by Robert Dunstan.
Diesel has spent much of the last few years constantly touring the country in acoustic mode, but is now heading out with his band in electric, amplified fashion.
The American-born singer and guitarist (AKA Mark Lizotte), who shot to fame in the late ’80s with the popular rock band Johnny Diesel & The Injectors before embarking on a highly successful solo career, is looking forward to hitting the road armed with electric guitars and his band – bass player Richie Vez and drummer Lee Moloney.
“But it was funny the other night when we were doing a show in Melbourne because Lee looked at me and said, ‘Gee, this is hard work’,” Diesel laughs. “But I just said, ‘Hey, don’t worry, you’ll be fine’. We’ve done the hard yards together before.
“But I guess it does make us all work that little bit harder,” he muses. “And I imagine by the time we get to Adelaide to play The Gov we’ll be pretty oiled up.”
I caught the band, in acoustic mode, last time they hit The Gov and it was still an intense show.
“Yeah, and these shows will take it up another notch,” Diesel suggests. “And it’s also an opportunity to go back and recap what I’ve done so far. And there are some songs I really wanted to revisit again because I don’t feel I got enough of them the first time around.
“I’m talking about those big electric guitar songs from the last three or four albums,” he explains. “And, of course, there will be songs from Under The Influence, the album I did of cover songs. So it’s been pretty much a case of saying, ‘Okay, if I’m not going to be playing acoustic guitars, let’s make up a set that’s fairly intense.
“By the same token, there will be moments of relief in there because it’s not going to be about coming out and smashing everyone over the head with huge guitar sounds all night,” Diesel suggests.
“But I have noticed that when I put down the acoustic guitars and pick up the electric, things do tend to become a bit more bombastic,” he then adds with a wry laugh.
I was surprised and delighted to note that Diesel had vinyl for sale when he last hit town.
“I’ve put out my last three or four albums on vinyl,” he says. “I just think they have a much warmer sound than a CD.
“And I still remember when I was over in Memphis recording Hepfidelity with [American producer] Terry Manning and I’d taken along a CD copy of an album by The Staple Singers as some kind of reference point,” Diesel recalls. “So we put the CD on and then Terry, who had actually worked on the original Staple Singers album, dragged it out on vinyl, wheeled his turntable into the studio and put it on.
“And the difference was just amazing,” he adds. “The vinyl recording sounded way, way better.”
Over the years Diesel has also been able to maintain a loyal fanbase.
“I’ve been pretty lucky in that way,” he decides. “I can repeatedly come over to somewhere like Adelaide and repeatedly get a decent crowd. That’s a good thing and something I certainly don’t take for granted.
“And then there are those who might see a poster or something and go, ‘Diesel! Oh, I remember him’, and they come along to the show being totally unaware that I tour constantly and have never really stopped doing that.
“And that’s fine,” he says. “It’s good to play to those people and update them with what I’ve been doing over the last few years. And those people will often hear a song of mine and go, ‘Oh, I remember this one’. And that can be funny.
“I’m lucky that I’ve got a stack of radio hits that people seem to know,” Diesel then adds with a laugh.
He then says the acoustic shows he’d been doing of late came about more so by accident than design but became very successful.
“The live music scene is always changing,” Diesel, who released Singled Out, an entirely acoustic album of his hits, in 2004, notes. “And you have to keep changing with it. And doing the acoustic gigs allowed me to play smaller, more intimate venues as well as do some theatre shows.
“I even played solo at ByronBay’s Bluefest last Easter,” he then laughs. “I just had my rack of acoustic guitars – a couple of 12-strings, a baritone and my signature model, the mini Maton, which became a whole other facet of the acoustic gigs I was doing.
“And that’s funny because if anyone had said to me 20 years ago that I would one day have a Maton signature model, I would have probably have said, ‘Yeah, sure, whatever’, but I would have laughed if they had suggested it would be a little acoustic guitar.
“But that Maton has proven to be a really handy tool for me and I do some pretty unorthodox things with it,” Diesel adds. “And with the baritone acoustic, I use a tuning I’ve concocted myself but helped by using a tuning by [early blues legend] Lead Belly to get that sound.”
Diesel goes on to say he didn’t even own an acoustic guitar until about 10 years ago.
“Certainly in my band career [with The Injectors] I didn’t have an acoustic,” he states. “But when I was young there was a friend living across the road from me who had one but that was when I was still battling away at the cello. But my friend had a nylon-stringed acoustic – the typical acoustic at the time – and I’d borrow that for a while until he’d come over to claim it back.
“So I was vaguely familiar with the acoustic but then my sister gave me an electric guitar for Christmas and my interest in acoustic guitars suddenly disappeared overnight.”
Diesel grew up in a house full of musical instruments but, strangely, there were no guitars.
“Yeah, we were living in Albury when we first came to Australia and my father, who was a horn player, used to bring back all these instruments from music shops whenever he went across to Melbourne,” he reveals. “So the house was full of instruments – Rhodes electric pianos, violins, bass guitars, cellos, saxophones and all kinds of other stuff – but no guitars. Which is kinda funny seeing as it’s the world’s most popular musical instrument. No one in the house ever said, ‘Hey dad, get me a guitar’.
“But I was actually mucking around the something with strings on it, the cello, which I still use on some of my projects,” Diesel continues. “I get to use it a fair bit on my stuff as well as on other people’s records.
“But the only other guitar player I know of who started out playing cello – and we often joke about it whenever we catch up – is Charlie Sexton from Bob Dylan’s band,” he adds.
Diesel, who recorded a highly regarded blues album, Short Cool One, with Chris Wilson in 1996, has been saddened by recent news about blues guitar legend BB King’s poor state of health and the fact that he’s being taken advantage of.
“It’s just terrible,” Diesel says with sigh just a few days before BB passed away.
“People are ripping him off all over the place and his manager has been stealing his watches. As I said, it’s just terrible what’s happening to BB at the moment. And the more I read about it, it just gets worse and worse. To have had a great career and a life like BB has had and then have to deal with all that is just shocking. Just horrible.
“And, from being diabetic and overweight, BB is now really skinny which is no good,” he adds.
In closing, Diesel mentions a new recording but isn’t sure where he’s heading with it.
“I never am,” he admits. “I always have ideas floating around though. And I’m really looking forward to making the next record because I’ve expanded my home studio and can now get a pretty decent drum sound.
“On past records, we always had to do the drums somewhere else,” the guitarist says.
Diesel and his band perform Amplified – Electric Band Tour ‘15 at The Gov on Sat 23 May. Doors open 7.30pm.
Bookings at The Gov on 8340 0744 and thegov.oztix.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Interview courtesy of bsidemagazine.com.au