America’s highways have long been part of the country’s mythology, taking on starring roles in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Chuck Berry’s motorvated mini-dramas, and films like Easy Rider and Paris, Texas. Prior to the proliferation of roads, thanks to legislation like the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the train was a primary means of travel and interstate commerce– and yet an appreciation for the locomotive’s vital role in history is slipping from our collective consciousness. Enter Americana Railroad (Renew Records), a double-LP set that commemorates America’s almost-forgotten relationship with trains and the freedoms and possibilities they promised to a people who knew only confinement and limitations.
Americana Railroad is a rootsy, rustic affair, featuring scene luminaries like John Fogerty, Dustbowl Revival, Dave Alvin, and John York. The mood is mostly breezy, casual, sometimes contemplative, until you get to Gary Myrick’s “Train Kept A-Rollin’”, a roaring update of Johnny Burnette’s already-violent 1956 smash, itself a cover of Tiny Bradshaw’s 1951 shouter.
Myrick’s contribution to Americana Railroad signals a return to his rowdy power chord roots after years exploring less rambunctious territory. His latest release, 2021’s Forever (Adventures in 12 String), is a culmination of a newfound (re)appreciation of the 12-string guitar and the blues.
The Dallas-born Myrick is perhaps best remembered for a string of records that are recognized today as cornerstones of 1980s New Wave and power pop. Gary Myrick and The Figures’ 1980 self-titled debut contains the hit “She Talks In Stereo”, which appeared on the Valley Girl soundtrack, which also featured another Myrick song, “Time To Win”. In 1981, the band released a second record, the equally essential Living In A Movie. Myrick then struck out on his own with Language (1983) and Stand For Love (1985) before devoting himself to session work, contributing guitar to albums like Jackson Browne’s Lives In The Balance and John Waite’s No Brakes. In 1991, Myrick joined Paul Simonon, formerly of The Clash, and Nigel Dixon to form Havana 3am, a forward-thinking and underappreciated supergroup that somehow combined a Latin influence with punk and rockabilly sensibilities.
There are furious traces of Myrick’s punk and rockabilly past in “Train Kept A-Rollin’”, a track that holds its own, even against The Yardbird’s destructo-rewrite, “Stroll On”.
I spoke with Myrick about his Dallas origins and move to L.A., his search for the perfect tone, his chance meeting with Jimi Hendrix, and more!
CF- How did you get involved with the Americana Railroad project?
GM- Carla Olson got everybody together to make this record. I’ve known Carla since 18. I’m from Dallas; Carla is from Austin, so we go way back. I’ve done a lot of different guitars stuff for her for different projects. She asked me if I would like to contribute to that album. She said that it’s referencing American trains and the railroad, and I thought that was cool. My first thought was one of my favorite old songs– it was originally a rockabilly song– “Train Kept A-Rollin’” from the 1950s, recorded by Johnny Burnette and The Rock n’ Roll Trio. Of course, I also liked it by The Yardbirds in the ’60s. I thought I could put my own stamp on it and make it pretty wild and raucous. I had a good trio to back me up. Dusty Watson on drums, who’s an incredible drummer, he’s played with all sorts of people through the years. He’s my favorite drummer in town.
He played in Dick Dale’s band, right?
Yes, that’s right! He played with Dick Dale for quite a while and all sorts of different people. But, yes, with Dick Dale, who I’m a fan of– and God bless him!
He was playing drums, and Prescott Niles from The Knack was playing bass, who I’ve known for a while. We got in there, and we took it as we went. I had some ideas of what I wanted to do, but I just wanted it to be dangerous sounding, and I think it turned out pretty good.
It sounds vicious, for sure. The rest of the album is fairly low-key, and then “Train Kept A-Rollin’” comes along! I love Burnette’s version, but I had The Yardbird’s version in my mind when I heard your take, or at least that scene from Blow Up when they’re playing their version, “Stroll On”. They’re performing in front of that spaced-out crowd, and Jeff Beck smashes his guitar, and the kids go nuts…
And then the lead actor, David Hemmings, he runs in there and tries to grab the guitar and gets it, and then runs out the backdoor and just throws it on the ground, doesn’t care (laughs)! That’s a great movie. I have the poster of that movie in red, like a big, big poster. I’m crazy about that movie!
I’m from Middle Georgia, so when I saw that movie, I was introduced to a kind of cool I’d never seen before.
Yeah, it makes you want to go to London, immediately. But yes, I love The Yardbirds in general, but I also really liked the Johnny Burnette Trio Rock n’ Roll trip. To me, that was the best version. I didn’t want to copy anybody. I just wanted to do my own version but make sure it was really raucous.
The liner notes describe your take as surf music, and I know you have the Dick Dale connection via Dusty Watson. Was surf music an early influence on your guitar playing?
