Hillbilly Boogie Surfin' Blues
(Don Leady Music)


Located over in Austin Texas, guitarist Don Leady is turning heads around with his 2013 CD entitled Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues. The self-produced CD finds Don in the studio backed up by a pair of excellent drummers running through a dozen instrumental rockers that touch on surf-rock, jazz, blues and early roots rock ‘n’ roll in the spirit of fellow Texan Buddy Holly, who actually did cut instrumental sides way back in the 1950's. Come to think of it, I could see Buddy really liking Don’s CD, with its inspiring pristine recording sound and all. Don Leady earned his reputation as one of Austin’s finest musicians thanks to his work with The Tailgators and the incredible Big Guitars From Texas lineup with Denny Freeman. Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues features fun-filled CD cover art and, enhanced by a pro studio recording, coupled with a very clean sounding mix and master, the sound is first rate. Featuring 12 rockin’ guitar tracks, Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues is one of the finest instrumental surf-rock / hillbilly-jazz guitar albums of 2013. presents an interview with

: It’s been a long time since I heard a guitar instrumental record as good as your new CD. How did the Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues CD come together and over what period of time was the album written and recorded?

DON LEADY: Actually the beginning was about 2009 when I wrote "Thunder And Lightning” on my Fernandes Tele (more about this guitar later). That song set the bar for the rest of the songs. I've always loved guitar instrumentals and it took me a very long time to write these songs, about three years. I had to wait for the songs to come to me. I wanted them to sound like individual songs not the same song, so I had to wait to come up with fresh ideas. Also, some of the songs are hard to play without getting lost so it took me a while to master them after I wrote them. It was really fun to have a new song to work on. Nothing makes me happier than when you know you have a new song and you are playing it for the first time. I actually started recording in 2011 at home. It took me quite a while to record the songs because I recorded them without overdubs and that is a real challenge but it improved my playing on the songs a lot. I actually recorded the guitar and bass at home on a digital recorder with click track. I recorded the guitar completely dry so it sounded like an electric guitar with no amp and did the same thing with the bass. My Dano 2 Lipstick tubes silver sparkle like my Fender Tele on the CD. I had talked with Stuart Sullivan and asked him if he could put my guitar and bass through his cool gear and he said that it would be possible so I continued to record at home with no pressure and I think that it helped me to play the songs the way I had imagined them.

mwe3: Can you tell us about the studio where you recorded the CD and how you worked with Stuart Sullivan on the recording and mixing and how you achieved such a great sound on the CD sound and mastering?

DON LEADY: As I said earlier I recorded all the guitar and bass tracks on my digital recorder dry with no effects of any kind on the guitar or bass, then I took the tracks to Wire recording studio and Stuart Sullivan put it on his recording gear and played it back through a 1968 Silverface Princeton and we set the tone more for a little distortion edge and also put it through a reissue Baseman and we dialed that in to fatten up that Tele tone. They were in a big room: 15' ceiling and mic-ed close with a ‘57 thru a Neve 1073, an old 175b limiter and a room mic-RCA 44 or Telefunken sm-2, thru API 312 and Neve 2264. As you can tell I got this info from Stuart. That’s pretty much what we did on all the songs but varied the tones and of course. I use different pickup selections which can change the tone a lot. The bass went direct sometimes and on some songs we used an Ampeg B-15. Stuart is a studio pro that I have worked with for years with the Tailgators and other projects. I supervised him mixing this CD. I have learned one thing from recording at home, is that the end product is what you are hearing and it can be done in several ways as long as you keep it real. The drums were cut thru an API console with lots of room mics. We mixed thru vintage API 32/32, using an old Phillips tape echo and an EMT plate and an echo plate for reverb.

mwe3: There’s some great interplay between you and the two drummers Nico and Art Kidd. How long have you known those guys and who else was involved in the album? The cover art too is fantastic. I like the “Full Three Dimensional Stereo” logo! Kind of reminds me of the 1960s.

