Eliot Lewis– you’ve seen him as the keyboardist for Daryl Hall & John Oates and Live From Daryl’s House… and that’s a great gig, but he’s done so much more! He spent 13 years with the Average White Band, he’s an accomplished solo artist with several solo albums under his belt and he’s written for and produced several artists along the way.
VTB was lucky enough to get to set down with Eliot and “talk shop!” Enjoy!
Most people may know you from playing keyboards for Hall & Oates and on Live From Daryl’s House, but you’re also a killer guitar player! How long have you been playing guitar-and what other instruments do you play?
Well thank you, actually guitar was the second instrument I picked up. I started on the drums when I was ten. I went to guitar after about 5 years because I really wanted to become a songwriter and just thought guitar would be a better way to connect with people. I ended up transitioning to bass for a couple of years, really because a band made up of two guys that were playing with some of the original Alice Cooper band needed a bass player. I ended up playing a eight string bass because I was really into Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick. I eventually started playing keyboards in the eighties, in order to try and be a self contained songwriter.
Who were some of the guys you were listening to when you first started playing?
Well believe it or not it all started with Glen Campbell when I was like eight years old and then definitely Jeff Beck also early on because an older brother was obsessed with him Lol. Mick Ronson from the David Bowie band, Leslie West who I also met when I was 11 were also big influences. In the late 70’s I discovered Billy Gibbons and fell in love with his amazing tone. As you know I was lucky enough to play with him on LFDH which was a dream come true.
You’ve worked with and shared stages with some of the biggest names in the business, can you share a few of your favorites?
Well, playing with Billy Gibbons was definitely a favorite. Also Joe Walsh and Todd Rundgren were favorites and two of my musical heroes growing up I’ve been lucky enough to work with.
On the live side of course playing with Daryl Hall & John Oates is an amazing experience and playing venues that I dreamed about when I was a kid like The Budokan arena in Japan and The Hollywood Bowl are definitely highlights. But really there are so many, 25 years of touring…
I’ve noticed you play a lot of Reverend guitars, I’ve always loved those myself- what is it that you dig about them?
About 6 years ago I was looking for a Flying V and came across the Reverend version called the Volcano which was just a little different, which I loved. It’s a great guitar, so I discovered the rest of their line and loved their designs. I reached out to them and we developed a great relationship. They’re a small but very dedicated company to making some of the most consistently great playing guitars I’ve ever played. I swear if I buy a Fender or Gibson there are always things I have to do to them, pickups, tuners etc. but with every Reverend I have they need nothing, they’re perfect as they come. I have literally received one and gone onstage with it right after unboxing it. I have now purchased about 10 different models. The one I play more than anything else is called the Tricky Gomez model. It’s like one part Fender, one part Gibson but all Reverend! It’s a semi hollow body – killer guitar.
What pedals are using now, both live and in the studio?
I use almost exclusively Tech 21 pedals. When I decided I would perform without a amp, I tried every amp simulator, digital or otherwise and the best solution for me was their products, which are all analog. They respond much like a good tube amp does, especially with the particular Reverend guitars that I use. I can have a great degree of gain for solos but when I roll back on the volume it cleans up really nicely and retains all the high end. I’m using the Tech 21 Flyrig now as well as some of their character series pedals.
We don’t usually stray too far from guitars here, but I know we have quite a few keyboardists on board here, so what can you tell us about the keyboards you use with Hall & Oates and on Live From Daryl’s House?
I’ve been using Hammond exclusively for sometime. Mainly the SK-2 dual manual. Of course it does an amazing job at all things organ but also covers Piano, Rhodes, Wurli and a bunch of other go-to sounds. It’s great having one board that covers it all. With Daryl Hall & John Oates, I’ve sort taken some of the 80’s sounds that were on their records and just made them more organic sounding and the Hammond has been perfect for that.
Your latest album, “Crusade” is killer! What can you tell us about the recording process you went through for the album?
Well on my new album “Crusade” I really wanted to strip it down to the basics.
I’m a bit of a minimalist anyway so it’s reflected in my approach to making records. Instead of putting out the usual 10-12 song album I decided to just put 5 on this time and spend even more time focusing them to where I wanted. There’s probably no more than 12-16 recorded tracks on any one song. I’ve also starting using a bit more acoustic, kind of tucked in with an electric guitar. For recording I do everything myself, playing, performing etc. and record using Apple’s Logic. It’s really a simple setup.
I really enjoyed your live album, “Live And Up Front.” When someone goes to see an Eliot Lewis show, what can they expect to hear?
Well if you listen to “Live and Up Front” that’s really what you can expect, although that was all me playing everything. Now, live I almost always have a drummer with me. So it’s mostly songs from my 5 CDs and I also perform some favorite moments and artists that I’ve worked with on the “Live From Daryl’s House Show.” So I have a couple of reworked songs from Joe Walsh, Billy Gibbons, Todd Rundgren and of course a Hall & Oates and Average White Band song in there. All things that I’ve played with those artists. You can also expect me to come out into the audience while I’m playing to connect with everyone there.
Who are some of newer guitarists and/or artists that have your attention?
A recent guitar player I’ve been listening to is Johnny A. in fact I got to open one of his shows recently. He’s an instrumental guitar artist and delivers some really brilliant melodies in the spirit of some greats like Jeff Beck, Chet Atkins with a little Beatles thrown in. Check him out. I also really appreciate what Joe Bonamassa is doing and what he’s accomplished.
A lot of your fans know this, but some of our readers may not know that you’re also an incredible photographer. Your shots have graced album covers and been exhibited all over the country. How did you get into photography?
I got into photography pretty early, probably around 17 years old. My dad was pretty good at always capturing family moments and I think I started out as a very visual person. In fact some of my earliest musical influences were very visual and theatrical. So something clicked and I think when I saw Andy Summers of the Police had taken these gorgeous Black & White photos of the rest of the Police in 1980 I was inspired to pick up a camera. It was sort of a hobby at first but when I joined The Average White Band and started touring all over the world is was a way to capture some of those experiences. When Daryl Hall saw some of my B&W photos he asked if I would shoot them, as they always needed new press photos. So one thing led to another and I ended up shooting a couple of their records and promo photo’s. I also take a photo at the end of almost every concert of the audience so they can see themselves and also have that moment to remember.
What’s in the future for Eliot Lewis?
Well of course there are some more of my own live shows to finish the year. Also we are shooting new episodes of “Live From Daryl’s House” which I think will be some of the best ever. Over the course of the winter I’ll be working on another CD and I’m getting ready to shoot a video for my new song “Crusade”. I’m also hoping to get to this winter’s NAMM show and do a performance for Reverend Guitars as well as Hammond Organs if time permits. In general I’ll be just working on connecting and sharing music whenever and wherever I can.