it possible to have too much guitar goodness on one CD? Well, Texicalli
guitar ace Mike Vernon breaks through the outer limits with
the much anticipated new album from his band 3 Balls Of Fire.
Entitled Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific,
the twelve track CD features a range of new Vernon originals played
by Vernon and his long time drummer Dusty Watson, with several
guest artists, in the deepest spirit of fretboard greats like Jerry
Cole, The Sandals and the 1960s era sound of The Ventures to
name a few. Of course Vernons major and ongoing California influences
wont preclude him from summoning up the strategically mounted
L.A. twinge of Burt Bacharachs My Little Red Book,
done instrumentally. A 3BOF cover of A.C. Jobims Wave,
done L.A. style with a nod to both Creed Taylor and Chet Atkins, sets
a new barre for the song. Cool as the covers are, its on these
new 3 Balls Of Fire originals where Burnin Mike Vernon
gets things rolling. Clearly, on his own songs Vernon takes his guitar
instrumental thing to the max, a factor noticeable on a track such
as Lost And Found, which just tears into a new breed of
spy-surf guitar instrumental. Vernon cites guitar genres aplenty among
his influencesfrom instro Texas twang to spy/surf, lounge, exotica,
space-age, crime jazz and 1960s Hollywood soundtracksthat coalesce
into a true guitar lovers paradise. One could say that the new 3 Balls
Of Fire CD borders on a new genre called progressive
surf-rock fusion. Several tracks written for independent Hollywood
movie productions feature synth keyboard sounds doubled for orchestration
while others are sheer lounge exotica. Speaking of which, a new 3BOF
cover of the John Barry classic From Russia With Love
is yet another highlight here. Somewhere in heaven James Bond is smiling
down on Mike Vernon. The CD closing Guitar City is just
that and sounds like an out take from a 1960s Morricone flavored,
twangy Texas style spaghetti western soundtrack, although Mike claims,
instrumental or not, that its more influenced by The Byrds and
Keith Moon! As has been witnessed, thanks to his writing liner notes
about American guitar instrumental pioneer Jerry Cole for the U.K.
based Ace Records reissue label, Vernon is a musicologist of the highest
order so he knows the value of our collective rock instrumental guitar
culture. With the release of Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific,
Mike Vernon and 3 Balls Of Fire raise the stakes with a veritable
60s style, generation spanning guitar classic. www.3BallsOfFire.com
mwe3.com presents an interview
Mike Vernon of 3 BALLS OF FIRE
mwe3: The new 3 Balls Of Fire CD, Somewhere On The Deep Blue
Pacific is a masterpiece. Where does the CD find you musically
and compositionally in 2013? How does Somewhere On The Deep Blue
Pacific compare to your earlier CD releases?
VERNON: Well, thanks. Ive been a little too close to it
to be able to consider it a masterpiece, but I appreciate the compliment!
Overall, Id say that I leaned a bit closer to my jazz side this
time out. Although I dont consciously try and mix styles together,
I think that several of the songs on Somewhere On The Deep Blue
Pacific intertwine styles such as surf, crime-jazz, soundtrack,
space-age, lounge, blues and Texas twang... and hopefully in a seamless
I think it holds up real well with the past 3 Balls Of Fire releases.
I dont record albums unless I think the songs are going to be
real good... whats the point? Im under no contract or
have any deadlines to do these projects so I do what I want to do
and when I want to do it! I love that kind of freedom and I think
its the reason 3 Balls Of Fire recordings still hold their own,
going all the way back to 1988.
mwe3: Who plays with you on Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific,
how long did it take to write and record the album and who else
was instrumental in making the album during the recording and mastering,
and the art work stages?
MIKE VERNON: Dusty Watson plays drums on all but three tracks
and all of the percussion. As you know, Dusty is probably THE surf
drummer of our time and is known for his work with Dick Dale, Agent
Orange and Slacktone, to name just a few. Were good friends
and had been talking about recording together for a long time. Now
that Im spending most of my time in L.A., it made it much easier
to do... It wouldnt be the same record without his strong contribution.
We recorded three tracks back in 2009 and I didnt get back to
recording until last year. But most of the real work was done in January
to March of this year at A Fuller Sound in the L.A. area. My pal,
Ted Hamer played the cool piano on From Russia With Love
and Wave and Bobby Girnius played drums on a couple of
tracks also. Ted James at Deep Eddy Records in Austin, Texas released
it, as with most of 3 Balls Of Fire recordings, and I picked out the
artwork from an artist online site.
mwe3: The leadoff track on Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific,
Blue Beat and the tracks Loaded and Beach
Balls hark back to your Texas roots. Can you say something
about those tracks, the guitars that you played on them and how does
the Texas influence tie into from where and when you were born, where
you grew up in Texas and what Texas guitarists and artists and music
were most influential to you and why?
