Scott Murawski, guitarist for Max Creek, member of the Mike Gordon’s band and part of the Bill Kreutzmann Trio (BK3), among other projects, reflects back on a jam packed 2012 and looks ahead to an exciting year in 2013. Hidden Track contributor Parker Harrington talked with Scott recently about his reflections on the past year, his guitar, playing with some of his heroes and what he is looking forward to in the coming year. Murawski tells us about heading off for another Jungle Jam, recording a Mike Gordon album, tour dates with Max Creek, BK3 and more in Part One of our convo…
[Scott Murawski performing with Mike Gordon by Parker Harrington]
Parker Harrington: 2012 was quite a year for you. It started with Jungle Jam followed by travelling across the Atlantic with Mike Gordon for Jam in the Dam and London, then a full slate of Max Creek shows including some special ones like Gathering of the Vibes, the Haunted Halloween Bash, Strange-Creek and your Creekend Anniversary shows, among others. As you look back at the year, what were some of your highlights and what stands out in your mind from 2012?
Scott Murawski: Ah, well, Amsterdam was very, very cool. I’d never been to Europe before, so that was a great way to start seeing it. Such a fantastic city- we got to hang around for five days which was very relaxing. In London we had less time, so I didn’t get to see as much but still I managed to get over to Big Ben and other places and check a lot of it out.
And Jungle Jam was awesome. Costa Rica is just an incredible country. I went down there the first time to play with Mike Gordon and Bill Kreutzmann for a benefit that we did down there for the school system and that was my first exposure to Costa Rica and my first time playing with Bill Kreutzmann. We’ve been going back there in some configuration or another ever since. Now Creek has their annual thing down there as well. Costa Rica is such a great country. So I guess those two: Europe and Jungle Jam were the biggest highlights.
The Creek shows were, of course, also awesome. The Gathering of the Vibes is such a great thing that we’ve been involved in since the very first Gathering of the Vibes.
PH [interjects]: Have you guys played every single one?
SM: I’ve been to every one, I don’t think Creek has though. There was one year that Depth Quartet played and Creek didn’t. Also, there was a year that BK3 played as well as Mike Gordon’s band and I don’t think Creek performed that year, but yeah, I’ve been to every one. The first one was called [Deadhead Heaven] Gathering of the Tribe at SUNY Purchase and that was pretty cool. It’s unbelievable to think back to what that festival was – just a small stage in the middle of a college campus to the spectacle that’s its become in Bridgeport.
PH: Yeah, great memories! I was at that first Gathering of the Tribe and I’m also amazed at what it has become. And how about StrangeCreek, that was a good weekend this year?
SM: Oh yeah! Both of those, we do StrangeCreek and Wormtown Festival in the Fall at the same place (Camp Keewanee in Greenfield, Mass.) It’s just such a great scene. I think it is a Boy Scout Camp or something like that, so it’s very woodsy – unlike most festivals. Everyone camps in the woods under trees, so it is not like most festivals where you camp in the middle of a field and wake up at 9:00 in the morning with 120 degree temperatures. During the day it is kind of family oriented, there’s lots of kids there and stuff but at night it gets kind of crazy. They run music in the cabins until like 6:00AM so they are really fun festivals with cool scenes.
PH: So what about 2013? How is that shaping up for you? Any rough idea what the plans are with Mike Gordon?
SM: In the early part of 2013, Mike and I are going to be recording an album. Then, in the fall and in the beginning of 2014 there will be a tour with Mike Gordon’s band in support [of the album]. Also, there might be some stuff with just Mike and I as a duo, doing some shows that way. That’s another thing that we’ve talked about for years – with all the looping technology that’s out there.
PH: Wow, that would be great!
SM: Sitting down with Mike and just a couple of acoustic guitars is pretty great – he’s an unbelievably good guitar player. When I was learning the material from [Mike Gordon’s solo albums] Green Sparrow and Moss, he would send me these recordings that were the whole tracks with his guitar tracks really pumped up in the mix so that I could learn his stuff. He played with Leo Kottke and he’s really an accomplished guitar player. So for Mike and I to go out as a duo and play would be really fun. Whenever we’ve sat down with a couple of acoustics, it’s uplifting, it’s inspiring.