DON LEADY: Yes the “3D” stereo was the idea of Grego, an Austin artist/musician and I thought it was funny. He did the layout of the CD and my longtime friend and bass player with the Tailgators JJ Barrera took that photo at his house and said that I ought to put flames on my hands, so there. (lol) What is unusual about the interplay of the drums is that they were recorded after the guitar and bass. Art Kidd is a real gifted musician and I've been doing gigs with him for years so he is pretty used to my playing. It was hotter 'n hell in the studio no A/C and Art literally played his ass off. He recorded 12 drum tracks in one day and I used 7 of them which I thought was fantastic. Niko Leophonte is another great drummer in the Austin scene and he has his own studio. So I got him to play on 5 tracks and he recorded his drums at his studio and it was a job but we finally got them to sound like I wanted. The interplay is because these guys are so great they slid right in there. It did take a lot of listening to make sure that there wasn't anything on there that bothered me and Nico and I went back and forth on the computer until he had the songs the way I had envisioned them.

mwe3: That clean sound that’s achieved on your new CD, sounds kind of influenced by that classic guitar sound that Buddy Holly achieved back in the late 1950s. Must be that Texas guitar sound! Who were your big guitar influences, especially from the instrumental side of things? How about The Ventures, Duane Eddy and from England The Shadows were huge in the instrumental world.

DON LEADY: Yes, I like a clean guitar sound that’s also powerful and then I usually like a little tube amp distortion to warm it up... sometimes I use 2 amps and I have a small champ that sounds great. And of course I like reverb. maybe it cause its so hot down here or somethin' like the water.

Well you named three already. I loved all three of three and especially Duane Eddy. The Ventures came later. I found out about Duane Eddy and flipped my lid. I learned all his songs when I was in the 5th grade. Later I went to Chuck Berry, Ike Turner... his “Prancin’” was a St. Louis standard, BB King, Lawrence Welk... loved those twin guitars. Link Wray, Arthur Guitar Smith and Chet Atkins definitely impressed me and I learned some of their tunes tunes. I did this when I was in high school. Later after I had played for years, I studied several styles and learned a lot more about the blues, country, vintage rock ‘n’ roll and boogie woogie.

mwe3: Can you tell us about your early history growing up around St. Louis and when you moved to Austin? What were some of your early bands? I read The Tailgators had quite a following and then you formed Big Guitars From Texas and what was it like working with Denny Freeman? Are the bands still active? Denny’s great too.

DON LEADY: I guess I can say that my Arthur Godfrey uke got me started on playing when I was 6. It had a plastic box that went over the strings and you pushed buttons to change chords. It was plastic and had calico palm trees on it. My grandma was a night club singer in the 1920's - 50's and she would sing and I played the uke for her, standards like “Sunny Side Of The Street” and “Five Foot Two”. I played it for a couple years and my dad bought me a Kay guitar and I started learning it.

I took lessons from a kid named Tony Amatto who had a band, Tony And The Flames and I started playing rock n roll, whatever was popular on the radio. I formed my first band when I was 12 called The Ramblers, real original, (lol). And when I was 16 I joined a band called The Hitchhikers and played in that rock ‘n’ roll band till I was 20. I got drafted in 1966, got out in 1969 and became a folkie with a D28 Martin for about a few years and learned a lot of roots type pickin’.

Steve Doerr and I had started a duo called Clutch Cargo in 1972 and we traveled all over the country playing folk clubs. We finally settled in San Francisco and we played clubs and on the street. Lucinda Williams was a fellow street player. We had daily gigs at the Canary and Giradelli Square and Union Square. We stayed there a year or so and we went our separate ways.

In 1974 I moved to Fort Worth, Texas and stayed there a few years and wrote a lot of songs. In 1978 Steve Doerr (Leroi Brothers) moved to Fort Worth to play with me so we both went electric and had a real blast going to the New Bluebird night club where we danced to the Juke Jumpers with Robert Ealey singing, he also owned the club. Also we would go to Dallas to hear the T-birds when they were the best blues band when they had Mike Buck and Keith Ferguson as a rhythm section. Man they were a great band to dance to. Mike Buck was from Fort Worth and we knew him from the T Birds. He invited us to come to Austin and start a new band called The Headhunters so we moved down to Austin and the great guy Joe Nick Patoski (Texas Monthly / Joe King Carrasco’s manager) put us up till we got settled.

