We’re sure that the name, Tom Rafferty, will be familiar to many readers of Blabber’n’Smoke, especially those who appreciate the rockier elements of Americana as opposed to the country element. Since the early 1980’s Rafferty has championed guitar based music on the local scene gaining an international profile via his work with seminal Glasgow garage rockers, The Primevals. Contemporaries of The Cramps and The Gun Club, The Primevals shared influences and stages with both of these bands and continue to perform and record with a ferocity which matches their more youthful efforts. Rafferty was also a founding member of Glasgow’s only “instrumental sixties surf-beat combo,” The Beat Poets, who were infamous for a while for appearing in tartan jackets and bow ties as they plied their Dick Dale influenced raunch. Legend has it that when Link Wray was presented with a copy of their single, Rebel Surf, which featured their natty dress sense on the cover, he was baffled, asking, “These guys are, like, right now?”
The Beat Poets and The Primevals both continue to tread the boards even sharing a bill at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival a while back, a busy weekend indeed for Rafferty. Now, he has announced the release of his first solo album, More Guitars, a selection of guitar instrumentals that was unleashed digitally a few weeks back and is now available on CD. It’s a cracking collection of tunes which obviously showcase his guitar playing skills but it’s not what one might have expected, that is, an album packed with either twangy surf beats or grungy garage rock. There are aspects of both in the mix but overall it’s a much more mixed bag taking in atmospheric mood music and aspects of Mondo Hollywood psychedelia. Intrigued, Blabber’n’Smoke reached out to ask Tom some questions about the album and to ask about some his favourite guitar instrumentals.
First off, you’ve been recording for around 40 years with your bands so why record an album of guitar instrumentals now? Have you been planning this for a while or did you just take a notion?
I’ve been playing and recording instrumentals for many years, so this was initially a way to collect my favourite home recordings of the last couple of years. Once I started that process, listening back and tidying up mixes, I wrote some more tunes and then thought it would be fun to do this as an album. Finally, another set of tunes flowed from that – Ward 9 and High Roller were both written after the first sequence I put together for this album.
I think a lot of folk would expect the album to be all turbo charged high-energy rumbles, sounding like Link Wray meets Dick Dale but that’s not the case. You do open with some weird “slide guitar from Mars” sounds on Glendale while Lumio has some fine twangy guitar and there’s a Stones’ like touch to Crystals, but thereafter it’s a much nuanced affair. What would you say influenced your writing on the tunes here?
That’s a reasonable expectation, for sure! It’s a long story. I’ve been listening to instrumental rock and roll for a long time and playing it in the Beat Poets since ’86. When the Beat Poets started, I was listening almost entirely to instrumental music, finding lost paths of rock and roll history. Dick Dale and Link Wray, of course, but also the Raybeats, Booker T & The MGs, Davie Allan and the Arrows, Jon & The Nightriders, the Strumming Mental series of compilations. That shaped my writing for many years, exploring surf music especially. It’s not easy for me to think of specific influences on this set of tunes- it’s mostly been following the sounds to see where they want to go, then adding some other instruments on top – some Hammond organ, some other guitars.
The writing process is pretty simple – I think of it as taking a guitar sound for a walk. I’ll play for a while, tweaking the vibrato or selecting different pickups, adjusting the drive and then settling on a sound that seems interesting. Then I’ll play guitar with that, looking for some changes that suit the sound. Sometimes a new tune falls off the end of that. Other times, I just make a din for a while. Then, with whatever comes out of that process, some are naturals for The Beat Poets, others are naturals for The Primevals. However, that left me with a bunch of tunes that didn’t have a destination, although when I started collecting them together there was some kind of common thread. It made sense to gather the pick of the bunch
Mata Hari is a great number, really evocative and reminiscent of some great TV theme songs. Do you give much store to non rock’n’roll writers such as Henry Mancini and Ron Grainger who wrote some great ones and do you have a favourite. I’m very partial to John Barry’s The Human Jungle.
