Waddy Wachtel Interview: Talking Keef, Stevie Nicks, Pat McGee
Who ya gonna call? When you’re ready for someone to lay down guitar tracks for your new album, who ya gonna call? If you’re Keith Richards, or Stevie Nicks, or any number of legendary artists, your go-to guitar guy is Waddy Wachtel. And when it’s time to tour that album? Waddy gets the call again.
Wachtel moved from his native New York City to Los Angeles in the late ‘60s, at the perfect time to catch the wave of the “Southern California Sound” that would soon infect the hearts and minds of rock fans the world over. Falling into place with now legendary session players such as bassist Lee Sklar, drummer Russ Kunkel, keyboardist Craig Doerge, and guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Jeff Pevar, Waddy became part of the most in-demand group of session players in town.
With Sklar et al on many recordings, Wachtel recorded now classic guitar parts and solos for artists such as Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstat, James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, and too many more to mention.
The relationships forged in those heady times have lasted the decades, and Wachtel is still an in-demand player, both for studio and the road. He recently laid down tracks for the upcoming solo album by Rolling Stone Keith Richards, has an unreleased Stevie Nicks solo album awaiting release, and was recently reunited with Sklar, Kunkel, Pevar, and Kortchmar on a great new album by singer-songwriter Pat McGee.
McGee in particular hired Wachtel and crew specifically because he was looking for that classic sound, that familiar groove that we’ve heard on so many recordings and radio staples. And now we're hearing them again on tracks such as “Bad Idea” and “Four Door Dynamo” from McGee’s self titled, double-vinyl release.
In this exclusive Guitar.com interview, we spoke with Waddy Wachtel about his sessions with McGee, the upcoming albums by Richards and Nicks, and his stint as Jimi Hendrix on the soundtrack to the recent Hendrix bio-pic, “Jimi: All Is By My Side.”
We also explored Wachtel’s home studio set-up; found out how he lays down his own drum, keys, and bass tracks; and learned about the Les Paul he bought from Steven Stills that has now been re-created as the Gibson Waddy Wachtel signature model. And of course we spoke about the incredible music scene that Waddy played a big role in, the historic, mega-platinum SoCal scene of the 1970s.
And don’t miss Wachtel on the road later this year with Keith Richards, or in 2016 with Stevie Nicks. Here’s what Waddy had to say:
Waddy Wachtel: Hello, Adam? Hi, it's Waddy.
Guitar.com: Hey man, how are ya?
Waddy: I'm pretty good, thanks. I'm trying to find a place that's quiet around here. I've got all this construction going on in my house, so it's hard to find a quiet room.
Guitar.com: In your house, or around your house?
Waddy: In my house.
Guitar.com: Do you live in Los Angeles?
Waddy: Yeah, we live in the Camarillo area. We just moved out here a couple months ago, and we're having all this work done. There's tons of guys here, making noise. Putting air conditioning in the house, building a bar. It's insane.
Guitar.com: I live in Chicago, but I lived in L.A. for most of my life, and I used to write for the Los Angeles Daily News, there in Woodland Hills.
Waddy: Oh yeah, sure.
Guitar.com: I was a music critic there for awhile.
Waddy: Oh, interesting. How long you been in Chicago?
Guitar.com: Too long. 15 years now. My wife was from here, and we moved around the country following media jobs. And here we are.
Waddy: That's cool. Chicago's a good town. As long as the Hawk behaves itself, Chicago's a good town.
Guitar.com: The Hawk?
Waddy: The wind...
Guitar.com: Yeah, that's for sure, the Chicago wind is a hawk, isn't it.
Waddy: Oh man, I've been blown across that city several times. So how can I help?
Guitar.com: Well, I want to talk to you about the work you just did with the Pat McGee Band, but obviously you have so much more than just that going on.
Waddy: Well, anything I can do for Pat, I'll be real happy too.
Guitar.com: Well the record sounds real nice. I actually interviewed Pat and his band years ago here in Chicago. I shot some video with them here at the House of Blues that is still on Guitar.com. Nice guy, good singer, good musician.
Waddy: Yeah he is.
Guitar.com: So Pat managed to bring together a few players for his new album that you had a long history with, who hadn't really played much together in a long time...
