Guitarist and producer Michael Lockwood had the ultimate mind-blowing experience this summer.
As musical director for Lisa Marie Presley's current U.S. tour, he's seen throngs of worshipping fans, but the enormity of her celebrity became apparent when the band played Memphis, Presley's hometown (of course), in support of her debut album To Whom It May Concern.
"It was amazing, every 10 feet there was a picture of Elvis or her. I guess you don't realize who she really was, until you get a good look at that. It was a little surreal, I have to say," he confides during an interview from Presley's tour bus."You get outside of that, and we show up to do a soundcheck and there's like 40 people waiting for us so they can maybe meet Lisa. It's her first tour, and there are three tour buses and a huge crew, and she runs with a big posse and we're a big band. Tons of people, it's a little odd."
Presley opened for Chris Isaak on dates throughout the summer, and Lockwood was the "go to" guy on the tour - in addition to keeping the show together, night after night, he made sure that everyone in Presley's band got from Point A to Point B on time. He's a seasoned "road dog" - besides Presley, Lockwood has recorded and toured with a wide variety of artists including Aimee Mann, Carly Simon, Fiona Apple, Bijou Phillips and Michael Penn, among others.
He worked with Mann on her last three solo albums and produced her latest effort, Lost in Space. "That was a labor of love," he says. "It was 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and way more than 365 days. It took us a long time because she wanted to tour off and on through it." They also cowrote the song "Driving Sideways" for the soundtrack to the movie Magnolia in 1999.
Lockwood's affinity for guitars started early - he totally freaked, he says, when he saw the Beatles' movie Help at age 8, and relentlessly bugged his parents to buy him a guitar - a Contessa acoustic, which lasted for a few years. He studied for a year, learning the "big folk hits" like "Down in the Valley" and one finger chords.
As a young teenager, he struck a deal with a buddy, trading his Gibson L6-S for his friend's Les Paul Custom Black Beauty. "It was a really good trade on my part," he laughs. "He loved my guitar and I loved his, and when you're kids it doesn't matter - his parents probably paid a fortune for that guitar." He still has it and considers the guitar one of his essentials.
About five years ago he had the opportunity to study with one of his favorite players, Steve Hunter, who's played with artists like Tracy Chapman. Hunter's name came up in a conversation, and as it turned out, he was giving lessons, so Lockwood gave him a call. They studied for about a year. "I thought I should go get a little more structure and background, which has sort of helped me in my writing and all sorts of other things," he explains.
The Los Angeles native likes to write when he's out on road, but he has not had the luxury of time lately. He penned several songs with Ben Taylor [the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon] and although the resulting album has yet to be released, he subsequently met Simon and added his acoustic guitar to her critically-acclaimed album The Bedroom Tapes. "It was a big treat to play with her, I wish she'd do more records," Lockwood says of the timeless singer/songwriter. He hopes to do some collaborative writing with Lisa Marie when they come off the road.
His main touring axe is a custom '63 ES-335 Block Reissue, which he plays throughout most of Presley's set. "I'm finding a guitar with humbuckers is a little more aggressive and a little fatter-sounding, which works better with her music," he explains. Lockwood had a special switching system built for the tour with drawers of pedals, and he uses two amps and a Leslie cabinet to try to recreate what's on the record.
He says his ideal guitar would have Bigsby on it, but he would hesitate to put his signature on an instrument. "When I see these new signature series guitars, sometimes I just go, yeah, but if it just looked like a '58 Les Paul, it would be perfect. I'm really addicted to classic-looking guitars, like a Les Paul or Firebird or Flying V. They're just icons of what an electric guitar is - and you really don't need to have all that other stuff on it."