MIKE VERNON: Well, those tracks are all based on blues progressions
and all have a looseness and down in the groove feel. Thats
a Texas thing and is a hard style to imitate unless you grew up around
it, I think. My first band was in Arlington, Texas in 1969 when I
was 15 and all the bands, even if they were psychedelic, always played
blues in one way or the other. So, Ill never get away from it...
its just there!
I played my 1982 Stratocaster on all of the tracks, which was the
first year they made the reissues and mine is a 1957 reissue. I love
the Stratocaster because it is the most versatile guitar in my opinion.
You can get lots of varied sounds out of them but you always know
that its a Strat! I played my Dan Electro Hoedad baritone guitar
on Loaded, Russia and Beach Balls
and I also played a cheap acoustic guitar on Lotus Song
and a Jerry Jones electric sitar on Space: 2067. I played
my 1969 Kent hollow body bass on all the tracks except Russia,
which Doug Snyder played a standup bass on.
There are SO many great Texas guitarists who have influenced me, both
gone and still alive. Where do I start? T Bone Walker, Albert Collins,
Freddie King, Cornell Dupree, Billy Gibbons, the Vaughan brothers,
Denny Freeman, Omar Dykes, U.P. Wilson, John X. Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins,
Johnny Winter, Eric Johnson, Jesse Taylor and on and on. And all the
great country artists like Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, Junior Brown,
.saxophonists like Clifford Honkey Tonk
Scott and Bobby Keys. Rockers like Roy Orbison, Roy Head, Bill Haley,
Roky Erikson. And Edgar Winters first LP, Entrance in 1970
blew my mind with its jazz and blues themes. So many influential Texan
songwriters and players in my head
I cant even start to
list all of em!
mwe3: The second track on Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific,
Space 2067 is great and it almost sounds like a TV
show theme from the 1960s. What inspired Space 2067 and
can you say something about the guitars you feature on that track?
VERNON: Thanks, I like it a lot also! Again, its all on
my Stratocaster with the Jerry Jones electric sitar. I think the verses
are a kind of nod to George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. The sitar sounds
that George got from the India influence, through Shankar, really
blew my mind when I was growing up with the Beatles all over the charts..
I was and still am really enamored with that Eastern sound and mystical
melodies, so thats where that probably came from. The main theme,
which we vamped on at the end, comes from my idea of a 1960s-era,
sci-fi flick. I really loved those themes from both the big and not-so-big
budget sci-fi films from the 1960s and 70s. So yeah, you
hit it on the head Robert!
mwe3: How would you compare living in L.A. now with your Texas
roots? It sounds like you were not only influenced by Texas guitar
greats but also by the famous surf-rock sounds of the West Coast such
as The Ventures, Dick Dale, The Sandals and more. Sounds like youve
arrived with a true Texacalli instro sound!
MIKE VERNON: Hmmm
I like the Texacalli description! Can
I steal that? Yeah, well the Texas twang and the west coast surf sound
have collided head on, thats for dang sure! As far as my everyday
life here goes compared to living in Texas and Austin, in particular,
it certainly has its differences. For one thing, Im too old
for all that stifling, humid Texas heat that usually goes on for at
least 6 months. It gets kinda hot here in LA at times, but not like
Texas and when it does, at least it cools off at night with the ocean
breeze. I also dig being in L.A. with all the people from all over
the world and the restaurants they own! Having said that, I do love
my great lifelong friends and family in Texas and Ill probably
be back for good some day... you never know.
mwe3: You really got it right on the tracks Lost &
Found which is just brilliant song writing and arranging and
Theme That Never Was, which sounds like math-surf and
which you say were written as film music soundtrack music that may
or may not be used for a future movie. You mentioned you would also
like to work with an string orchestra in the future. What guitars
are you using on those tracks and how does Dusty Watson compliment
that song? Has there ever been an orchestral surf album from the US?
lol I guess the Shadows did a lot of those sweeping string sounds
on their early stuff.