Waddy: Well, actually Lee Sklar and Russ Kunkel and myself had been working together of late on another project...
Guitar.com: The Keith Richards album?
Waddy: No, no, no. A great girl singer-songwriter named Judith Owen. An English girl who is very good. So we'd been doing that. But before that -- and Pat's record came along right around the same time -- but we haven't been spending that much time together, so it was great to get together.
And it was back at this studio behind this old mastering lab in L.A. It used to be called Producer's Workshop -- a dumpy little room, but it's a great sounding place. So it was really terrific. Danny Kortchmar worked separately on the stuff. He wasn't with us when we tracked it. But Jeff Pevar was there, and there was a good organ player there too, who came out of Pat's band I think. But it was terrific.
Guitar.com: Just layin' down some nice grooves. You recorded live, right?
Waddy: Oh yeah. That's what they were wanting, and it's exactly what we like to do anyway, so it was perfect for us. That's our link to reality, just going for the performance, once that tape starts rolling. Or whatever medium you're recording on these days. But I think they did use tape, actually. I think we were using tape.
But to go for the performance is the thing. I learned that back from Peter Asher when I started working with him on Linda Rondstat records, I walked in and found out that she was going to be singing, going for thee vocal when we cut the track. And it was different than a lot of the procedure that I had gotten used to, which is, a guide vocal, and then the singer will come in and re-do the song.
It was of that style, more or less, when we did "Blue Bayou" that Linda sang, and that's the live vocal. And Pat's vocals on the new record are the live vocal. And it's great that way. It really gives you the incentive to really be the complete package while you're doing it. It's really the preferred way for me and my pals to lay down tracks.
Waddy Wachtel Behind the Scenes with Pat McGee
Guitar.com: So Pat would basically show you the song, and then there was a quote I read that you guys would ask him for the meaning behind the lyrics before you played the song.
Waddy: Yeah. (laughs). I think some of the guys would ask that. Myself, I'm more in tune to the musical aspect of it. So I was listening in on those conversations, but normally I wouldn't be the one to ask that because I perceive it all as sound. Lyric and music -- it's all synonymous sound to me.
But Russell was very interested in that. And it made for quite a great couple of explanations. A couple of times it got very heavy, talking about it, and I didn't want to know that much about it, because there was some serious subject matter going on, and I'd rather just be able to float. But Pat's a really good songwriter. A lot of those songs, to me, are hits waiting to be heard.
Guitar.com: So did you have charts of the songs in front of you, or did you just run through them a couple of times, and memorize the whole thing, and then just go for it?
Waddy: I'm trying to remember. I think they had charts made up as well, but basically you hear the song... The usual procedure is that someone plays the tune, you hear it, you write yourself down a simple chart, then you go.
I think these guys came in -- they were very prepared. I think they had charts made up for us. We may have had to re-touch some of them, and change the arrangements here and there, but I think they had charts down. Yeah -- he had this folder where everything kept coming out. So yeah, they had charts.
Guitar.com: Do you sight-read?
Waddy: I'm a reader. I'm not a great reader. But over the years, doing this for 40 years, yeah, you have to know how to read somewhat. My friend Lee Sklar is like an incredible sight reader. He can just shed something right away.
Guitar.com: Yeah, but he's only got to play one note at a time...
Waddy: (laughs), Yeah, that's right, I know. He's only got those four strings to deal with. So he'll read, but I'm a quicker ear player. I'm very fast that way. I hear something and I learn it, and that's what's come in very handy for me.
Guitar.com: I can read OK, but I tell people, "with guitar, I could teach you how to play something in five minutes -- having never touched a guitar in your life -- and it would take me six months to teach you how to read what I just taught you how to play in five minutes."
Waddy: Right, yeah. It's tricky.
Guitar.com: Not to make an excuse for us guitar players being lazy, but it's true.
Waddy: It depends how you came up. A good friend of mine, Dean Parks, he can read anything. He's fantastic, and a complete musician on that level. He can read, as we call it, "fly shit." But I came up differently. Everything to me was, I'd hear a song, I'd learn it. I'd hear a Beach Boys song, I'd learn all the vocal parts. I just am a dumping ground for sonic information, basically.
