"You need to play freely from your heart, and I believe you play the most free when you are making music you love. Let your emotions shape the sound, the phrasing, the melodies, and the riffs and grooves. I think if you have enough chops to express what you feel, and you can put your soul into every lick you play, then that's a music life well lived."
Pete Anderson: Making A Great Recording
Pete Anderson was born and raised in Detroit, MI to blue collar parents working in the auto industry. His first exposure to music came in the form of Elvis Presley and the Country and Western music his father listened to, but at age 16 Pete was transformed when he heard Muddy Waters on the radio. He attended the first ever Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1968 which featured artists such as B.B King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. After that he devoted himself to learning everything he could about the Blues. Marrying young, Pete worked in the factories of Detroit working for Chrysler, Uniroyal, and The Vernor's ginger ale bottling plant while spending evenings practicing his craft in local Blues bands. After a few years, he made his move to the West Coast to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. Soon he was in-demand as a skilled guitarist playing blues, as well as country, rock, and most anything else, plying his trade in the bars and clubs around Los Angeles. In 1982 he teamed up with Dwight Yoakam. (Pete Anderson / Photo by Nelson Blanton)
Anderson is widely known as the musical partner to Dwight Yoakam, (a little 'side project' that wound up helping to change the face of contemporary country music!) whose records he produced/arranged/and played on from 1986-2003 resulting in sales of 25 Million+ recordings. Anderson has been a pioneer in the roots-rock genre and was an early champion of the Americana movement, where he had a hand in introducing the world to artists such as Lucinda Williams, Jim Lauderdale, Michelle Shocked and Rosie Flores. He is also a renowned bandleader who has appeared on “Saturday Night Live”, “David Letterman” , and “The Tonight Show” (19 times since 1986) and has played over 3,500 live shows in upwards of 15 countries around the world. Jessee Lee Music will be released the publication of PETE ANDERSON's "HOW TO PRODUCE A RECORD: A Player's Philosophy For Making A Great Recording" on MAY 2, 2023. Written by Anderson and edited by Michael Molenda (with a forward by Bill Bentley) "HOW TO PRODUCE A RECORD: A Player's Philosophy For Making A Great Recording" is a real-world, down in the trenches tutorial on how to produce a record—whether you are a home-studio musician, or lucky enough to work in a big recording studio. From the blue collar, mixed race neighborhoods of Detroit to Hollywood’s early roots-rock scene and country music stardom to the new digital music industry and beyond, Pete Anderson’s talent and innovative spirit have not only set him apart from the herd, but ensure his continued presence as a bright spot in the future of the American roots music scene.
Interview by Michael Limnios Special Thanks: Karen Leipziger/KL Productions
How has blues and roots music influenced your view of the world?
I’ve been a fan of blues and roots musicians since an early age, but once I started traveling across the United States, and then Europe, Japan, and Australia, I really saw how the music affected people. It almost didn't matter where you lived, or what you did, or how you were brought up, or what you experienced—this music changed you. It was gratifying to see how people around the world gravitated to these American musical styles. I think they are our country's greatest musical export. My view of the world changed because I saw firsthand that music really is the way to universal communication.
What characterizes your musical philosophy? How do you think you have grown as an artist since you first started?
My philosophy is simple. Play what feels good. Play what's right for the song. Play from the heart. Growing as an artist is a little harder. First, I had to learn how to play my instrument. Then, I had to struggle for years to be completely competent as a player, and also to project a feeling of authority whenever I picked up a guitar. That's a big part of the journey. But it's also relatively little things, such as freeing yourself up as a performer. For example, when you're first learning, you're probably looking down at your instrument a lot because it's a new thing and you don't want to make a mistake. When you finally get a grasp on what you're doing, you can stop looking down, and start playing to the audience more. That's the key to being a performer.
"I always say if you're going to dream, dream big. Even if you fall short, you may still end up farther along than you ever thought possible. You should also play music that makes you happy and try to learn something new each day about being a musician, a songwriter, a producer, or whatever creative path you're on. If your learning process continues, you're gonna do just fine." (Pete Anderson in studio / Photo by Nelson Blanton & Cover of Pete Anderson's new book by Jessee Lee Music, 2023)
How did the idea of book "HOW TO PRODUCE A RECORD: A Player's Philosophy For Making A Great Recording" come about?
