Aussie blues master Lloyd Spiegel is renowned for his distinctive acoustic style and lightning-fast finger picking. As an ambassador for Cole Clark guitars, he is also in the unique position of being involved in the creation process of instruments that work for his particular style. After a wildly successful year in 2015 on the back of his award-winning Double Live Set album, Lloyd is headed back on the road through June and July for his first solo tour in 7 years, where one lucky audience member will win his brand new signature guitar. Natalie O’Driscoll spoke with the affable aficionado about everything from getting bitten by the blues bug to his fantasy gig at the Muppet Theatre.
You’ve described yourself as an aggressive guitar player. What effect does that have on your instruments and how long would one guitar generally last you?
I’ve spent a lot of time working with Cole Clark on my guitars. It’s a matter of playing the odds. I select really hard timbers like Blackwood or Bunya for the tops and get them serviced constantly but they’re a tough guitar and that’s part of why I chose to play them. I tend to get a new one every couple of years. I don’t kill them as such. They just get tired and as my style changes, so do the timbers.
How did you get bitten by the blues bug?
I didn’t know there was any other music. My parents played old rock and roll records in the house and from a very young age I was out watching local blues bands so I just assumed that was what all the kids listened to. Blues is a simple form of groove that hits straight at the heart. If any child is introduced to it, they’ll react and I was lucky to have it nurtured.
Do you ever enjoy playing electric guitars and if so how often do you play them?
I pull out my old Les Paul once or twice a year. To be honest, it feels foreign to me now. I figure the aim of any musician is to be a link in the chain of your chosen genre’s evolution. I’m an ok electric blues player, but I’m just another electric blues player. I’m not bringing anything new to the table. With the acoustic I feel like I am doing something unique and so my drive and energy went into that.
Can you tell us about an experience playing with one of your heroes, that will stay with you forever?
I have been really lucky to sit in with a lot of my idols but the best memory I have of a moment like that was sitting in Brownie McGhee’s garage in Oakland CA as a 16 year old kid. I know he isn’t the ‘most famous’ person I have jammed with but he is by far my all time favourite bluesman and an enormous part of why I became a blues guitarist. He might as well have been Elvis to me and to actually be in his home, really jamming, not just some favour to someone or promo opportunity…. That stays with me always and I open every show with a Brownie McGhee tunes as a reminder.
What is your level of involvement in the actual making of the Cole Clark guitars? Do you ever hit the tools?
I have been involved in every innovation at the company. I don’t work there, I’m just around all the time and right from the start it was a matter of ‘If Lloyd doesn’t break it, we are good to go’. I advise on everything from bracing to pickups to logo design and it’s been an organic relationship built out of the idea that both the company and I were looking for something similar in an amplified acoustic guitar. I don’t use any tools that could remove a limb…. Which is most of them in my case.
Why has it been seven years since your last solo tour? Do you approach solo touring differently?
I guess I got bored with it. 15 years I had played solo and I was writing songs that needed something extra so I added percussion, then drums, then a second output on the guitar and an amp. Those duo gigs were fantastic and a lot of fun but last year I started to look for that connection to the crowd again. When it’s just you and an audience you have no choice but to communicate with them and I find that’s where I am at my best. It’s honest and simple and I think that as I progress more as a songwriter instead of a ‘guitar guy’ I want that theatre style crowd and the chance to tell some stories. Plus, it’s easier you know? A backpack and a guitar and I’m at the airport. No complaints there.
Can you tell us about some of the fan feedback you’ve received about Double Live Set?
I never expected that a live CD would do what it’s done. I’m absolutely knocked out by the amount of excitement that surrounded it. The thing I am enjoying most about touring since that release is that a lot of the songs I picked for the double live album were from older, out of press CD’s that a lot of my fans probably didn’t know prior to this CD so they are getting a new life and I have the chance to perform them in a new way because I’ve grown as an artist. I’m hearing audiences sing along with songs I wrote years ago and though were lost forever.
Can you describe your ultimate fantasy gig / performance? Where, with whom are you playing, who is in the audience?
The Muppet Theatre backed by Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. If that’s not possible, any grand theatre will do. I have a dream, a mission really, to put blues in theatres and remove the cliché of the sticky floored bar with a blues band in the corner. I get pretty nervous playing in front of musicians I respect. It’s a by-product of those years as a little kid being invited to sit in. I never felt like I grew up so any of those heroes of mine are welcome but maybe sit at the back. Dr John was at my gig in LA in Jan. Sat in the front row. It’s an honour, but mostly petrifying.
When you listen to music is it pretty much exclusively Blues, or do you love other genres / bands?
Blues is a fundamental stepping stone to all music that came after it and it’s not in a unique position to borrow back from what it helped to create. I tend to listen to ANYTHING but blues music and try to infuse it back into what I do. Any music played well can teach us something so I try to listen to a little of everything.
Lloyd will be playing The Byron Theatre in Byron Bay on Saturday 18 June. Tickets from $25, available here.
Ticket holders who wish to enter contest to win his brand new signature guitar fresh from the workshop (RRP $3299) simply need to fill out an entry form at the box office or merch tent, and drop it into the barrel at the show.