Thanks! I love a twangy tune – Joe 90 and all those great TV themes. It’s a great attribute of many TV themes that they are packed with hooks – whether it is a regular piece of melody, a guitar shimmer, or a triangle figure, or a peculiar drum sound. The Beat Poets still play Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) in our live set. I’d probably pick The Munsters as a favourite (and tomorrow it could be Captain Scarlet)
Staying with music to accompany visuals there are some psychedelic flourishes on Easterly while Ward 9 is pretty trippy, sounding like a song from a 60’s Roger Corman soundtrack. What would be your favourite mondo like soundtrack?
Good question! I’d pick Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – partly because I listened to it again after The Wards did a great version of Find It on their new EP. Get Carter is a great soundtrack too – not mondo, but full of singular sounds and great moods.
I presume you played all the guitars, who else can we hear? There’s bass, drums and, I think, keyboards on one number. And how many guitars were deployed in the process?
I played everything – not because I’m a megalomaniac, it was just easier to do it that way. In most cases I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the tunes until I had done it. So I laid down all the guitars, the bass, sequenced the drums, picked some loops. I am a fairly limited keyboard player, but home recording allows me plenty of time to get a take. There’s a bit of Fender Rhodes on Jazzbo and on Easterly, and some Hammond on Blessings and In The Shadows. As for guitars, it was mainly the two pictured on the back sleeve. My 1986 Moon Guitars Strat, “Big Black”, which is a great workhorse, and a DeArmond Starfire (a reissue, not an original 60s model). And, since you asked, I counted it up – I used another nine guitars through the recording process (three of them have since moved on to other homes, you can’t keep them all!)
On One Flew South you manage to get your guitar to sound like a Theremin with a bad cold, how did you manage that?
That particular one was a combination of slow vibrato, delay, fuzz, and adjusting how hard I played until the weird noise coming out of the speakers was the noise I was after. The process overall involved a lot of trial and error, and some lucky mistakes, I remember thinking, “That’s not what I’m looking for now, but I’ll have to take a photo of the pedals and the settings so I can come back to it”
A couple of the numbers, High Roller and Gone Tomorrow in particular, remind me of a band called A Small Good Thing of whom I know very little apart from a tune they had on a compilation album called Guitars On Mars. They kind of summoned up a parched desert feeling so what kinds of mood (if any) were you going for here?
There’s a couple of moods I was aiming for with some of the tunes written as post-sundown surf music, music for chilling out in a beach hut. But Ward 9 and High Roller were both put together with desert thoughts so I’ll have to check out that band A Small Good Thing, thanks for the tip.
The album’s a download at present but I believe you are going to have some hard copies available soon.
Yes, physical copies are now in two of my favourite Glasgow record shops – Monorail and Love Music. Which is sweet, because Sandy who runs Love Music and Stephen who runs Monorail were the guys who ran 53rd & 3rd, the label which put out the first records by The Beat Poets all those years ago. The CD is also available by email direct from me – firstname.lastname@example.org, £6 plus postage.
Finally, aside from anyone we’ve mentioned above who are your favourite guitarists and, if it’s possible, what would be your favourite guitar instrumental album?
Here’s 10 guitarists who I have lifted me up –
Marc Ribot is always surprising, always a left turn, a singular hand.
James Williamson – slamming raw power.
Tom Verlaine – liquidity
Ry Cooder – floating, yet gritty.
Sonny Sharrock (especially Ask The Angels) – rage.
Jimmy Reed – swinging sincerity, great heart.
Hubert Sumlin – righteous blues.
Pops Staples – The Shimmering King, with the deftest touch.
Robert Quine – skronk and fury.
Earl Hooker – astonishing twang and slide.
As for a favourite guitar instrumental album it’s almost impossible – not least because some of my favourite Link Wray and Earl Hooker albums have some tracks with vocals! But here’s a few:
Raybeats – It’s Only A Movie
Link Wray & The Wraymen – Rock’n Roll Rumble (the one with the blue cover, on Charly)
David Torn – What Means Solid, Traveller?
Jon & the Nightriders – Live At The Whisky A Go Go
Earl Hooker – The Genius of Earl Hooker
More Guitars is available on CD from Love Music and Monorail or directly from Tom Rafferty (email@example.com). It’s also available as a digital download here.