Guitar.com: Do you mean you would learn to sing the Beach Boys harmonies, or play them on the guitar?
Waddy: Sing them. I love singing. I love vocals and stuff too. When I'm sitting around on my own with nothing to do I'll pick a Beach Boys song and do a version of it, just to test my memory and get all the vocal parts down. Just to hear it back. That's my version of fun, sometimes.
My upbringing was that I had a guitar teacher telling me, at a very young age, "Well you're not reading!" And I'd say, "Well, I'm reading it until I get through it once, and then I've learned it, so what's the difference?" And he goes, "Well you're supposed to be reading this stuff." And I go, "Well, I can show you..." -- We were doing Bach two-part inventions when I was growing up learning how to play guitar, and I would learn how to play both parts, in the first couple of days. And by the time the teacher would come back, I'd go, "Well, I'll play your part too!" (laughs).
And eventually he just started leaving me songs on a tape machine. I had an old tape recorder, and I'd go, "I want to learn that song." So he'd play it for me and I'd learn it that way (by ear).
Guitar.com: So on Pat's record, and on the most recent recordings you've been doing, have you been using your 1960 Les Paul?
Waddy: You mean the reissue of it?
Guitar.com: Well, I'm wondering: Are you using the reissue, or the real one?
Waddy: The real one is not allowed to leave my house. The real one has traveled enough. But yeah, I'm using the new one, the Gibson reissue, and it's fantastic. It's really so incredibly like the original, it's unbelievable. Sonically was a bigger challenge. To get the feel of the guitar, and weight, and the woodwork and everything down, visually and physically, was mind-blowingly similar.
When it came down to the sound, it's hard to emulate the sound of a 55-year-old pickup, with a new pickup, and new wiring, and new wood around it. But the one that's in there is remarkably beautiful. It's great. It's an amazing version. I was blown away. I used it on Pat's record on a bunch of stuff.
And then I got called to play for Neil Young and I used it on this beautiful ballad he had, with a live string section -- like a 60-piece string section -- and Neil sang the lead, and I was doing what I call my phony steel guitar, with my sunburst Les Paul. And that guitar, I got that guitar from Steve Stills when I first came here to L.A., and I knew that it was the Les Paul he used in Buffalo Springfield. But whenever you saw Buffalo Springfield, he was always playing a big old Gretsch White Falcon or something like that. But I knew that was the one.
So at Neil's session I went "Neil, come here, I want to show you something." And I opened the case up and go, "Does this look familiar?" And he goes, "Oh man! I remember that guitar! That was Steven's Buffalo Springfield Les Paul." And I go "That's right!" And I reminded him that I bought it from Steven, and that's the copy of it, the reissue.
Guitar.com: Yeah. But you paid Stills like $350. Don't you feel like you got ripped off?
Waddy: Yeah, well... (laughs). I know, that was pretty steep. You should have seen me trying to collect that $350 to buy that thing. That was not easy back in 1968, and my father telling me "You already have a Les Paul." And I didn't want to tell him, "Oh no, I gave it to Leslie West, because I was sick of it," (laughs), because I had it since I was 11 years old, and I wanted to get rid of it. What a mistake that was.
Guitar.com: Yeah right.
Waddy: The funniest thing was when I did Keith Richards' first solo record, I came to New York, and I said, "I guess I don't have to bring a guitar, right?" And he goes, "No, I don't think you need to bring a guitar." So he goes, "I picked this one out for you." I open it up, and it's exactly that -- they call it a TV model Les Paul -- that I had when I was a baby. That was the same guitar: double cutaway, yellow thing with a black pick guard. And I went, "Oh my God, this is my first Les Paul -- this is the same guitar I had." And Keith goes, "Really, because this is what I used on "Tumbling Dice." And I said, "OK, well that'll do then. I guess I can squeak by with that." (laughs).
Guitar.com: Yeah, I guess.
Waddy: But I had that guitar and my Strat out for Pat's sessions. And a nice acoustic -- a Gibson J-200.
Guitar.com: OK. So what kind of strings do you put on these guitars?
Waddy: I use .011s on my regular Les Paul. I think on the reissue, and on the old one, I think it's still back to .010s. I haven't swapped that one out yet. I didn't want to rework the bridge or anything. So I think they have .010s on the new one as well.
