The third album from the capital’s Bluesmix combo is a canny blend of soulful funk, jazz and, yes, blues – and guitarist Robert Fleming knows exactly what he needs to get a righteous sound.
Private Collection: London Chording
‘It’s not that heavily aged, but it’s a custom relic kind of thing. I wanted a closer copy to the one that I’ve got – so that guitar is actually a ’60s relic. It’s kind of interesting. It does play similarly, but the sound is not as sweet… it’s just in the pickups, I think. It’s a great guitar but it really isn’t a patch on the original.
‘I don’t think I’d ever buy a relic for the relic’ed look alone; that would feel really pretentious, but because that one’s been made in a particular way to be a closer, faithful copy of an original vintage, I like it.’
Did it serve him well on tour? ‘It certainly did. The tour was terrific, too. We played at Slim’s and the Boom Boom Room, where John Lee Hooker used to play. Apparently he used to always sit in this booth; they’ve still got it and no-one’s allowed to sit there. It just says “Reserved for John Lee Hooker”! It’s like the 100 Club… everyone’s been there.
‘Then we did this thing where we supported Macy Gray at an open festival in Yerba Buena Gardens, which was terrific. The audiences are all just really up for it in the States. They’re up for a party and they really just kinda let it all hang out. Sometimes the dancing was not so good… but at least they were dancing!’
Although Fleming’s Strat regularly comes into play, he feels Bluesmix’s forays into New Orleans-inspired funk is more suited to the ‘other’ brand. ‘In more recent times I play mainly Gibsons,’ he continues. ‘The music I’m playing in the band has a bluesy kind of funk feel with a little bit of a jazz thing going on too, and somehow semi-acoustic Gibsons seem to work a lot better for the all-round sound we’re going for.’
Fleming is referring to the two ES-330s that really got him hooked on Gibsons again. The first, a stately 1960 sunburst, and its partner, a vibrant cherry red model from 1962, are both in mint condition and were bought together in one uncontrollable splurge.
‘The 330s are amazing. I got both at the same time from Vintage Guitar Boutique. I couldn’t help it! I was loving that P90 sound – that Grant Green sound that’s kind of jazzy with an edge – and I wanted to get a nice semi-acoustic, something a little bit lighter. That’s how I ended up on these, and I got completely won over by them. I think it’s more the feel than anything else. It definitely is partly the sound, of course, but the feel and the comfort of a guitar is the most important, especially the neck. It seems to me that it inspires you to play in a slightly different way.’
While the 330s have become his principal guitars for both gigs and recording, he has other Gibsons that make lively cameo appearances now and again. First is an absolutely divine 1958 ES-225 with Bigsby – originally a single-pickup version, but now with an added P90 at the neck – that Guitar & Bass took a particular shine to. It adds some shimmering spice to the anchoring tones of the 330s on Flat Nine and is also put to occasional use in their live set when Fleming needs a certain sound.
‘I got the 225 from a good friend of mine, he was just selling it off,’ he recalls. ‘That’s a really, really nice guitar. It’s got a dirtier sound, kind of a bit more of a blues-box kind of feel to it – and then it’s got this Bigsby on it that does something completely different. It’s the only vibrato I use. I play a bit of rudimentary slide on the 225, too. It’s great for slide guitar.’