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Interview with Johnny Graham
Lead Guitartist for Earth, Wind & Fire

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Dan Richards: What's going on with the all-star group Wild Fire you started a few years ago? You've got some folks from EW&F and Rufus in that project. Sounds like a jam! Who's in the band and what have you guys been doing?

Johnny Graham: I did my last Gig with "The L.A. All Stars" back in April of 1999 and right after that I decided to put a unit together of my own. Finding a name wasn't difficult the name Wild Fire came to me right away. Basically this unit plays EW&F material and gives the fans here in Japan a chance to see some of the EW&F musicians up close and personal. Along with myself, [there's]İkeyboardist Larry Dunn, trumpet players Michael Harris and Rham Lee Michael Davis, (former members of EW&F); and on bass I use Bobby Watson from Rufus & Chaka Khan. We perform with 10 to 12 pieces so we can really do things in the EW&F style. The line-up of musicians may change from gig to gig, depending on who is available at the time. On our last gig in Kyoto, Japan I also was able to bring over vocalistİ Mr. Beloyd Taylor, writer of the EW&F hit song "Get Away." I am the only one located in Japan, so it's not often that I get to bring that size group over. But when the funds are available we "Get Down!"

If I remember correctly, The L.A. All Stars was put together by Al McKay. Tell us a little bit about that project. And also some background about EW&F around 1982 when the line-up of the group started to change. Any particular reason you went your own way in '82?

In 1982 there was a new contract put on the table for the members of EW&F. I didn't agree with certain circumstances surrounding this contract change and I didn't sign the new contract. So, I was "outta there!"

I'm not sure when Al McKay first started The L.A. All Stars, but I first played with the group around 1991 in Los Angeles. Then, in 1993 The L.A. All Stars made its first appearance in Japan. I played dates with Al's group on and off up until 1999. Presently, I think that Al has changed the name of his group to The Al McKay All Stars and Al is still taking that unit on the road.

If we could back up a bit to some guitar technique and parts played on E,W&F albums, how did you and Al McKay either figure out your parts, or decide who would play what? On "September," who is playing the percussive counter-melody guitar that's predominant on the right side? You, by chance? Was that part played by pull/plucking the strings between the thumb and index or middle finger? It's almost like a funk slap bass approach.

Maurice was the person who decided who would play the particular guitar parts. On the song "September," Al McKay is playing that popping line. He is pulling and popping the string between two fingers. Al did teach himself to do the bass slapping style on guitar but I don't recall him ever using that style on an EW&F recording.

The last time that I talked to Al, he told me that people had thought that he was playing the rhythm guitar part on Ramsey Lewis' "Sun Goddess," but he told them that it wasİme that did the "Sun Goddess" sessions. So, people do get confused as to who is playing the guitar parts on the records. On one of the songs in the box CD set "Eternal Fire," whomever wrote the credits in the booklet that comes in the box set gave Al credit for a part that I was playing also.

How has your approach to playing the guitar changed since you left EW&F?

What has changed as a result of me leaving EW&F actually is the way I play on stage at gigs. All down through the years that I have been playing guitar I have experimented with different techniques, changing my techniques and improving on my technique. But my style of playing has pretty much stayed the same. While I was with EW&F, I played what fit into Maurice's bag and I was limited as to what I could get off into. But when playing and recording at home "back in the day," I did my own thing. For example, back in the seventies I had an 8-track studio set up in my home and Philip Bailey came over once to record a track that he was going to sing along with on the TBN Christian TV show "Praise The Lord." And while he was there I played some of the tracks that I had recorded for him, İand he said, "Who is that on guitar???" On those tapes, I was playing a style that he was not aware that I could play. The same thing would happen out on the road in the late seventies when I would be listening to some of my tracks and the guys would overhear them and say, "Who is that on guitar???" So, what has really changed since I left EW&F is that I am free to play on stage the style of guitar that I am really into.

When people hear my recording "Return Of The Gypsy," they ask me, "When did you start playing like that???" Well, I was playing like that before I left Kentucky in 1972! The style that I play on "Return Of The Gypsy" is not a surprise to the people that know me back in Louisville, Kentucky.

What's happening musically these days for you?

Right now I'm gearing up to do some more recording and release a complete CD on myself. I will be producing, writing, engineering, sequencing, etc. I will be using other musicians ‚ bass & keyboards. I program all my drumİand percussion parts myself. I really don't need to focus on writing right now ‚ I have a ton of songs that I've written just waiting to be used.

I'm close to finishing my studio setup here at home. So far, I have a Tascam MX-2424SE with the analog card, a Tascam DM-24,İa Universal Audio 2-610, a tc electronic Reverb 4000, a Korg Triton Rack, an Alesis D4 and for monitors I'm using the Yamaha MSP5's. I use an old Roland MV30 Studio M for sequencing ‚ I've been using that MV30 for 10 years now. I'm planning on getting the Tascam SX-1 to add to my setup, but as far as I know, Tascam hasn't released the cascade card needed to mate the DM-24 with the SX-1. I'll be adding a Roland XV-5080 also. I buy most of my gear in the USA ‚ most prices are lower there. On my next trip to L.A., I'll be picking up a Lexicon PCM 81 and a Distressor.

Right now I've just got to dig into the Tascam gear that I have and learn the ins and outs of it.

As someone who grew up on EW&F, it's been a thrill to interview you. Thanks again, Johnny.


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