Guitar.com: What did you use back in the '70s -- .010s?
Waddy: Nines and .010s. Nines, and then it quickly went to .010s, because .009s would just go out of tune too quickly. And they didn't last as long. We were working so much back then. So I've been using .010s a long time.
Guitar.com: Why are you working up to .011s now?
Keith Richards, Waddy Wachtel, and the X-Pensive Winos
Waddy: Well, again, they go out of tune less, and they break less. It's a little more of a solid feel, and it's a little harder on the hands, but they hold up better. I've been doing this rock and roll gig of mine for a long time here in Los Angeles, and using .010s I was just breaking strings every couple of songs. And so the .011s hold up better. I even went to .012s at one point, but that was, "OK, let's back off from there please. That's a little much." Those were like piano wires.
Guitar.com: Yeah, right. You know the legend has it that Stevie Ray Vaughan always used .013s, which is like acoustic guitar strings...
Waddy: Yeah, I heard that.
Guitar.com: I did an interview with Rene Martinez, his guitar tech -- and he was Carlos Santana's tech too -- and he talked to me about the fact that, after a few tour dates, Stevie would be "tearing up his fingers terribly, and I convinced him to move back down to .011s."
Waddy: Yeah, right. Yeah, that's just too much.
Guitar.com: Yeah, .013s is amazing. I use .011s, and it gets to be a bit much sometimes, but to go to .013s would be ridiculous. So what is your bottom string -- a .046? A .052?
Waddy: I think it's .052.
Guitar.com: So when you tell me you're breaking the .010s on gigs, is that from massive bending, or what?
Waddy: Just slamming hard. Hitting a little too hard with the right hand. And sometimes the bends. But it's usually from the picking hand, just cutting right through.
Guitar.com: And so what kind of amps and effects were you using on Pat's album?
Waddy: Well, I don't ever use effects, really. If someone wants me to, I will, against my better judgement. But to me, even back when I was a kid, I noticed -- like when I plugged into an MXR Phaser -- even before you engage the effect, as soon as you plug into something, it's altered the sound. It's taking that pure sound and transistorized it. It was weird, it always made me -- I just couldn't touch the strings when I'd hear that other version of the sound of my guitar. It would be like you were getting stung when you touched the strings, like, "that's wrong, it doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel whole to me."
So at an early age I decided I would just not use effects. But I use my Vibro-Kings -- a pair of Vibro-Kings that I have. Or I have my Marshall amp -- a beautiful old 50-watt Marshall head that I have. But I also have this beautiful, hand-wired, 1-twelve-inch-speaker amp that this friend of mine -- Steve Deacon made. He's called the Rock and Roll Doctor. He's a terrific guy who works on amps for everybody in town.
He designed and made this amp. It doesn't have a name really. It's just a Deacon I guess. But it's beautiful. It's got one-12" speaker, a master, and a gain and volume. So you can just set the gain -- make the sound how you want -- and then just turn that sound up or down, as loud or soft as you want it. And it's a really handy amp. I do a lot of gigs, I'll do like these live, pre-Grammy shows that artists... or even on like Emmy shows or Oscar shows, you can't be blaring, you can't come in there with a Vibro-King and sit down there in the middle of an orchestra. It's louder than the whole orchestra.
So this little amp is just great. I can make it as quiet as I need to, and still get the funky sound out of it. It's what I used on Neil's record, actually. It came in very handy.
Guitar.com: So you say you don't use effects, but do you use the volume pedal all the time? Do you have it on or in the line?
Waddy: I usually have a straight-ahead volume pedal, no battery in it whatsoever, so it doesn't alter the sound. But I usually have that set up with me. If I use it or not is dependent on the song. But I always have that ready to go. I always kind of got in the habit of kicking it back when I'm plugging or unplugging, so the crackles don't happen.
I used to have a DeArmond volume pedal. Now I use an Ernie Ball. They make a really nice volume pedal. Sho-Bud makes a nice one too.
Guitar.com: You said you don't put a battery in it? And it still works?
Waddy: Yeah, these are non-battery. They're just a volume pot.
Guitar.com: Oh OK.
