Guitar Player Magazine

guitar player 1994

The Afghan Whigs Take Memphis

Sometimes the best way to get ahead is to turn back. That’s what Cincinnati rockers The Afghan Whigs found when they moseyed over to Memphis to record their major label debut within the soul-drenched walls of Ardent Studios. On Gentlemen (Elektra), the Whigs prove they can still kick up the caterwaul that made them contenders on the Sub Pop label, but the riffs and walls are now soaked with molasses and moonshine. “The city’s heyday has come and gone,” says Gred Dulli, the band’s vocalist/rhythm guitarist, chief songwriter, and producer, “but there’s still this inescapable spirituality and Southern feel.”

Dulli, guitarist Rick McCollum, bassist John Curley and drummer Steve Earle avoided slick recording technology. “We stayed away from anything post-80s,” Dulli explains. “We used old mikes, old tube gear, recorded analog, and didn’t brush our teeth.” But Gentlemen is no Stax homage. The songs have a comfortable, old-time vibe, but Dulli’s happy production mess is entirely fresh. Piano, cello and Mellotron add flavor to the meaty tumble of careening guitars. “We’ve learned to use guitars for atmosphere rather than to bludgeon. We might have five or six guitars interspersed, bouncing off each other. There’s a lot to be said for experimenting.”

Dulli conducted his experiments on an ’83 Telecaster played through a Fender Super Twin and regular Twin, alternating between amp overdrive and distortion pedals, chiefly a ProCo Rat adn an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff. McCollum used a Fender Jazzmaster for rhythm parts and a vintage strat for soloing, and he contributed pedal steel to several tracks.

Dulli says that major-label status hasn’t tamed the band: “If I’m still me, I can’t change my music – unless the label sends their brainwashing squad in while I’m sleeping to turn me into a pussy. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’m keeping my doors locked.”

– Chuck Crisafulli

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