When it comes to covering a vocal song as an instrumental, guitarist Jeff Golub has his standards.
“First, it has to have chord changes that can relate to a jazz approach, or at least be [the type of song where I’m] able to rewrite the chord changes so that they can,” he says. “I listen to see if that can work, and then a melody that can work without a vocal — a strong enough melody that if there were no lyrics, it still stands up as an instrumental.”
Golub took those factors into account when he covered the Sly and the Family Stone hit “If You Want Me to Stay” for his latest album, Grand Central, due March 6 via Narada Jazz.
“Sly just did that off the cuff,” says Golub of the song’s melody. “There wasn’t much forethought with that. His phrasing was so free-flowing. It just so happens that I know his phrasing so well on that song, that when I [approach] it as a guitarist, I can kind of follow where his head was going with that on each verse because I’ve listened to it so many times. I don’t play exactly what he’s singing by any stretch, but I think I caught the overall essence that he was trying to get across.”
Grand Central‘s other covers include a rendition of The Beatles‘ “Something” and The Four Tops‘ “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got).” There are plenty of instrumental originals as well, such as the title track and “Hello Betty,” the first song on the album.
Golub gives some credit to his warm, bluesy guitar tone throughout Grand Central to the Fuchs Overdrive 50 amp he decided to use right before recording commenced.
“I think people’s sound is more in their hands than in their equipment,” he says, “but this amp responds to the way I play really great. What I like about it is I was able to play the Stratocaster. I’m not always able to do it because it’s not warm enough. It’s more of a brittle sound. But the Strat makes me approach the music in a different way — I play it live, usually, and I’ll bend notes further with the Strat.
“This amp allowed me . . . to bring out the low- and mid-range tones and make it a fatter sound.”
Golub says one of his goals with Grand Central was “to accentuate the differences in my guitar playing from most other smooth-jazz guitar players.”
“I think most guys kind of go from more the George Benson/Wes Montgomery school of guitar, which I’m a big fan of and I totally respect that [style],” he says. “But I also heard Jimi Hendrix play before I ever heard Wes Montgomery play, so I don’t want to completely forget about that. I want to include it in my personality.”
And although Golub has a strong rock background, having recorded and toured with Rod Stewart and Billy Squier, among others, he had no interest in using distorted or “blatantly rock sounds” on Grand Central.
“I’m not really a fan of what most people think of as jazz rock fusion,” he says. “I wanted to keep the sound more pure and to a jazz-blues element but still acknowledge all of my influences in more of a blues and rock vein.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Jeff Golub on tour (schedule subject to change):
* March 24: Nokia Theatre Times Square — New York
* March 25: Berks Jazz Festival — Reading, Pa.
* April 13: Ritz Theater — Jacksonville, Fla.
* April 14: Seascape Golf & Beach Resort — Destin, Fla.
* April 28: Marriotts Rancho Las Palmas — Rancho Mirage, Calif.
* April 29: Thornton Winery — Temecula, Calif.