The Collection: Scott McKeon on his 1962 Fender Strat and the guitar that impressed Eric Clapton
Following a decade-long stint as a session sideman, it took an unintended jam with ‘God’ himself to reignite the blues-rock guitarist’s passion and inspire the best album of his career.
Produced by respected Oasis and Black Crowes collaborator Paul Stacey, Scott McKeon’s 2021 album New Morning is a bona fide guitar record. For fans of blues, rock and even jazz, there’s plenty to dig into as the album’s nine tracks bristle with a live-band feel and no shortage of passion, dynamics or classic guitar tones.
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Swampy blues licks and emotive slide sit alongside sparking 12-string textures and moody baritone riffs. And while extended solos and band jams evoke McKeon’s 1960s guitar heroes in intent, when delivered with as fiery an intensity as they are here, he is clearly still pushing the blues-guitar genre forward.
A child guitar prodigy, inspired by his dad’s love of blues, soul and rock music, Scott took up the instrument at the age of just four (check out @scottmckeon33 on Instagram to see a recently posted clip of his seven-year-old self ripping out some lead guitar on a TV show), and by the age of 13 he was gigging and fronting his own band.
In the years that followed, Scott would go on to tour internationally and open for the likes of Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr and even Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall, before a ten-year spell as a session guitarist and even a venture into the world of boutique pedal-building. We recently caught up with McKeon at his home in the south of England to check out his guitar collection and discuss his return to original music, as well as finding out more about how he ended up jamming with Eric Clapton.
We settle into Scott’s living room, which is clearly a creative hub for a busy working musician. Two-Rock and Marshall amplifiers and cabinets frame the walls, vintage Fender and Gibson combos sit ready, and a smorgasbord of colourful fuzz, boost and wah pedals are vying for attention on the stripped floorboards.
“I haven’t done any of my own music for a decade or so,” says Scott. “I just got a bit disillusioned with it all. I wanted to just be a musician, for a while. The blues world can be quite isolated when you’re doing your own touring and playing your own shows constantly. About 10 years ago I moved to London and started doing session stuff. I met Robbie McIntosh and I just wanted to be a session guitarist in that sort of mould.”
Success in the session world soon followed, and Scott has featured both live and in the studio with the likes of Emeli Sandé, James Arthur, Lana Del Ray, Van Morrison and even Ed Sheeran. One notable session led to a more longterm role in the backing band of a legend. “I got to work for Tom Jones at a session, and joined his band and toured with him for the last six years, and continue to do so,” reveals Scott. “It’s an amazing gig!”
As talk turns to gear, Scott proudly shows us his spectacularly well-worn sunburst 1962 Fender Stratocaster, the guitar most associated with the English bluesman which has been his near-constant gigging and recording companion for decades.
“I’ve had it since I was 12,” he says. “I use it every day. It’s got a real sentimental value to me as my dad got it for me. Sadly, he passed away not long after when I was 13. Every time I play I think of him.
“The blues world can be quite isolated when you’re doing your own touring and playing your own shows constantly”
“Because of the way I play, I’ve actually put a lot of the wear on it myself over the years from countless gigs. It was far less worn when I got it, but now it’s got a very unique look and wear to it. It sounds and plays amazing, Buddy Guy has even signed the back too!”
As a busy working musician, exposing such a prized instrument to the dangers of the road is not without risk, and Scott notes that there have been times when he can’t take along his prized number-one guitar. “If I’m carrying it myself to a gig or session then it’s fine,” he says. “But it’s best not to take the old ’62 if other people are setting things up or if I’m doing a lot of travelling.”
Given that the familiar feel and tone of Scott’s Stratocaster provide him with such inspiration, this might present something of an inconvenience. However, help was at hand from the Fender Custom Shop. “[Master Builder] Dale Wilson actually got in touch with me having seen my Strat on Instagram and asked would I be interested in them making me a replica,” beams Scott.
Needless to say, he jumped at the chance. “We flew the ’62 over to Fender and they had it for a month or so to get the exact wear patterns and to perfectly copy the look and feel. Then, a year or so later, the replica turned up and completely blew me away! They even got the ‘Scott’ decals on the front right, it’s uncanny!”
Slowhand at the wheel
Despite excelling in the role of sideman and studio pro for over a decade, Scott’s passion to release his own music again was rekindled following on from a chance gig with Eric Clapton in in 2018.
“I ended up doing this charity night for Paul Jones [Manfred Mann] in 2018 at in G Live in Guildford,” says Scott. “I was in the house band backing a bunch of different artists. There was word of Eric coming down but no one was sure. Paul Jones and Tom Jones were doing it as well, along with Van Morrison, so it wasn’t a bad line-up!”
It was also the debut gig for the Custom Shop replica of Scott’s ’62 Strat, which had arrived just a few days earlier. “I used that with a couple of pedals,” he recalls. “There was a Jan Ray and my own SM Fuzz into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb and my 1964 Fender Vibroverb. A pretty simple and versatile setup to cover a bunch of songs.
