Premiere Guitar - January 2006

Killer tone, killer feel, such a tone chaser that he started his own amplifier company with a good friend.

I was talking with Peter the other day he said “Hey man don’t forget to to tune into Saturday Night Live”. I turned on the television and witnessed some seriously lush slide playing.

His tone was kicking my ass through the speakers on the T.V. set....and hey, did I mention he is the guitar player and musical director for Sheryl Crow?

Musicians Hotline®: Peter, I was reading a recent interview in which you were asked if you had any advice for aspiring artists, and you replied: "Yeah, don’t listen to my advice – you might not get ahead! Lessons learned maybe, but even still, it’s hard to say what has moved me along other than just being diligent. And not being a jerk." Needless to say, I let out a good laugh. I want to commend you on remaining one of the humblest and nicest guys in rock!

Peter Stroud: It's different these days, at least in my circle. Arrogance will only carry you so far before you're fed on by the buzzards . . . usually on the way back down! Yeah, I still feel the same way: that it's just diligence, seeing through what you believe you're capable of as an artist or musician, and having enough ego to know that you should be pursuing it. I just feel fortunate to be making a living as a musician while I can.

MHL: Cool, So, throw us a few basics. What got you started, who did you dig, and were there times when you questioned the road you were on? When did you feel like you had finally arrived?

PS: My older brother got me started. When I was eight or nine years old he’d be bringing different instruments into the house, based on his own interest. First it was drums, which sat around. Then it was the bass. I beat around a little with each of those, but when he brought a guitar in along with a Silvertone amp and a little distortion device that plugged into the guitar, I got hooked! At the same time Hendrix's Are You Experienced? and Zeppelin's first album came into the house. I saw “Woodstock” and “Concert For Bangladesh” at the theatres. It was all about guitar in those days, and I fell right into it. By the time I was 13 I could play just about any cool song, but not a lick of lead. All rhythm. I didn't have any interest in lead until a friend in boarding school gave me a copy of the five pentatonic scales and said I could play just about any rock solo as soon as I’d learned them. Then I was into early ZZ Top, Montrose, Robin Trower, Jeff Beck . . . just about everybody. I went to a private school in St. Louis during the mid ‘70s, so I snuck off campus to see tons of cool concerts at Keil Auditorium and the Fox Theatre.

As far as questioning the road I was on, that wasn't until much later on into my thirties! I was playing around town, happily married, but not really getting as far as I wanted with my musical career. All I wanted was to be in a band, signed to a label and touring. I was in a handful of Atlanta area bands, but it wasn't until being invited into other bands in sideman roles that finally had me traveling and playing at the level where I wanted to be. First it was with Dreams So Real, from Athens GA. They broke during the late ‘80s, when a lot of great bands where coming out of Athens. It was a three-piece group and I was the fourth, a sideman guitarist who would help flesh out the sound. Then in the '95 I joined up with Pete Droge, a gig I was offered initially since I had a passport and Pete was heading to Europe within a week. The beautiful thing was that his debut record was my favorite at the time. I couldn't believe I’d been called for that gig! And starting off in Europe! That's really when I felt I was getting somewhere. Our first gig was in front of 40,000 people at the Nürburgring racetrack, and it was broadcast live over MTV Germany!

MHL: I know things have developed quite a bit in your role with Sheryl Crow. You told me at NAMM that you’re now Sheryl’s musical director. That’s quite an honor.

PS: Yeah, very much so. But the term "musical director" means different things to different bands. I've taken on duties in terms of overseeing the technical aspects of our show, communicating the songs to be prepared for rehearsals, and reviewing live recordings of our shows intended for broadcast. Sheryl brought out a 12-piece string section on our latest tour. There was a lot going on and a lot to be kept up with on a daily basis. But we've been a group behind Sheryl for over seven years, and our other guitarist, Tim Smith, has been there for almost ten. Everyone has an essential role with this group, so I'd consider my MD role a rather mild version of the traditional one.

MHL: How Have your responsibilities changed, and what was it like in the beginning?

PS: Sheryl is very open to everyone's contribution, so you jump in wherever you can and where you feel it’s necessary. I just played guitar at the beginning. When Sheryl's previous drummer Jim Bogios joined Counting Crows, I took over his backup vocal duties along with Tim. It's taken a couple of years to get to where I feel like I'm holding up my end in that area. Now, I'm more involved with behind-the-scenes aspects.

