Ty Tabor wasn’t planning to do a double album; he actually just wanted to gather up some of his online-only songs and put them together onto a CD for the fans. But the creativity started cooking and before he knew it, new songs were coming to him. So the Best Of changed over to a Best Of with bonus songs. Then that turned into a Best Of on one CD and all new songs on a second CD. Together, they are collectively known as Alien Beans; twenty-one songs from the past and present that make a pretty good compilation of what the King’s X guitar player can do.
Tabor, the son of a Mississippi bluegrass musician, took to the guitar in single-digit age. He played onstage with his father’s band before he just had to follow that rock & roll path, one he had been drawn to by four mop-headed lads from Liverpool. In the early 1980’s, along with singer-bassist Doug Pinnick and drummer Jerry Gaskill, they formed King’s X and released their debut album, Out Of The Silent Planet, in the spring of 1988 after getting their feet wet in the Houston club scene.After releasing two more albums, Atlantic Records took the reins and released their next three records. With a strong following and a 1990 hit single, “It’s Love,” the band was touring regularly and garnering airplay on MTV. Being that busy, it wasn’t until 1997 that Tabor was able to find time to record his first solo album, Naomi’s Solar Pumpkin.
“When it comes to what I write for solo material, I don’t really think about bands or anything like that,” said Tabor when Alien Beans was released in January.“I just write music that makes me happy and I’ve ended up with an album I really love.”Glide caught up with the musician last week to talk about his music, his early gig days in Houston and his love of The Beatles.
Once I’ve finally decided it’s going to be released a certain way, I let it go and tend to not listen to it or go back to it very much at that point. Usually right after I turn it in for real, I’ll listen to it all the way through one time just to be sure. Once I reach that point, I can let this go and I do. I just walk away from it. It’s like finishing a diary and just moving on for me.
You’ve written some new songs and you’ve reworked some older songs to create this sort of double album. But that wasn’t what you originally planned. Were you only going to do new songs?
Originally, we were just going to do the old songs. What happened is, I put out a few albums online through a label called Molken Music and we only let fans on Facebook even know about it. We didn’t run ads and things like that or really do anything to promote these albums. We just put them out. So what happened is, my manager suggested at one point that I should release those on a bigger label with a little push behind them so people could know about the songs in the first place. So that was the original idea.
Then I decided I was going to put at least two or three more new songs on it, and I think Joe at Rat Pak suggested that too and wanted that, just to have something new along with it for bonus. Then after I gave him the third song, I still had these several other songs I was working on and I just kind of kept putting him on hold a little longer. I’d write another one and put him on hold and write another one. After a while we just both kind of said, okay, let’s just wait till it’s a full album and kept working on it.
So most of the new songs were written in that time frame?
There were a couple of them that were left over from the last album that I did but hadn’t finished but I liked the music to. “Deeper Place” was an old one and so was “Heavily Twisted,” which was finished musically. I just didn’t have lyrics or a melody on it yet. So I put it aside till this album and then all of a sudden the lyrics just came.But other than those two, everything else was written during that time period.
You mentioned “Heavily Twisted.” That song sounds somewhat different than the others in a lot of ways, vocally and the way it starts out. It’s almost like it wants to go off into some Prog rock territory.
Yeah, that one was constructed musically around the guitar part. It’s really moving, and I don’t mean moving like moving the soul; the fingers move a lot on it. It has a lot of moving parts to it. Instead of just strumming, it’s constant playing of arpeggiated notes and so it was developed all around that. Sort of the same way I wrote “Summerland,” from King’s X. It was just built around anarpeggiated guitar thing so this was like another “Summerland”-ish way of writing and that’s why it was different than anything else on the record.
On Alien Beans,which song would you say changed the most from it’s original composition to the final version you put on the album?
Of the old ones I would say“Cause We Believed.” That one I remixed and when I compared it to the old one I felt like it probably had the best reworking of any of the old ones.
Which song did you tinker with the most, in terms of adding effects and things like that?
