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Guitar WorldGW: A rumor circulated for years that Nigel was up for the lead guitar seat in the Yardbirds on three different occasions.
TUFNEL: That's one of those rumors that you hear. I think it's just based on jealousy, really. I was never contacted by any of those people, ever.
ST. HUBBINS: But didn't Keith Relf call you when he was forming Renaissance'?
TUFNEL: That's different. First of all, I don't like auditions. Let those boys like Beck and Clapton fight it out with each other. Let me watch and laugh.
ST. HUBBINS: I would also like to say — because he's too modest to say it himself — that Nigel belongs in that company because he is one of the premier lead guitarists and stylists. No one plays quite like him. No one even tries.
TUFNEL: When you get older you realize that what's important is not the amount of notes that you play. It's if you're thinking about them after you've played them.
ST. HUBBINS: A mental resonance.
TUFNEL: Exactly. A mental depository. Can you remember what you played? If you can't, why did you play it? It becomes a thinking man's game. You want each note to be a score or a movie or a novel —
SMALLS: A novella.
ST. HUBBINS: Or a novelisation. I'd say the same thing about rhythm guitar, though the terminology has changed over the years. They used to talk about the "chunk"; now it's about the "crunch." Basically, it's what feels right, rather than what sounds right. You are communicating with your instrument through your hands, and the instrument is communicating back through your hands to you. It's rather like a ferret — like a hungry ferret running around in a wheel.
TUFNEL: If you put a hungry ferret in your trousers, he'll run around. You'd be surprised at the energy. The key, of course, is to always bathe — even on the road or on a bus.
GW: As you were saying, Nigel really deserves to be in the company of the Claptons and Becks and Pages —
SMALLS: He should be in the bloody Rock & Roll Hall of Fame right now.
GW: Right. But he hasn't gotten the recognition due him. For example, in a recent article [in another guitar magazine] entitled "The 25 Players Who Shook The World," Nigel isn't even mentioned.
TUFNEL: Don't make me laugh. I read that. It's not even me so much; there are a lot of people who should have been in that.
ST. HUBBINS: Is Scotty Moore in it? No? Well, there you go. Chuck Berry? Well, there you go again.
TUFNEL: And Big Daddy Boozer? Pfft. Great Delta player. I mean, Robert Johnson learned from Big Daddy Boozer. All that stuff, all those tricks. Blind Lemon Jefferson? They can't hold a candle to Big Daddy Boozer. And where's he? He's not in the 25, is he? I just discount that stuff; I throw it off.
GW: So it doesn't bother you or eat at you?
TUFNEL: It does, yeah, but I throw it off after it's eaten me up.
GW: Spinal Tap is such a musical melting pot — there are so many different styles on the new album.
ST. HUBBINS: Do you mean that in a positive way? Well, we're growing. Petty inconsistency being the hobgoblin of small minds.
TUFNEL: What you see as "different styles," is musical growth to us. Derek has a background in ska and various other things, and there's always something in his music that rings of that. My background is more in the Celtic area.
ST. HUBBINS: As far as guitar playing goes, I'd say I'm midway between W.S. Gilbert and —
SMALLS: Melissa Gilbert.
ST. HUBBINS: That's where I'd like to be — just midway between Melissa Gilbert. But there's the influence of the old musical halls and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. That great sort of rhythm-lead is what I aspire to. I also play some solos — some of the leads on "Stonehenge," for example.
TUFNEL: What lead? That's a part. I do like switching off, though, because I love playing rhythm. So when I'm singing, that's what we usually do
SMALLS: What you're seeing in the band is maturity. [Nigel makes farting noises.] It's not desperation, or thrashing about for a commercial style; it's maturity, in which we can be all of our different selves.
TUFNEL: That's the other thing: People say we're playing heavy rock, metal, whatever you want to call it, so this is what it's got to be. We say there are no boundaries of any sort.
SMALLS: We're not about heavy rock or metal or hard rock or leather trousers. We're doing what we stand for. And one of the reasons we got back together was to make a stand for generic rock and roll. Good old generic rock and roll.
GW: Is the songwriting also a democratic process?
ST. HUBBINS: It happens in various ways. Sometimes Nigel will come in with a lick or the entire framework of a song, and we'll work on it a bit. Sometimes he writes alone, sometimes I write alone. "Clam Caravan" was basically all his, because he wrote that for his solo project. "The Majesty Of Rock" is mine. "The Sun Never Sweats" is a Derek Smalls creation, as is "Jazz Odyssey."
