Elwood Francis is one of the guitar worlds most respected and premiere guitar techs. He also plays in his own band The Mighty Skullhead. Elwood was gracious enough to spend a little time with Attack Captain and give us his insight into the world of Rock and Roll, DIY Punk, Billy Corgan, and his mothers amazing record collection. Read on !!!!
ATTACK CAPTAIN INTERVIEW WITH : ELWOOD FRANCIS
Years of Service: 33
Past Gigs: Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Puddle of Mud, Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke [Guns ‘N’ Roses], Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes
Current Job: ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons
Question: When did your love affair with the guitar begin? How old were you when you started playing?
My mother had a bitching record collection and the guitar just spoke to me. "Telestar" by the Tornados made me take notice. Started getting the itch at 13/14 to learn.
Question: Do you recall how you acquired your first guitar, what brand it was and the first song or riff you learned to play?
My grandfather bought me my first guitar. It was a no name acoustic with strings about a 6 minute walk from the fretboard. Good enough for the basic cowboy chords and I managed to learn the Aerosmith song "Somebody" on it. I got a Ovation Applause a year later and installed a pickup in the sound hole..then got a Heathkit amp, a MXR Distortion + and Roland 555 Chorus Echo. That was what I used in my first band: The Armpits.
Question: Although being known as one of the industries premiere in demand guitar techs you are also a musician and punk rock kid at heart. What is going on with your band THE MIGHTY SKULLHEAD?
We only get to play a few times a year at this point. I work a lot and the other guitarist/singer, Will Parker, lives in Key West, where he has a residency in a couple clubs. Being that we're based out of Lexington, KY, things really have to be planned out in advance. That said, we have a new 45 available and the next couple of 45's are pretty much in the can. Its the DIY punk rock cycle: Record some tunes, press the vinyl, play shows, repeat. Hopefully no one gets hurt.
Question: How has the DIY punk work ethic played a role in your life?
I think it was most useful in the early stages where I would just rip everything apart in an attempt to make it either better, more personal, or learn what makes it tick. I think my OCD is a big part of it too though. The entire industry is going DIY these days.
Question: Did that punk rock sense of community, networking and positive attitude play any role in achieving the longevity and success you have today?
Hmmmm. Probably only in a personal way. When I started in the business there were no punk rockers on this side. I mean, punk was still new and not really looked well upon. I was young and listening to Discharge and PIL while working with the exact opposite type of artists.
Question: How did you get involved in becoming a guitar tech? Who opened the door for you that allowed you to enter this field and what was your first big break?
Joe Perry. I got to know him and we always talked guitars. Towards the end of the Joe Perry Project, he needed a tech and asked me to do it. As he says: "He trained me well". The thing about Joe was that he understood the whole punk rock movement and recognized it as a shot in the arm that rock-n-roll needed at the time. I can never say enough good things about Joe Perry.
Question: With a career spanning almost 30 years can you give us insight as to what the job was like then and how it has changed over the years?
The obvious changes all have to do with the business side. No one is making much money and nothing is expected to be long term anymore. No money, short term.....doesn't sound promising, does it? I don't know if I would get in this business if I were to do it over. NO pensions, NO health insurance, NO set schedule, NO contracts, NO security at all.
On the tech side, I see it continuing to go the way of the Fractal or Kemper modeling route for both the money it saves in cartage and by having a music store at your finger tips. Kids aren't nostalgic for gear like the old guard is. They are smart.
Question: You have worked with a who’s who list of players, Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke [Guns ‘N’ Roses], Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes, Billy Gibbons and more. What have you learned and taken away from each one of them?
Joe Perry taught me that it's all about feel. Steve Vai taught me that rules do not apply and FZ knows all. Izzy made me realize that it's sometimes best to walk away. Gilby showed me that it's possible to be centered during chaos. Rich proves the theory that there is a good sound in every guitar, you just have to know where to use it. Billy taught me to slow down and play every third note. I learned from Billy Corgan that being a jerk never goes out of style.
Question: Can you describe what a typical day in the life of Elwood is like on a show day? Between load in and soundcheck how much prep time goes into getting everything ready for the gig etc …
Wake up, shower, load in, set up and soundcheck, go through every guitar and bass, change strings on a few guitars, check all the set lists and relax for a bit, then...deal with my shitload of daily guests.
Question: What are you doing 30 minutes before the show starts?
Tuning guitars and basses.
Question: What are you doing 30 minutes after the show ends?
It takes about 45 minutes after the last note rings out for us to get all the band gear in the truck. After that's finished I'll either be in the bus having a tasty snack, skateboarding, talking to my guests or showering.
Question: As a player, who were your idols? Who were the guys that inspired you?
Frank Zappa is the man! It always comes back to FZ.
Also, Geordie Walker from Killing Joke has driven me mad since 1980. Then there's Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Bob Stinson (The Replacements), and Kenny Hillman (from the Lexington Ky local band: Active Ingredients)...those guys pretty much cover all the bases for me.
Question: What is your earliest childhood musical memory? How old were you and what song or event was it that made music play such an import role in your life?
Just my mothers records. Hee Haw was pretty awesome too. I also really had a thing for Glen Campbell. Like I mentioned: Telestar was a big one.
Question: What was the first band that floored you and can you explain how your musical journey began and led you to discover other bands?
First band that I went bonkers over is the original Alice Cooper Band. I would skip school just to listen to those records. First band that I became a completist for is Frank Zappa. Both are related and lead me down that dirty path rather than the safe, peace & love path of the times.
I'd have to mention Mother's Finest as one of the first bands that blew me away in a live setting..and they did it several times. But once punk rock broke, that was the thing for me.
Question: In all this time, what has turned out to be your favorite musical discovery? Was it a certain artist or band or a specific genera?
I guess punk rock and the post punk era .... but I never gave up my past likings of hippy music.....just added punk rock to it. I love the Beatles and didn't even entertain the thought of giving them up just because I was a punk. I'll listen to EDM, Motown, J-Pop, and even Katy Perry. Im pretty open to anything.
Question: Do you remember your first concert experience? Who was it and what do you remember about it?
Billy Joe Royal of "Cherry Hill Park" fame. I was about 5 or 6 (1967?) and my father was the concert promoter. I was taken into the dressing room and given the full treatment, which in those days wasn't anything at all really. Just the fact that I could walk in and out of the dressing room was cool to me. They were back there playing guitar and being all relaxed while everyone in the arena was screaming their heads off. The Lettermen were on the bill too.
Question: If you could record a record with any artist / band living or deceased who would it be and why?
I'm thinking that playing with Discharge or GG Allin would be a blast.
Question: Is your quest for the perfect tone never ending? It’s all subjective but who do you think comes closest to nailing the “perfect” tone.
Geordie Walker's tone is definitely what I'd call perfection, but there are so many people I feel have "their" perfect tone. Johnny Thunders' tone was perfect for him but doesn't work for me at all...Ya know?
Ive never been unsatisfied with my tone. It's always sounded how I wanted it to and I still use the some of the same gear that I used when the Mighty Skullhead first formed in 1987. Fuck man, my tone in The Armpits was thick and dripping with feedback... I'd totally use it again.
Question: Gear is so addictive and fun so what is your current G.A.S condition like?
I'm looking for an old Ovation Applause with the aluminum neck and always looking at Gibson S1's and Marauder's.
Question: A pedal, amp. cable or pick ? What has been your latest and greatest find in terms of gear?
My Satellite Atom amplifier and my custom ES 295 made by Chris O'Dee at Retro Guitars. The Strymon Deco is my new fave pedal.
Question: Who is Rock n Roll’s greatest unsung overlooked or forgotten hero and why?
That's easy, Ginger Wildheart. It's like he comes to my house, looks at my record collection, and writes music that embodies the spirit of everything I love. The Wildhearts are completely overlooked in the States due to timing. They came up when the sunny northwest scene was blooming. Somehow the Wildhearts seem to have been lumped into the wrong category. Throw in some classic record company feuds, drug abuse and the rise of illegal downloading and you have one of the best rock bands ever, destined to be hidden in plain sight.
Question: Its 3 am and your driving alone on a long stretch of desert highway, what song should be playing on the radio ?
Maximum the Hormone / Koi No Mega Lover
Question: Top 5 desert island records in no particular order
Frank Zappa / Roxy and Elsewhere
Sex Pistols / Never Mind the Bollocks
The Wildhearts / Earth vs. The Wildhearts
My Bloody Valentine / Loveless
Freddie King / Hide Away
Question: What advice do you have to offer those thinking of pursuing a music career?
Do something original. Do something exciting. Be willing to do it for free. Im not really the guy to be giving advice on a musical career though. The things that appeal to me would keep an artist in poverty if they didn't supplement their income.