Troy Andrews (Trombone Shorty) may be the focal point when he takes the stage with his band Orleans Avenue but when he turns it over to his guitar player Pete Murano to do a solo, the electrical current in the room goes way up. “As a guitar player he can do it all,” bandmate Joey Peebles tells me before Trombone Shorty’s set in New Orleans opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “I’ve seen him play a bee bop gig, turn around and play like a thrashing rock gig and then a James Brown type of funk gig. I’m serious, he’s as diverse as hell.”
For the thirty-two year old St Louis raised musician, who has been with Andrews since 2004 when they started Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, this is the band that gives him a chance to frolic in all his favorite genres of music – from blues to funk to R&B and rock & roll. Although he actually began on saxophone, he was soon turned onto the guitar and never really looked back. After playing in his high school marching and Jazz bands, Murano earned a scholarship to Loyola in New Orleans. Hooking up with Andrews, the band has grown to one of the most influential Jazz/funk ensembles in music today, beloved all over the world and holding down the most coveted headline spot at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for the last several years.
But for 2017, at least until March 18th, Murano and his bandmates will be opening for the Chili Peppers on their Getaway Tour across America. For someone who used to listen to the band as a teen, this is a thrill for Murano
The Red Hot Chili Peppers love New Orleans and they love New Orleans music. What do you love about the Chili Peppers?
Oh man, their body of work is pretty incredible. I remember growing up on a lot of their records and I remember Blood Sugar Sex Magik and everything when I was younger. I was also just starting to play guitar around this time. I remember being in high school when Californication came out and that was a big album. I was starting to play with my friends at that time. We put little bands together and I remember “Scar Tissue” was a new song and we learned that opening riff and played that. And now, it’s really cool that they’re still doing it, still putting out great work and out here touring. They’re one of the biggest bands out there operating at the highest level. Everyone is super cool and super professional, on top of all this great music.
How many dates are you doing with them?
I believe it’s thirty dates total
And how many are you into?
Here in New Orleans, it’s the fourth one, so we get the hometown show early, which is nice.
In regards to Troy and Orleans Avenue, you guys built this band together. What were your goals in the early days and how have they come to fruition?
In the early days, we wanted to play the kind of music we liked to play, which is that kind of supercharged, funky, rock, brass-oriented kind of sound. We wanted to take that and be able to play it not just in New Orleans but all over the world and we’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve gotten to do just that, in many different places and many different countries.
What was the first foreign country you went to?
The first foreign country I went to with the band, I believe we went to England. I want to say we went to England for a couple of weeks, which must have been late 2006 or early 2007.
Did they know you there?
Not really. We were playing very small places. I mean, we would play in a little pub and then go across the street and play in another little pub. It was like that, that kind of thing. There were some people that were New Orleans enthusiasts who had kind of heard of us, people that would come to Jazz Fest every year. Those people are all over the world. So there were a couple people but it wasn’t anywhere near what it is now when we go to Europe. Now when we go, there’re people that are definitely coming to see the show, which has been really cool.
Which country do you see draws the most fans for you?
France. The crowd there has been building, which is cool. We just played there in November in Paris and I mean it was a blast, probably one of the best shows we did in 2016. And I feel like over the years in that town we’ve gotten to progress a bit, from playing in small clubs to the Olympia and then up from there.
You like to get out there and wail on that guitar. Has Troy always given you that freedom to improvise, cause he really seems to enjoy it.
He does, yeah. He’s always been very encouraging with that kind of thing, which is great. One of my favorite things about this band is I feel like all the guys kind of push each other to do better in those situations. And Troy is really cool about that stuff. He’s very encouraging and when he passes the ball, he wants you to score a touchdown.
Did you want to be like a guitar god growing up?
I wouldn’t say I wanted to be a guitar god. I wanted to just make a living playing music, and playing music that I liked. And mostly, that’s what I get to do so it’s a good life.
You started off when you were how old playing guitar?
I started on the saxophone when I was about nine. I moved to guitar around fourteen or fifteen and the first things I started to play was kind of a mix of blues stuff and that came from my dad and my uncle who were always playing a lot of blues records, people like John Lee Hooker, BB King. So I was learning that stuff and at the same time I was also taking stuff off of the radio at that time – Lenny Kravitz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, things like that. It’s cool cause playing with the band I’ve gotten to meet a lot of these guys years later.
Who was somebody that you have always admired that you got to meet while you were out touring?
Chilis are definitely on the list. Foo Fighters are all really cool guys. I remember checking them out when I was younger. Lenny Kravitz is another one. He plays a hell of a guitar and also drums. He can play pretty much anything he wants to play.
When you first started playing guitar what was the hardest thing to get the hang of?
The hardest thing to get the hang of for me was, first of all, figuring out which way to bend your fingers, to build those initial calluses, and after that I was trying to figure out how to do it without staring down at the fretboard the entire time. And I’m still learning that (laughs). But honestly, that is still something you’re always learning, always learning as you go, and depending on what you’re playing and how new it is to you, it’s always something to keep in mind. There’s always something that can improve. Then after that it was developing tone.
What is the most important thing about your guitar solos – what do you want to put in there?
Musicality (laughs). I want emotion. I feel like my best work, lead-wise, is just kind of an interpretation of whatever is going on in the room at that time. So it’s feeding off the crowd, it’s feeding off the other guys, it’s feeding off the overall vibe. And also, you’re thinking about what the song is about as well, trying to serve that at the same time. I always want to just keep expanding my horizons musically.
You did a song with Human Experience, which was pretty much Jazz fusion.