GW: A lot of people identify Zeppelin as being the fathers of heavy metal. Do you agree?
ST. HUBBINS: The Who really had that great wall of sound from the very beginning — from "My Generation."
TUFNEL: I go back before the Who. In 1961, there was Chic Dooley. He was the first one to use Hi-Watts, as well. Very distorted, big wall of sound, terrible words. Never had any hits at all.
ST. HUBBINS: What was the name of that pub he played in — Queen's Lips?
SMALLS: It was the Snout & Trotters, wasn't it?
ST. HUBBINS: He was like the resident group there. I never saw him, but Nigel used to rave about this bloke.
TUFNEL: He also played the App & Twittle. A lot of people started there. Charlie Watts used to do a bongo solo there, in `62. GW: How would you describe the relationship you had with your former label, Polymer?
ST. HUBBINS: We have not had good luck with labels. We were on Megaphone for years and years, but they've gone under. What we're really trying to do now is get hold of our back catalog. And Polymer's legal position is that not only can't we have our back catalog, no one should have it.
SMALLS: There's been a lot of publicity about MCA and Polygram [Polymer's parent label] having this lawsuit, and the story is that it's about the rights to Motown, but that's a front, a smokescreen. The real story is all about our back catalog. They couldn't care less about Motown.
GW: What do you think of the new technology, and the change over to CDs? A lot of the experimentation you helped pioneer, such as backwards masking, is now virtually lost, since you can't play a CD backwards to hear what's going on.
ST. HUBBINS: It's very simple: All you do is make a reel to reel tape copy of the CD —
TUFNEL: Kids don't have reel to reels anymore. You don't see many of them.
SMALLS: And you can't move your cassette backwards either. There's a conspiracy between the Japanese and the Dutch — because they invented the cassette — to get rid of any kind of recorded medium that you can play backwards.
TUFNEL: I was the first person in Britain who had a reel to reel in my car. It was a Wollensack, 3-3/4 speed. You'd plug it into the lighter of the Couper, place it on the front passenger seat, and reach over between shifting. Flipping the reels while making a U-turn was a bit of a hazard.
GW: Has Spinal Tap ever been confronted with any lawsuits along the lines of those fought by Judas Priest or Ozzy Osbourne, relating to teen suicide?
ST. HUBBINS: No, because I think our music is very life-affirming. We do have a song called "Christmas With The Devil," but that's not a satanist song; it says you might have a really good time in hell.
SMALLS: One reason they don't sue us is that the lawyers who tend to think up these cases go after bands —
ST. HUBBINS: With money.
GW: There's a cut on the new album called "Bitch School." Aren't you wary of the flak you'll doubtless get from feminist groups?
ALL: Oh, please! Stop.
TUFNEL: I don't know why, because it's not about women; it's about a dog. It's so easy to make that cheap association.
ST. HUBBINS: We had another verse where we mentioned kibble. If we'd left that in, there'd be no confusion. The song was just too long, though.
SMALLS: I think it's insulting to women, to think that they're so stupid that they're not going to know it's about a dog.
TUFNEL: It's in the lyrics: "You're so fetching when you're down on all fours." Now, given, it's true that if a woman was in that position, she may or may not be fetching. But a dog is always fetching when it's down on all fours!
SMALLS: Depending on the breed.
GW: On "Break Like The Wind," it sounds as though Nigel is just building momentum in his solo [Nigel grumbles] when, suddenly, Slash comes in, followed by Lukather, Satriani and Beck.
ST. HUBBINS: He's a bit sensitive about it. He really didn't know about all this.
TUFNEL: It's what you call a sucker punch.
ST. HUBBINS: [to Nigel] We thought you'd be delighted — like when we brought you the noddy books back from England.
TUFNEL: But that's different. If I did the liner notes and said, "Written by Nigel Tufnel and Jim Tuba," instead of you —
ST. HUBBINS: But these are genuine people we're talking about. We thought you'd be delighted to have some of your contemporaries as well as some younger blokes —
TUFNEL: Slash is not that much younger.
ST. HUBBINS: What Nigel didn't understand is that they were all paying tribute to him.
TUFNEL: I understood it very well. It was a surprise-that part of it worked — and I understand the tribute part, but I walk in and see on the board, from left to right, "Nieve" [the name of the board], then "Beck, Satriani, Lukather, Slash." I thought it was a send-up. As if I'd said, "Here's the vocal track: David Bowie." He'd have gone, "Ha ha ha. Very funny." "No, David. The real David Bowie is singing on this instead of you!"
