A Conversation with Shane Theriot

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(Photo by Greg Vorobiov)

Shane Theriot – even if you don’t know the name, chances are you’ve seen or heard him.  For the past few years, he’s been the guitarist and musical director for both Hall & Oates and Live From Daryl’s House.  At the age of 25 he started an 8-year stint with the Neville Brothers.  His compositions have been heard on ESPN, MTV, VH1, Food Network and others.  He’s pretty much either toured with, recorded with or shared a stage with a who’s who of New Orleans legends.  He has a series of instructional books and dvds.  Has written columns for and been featured in several guitar magazines.  And in 2015, he even won a Grammy for producing Jo-El Sonnier’s album, “The Legacy.”

Here’s a partial list of the artists that Shane has recorded and/or performed with: The Neville Brothers, Willie Nelson, Dr. John, Jewel, Beyonce, Rickie Lee Jones, Hall and Oates, Boz Scaggs, Madeleine Peyroux, Larry Carlton, LeAnn Rimes, John Waite, Branford Marsalis, Leni Stern, Sam Moore, Nick Nolte, Gavin DeGraw, Aaron Neville, Ben Folds, Amos Lee, The SYN (with Chris Squire and Alan White from YES), Little Feat, Sammy Hagar, Forest Whitaker and Harry Shearer.

I was lucky enough to get a few minutes to catch up with Shane and talk about all the “good stuff!”  Gear, recording, touring…  Enjoy!

(Photo by Greg Vorobiov)

(Photo by Greg Vorobiov)

Who were some of the artists that first made you want to pick up a guitar?

I can vividly recall watching a movie when I was about 9 years old that was about the Beatles. And even though that era was even then way before my time, something inside of me clicked and I asked my mom for a guitar. My uncle patiently spent hours and hours after school showing me bar chords and basic licks etc…as much as he could and when I got to the point that he couldn’t show me anything else, I just absorbed from whatever I could. It was a mix of all kinds of players and bands. A few of them would be Van Halen, Wes Montgomery, Steve Vai, Scott Henderson and Ry Cooder. Those are some of the main ones but there are so many people that I learned from. I found myself really liking the Beach Boys- even as a young kid. And one of the first records I ever had was a 45 that my mom had of the Meter’s- “They All Asked for You”. I liked my mom’s old R&B records too; she said that when I was a baby she used to play Otis Redding and Percy Sledge records all the time.

What was your first guitar?

It was a really shitty Sears guitar with the action about 2 inches off the fretboard. The first real guitar I got was a 60’s Fender Telecaster with an early 60’s Stratocaster neck on it. It was painted this hideous glitter purple color and my dad and I stripped it down and painted it black. I wish I still had that guitar- the neck alone would be worth a fortune now.

What are you using gear wise, both live and in the studio these days? (Guitars, amps, pedals, etc.)

Right now because I’m living in both New York and New Orleans I tend to use what I have access to in each place. Some things I bring back and forth like pedals and guitars and then some things just stay in cartage.

For guitars it varies…For LFDH I like to treat every episode as I would a recording session so that means it could be anything. Over the years I’ve built up a nice collection of instruments that speak to me and I like to change it up now and then. I’d been using my old battered green strat style guitar which began life as a Hamer Daytona for ages- I’ve had that for about 20 years but I’ve since replaced that guitar with a really nice beautiful instrument built by my friend/South Louisiana luthier Gerard Melancon. I also have a tele (Custom T) that he built for me 12 years ago that I love. I call him the “Cajun Sadowsky”. I have a nice Hamer Artist Custom that is a great guitar as well as a PRS with Gibson pickups.

I recently acquired a 1959 Gibson 330 that is nice for recording and I use it live sometimes. I have a lot of guitars that I will use from time to time that are magical for their own thing- a 1963 Guild Starfire for instance.

Working out some parts with Sammy Hagar on LFDH set in Cabo, Mexico- (Photo credit: FRANCISCO ESTRADA)

Working out some parts with Sammy Hagar on LFDH set in Cabo, Mexico- (Photo credit: FRANCISCO ESTRADA)

I have some really nice old acoustic guitars for recording- my faves are a ’52 Gibson J-45 and and 1953 000-17 Martin.

I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of amps lately so this is probably going to change soon but right now it’s either a ’67 Fender Bassman head through various cabs or a couple of different Dr. Z or Bogner heads, but this always changes. For the studio I prefer smaller amps- Fender Princetons, or Champs but maybe my 71 Marshall Super Lead through a smaller cabinet. I like simplicity in an amp. If I have to work too hard to figure out the controls, it’s not for me.

