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Wayne Perkins

Wayne Perkins: A Lifetime on Six Strings

by Roxane Crutcher
December 1999

Wayne, could you give the readers of the interview a brief review of your music background?

I guess you could say that I came by it "Honestly." Both my parents played guitar before they'd ever known each other. Therefore, music was always a big part of their lives. Hence, it would turn out the same with about half of their offspring. I am the oldest of six children with one brother (who is a "world class" drummer) and then four sisters that all sing and are "great artists" of one kind or another. I guess I started playing guitar about the age 6 and by age 10, I could pick up anything tune it and play it! At this point, Dad was in one ear with Hank Williams and Jimmy Rogers and Mom was in the other ear with Jackie Wilson and Clyde McPhater and a few other choice black records. While Dad was at work, she and I would Jitterbug-n-Bop to "That Forbidden Music"! You will have to remember that this was 1957 through about 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama and things were a little tense here to say the least. Bull Conner made it tough on everybody and we did not go downtown much with all the tension in the atmosphere. This brings us to the next question.

At what age did you know that you were hooked to become a musician and how did you know that you wanted to become a musician?

I think that I was somewhere around the age of 10 or 12 when I decided that music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life! In addition, if you'll remember at this time the whole world was in chaos, Gov. Wallace and His Grand Standing, President Kennedy was assassinated and the thing I needed most of all "The British Invasion"! At age 12 or 13, I remember the former things did have a devastating impact but nothing compared to "the Beatles and the Stones". The loss of John Kennedy was like losing a brother and as you heard people say, "I know right where I was and can tell you just what I was doing". Well I could too but, the Beatles, Stones, Animals, all the other creatures from across the sea seemed to "make it better" or mask it over like a "big band aid", pardon the pun. To finish the question, I remember going through a couple of "pawn shop specials" that had many knobs and switches on them but sounded like crap. Hey, at this point, I had no reason to complain. I was getting to go out and practice music with a few guys; that wanted to put a band together and I was very happy about that. So as the music, changed and got better and more sophisticated players would be dropped and it was always Tommy and me plus the next round of guys. Then we started playing high school dances and parties, where I discovered that the girls really liked you if you could play, sing and had long hair. Nevertheless, all of that changed when "they" went back to school; it was back to the JOX. I had a "run of bad luck" in school because of my obsession with music and no one believed I'd ever do anything in music but me, even if it meant sacrificing everything! Therefore at 16 years old, I dropped out of school and went on my way into the night-lights of downtown Birmingham and boy did I like it. I started running into some real players and jamming with them. A guy named Dale Carr took me under his wing "so to speak"; and said "come on home with me, we're gonna steal from each other". So on the way to his house he reached in his pocket and pulled out this funny looking little pill and said "here take this, it will make you play better or at least think you can. So I did and I could and started playing circles around the local boys. I played in those clubs for years in 3 or 4 different bands until about 1969. When I was coming off stage at an outdoor gig, the band had just split up {over a red head I think} and ran into a drummer friend of mine leaving for Muscle Shoals that night. He said, "what are you doing" I said "nothing now, what you got in mind" and he said "a studio gig, we need a guitar player in Muscle Shoals and it pays $100.00 a week. I said, "can we go by Charlie's so I can get my stuff". He said, "let's go" and the rest as they say is history.

Tell us about your adventures in Nashville?

Nashville, Hum, I'll tell you about my first time in Nashville. I was taken to Nashville by a dear friend named Donnie Fritts who introduced me to a man named Kris Kristoffeson whom I'd never heard of but, Donnie wanted me to hear some of this guy's songs. So I went with him to some hotel to rendezvous with Kris and wait for time to go to this session at Monument Recording Studio. First, we had to go meet a man named Bob Beckham and then we were off to the studio. Well, it was the strangest session I'd ever been in; the place was huge but totally dark except for two lights. Those were coming off the mixing board and the one on Kris' music stand so he could see the words. I never knew if this was a master or a demo session because I leaned over to Fritz and said, "What's going on man this guy can't sing". Donnie handed me a joint and said "just kick back and listen". I think what he was trying to tell me in a nice way was to shut the hell up before we get thrown out of here. Well I did what he said and all of a sudden I heard "The Silver Tongued Devil" and I then "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and by the third hit, I was speechless. I finally got it; I was knee deep in genius like Dylan, Joni Mitchel, and Stevie Wonder. The kind you can only count on one hand if you cut off two fingers! Anyway, thank you Fritz and Kris.

Could you tell us how you came to know Eric Clapton and do you still stay in contact?

I met Eric in Tulsa at Leon Russell's house when he came to see Carl Radle and to get Carl to help him put a new group together. As far as staying in touch, well, he and I have kept running into each other over the years but, although I do consider him a friend, we're not in close contact. In fact, the last time I saw Eric was the "No Tears in Heaven" tour. He was happy to see me, gave me a big hug and we spoke briefly then they left. I couldn't imagine the pain he must have been in after losing his son. Being the father of 2 boys, I don't know how he maintained a tour. Then again, maybe it was the best medicine.

What type of musical equipment do you use?

ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING! Every song is different and calls for a different sound or effect. So I try to color the song with the right sounds based on what the words say as well as the tempo. If you have ears, the song will always tell you what it needs!