[Scott and Mike by Tammy Wetzel]
PH: That’s great. Now, about BK3 – you said you had to pinch yourself the first time you performed with Bill Kreutzmann. I think the whole story of Mike introducing you guys is pretty well known, but what are the plans for that band? With Oteil not playing with the Tedeschi Trucks Band anymore, will there be more time for BK3 dates outside of Jungle Jam or is that going to be just a once yearly thing now?
[BK3 – Scott Murawski, Bill Kreutzmann and Oteil Burbridge]
SM: I don’t know. Both Bill and Oteil have always talked about doing more, but they’ve both been very busy. Bill was the doing the 7 Walkers thing with Papa Mali and Oteil was really busy between the Allmans and Tedeschi Trucks. But Bill isn’t doing 7 Walkers and Oteil is done with Tedeschi Trucks and we are playing together in Costa Rica. They have expressed an interest in doing more playing together, so I’m hoping that after we perform together at Jungle Jam there will be more of that. I’ve been talking to Oteil lately about doing some writing with him as well. He’s been writing up a storm down there in Atlanta, so I’m hoping there will be some more of that action going down, absolutely.
PH: So how is it going to be playing with BK3 again down there at Jungle Jam? Will you jam together a bit beforehand or is it like riding a bike – just jump right back on and do your thing?
SM: Last time we were in Costa Rica, we were in a room together and had recordings of a couple of shows that we did in Boulder and Denver. We listened to the originals we had done. We all knew the Dead stuff cold, like the back of our hands. Some of the stuff that we had written together around Hunter’s lyrics were a little more complicated and needed refreshing, so we listened to that stuff and kind of got back into the vibe of what the trio sounded like. We just practiced a few hours at the resort before there was anyone there. Kind of like a soundcheck/rehearsal kind of thing. It all just kind of falls into place with that band. It has this chemistry, this energy where whenever we start jamming or any type of playing whatsoever, all of sudden this thing just takes off all by itself and we get played by the music to some extent.
PH: I recently read your hilarious blog post about buying your Ibanez at Wurlitzer in Boston and was thinking about that guitar and your Languedoc that you used to play. I thought you were back to the Ibanez, but you’ve recently been playing the ‘Doc again? Do you just switch back and forth between those?
SM: You know, I played the Languedoc straight for two years and then I had this kind of, well, I wouldn’t call it a revelation – I played the Languedoc and had done a lot to it. I sent it back to Paul a few times for some minor modifications on it to get some more of the Ibanez sound out of it which I had modified to make it sound more like a Strat.
It’s funny, my son was playing the Ibanez all the time and so, I had set up my rig in the living room and was playing the Languedoc. My son just left the Ibanez sitting on the couch and so I was like, I’m going to play the Ibanez for a second. I plugged it in…and I was just like…wow. It’s a smaller scale so there’s not as much tension on the strings and the frets are closer together. Maybe it could be because I’ve been playing the guitar for 27 years, but it felt like stuff was just flying off my fingers without anywhere near as much effort or thought – it just felt great. So I went back to the Ibanez for a couple of years but recently I’ve broken out the Languedoc again.
And you know, it’s funny – every guitar has its strong points and its weaknesses and when you play a guitar, you kind of play around those. You lay the stronger points more often and you find ways to avoid the different weaknesses of the instrument, I think I get fed up after I play a guitar for a couple of years. It’s like – I wish it didn’t have this weakness. Then I switch, and that’s kind of where I was at with the Ibanez. It has this one range that doesn’t quite “sing” like the rest of the guitar does, so I find myself avoiding this one range. I picked up the Languedoc the other day and it just sings in that range and so I got to go back to the Languedoc. When I take [the Languedoc out] for a few gigs and realize what the limitations are with that, it’s a very frustrating thing. A friend of mine is actually building me a Telecaster. I think I haven’t found the perfect guitar for me yet is what it comes down to. Until then I have to keep switching back and forth.
[Scott and His Ibanez by Jeremy Gordon]
PH: Well, I’ve heard that quote that “you don’t find the perfect guitar but that the perfect guitar finds you.” So maybe one day the perfect one will find you?
