Player Spotlight – Scott McKeon
This week’s edition of the Strings Direct Player Spotlight sees us come home to take a closer look at British Guitarist, Songwriter and Producer Scott McKeon.
Scott started playing guitar at the tender age of 4 and as with many of the players featured in our Player Spotlight series, he was heavily influenced by his parents music collection and was exposed to plenty of 50’s Rock’n’Roll, Soul, Motown and R’n’B artists.
By the age of 8, Scott was comfortably wielding a full size Stratocaster. To this day Scott still often demonstrates guitars and amps for Fender. In the video below skip to the 5 minute 13 secs mark to check out Scott’s latest collaboration with Fender showcasing their American Professional II Telecaster and Tonemaster Twin Reverb.
It wasn’t until a family friend showed Scott and his dad a video of Stevie Ray Vaughan playing at Austin City Limits that really ignited his love of the blues and set him on a path to exploring Texas Blues further.
Leaving no stone unturned, Scott’s initial exposure to SRV led him to delve deep into the music of Lightning Hopkins, Freddie King, Doyle Bramhall Sr and Jr and The Fabulous Thunderbirds later to discover the likes of Hendrix, Albert King, BB King and Clapton.
At just 13, Scott became Guitarist Magazine’s ‘Young Guitarist of the Year’, by which point he was already honing his craft fronting his own band playing in the pubs and clubs on the south coast of the UK.
At 18, Scott released his debut solo album ‘Can’t Take no More’ and his second album ‘Trouble’ in 2010. In support of both albums, Scott toured the UK, Europe and USA extensively which led to several opportunities to share the stage with greats such as Derek Trucks, Gary Clark Jr, Arc Angels and most recently with childhood hero Eric Clapton.
It was around this time that we at Strings Direct became aware of Scott after seeing him support Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009. Twelve years on we can still recall his playing was full of energy and remember being suitably impressed even before Bonamassa had played a note.
If the introduction to this blog post is the first you’ve heard of Scott McKeon, you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that he’s an out and out blues player. Oh no! Whilst Scott’s early career was certainly centred around his love of the blues, his more recent work has seen him become much more of a musical chameleon, taking on roles as a studio and touring musician for artists outside of the genre as well as taking a seat in the producer’s chair too.
This change of direction has allowed Scott to spread his musical wings and back up some of the world’s top acts. He can be heard on recordings from Emile Sande, James Arthur, Lana Del Rey, Van Morrison, Ed Sheeran and many more.
For the past five years, Scott has been part of Sir Tom Jones touring band sharing guitar duties alongside the legendary Robbie McIntosh (Paul McCartney, The Pretenders, Mark Knopfler, John Mayer and more).
Away from the studio and touring (and certainly not one to rest on his laurels), Scott has also created many of his own side projects.
In 2017, Scott co-founded The Rufus Black Band alongside vocalist Gavin Condor, drummer Russ Parker and fellow guitarist Ben Jones. A collection of players at the top of their game coming together to create a powerhouse that not only evokes memories of 60’s rock bands such as Free and Cream (thanks to Condor’s Paul Rodgers-esque vocals) but there’s a healthy dose of Funk, Soul and R’n’B in there too.
We’re big fans of the Rufus Black Band here at Strings Direct. Their debut release Rise Up is an amazing piece of work mixing a handful of covers amongst original tunes too. Scott’s 6-string partner in crime is fellow session monster Ben Jones. Whilst both players have their own distinct style, together they create water tight rhythm parts and phenomenal solos… plenty to satisfy most guitar fans here.
Scott has also created other projects including the Scott McKeon Superjam, a band that features a collection of top pedigree session musicians at the very top of their game. If you like your music sprinkled with plenty of funk and soul, we strongly recommend checking out the live EP.
Last week (April 23rd 2021) saw Scott release his latest solo album ‘New Morning.’ This record demonstrates Scott’s deft playing in bucketloads. Have a little listen to the title track and you’ll certainly hear some of Scott’s early influences alongside his signature octave fuzzy vibe tones…. flavours reminiscent of Hendrix’ Band of Gypsys.
However, this album goes beyond blues boundaries. It shows maturity and style whilst maintaining a healthy amount of power and attitude too. It certainly showcases the versatility Scott has developed over the last decade as a session player. We like it… A LOT!
Produced by Paul Stacey (Black Crowes/Oasis) the album features a roster of other fantastic musicians including Jeremey Stacey (Sheryl Crow/Tal Wilkenfield) on drums, Rocco Palladino on bass (D’Angelo / Tom Misch … and yes son of legendary bassist Pino Palladino) and Gavin Condor (McKeon’s fellow Rufus Black bandmate supplying vocals on several tracks).