VERNON: Thanks, Im real fond of Lost & Found
also! Actually, I wrote the opening arpeggio guitar riff when I was
16 or 17 in Arlington I sat on it for 40 years! I tried, but never
could find what to do with it until a couple of years ago when I came
up with the rest in one hour! The heavy distorted guitar is my Strat
blowing on 11 through a double Marshall stack. Almost everything else
on the album was recorded through my 1970 Vibrolux Reverb. On Theme
its pretty old also. I wrote the middle part when I was
studying Spanish Guitar at University Texas El Paso when I was 20
and the other parts around the same time. I stuck em together
a few years ago and you are correct again... the result is a mathematical
but somehow magical marriage of those disparate parts. I played the
keyboard strings on both songs as they both begged for that lush,
1960s Hollywood groove goin' on. I think there is a band from
Scandinavia that made an orchestral surf guitar record but I have
never heard it. I dont remember the band name but heard that
it was a real cool album. And Dusty kicks ass! He is so musical, which
isnt always easy to find in a drummer. He knows what sounds
good and can play anything that you throw at him! He is one of the
best drummers I have ever played with!
mwe3: What made you dig out My Little Red Book
which I still cant believe was written by Burt Bacharach. (lol)
But now that I hear your version I can almost picture Dionne Warwick
singing a more pop slanted version. How about the guitars on that
track and what effects enhance the sonic edge of the guitars?
MIKE VERNON: I remember hearing the Manfred Mann version from
Whats New Pussycat? just before Love recorded it. Of
course, Love had the hit but the fact is that they really chopped
up the song and put in wrong chords and such. Dont get me wrong
I really dig it but the Manfred Mann version is how Bacharach actually
wrote it and it is full of Bacharachisms. Again, its all
on the Strat... one track with the fuzz box and another through a
Leslie cabinet and one just straight through the amp. My goal was
to mix in Love, Manfred Manns and my own twist on one of my
favorite pop songs ever.
mwe3: Somewhere On The Pacific, the title track
almost sounds like The Byrds a bit. I detected a definite Crosby-esque
feel in the haunting melody. How about the guitars you play on that
MIKE VERNON: Yeah, Ive always loved Crosbys chords
and grooves so I take that as a real compliment. His If I Could
Only Remember My Name LP from 1971 blew me away with his big chords
and tones. If I had a big-ass Gretsch I would have played it on that
song but I played the Strat through a Fender reverb tank. I think
it came out sounding pretty good though.
Speaking of cover songs, you do a great job on the CD cover of From
Russia With Love. How influential was John Barry on you and
his influence on the entire guitar and specifically the guitar based
surf-rock scene? You cant go wrong with a John Barry cover!
What other Barry tracks do you think are fundamental to guitar players
and what soundtracks are your Barry favorites? I was amazed that your
version was greatly influenced by Count Basies album Basie
Does Bond... who knew Count did an album of Bond covers! Ted Hamer
does a great piano solo on your version by the way.
MIKE VERNON: Oh yeah, John Barry rules! I also do Goldfinger
and On Her Majestys Secret Service live. Hes
one of the all-time greats in my opinion. His compositions are just
too cool and totally epic! Most surf guitarists play a Barry number
at one time or the other, for sure. I would say that the big guitar
lick that Vic Flick plays on Barrys 007 Theme is
probably pretty fundamental to any guitarist's book of hooks! Lotta
rhyming goin' on there! (lol) I encourage everyone to to get their
hands on the fabulous Basie Does Bond LP from the 1960s.
I also have a single by Al Caiola doing From Russia With Love
with his vibrato guitar and orchestra. So, I fused both of those into
what you hear on the album. Ted Hamer is amazing and is now playing
regularly with 3 Balls Of Fire. Having his piano and organ just brings
the whole sound way up. Not bad for an Englishman!
mwe3: Speaking of amazing covers on your new album, your version
of Wave is great. Its very underrated as a guitar
instrumental. What makes the song work so great in any number of versions?
Orchestral strings, the Jobim trademark song from the A&M abum,
the one with vocals (Astrid Gilberto still kills) and now as a surf-wave
guitar instrumental? How about the guitars you played on that track?
How about other favorite Jobim songs that you might want to guitar
instrumentalize in the future? I always loved Mojave personally
with its very linear melody...