I really don’t know because some of the songs that sound the most simple have some of the most effects on them, believe it or not, and some of the ones that sound the most ridiculous don’t have as much stuff on it; it’s just what I’m doing with it is strange. When it comes to effects and everything, I just kind of use them as needed for whatever it is I’m going for and I don’t really think about it that much, cause it’s just as much a part of the recording for me as laying the guitar part down. And that’s the fun part. So I’m always experimenting with effects and things on everything until I find what I’m looking for and a lot of times it’s subtle, you wouldn’t even know it was there. But if it weren’t there, you would be able to tell. I kind of do that on every song so I probably look at every song similarly as far as effects and tinkering and stuff. Occasionally I will find that I’ve done too much and I will start taking things off and then it’s better in the end. I’m just always trying to find that place.
What can you tell us about the song “Somebody Lied”
Musically, it was just something I did to do something straight-ahead, swamp rock/Mississippi kind of thing, which is where I am from. But it’s politically motivated but I don’t really like to say who I write things about. At the time it was written it was dealing with a current political situation but that was quite a few years ago.It was a political situation from a different time but still relevant today.
What about “Back It Down”
“Back It Down” is just a song I cannot believe I even got the vocals down on it because it’s probably the highest I’ve ever sang in my life. Honestly, when I think back at it and start trying to sing along, it’s almost impossible. I had to really warm up and work my voice just to be able to hit the notes. But what it’s about lyrically is just about how you can be heard easier if you lower your voice, that kind of thing.
Being a guitar guy, this naturally has a lot of guitar on it. Did you use a big variety of guitars on these songs or did you stick to your main one?
I probably used about five or six guitars on the record, at least; maybe a little bit more. But I did have a couple of main ones that I would go to. I’ve got this one 1950’s Tribute Les Paul that is probably the main guitar on the whole record. I’ve got several Strats I use on the record.I’ve got a couple other different Les Pauls I used. I used a Les Paul Junior with some P-90 pickups in it.And a couple of guitars I built myself. I think that’s about it. But the main guitar is the 50’s Tribute Les Paul.
When you’re composing, is it mostly on an acoustic or an electric?
It used to be mostly on acoustic. Almost all of the old King’s X stuff that I wrote, I wrote on acoustic, including really heavy stuff. A lot of it was written on an acoustic originally and then taken to electric. But these days, right now, I don’t even have an acoustic out in this area. I have like nine electric guitars in this room with me right now and not a single acoustic. So these days, I’m really comfortable as an electric guitar player. I mean, that’s really what I am. So I use acoustic every now and then, like I did on a couple of songs on the album, but that was the first time I even pulled my acoustic out in a long time when I did that. I put it back away and I don’t even know where it is right now (laughs). But I just mainly play electric these days. It’s what I’m comfortable with.
When you were composing on the acoustic and you decided to move it to an electric, did you automatically know which guitar you wanted to use to record it or did you experiment a lot to find the sound you wanted?
No, back in the days when I was writing most everything on acoustic, I was recording exclusively with one guitar and that was a Fender Strat Elite. That was the main guitar I used on the first four King’s X albums. I toured with it exclusively for a long time too. I ended up eventually getting another one or two Elite backups for different tunings for live but this one maroon Elite was my main guitar on everything for a long time. So it never was even a question about what I was going to after I went off the acoustic in the old days. It was straight to that Elite and to my old rig. It always sounded sweet and if I tried other things, it just didn’t sound as good so I always went back to it.
When you first started learning how to play guitar, what was the hardest thing for you to get the hang of?
Probably the same thing for everybody, when you first start playing barre chords. You know, I was really young when I started playing so I had these tiny little hands trying to hold down six strings on a cheap guitar where the strings are half an inch off the neck, and just horrible to play in the first place. And that’s the kind of guitar that I learned to play barre chords on so that took effort; that took really building up hand strength. But once I built up that hand strength, barre chords became the easiest thing of all. And that’s pretty much what I play all night now.It’s like, you just lay your hand on the guitar without any effort to play barre chords now. But in the old days, it took a little work to build up the reflexes and hand strength to do it, and calluses. Sliding up and down can wear your hand out.
