar over the years. Where do you see guitar heading at the current moment?

Marshall: I think that there's about to be something new because I've seen a lot of, unfortunately, kind of mainstream bands, that don't have anything new to say. I have some exceptions. I like The White Stripes. I thought that they were good. There are some new bands on the horizon that kind of interest me. That would probably be the last one that I heard that kind of interested me. They're kind of punk. But you know, I like all kinds of music. People think that I only like sophisticated music. But that's not true. To me, that is, in many ways, sophisticated music because it's sophisticated in its simplicity and directness. There's always a lot of good guitar players. I'm getting CDs in the mail from people that are just sending me incredible stuff. The guy that I'll be playing a duet with here, Steve Herberman (http://www.reachjazzmusic.com), has a new album that I like a lot, in more of a jazz bag. He's a new guy that I enjoy. There's a new Henry Johnson album that came out. He's an older bee-bop player but man his new album with the organ group is just smokin. Hes got Nancy Wilson singing with him. Its just killer recording. I've got a theory and it might be a bit of a wild theory but as far as new music. We're so inbred in our culture, as far as narrow formatting for recordings and CDs and the way they are marketed, I have a feeling that maybe some of the new music that's coming around the corner will be coming from another country. As the world gets more global and there's more communication via the Internet and everyone is learning everything at the same time, it kind of kills the regional styles. We were talking the other day, Brian Setzer and I. I didn't mean to name drop but just so you get the feeling that I'm not making this up. He was saying thats what killed rock in his ear is the idea that there aren't a lot of regional styles anymore because communication is widespread. In his day, he was like, I could only get radio stations from this point and that point. And in Elvis' day, he could maybe only listen to stations within a hundred to a hundred and fifty miles. So they had a regional sound around Memphis. So they had a regional sound around New York, a regional sound around Florida, a regional sound in California. There was a west coast blues versus Texas blues. Now you could be in Liverpool and be playing Texas blues. You can hear it, get on the Internet, download some Texas blues and learn to play it and there you are.

Guitar.com: Yeah, I guess the Seattle sound was kind of the last regional sound like that to happen.

Marshall: Yeah and that was almost a marketing phenomenon. I believe that those bands really existed there but I think the record companies made that into more of a phenomenon that it was. But I agree with you. Yeah, you're right. I almost feel like, well I've got some great demos from places like Brazil and Argentina, really good players down there. And if they have a Beatles coming from down there, that could be a whole new deal. Or a Beatles coming out of India.

Guitar.com: That would be a trip.

Marshall: Just because the Beatles had that Indian influence, so why not? Some guys with today's technology, with the way guitars sound and the way people sing today kind of playing rock music thats based in India. But it would still rock. It would be western music. It would be Indian sitars or ragas and all that. But it would be with that twist. Just like when the Beatles came out. They were doing Elvis tunes, they were doing Chuck Berry tunes and Little Richard. But they sounded different just because they were from Liverpool.

Guitar.com: There's a Latin America market that's exploding too.

Marshall: Yeah.

Guitar.com: I'm a big fan of Los Lonely Boys.

Marshall: Yeah, I heard them last night. That's another band I would put on my list.

Guitar.com: You went and saw them last night?

Marshall: No, I heard it last night. A friend of mine from Vintage Guitar and I went to the concert (at the World Guitar Congress) and he played it in his car. And I said that's cool. Some of it sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan. Some of it sounds more tex-mex. Some of it, he sounds a little more like Santana. I loved it. That's good, that was brand new to me. That's a new sign. But again, it's cross-cultural.

Guitar.com: Right

Marshall: And another one, and you might sneer at this but I think she's really good. I really like Shakira. I liked that last album she did. That's probably the last rock record I bought. And that again had that same thing, a couple of hits in Spanish and a few hits in English.

Guitar.com: What CD is in your CD player today?

