Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following interview with singer, songwriter, blues guitarist LANCE LOPEZ —
Lance Lopez is a singer, songwriter and blues guitarist extraordinaire. A professional musician since his early teens, Lance has played with icons and legends in the music industry all over the world. Lance describes his fascinating journey through life and the precarious music business in this exclusive interview.
PT: Thank you so much for granting us this interview! We have to start off with Elvis. We know your Dad knew Elvis when he was in the army. Wayne is a huge Elvis fan. So tell us a little bit about how Elvis inspired you.
LL: Well, the town I was born in, Shreveport, Louisiana, which is in northwest Louisiana, they had a show there back in the early fifties, I think even back to the late forties that was kind of associated with the Grand Ole Opry. You had the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. In Louisiana you had the Louisiana Hayride and in Dallas you had the Big D Jamboree, and they were like these big radio broadcast shows that broadcast for miles and miles. The Grand Ole Opry wouldn’t have Elvis there, so he came to Louisiana and he actually lived in Shreveport for 18 months during that time when he broke through – kind of early- to mid-fifties – around 1954. When he moved there, he was performing at the Louisiana Hayride regularly and he had a residency there. He and my father became acquainted there – they were friends – and then Elvis became Elvis Presley. Then three or four years later in the latter part of the 50s, Elvis was drafted and my father enlisted and they were both stationed in Germany. They wound up in Germany together. And then they remembered each other from Louisiana. They were pretty much joined at the hip in the army. Their relationship lasted until his passing in the seventies.
When I was born – I was born maybe weeks after Elvis passed – in my home we had photos of my Dad and Elvis. My earliest memories were my father sitting me down with a Betamax tape and showing the ’68 comeback footage of Elvis – all that footage – that was my first introduction. My Dad sat me down and said, “This is my buddy.” I looked next to the TV and there’s this framed picture of my Dad with Elvis. It was like “Wow,” but I really didn’t connect the dots. I was like 3 years old, I just knew that this was my Dad’s friend and that was pretty awesome. As I got older I realized Elvis was who he was – and that’s what kind of sparked it. Elvis sitting around in that circle playing guitars, talking and laughing and this connection with my father. It inspired me right off the bat to want to play the guitar. That’s what really did it.
PT: We imagine your family must have been supportive?
LL: Yes, absolutely. When I did show interest in wanting to play guitar and be a guitar player and a musician, my father immediately supported it and it all referenced back to Elvis. When I did begin playing, my father eventually bought me a guitar for Christmas. He brought out all these Chuck Berry records. He told me I had to learn all these Chuck Berry songs (laughing). He took me back to that era of music – and it was during the 80s when rock music was very popular – but my Dad was like, “No, this is real rock music.” So he took me back to the Chuck Berry and early Elvis records, which were all kind of blues-based anyway. That early music was 5 to 12 bar rock and roll – which really was blues. That’s how it really began. The whole thing kind of connected with my Dad’s friendship with Elvis and then me sitting there, becoming inspired and then he just totally supported it and encouraged it from that point on.
PT: Was your Dad also musical?
LL: No, not really, but he was a big fan of it. He was in that circle of people with Elvis and certain others in Memphis. He wasn’t musical but he was around it so when I showed interest, he was very excited.
PT: We know you traveled around a lot when you were young. Can you tell us about your childhood?
LL: Sure. We moved from Louisiana when I was about 12. My parents split up when I was real young. My Dad went to New Orleans. I moved with my mother over to Texas. When we were in Shreveport, I had begun going to a lot of arena rock shows during the 80s. That was really popular, so I saw the big arena rock bands and that’s how I pretty much learned guitar. I would go and watch those guys and then I would go home and try to emulate them. I never really took any lessons. I would go and see Van Halen or AC/DC and then try and emulate them on my guitar. We went to Texas when I was about 11 or 12 and right after moving to Dallas probably about two weeks later I saw Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King. That was the journey into the blues – from that moment on I knew. I was always drawn to more bluesy music, but going to see that performance – it was pretty crazy that weekend – I saw Stevie Ray Vaughn and B.B. King jam together. It was a pretty epic night. And it was Stevie Ray’s last hometown show in Dallas and it was my first one – so it was bittersweet. And then the next weekend after seeing that they had a British blues night in the middle of downtown Dallas – it was John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and Foghat performing together. So it was back-to-back weekends – B.B. King one weekend and Foghat and John Mayall the next. That really sealed the deal for me on wanting to be a blues player – this is where I needed to be headed – this is the direction I wanted to go from here on out.
PT: That sure makes sense having seen and experienced those legends!
LL: Yeah! So I stayed in Dallas and began studying really hard in the blues, all the classic blues, the delta blues and all that. And a couple of years later I moved to my father’s house in New Orleans where I then began playing live. Like I said, my father really supported and encouraged the music, so he began to take me out to clubs in New Orleans when I moved down there with him. He had seen that I had been focusing really hard to play the blues. He brought me down there with him and he started taking me out and I started playing with bands in New Orleans when I was about 14.
And then we moved along the Gulf Coast. We moved down to Florida briefly during high school and I continued to play with bands and playing clubs. And the Florida scene was really cool because it introduced me more to the southern rock guys, whereas New Orleans was more blues, jazz, funk and the Neville Brothers and that whole family of New Orleans funk music. So we moved to Florida and I began playing in clubs and playing shows with guys from the Outlaws and some of the guys from The Allman Brothers – like Derek Trucks and we were both kids down there at the same time playing shows together. There was that kind of Florida southern rock kind of vibe.
Then we eventually moved back to Texas. Right after coming back, within that month I met Billy Gibbons. Billy was living in Dallas at that time right after ZZ Top’s Antenna album came out. He walked into this club because he actually heard me playing next door – he was eating in a restaurant. I was doing a set of Jimi Hendrix or something and Billy said, “I had to see what was going on.”
PT: Pretty incredible! How old were you then?
LL: I was about 16.
LL: I was 16 when we came back to Texas and then I met Billy and then a few months later I was touring as his side man. I hooked up with Stax Records’ Johnnie Taylor and he took me into his band. I was going down to clubs in South Dallas tagging along with those guys. I jumped up and got in one night at a blues club on the south side – was pretty much a black club – and immediately upon playing the band leader came in and said, “Man, we need a guitar player. Can you go to Atlanta next week?” (laughs)
PT: That’s wild.
LL: Yeah. I was seventeen years old. I ended up on a bus a week later going to play shows with Al Green and Bobby “Blue” Bland and Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Little Milton and all those kind of guys. I was kind of thrust right into it, very quickly, as a side man. That’s where I was learning my craft and meeting all these legendary people. It was crazy. It was what they call a Chitlin’ Circuit. Jimi Hendrix was my big hero and at that time I had no idea that he had played on the same circuit when he was young with a lot of the same people that were still there like 40 or 50 years later. So it was pretty crazy that full circle deal of seeing that and the old R&B thing – everybody wearing the same suit. I was like the only white kid in the band. (laughs)
PT: Amazing! What an experience for a young guy just starting out!
LL: Totally. And it was interesting – it was like school for me. Like music school. I just got out there and did it. And then Lucky Peterson, a modern blues player and a big deal at that time, was really hot in Europe. He approached me and said, “Hey do you want to go to Europe with me?” So I joined his band and began touring Europe. And it was whole other level with that. He was on a much bigger scale. I’d never been overseas, so with him I began touring all over the world, Canada, Europe, everywhere. That really broadened everything – doing bigger festivals with more legendary performers. And Lucky really featured me as his guitar player because Lucky also played Hammond organ. He was the organ player and guitar player but he featured me in a lot of solos – he would let me step out and really play. We were doing very large shows. That’s what got my name really out in Europe and it really helped me to kind of garner my own career there and get a lot of notoriety overseas. While touring with him for years, I hooked up with Buddy Miles over there. Like I said, Hendrix was my big hero. And we were on a festival with Buddy Miles. I hooked up with Buddy after he’d heard me play. I did some stuff with him briefly; did a couple of different versions of Buddy Miles Express. We worked a lot in the studio together. He actually helped me produce my first solo album at the time.
He introduced me to all of Jimi Hendrix’s camp, all of his musicians like Billy Cox and Noel Redding. It was really an interesting time. Since then I’ve been putting out some albums and doing my solo career.
PT: So your musical career took off – all of this without any formal musical training.
LL: Not really. Nothing formal. I would go to concerts and watch other musicians and try to emulate what they did and then going on stage – that was it. Going out on the Chitlin’ Circuit – that was my training (laughs) no formal training. I was in the throes of it.
PT: (Wayne) I have a 16 year old who plays the guitar and I really never knew how good he was because he played without an amp. And when I heard him play with an amp, I said, “Wow. He’s good!” What he does is go to YouTube, watches musicians, and then tries to emulate them.