We started playing and we had a short stint with Lou Ann Barton (Louann And The Flip Tops). We played a few gigs with her and started The Leroi Brothers soon afterwards. I played with the Leroi’s for about 4 years and got on Capitol Records and actually recorded in the old Capitol building that resembles a stack of 45's. We did a good run and decided in 1984 to form The Tailgators with Keith Ferguson who had just gotten out of the T-birds so we played till about 1995 and I got tired of touring the world. I started a swing band called Alamo Suite and I stayed around Austin and Texas playing all types of music.

Oh yeah, back in 1984 or ‘85 we had a band of 4 guitar pickers and called ourselves Big Guitars From Texas. We cut a CD Trash, Twang And Thunder and darn if we didn't get nominated for a Grammy. We went to the ceremony but didn't win. Jeff Beck won... he beat us out and also fellow Texan Stevie Ray. It was a real fun time, Stevie Wonder touched me, by accident. (lol) We were all blasted, they had an open bar. The guitar players were Denny Freeman, Frankie Camaro, Evan Johns, myself and Keith Ferguson on bass with Mike Buck drums (ex T-bird / Leroi brother) so it was a family project. We did a reunion benefit for Evan Johns at Antones. Still had the same band except Keith isn't living so I got JJ Barrera, my bass player to do the benefit. Denny is a great man and player. I love to play with him he really knows what not to play and he has some of the craziest whammy bar solos, and of course Evan is a wild man on the guitar, way over the top, and frankie is more surfy and had a band called Moto X. It was a great band.

mwe3: What guitars are you featuring on the Hillbilly Boogie Surfin’ Blues CD and what guitars are your favorite to play and record with?

DON LEADY: I used my Fernandes Tele on all the songs. It is my favorite even though I didn't want it to be. Here's the story: back in 1986 The Tailgaters were playing in DC and a fan, Pete Bell came up to me and said that he is a car painter and him and a friend painted this Fernandes guitar with a very cool gator hide that was a blue/green. They laughed and said that I would probably not play it but could hang it on the wall. Back in those days the stages were real hot so I would break strings a lot. Anyway I had that guitar on stage and I picked it up and it blew away that Fender Tele and played great with a rosewood fingerboard and really great sounding pickups. I started using it after that. I have several types of guitars for different music but this guitar is my favorite. Anyway after Pete Bell heard it he said he wanted it back, ha!

mwe3: How about telling us what amps, strings, picks and other sound effects you prefer? Are you a big fan of reverb?

DON LEADY: I have a 1960's Vibroverb and a Champ Tweed Fender. I also have a Roland 15 watt that sounds good with other amps ‘cause it’s clean. I like reverb on records but I use the Fender Tank reverb for gigs in the Vibroverb, and a old Boss delay sometimes. I use D'addario xl .10s and Tortex picks.

mwe3: What are some of your musical plans for 2013 and beyond? I hope you’ll be able to record more of your instrumentals and have a follow up album soon.

DON LEADY: I hope to tour and do festivals and I'm already writing new songs. I have 4 right now in this style. I also may do another Tailgaters recording if I have time. I have several new songs in that style.

Thanks to Don Leady @
photo history by Don Leady: (top to bottom)
1 Big Guitars From Texas reunion benefit 2013 - Antones, Austin, TX.
2 1970, St. Louis, 1941 c-1 Martin guitar
3 The Tailgators - 1984 keith ferguson, gary "mudcat" smith and me
4 1995 Dallas "Three Teardrops" w/ 1950's Danelectro copper finish
5 Clutch Cargo in St. Louis 1972 w/rhythm section. When we traveled it was a duo.
6 The Tailgaters at Evangeline cafe in Austin 2012 with Chico Oropesa, JJ Barrera, Mark "Kaz" Kazanoff and the famous Evan Johns as special guests.


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