Interview with Clayton James Mick of Booze Brothers
Name: Clayton James Mick
Bands: Satisfaction LTD, Horizon, Starfire, Wooden Nickel, Booze Brothers
Listen to “Fuel to the Fire”
Listen to “Queen of Pop”
QRD – What was your first guitar & what happened to it?
Clayton – The very first guitar I ever seriously tried to play was a Danelectro model just like the one Jimmy Page played, which was loaned to me by my friend Doug Lippert, the lead guitarist in my first band Satisfaction, LTD back in 1981. Being young & stupid, we refinished the guitar & had it painted black with yellow Van Halen stripes on it. I still have it in my collection. I beat around on that axe for a few months before getting frustrated with how hard it was to play. My first real guitar was a gold top 1977 Gibson Les Paul Signature. I was in heaven when I got that axe. The neck & action were so much better than the Dano & made things a lot easier for me to learn. Plus, with the semi-hollow body, I could get my quasi Ted Nugent vibe going. LOL. I also still have that guitar as well.
QRD – What’s your typical set-up from guitar to effects to amplifier?
Clayton – I’ve experimented with different rigs over the years. I started off using a Peavey Standard transistor head & a cabinet with 2x15” speakers... it was a back-breaker! This was back in 1981 & they hadn’t gotten it quite right with transistor amps yet. I bought various effects pedals, etc. to try & get a good sound, but could never get a sound I liked with that rig. Eventually, I sprung for a Marshall JCM900 2x12 tube combo. I loved the Marshall tone, but couldn’t get a clean sound that suited my ear. These days for live gigs, I usually plug my Epiphone Les Paul standard through a Germania Treble Booster & into my Behringer GMX212 V-Tone combo. Pretty straightforward. For recording, I love those little Marshall Lead 12 amps. They have a great distortion sound. I also have used Behringer’s V-Amp (with which I recorded the entire Everybody’s Happy album) & just purchased a Line 6 Pod Studio, which I’m looking forward to recording with. It’s gotten to the point for me where smaller is better. I don’t plan on lugging around any Marshall stacks anytime soon!
QRD – What’s the most important part of your rig – guitar, amplifier, or effects?
Clayton – I’d have to say the guitar. You have to have an axe that feels good in your hands. That’s where it starts.
QRD – What’s your main amplifier & why?
Clayton – My Behringer GMX212 V-Tone combo. I had purchased one of Behringer’s V-Amp units & liked the sounds I got from it, so I did some research on the GMX212 & tried it out at the store. Got my amp used for $125! Brand new, they only sell for around $260. The amp does everything I need it to do. I can get everything from a clean Fender Twin type tone to a Marshall raunch. It has a bunch of effects built in, but I’m not a big knob tweaker. I usually set it up for one or two echo or reverb effects & leave it.
QRD – What’s your main guitar & what are the features that make it such?
Clayton – I seem to gravitate toward my cherry sunburst Epiphone Les Paul standard for live gigs. Got it off Ebay for around 300 bucks. It got lost by UPS for 2 months & when I finally did receive it, the fretboard was cracked from the nut down to about the 5th fret. I re-glued the fretboard, repaired the nut & its been one of my favorites ever since. For recording, I mostly use a wine red Hamer Special that I bought from my friend Evan Peta. The Hamer is probably my all around favorite axe. It has that magical quality for me...great neck, great action. It originally had P-90’s, but I replaced them with Bill Lawrence mini-humbuckers. I’ve used the Hamer on just about all of my albums since Burner. My first album, Twist Off, was done mostly with the Les Paul Signature gold top. Burner was done completely with the Red Baron, a Strat-type guitar I built myself that had a single DiMarzio Dual Sound pickup at the time. I’ve since added a Bill Lawrence rail humbucker in the bridge.
QRD – If you had a signature guitar, what would it look like & what would some of its features be?
Clayton – It would definitely be a double cutaway type guitar, 24 3/4 inch scale. I probably would slap a DiMarzio Steve Morse in the bridge position & a DiMarzio Super 2 in the rhythm. I may throw in coil splitting for Fender type sounds. Two volume, two tone controls. Relatively thin neck width & thickness-wise, rosewood fingerboard with medium to high frets.
QRD – If you had a signature pedal, what would it be & what would some of its features be?
Clayton – I’d call it the “MICK-O-NATOR”. When I plugged into it, it would make me sound like a combination of Rory Gallagher, Peter Green, Billy Gibbons, Michael Schenker, & Rick Nielsen with a dash of Hound Dog Taylor thrown in to give the perfect mojo! LOL.
QRD – How many guitars do you own?
Clayton – I own around 20 guitars. It’s been awhile since I counted. Most of them are 300 dollar specials that I picked up on Ebay. I own at least one of each of my favorite models... Flying V, Explorer, SG, Les Paul, Strat, Tele. I also own a few acoustics, bass guitars, & a mandolin.
