Allan Salmon: Taking Michael Jackson’s Thriller out on the road

Allan Salmon: Taking Michael Jackson’s Thriller out on the road

We are fortunate enough to rub shoulders with musicians across many disciplines: from no-nonsense rock and roll to musical theatre to electronica. However, London-based guitarist Allan Salmon spans an unusually broad cross section of musical arenas. As a recording and performing artist he’s played for stadium-pop acts such as Rhianna; jazz and big band pianist Jamie Cullum; dance duo Phats and Small; soul legends The Foundations; and comedians including Rob Brydon. Lenny Henry and Lee Mack.

He is currently touring arenas with ‘Thriller’ Live - celebrating pop phenomenon Michael Jackson (fitting in gigs with Dave Giles in between dates - why make life easy?) We caught up with him mid tour to ask him how he balances it all…

 

MPS
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience touring ‘Thriller’?

AS
Touring with Thriller Live has been fantastic. It was quite a challenge for me to undertake because I don’t read music and only had a few days to learn the show. Now that everything is a little more comfortable I can actually enjoy what I’m doing rather than panicking with every page turn!

Everyone on the tour has a huge amount of respect for Michael’s music, and the focus is on making the show look and sound amazing, The attention to detail is fantastic, even guys who have been playing the show for years still email each other discussing chord voicings, grace notes and things like that. It’s a big honour for me to be involved in something like this.

We’re currently in Switzerland on the European leg of the tour, and we’ve spent the last few weeks in Germany, Sweden and Denmark. The shows themselves are great and range from Arena sized venues to around 1000 seat theatres. We’ve seen some beautiful places so far and we’re all looking forward to the rest of the gigs in Germany before heading back to the UK just in time for Christmas.

MPS   
You have worked with an incredibly diverse range of artists, what part of your musical life do you get the most satisfaction out of?

AS
Variety is definitely something I try have with music. It’s such an intense and focused thing to be involved with anyway that variety should almost be compulsory. I love being in the studio and working on original music. I find the creative space and experimentation to be very satisfying and exciting. It’s amazing when you have the time to spend on finding interesting guitar tones or variations on parts, it’s nearly always a rushed affair nowadays though what with everyone’s budgets and deadlines! I’ve just finished recording an album with Steve Rodgers which I’d say has been the most enjoyable, rewarding and satisfying experience of my career to date. There’s nothing quite like feeling of being on stage though, in the moment and in the pocket with other musicians. The connection you have sometimes is beyond description, it’s telepathic and feels like a form of meditation to me. I couldn’t be without it!

MPS   
Whom do you count among your musical influences?

AS
I try to be influenced by as many styles of music as possible but I’m usually drawn towards music that’s based in groove, or towards storytelling songwriters. There are so many to mention, but my ‘must have’ artists would include the complete back catalogues of D’Angelo, Sting, James Taylor, Robben Ford, Eric Bibb and Steely Dan. These guys tick all the boxes for me. Playing with a wide range of musicians is really helpful for discovering new music too. There are so many genres out there and it’s great to talk to someone who’s enthusiastic about a new form of music who can pass on their excitement for it to you.

MPS   
What was your first guitar?

AS
Wow, I think my first guitar was an Aria acoustic, probably with a 3ft high action. I wish i still had it! I remember very clearly seeing a guitar shaped object in wrapping paper one christmas morning and being ridiculously excited. My Uncle and Auntie are both musicians and I spent the whole day getting them to teach me chords and scales, and of course Smoke on the Water!

MPS   
What guitar are you playing at the moment?

AS
I’m nearly always playing my trusty old Mexican Fender Strat. I’ve had it from new (in about 1995) and it’s been with me everyday since, so it’s as much a part of me as anything else. I’m not really into hoarding or collecting guitars actually, I like the the fact that my entire playing history can be pretty much traced through one guitar. Over the years it’s been battered around, had new pickups, electronics, bridges, saddles, frets and just about everything else under the sun, so I guess it’s a bit like Trigger’s Broom nowadays!

I do have a couple of other guitars though, because you have to really! I have another Strat which I use as a backup, a Charvel with a Floyd Rose Trem which is absolutely not my style but I am occasionally required to use one! Other than those I have a G&L Hollowbody Tele, an old Aria archtop Jazz guitar and a Martin OM acoustic which is just gorgeous!

MPS   
Tell us about your Flint and El Cap, what made you chose them?

AS
What I love most about The Flint, The El Capistan (and all other Strymon pedals I’ve tried for that matter) is that they sound like themselves. The Flint for example immediately creates a soulful, swampy mood and now I couldn’t be without one. I’m probably using it too much to be honest! The El Capistan is equally individual sounding to my ears. I absolutely love the degradation features like the wow & flutter and tape age, it creates such a warm vintage sound that suits my playing style down to the ground. I’ve used Strymon pedals on countless sessions and gigs since I started using them and they will always feature on my pedalboard. Producers, engineers and musicians always commenting on the tones they create and there’s no better compliment than that.

MPS   
What else do you have on your pedalboard?

AS

I used to use a TC G-System and a small rack of pedals which was great because I always had whatever effect anyone asked for to hand, but since I heard Strymon pedals (specifically the Flint) it made me want to change back to a smaller pedalboard with just a few high quality “boutique” sounding pedals. I’ve always used effects pretty sparingly, and they have to inspire me to play something different to earn their place on my board. Sitting alongside my Flint, El Capistan and Mobius, I have a custom made Tenabe Dumkudo overdrive which has that gorgeous “Dumble” overdrive sound. There’s a BB Preamp from Xotic FX which has a little less gain than the Dumkudo, and lastly I have a TC Spark Boost which always seems to add a little something special to any tone. In the studio it’s been referred to as “The better button” !  

MPS   
Is there anything you have parted with that you really miss?

AS
There have been a few bits of gear that have come and gone over the years that I now miss. I used to have an original Tube Screamer (what an idiot i was to sell it!) and a lovely Valley Arts Telecaster which was a little like Larry Carlton’s. I really miss having an Octave pedal too. I love playing with gain and an octave pedal and pretending I’m a synth bass player! I’m hoping one of those might be next on Strymon’s list to make! I’m not really a collector or hoarder of gear so I tend to get by with whatever I have to hand. I actually enjoy the simplicity and challenge of trying to get the right tones and effects with just a guitar and an amp (wherever possible)

MPS   
Is there any advice you can offer to people starting out on their musical journeys?

AS
The advice I’d give to anyone wanting to learn to play would be simply to enjoy it as much as possible. Play with other people, play along with records, go and see great musicians play live and absorb as much music as you can. I remember learning a new chord or scale and being so excited by it. I would take that piece of information and try to explore all of it’s possibilities and then have it become a part of my own musical vocabulary. It’s a journey that never ends and it’s both beautiful and frustrating.

In my opinion the most valuable skills for a musician to practice would be rhythm, and the ability to play what you hear. I would encourage people to transcribe music for themselves rather than relying on youtube lessons or tablature websites. You gain so much from the process of replaying a few bars over and over again to figure out how to play a particular part. It’s so easy to jump to the correct answer online these days but I believe by doing this you rob yourself of a big part of what it is to be a musician. You do have to earn it!

 

Find out more about what Allan is up to at allan-salmon.com

 

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