Guitarist Rocky Athas talks about John Mayall, SRV, Glenn Hughes, Phil Walden, Thin Lizzy, & his Greek roots

"Stay true to being yourself. Don't change because someone thinks you should be doing something else. Stay true to yourself."

Rocky Athas: Lightning Real Blues

Born in 1954, Texan Rocky Athas started playing guitar at school and performing at neighborhood gigs with good friend Stevie Ray Vaughan who were schoolmates and friends growing up in the Dallas, Texas suburbs. By age 23, Rocky was honored as one of the ten best guitarists in the state and In the late 70's and early 80's he was the creative vortex behind 'Lightning', one of the biggest draws in Texas nightclub history.


Rocky took a further step up when he signed on as lead guitarist for the legendary 'Black Oak Arkansas' who featured him on their 'Ready As Hell' album and showcased him on their tours from 1996 through 2001. As a session guitarist for Polygram records he recorded with the late Buddy Miles on a project called The Blues Berries and on sessions with Stevie Ray's rhythm section of Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon.
Producer Jim Gaines felt Rocky's talents should be showcased under his own name and so the four piece Texan band, 'The Rocky Athas Group' debuted with the 2003 CD 'Miracle'. This subsequently led to his next one entitled 'Voodoo Moon' also produced by Jim Gaines to excellent reviews.
It was shortly after this release that Mayall happened to catch Rocky's set when he opened for him at a Texas club and was impressed enough to take down a phone number for future reference. In 2008, John was putting together a new band for a studio album and thought Rocky would be ideal for what he had in mind. Rocky was pleased to accept the offer and got on a plane to California and within a week his position in the band was locked in. He has since been impressing audiences worldwide as a player in a long line of John's legendary guitarists.


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

Rocky, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & what made you fall in love with the blues music?
When I saw the Beatles Play on the Ed Sullivan Show. I wanted to be in aBand right at that moment. What made me fall in Love with Blues Music was in the 7th Grade at School I had a chance to see B.B. King Live. I went to see him with my Mother. It was an Awesome concert. Then that led me to Loving Freddie king.  I do think Freddie King is my Favorite of ALL TIME.

 

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?
It is the only music that is real to me. You have to actually be sad or very Happy to make it right. Your emotion is everything to the playing.

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?
Life as it happens is a very good experience.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The Best moment was when John Mayall called me to play guitar with Him. That was awesome. I knew that my playing had been apreciated. The worst may have been getting a record deal with Capricorn Records and finishing the album and within two Months the record company folded that was a Bummer.


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
I would have to say John Mayall has helped me to stay true to the Blues.

 

Tell me a few things about your meet & work with John Mayall?
I met John when we played a show with him.  he didn't call me until almost 4 years latter. What a great phone call that was. He is an awesome person.

 

Which memory from John Mayall makes you smile?
Every night we play makes me smile. He is very fun and lots of energy.

 

Do you remember anything interesting from the recording time with Jim Gaines, what advice has given about music?
The best advice from Jim was, Think about the Song first. The song has to be good.

 

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?
Jamming with Mick Taylor of the Stones recently was a Great night. Playing and touring with heff Beck was truely awesome.

 

Are there any memories from studio and gigs with all GREAT MUSICIANS, which you’d like to share with us?
I did love making an album with Glenn Hughes. I do love that Mans voice. We became very good friends from this. I recently played with him in Italy with John Mayall. We did a date with him and Joe Bonamassa. Glenn was with Joe on tour.

 

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
I should have stayed in the Studio and shoped my music a bit more and not worried about the live gig so much. Once we have a record deal then the gigs come and much better gigs to come.

 

Where did you pick up your guitar style & what were your favorite guitars back then?
That's a good question. I think I have a little bit of all of my favorite guitar players in me and then it evolved to my own style.

 

Why do you play GUITAR & how do you describe your “music philosophy”?
I play guitar because I love it. Really love it. I even like the way guitars look. Stay true to being yourself. Don't change because someone thinks you should be doing something else. Stay true to yourself.

 

How did you first meet Phil Walden, three words to describe him?
VERY NICE MAN. My bass player at the point was Joe Shermie of 3 Dog Night he knew Phil and this is how we got the record deal with Capricorn Records. Then they went out of business.

 

What is the “think” you miss most from Steve Ray Vaughan? What kind of a guy was Steve?

I miss his playing. Steve was a really caring Man. We always Hugged when we saw each other. We were childhood Friends that went to the same Grade School, Junior High School, and High School together. We had the Music that bonded us. It was all we used to talk about. He would call me on the phone and tell me about new guitar players he loved. He actually turned me on to Todd Rundgren when he was in the Band NAZZ. It was Stevie who told me about Todd. Also Steve really liked Randy California who used to be in a band call SPIRIT. They had great songs.

 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Billy Gibson and Johnny Winter?
Billy Gibbons has always been very nice to me. He and a friend actually own one of my old guitars. I sure wish I could get that back. I don't really know Johnny Winter but would love to meet him sometime.

 

Tell me about the beginning with the Black Oak Arkansas. How did you get together and where did it start?
The same way it sarted with John Mayall. I played and opend up for Jim Dandy of BOA. I went on to do 3 albums with jim and one of them is the Greatest Hits that I wrote a couple of the songs on the Greatest Hits of Black Oak Arkansas.

 

Are there any memories from the Lightning which you’d like to share with us?
It was Lightning I was with when we got the record deal with Capricorn and then of course it fell through.

 

Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best friend?
I really feel like everyone I have worked with are my Best Friends. I like them all.

 

'Cocky Rocky' from Thin Lizzy, how did this song to you come about? Who had the idea to write this song?

Not completely sure but I was playing in a club called Mother Blues in Dallas texas. Thin Lizzy was there and Queen were in the crowd sitting right in front of me. It was a cool night. I think this is how it happened.

 

 

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from the Blues Berries?
It was great fun playing with  Double Drouble on this album. They are Great. It really was a nice album. We were touring only about 6 weeks and then Buddy Miles had Congestive Heart Failure and so we had to stop touring so he could get better.

 

Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?
I guess meeting and talking to Jeff Beck was very  very cool.

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?
I would say because it is real. You can not fake your way through it.

 

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?
I would love to just go back in time and hang out with Freddie King. I would love to have been able to know that Man. I still think he is the "BEST". I did meet him once for a very quick handshake. I was 18 years old. He seemed bigger than life to me.

 

Do you have Greek origin, do you know anything about GREEK BLUES aka REMBETIKO?
I do have Greek origin. My last name is Athas. I would love to know more. I haven't been able to get to Greece just yet. But want to very much.

 

Do you have a message for the Greek blues fans?
Give a wish for the BLUES Let's keep it real no matter what origin we come from. It is such a great form of music that we can all play it. There are no rules as you can be Greek, Spanish, or American. You will know when it sounds right as long as you keep it real.


Rocky Athas - Official website

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