LL: It’s such a fantastic tool for this generation. I think about it all the time. When I was a kid I would have loved to pull up Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, or any of those guys when I was sitting in my bedroom. This generation can just pull up – just type in Led Zeppelin 1975 – and boom there they are. We had no access to anything like that. It’s an amazing educational tool.
LL: I think it has definitely helped – it has been a major thrust forward. It’s such a helpful tool to promote – to give you a vehicle to promote your band and your shows and what you’re doing and to stay in direct contact with your fans. It lets a big barrier down. There’s still a veil – a wall there – but you still have a lot of direct contact with your fan base. And they can tell you what they want – immediately and directly. It’s not like they have to mail a letter to you like in the old days with fan mail. Once you post something they can let you know immediately whether they love it or hate it or if they’re going to support it. And then you give your fans the voice to help you promote. The word of mouth thing is really accelerated by social media. I think it’s a great, great thing.
PT: We are sure you still have many fans overseas and it must be a lot easier for them to stay in touch by just pulling you up on the internet.
LL: Right. Absolutely. That’s the beauty of it. Everybody can stay connected worldwide. Everybody stays connected even though they may not be there. That’s the thing with YouTube. You’ve got social media and you’ve got YouTube. Sometimes the quality is not always great – some of the videos and sound quality – but it still gives the die-hard fans a peek into what’s happening even if you’re not where they are in the world. It’s a great thing.
PT: What age were you when you split off and started your solo career?
LL: I was probably about 21 or 22 when I really began putting out albums and going out on my own tours and doing my own performances.
PT: Today, how many days would you say out of the year are you on the road?
LL: Well, the last couple of years I’ve been actually working on a couple of different album projects. So not as much as I was as say the last four or five years ago. The last few years I’ve been more regional around Texas, Louisiana, and the southeast in that area. However, I have some new projects out and so we will be getting back on the road pretty regularly. You know, it varies, anywhere from 150 to 200 days – when it’s really strong and steady. It’s usually three weeks out of the month every other month.
LL: Yeah. To earn a living in this genre of music – or any music – you have to stay on the road and travel in order to make a living.
PT: We do have a number of creatives who are interested in an artist’s process – whether they be writers, actors, musicians, authors. What is your process? We interviewed Joe Louis Walker and as a musician/songwriter, he said you get a melody in your head and you got to grab it before it goes.
LL: Exactly. I agree with that 100%. For me, it’s either way, sometimes I’ll have a vocal line – kind of a chorus or a hook line that I’ll be singing over and over. Or I’ll have a verse. Or I’ll have a guitar riff. It’s either one or the other. Rarely do I have it all at one time – either I’ll will have the music first or I’ll have vocal lines first. And then I’ll kind of stockpile ideas – I’ll have an idea of different guitar riffs and that usually comes from me sitting around and warming up – or jamming on stage. A lot of my ideas come as I’m warming up or practicing. Either I’m warming up before a gig or I’m at home practicing and I’ll just sit and play for a couple of hours and I’ll come up with a lot of ideas there. Or it also happens with my band – which is a power trio – and we are real jam oriented. With some of the extended pieces on stage – as we’re jamming – ideas will come out of that. We’ll be very improvisational. We’ll go into different segments of jam sessions and that’s where a lot of that will come from, too, and we’ll say, “We need to take that piece we did last night.” Usually it’s the next morning, we say, “Man we got to remember that – we need to develop it.” So we’ll take a piece like that and develop it into something and I’ll go, “Well I have these vocal ideas that I have laying around.”
That’s what so great about the iPhone and some of the stuff like that. I’ll be on a plane or I’ll be driving in a van down the road to the next gig and I’ll think of these things and I can just – without having to grab a pen and paper – I can just pull my phone out and just put it in my phone or record the melody in my phone. So the advanced stages of technology have just really helped capture those ideas – those particular ideas, where I can record on the phone or put the lyrics down from my head. Matter of fact, this last recording I did, the one that I’ve been working on recently. I was on the road a lot – and that’s how I was writing the lyrics – on my phone. I didn’t even really have a pen or paper. I would be on an airplane or traveling and I’d be on my phone writing lyrics on the little note tap on my iPhone. That’s how technology has just been so great and helpful for capturing those ideas as they come. It’s not like, “Oh, man, I need to find a tape recorder!” like back in the old days or grab a pen and paper. I have my phone and I can lock it in. That’s one way I make sure that I don’t lose anything. And then as I’m sitting around here I’ll start scrolling back through and looking at all the ideas I had and wanted to remember to develop. That’s how we’ll capture a lot of stuff.
