I have a confession, and an apology, to make and I feel it needs to be done publicly. About eight months ago I received a CD through the post named ‘Blues Deluxe’. The CD, an instrumental work by a guitarist I had not previously encountered named Ed Dampier, promptly blew my socks off and I was really keen to do an interview – something Ed readily agreed to and we got the thing done back in November… and then it got buried. I could provide a variety of excuses, some more valid than others, but the truth is I messed up and I would like to apologise to Ed and his fans for the tardiness of this article.
That shameful admission out of the way let’s move into happier territory. ‘Blues Deluxe’ is a blinder of an album, a scorching, soulful piece of work that will happily grace the shelf of any fan of intelligent and well played music and Ed’s playing is nothing short of sublime. The man’s technical skill is matched by an innate ability to write to the strengths of each song, augmenting the melodies perfectly rather than just noodling over the top and each composition on the album has its own unique mood and feel whether it is the gorgeous Eric Clapton-style melody of ‘More love, more power’ or the snake-hipped groove of ‘Sidewinder blues’ and there’s no doubt at all that Ed Dampier is both an extraordinary musician and a powerful songwriter.
Yet the number of artists out there making instrumental albums is limited. For sure there are a few big names still making records like this, some with more success than others, but it is a difficult thing to do, requiring both guts and talent and, if we’re honest, it’s an even harder thing to get right with even superstar guitarists often struggling to fill an entire album with only the sound of their unadorned guitar. Ed Dampier has several things going for him, however. Firstly the album is pared to the bone with not a note wasted or riff over-milked. Secondly his aforementioned talent allows him to shift gears between soulful beauty, crunchy rock and swampy blues without breaking a sweat and such is the variety to be found on the album that you’ll never get bored or find yourself waiting for the next track – rather it’s an album to sit back, pop a beer and relax into and it’s never too far from my CD player even after a good eight months of having it in my collection. It’s just one of those records that demands to be played on a regular basis.
So what motivated Ed? How did he come to be so damned good and what influences his writing? Meet Ed Dampier and find out more about one of the UK’s most talented guitarists…
Recording an instrumental album is a brave decision – how do you try to balance technicality versus entertainment?
The aim was always to do a guitar album that somebody could enjoy if they didn’t play guitar themselves. I think the key is to work on the riffs and structures as much as the solos – not to see the song merely as a vehicle for showing off but as something that can stand on its own merits. The reason I push myself technically is not for its own sake but because it enables me to write with a certain freedom creatively – there’s more areas or ideas that are within reach. Actually, when I was writing these songs I originally intended them for a standard band format anyway, but it’s probably natural it ended up being all instrumental. You’d be hard pressed to get vocals to fit with most of the tracks.
One of the things that struck me about your album was the rich variety – from where do you take your influences?
Guitar-wise my main heroes are Jimmy Page and Eric Johnson, but I listen to quite a broad variety of players. The fingerstyle element comes from people like Nick Drake; and at the other end of the spectrum I wanted to incorporate feedback and pure noise, which comes from players like Kevin Shields.
It was watching Glastonbury on TV when I was younger, seeing bands like Blur, Radiohead. I was playing violin at the time but couldn’t get into it, so made the switch to guitar.
You have a very talented band working with you on the album – was the writing a collaborative process or was it you bringing the tracks to the others?
I was really blessed to be working with those guys. I brought the tracks to them in very rough demo form, but then they had free reign to play what they wanted really. I never wanted a bland backing band, and what the guys played took the songs to a different level. It was usually way beyond my original conception.
When you’re writing a track obviously there are no lyrics to work around – what do you use to help inspire the direction of a given track?
I usually find I come up with the initial riff out of nowhere really, and then from that I can visualize what the rest of the track should be like. Sometimes I’m trying to evoke specific things – the chord progression in the chorus of ‘Overture’ is meant to have a classical feel, while the track ‘Archipelago’ has a kind of landscape quality, something Andre enhanced with the storm sounds. Other times I’m just trying to capture something of the artists I love, like with ‘Two Worlds Collide’ which has the Hendrix chord as a strong nod in that direction.
Recently there have been various cases of prodigious guitarists working in a more traditional band format (Joe Satriani – Chickenfoot, Joe Bonamassa in Black county communion) – would you ever consider working in that way or do you prefer to let your guitar do the talking?
I’d definitely consider it although I feel the instrumental stuff is the fullest expression of what I can achieve on guitar. I’ve actually just done an E.P. for a band project called Dusso and the Holy Smokes, which is more pop-orientated but still has a psychedelic feel. I wrote the riffs on a cover of ‘L.A. Woman’ by The Doors, which gives you an idea of my sound in a band context.
The bulk of the recording was done in one week back in May 2008, but then I spent over a year going over certain parts I didn’t manage to get down in that time. The song structures were all mapped out in advance but there was room for spontaneity regarding the individual parts and the interplay between the musicians. Often what would happen is that I’d plan out various riffs and lead parts but then find they didn’t work with the way the track was developing with drums and bass, and have to come up with something new.
How often do you practice guitar? – It must take a lot of time to get to your level of playing?
I’ve been playing around 12 years now. I play every day but don’t have a set practice regime…never could hack the whole 8 hours a day Steve Vai thing! I think it’s just a case of enjoying playing and never letting up; I’m still pushing myself to improve now in certain areas.
When might we see some live shows across the country?
I’m putting together a live set at the moment. They’ll definitely be a show in London in the early part of next year which I’ll be filming to get some Youtube footage, and then hopefully some more dates following that.
What are your ambitions for the future? Can we hope for another album soon?
I’m writing new tracks as we speak. There will be another album I’m sure but you might have to wait a while yet…
Find out more about Ed Dampier at his website here.