Interview with Rodney Pyeatt
TMM: Rodney, youíve had quite a career as guitarists. Your playing in
one of the hottest bands in Texas right now (Mike McClure Band), youíve
played lead guitar for Rick Trevino and even for
Selena. How did it all begin for you in the world of music?
RP: Well, as a guitarist and a kid, you find your love for music
early. What really did it for me was not how music made me feel but how it
made my family cohesive. When I was about ten or eleven, I had had a guitar
for a couple of years, not a real one, it was a Sears Roebuck. My mom
finally taught me the basic chords you know, A chord, D chord and so on. I
always tell this story, she made me play in the one chord (people who know
theory will understand that) and Iíd have to play the whole song in that one
chord until the next week when she taught me the next chord (the four
chord). That really kept me wanting to learn more and she taught me my first
few chords and then I just went from there. It was just a natural
progression. I probably played two or three years before I really had a
formal lesson. By the time I was twelve I was actually playing songs; I had
small repertoire of folk and country. Of course you had to have some Barry
Manilow, you know you get the big book with the chord picture over the word
(laughs). Thatís the way to go, you either have rhythm or you donít. Thatís
really how it started for me.
TMM: When you talk rhythm, do think that's something that you are
born with or have to work on?
RP: Have you ever danced with someone that just canít follow?
TMM: Oh, yeahÖIím that guy.
RP: (Laughing) You know what I mean; my upbringing is sort of from a
dancehall. I really come from a dance background. When I hear twin fiddles,
I want to dance with somebody. I usually step on my wifeís toes but
sometimes when you dance with someone else; you just canít deny that they
donít have natural rhythm. I feel as far as guitar playing is concerned, you
possess the talent whether its learned or not. Thatís the tragedy of it,
some people just donít have the drive. I canít claim to be a disciplined
person but my desire to play was what got me to where I am today. I have a
hard time practicing; itís boring. Who wants to practice? But sometimes you
just have to, like working on this stuff for Sunday (Rodney played guitar
for Rick Trevino at the Grammyís this year), I havenít played gut string
guitar in a couple of yearsÖIíll have to relearn how. I donít know if that
answers your question but I do believe someone has to have some natural
talent to be any good at playing the guitar.
TMM: Whatever it takes to be a good guitarist, you definitely have
it. Not to repeat the same question but do you think if someone that has the
same drive that you have, put in the same amount of practice that you have
could be as good as you?
RP: Well, Iíve also had a lot of breaks too. Iíll say that a small
percentage of people just donít have the talent to be a great guitarist but
I also believe those that are (great) have a certain percentage of God given
talent along with what they have developed through years of playing. You
definitely have to have a desire to play to be any good; I donít play as
much as I use to but I try to play some everyday. Itís hard when youíre on
the road all of the time but I try and make time. I try and play outside of
just the stage. We all have a lot going on in our lives, kids, wifeÖfamily
stuff and thatís important. There is also a lot of work besides music that
has to be done but with me desire will win out over duty every time.
TMM: So your mother was instrumental in your life teaching you how to
RP: Yeah and she made me sing too. I really didnít like singing but
my whole family sang and she told me it would help my guitar playing. I sang
by default but my mom was really smart; she tricked me into singing but it
really paid off.
TMM: When was your first big break after learning how to play the
RP: When I was thirteen or fourteen I won the Brazoria County Fair
Talent Competition, which at that time was one of the largest County Fairs
in the state of Texas. By the next year I was playing for
Selena but that was really what pulled me
into it. That was probably my freshman year of high school, by my junior
year I was married to the keyboard player and by the time my second child
came I was out of the music business for a while. Of course, at that time,
there wasnít as big of a movement of independent artists like there is now.
Itís always been the same but name of the game is drawing a crowd, whether
you do covers or originals. I guess my first real break was playing with the
Rick Trevino band. I was playing for Selena
at the beginning of her career and it seemed like it was always on the verge
of breaking through but just didnít quite make it. I remember one time we
were playing at the Country Club in Lake Jackson and after the first set
they paid us and told us to take a hike because we were all kids. I was the
oldest one at 15 which would make Selena
10 or something.
TMM: How did you get the gig playing with
RP: Her brother was in my history class. He approached me one day to
play in their band with them. When I showed up for my first practice I
didnít know what to expect in regards to what kind of music they were doing.