MHL: Your slide playing is fabulous. Were there any specific guys you were into? Was that a natural talent for you?

PS: Thank you! Duane Allman and Billy Gibbons were the first guys I think back to. And Johnny Winter. Growing up in the South during the ‘70's, a slide was in everyone's hand from the get-go.

MHL: Peter, you’ve always had seriously kick-ass, rich tone. I know it always starts with your hands and your spirit, but you are a bit of a tweaker, I think. In the “tone chasing” department has it always been that way for you?

PS: I started messing with my amps in the early ‘90s while touring with Dreams So Real. It was mainly out of necessity, since I was carrying around a couple of early small-box Marshall 50-watt heads that kept breaking down. I'd have a head fixed in one town for $100 and get to the next town only for it to break down again. I learned how to do preventive maintenance at first: tube biasing, changing power-supply caps, cleaning tube sockets, looking for cold solder joints. Then I did mods that made the amps more reliable, like adding grid resistors in the early Marshalls. I'd go through my amps to try to make them bulletproof. Then I got into messing with the tone circuits, trying different tubes. It became a new freedom to be able to tweak the tone of my amps. I was obsessed, and no amp came into my house without getting opened up and f#$ked with!

MHL: Awesome! Thank you for that little gear- junkie fix. Please tell us what guitars and amps you’re into right now. I know you have many....

PS: I have quite a few faves these days, namely my goldtop Les Paul from the Gibson Custom Shop. It's the best Les Paul I've ever owned. It’s super-light with a wrap-around bridge tailpiece and no Tune-o-matic. It has Tim White's humbuckers. I have a new guitar that James Trussart made for me. An absolute beauty . . . a "Steeltop" model. My blue Firebird VII is another great guitar. Also, I just set up a Fender Jaguar HB model with a Bigsby Palm Pedal as my slide guitar. I’ve loaded it with Seymour Duncan Jazz Humbucker pickups, which gives it a very clear, pedal-steel kind of sound. As far as amps go, I'm using my 65 London, a '68 Super Reverb and an old Supro “Super”amp about the size of a Champ. We mike it with a Sennheiser 409 and it sounds just a big as the rest of ‘em. Also, I use a Fishman Acoustic amp for my acoustic onstage sound. It’s much better than just hearing your acoustic through the in-ear monitors.

MHL: Peter, I of course want to stay focused on Stroud the Artist, but we all know you’re behind 65 Amps. Tell us about your involvement, and how the hell you find the time!

PS: Time? That’s simple: You just reduce the number of sleeping hours! My best friend Dan Boul built an 18-watt Marshall clone one day. The next day he's telling me he wants to build one for me. Then we started throwing around ideas and I suggest that we go at it together. Then he picks the brains of many brilliant and generous individuals online on www.18watt.com . Then another good friend comes up with a great idea for a look. The amp design evolves further into its own thing, and we call it the "London" after the sound we hear in our heads: The Who's "Can't Explain,” The Beatles, everything mid ‘60s. Then another good friend puts up the money to build five of them! The next thing we know, Dan and I have started 65 Amps! It's certainly not that simple, but looking back, it's amazing how far along we've come with it over the past couple of years. An incredible learning experience, and we couldn't be more proud of the amps we're making. It’s has created new, very close friendships between our four partners and everyone involved with us, all of our dealers and so many cool customers – meaning the players who’ve bought our amps. It's opened a giant new door in my life. We've gone at it with the attitude that we'll build an amp that will create the sound we’ve been looking for, inspired by all of our favorite vintage amps and made roadworthy. It's almost like songwriting:

We have ideas for dozens of models. Now, if we can just find the time to design and build ‘em all!

MHL: Finally, Peter, tell us how the Sheryl tour is going and what we can expect next.

PS: We’ve just finished a fabulous tour where Sheryl brought along a 12-piece string section under the direction of David Campbell. Our final shows this past week closed the tour at The Ryman Auditorium, in Nashville. It was a blast and an experience of a lifetime. Next we'll be touring across the U.S. and Canada, beginning in late February.

MHL: Thanks, Peter. We really appreciate your making time for us and our readers. As always, it’s great to see you and catch up!

PS: Likewise. A real pleasure! Musicians Hotline® is a cool thing and really informative. I wish you guys the very best.

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