SM: Maybe. It’s interesting, I’ve had a few luthiers approach me wanting to build me a guitar. And I’ve always said, “yeah, that would be great, I’d love to sit down and design it.” But until recently, I don’t really think I KNEW exactly what it would take to have the perfect axe. But I am realizing, after switching back and forth between those two guitars, and trying some other guitars, I think I could now sit down and say “this is what I want and this is what I need the design to be and this is how I need it to feel and this is how I need the electronics to be.” I think I might do this. There’s a couple of people I know that I may go to and say “I’m ready: Let’s sit down and figure this out.”
PH: Well you are obviously doing something right with your guitars! Along with your accomplished guitar work, you are a talented songwriter, can perform varied styles of music and are comfortable in many different types of settings. What do you think makes so many other musicians drawn to you and want to perform and collaborate with you?
SM [laughs]: I have no idea. You know, I don’t know. A lot of it is versatility, I can play lots of different styles. I am very easy to work with, I’m prepared. If I’m doing a gig or a show for someone or a recording and they send me the material, I learn the material well before I get in there. I try to be easy to work with. I show up, do my job, go home and don’t bitch – which for guitar players is a rare thing in a lot of cases [laughs]. So if I show up and the monitor is not working, I’m like, “no big deal, I don’t need a monitor.” So I think a lot of it is I try to be professional and easy to work with.
And again, much of it is the versatility but a lot of the people that reach out to me to play with are very jam oriented. So I think my ears lend themselves to where I can really play off of somebody and really echo back what they are doing or if I am not echoing back, I am finding the holes that they are leaving. This is all speculation on my part, I know that I enjoy working with other people and they seem to enjoy working with me. My phone does ring and that’s a good thing as far as I am concerned.
[Scott Using His Languedoc by Tammy Wetzel]
PH: Yeah definitely and what about you? What do you look for when figuring out who you want to collaborate with? Anyone particular on your radar that you are hoping to collaborate with in the coming years?
SM: That’s a good question too. I am very lucky because I am getting to perform with people that I have great respect for and have admired for years. Working with Mike Gordon has just been amazing. He’s awesome to work with and he has an unbelievable work ethic. We’ve actually been writing an album now for three years that’s just now coming to fruition. We finished writing everything probably three weeks ago. We finished writing all the lyrics and started recording demos and we are going to be shopping that to producers or whatever. But working with him is just an education – his work ethic is just amazing, his knowledge of the technology and of the art has really been such a beautiful thing.
And then, Oteil is another one…where he’s so deep musically and technique wise and emotionally. He’s one of the deepest people I know on all of those levels. So to be able to work with him and to write music with him and everything, that’s been a gift. Working with Kreutzmann, my God, I’ve been a Deadhead since I was 14 years old and to be able to play with him is just unbelievable. I’ve had to pinch myself many, many times to eliminate the fact that it wasn’t a dream and I’m actually doing this.
There’s so many great people that I am playing with… and being able to sit in with the Allman Brothers and trade licks with Warren and Derek is really cool. I am very lucky that I have gotten to play with so many people that I idolize and admire.
I’ve never played with Bob Weir. I’d love to play with him in some capacity. Jeez, I don’t know who else, I am open to working with anyone, I don’t really have anyone on the radar per se, there’s so much great talent out there.
On the other end of the thing, I get to work with so many great jazz musicians through my friend Tony Betancourt in Boston. I’ve gotten to play with George Garzone, I’m doing a recording with Bob Moses in a couple of weeks and I got to do a gig with drummer Lionel Cordeau. I’ve got to work with all these amazing jazz musicians. So, I love being put into situations that are outside my comfort zones and styles that aren’t necessarily jam bands or jazz. I guess one aspiration would be to work with someone who plays outside of those boxes, maybe someone more commercially-oriented or indie, or something, I don’t know. No names in particular.
Check back tomorrow for Scott’s thoughts about Jungle Jam, Max Creek’s future, what Mike Gordon will do differently for the next album and much more as we present Part Two of Parker’s chat with the guitarist.