I love surf music; I love it to this day. There’s elements of that in my guitar-playing. Surf music is its own thing, so as a guitarist, it’s just one of the things I love. I really love blues. I love psychedelia, but surf is definitely one of the things that I think is great guitar. It’s a great sound, great fun to play, the double picking, like in “Pipeline”, playing melodies, it’s a great genre. I always loved it since I was a kid. I was really pleased to get Dusty Watson to play with. He actually played a gig with me recently, too. I can’t say enough about his drumming. He’s got it down!
You’ve covered a lot of stylistic ground with your guitar over the years. There’s surf, but there’s also the New Wave and punk of your first few records– and now acoustic guitar with your latest releases, 2012’s Guitarista and 2021’s Forever (Adventures in 12 String). How do maintain balance or satisfy your creative impulses?
I love some of the blues 12-string like Leadbelly did back in the 1930s. I love really old blues songs from the ’30s and into the ’60s. I knew this 12-string is one of the things that I like to do when I have a chance. Most people think of 12-string for The Byrds or the ’60s, but I’m more interested in blues 12-string, which a lot of it came out of the Louisiana, New Orleans, places like that. I just wanted to make a completely analog recording of me playing twelve-string and singing and writing some songs– new ones and a few old ones– with just the 12-string acoustic. Right after that, I was having a resonator 12-string built by National. Of course, I wish I had it for this record, but I’m going to make a second record that is like part two. It’ll be 12-string resonator. It’ll be more of a blues album.
It’s just one of the things that I love to do but have never really had a chance to do on record. Since we were in the pandemic, I thought, “Well, what am I going to do right now?” I said, “Well, let’s do something you really want to do.” I went in the studio, and I used one vintage ribbon microphone. That whole record was recorded onto tape analog, just like the old days because I had started a little record company for myself and for maybe some other artists, but basically for my music, called Sound of Vinyl Records. That’s what I want: I want the sound of vinyl. We all know– we’ve tried everything: CDs, DATs, done everything. But let’s face it: vinyl sounds best.
There’s also a new live album, Live in Texas. I was given a recording by a radio station in Texas that we recorded with Gary Myrick and The Figure in 1980. I didn’t know this even existed ’til a year ago. They got in touch with me and said, “We have a show you did in Texas in 1980, right when your first record came out. We think it’s just amazing, and we want to give it to you. I said, “Wow!” Of course, you don’t know what it sounds like. But I said, “Great! Send it on.” They gave it to my old bass player who’s in Dallas, my hometown, and then he sent it to me. When I heard it, I found that it was the absolute best live recording of that band. It’s one full show– it wasn’t a bunch of shows put together like many live albums are. When I heard it… I mean, that record is on fire!
I’ve listened to it, and it does kill. I can’t believe there aren’t any overdubs…
It is burning the house down! I thought, “I’ve got to get this to the fans.” I talked to my distribution company up in Portland and they said, “We’ll put it out, just as a download for now, so we can get it out fast, and people can have it right away.” And that’s what we did. I may turn it into vinyl later one of these days. That’s kind of my plan in the back of my head, but it is the best recording live of that band. We were at the height of our powers in that moment, and I’m really happy with that record. I was shocked at how good it was. So that’s it!
Did you have any idea someone was recording the show?
I thought basically were just doing it for the radio station, and that’s what it was. But that radio station doesn’t exist anymore. Somebody had the tape, and out of the kindness of their hearts, called us and said, “We want to give this to you,” me not knowing if it’s any good or not. When I got it, I was so pleased because Epic Records had recorded us live at the Whisky a Go Go– it was good, but it wasn’t like this. This is really good. I was so pleased that I could finally have had that captured live, and I could share it with the fans.
Are there plans to reissue your other albums on vinyl, whether it’s Gary Myrick and The Figures, your solo records, or Havana 3am?
That’s not totally in my control, even though I’m part owner, of course. The original vinyl is still available in the world somewhere. You can go actually go on eBay and find Havana 3am on vinyl. Since it is on vinyl and is available if someone tries to track it down, I haven’t really thought much about putting out that particular thing, but all my records, the majority were recorded analog to tape, which I’m really glad. This period of me starting in 1980 onward, everything was onto vinyl and on tape, so the sound was better. All those albums are available. I think there may be one that isn’t available, but I’m going to fix that in the future.
Which release is that?
It’s called Waltz of the Scarecrow. It’s all acoustic. That’s the only other acoustic record I made. I did it also with a string quartet backing me up. I got lucky enough to have a guy named Chad Blake mix it, who actually worked as a second engineer on my first album. He ended up being a big producer. I think he’s still working for Peter Gabriel. I asked him if he would mix it, and he said absolutely. We went into his studio with all his gear, and he mixed the whole thing. I think that’s a pretty unique album, so I want to make sure it survives, so I will eventually make sure it’s available online and then possibly turn it into vinyl.