I use a variety of pedals for different things and I like to alternate overdrive pedals. I’m pretty fond of the BOSS pedals with modifications done for me by both Robert Keeley and Analog Man (Mike Piera). And I have a couple pedals that I like by a Japanese maker named Yuki Hayashi- a company called “Free the Tone”. Larry Carlton’s tech turned me on to them. Their delay (Flight Time) is really good. But one of my favorite pedals is just a stock Whiteface Reissue Rat pedal. Very versatile and sounds good through even the most unforgiving rental amps. The Bogner Blue pedal is also really good for a Plexi type thing.

There isn’t a lot of time on the LFDH shows to experiment and try things- the pace is extremely hectic so you may get one or two shots to get a take. Because of this, I tend to stick with the “less is more” concept to eliminate the possibility of something going wrong. Just give me a couple of pedals and a decent amp and I’ll make it sound good. I’m not much of a “gear-head” and I don’t worry about trying the latest thing or whatever.

Overall I like simplicity and I think another benefit of going the minimalist route with gear is that it’s really conducive to bringing out the creative element, rather than obsessing over this or that pedal.

Photo by Greg Vorobiov

(Photo by Greg Vorobiov)

You’ve worked with and shared stages with some of the biggest names in the business, can you share a few favorite memories?

Oh man that’s a tough one- there are so many great stories I really can’t remember them all! The first time you play at a famous place or do a TV show, like Letterman, Leno etc…it’s amazing but then it kind of wears off because you do them more and more over the years. It’s more of the little things that stick with you.

• Having Dr. John sing Happy Birthday to my father-in law in Tokyo last year and then singing it to me on stage from 4 feet away the next night in Osaka- that just about brought tears to my eyes. Getting to hanging out with Keith Richards for an hour with legendary drummer Earl Palmer and Bonnie Raitt.

• Working with Nick Nolte for a month on a movie as his guitar coach. That was a trip man…we hit it off and spent a lot of time together. I’ve also worked with other movie people too – Working with Forrest Whittaker was great as well.

• Playing bass on tour with Larry Carlton on a last minute call- that was both nerve-racking and fun at the same time. One day we rode on a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka for 3 hours and I just talked about the old LA scene with Larry. That was cool.

• Getting asked to play guitar for Steve Cropper’s 60th B day party. Trading licks on “Loan Me A Dime” with Boz Scaggs.

• I’ve worked with Willie Nelson a few times and one time his old guitar “Trigger” was on the stand next to my amp. I asked him how many years he had owned the guitar. Willie says “about 40”. I said- “man Willie if that thing could talk huh?” and Willie leaned over in my ear and said –“Yeah, if it could I’d have to shoot it!”.

• Having my gear set up next to drummer Jim Keltner and working with him for a week on a record with singer Jewel in Los Angeles (that was never released). That led to Jim playing on 2 of my solo records and some other things as well. The stories he has are amazing. He’s like the history of all things cool. haha
Playing with Sam Moore (Sam and Dave) and during the famous solo part on “Soul Man” where he says “Play it Steve”- he said “Play it Shane”! haha….that gave me chills man.

• As I get older I’m lucky that I can call some of my guitar influences friends now as well. It’s funny the way that happens. Guys like Mike Stern and Scott Henderson were big influences on me, and now I realize I’ve known them for a while now.

• Warren DeMartini from Ratt came over to my hotel in LA last month and picked me up on the way to a Hall and Oates soundcheck. It was cool- he showed the guitar techs how to play “Lay it Down”.

• Sitting in the airport on a delayed flight with Mike Stern for 3 hours and trading ideas and jamming in the airport. That was fun.

On stage with Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers

On stage with Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers

• There are so many great things that I can remember- sitting in with Little Feat every night on a 2 month tour with them and the Neville Brothers. Richie Hayward and I having dinner at my house and then flying to Nashville together to work on my record “Dirty Power” for a few days.

• Huey Lewis telling me how they wrote “Do you Believe in Love” (one of my favorite songs) and then singing it to me accepella from 3 feet way on a tour bus.

• I remember being 19 and in a practice room playing a hard “Real book” tune with Scott Henderson who was kicking my ass, then looking up and seeing George Lynch leaning on in the doorway watching us. I almost lost it then and there and Scott was yelling at me- “come on man- shit! Focus!” ha-ha

• Going to the Apollo Theater with Aaron Neville and standing on the side of the stage while he sang Ave Maria to a sold out audience. Then walking back to his dressing room and talking about professional wrestling- one of his obsessions haha.