SMALLS: You know, it is the real Cher singing on "Just Begin Again."
TUFNEL: It is the real Cher, and it's the real Beck, but that's not the point! The point is, ask me. Say, "Nige, what 'bout this idea?" Give me the chance to say no.
ST. HUBBINS: And you would have said no, because of your modesty. What we asked them was, "How would you like to come in and replace eight bars by your idol, a person you respect." They really do respect Nige.
SMALLS: You know, you can't pay Jeff Beck just to play on your record. You can't ring up the musicians' union and say, "Give me Jeff Beck's number." It would cost you a fortune just to have him come in and do an eight-bar solo. He did it out of respect. And Nigel's too modest to acknowledge that.
ST. HUBBINS: Too cranky, as well.
TUFNEL: Well, my ego's healthy enough to admit that it turned out good.
SMALLS: As for the bits that they replaced, we sampled and used those elsewhere.
ST. HUBBINS: In fact, I'm using one as the message on my answering machine.
GW: I notice that you quote Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" in the classical guitar segment you play.
TUFNEL: I'm not really quoting it. I'm stealing it — but in a modern context. You're used to hearing Julian Bream play it or that guy Segoveeya, but when I do it, in the context of a rock and roll song, it's a whole new thing.
GW: David, you take the first solo on "Cash On Delivery" and get what Clapton used to call the "woman tone."
ST. HUBBINS: Woman tone, yeah. ZZ Top makes use of that. I just turn the tone to the woman setting.
TUFNEL: It's very fat — a fat woman tone. He does that on his Les Paul. I don't play Gibsons anymore. I used to use "Goldy," the Flying V and others, but I've sworn off them because they're too heavy. I wear one of those neoprene back supports when we play live, even acoustically, because they warm up your vertebrae and allow you to bend a bit. That's what happened in the film — not that it ever happened before or after — when I fell down and couldn't get up again. And I wear one knee brace because I've got a trick knee, and I don't jump off those platforms anymore — that's for the younger kids.
GW:Where does "Just Begin Again" modulate from and to?
TUFNEL: The thing about modulation is that it's a composer's trick. We like to modulate as much as possible. It makes the audience feel as though they're being taken on a little holiday from the song itself. "Oh, I'm being picked up and delivered where?" It starts in G, then we go to A, and it modulates to D, then back to G.
SMALLS: A lot of these bands brag about how they modulate and change keys. Well, here's four modulations in one tune. And you really don't even notice a difference.
ST. HUBBINS: We knew we wanted to do a duet with a female voice, and we thought of Cher immediately because she's perhaps the primary rock vocalista. Steve Lukather, who produced that particular track, had just worked with her, and he said, "Oh, she'd love to do it." She's a gracious human being.
GW: Was the electric sitar solo on "Clam Caravan" completely spontaneous? It sounds like you're groping for a certain note at the song's end.
TUFNEL: I should mention that it's not a real sitar, but a Coral Electric Sitar designed by Mr. Vinnie Bell. I thought, "I love the sound of the sitar, but I don't play it — who has the fuckin' time?" So I rented a Coral Sitar, and thought, "Well, it's a guitar; it just has a bad bridge." But something happened when I was playing, and I admit there was some confusion as to where I was going. But in the end, what's better than being realistic about your emotional state? Which was confusion and some desperation, I would say. But I do get there, don't I? It's a measure late, mind you, but I do hit the E.
SMALLS: "Clam Caravan": people say, "Where's the clams?" There's no clams in "Clam Caravan" because it was a typographical error. The name was really "Calm Caravan."
GW: This is the age of safe sex. Are you going to have to curtail your notorious road lifestyle on the upcoming tour?
ST. HUBBINS: Well, Jeanine is keeping my sex real safe — keeping it safe from me. But I'm definitely going to be keeping my eye on these two single gentlemen.
SMALLS: He's going to be our condom police.
TUFNEL: You can't behave the way you did in the Sixties or Seventies or Eighties — or even early Nineties.
SMALLS: And to the extent that kids read your magazine and take what we say as a model for their own behaviour: When you're bedding down with two or three young ladies after a rock and roll show, be careful.
ST. HUBBINS: You might knock yer head.

from Guitar World, April 1992. © 1992 Guitar World. Posted with permission.

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