PT: Yes! Technology has certainly made things easier for us that way! Although Wayne still loves long hand when he gets the chance!
LL: I love a lot of collaborative efforts, too. Once I have the idea, I’ll sit down with another writer and really orchestrate something from the ground up and put something together. I have several people I do that with. And that’s always a fun process. And it’s always great to have that objectivity and have somebody to work with that we can kind of steer the thing together as opposed to me sitting there going, “Is that good enough? Is that okay?” That’s where that objectivity really helps things to grow and move forward quickly.
PT: Can you tell us about some of the projects you’re working on now?
LL: Well, I have got a new band based in Los Angeles that’s called the Supersonic Blues Machine. It’s a really great band – another power trio. However, we got a lot of really great guitar player guests with the group. It’s myself and a great bass player and producer by the name of Fabrizio Grossi who has produced a lot of great records. He produced Leslie West, Glenn Hughes, and he mixed a lot of the early Joe Bonamassa records. And he’s a great producer and engineer – phenomenal – played bass with Steve Vai – all around amazing musician, producer, and engineer in the studio. He’s playing bass and producing the band. And then we got Kenny Aronoff who is one of the greatest drummers – if not the greatest drummer in the world in my opinion – he spent his time in the 80s with John Mellencamp. He was in John Cougar Mellencamp’s group all through the 80s and played on all those great records. He’s just one of the number one drummers in Los Angeles. And Kenny actually is in the band. And that’s what’s great for Kenny. Because Kenny has played with everyone from Ringo Starr to McCartney. He’s now with John Fogerty. It really gives Kenny an opportunity to be in a band with a band name – for all of us – Kenny always backed up these huge superstars but now he’s like, “We’re a band!” He’s subbed for a lot of great drummers like for Smashing Pumpkins, and for Chad Smith from the group Chickenfoot (with Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani). But this is a band that we put together from the ground up.
PT: Phenomenal!! How did it all come about?
LL: It came about when I was touring in Europe – about five or six years ago – and everybody over there kept telling me, “You got to find this guy Fabrizio Grossi from Milan Italy. He’s now in Los Angeles – you got to hook up!” I was hearing this from all over the place while I was on tour. Everyone was telling me, “You and Fabrizio need to get together.”
So I got back to the states and about a year or so went by. I really needed to put out a new album. I found Fabrizio online and reached out to him. I said, “Man, everybody said we should work together.” And he said, “Well man if you’re in LA let’s hook up.” So I had some gigs in LA and while I was in town I went over to the studio with Fabrizio and we began recording some ideas. I had what was supposed to be an hour-long meeting in the studio that turned into a two- or three-day recording session (laughs).
PT: That’s awesome!
LL: Yeah! So we got in the studio and magic happened. I had ideas and I brought songs with me. We had exchanged some ideas online before I got there. So when I got there we had these amazing songs that we began working on. I went back to Texas. Fabrizio had worked a lot with Billy Gibbons who worked on the last ZZ Top album and had worked with Billy quite a bit on some projects. After I left, Billy Gibbons called Fabrizio to talk about some project he wanted Fabrizio to work on – and they talked about that and then he asked Fabrizio what he’d been up to. Fabrizio told him that he’d just had this guy from Texas named lance Lopez there. And Billy as like, “I know Lance! I’ve known him since he was a little kid.”
PT: Small world!
LL: Really! So Billy actually was the one who said you guys need to form a band – you guys need to be in a band together with a band name. Initially it started off with just Fabrizio producing my next solo album. And then it turned into Billy’s thing – when he’d said you guys need to put together a band with a band name – so that’s when Fabrizio thought of Kenny. And he took the recordings over to Kenny Aronoff and played them. Kenny was just like, “Man, I’m in – let’s do this.” Then we began writing songs, gathering songs, and once we started doing this we said we needed to make this real special. We want to have this as a big fun thing. Let’s get all of our favorite guitar players and friends and include them on this album and have them guest on the record and have them a part of it.