QRD – How & where do you store your guitars?
Clayton – I have a space for ‘em. Can’t afford any kind of specially sealed humidified vaults.
QRD – What do you wish guitar cases had that they usually don’t?
Clayton – Decent guitars inside them... there’s a lot of crappy guitars out there. LOL. Seriously, maybe more storage space & adequate protection.
QRD – What features do you look for when buying a guitar?
Clayton – Relatively low action, medium high frets, a neck that isn’t too fat like a baseball bat or wide. I also tend to gravitate toward Gibson scale guitars with humbuckers. Set-neck over bolt-on. I like at least 2 volume controls... 2 tones are OK, but I can live with 1. No tremolos, thank you.
QRD – How much do you think a good guitar should cost?
Clayton – Depends what your intentions are. If you like to brag about a guitar as if it were the size of your manhood, then I’d suggest spending thousands of dollars for a status symbol type of axe, putting it up in a display case in your den & then go around to every musician you know & spew. If you want a guitar that you can actually play & don’t have to worry about putting a scratch on, then spend around 300 bucks, work with it a bit to get it setup the way you like, pick it up & have fun & beat some glorious shit out of it. It’s up to you. I guess I’d rather have fun.
QRD – Do you upgrade & customize your guitars or just stick with what you get?
Clayton – Other than the aforementioned Les Paul Signature, I don’t think there are too many guitars I own that I haven’t modified in some way or another. I really enjoy working on guitars. I usually change out the pickups & tweak the setup to my liking. I completely remodeled a cheap Squier Bullet that had a single humbucker & routed it out for the regular Strat setup, slapped in some noiseless single coils, a string through body bridge, re-worked the frets, & now it’s a fun guitar to play. I’ve got an Epiphone SG & would like to shave down the neck a bit so it wasn’t so clunky. That might be one of my next projects.
QRD – How thoroughly do you research or test a piece of equipment before buying it?
Clayton – I will usually do some snooping around on the internet on a particular item that I’m interested in. If a music store in the area carries the item, I may go in & try it out. Sometimes I just go for it & the gamble pays off... sometimes not. When that happens... well, that’s why there’s Ebay. LOL.
QRD – Do you change your rig around often?
Clayton – Not too often. I usually stick with a setup for quite some time. After ditching my initial Peavey rig, I ran with the Marshall combo for many years before switching over to the Behringer for band gigs. I play in a two-piece band & sometimes I get lazy... so I just run directly into the PA with effects pedals. For that setup, I’ll use my Germania, an old Ibanez compressor & a Boss Super Overdrive pedal... that’s it. Even though I don’t have a direct box, it works pretty well. I did try to use my Behringer V-Amp, but even though it works great for recording, it was a bit too noisy for a live gig.
QRD – Are you after one particular guitar tone & locking into it, or do you like to change your tone around a lot?
Clayton – I guess I bounce around a bit depending on my mood. There are times when I get in a Fender mood & then I’ll bring out either my Telecaster or one of my Strats & pretend I’m Rory Gallagher. LOL. The single coil sound is nice for some things. I upgraded all my Fenders with noiseless pickups, which helps a lot. In the end, I usually end up back with my Les Paul.
QRD – What are some guitars, amps, & pedals you particularly lust after?
Clayton – If my house was big enough, I’d probably own a lot more stuff. I’m a bit of a pack rat that way. Let’s put it this way...if I won the lottery, Ebay would keep me quite busy!
QRD – What do you think are some important features to be on a person’s first guitar that aren’t always there?
Clayton – When you are just starting out, in my opinion, it is almost essential to have a guitar that has low action & a decent neck. I think having a guitar that is as easy to play as possible is the key. If you have to fight too hard with your instrument, it’s not much fun & you lose interest rather quickly. If it doesn’t have the greatest pickups, you can get by with that, but it’s gotta be easy to play or forget it. I know that’s how I felt coming from the Danelectro to the Les Paul. Back then, I didn’t know how to setup my own guitar & the Les Paul had been setup properly by a technician. The biggest improvement was the neck & action... not just that it was a Les Paul. It could have been a Japanese veg-o-matic guitar as long as it was setup properly.
QRD – What have been the best & worst guitar related purchases you’ve made?
Clayton – The best purchase would have to be my Hamer Special & my Epiphone Les Paul. I’d be lost without those. The worst? My Epiphone Les Paul! It got lost by UPS for 2 months & when I finally got it, the fretboard was cracked loose & the nut was broken off. I had to repair it myself, but after doing so, it became one of my favorite guitars. So, as Cheap Trick said, everything works if you let it! LOL. Another worst guitar I ever bought probably was a Samick acoustic-electric on Ebay. The electronics are awful. It’s almost impossible to get a decent tone when plugged in. Also, the control panel/battery holder will pop out if you move suddenly, which sucks when you are playing live.
QRD – What are some effect, amp, & guitar brands you particularly like or dis-like & why?
Clayton – I really like what Behringer has done. They make a lot of quality stuff for a decent price. I guess the only kinds of guitars I don’t care for are those really pointy Schecter & Dean axes & EMG pickups. Flying Vs & Explorers are pointy enough for me. Sorry, but I guess I’m kind of old school that way. I like curves.
QRD – What’s the first thing you play when you pick up a guitar?
Clayton – It’s always some kind of blues stuff. I like to pick up & just jam out on blues riffs & then work my way up in speed a bit. I run some scales, do some finger picking, etc. Kind of a variety.
QRD – How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Clayton – Eighteen. I fiddled about with guitars before then, but not seriously until after high school.
QRD – At what age do you think you leveled up to your best guitar playing?
Clayton – I know that about the time I recorded my Burner album, I had gotten to the point where I knew my way around the scales pretty well. I don’t think a person ever stops getting better. You’ve got to keep moving forward.
QRD – Why do you think a guitar fits you more so than other instruments?
Clayton – Because I didn’t make it on the cornet. LOL. Too bad... who knows? I could have been the next Herb Alpert.
QRD – Do you think guitar should be people’s first instrument as often as it is?
Clayton – Sure, why not? The guitar is a great place to start, especially if you’re a rocker. Then I’d say move on & try some other stuff too. I actually started out on the cornet in school band. Then it was guitar, mandolin, & now I’m dabbling with piano.
QRD – Do you see your guitar as your ally or adversary in making music?
Clayton – An ally for sure! Guitars are our friends. Treat them nicely.
QRD – Who are the guitarists that most influenced your playing & sound?
Clayton – My favorite guitar player is
Rory Gallagher. I tend to gravitate towards blues based players such as
Peter Green, Clapton, BB, Hound Dog Taylor. For rock guys I like Michael
Schenker, Frank Zappa, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Leslie West, Billy
Gibbons of ZZ Top, Bill Nelson of Be Bop Deluxe, Angus Young, Eddie Van
Halen, Uli Jon Roth, Ted Nugent, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Tony Iommi, the
obligatory nod to Hendrix. Also, Richard Thompson, Steve Morse, Albert
Lee, Roy Buchanan, any decent blues type guitar players.
Clayton – We name everything else, why not guitars? Can’t say I do it too much, although I have one Strat-type guitar that I built that I call the Red Baron.
QRD – What’s the most physical damage you’ve done to a guitar & how did you do it?
Clayton – I’ve been fortunate enough to never have seriously damaged an instrument. I’ve bashed into a few cymbals & mic stands. One time, I was playing a gig with a band in January when the temperature outside was like 30 below zero. My guitar was cold & when I opened the case & the guitar hit the heated air, the finish cracked like a shattered mirror.
QRD – What do you do to practice other than simply playing?
Clayton – Listen. I try to keep my ears open to a variety of music. It all finds its way into your playing in one way or another.
QRD – How many hours a week do you play guitar & how many hours would you like to?
Clayton – Not nearly as much as I used to. Life tends to get in the way sometimes. But, I do as much as I can with the time that I have. If I could, I would play at least an hour a day.
QRD – What type of pick do you use & why?
Clayton – I use Dunlop Tortex picks, the .60mm orange colored ones. I like a pick that’s about in-between as far as thickness. Thin picks break too easily & heavy picks don’t flex enough. These don’t break & they flex the right amount for me.
QRD – What gauge strings do you use & why?
Clayton – I use Ernie Ball stainless steel
extra light strings starting with an 0.08 on the high E. They are brighter
sounding than regular strings & I prefer the extra light gauge because
it’s easier on my hands.
Clayton – When I run my finger along the length of the wound strings & can feel pits from the frets, I usually change them out.
QRD – How often do you break strings?
Clayton – Not that often these days. Guess I must be mellowing with age... LOL.
QRD – Which do you feel is more proficient, your strumming hand or fretting hand & how does that effect your style?
Clayton – For where I’m at right now, I’d say it’s about equal really. Although, I do use tremolo picking quite a bit when I get up to speed, so maybe I do lean a bit more toward my picking hand.
QRD – Do you set-up your guitar yourself or send it to a guitar tech (or not set it up at all) & why?
Clayton – I’m a do-it-yourself-er. Who better to know how it should play than you? Besides, I enjoy working on guitars, so for me its fun.
QRD – What tunings do you use & why?
Clayton – As a rule, I generally tune a half-step down to Eb. Once again, it’s easier on the hands & gives a little bit heavier sound. Of course, a lot of bands do this including Van Halen, Kiss, Thin Lizzy, etc. On my Reality album, I tuned down to D for a couple songs. I also do experiment with open tunings & I like the celtic tuning that Rory Gallagher used on the song “Out On The Western Plain.”
QRD – Do you prefer tablature, sheet music, or some other notation system for writing down your own ideas?
Clayton – I have written down some things, but about 95% of the time, I just use my little hand-held cassette recorder to save them. I have been known to call my answering machine & leave an idea on it if I’m away from the recorder. I’ve also emailed myself lyrics & other ideas so I won’t forget them. Now that I have a Droid, I installed a recorder app, so I’m good to go anywhere!
QRD – How high do you hold your guitar when playing (strap length)?
Clayton – A little higher than Jimmy Page but not as high as a jazzer... LOL.
QRD – What’s a bad habit in your playing you wish you could break?
Clayton – Sloppy picking technique. I need to work on my articulation a bit more.
QRD – Playing what other instrument do you think can most help someone’s guitar playing?
Clayton – I think that piano would be a big help. Everything is laid out right there.
QRD – What’s a type of guitar playing you wish you could do that you can’t?
Clayton – I envy the acoustic blues finger pickers... players like Blind Blake & the like. They didn’t need any fancy amplifiers or effects... just a guy & a guitar. That’s what it’s all about!
QRD – What’s a guitar goal you’ve never accomplished?
Clayton – I think I pretty much answered this one with the last question. But, I haven’t given up yet... I keep on trying!
QRD – What’s the last guitar trick you learned?
Clayton – Playing the guitar with my teeth... my dentist appointment is tomorrow.…
QRD – What’s your favorite guitar gadget (ebow, capo, slide, string cutter, etc)?
Clayton – I’d say the slide. If done right, you can get some really nice sounds.
QRD – What’s a guitar technique you’d like to master, but haven’t?
Clayton – Probably playing the slide. I mess with it from time to time, but I’m not really proficient at it.
QRD – Did you ever take guitar lessons & if so, what did you learn from them?
Clayton – I’ve never had a formal lesson. There were friends who would show me this or that along the way. I listened to a lot of records & learned to play by ear, although I can read music. I used to subscribe to Guitar Player & picked up a few tips there & I bought a few books & videos.
QRD – What would you teach someone in a guitar lesson that you don’t think they would generally get from a guitar teacher?
Clayton – Don’t close your mind to other styles of music. If you really want to develop your own style, I think it’s a good idea to listen to a variety of music. You can learn something from them all that will make its way into your playing & help you develop along the way. I have music in my collection from just about every genre.
QRD – What’s something someone would have to do to emulate your style?
Clayton – I don’t know that anyone would want to, but if you want to follow a similar path, see above.
QRD – What’s your take on tremolo systems?
Clayton – They are great for guys like Hendrix or Van Halen, but I don’t care much for them. I built my Red Baron guitar with a Kahler tremolo & ended up locking the bridge down. Makes a great solid bridge if you’re not using it as a tremolo!
QRD – How often do you adjust your tone knob?
Clayton – Not often. I usually leave it at about 8 or 9. Once in awhile, I’ll twiddle it to get a wah-wah effect. I also turned the tone completely down for the second middle solo in the song “Rover” off the Burner album.
QRD – What do you see as the difference between lead guitar & rhythm guitar players?
Clayton – A lot of times, a lead guy will focus on solos & forget to work on rhythm. Solos are great, but without good rhythm & the ability to play in time, it’s not much. A lot of frosting & no cake. Take a guy like Eddie Van Halen. I think his rhythm style is much more interesting than his leads... don’t get me wrong, his lead work is great, but listen to his rhythm playing sometime.
QRD – If a band has good guitar work, can you ignore the rest of the band not being good?
Clayton – This is sort of the frosting & the cake analogy again.....
QRD – What famous musician’s guitar would you like to own & why?
Clayton – Rory Gallagher’s strat... or what’s left of it! Rick Nielsen’s checkerboard Hamer standard or Peter Green’s Les Paul would also be quite nice!
QRD – Who do you think is currently the most innovative guitar player & why?
Clayton – I can think of a couple guys. One is Richard Thompson. Not only is he a great songwriter, but he makes noises come out of a guitar like no one else on this planet. The other is Steve Morse just for sheer excellence in technique, but never being boring.
QRD – Where can people hear your best guitar work?
Clayton – I have flashes of good stuff scattered around my albums. The wildest stuff is on Burner, but there are some good things on all my albums. I still am striving for the perfect guitar album... maybe if I ever get good enough, I’ll record it someday. LOL. You can download all my music for free at www.boozbroz.com. Plus, there’s video of me playing live at various local clubs. Some fairly good jams too!
QRD – Anything else?
Clayton – I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to do this interview. It was very enjoyable... always wanted to do an interview like this!