Watson's Riddle Featuring Chuck Leavell


Best known for their extensive jazz catalog, Palmetto breaks new ground distributing the 2011 CD from South Carolina based Watson’s Riddle. A solid studio set of new music featuring like-minded superstar players—including guitar ace Steve Watson, Marshall Tucker drummer Paul T. Riddle, bass player Tim Lawter and keyboard session legend Chuck Leavell—the Watson’s Riddle sound is completely modern American instrumental fusion. With all songs written by guitarist Watson, the sound is full bodied and tastefully echoes both the fusion instrumental and smooth jazz genres. Paul Riddle describes the sound as being “melodic freak”, while there’s truly something positive to be said about this CD, that so expertly combines all manners of instrumental jazz, R&B and pop. A legend of the Allman Brothers, the Stones and Sea Level, Chuck Leavell’s piano and keyboard work truly enhances the Watson’s Riddle album which overall should hold immense sonic appeal over fans of guitar aces such as Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton. www.WatsonsRiddle.com

mwe3.com presents an interview with
STEVE WATSON of Watson’s Riddle

mwe3: Listening to the Watson’s Riddle CD, I was thinking back on Duane and Dicky from the Allman Brothers, Steve Morse and then I finally got around to discovering your pretty extensive resume over the past 3 or 4 decades. What is it about the Southern United States that produces such great guitar players?

SW: I grew up listening to Southern R&B and the blues, especially the music of Stax Records—Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, William Bell. Stax R&B was not as popular in other areas of the country as it was in the south. That, I feel is the major difference between Southern guitarists and the rest of the country. I got into jazz a little later. Duane Allman worked in Muscle Shoals as a session player before he started the Allman Brothers Band. He had been playing on Aretha Franklin records. The blues, R&B and jazz influences enabled him to bring such an original voice to the new Southern music. In addition, country music is an influence because of its popularity in the area.

mwe3: Can you give a little history as to how the Watson’s Riddle CD came about? How’d you get that much talent into one room and how’d you guys meet? The CD sounds like a superstar recording session.

SW: Watson’s Riddle started as a project with Dr. Douglas Appleby, a cardiac surgeon taking guitar lessons with me. He wanted me to write music for him to relax to. I got my friend Paul Riddle involved and we decided to go into the studio to record the material I had written. He brought his friend Chuck Leavell in to play piano. He also engaged engineer Tim Lawter from his Marshall Tucker days to play bass. Tim started playing on the tracks and the band just came together from relationships with other musicians.

In the beginning, we never played in the same room at the same time. We each overdubbed our parts. By the way, thanks for the complement on the sound. We recorded at Mill Street Studios in Inman, SC. (Spartanburg) A lot of the sound can be attributed to Rusty Milner who is our lead engineer and mixer. He mastered the CD and serves as the 2nd guitarist in our live show. He is a wonderful player and also from The Marshall Tucker Band.

Spartanburg has a rich musical history with The Marshall Tucker Band as well as Hank Garland, the great guitarist that the Gibson Byrdland is named after. Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones who had a hit record in the early 60’s are also from there.

mwe3: What is it like working with Chuck Leavell who is sometimes referred to as the sixth member of The Rolling Stones? It’s interesting Watson’s Riddle also features drummer Paul Riddle, founding drummer of The Marshall Tucker Band, how did you meet those great players?

SW: Chuck is a wonderful person and pianist. He is one of the most unique players around. He is a not only a master soloist but also a master of rhythm piano. He makes all of the tracks feel great. He’s a Southern boy who also grew up listening to the music I mentioned earlier but he has the New Orleans piano history in his playing as well. I know of no one else who plays like him. He was playing like this as a teenager with The Allman Brothers.

Paul and I met when I moved to Greenville, South Carolina in 1990. We had wanted to do something like this for a long time. It finally worked out with the help of Dr. Appleby. I met Chuck through Paul, but I had originally met him when I opened a show for his band Sea Level. That was in 1979 when I was playing with The Bruce Hornsby Band.

mwe3: How did you come to study the guitar and can you recall what it was like studying with Joe Diorio and how did your early studies lead you to your guitar teaching career and then soundtrack work?