Billy initially even said he wanted to join the band. He said, “Man, if you guys put a band together I want to join it.” So the first track that we ever recorded was with Billy Gibbons called “Running Whiskey.” So that’s where we were like, “Man, Billy’s on it! Who’s our next favorite guy that’s our friend?” We thought of Warren Haynes. Warren and I are dear friends and of course we all love Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers. I’ve known those guys for years. So after Billy got involved and Warren got involved and it just kind of snowballed from there. I thought of my two old dear friends Chris Duarte and Eric Gales, and then Walter Trout and Robin Ford. All of our favorite guitar players who also happened to be our friends. And that’s what’s so cool about it – it’s like most of my favorite musicians that are alive today that are currently out playing are friends of mine and it’s so good to have that. That’s kind of what we wanted to have happen. Supersonic Blues Machine is comprised of Kenny, Fab, and me, but it’s really about having our great friends and kind of a big party – a big kind of jam session with all of our friends. So we really have been putting a lot of effort into that for the last two or three years. That’s really taken up a lot of time. The album finally came out late last month on Mascot Label Group. We are really excited about it. We got some great stuff going on with it. We will be doing some touring with it later this year. It’s turning out to be something wonderful.
LL: Absolutely. But other than that I have the Live in NYC album that just came out with my band. While I’m not doing Supersonic we also plan on being back on the road with release of Live in NYC and start touring like we were a few years ago.
PT: We loved your Live In NYC album. (See Our Review) What advice would you give up and coming musicians?
LL: Take it very seriously. Try not to get distracted. If you are going to do this for real, you got to live for it and die for it. You’ve got to really be aware of the pitfalls and dangers that are out there. I don’t want to sound like some preacher or anti-drug guy or whatever – but you don’t want to be distracted. Take it very seriously – put in time and work into your craft and it will pay off in the end. Just absorb everything you can and don’t think you can stop learning.
PT: That’s a great answer on so many levels. What was the best advice you ever received?
LL: Probably the same thing. Keep your eyes forward and stay focused. That was the best advice I was given. Just work hard and keep your head clear. To keep pressing forward no matter how bad things are and no matter how good things are you keep going – you can’t get too complacent either way – and you can’t stop because things have gotten too hard or things have gotten too easy. You got to keep pushing forward to keep busy and to keep going through good times and bad times.
PT: Another great answer. So tell us what was the worst criticism you ever received?
LL: (Laughs) That’s funny – I won’t name them, but I had the honor of a pretty large blues record label dub me “heavy metal.” They said I wasn’t a blues guitar player I was a heavy metal guitar player. So we were trying to come up with a new label – blues metal. From a traditional blues standpoint – I am so rock – I’m too blues for rock and too rock for blues. I’m right there in the middle. That was pretty funny.
PT: (laughs) Tell us, what’s on your bucket list for the future personally or professionally?
LL: Oh, man – bucket list – just keep moving forward. Play large venues, increase record sales and fan base. Always moving forward – just kind of trudge my way up the hill to do it. That’s kind of my thing. Keep improving and getting better and continue to grow and expand and get bigger.
PT: Excellent. So, we do what we call a “lightning round” with guys like you who’ve played with legends – we throw out terms like most inspiring, etc. So if you’re in, out of everybody you’ve ever played with off the top of your head – who was/is the most inspiring?
LL: Yeah, man. Ok, B.B. King. He was just so encouraging, so loving and caring and nurturing. He really understood the importance of young blues musicians carrying on that art form. He really appreciated the fact that it all kind of stemmed from him – lead guitar playing in general – and he really was appreciative and grateful for the young generation to carry it on. And he told me that face-to-face. He was very inspiring and encouraging. He was one of the ones who told me, “Keep your mind clear and work hard.” That’s what I definitely got from B.B. King. I rarely saw him with any negativity around him. He was always very loving, very nurturing, very supportive.
PT: What about the most creative?
LL: Creative? Wow. That’s interesting. I would have to say as far as creative, Billy Gibbons. I can understand why Jimi Hendrix loved Billy. He was from the same ilk. He was always jotting down ideas. He had drawings and was writing lyrics. He created that entire image of ZZ Top. He was super creative like on that Jimi Hendrix level – super, super creative.
PT: Last one. Hardest working – we’re sure a lot of people fit that bill.
LL: I’d have to say B.B. King again. To see B.B. work as hard as he did for as long as he did was also pretty inspiring.
PT: And we always ask a final question – if you could sum up your life in one word what would it be?
LL: (laughs) Epic.
PT: That’s great! Thanks so much Lance!