Waddy: With a battery, the same thing would happen to my ear. It would have that alien tonality to it. But these are just straight-ahead volume pots.
Guitar.com: So it's in your line all the time. You're plugged into it all the time.
Waddy: Yeah, pretty much.
Guitar.com: But do you only use it for those faux-steel things?
Waddy: Yeah. I just leave it floored. Like volume pedal stuff. It doesn't have to be steely to be a pretty sound. But mainly I just have it there... I'm just used to it being there. Like I said, I kick it off when I'm unplugging, and stuff like that. But I don't even like a tuner plugged in. There's an option where you can plug a tuner into it, but I don't like that. I don't like anything touching the circuit.
Waddy Wachtel Live with Linda Rondstat
Guitar.com: Do you use an electronic tuner of any kind?
Waddy: Lately I've just been using those little clip-on guys.
Guitar.com: I notice a difference... If I use different tuners on the same guitar, they register different. Have you noticed that?
Waddy: Oh yeah, yeah. There will be a little miniscule difference.
Guitar.com: And to me, the clip-ons have actually been more accurate.
Waddy: The clip-ons are a little more forgiving too. Normally, I used to use one of those portable little Korg tuners. And sometimes when I get to a session my tech will set up one of those little white MXR tuner pedals, and those work. But again, I don't like it in the line, so I don't like plugging in and out of it.
But those clip-on tuners are pretty good. And they're forgiving. That's what I liked about a Boss tuner that I wound up really liking. It wasn't as nervous. I've found that some tuners get really nervous when you get near zero pitch. They start really fluttering and stuff. And you don't need that. I want it to be ball park. My fingers will temper it.
That new popular brand of these tuners -- I must have bought a hundred of them, but I can't think of the name right now. But those things are pretty reliable. And I like the forgiving factor. The Boss tuner would give you a little bit of a window were you can see it's floating around the green, and that's what you want.
Guitar.com: Is your's one of the little round one, rectangular? I've got a Korg, and it's a rectangular clip-on.
Waddy: These are the little round ones. For the life of me I can't think of the name of it. But I've seen a bunch of them. I've seen a Peterson clip-on that was pretty cool. It was kind of big, but it was good. And these little ones are just handy.
We did a Stones tribute about two years ago, for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Tribute to the Stones, and I had a line-up. I was doing the Keith part. And I had this line of guitars, all in these different tunings, and each one had a one of those little clip-on tuners on it, ready to spiff them into shape. They're really handy.
Guitar.com: Have you ever noticed -- and I've been playing for a very long time -- and I've certainly damaged my hearing, a little bit...
Guitar.com: And I've had a lot of trouble in the past 10 or 15 years, where my high E and B strings -- I have to set them a little higher, a little sharp, from what most tuners wants me to do. But this doesn't seem to be the case with the clip-on tuners.
Guitar.com: For me this is with like a Korg or Boss tuner that you have to plug in to. I would always have to set the top two strings a little sharp for them to sound in tune for me. With the clip-on tuners, I don't.
Waddy: That's wild.
Guitar.com: Have you ever experienced anything of that nature?
Waddy: Not really. Well sharp is my enemy, so I would really avoid at all costs having to do that. But I've never noticed that. The only thing I have noticed -- the B string is a nasty piece of business. The low E and the B string are the enemies of the guitar, I find.
Low E's are impossible to get in tune, I find. They just lie, no matter what you do. But the B string, if you put a B string perfectly in tune open, when you play the third fret D note, it's sharp.
Guitar.com: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Waddy: The second fret C-sharp is OK, but the D is definitely sharp. So you have to flatten them a little bit. I have to temper it flat a little bit to get it where it wants to speak properly.
Guitar.com: And I'm talking about a guitar that has been recently set up and intonated: If you tune it to an E chord, and then you go to an open G chord, you may still have to mess with it a bit.
Waddy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's weird. Guitars are an imperfect beast.
Guitar.com: I'm glad to hear it's not just me.
Waddy: No. They are designed to be imperfect. If a guitar is perfectly in tune, it's unplayable, really. It's horrible. It just doesn't work. It has to be forgiving on some level. It has to have a certain amount of leniency within the tempering. Otherwise it's a nightmare.