Could you tell everyone about fulfilling one of your dreams in life?

Well, this goes back to Eric Clapton and Leon Russell and Glynn Johns. My life's dream was to play guitar with the "Biggest Rock N Roll Band in the World" and thanks to those three gentleman, they helped make it come true. I'd worked with Leon for a couple of years and with Glynn on a "Georgie Fame Album" in Tulsa at the Church Studios where we did a lot of recording. Therefore, I had 2 thumbs up from Leon and Glynn. So when I was in Kingston with Eric and all of my friends from Tulsa, it was mentioned around the breakfast table one morning that Mick Taylor had left the Stones and I asked Eric if they'd found anyone yet and he said "I don't think so". So I said, hey put in a phone call for me" and he did! That's how I ended up on "Black n Blue" and a life's dream came true.

What did you think of the sound of Bob Marley and the Wailers? Also, tell the readers what album(s) you have contributed to and in what capacity?

The name of the "Bob Marley" album I was on was his first one called "Catch a Fire". It was in 1972, when I lived in London and was touring with my own group. I ran into Chris Blackwell in the Hallway of Island Records and he asked if I'd like to come downstairs and overdub on some reggae music. I had never heard of it {just like the rest of the world} so I said "sure, what kind of guitar do you want and he said you know that southern rock thing you play" I said all right, just let me know when you need me. Therefore, I went downstairs later on to meet Bob and the Wailers. It was a smoke filled room full of Rasta's and I couldn't find the first beat of this weird music to save my life. Chris said "forget the bass he's a melody guy, the bass drum and snares on the 2 and 4 and the keyboards are on the up beat", does that make it clearer for you? I said "we'll see" but I didn't know if I should catch a bus or build a bomb shelter! Anyway, the first thing they played was "Concrete Jungle" and on about the third take I hit "The Solo". Bob came running out there trying to cram this giant spiff in my mouth and I didn't understand one thing he'd said. I just knew he was pretty happy. The second song was "Stir it Up" and I did that overdub with a great keyboard player friend of mine named John "Rabbit" Bundrick. And we took turns playing the solos. I think we played "Rock it Baby" the same way. Anyway by the end of the night I was "well schooled" in reggae music!

I would like to know about Leon Russell and what you have done with him?

I met Leon Russell in Muscle Shoals when he came down there to record the "Leon and the Shelter People" album. Carl Radle had to leave; I covered his bases for a few days, and played guitar on one song I think. I did however take "Don Prestos" place when he quit in 1973 and stayed with him for about a year and a half. I played a world tour and also worked with "The Gap Band" when he hired them. I filmed a "Midnight Special" with him in 1974 and did some studio work for Shelter. I toured the world a second time with him and filled up the last page of my passport. I have a few stories that would curl your hair, maybe I should write a book.

Could you tell us about your time at Muscle Shoals?

I started out in Muscle Shoals and have been in and out of there my whole life. It seems like it's some sweet thing on the side that I Just Can't Stay away from! Memphis has a similar but darker feeling to it. But, in my humble opinion "Muscle Shoals has more soul than any place on the planet". In Muscle Shoals, I got to work with Lonnie Mack, Percy Sledge, Bobby Womack, Albert King, Joe Cocker, The Oak Ridge Boys, Ronnie Milsap, Delbert McClinton, John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Levon Helm, Millie Jackson, Billy Burnette, Lou Ann Barton, Jimmy Vaughn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, McGuinn/Hillman, Don Nix, Bonnie Bramlett, Bob Seger, Frankie Miller, Glenn Frey; God knows I'm forgetting. Only in L.A. or New York could you ever work with such a wide variety of great artists. To answer your question, that is how I spent a lot of my time in Muscle Shoals!

I would love to hear about your release from 1995 entitled "Mendo Motel."

I was in Nashville from 1991 through 1993 when that hard freeze crippled the city and Jamie Webber {Lonnie's friend and manager} invited me out to California to "air out" and soak up some redwoods. I took him up on it and moved out to "Mendocino" long for Mendo. It's about 3 hours above San Francisco on the north coast 10 miles below Ft Bragg. He offered me a bike and said get lost come back when you feel like it. So I got on that bike and road through the redwoods and wrote the CD "Mendo Hotel", This is a metaphor for mending or healing yourself. Some of my best work ever.

Are you currently working on any musical projects?

I am now working on another CD and also a discography of all of the best stuff that I've played on over the last 30 years and short stories to go along with the situations, sort of a "behind the scenes" look into those sessions from my point of view. It should take a while but I hope will prove worth it to the interested music historian. I am also working on getting a web site together so you can find my CDs in the very near future.

Buy Wayne Perkins' Ramblin' Heart at AMAZON.COM

And what can expect to see from Wayne Perkins in the future?

I hope that a better CD than the last one and if all goes well maybe a European Tour.

Is there anything else you would like the readers to know about Wayne Perkins?

I've been more places and done more things than most people will ever dream of doing in their lifetime. But, I still don't feel like I've "Hit the Mother Load" just yet. I don't know what the future holds; but I'm writing, playing and singing better than I ever have in my life and I believe people are going to be surprised to discover the "Artist behind the Guitar Player"!

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