You discussed blues players– Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Lightnin’ Hopkins– as an influence, but what about those artists that informed your work with Gary Myrick and The Figures. I don’t hear lots of blues there…
I think the blues influence comes out more later in my career, like fairly recently, but I’ve always been a big fan of the blues. Also, growing up in Texas, it’s a part of my heritage. But with Gary Myrick and The Figures, I would say the two bands that influenced that the most would have been The Yardbirds and The Kinks.
That makes sense: You covered The Kinks’ “Who’ll Be the Next in Line” on your first record…
Yes, and certain British Invasion things probably influenced us, but there was a certain punk element to it. We were moving pretty fast, and that was kind of part of the deal, too. Of course, they would call it New Wave, but really there was a whole lot of punk influence, also. So if you put punk, The Yardbirds, and The Kinks in a soup and stirred it off, that’s probably what Gary Myrick and The Figures was.
That’s a good stew (laughs)! What was it like, as a young man, leaving Dallas and making your way to Los Angeles? Did you experience culture shock?
At that time, I had just spent two years– this is the early ’70s, 1972– I had been hired by a band in Austin called Krackerjack. Uncle John Turner was the drummer. He was the original drummer from the Johnny Winter Trio. The bass player, Tommy Shannon, was the original bass player from the Johnny Winter Trio. Uncle John walked into this club where I was doing all my own music that I wrote, which was kind of rare in Texas at that time, at a place called The Cellar in Dallas, which was a wild place where all the bouncers had guns on. I remember a gun going off one night and bullets flying over our heads. It was crazy! Girls were dancing on a runway! I mean, it was wild, but we were the biggest band in there. We were making top money which wasn’t much then, but at the time, it was great. I was doing all my own music. But there were no independent labels in America, and if there were, I didn’t know about them. And in Texas, there were no labels. Uncle John came into that club when we were called Gary Myrick and The Slip of the Wrist, and he asked me if I would come down and replace the guitar player they had in Austin…
Stevie Ray Vaughan?
It was! I kind of knew his brother Jimmie a little bit. They’re both from Dallas, originally, and I thought it was a great idea. I knew I could make some good money down there and still do original music. They were doing all their own original music, but it was more blues-rock. I also thought it would be helpful in my love of the blues to go down there and play. I bailed out of Gary Myrick and Slip of the Wrist, which was my band, really, and said, “I’m going to Austin.”
I went down and played with them for two years, and then I said, “I got to get out of Texas. I’m never going to make a record if I just sit back and wait.” I thought it’s either New York, which is going to be cold and I’ll be freezing, or it’s California, where it’s warm, and there’s a music scene in Los Angeles with The Whisky a Go Go and all the stuff, or it’s London, England, which sounded far away– I love London, and I have a great affection for England, and now, after Havana 3am, I lived in London for 2 years and finalized that dream of going to England and playing in a rocking British band– so I said, “I’m going to California.”
I went back to Dallas for about a year, and then I packed up the truck and moved to Beverly (laughs)! I thought it was time to get out there and pay some dues. I didn’t know anybody; I didn’t know a soul. I came out with a rhythm guitar player named Mark Simpson, who played with me in Krackjack and had played in Slip of the Wrist, also. He’s since passed on, but he came out with me and he got a place. He had a girlfriend; I had my first wife– I’ve only had two. I got one now, same second one (laughs)! I came out here, rented a great apartment for $150 in 1975. Nothing was really happening, yet. Then, all of a sudden, the punk and New Wave movement started growing and I had that in my blood for some reason, and I just started being part of it.
We had a great time. Then all of a sudden we were playing gigs all over town. We were getting some good write-ups, and then all the record companies started wanting to sign all of us new guys. We were one of them, and they wanted to sign me. Epic made an offer, and Warner Brothers made an offer. It was my dream come true. It was time to start making records. So then, we went in the studio and signed with Epic. I told them ahead of time that I wanted to do all my album cover art, and they were into that. I said I wanted to co-produce all my records, and they were totally into that, too.
So I went in the studio, and we started recording. I ended up having to erase the master tapes because the producer I had, Tom Warman, who was a little bit more older school, and I had to kind of educate him a little bit. Great guy, great producer, knew a lot of in the studio, but it wasn’t quite as hip as I wanted him to be, so I had to tear it all down. We started recording and I said, “This does not sound right. This is not what we are.” I walked in one day and said, “Erase the master tapes.” It scared everybody to death (laughs)! They all went, “Whoa!” I said, “Yeah, this sucks. This stinks.” They flipped a little bit, but just for a second. We erased the tapes to start it over. Then we started getting something. And that’s where we went from then.
I want to transition and talk about your session work in the 1980s. You worked with John Waite, Jackson Brown, and a host of others. How did your style compare to the shredder mentality that dominated rock n’ roll during that era?
