Chris Bagarrozi! Here's a fine pic from '95 I think? Just a blur of hands!
The musical history. Chris was very kind to send this to me:
- Claw Hammer - about 1986 until about 1999
- Sacred Miracle Cave - I can't really remember (I was on a lot of drugs at
the time) but it lasted for a year or two from the late 80's till the early
90's and Rob Walther was in the band too. We did a couple singles for SFTRI
and an album for Bomp and a few shows around LA.
- Down By Law - 1991 until 1992. I recorded one album with them and did a US
and European tour then I quit.
- White Flag - no recordings, just a couple shows.
- Midget Handjob - 1999 until now.
And here's where my website starts getting honest-to-god scoops. Chris was very kind enough to answer a million questions I had about his approach to playing the guitar. Here you go! It starts out with specific hardware questions and the general influence stuff is afterwards.
Me: What's your main guitar for rehearsals/live?
Chris: I started out (up until 1996 I think) playing one of three guitars live: a yellow 1960 Gibson Les Paul Jr. with the original p-90 pickup that I broke the headstock off of twice, a black 1975 Les Paul Custom with some kinda Dimarzzio I can't remember the name of because I kept switching them around, and a brown 1964 Les Paul SG, also with a p-90. After I got my Telecaster (when we recorded "Hold Your Tongue") that's all i've used in the studio and live.
Me: Amplifiers - what amps (speakers, cabinets) do you use for playing live?
Chris: I used a 100 watt Marshall through a 4x12 cabinet (everything from 25 - 75
watt Celestion speakers, i was always switching them around) up until 1993 or so and then I
used a 50 watt Fender Bassman head (blackface) through the same cabinet. Since Claw Hammer
stopped playing I've switched to a 1965 Fender Deluxe amp for live and in the studio. The
Deluxe is the best sounding amp i've ever had.
Me: What would you take into the studio?
Chris: I was always fucking around with different guitars in the studio. I never
liked my sound and I was always trying to get something that sounded better. I used all the above
mentioned guitars in the studio plus a bunch of other borrowed or rented ones. Our first
record was mostly a borrowed 70's Gibson SG through a Marshall. "Ramwhale" was I think Brett's
Tom Anderson(?) or something through a Marshall. "Pablum" was my Les Paul Custom through a
Fender Bassman. I think I used one of Jon's Martins through a Silvertone amp on "'Scuse The Excursion." "Thank The Holder-Uppers" was my '64 SG through a Fender Bassman. "Hold Your Tongue" was a '57 Telecaster through some
small old Fender amp. Also on every record I probably used a couple other
guitars for different sounds, etc. I was never really happy until i got the Telecaster, which is
kinda strange because it doesn't really sound anything like the Gibsons. I also realized after awhile that how you
played made way more difference in the sound than what you were using, I think I learned this
from Jon always sounding great no matter what he played.
Me: How would you setup your guitar? Like, what kinds of strings did you use, and did you ever put in different pickups (and what kind)? Do you like heavy or light picks?
Chris: I pretty much only use GHS Boomers, usually .10 gauge but sometimes .11s when I can handle it. I use GHS only because they seem to last the longest, I can't tell the difference in sound
between different brands of strings so i play the ones that break the least! I started out using really heavy picks because I wanted to be like Billy Gibbons but I've used tortex orange colored by Dunlap for the last 12 years.
Me: What about effects?
Chris: Pretty much the only pedals i've used consistently have been a Rat Pro-Co (eighties models)
and a Cry-Baby wah. I used the Rat pedals because they are indestructible,
they sound ok but they don't really sound great. I've had the same two pedals forever. I've
thrown them against walls, kicked them and poured beer on them and they both still work. They
are amazing. Sometimes I used a phase shifter but only when i felt like plugging it in.
Me: How long have you been playing guitar?
Chris: Since i was about 12 years of age, I think.
Me: What guitar players did you really like when you first started playing?
Chris: When I was little I really liked Jeff Beck and I still do. I like a lot of different guitar players but here are the ones that had the
biggest impact on me:
Link Wray - he's astounding.
Les Paul - I didn't get into him until later on but he plays like
Karl Precoda - when i first heard "The Days of Wine and Roses" I freaked out.
Syd Barrett - way underrated as a guitar player.
Verlaine/Lloyd @ Kramer/"Sonic" Smith - both cast long shadows over Claw Hammer. Marquee Moon is breathtaking.
Angus Young - some of the best guitar sounds ever, gives Link Wray a run for his money.
I also love the guitars on every Beefheart record, so all those dudes are
rad too. I stole a lot of shit from Mick Ronson. I really liked dudes like
Manzanera and Paul Rudolph. I love the guitar stuff on the first three Wire
records, the first couple Gang of Four lps... Pere Ubu was always great,
Williamson and Ashton and blah blah blah, i could go on for ever but I won't!
Me: How were the guitar parts orchestrated in Claw Hammer between you and Jon?
Chris: Kind of a hard question to answer. Jon wrote most of the songs and they
usually had basic riffs. Sometimes we would play note for note what Jon brought in or
sometimes we would jam together and come up with stuff on the spot. Sometimes we would elaborate
or slightly change things so it all worked together after Jon showed us the basics. Like say
"Brother Brick" for instance, Jon had a riff that we all followed in our own way. So it's kinda
improvised but it usually followed some structure. To a certain extent the way we sounded was
just sort of how we played together without anybody telling each other what to play. Some of the
stuff Jon and I played came from us having played together for so long and also from the
fact that we both liked a lot of the same things, we were striving for the same feel. Having
to put this into words has just made me realize that much of the original inspiration for
what i played came from what Jon was writing and playing.
Me: How adept would you place yourself regarding playing slide guitar?
Chris: Not very adept at all, but I like playing it. I remember when we recorded
with Dickinson, I was scared shitless because he did a lot of recording with Ry Cooder who's
fucking great at slide and there I was trying not to sound like an idiot. Jim was very kind.
Me: What records, songs or whatever do you throw on the stereo just to listen to the guitar parts?
Chris: I used to put on Gang of Four to hear the guitars. I don't really listen to
stuff just for guitar anymore, though when I was younger I would do that a lot. I guess I
could listen to Jeff Beck just for his playing, the same with Hendrix. I also like Grant Green
and Herb Ellis too. The guitar really has to work with everything else for it to be interesting. For me the sound is as important as what's being played. I will take notice
if the guitar is doing shit i've never heard before, but that doesn't happen too much these
-->one last note: web-formatting this interview made me realize two things - #1) holy fuck, I'm a nosy guy, and #2) Chris Bagarozzi is the most patient man in the world.