Did you get frustrated pretty easy about that?
Not when I was really learning to play guitar but one of my earliest guitar stories is of ultimate frustration and that was the first acoustic that my parents gave me. It was a little plastic play guitar and I was really disappointed cause I wanted a real guitar and I knew the difference. And this one sounded terrible, you know, little plastic junk. So I went into our living room at the time and I put the guitar down on the floor and I jumped up and down on it and smashed it to pieces. I was probably, I don’t know, four maybe. My brother was in the room, he’s two years older than me, and I remember him being horrified cause he just thought I was going to be in huge trouble. For some reason, I didn’t get in huge trouble. Instead, they realized that I knew the difference and that piece of plastic wasn’t going to do it and they went out and got me a real guitar (laughs).
You got lucky
I got very, very lucky. I had the best parents in the world cause it could very well have been where I never saw another guitar again!(laughs)
You said you grew up in Mississippi?
Yeah, up in the Jackson area, in Pearl. I went there for all twelve years of school.
When did you start playing with actual bands?
By the time I was twelve, I was out doing shows with my dad John and my brother Wes and another family that joined us, my dad’s best friend Sam and his son Tim. We had a band together, a bluegrass band, and we did lots of stuff. We did the Monticello Bluegrass Festival in Mississippi more than once and we did all kinds of shows around Jackson and Pearl. A matter of fact, Pearl wasn’t even called Pearl when I was born and raised there. The first twelve years that I lived there, I lived in Jackson. When I turned twelve, something happened where we were able to incorporate ourselves and separate ourselves from Jackson and then at that point we became Pearl. On Pearl’s first birthday, I was thirteen and I remember playing the big Pearl Day, the big celebration in the park, where everybody in town came out. It was a big deal. Everybody was all happy being our own city (laughs). We played that first Pearl Day thing on the main stage – me, my brother and Tim doing bluegrass music. So I’ve been out touring and playing stuff like that just my whole life really.
When you were doing bluegrass, were you attempting banjo and mandolin?
I tinkered around with mandolin and banjo. I learned a little bit on banjo and stuff but I wasn’t the banjo player in our band so I didn’t have to worry about it. My brother played banjo and he was great. And Tim, my dad’s best friend’s son, played mandolin and he would also do violin, or if you’re in bluegrass it’s called fiddle. Basically, we had all the bases covered. Tim’s dad would play harmonica and occasionally a little acoustic guitar to backup and he would sing. And my dad would sing and play washtub bass, which was literally a string and a washtub. And that was our gig.
What changed you to rock & roll?
I was always into rock & roll. I just did that on the side for fun with my family.But the love of my life musically was The Beatles. They were the reason I wanted to play music. I knew I wanted to play rock & roll and when I was very young my dad helped me to buy my first electric guitar and I had it before I had any good acoustics, actually. But I got an electric guitar from a guy down the street for $25. It was a Telstar electric guitar and amp and I got both for $25. I had to mow yards for six weeks to pay for it. My dad paid for it upfront and then I mowed and paid it off.
So I was always wanting to play electric more than anything. I mean, that was all I wanted to do, play rock & roll. My dad was always dragging me away going, “Hey, let’s go play some bluegrass!” And of course I loved it, it was fun and a fun family thing. We’d do it almost every Friday night. We’d go over to Sam’s house and we’d have what we’d call a pickin’. I mean, it was just always happening.But at the exact same time, I was learning rock & roll on an electric. Anytime I was sitting around by myself, the only thing I was playing was rock & roll. I didn’t play bluegrass unless I was playing with my dad and my brother and stuff. I didn’t ever sit around playing it on my own. I always just played rock.
Did you play a lot of Beatles songs?
Believe it or not, I never played Beatles songs. They were absolutely my favorite band on Earth but I didn’t learn their stuff. I didn’t want to learn their stuff. I just wanted to listen to it. I learned other stuff. It took me a long time before I allowed myself to actually learn Beatles guitar parts, because for some reason I didn’t want to touch it.