It turned out they werenít really playing that much Tejano music but the
Eagles and Ď50s music and stuff. They did a lot of country and R&B, harmony
stuff. Her dad played in the band at first. We played some pretty big crowds
but I was playing with her before she got really big. The sad thing is after
she was murdered, people say killed but I say murdered, she had already
recorded her English stuff and you could see the direction she was starting
go with her music. She would have been huge if she hadnít been stopped
short. A lot of Anglo people just didnít get the bulk of her work or the
talent that she had; and she could always dance like that. She was a huge
TMM: Why did you decide to stop playing guitar for
RP: They moved to Corpus Christi and I was already playing with 3 or 4
professional bands at the time. I actually played for
Selena off and on and while I was playing
in those other bands. I had married one of the band members and we were
doing our own music as well so I just got out of it for a while. I was a
music director at our church but I wasnít playing professionally anymore. I
also played at the old folkís home on Sundays but that was about it. After I
got divorced, I hurt my hand working iron so I didnít play for a year.
TMM: Did you play guitar in a professional sense between
Selena and Rick Trevino?
RP: Well, I was in a couple of bands but there was a long time that I just
didnít play. I did a little of studio work as a musician too. Nobody in my
life ever came up to me and said Congratulations (except when I got married
and had my children) until I was hired by Rick Trevino. I went from a bar
band playing cover songs and no originals to playing for a guy that had a
number one song on the charts and one of the biggest bands in the country.
TMM: How did it start with Rick Trevino?
RP: Well, I had played in bands before that had opened for him. I was
playing in this club that Rick played some times and they called him. Rick
had called this club owner if he knew of any good guitar players that were
available. I auditioned and got it. It was a big break for me. I got to play
for some really big crowds and had a lot of fun doing it. Playing for Rick
was the best thing that happened to me career-wise.
TMM: A lot of the artists we cover on this website have never played
before crowds as big as you have. Whatís thatís like?
RP: There may be a lot of glamour to that obviously even as a sideman
but honestly those gigs are difficult; itís hard to hear while youíre
playing. When you play in a place like the Astrodome, what you play, you
hear it again two bars later; itís difficult to keep time and place. You may
see the musician up on the stage smiling but he may in fact be miserable.
Those gigs often are very adverse but my playing level improved quite a bit
though because I really had to know my parts because some nights I couldnít
hear because the crowd was that loud. It was a big deal for me. When I play
smaller venues now, like tonight at Woodyís, I really appreciate the fact
that I can hear what Iím playing. Woodyís is a great place to play too. Itís
what I call a ďdeadĒ room meaning that it has carpet and a lot of soft
surfaces that soak up some of the outside crowd sound. Some rooms we play
have all hard surfaces and the sound just bounces around. It really makes a
difference in the way we sound to the audience.
TMM: How long did you play for Rick Trevino?
RP: Rick had a certain number of records on contract and with each
record he had hits so he was moving right along when I came into the picture
at the third album. Rick left Sony Records and got back to his roots. Once
he did it the established way he decided he wanted to do it his way. Iím not
sure if Rick was happy with where his music was going back then but I can
tell you that what he doing now musically is making him happy. I think he
wanted more artistic control. When I first started playing guitar for Rick,
we did about 100 shows or better for the first three years but in the fifth
and sixth years it really slowed down once he quit the label. It was really
then that I started getting my breaks as a writer and producer and
eventually playing in Mikeís band. I recently produced a guy named Rex
Hobart and just had a lot of fun doing it. I love producing; you have to go
the direction you can go. Itís kinda like Hank III, he plays country but
right now his passion is rock n roll. I didnít bail on Rick but I had played
for him about six years and he just wasnít playing enough for me to live on
so I had to take work where I could get it. Iím not a band member of his now
but Iím still in touch with him and do special projects like the Grammy
thing coming up. The Mike McClure Band is really where my passion is. Iím
also still proud of my record Texas Beer Joint Tour. It represents what Iím
about but itís not just about me as a guitar player but about how versed I
am as well. The lyrics are always going to be more important than the
guitar. A guitar player is a support player in the band. A guy once told me
the job of a guitar player is making a song sound better than if he wasnít
there. Thatís not arrogant; itís just the description of a guitar player. If
you canít do that, youíre not doing your job. Itís all about the song not
the solo. Thereís no need to play an Eddie Van Halen solo on ďWind Beneath
My WingsĒ you know. Thereís a time and place for everything and songs are
like that too. The song is the crux, backbone and heart of all of it. Guitar
solos are dictated by what the songs about.