In Texas, we didn’t approve of guys that wanted to just play as fast as possible and not make every note count. The philosophy, which related to the blues, was “play one note right”, instead of a million notes as fast as you can. I was still in that consciousness, and you mix that with the punk consciousness, which was minimalist. I can do the guitar that I’m doing these days because these days [it might seem] I fit more into the shredder mentality, but I don’t. I don’t try to play as fast as possible; I’m still in my Texas philosophy, but I agree to this day that a few notes done rights is better than a million notes done fast. Just fast doesn’t work for me. And I also wasn’t into tapping. That’s not my cup of tea. I mean, I get it; I know what it is, but that’s not what I like.
In fact, during this whole pandemic, I redid my sound. I went back to using Marshall amps. I bought a whole new stack and back to all tubes. For the last 8 years or so, I was playing a Telecaster, so I went back to my Stratocaster, and I’ve been able to do some things. I worked on my sound during the pandemic, like woodshedding, really. It’s like, “Well, we can’t play gigs. I’m just going to work on my trip.” So I’m real pleased about it. I’ve got some new sounds that are burning. The pandemic was good for that, for me. I was playing and making that acoustic record too, which was the opposite of how I’ve been working mainly on my electric sound and then getting the resonator. I’ve been busy during this whole time, and I gained some things that I wanted really badly.
Did you pick up any new practices or writing habits that’ll stick with you? Or did you focus on technique?
I worked on certain tones. I started utilizing more feedback. I have some things on my Facebook and my Instagram page. I was testing everything out, so I basically redid my rig. I was working on it every day. I go in there, tweak knobs, check this, check that. Then I would decide what I thought, and I’d come back the next day. Then I started making little videos that were one and a half or two minutes of me playing guitar. Then I’d go back and maybe tweak some more knobs. I did that for about one and a half months, maybe two months. I couldn’t play gigs, so that’s what I was doing, working on my sound.
Like I said, I’m back to all tubes, which is also part of the consciousness of going back to analog recordings. It’s getting back to the roots of the truth in the sound, and I was able to. I’d always done a little bit of feedback, like in The Yardbirds. They kind of brought feedback in those days, so that’s where that comes from.
Also, I love Hendrix, and there’s some Hendrix-isms that I was able to return to because I actually met Jimi Hendrix when I was 16 years old. I was standing in a hallway in Dallas, Texas, and a door opened and Jimi Hendrix walked out of that door. This is after a show. I went to the Hyatt with a bunch of kids– we were all 16, 15. We thought we could meet the band. I don’t know what we were thinking! I don’t know what we would have said! We didn’t know! But we go to the hotel. We’re all running around in there– no security, nobody said anything like, “Get out of here!” I get separated from some of these kids. I’m standing in a hallway, and it’s a high-rise hotel; I could have been on any floor. I’m standing right there leaning against the wall, and directly across from me, a door opens up– I have no idea! I didn’t know Jimi was there. I didn’t know anything. I just know he’s in the hotel somewhere– and the door opens up and Jimi Hendrix steps out of that door, about 4 feet away from me, and no one’s there but me.
He was the kindest, sweetest, a soft-spoken personality. I was blown away by how nice he was, and he looked every bit of what I wanted Jimi Hendrix to look like (laughs)! He’d look great. He was skinny, tall, and mix that with being the nicest guy to talk to. I talked to him for about five minutes and told him how much I enjoyed the concert. He signed something for me, which I don’t have, and that’s horrifying– I was a kid, I don’t know what happened to it– and then a bunch of kids ran up, and I just kind of wandered away. Needless to say, I love Jimi Hendrix, and there’s some Hendrix-isms in the new sound I’m working on.
After all these years, what brings you back to the instrument with such an enthusiasm and curiosity? You still sound as if you’ve just discovered the instrument.
Oh, man. It just turns me on; it just turns me on. During the pandemic months, I once again was turned on, and I felt like I got to another level. The day that I can’t get to the next level is going to be a sad day for me. I was able to get to a new level, and it’s a turn-on. I love to play live– that’s my favorite thing to do. Of course, I like to go in the studio and record- -that’s another thing. But I like to play live. If you have something fresh to give live, that’s a turn-on.
And actually, a fun fact, before I let you go. I have a new manager, Haley Winters. She’s great, and she’s very experienced. I’ve never had a good manager, and I’m crazy about her. I’m also getting ready to start doing some film and television, some acting actually, believe it or not! It doesn’t mean I’m stopping anything else– music is my number one– but I’m going to also do some other things. I’ve had songs in movies and television, so it’s all part of the same energy. I’m studying with Haley. She said, “I’ll show you how to do this.” We trying to make this acting real. Not just play-acting, but real. So it’s hardcore. I’m having some fun.
Maybe you’ll be the second coming of David Hemmings.
(Laughs) I’m just gonna do it until I can’t do it!