Marshall: In my CD player? Well actually, I brought a bunch of work CD's. I'm doing on a Kenny Burrell project right now. I amassed a collection of CD excerpts that I made from my studio computer of things that I have to start to learn how to play like Kenny Burrell for my next project. So that's actually what I'm working on right now. So for me, there's always a process of where I have to be the guy because after I transcribe the music and write the text, then I have to go in the studio and perform it with the band. And that's on the CD and then I re-mix it. And then the guitar enthusiast puts it in their CD player and can play along with the transcription. That's pretty much how all my stuff is.

Guitar.com: We pretty much lead into this question from the previous question but are there any guitarists in the current fold that impress you or that you truly enjoy listening to?

Marshall: Well, again I would say Jack from The White Stripes. I like the guy from Los Lonely Boys. I don't even know his name.

Guitar.com: Henry Garza. It's actually two brothers, Jo-Jo on Bass and Ringo on the drums.

Marshall: Right and the doo-wop vocals they had were really cool too. See, it's this weird blend. You hear this a little Philly street harmony. Then you hear Santana Latin influence and then you hear some Texas blues. They had this one tune where he was doing that little thing that Stevie does on the beginning of Pride and Joy. His own take on it and that was really hip. I liked that blend of influences.

Guitar.com: You had mentioned that project with Kenny Burrell. That sounds like a really great project, learning a whole new style like that.

Marshall: What's neat about that is that I'll be working actually with him. I'll be doing the transcriptions. I'll be going over to his house and we're going to go through the music and talk about it. And he's going to recollect some thing that will go into the text. A lot of these guys unfortunately, aren't with us anymore. And part of my legacy is to create things that future generations can enjoy and really learn how the guy approached his music. Rather than some second class theoretician making up theories about the way Kenny Burrell played. I want to get his exact quotes and his exact concepts. I did the same thing with Pat Martino. I did a book like that about a year ago, which is out on the market now.

Guitar.com: Well, that leads us nicely to this question. What are your most recent accomplishments?

Marshall: You know one thing that I'm really happy about is more of the work on the Internet. To me that's the new frontier. You know, honestly, in terms of all the print stuff and I don't want to sound egotistical or arrogant or any of that stuff but so much of it I've done. I've done a million books and I love doing them. I've transcribed all the Randy Rhodes stuff, Van Halen I, Yngwie's first album. All that kind of stuff is the rock legacy and now I want to do some of the jazz guys because there's such a market for it. A lot of players out there are saying I've learned the Randy Rhodes and I've learned Eddie Van Halen. We've gotten into Satch and Steve Vai and all that stuff. And we want something different. And sometimes one extra lick will do it. It's digressing but I guess, doing those books and also on the internet. I'm currently working with a company called Line 6 and they have a site called guitar port (http://www.guitarport.com) and I'm pretty much the main writer for that. Every week I put out a feature and I play all the examples and its all interactive. You go online and you click and you can change the speed and decide what clip you want to hear. I do it all my studio center, right out to them. I got a letter from Sweden via email asking about it. It's real hip, its that global thing.

Guitar.com: Neat, well it sounds like you keep real busy. What do you like to do outside of music for fun?

Marshall: One of the things that I really enjoy doing, I just got a new all-terrain bike, not a motorcycle and I like to go for these long rides, say 35 miles to 70 miles on a bike trip, right along the ocean because we can do that in California. So that is one of my favorite things when I can find the time. I also like to read history and philosophy, believe it or not. Just finished a great book on arts and sciences called Human Accomplishment. It talks about history of how people have accomplished things since ancient Greece. It's a fascinating read. Stuff like that when I can find the time. I wish I had more time.

Guitar.com: Sure. Okay, how about your favorite beverage of choice?

Marshall: Probably in the morning, that first cup of coffee. Not necessarily Starbucks, though. I drink this odd one called Mountain Blend cause I can drink like five cups of it. It's low caffeine, mellowed with chickory, allows me to drink more than two cups. I drink like to cups and I'm in orbit. I have a pretty mild nervous system.

Guitar.com: Well, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We appreciate your time and we'll be sure to visit with you on wolfmarshall.com.

Marshall: Thank you!

For more information on Wolf - visit - WolfMarshall.com

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