After his recent Meydan gig, the guitar supremo behind ‘Smooth’ tells Laura Chubb why he’s all about the little man, and why being called a rock star is an insult
One of our readers, who goes y the name of Curious Orange, wants to know: you’re Rolling Stone’s 15th greatest guitarist of all time, but is there any other instrument you’d like to master? That’s a good question. Probably the piano. But I like strings better because they pull your heart strings a little faster. Bending them is kinda – don’t take this the wrong way – but when you bend your notes it’s kinda like someone licking your face. I get chills just talking about it [we can confirm that, at this point, he got goosebumps]. But the piano is just dink, dink, dink. It’s beautiful, but there’s something about bending a note that’s very, very intimate, very personal, and very present. You can’t ignore it.
You’re a living legend, but did you always want to be famous? I wanted to be on stage with Eric Clapton, BB King, Miles Davis – but I never really cared about awards, money or fame. I’ve walked the red carpet only two times out of however long I’ve been doing this. I always go through the kitchen. I love validating the invisible ones who serve and clean toilets and clean sheets.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of artists. Who would you like to work with next? I’d love to collaborate with Andrea Bocelli and Metallica. I have a vision of doing songs with them that take them outside their comfort zone.
We like that. Yeah, me too. Don’t get too comfortable. You have to become authentic and real and the only way you can do that is by being vulnerable and going after something that you don’t think you can do. Brutal, huh? [Laughs]
Did you ever live the rock ’n’ roll cliché? No. ‘Groupies’ and ‘rock stars’ – other people give us those names. It’s not fair or ethical to tag people, because we’re all unique. I’ve never known one person to be the same, ever. Even twins. ‘Rock star’ isn’t a validation, that’s a put-down. Call me a child of God… with really sparky eyes.
What about the 15th greatest guitar player tag? God made the world round so we can all have centre stage. We’re all number one, we’re all significant and meaningful. God created a circle of love so vast that no one can stand outside. So why do I need to be labelled or categorised? It’s so subjective, it’s ridiculous. We’re all right here [indicates one level with his hand]. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Pope, Mother Theresa. We’re all right here. Don’t look up and don’t look down.
How important is playing guitar to you? What if you woke up one day and had lost the ability to play? I’d be better at something else, immediately. This is not who I am. I’m not a guitar player. I’m a child of God and what I have is more than just fingers. I have imagination. I trust God implicitly and I know that if I lose my fingers, it’s not over. It’s one chapter.