Through the years, I've given a lot of interviews about how I produce records. Those discussions guided me to formulate a step-by-step plan on how to describe what I do, and how to do it. I also realized that a lot of people don't get the opportunities I had to be in the studio, working with stars, soon-to-be stars, or aspiring stars, and under pressure to deliver something that reaches an audience and sells. I thought I could really help the people who want to do that job, and I also wanted to pass on the many lessons I've learned about producing records."
I've had a love affair with the guitar since I was a small child. I'd played the instrument my entire life. But I wasn't the lead singer or main focal point in most of the early bands I played in. Instead, I was the idea guy. I always wanted to make a song better, or emulate a certain hit song without outright copying it. This passion drew me to self-study the elements of successful songs, arrangements, rhythms, and sounds. So, I became the type of producer who serves the song. Once an artist and I have sat down and determined what the record is going to look like from every possible angle, we create what I like to call a 'hologram.' Then, my job moving forward is to protect that hologram of the record from everyone—including the artist [laughs].
What moment changed your music life the most? Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?
Seeing Elvis Presley on the television when I was about eight years old launched my music career. I thought Elvis had the coolest job you could possibly have. I wanted to be him—or, actually, I wanted to be his guitar player!
As far as meeting people, I've been very fortunate. I was able meet B.B. King and express my gratitude for what he did for me. I told him I became the guitar player I am because of my love for his playing. I was also very flattered to play with Buck Owens and become friends with him. He had a great guitar player in Don Rich. Then, it was wonderful to meet legends such as Roy Orbison and have them say some nice things about my playing. Willie Nelson called me a "picker," and that's pretty high praise coming from him.
"Seeing Elvis Presley on the television when I was about eight years old launched my music career. I thought Elvis had the coolest job you could possibly have. I wanted to be him—or, actually, I wanted to be his guitar player!" (American roots musician Pete Anderson / Photo by Nelson Blanton)
What's the balance in music between technique and soul? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?
You need good technique to get your point across, but that has nothing to do with soul. That's purely about your command of the instrument, and I find the pursuit of technical perfection is often a very boring way to play. You need to play freely from your heart, and I believe you play the most free when you are making music you love. Let your emotions shape the sound, the phrasing, the melodies, and the riffs and grooves. I think if you have enough chops to express what you feel, and you can put your soul into every lick you play, then that's a music life well lived.
Why do you think American roots music continues to generate such a devoted following?
It’s the coolest music! There's nothing cooler than roots rock, rockabilly, Southern rock, Chicago blues, Texas blues, New Orleans second line, and other regional American music. I also think this music is representative of different aspects of American culture, and people around the world still gravitate to American icons and ideals—cars, movies, guitars, Silicon Valley, and so on.
What do you miss most from the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future?
I miss that there aren't as many clubs to play, and, as older musicians pass, we have less authentic roots players to learn from directly. If I have a fear, it's that no one will carry on these classic forms of American music. Will anyone remember the originators? Will the marketplace be large enough for young players today to listen to roots music, study it, and perform and record it, or will it make more business sense for them to go into the pop or urban field? Culture tends to create the music market, and I think our culture has evolved to such a place that we're going to lose the heart of roots and blues music.
If you could change one thing in the musical world, what would that be?
That's a difficult question to answer, because things evolve in their own ways whether we like it or not. I guess it would be great to have more places to play—more clubs, juke joints, and honky-tonks. It would also be amazing if musicians could once again make a decent living by playing those places. Earning a living wage from doing live performances and selling records has gone by the wayside. Touring is expensive and downloads bring in a pittance in revenue for artists. I'd love for all of that to change.
"My view of the world changed because I saw firsthand that music really is the way to universal communication." (Pete Anderson / Photo by Nelson Blanton)
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music?
I always say if you're going to dream, dream big. Even if you fall short, you may still end up farther along than you ever thought possible. You should also play music that makes you happy and try to learn something new each day about being a musician, a songwriter, a producer, or whatever creative path you're on. If your learning process continues, you're gonna do just fine.
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