KIRK FLETCHER: THE 2020 AUSTRALIAN TOUR INTERVIEW
Acclaimed soulful, blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher is returning to Australia next February to play a series of gigs. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Kirk on the phone to chat about his career, the current album Hold On and the upcoming tour.
In any band-friendly venue in any town in any developed country, chances are there’s a blues guitar player due to hit their stage at sometime soon in the future. The blues transcends race and language and we can all relate to the heart and soul of the genre. With such an overabundance of blues guitarists in the world, to stand out from the rest you’ve got to be really, really good. LA-based guitarist, singer, songwriter, performer Kirk Fletcher is undoubtedly one of the finest exponents of blues guitar with a playing style which features incredible fluidity and fire, yet there’s a sincerity and warmth which touches you deep inside too. Add Kirk’s soulful vocals, his amiable, laid-back nature and you’ve got a performer who is rapidly rising to the top of the heap.
“I don’t know if I am at the top of the pile but really I don’t think about it much,” Kirk tells me. “I feel like I have my own story to tell and the more I can develop as a singer and songwriter and use the guitar inside a song, I think that people can relate to that. I think that is the thing that separates me from maybe other people. I’m not saying I’m better or anything just saying I’d be different.”
Kirk developed an eclectic music taste early in life, beginning with a love of gospel music, which he heard and played in his father’s church as a child. He further broadened his musical palette through his guitar playing brother’s record collection and a stockpile of guitar magazines.
“I learned how to play guitar in my father’s church when my older brother got me started playing and I was just trying to play like him,” says Kirk while recollecting his past. “I tried to play the licks that he was playing and the way he would play songs in church, the way he held the guitar pick and his choice of guitar and pedals, all that stuff I got from him. Plus he had all the guitar player magazines, the records, so he was a great inspiration. I owe him a lot. As I got older I was listening to what was on MTV but also having this gospel thing. A Kirk Fletcher week would be gospel music, everything from The Dixie Hummingbird style to listening to Prince, Jesse Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan to BB King, Bobby Bland, Lightin’ Hopkins and all that kind of stuff. A whole mixture of anything I thought was good.”
It didn’t take long for the word to get around that Kirk Fletcher was a guitar player of note and before long he found himself sharing the stage with luminaries such as Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton and Hubert Sumlin. Fletcher also went on to play with the legendary Fabulous Thunderbirds and Charlie Musselwhite, artists he learned a great deal from.
“You learn so many things because they are so experienced and they have been out there and they have seen it all,” Kirk says. “Also they came up in a different time so they would tell me stories about how it used to be, things to look out for, things that they enjoy places that they enjoy. Plus visiting some of those places, I got to enjoy them too, the food, music, records, how to be a man and stand up for myself, all those things I learned because I was in my late teens, early 20s when I started playing with those guys.”
Despite releasing several albums since his debut in 1999, Kirk labels his current record Hold On as his first real solo album. It’s the first time that he has written and arranged all of the material himself, apart from a little assistance on a couple of tracks. It was recorded in the UK with his European band, Jonny Henderson on organ and bass with Matt Brown on drums. “I have this musical connection with these two musicians, Johnny and Matt, who will be on tour with me when I come to Australia. We just had an immediate musical connection. I did a gig with them at the Bristol Jazz Festival a few years ago and it was so easy and simple and straight forward, that whole connection continued on the record. It was definitely the easiest record I have ever made and the most fun and rewarding.”
As well as having Johnny And Matt in the studio, Kirk also featured Australian singers Jade Macrae and Mahalia Barnes on backing vocals on the album. “Yes, they are absolutely on the album, my sisters,” he tells me enthusiastically. “We were doing a tour with Joe Bonamassa, the Three Kings tour a couple of years ago when I met them. Just the whole Mahalia Barnes family, we just hit it off instantly like sisters and brothers, so it was a great thing. I really couldn’t see myself recording a new record without having those girls on there.”
In regard to recording his guitar parts, Kirk is an old school kinda guy who likes to capture his solos early. For the most part, he used a Telecaster, a Tweed style amp, with 50s type circuitry, a little boost and a bit of reverb to arrive at his tone. “Well I usually just do solos on the fly,” he says. “I don’t really overdub guitar solos. I don’t usually fix things. If on the first or second take, there is a problem, or not quite getting the feel I want, I might fix something but usually, I am more of a one-two or take guy, especially If I am playing something in my comfort zone. If I am playing chords to someone else’s song, maybe I will take longer because I don’t know the song or something but I really just like to let it rip right there on the spot.”
“I like to mic up amps. I’m not scared of technology or anything but for me, I like a bit of air and a bit of fun and the way the guitar reacts through the amplifier. I actually had the amplifier sitting right next to me on a chair, right next to the guitar. I had never recorded like that before. It was right there on the chair and the whole guitar reacts differently when it is that close to the amplifiers. You can get sustain on any note. It was a lot of fun.”
On the road, Kirk’s gear varies slightly but the same ethos applies. “A lot of times recently in the last couple of years there have been a lot of fly in, fly out dates and things like that. I usually get a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe with 2×12 and some kind of reverb pedal and a Vemuram Jan Ray pedal for a boost and that’s pretty much it. I usually like the guitar and the amp to do most of the tone. I can pretty much get the tone from my hands the way I play.”
Kirk Fletcher has been to Australia many times before and is looking forward to returning with a tour starting in Sydney on February 6th.
“Australia is amazing. Australia is one of the first places I ever went on tour and I fell in love with it, had a wonderful time with the people and just the whole vibe. The cool laid back thing, even more so than LA and I’m from LA so I really connected with Australia. I have been back quite a few times and I have always had a wonderful time with great crowds and I always meet somebody new that is amazing. There is always such amazing music in Australia too. It will be me and the guys I had on the record, Jonny Henderson on organ and bass and our drummer Matt Brown. We’ll be a trio and it will be fun. We have been playing a lot together in the last few years so it should be a well-oiled machine.”
Kirk plans to dedicate much of the time before coming to Australia to creating his next studio album, which he hopes to have done by the time he gets here. In regard to the grand plan, he’d like to collaborate more and just wants to continue to do what he’s doing and get better at it!
“I think the plan is just to become a better songwriter and sing better, maybe even collaborate with people outside of the blues genre. I look at people like Ry Cooder and John Scofield and people like that. They’re into what they do but they don’t mind doing other stuff, you know like John Scofield and Jon Cleary or Ry Cooder doing the Cuban thing, so that is really exciting to me. I love all types of music but I will always have the blues as my base and my language.”
KIRK FLETCHER 2020 AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Thursday 6th February
The Factory, SYDNEY
105 Victoria Rd, Marrickville
Friday 7th February
31 Morehead Rd, Lambton
Saturday 8th February
The Abbey, CANBERRA
O’Hanlon Place, Nicholls
Sunday 9th February
Way Out West, MELBOURNE
4 Market St, Newport
Wednesday 12th February
Caravan Music Club, MELBOURNE
1 Victor Rd, Bentleigh East
Thursday 13th February
Lighthouse Theatre, WARRNAMBOOL
185 Timor St, Warrnambool
Friday 14th February
The Gov, ADELAIDE
59 Port Rd, Hindmarsh
- Josie Morrison