• Standing on stage with John and Daryl is also so much fun. I really love interacting between John and Daryl on guitar- both great fun to play with. And when Daryl looks over with that grin it’s a good feeling to have. Daryl and John have such wide musical palettes. And they wrote some damn good songs… And they have the best rock star stories….hands down.

Photo by Greg Vorobiov

(Photo by Greg Vorobiov)

I really enjoy your solo albums and have played quite a few cuts on my radio show. Any plans to record another one in the near future?

Yes, I have started recording and am trying to finish a few projects. I recorded a few tunes a month ago in New orleans with a trio and still have some music from a session I did with Jim Keltner on drums that I’m working on as well. I’ve been juggling all this with “traditional” songwriting- you know, lyrics etc…for other artists. It’s really hard to do a little of everything and I don’t think it’s a good strategy but that’s what I’m stuck with at this time.

We’ve touched on your influences, who are some of the newer guitarists that have caught your attention?

Well being in NYC a lot these days there are so many guys out there and I’m really into going out checking out music. I still like the cats that I grew up listening to like John Scofield and Scott Henderson but I also like the rawness of some of Marc Ribot’s music- mostly the Cuban trio he has. I think Ben Monder is really great too.

On stage with LeAnn Rimes

On stage with LeAnn Rimes (Photo byNuNu Pics)

You’ve got a lot of instructional material out there, books and DVDs – and even written columns for several guitar magazines. How did that all come about?

Years ago I taught at a music school and had a bunch of private students. I would write out lessons, exercises etc for these students, mostly advanced players. After some time I found that I had accumulated a lot of material that other guitar players would ask me about so I decided to put it into a book form. This later turned into a book called “The Next Step” and was used at the Atlanta Institute of Music as core curriculum for a while. A few years later I came up wit the idea to do a book on New orleans funk guitar styles after being inspired by Johnny Vidacovich and Herlin Riley’s excellent book “New Orleans Jazz and Second line Drumming.”

This book “New orleans Funk Guitar Styles” turned out to be a great success. I even had James Brown’s guitar player come up to me in a club once and say how much he like it. I did do quite a few lessons for Guitar Player magazine a few years back that came from my teaching material and “The Next Step”. I’ve recently done a few for Premier Guitar as well.

I haven’t taught private lessons in years but I do have a couple of videos out- for True Fire – Solo Mojo (upcoming in July 2015) and Rhythm Mojo. (All of these books and CD’s are available here.)

Photo by Greg Vorobiov

(Photo by Greg Vorobiov)

What’s the best music advice anyone has ever given you?

“Be careful not to get pigeonholed for only doing one thing.”

What’s coming up for Shane Theriot the 2nd half of 2015 into 2016?

I’ve been producing a bit over the past couple of years and would like to keep that up. Winning a Grammy has helped build some momentum with this. I produced a few tracks for jazz legend Ramsey Lewis’ new record coming out soon with Dr. John. I’m going to be working with Daryl Hall on his new solo record; we already started some pre-production a while back. But the most important thing for me is to continue to write, record and to get my own music out there. That’s what brings me the most joy.

Coming off stage with Aaron Neville

Coming off stage with Aaron Neville (Photo byNuNu Pics)

One last question: We recently lost the legend, B.B. King. I know that when you first joined the Neville Brothers, you did a three month tour with B.B. King. What was it like being around him and watching him play for those three months?

Yes we did do a tour with BB for 3 months. It was great to get to hear a legend every night do his thing and I did get the chance to talk to BB a couple of times just one on one in his dressing room. I asked him about Lucille and if that was the original from some live record I had. He said that “no he was currently on his 13th Lucille”…haha.

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Terry “T-Bone” Mathley is the host of T-Bone’s Prime Cuts on WICR 88.7 in Indianapolis. Contributing Editor for Volume Treble Bass.  Guitarist, Music lover, Music journalist, Detroit Tiger fan…

4 responses to “A Conversation with Shane Theriot

  1. Shane is very unique by any standard!

  2. I had the priviledge of playing with Shane in high school. Funny story…he just moved th SC from New Orleans. He auditioned for our band and played “Eruption” note for note. Ours jaws dropped as we said someting like, “Cool man. Sounds pretty good.” Anyone who knew him would not be surprised to see this atricle. He is a great guy and a fantasic musician. He turned me on to Mike Stern, Larry Carlton, and so many others. The music world is a better place with Shane in it.

  3. Sharon Stahlhut

    This is a fantastic interview T-Bone! Shane Theriot is a huge talent who has worked alongside so many great artists. I loved all the great stories. Thanks for a great read.

  4. What a great interview. Wonderful insight into Shane Theriot and what makes him musically tick! Loved every word of this!

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