Guitar.com: Did you ever try one of the Buzz Feiten tuning systems?
Waddy: Yeah, I couldn't... I never spent a lot of time with it. But it seemed OK, but you go up the neck and it didn't seem OK to me. That's what I mean: If somethings in tune down below, it's definitely not going to be in tune up above. I don't see any solution to that.
Guitar.com: Well, OK. I'm glad to hear from a legend that it's not just me.
Waddy: (laughs) There you go. Cool man.
Guitar.com: So you did some stuff with Keith Richards recently, right?
Guitar.com: Hopefully that album will come out in the fall or 2015, right?
Waddy: Yeah, we're hoping it will come out, we're shooting for September. I don't know if that's official yet.
Guitar.com: So is it going to be titled Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos?
Waddy: No, it's not a Winos record this time. It's Keith Richards. And there's quite a lot of wonderful stuff on it.
Guitar.com: What is the story behind the name "The X-Pensive Winos"?
Waddy: (laughs). Well, it just came from one night finding Ivan Neville drinking up the expensive wine, when we were making the first record. And it went from there.
Guitar.com: I figured it was something along those lines. And are you working with Stevie Nicks these days?
Waddy: Well I will be. At this point Stevie is on the road with Fleetwood.
Waddy Wachtel Live with Stevie Nicks
Guitar.com: Yeah, I mean when she's done with that.
Waddy: Oh yeah. We have every intention of getting back on the road and promoting the record we made, that no one has heard yet.
Guitar.com: And you'll be serving as musical director?
Waddy: Sure, yeah. Definitely. I just spoke to her the day before yesterday, and she's looking forward to it very much, as I am. We made a great record and no one has heard it yet.
Guitar.com: Right, you've got to get out there.
Waddy: Yeah. Well just timing-wise, it didn't work out, because Christine coming back into the band (Fleetwood Mac) precluded everything, because as soon as the promoters heard about it, every show was sold out.
Guitar.com: Of course.
Waddy: And now they're out there killin', so it's great. But we'll be back early next year, probably.
Guitar.com: I know you do a lot of movies. You did some stuff with the Hendrix movie, "All Is By My Side," right?
Waddy: Yeah, I played all the guitar in it.
Guitar.com: And you were the musical director. That must have been fun.
Waddy: Oh it was great. It was an incredible chance to do it and an incredible opportunity. It was great meeting Andre [Editors Note: The actor Andre Benjamin played Jimi Hendrix in the movie.] and working with him. And he and I together, portraying Jimi Hendrix, was quite an experience.
It was really wonderful. Basically I got to practice a lot, is what I did. (laughs). I never practiced so much in my life, getting ready to do that record. He (Hendrix) was just so incredibly fluent on the guitar, I didn't even listen to him for the first week or so. I just sat in my room playing guitar all day, until my fingertips were black, and then take a break and go back and do it some more -- trying to play as fast as I could.
I knew I could get the rest of it down, as long as I had my dexterity down, because I'm not normally a fast player. I'm more of a slower, melodic player. But for that you have to be ready on every level. It was great. It was incredibly educational and fun to do, and it was incredibly educational for my hands to be worked that much.
Official Trailer: Jimi Hendrix Movie, Jimi: All Is By My Side
Guitar.com: So then after a week you put on some Hendrix music and played along and learned a bunch of things?
Waddy: Yeah. Well I just listened to a bunch of his soloing to get an idea of the way he would phrase melodies, and things like that. At one point -- it didn't make the movie -- but we did a perfect recreation version of "Hey Joe." I mean to the letter. We were amazed. When we heard it back in the studio we all freaked out because it sounded so much like the record.
But the Hendrix estate wouldn't let us use the tune, so we had to sacrifice it. But it came out incredibly well. It might come out someday.
Guitar.com: What do you know about that, because the Hendrix estate didn't want much of Jimi's music used in the film at all, did they?
Waddy: No they didn't. They didn't want any used.
Guitar.com: And why?
Waddy: Well, I don't really understand what drives them. I'm not at liberty to say. But I know Danny Branson, who I partnered with on the music, got us the rights to "Sgt. Pepper," that incredible "Sgt. Pepper" performance that Jimi did. Danny went right to Paul and Yoko and got permission from them.
