INTERVIEW: Keith Strickland of The B-52s

There’s only one B-52s. Sure, they’ve had their stylistic changes, and they weathered the tragic death of original guitarist Ricky Wilson, but whether slamming out quirky angular guitar pop (“Rock Lobster,” “My Own Private Idaho,”) radio-friendly chart megahits (“Love Shack,” “Roam”) or danceable, electronica-tinged club-ready tracks (“Funplex,”), there’s no mistaking who you’re listening to. And a large part of that sound is Keith Strickland. Originally the band’s drummer, shifting to guitar after the 1985 passing of Wilson, Strickland is a lifelong multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, and one of the nicest chart-toppers you could ever hope to meet. B-52s have just released With the Wild Crowd: Live in Athens GA, an 18-track live album, with a DVD and Blu-Ray to follow next year.

I understand there’s some special significance attached to the timing of the concert that became With The Wild Crowd?

We did that this past February in Athens, Georgia. A booking agent had booked the show and then we realised it was close to February 14th, the anniversary date of our very first performance. It was a few days later but we thought ‘Let’s make this an anniversary show!’ And it was also a benefit for the Georgia Theatre, which is this venue in Athens, a theatre that had been converted into a performance place. It had burned down, so a portion of the proceeds went to rebuilding that. So it was just coming full circle. We played the Georgia Theatre in our early days before we actually recorded our first album. It was also interesting because we realised, ‘Wow, 34 years and we’re playing Athens again…’ But it really wasn’t set up that way. It was just, well, here it is! We turned it into an event celebrating coming full circle, so to speak.

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INTERVIEW: Paul Gilbert on distortion

This is the first in an occasional series on I Heart Guitar about the glory of distortion: How different players achieve it, what they like about it, how they control it, and how it changed their lives. I posed these questions to the ever-affable Paul Gilbert earlier in the year, just before he came out to Australia for a clinic tour:

PETER: What is your philosophy on distortion?

GILBERT: I love fuzzy guitar sounds. It makes things more exciting, but you have to develop a lot of extra techniques to control it and keep it from getting ugly and noisy.

PETER:Where does your distortion come from primarily?

GILBERT: The best distortion comes from cranking up a tube amp. But I sometimes use a pedal to add a little more gain.

PETER: What can you recall about the first time you played guitar through distortion?

GILBERT: My first amp was a Fender Vibro Champ. It had 6 watts. The lady at the music store told me that if I turned the volume past 4 it would BREAK. At 4, the tiniest bit of distortion started to happen. So I carefully turned it to 4 1/2. It didn’t break. I slowly went higher and higher. And after a week I was on 10 every day. By today’s standards, this was still pretty clean, but it was really exciting for an 11 year old kid trying to play “Johnny B. Goode.”
My first fuzz pedal was an Electro Harmonix “Hot Tubes”. I ran a “Screaming Tree” treble booster into it and it sounded great. I had no concept of how to control feedback, so after every song, my guitar would just HOWL. My uncle finally introduced me to the guitar’s volume pot. Now, turning my volume pot down after I play is a habit. I can’t stop it if I try!

PETER: And finally could we please have a brief rundown of your main gear, as it relates to generating distortion?

GILBERT:
GUITAR: New Ibanez PGM301, vintage Ibanez guitars
PICKUPS: DiMarzio Tone Zone, DiMarzio PAF Classic
AMP: Marshall Vintage Modern. Also, I often run my Marshall through a THD Hot Plate in my home studio. That way I can crank up the power tubes all the way, but keep the volume under control.
PEDALS: Ibanez Tube Screamer, Fulltone OCD, Xotic Effects AC Booster, Fulltone Soul Bender. (Not all at once!)

Ibanez PGM301 Paul Gilbert Signature Electric Guitar White

Marshall Vintage Modern 2266 Tube Combo Amp Standard
DiMarzio Tone Zone Guitar Pickup Black Regular

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Effects Pedal Standard