You just know you’re in for a treat with a lineup like that!!
Super Strings for SuperJam
For a player that turns his hand to many styles, we were interested to find out what strings Scott uses on his guitars and he was kind enough to sit down and give us the lowdown.
“The main thing I look for in a string is how they feel under my fingers, longevity and good tuning – some strings tend to slip when you tune them up.”
During our chat Scott reiterated that feel really helps to guide him when it comes to choosing strings.
“I don’t like strings that feel too rough under your fingers. In fact, I prefer to not even notice the strings when I’m playing. I just want them to feel one with the guitar.”
Scott’s 1962 Strat is a huge part of his sound and has been with him since he was 12 years old. When he first strung up his Strat with the Curt Mangan strings he said he instantly liked them.
“They last a long time and they’re not too bright either. I’m not too mad on strings that sound too zingy. I prefer the sound of strings that feel a bit worn in and have a slightly woody sound”
Scott adds weight to this preference telling us there’s a track on his new album called Angerstein Road for which he used an old Framus hollowbody guitar from the 50’s.
“The strings on that guitar haven’t been changed for about 20 years!!”
“I like playing old bluesy sort of stuff on acoustic too and like Curt Mangan’s acoustic sets too. I have a Gibson Hummingbird and a Martin-00018 that I use in the studio. I also really like the old Harmony Sovereigns. I love listening to people like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Lil Son Jackson, Skip James, and of course Robert Johnson… Angerstein Road is in that vein.”
Much of Curt Mangan strings’ appeal for Scott comes from their reliability. Whilst on tour with Sir Tom Jones, versatility is the name of the game, ending up recreating a lot of the parts that Ethan Johns or Andy Fairweather Low played on the legends’ recent albums.
“Often these parts have been played in an open tuning, so in a live setting that requires having lots of different guitars set up in different tunings; open D, open G, 12-strings capoed up etc…. I find the Curt Mangan’s really reliable and solid”
For the most part, Scott is a Fender Strat Man. Just a quick glance over his Instagram profile and you’ll see him regularly playing his heavily worn ‘62 Strat. SD Recommendation; when you take a look, pop a bib on…. you’ll be drooling!!!
That being said, Scott also has an impressive collection consisting of Telecasters, Gibsons and a Fender 1965 Jaguar too amongst other instruments too.
“The Jaguar suits slightly heavier strings so sometimes I’ll use a set of 10.5 or 11’s on that. I also have a Danelectro Baritone too.”
On the track Third Eye Witness from his latest album New Morning, Scott tuned his Baritone down to Ab for the main rhythm part, and then for the solo tuned his Strat down to Eb and played in the A position for the solo…..
“Tuning down can make the strings feel quite elastic, but I quite like that because it means you can bend more easily. I think players like Albert King used to detune too.”
Whilst on tour with Sir Tom Jones, Scott said that a lot of his recent stuff is quite country and gospel influenced;
“Sometimes on my Telecasters I quite like using light strings and I’ll go down to a 9 for those pedal steel kind of bends.”
Scott was also happy to share some other thoughts he has when it comes to strings;
“I think sometimes people feel like they need to use really heavy strings to achieve a certain tone, and that can help, but it’s not always essential. It’s more important to feel comfortable on your guitar and sometimes lighter strings can actually help. I have often found that I can be more diverse and musical using lighter strings.”
Scott was also keen to add that string choice can also come down to the guitar itself and what you are trying to achieve. As mentioned earlier, Scott’s 1965 Fender Jaguar suits slightly heavier gauge strings and says he’ll often use thicker strings on his Gibsons too.
Throughout our Player Spotlight series we’ve encountered several players who advocate that a well set up guitar by a professional luthier or guitar tech can help to make all the difference. Back in January we spoke to Nashville based session guitarist Corey Congilio who championed having your guitar professionally set up. Scott also added his thoughts into the mix on this particular topic;
“Always have a good guitar tech or luthier set up your guitar and find what feels comfortable for you and for the guitar. Sometimes just the string action or the way the nut is cut can affect how heavy or how light your strings feel.
Well said… we couldn’t agree more!
Scott’s latest album New Morning released 23rd April 2021 is out now.
If you’ve fallen under the influence of Scott’s fuzzy tones be sure to check out his signature fuzz and octave fuzz pedals here. Player’s like James Bay, Doyle Bramhall II, David Ryan Harris and Gary Clarke Jr have already succumbed….
You can also follow Scott on Instagram too (@scottmckeon33)