But it was great. And I never saw Andre's vocal until I saw the movie. I did the track and sent it over to those guys, they were filming the movie over in Ireland. So I never got to hear a note of Andre singing it or watched him do it, and it just came out so great. It was fantastic.
Guitar.com: So what do you do when you're home, you're between tours, you're waiting for Keith, you're waiting for Stevie -- obviously you keep doing studio work, right?
Waddy: I do studio work, yes, and I'm working on a movie right now. I'm working on the sequel to "Joe Dirt." "Joe Dirt 2" is about to come out, and I'll be supplying the music for it (laughs).
Guitar.com: OK. So do you have a home studio?
Guitar.com: Pro Tools?
Waddy: Actually I use Digital Performer. I'm gonna get into Pro Tools, but I haven't. When I started doing scoring, the MIDI situation in Performer was so much better than Pro Tools that I got right into Performer and learned it, and didn't want to stop and go through the learning curve with something else. So I've just stuck with Performer, and it's terrific.
Guitar.com: What do you do for drums?
Waddy: I do my own drums. I use my Roland XV-5080. There's a card called "Dynamic Drum Kits." It's an incredible sounding kit. And Toontracks makes this -- do you know this company Toontracks?
Guitar.com: Yes, I use their incredible EZ Drummer 2 program for my drum tracks.
Waddy: I use their Superior Drummer program. They're fantastically easy to work with, and they're beautiful sounding. But I combine kits. I'll map out something on one kit, and then I'll double it with another drum kit. And it just explodes the physical sound. It's amazing, but it does.
Waddy, Sklar, et al discuss the L.A. Session Scene
Guitar.com: And you play the drum parts yourself?
Waddy: Yeah. Or I'll send the file to a drummer.
Guitar.com: And then you lay down bass parts yourself?
Waddy: Yeah. I pretty much do it myself.
Waddy: Keys, yeah. It depends on what's needed. If it's a real pianist type piano part needed, I'll call a great pianist and have him come over, or send it to them. But normally, if it's just padding and simple stuff, I can do it. Sure.
Guitar.com: So do you ever just sit around and play for the fun of it?
Waddy: Oh yeah, sure.
Guitar.com: And that's when you do Beach Boys stuff, right?
Waddy: Yeah. That's what I mean about the Beach Boys. I'll just pick a tune I really dig and lay it down. Or I'll just sit here and play blues all day sometimes. The vocal thing is what has fascinated me. In Digital Performer I can transpose my voice up and octave and it sounds like a human voice, whereas in most programs it would sound like the Chipmunks. But it retains all the qualities of the human voice. So that's how I do my Brian Wilson and Beach Boys tunes, and I can do all my favorite Brian Wilson parts, because it sounds like me up there. It's amazing.
And I don't use pitch correction. For me, that's the fun I have, sitting around making music when I'm not working. It's me creating something I love. or writing something.
Guitar.com: So when are you going to release some of that music? That sounds like a lot of fun.
Waddy: Yeah, I know. It's funny. I'm in talks with these people, because it's a publishing situation. You can release anything, but you have to pay mechanicals to people. So I'm trying to figure that out, for iTunes and stuff like that. In the next couple years I'll have something come out like that.
Guitar.com: A lot of artists that I've been interviewing lately, and especially a lot of classic rock artists have been talking to me about where the music industry is at, where album and CD sales are at right now. It's a very weird time, and it's very hard, and sometimes it doesn't even seem like it's worth spending the money to record and release an album.
Waddy: Yeah, it's tough now.
Guitar.com: And so a lot of the guys that I've been talking to, I've been telling them, "Why don't you just release one song at a time, and get some press and PR out of it." And every few months you pop something new out there.
Waddy: Right. Now that the internet is there as everyone's publisher, you can basically do that. But it's tricky now. Money has vanished. New artists don't get support, if you can even find a label, really. So it's very hard now. It's a tricky time. It's tough.
Guitar.com: What do you think is different about being a studio musician now than it was when you started?
Waddy: Well, for example, everyone works at home now. A lot of people just do their own stuff. Like when I'm working on a film, I'll play all the parts myself. Or you have guys come to your house. You can't be in the hub of, like, Capitol Records, like in the heyday of when I moved out here. Or Ocean Way recording studios, where these places were just swamped with musicians coming in all day and night.