TMM: Just before you hooked up with Mike didnít you have a band
yourself and tour with your CD the Texas Beer Joint Tour?
RP: Yeah we did. During that time Jason Boland was cutting a record
down at Awesome Works Studios with my co-producer, Steve Palousek. Steveís a
great guy, heís played steel guitar with Ray Price and many others. He plays
real traditional country and shuffles. I met Jason through my son in law,
Jeremy Watkins when Jason was working on a project there and thatís when I
met Mike; he was producing that project. Mike ending up calling me asking me
if I would be interested in playing guitar for him and I didnít even
hesitate, which was kind of weird, because I was right in the middle of the
Texas Beer Joint Tour but I was 38 years old, which isnít old by any means
but who in their right mind starts a rock n roll career at 38? The only way
you could do that is if you get lucky. Mike McClure described what he wanted
to do and I figured I would drive up to Ada Oklahoma and if I hated it I
would just go back to what I was doing with the Texas Beer Joint Tour. Iíve
had a few other offers since joining this band but honestly Iím right where
I want to be. Iíve worked hard to get where we are now; weíve all sacrificed
for this. Itís funny though, thereís still a lot of pissed off Great Divide
fans at some of our shows. We did the Larry Joe Taylor deal last year and
there was a huge crowd, you know, but I saw quite a few people line up and
leave when we started playing. What kept us going was all the people that
did stay and really dug what we were doing. We donít care if 60 people got
mad and left, Mike felt it was time for him to go on. I donít have any dog
in the fight but our band is four guys that are devoted to what they are
doing and willing to make the sacrifice it takes.
TMM: Tell us a little about the Mike McClure Band
RP: I havenít seen a band as diverse as ours since the Eagles. We
have songs that we can release to country radio as well as rock radio. I
know thatís a bold statement but thatís what Iíve really always wanted to be
a part of. With Texas Beer Joint Tour it was predominately country with
Steel guitars and fiddles. We have fans that come see us because they think
that Mike is going to play old Great Divide songs. We have fans that come
see us because they know that weíre going to play ďWild ChildĒ last. Thatís
the way we do itÖwe actually have a following. We do some signature riffs
but most of the time weíre just going by the seat of our pants. We are a raw
streak of talent on the scene. You really havenít seen anything with this
band either. I think Mike is really at home with our style of music and the
band has three writers in it as well. Itís all really starting to come
together for us. Mikeís passion is songwriting and heís good at it. Our new
CD, Everything Upside Down, will blow you away (check it out here); itís
like 19 songs and it just kicks ass. If youíre looking for us to sound like
The Great Divide your going to be disappointed. Weíre just not that band. If
we tried to be, Mike would be playing lead guitar and I would be playing
rhythm but Iím a lead player and even though Mike is a good lead guitarist,
he likes playing rhythm. You will, however, see him play lead a little here
and there throughout some of our songs. We donít really even think when
weíre up there playing as a band together. Itís as close as you can get to
avant-guard musicians as your going to get. We can all improvise. Weíll
never play the same gig twice. Thatís the beauty of it, we play how we feel.
I love being able to be who I am in this band. Mike really makes the whole
process of how we all interconnect as a band so much easier. As a musician
you are only going to come into a few bands that you could play with for the
rest of your life; this band is that for me. Itís really cool because right
now Iím at a point where I can play what I want to play, write what I want
to write and get to produce too.
TMM: You have had a hell of a career.
RP: Iíve had more fame than riches (laughs). Honestly with me and
God, there has to be some faith in your dreams. My lifeís love is to be a
part of a room where a bands playing and thereís crowd enjoying the music.
It doesnít matter if Iím in the crowd or on the stage; Iíd rather be on the
stage, but thatís a dream come true for me. Itís a dream come true to play
for people who show up to hear you play. Whether they want to hear Mike
McClure sing or me play guitar.