VERNON: Yes, Mojave is really cool and would like
to do that one also. I recorded Ipanema on our Friday
Night At Egos Lounge CD from 1999 and also have played Corcavado,
Desafinado and Meditation live. Wave
is such a timeless piece of work by one of the great composers of
the 20th century. Everything he wrote is great, really. I just assumed
that some other surf guitar band has recorded it also but dont
think Ive ever heard anyone else in the surf guitar world record
mwe3: How about your first guitars? Can you remember your first
guitar and what guitars are you most likely to record and perform
with these days? What strings and amps are you using and recording
MIKE VERNON: My first guitar was my Dads big-ass shit-kicking
Kay acoustic guitar. It had a BIG sound and I played simple chords
on it, barely! It wasnt till years later that I figured out
that the neck had warped a long time ago and the strings were so high
that it made my fingers bleed to play it. My next guitar was a Silvertone
acoustic and my first bass was the Kent hollow body. First amp was
a Decca bass amp which I also played guitars through. I now use either
GHS Boomers or DAddario's 12 gauge. Ive got a few
Strats I mainly use and am getting ready to buy a Gretsch Tennessee
Rose for my jazzier and Chet Atkins sounds.
mwe3: How would you compare the influences on your guitar playing
of The Ventures, Duane Eddy, The Shadows, Link Wray, The Sandals,
Dick Dale and others. What composers made the biggest impact on you
MIKE VERNON: All those guys you mention, plus The Fireballs
and the surf guitar bands from that era have greatly influenced me,
both compositionally and on the guitar. Ive had the honor of
playing live and touring with Link Wray, Nokie Edwards and Bob Spaulding
of The Ventures, George Tomsco of The Fireballs, Jerry Cole and a
few others and they all have had a huge impact on my playing and writing!
Not to mention their impact as gentlemen and professionals...
Composers such as Morriconi, John Barry, Burt Bacharach, The Beatles,
Brian Wilson, Roy Orbison have all blown me away. The great Spanish
guitar composers, Villa-Lobos, Manuel Ponce, Rodrigo have all meant
a lot to me also. A lot of guys use songs as a vehicle for their guitar
playing but to me its all about the song. The guitar in a song
is only as good as the song as far as Im concerned.
How about the track Guitar City? Im surprised you
didnt call the album Guitar City... lol Its
a perfect name for an album like this and its also a great way
to end the CD. You mention the Byrds influence and I also detect a
kind of Sandals / John Blakeley influence. Are you familiar with Blakeley?
What guitars are on that song?
MIKE VERNON: Well, I was going to call it Guitar City
but changed my mind one day when looking at the Pacific Ocean from
Santa Monica Pier area. Not familiar with Blakeley but really like
the Sandals' soundtrack to Endless Summer. Its all on
the Strat with one of the tracks through an octave pedal which I dialed
in to sound a little like a 12-string. I just piled on several guitar
mwe3: Being the guitar musicologist you are, what are some
of your most influential guitar albums ever? Are there some really
obscure albums that have disappeared through the cracks or artists
that you can tell us about? Also can you say something about your
work with ACE Records in the UK producing those great reissue CDs
by the late great Jerry Cole? How did you become involved with those
and how many albums have you written liner notes for and produced
as well? Any upcoming archival projects?
MIKE VERNON: There are a lot of guitar albums that influenced
me so Ill just mention a few. Guitar Forms by Kenny Burrell
with Gil Evans is a masterpiece. Spanish Guitar by John Williams,
Hendrixs The Cry Of Love, all the Jerry Cole records,
Big Surf by The Sentinels, Rough And Ready by Jeff Beck,
any albums by Oscar Aviles from Peru, Link Wrays recordings,
Billy Mures Super Sonic Guitars series... and thats
just a short list!
done several projects for Ace Records, three by Cole including a hot
rod, à go-go and a psychedelic album. And then a tribute album
to The Fireballs with The Ventures, Shadows, my band and others. Also,
The Animated Egg double LP for Sundazed, which was one of Jerrys
psych projects. Also working on another Cole project The
Inner Sounds Of The Id album on RCA from 1967. I found the original
tapes and Sundazed is going through those now. Hopefully will be released
later this year.
I got hooked up with Ace when I was playing in London with George
Tomsco of The Fireballs. They are great people to work with and so
are the people at Sundazed Music in New York. I love doing that stuff
and its a way to pay my respect to the artists contributions
and bring back some overlooked, forgotten and very cool guitar music.
mwe3: What about future plans as far as writing, recording
and producing new album releases? How about film work in the future?
Where is the music world going and in fact where is the whole world
going these days in your opinion? Can guitar music still save the
VERNON: I dont know if it can save the world but it sure
has saved me! Im so out of touch with whats going on with
the music industry that I cant really comment on it or speculate
on where its going. Right now, Im just happy to have a
great version of 3 Balls of Fire here in L.A. and am happy to have
the new album out. I have no hard plans for the future but have been
thinking for some time about making a solo guitar album... no drums,
just guitars on some original songs and Spanish guitar compositions
by some of my favorite composers of the genre.
Thanks to Mike Vernon @ www.3BallsOfFire.com