SW: My mother started my guitar lessons in the second grade from the great Charles Wood in Greenville, SC. Charlie was a veteran of the New York jazz scene. During my high school days he introduced me to the music of the American Songbook. I began playing in R&B bands around the region on the weekends when I was in 10th grade.

When I went to The University of Miami for a masters degree I had the opportunity to study with Joe Diorio. He was fantastic and is one of the most under-recognized jazz guitarists in history. He is a brilliant player, teacher and painter. He and I ended up in L.A. in the 80’s and we both taught at The University of Southern California in the guitar department. I moved to L.A. with Bruce Hornsby in 1980 and I met Mike Post who had a lot of TV and session work at that time. He started using me on his sessions and that led to a lot of other work including teaching at USC. Richard Smith and Andrew York were students there at that time.

mwe3: I read you played guitar for Dolly Parton, Bob Hope and The Pointer Sisters? What are some of your favorite studio session work, favorite commercials and favorite soundtracks?

SW: I was very lucky during my 10 years in L.A. I had the opportunity to work thousands of sessions and was able to make friends with some of the greatest musicians on the planet. At one point, I was working eight network one hour TV shows every week—Magnum PI, The A-Team, Hill Street Blues, The Greatest American Hero, Hardcastle and McCormick, Quantum Leap, etc. My favorite sessions were sitting next to the great bass player, Leland Sklar. He and I played on hundreds of dates together and also played live shows with Mike Post.

Having headphones on and hearing Dolly Parton sing with you is definitely one of the high points of my L.A. career. She is an amazing artist and it was a pleasure to work with her for eight months in 1988 on her TV show. I thank my friend Velton Ray Bunch for that gig. He is a Carolina boy from North Carolina whom I connected with in L.A. He is a great writer and producer that the general public is unaware of. My Pointer Sisters and Eddie Rabbit gig came from Ray.

mwe3: Can you tell us something about the guitars you feature on the new Watson’s Riddle CD? Do you have a signature guitar planned and do you follow the current developments in the guitar world? Who are some of your favorite current guitarists?

SW: I love Tom Anderson guitars. Our record is played on my Anderson Hollow-T Classic and my Classic Strat. I just started playing their new Bulldog and it’s amazing. P-90’s with no hum are an amazing sound. Their guitars play like butter, tune up and stay in tune. I don’t believe there are better guitars anywhere. You don’t have to baby them—they just work for you.

I am a gear junkie. I am constantly looking at new guitars, amps, pedals, effects, and software. I am always interested in the gear my favorite guitarists are using. Speaking of favorite guitarists past and present, I’ll list a few here—Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Oz Noy, Jonathan Kriesberg, Lage Lund, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton and Chuck Loeb are among my favorites.

mwe3: What are your current and future plans with WatsonWood Music and can you say something about your teaching at Furman University?

SW: I own a private teaching school in Greenville, S.C., called WatsonWood Music. We teach students from beginners to professionals. There are 4 guitar teachers and a drum instructor. My high school jazz guitar program is at a school called The Fine Arts Center. It is housed in a world-class facility with 400 students. I teach 45 young jazz musicians five days a week. It is a total pleasure to interact with these talented young people. Fifty percent of them go on to some of the greatest jazz universities and conservatories in the nation. I also teach private lessons, combos and jazz history at the very prestigious Furman University. The students are very bright and motivated. A great tenor saxophonist Matt Olson runs the jazz program and he played on our record.

mwe3: What are your upcoming plans with Watson’s Riddle in 2012? Are you planning to tour or follow up with another release, CD or DVD, at some point?

SW: Watson’s Riddle is currently working on a new CD. It will be funkier and a little more “in your face” than our first CD. It will reflect more of my R&B and L.A. guitar influences. All of the songs have been written and we are trying to decide on which ones best suit our current direction. We have a live show filmed in HD that we are thinking of releasing on a DVD. Two of the tracks are currently on You Tube.

Paul and I are a great team when it comes to being honest about what is good. No prisoners between us. We only speak the truth. We are working on as many live shows as we can play in a concert setting for 2012.

Thanks to Steve Watson @ www.WatsonsRiddle.com


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