You didn’t want to know the mystery behind it
I think that probably is a lot to do with it. I wanted to leave it as is.
When you and King’s X were getting started, what was going on in the music scene where you were?
Not a whole lot, actually. We moved to Houston and we were playing clubs, little bitty clubs, around town.Houston is such a massive population area, with Galveston, so the whole area is eight and a half million people now and that’s a pretty good amount of people for shows. So Houston always had plenty of shows on any given night; there was always somebody to go see and a lot of time, multiple choices. So it was good like that but as far as clubbing around, being an unknown band, we never really hit it long enough to know the scene that well. But it was a pretty crappy scene for us at first (laughs); very small crowds and very small places that really weren’t meant to have much gear in the places and we’d drag everything in and blow everybody’s heads off. That’s how it was for us.
And we were imports. I mean, we weren’t from Houston so all the Houston people looked at us like, “Who are these guys? Who do they think they are?” Then all of a sudden we get a record deal and they REALLY hated us. It was like, “What the heck? They move here, they’re not even from here, and they get a record deal.” It didn’t make sense to people and I’m sure it didn’t. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me! We felt like we were outsiders always. We never felt like we were at home. We always felt like we were outsiders UNTIL we had a couple albums out and started selling out big places in Houston. Then Houston made us feel really at home and really took us in and really claimed us as a Houston band. After that, it was all over and it was great.
Was there ever a time when you felt as a band that you had lost your way musically?
Good question. I think that we did lose our way a couple of times maybe but I don’t think that we thought we were at the time. The only rule that we really have to follow is to just be real when we go in the studio and play what it is we’re feeling at that moment. We’ve always been true to that, we’ve always done that. There were a couple of albums where we just weren’t all that inspired and I think you can really tell on the albums. But we’ve never really done anything different than just go in and do whatever we feel like doing. That’s the only rule we follow. That way we’re not holding it up against some other thing. It’s always it’s own thing and that way it’s free to become something new.
When did you decide it was a good time to finally make your first solo record?
We were so busy for a long time, where there wasn’t much time to stop. We did this cycle for several albums in a row where we’d be in the studio for months, we’d tour for the life of the album, straight back into the studio, to touring the life of that album, and straight back into the studio, tour the life of that album; over and over and over. At a certain point we started taking some breaks because we told management we were going to quit if we didn’t cause we were going crazy, just about to lose our mind. So it was during the time we were taking time off that I started really getting back into other things, like racing motorcycles and doing other things. And that made me want to do my own music, because I hadn’t been able to even think alone for years at that point at all.
So at first it was just meant to be something I would do online and not really pursue, not try to get a record deal with it or anything. So I put out this album called Naomi’s Solar Pumpkin and the thing sold well that it was ridiculous. I didn’t expect it to do what it did. But because I was doing it myself, I couldn’t keep up with packaging and actually doing this stuff, so after that album I decided I’m not ever doing that again! (laughs). I then went to a label and have been doing label stuff ever since. I’ll let somebody else deal with the headaches (laughs).
Have you ever composed a song so intricate that it was hard to transfer to the live stage?
Oh yeah, our biggest hit as a band, King’s X, we can’t play live for that very reason. Our biggest charting song we ever had was a song called “It’s Love,” which went all the way to #3 in America. We used to try to play it live but we’ve never done it well and as we got older and our voices, it got even harder to do.We eventually dropped it and said, “We really can’t do this song.” And it’s our biggest hit we ever had and we don’t play it.
Who was the first real rock star you ever met?
I met the drummer of Gamma when they played the Jackson Coliseum opening for Foreigner, when I was very young. That was pretty cool. I met Phil Keaggy when I was pretty young and that was mesmerizing. Literally, that show, I saw him play and I was seriously questioning, why do I need to be a guitarist when there are people like him out there – I ought to look into doing something else! It really seriously made me consider giving up guitar when I saw Keaggy live. But I did get to hang out a little bit with him and meet him.