We made that track a couple of Jazz Fests ago. We had a mutual friend and it was kind of cool because here was this guy who was making all kinds of interesting beats and stuff like that and had a real know-how of computer that was not necessarily in my skill set. But it was fun to combine forces on that particular project. I do enjoy playing it sometime but it does get kind of heady at times.
Do you like the fusion?
I like some of it. I like it in moderation. I’m also very much a blues guy, a rock guy. I like the raw stuff as well. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and complicated and musical is not the same thing, to me anyway. Just because something is more complicated doesn’t necessarily make it more musical.
Tell us about that marching band gig you had in high school
(laughs) I played the saxophone, alto sax, in the marching band. Actually, the Jazz band in school kind of helped set me a little more on the path I’m on, I’d say. I was going to audition for the Jazz band in school one year and I saw they had a guitar in there and I was like, oh wait, there’s a guitar in this too? Let me see the music! (laughs) I figured, let’s just give it a shot. Phil Milligan was the band director at that time and he let me play guitar in the Jazz band. Some of the guys in the rhythm section there, we would break off into, and I think it’s a common thing in school where you go off into sections – the saxophones go over in one room and they’re learning their stuff, trombone players are over here learning their stuff, right. So when it was the rhythm section doing our thing, we’d be playing the Jazz band music but we’d also be playing whatever song came on the radio that week that we liked. I remember I caught his ear one time. He came in when we were supposed to be working on the material for class and he heard us playing the other stuff and he just kind of came in and said, “Sounds good, guys. Keep at it.” And I never forgot that. That was very, very encouraging.
When you came to New Orleans for school, you started hanging around and playing on Frenchmen Street, this very small enclave of music. What were the early days like for you there?
When I moved to town, it was 2002, 2003, and honestly I’d never really seen anything like it. It was a whole lot of music concentrated in one very small area. I wasn’t old enough to get in half the places at the time but it didn’t matter as much back then. I found it was a very accessible scene for an eighteen, nineteen, year old guy to come in and check out different kinds of music. You could go hear Jazz guys at Snug Harbor and hear the funk guys at the Blue Nile, shoot over to Café Brasil and catch the Latin bands. You could shoot down to the Apple Barrel and hear the blues guys and hear the Trad guys at the Spotted Cat. You could do it all in one night so it was cool and was just a lot of fun for me.
You didn’t get intimidated as a new guy out there?
I didn’t. I thought the scene was very accessible actually. What’s the worst that could happen? You could go in or go sit in somewhere and it didn’t sound good? But you shouldn’t get discouraged from people being vibey or people critiquing you, you know what I mean. You get back up, take a few more swings and you learn.
What was your first big I can’t believe I’m here moment?
Wow, I remember I was not playing on this particular night. It must have been the fall of 2005. Katrina had just hit and I was not in New Orleans. I was in Chicago and Troy at that time was playing in Lenny Kravitz’s band and they were on the road. Lenny was playing before Aerosmith. So Troy called me up and said, “Hey, the tour’s coming through Chicago, you want to come out?” I went and met him and that was actually my first time. I had been to festivals, I’d been to clubs, I’d been to amphitheaters but that was my first time going to an actual arena rock concert on that level. That was my first experience with any of the stuff you see out here – all the trucks, the buses, the whole mechanism, all the moving parts, the whole machine there. That was my first experience. It was also my first time seeing Lenny play and my first time seeing Aerosmith play and I was kind of like, wow, this does exist (laughs).
What’s it like in the studio when you guys go to create music? Does Troy come in with music or send everyone files beforehand?
We have done it every which way over the past few records. There have been times where there’s been some songs we play on the road and we go in and record those. There’ve been other times where we’re actually writing something together in the studio. There’s been other times where Troy just comes in with a song and is like, “Hey, check this out.” Recently he brought in some stuff that he had been working on and it was kind of cool to be hearing that for the first time and then the red light goes on and that was it. But I liked that kind of sink or swim vibe to it, cause it kept things fresh, I feel like.
Are you working on new music?
Yeah, this fall we spent a good amount of time in the studio.
And when are we going to hear that?
That is a good question (laughs)
In the catalog that you’ve done with Troy, has there been a song that was difficult to transfer to the live stage, especially in terms of your guitar parts?
For us, putting our live spin on things has always kind of come naturally. If anything, I think the quest has been, how do we capture what is going on live, in the studio. I think it’s harder for me to go that way. It’s just different cause I think things that work live in the moment aren’t necessarily the best for when it’s part of an album as a whole and you’re making it like that and the live thing is much more about the crowd and the interaction there, whereas in the studio, it’s just you telling the story.
When you’re playing live, do you guys have much interaction onstage?
We look at each other pretty often. Sometimes it’s to cue something musically or do something technical. Other times it’s just pumping each other up and having fun with it.
What is your #1 guitar?
Number one right now is a Gibson Les Paul Classic. It is a 2001 and I just dropped some Seymour Duncan pickups in there, which I feel like it really opened the tone up a little bit more. I feel like there’s more bite, a little more clarity. I’ve been digging that lately.
Are you a gadget guy?
I am not a huge gadget guy. My setup is pretty basic. The guitar goes into a tube screamer, which I actually use as more of a boost than actually bringing up the sound and the gain is usually pretty low on there.
So what is this year looking like for you?
We’re going to continue to enjoy this tour for the next few months. We’re going to Australia after that and play the Byron Bay Festival. But until then, Chili Peppers all the way! (laughs) You’ve got to give it up to the Chilis for this one.
Do you think you’ll get a chance to go out there and play with them?
Who knows. I’m not expecting it but anything could happen. You never know.
Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough