3 BALLS OF FIRE
Somewhere On The Deep Blue Pacific
(Deep Eddy Records)

 

Is 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 1960’s era sound of The Ventures to name a few. Of course Vernon’s major and ongoing California influences won’t preclude him from summoning up the strategically mounted L.A. twinge of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book”, done instrumentally. A 3BOF cover of A.C. Jobim’s “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, it’s 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 influences—from instro Texas twang to spy/surf, lounge, exotica, space-age, crime jazz and 1960s Hollywood soundtracks—that 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 it’s 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 with
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?

MIKE VERNON: Well, thanks. I’ve been a little too close to it to be able to consider it a masterpiece, but I appreciate the compliment! Overall, I’d say that I leaned a bit closer to my jazz side this time out. Although I don’t 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 way.

I think it holds up real well with the past 3 Balls Of Fire releases. I don’t record albums unless I think the songs are going to be real good... what’s the point? I’m 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 it’s 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. We’re good friends and had been talking about recording together for a long time. Now that I’m spending most of my time in L.A., it made it much easier to do... It wouldn’t be the same record without his strong contribution.

We recorded three tracks back in 2009 and I didn’t 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. That’s 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, I’ll never get away from it... it’s 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 it’s 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, Hank Thompson….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 can’t 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?

MIKE VERNON: Thanks, I like it a lot also! Again, it’s 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 that’s 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 1960’s and 70’s. 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 you’ve 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, that’s 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, I’m 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 I’ll 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.

MIKE VERNON: Thanks, I’m 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” – it’s 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, 1960’s 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 don’t remember the band name but heard that it was a real cool album. And Dusty kicks ass! He is so musical, which isn’t 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 can’t 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 What’s 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. Don’t get me wrong I really dig it but the Manfred Mann version is how Bacharach actually wrote it and it is full of Bacharachism’s. Again, it’s 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 Mann’s 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 song?

MIKE VERNON: Yeah, I’ve always loved Crosby’s 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.

mwe3: 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 can’t 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 Basie’s 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 Majesty’s Secret Service” live. He’s 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 Barry’s “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 1960’s. 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. It’s 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...

MIKE VERNON: Yes, “Mojave” is really cool and would like to do that one also. I recorded “Ipanema” on our Friday Night At Ego’s 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 don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else in the surf guitar world record it.

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 with?

MIKE VERNON: My first guitar was my Dad’s big-ass shit-kicking Kay acoustic guitar. It had a BIG sound and I played simple chords on it, barely! It wasn’t 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 D’Addario's – 12 gauge. I’ve 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 compositionally?

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. I’ve 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 it’s all about the song. The guitar in a song is only as good as the song as far as I’m concerned.

mwe3: How about the track “Guitar City”? I’m surprised you didn’t call the album Guitar City... lol It’s a perfect name for an album like this and it’s 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. It’s 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 tracks!

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 I’ll just mention a few. Guitar Forms by Kenny Burrell with Gil Evans is a masterpiece. Spanish Guitar by John Williams, Hendrix’s 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 Wray’s recordings, Billy Mure’s Super Sonic Guitars series... and that’s just a short list!

I’ve 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 Jerry’s 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 it’s 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 world?

MIKE VERNON: I don’t know if it can save the world but it sure has saved me! I’m so out of touch with what’s going on with the music industry that I can’t really comment on it or speculate on where it’s going. Right now, I’m 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

 

 
   
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