There is a legend in the Christian rock world named Larry Norman, who died a few years ago, and Larry is like The Beatles in the underground Christian rock world. He was a rebel, had hair down to his waist in 1969 when there wasn’t a church on Earth that would allow someone who looked like that to even walk in and here he is making Christian albums. And he was singing about VD and stuff that, you know, churches were horrified over. But this underground dude, Larry Norman, became huge, selling lots of records, playing big places and became a very, very influential human being in an area of Christian rock underground that became the most popular, best-selling stuff in Christian rock in the early 1970’s. I met Larry in 1977 or so and that was like meeting a Beatle at that time because he was just an absolute legend at that time. It was huge to get to meet Larry Norman.
There’s a great movie you can download or buy it off of Amazon about his life, a documentary. The movie is kind of actually trying to smear him a little bit. The one thing I don’t like about it is that he can’t really speak for himself in the movie but at the same time the movie does show how important he was and how big he got, and not just in the Christian rock world but the rock world. Rolling Stone thought he was the best writer since Paul Simon and considered him a god. He was outside the Christian world even though he called himself Christian. He was just this weird Rebel on his own but created a whole new industry that during the early seventies became the fastest-growing music industry on Earth, which was the Christian rock industry during that time. It was huge.
For you, what was your first big I can’t believe I’m here moment?
I don’t know because it probably happened so young I couldn’t even remember. You know, I started getting out in front of these crowds of people when I was really young and it was always terrifying and always a situation of I can’t believe I’m here. So it probably happened the very first time we played in front of a big crowd. It was a pretty big deal to play Woodstock. But believe it or not, I was more excited one night that we didn’t play. We had an off night in Atlanta one time. Well, we were actually there recording the Dogmanalbum and we took a night off, like a Saturday night off, because there was this band from Atlanta called The Producers that were one of our favorite bands on the Earth. As King’s X, in 1980 when we got together, shortly after we got together we learned about the Producers and they were a huge influence on us, as far as just being great musicians with great vocals and really well-thought out songs. They were too good for everything else that was happening at the time. They really were, they were too good. And we knew it. It’s a weird thing, musicians worshiped them but they weren’t huge. They had a reasonable amount of success. They had one album, I believe, sell at least 250,000 or so; maybe go gold, I don’t know. They had a hit called “She Sheila” back in the eighties.
Anyway, we took a night off to go see these guys because the original band was getting together for one night only to do a show in Atlanta and we happened to be there. We said, “We’re not missing this for anything!” I had never gotten to see the Producers before and they were literally my favorite band on Earth at that time. So we show up, they recognize us in the crowd, and the place is totally packed, and it happens to be a time when King’s X is pretty well-known in America. We were doing big shows everywhere and our albums are selling at that time pretty good, and like I said, we were getting ready to do Dogman. They knew who we were and they called us up onstage to play the encore with them. Doug sang along, Jerry played drums, I got on guitar and played dual guitar with their guitarist and we did the dual lead on “Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles. We did that and a couple other Beatles songs and I remember when we left the venue, me and Jerry were walking through the parking lot jumping up in the air like schoolkids high-fiving each other, yelling that we just got to play with the Producers. And for me, there’s never been anything onstage I can think of where I was that excited about getting to be there other than that night. And it wasn’t even our show (laughs). That’s probably my musical highlight of my life, getting to play with the Producers. And I’ve played with a lot of famous people but they were my favorite band on the Earth and the fact that they had split up a while back and then had reformed without original members and all this stuff, then for one night they were going to have the real band again and we got to be there.That was huge. It was amazing.
So what do you have planned for this year? Anything with King’s X?
Yeah, it’s pretty much all King’s X. I’m going to be touring with King’s X all year. We have, right now, shows till June with more being added on at all times. So we’re going to be out touring all year but we’re also going to be writing music this year in-between the shows with the idea of going in, potentially, at the end of the year to start demoing some stuff or recording a new album.
Photograph by Reames Photography