“We were in the soundcheck and Clapton was stood right next to me, so I thought I’d better play something half decent! Luckily, he was nodding along and seemed to enjoy what I was doing. During his soundcheck, his mic kept feeding back, so rather than stop the song he nodded at me to take the solo. It was Before You Accuse Me or something so I just played away and fortunately, he seemed to be receptive to it! After soundcheck I felt like I needed a lie down or something!”
Later that evening, Clapton was watching most of the gig from the side of the stage until the time came for him to perform. “It got to his part of the set and I didn’t think I’d get a solo,” Scott admits. “But instead, every song he kept looking around and nodding at me to take one! After the gig he came over and was really complimentary, and said ‘Nice playing, it sounded great’, and how it’s nice to hear someone who’s doing blues stuff and who ‘gets it’.”
The experience was an instant reawakening for Scott in terms of both confidence and creative drive. “I came home after that gig totally enthused. I called my friend Paul Stacey immediately and said, ‘You would not believe the night I’ve just had!’ It stressed me out a bit, though, as I know Eric is the kind of person that if he likes someone a bit, he’ll go and check them out online or something. But I hadn’t put anything out for years, so I started thinking ‘Fuck, what if he checks me out and I haven’t put out anything for ages!’ It was then that Paul was like, ‘You need to do another album, and you need to do it properly!’”
McKeon and Stacey set about putting the perfect band together to support Scott’s songs. Built around the core of Paul’s twin brother Jeremy Stacey on drums – whose formidable credits include Noel Gallagher, Sheryl Crow and King Crimson – bassist Rocco Palladino (son of session legend Pino) and acclaimed jazz keyboard player Ross Stanley, the band were joined by Scott’s Rufus Black bandmate Gavin Conder to provide vocals on several tracks.
Recording took place at several London studios including RAK and Fish Factory with Stacey deliberately setting the up the musicians to play together in one room, jamming and reacting to each other’s playing in the manner of the classic 60s and 70s albums Scott so admires.
“We really wanted to have the guitar front and centre, like some of the amazing Jeff Beck stuff or the Bloomfield Super Session,” says Scott. “We had this sort of old-school mindset, like some of those albums where it sounds like the band are all there together in one room in the studio, a couple of mics up and they are just having fun jamming.”
“I just played away and fortunately, he seemed to be receptive to it. After soundcheck I felt like I needed a lie down or something!”
Despite wanting New Morning to have a live-band feel, Scott recalls that he and Paul put in a lot a of prior planning and preparation, both in the songwriting and how the record would turn out sonically. “We discussed what we liked and didn’t like about guitar albums,” he says. “How sometimes there isn’t actually a of guitar on them or people do loads of takes and comp together solos and stuff, or even just how it sounds.
“I’ve been somewhat guilty of that on past recordings,” Scott admits. “How you sort of dumb down your guitar tone, trying to be more poppy or something. But really the thing you’re good at, the thing you’ve worked on for years, is your guitar paying and defining your own guitar tone.”
That the sonic backbone of the album and its title track was recorded using Scott’s prized 1962 Stratocaster will come as no surprise. However, other guitars in both Scott and Paul Stacey’s collections filled out the sonic spectrum of the record.
“I used an old 1950s Framus archtop for some stuff on the track Angerstein Road, mic’d up with an old RCA BK-5 ribbon mic,” Scott reveals. “I also used my lovely red mid-60s Harmony Rocket with its amazing gold foil pickups on some parts, and a more modern Danelectro baritone tuned to A♭ for the rhythm stuff on Third Eye Witness.”
Other guitars used were Scott’s stunning Custom Shop Pink Sparkle Telecaster Thinline with a TV Jones pickup in the neck, while for chunkier tones he utilised Paul’s 1968 Les Paul Custom and a Terry Morgan LP replica. “That’s and incredible Les Paul, the Terry Morgan,” notes Scott. “Jimmy Page used it when he played with The Black Crowes at Shepherds Bush Empire a few years ago.”
Wall of sound
When it came to amps, Stacey and McKeon set up “a wall of really loud amps and cabs in another room”. These were mic’d and then blended to taste at mixdown to get the required tone. “We had my ’64 Vibroverb,” says Scott, “a 68 Deluxe, a bunch of Two-Rock heads and cabs, my 1974 Marshall JMP, a small 1950s Gibson Les Paul Jr amp and lots of pedals!”
Indeed, Scott is something of a pedal connoisseur, having designed and released his own SM Fuzz several years ago. “I had the prototype of the fuzz I’d put together on my board at the Royal Albert Hall gig back in 2009, supporting Joe Bonamassa,” he says. “Joe came over and asked what it was and could I make him one!”
Interest from other players and friends soon led to Scott release it. “Initial interest was good and we sold loads but then interest died out a bit so we stopped doing them. A couple of years back, a friend pointed out to me that the originals were going for crazy money on eBay. I thought we’d better start doing them again, and they’ve become really popular again with players like Gary Clark Jr, Doyle Bramhall II and James Bay, which is great”
Scott will soon release a new pedal, the SM Octave Fuzz. “This is all over the new album too,” he notes with pride, and proud he should be. Back in the game with the best album of his career under his belt and ready once again to perform his own music in front of live audiences, there’s plenty more to come from Scott McKeon.