It's a different scene now. It's a lot more closed up. It's a harder nut to crack now, for sure.
Guitar.com: Right, because you're not actually meeting a bunch of people face to face. Where in the past you might have had an opportunity to meet someone at a studio you've never met before.
Waddy: Right. Exactly.
Guitar.com: So everyone is just hiring their friends to come over their house.
Waddy: Or not even our friends. Hiring the guy, but it's all closed off now. It wasn't like it was wide open. It took me awhile to crack the scene here. But I had a couple of ins at least. I was given a chance to record and show what I do, and people heard it and liked it, fortunately. But it was hard to get into the final aspect of the circles of L.A. recording.
It went from Lou Adler to Pete Asher, and it was tricky to get in there. But once you got in, you were considered family. That's not here anymore. That thing is gone.
And people ask me what advice I would give to someone, and that's hard thing to come up with these days. The only thing I would say is don't settle for the word "No." Don't think that's the end of the road just 'case someone says "no" to you. You've got to keep trying.
Waddy Wachtel Documentary: King of the Sideman
Guitar.com: I read a book recently called "Hotel Califonia."
Guitar.com: You're familiar with it?
Waddy: Yeah, sure.
Guitar.com: They interviewed you, didn't they?
Waddy: Yes. Barney Hoskyns. Barney was a great cat.
Guitar.com: It was a really fascinating story. Did you ever read the finished book?
Waddy: I didn't read it. I've seen excerpts from it. I dug Barney a lot.
Guitar.com: I'm very much fascinated by that whole history, and that whole era and that scene -- the seminal years of the Southern California music scene in the late '60s and early '70s. And that book had a lot to do with the Laurel Canyon scene.
Waddy: Well that era was our Liverpool. That was an explosive musical time. That was America's incredible artistic freedom time. Listen to all the stuff that was happening here then. It was incredible -- from the Eagles to Warren Zevon to Jackson Browne to Linda to J.D. Souther to Lowell George of Little Feat. And Van Halen. Every band, everything that was happening here was miraculous. And Crosby, Stills, and Nash. And everybody got along. Everybody -- if you wanted to get somebody...
Like nowadays it would be hard to book someone, but then when we did Warren Zevon's record, Excitable Boy, when we were doing the song "Excitable Boy," I said, "I need some Beach Boys on this. I need some backgrounds." So I called up Jennifer Warnes and I called Linda Rondstat and I said, "What are you doing?" And they said, "Nothing." And I said, "Do you want to come sing with me?" And they said, "Sure, I'll come right down."
That doesn't exist anymore. You had Don Henley and Glenn Frey hanging out with you in the studio. And everybody was like, "Oh you need something? Sure, I'll do that." It was an incredibly shared musical time. Unbelievable. And the outpouring of material that came from it was Earth-shattering. It was like the Liverpool explosion, here. I was so lucky to have moved here when I did. I walked right into it. An incredible period.
Guitar.com: Yeah. Do you think that there are a lot more stories to be told from that era? I'm sure there are...
Waddy: Yeah, probably. (laughs). I would think. I don't know. We all experienced quite a bit back then. Who remembers what it's hard to say. But it was an amazing time, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
Guitar.com: As a musician -- and I actually moved to Los Angeles in 1980, so I feel very much like, "Damn, I was born a little too late and missed it..."
Guitar.com: And as my life has gone on and where I am today, I keep looking back to that time and place. I actually have a cousin who did live in Laurel Canyon at that time. He wasn't a musician, but I do believe he was running in those circles. And I think back to the creativity and the shared artistry, and the collaboration that was going on then, and, wow!
Waddy: It was amazing. It truly was. You'd finish a day in the studio, and you'd go to someone's house to write. Or sing. Or just get together and play, and write a tune or two. It was unbelievable. It was a wide open invitation to music. Which you never find. So hey Adam, I think I'd better wrap it up here man.
Guitar.com: Yeah, no problem. Thank you so much for your time Waddy. I really appreciate it.
Waddy: Outta sight man. I'm glad. Thanks.
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