So there I am at New Jersey’s infamous Starland Ballroom, in scenic Sayreville NJ, on Friday night. I’m there to see the band Wiser Time, with Jimmy Somma of Sommatone amps on lead guitar. I’m there because Wiser Time is a very cool classic rock, Black Crowes-ish band, because I rarely get to get away from the wife and kids and because I knew it would be fun.
Oh yeah: I REALLY wanted to hear Jimmy and Carmen – Wiser Time’s bandleader and lead singer – play through their Sommatone amps. And I really did not want to see or hear The Doors, for whom Wiser Time was opening. No offense, I know The Doors are a legendary band, but just never a band I got into. I always kind of thought they were the 60s version of grunge. So, in order of appearance:
The band sounded stellar. The great PA, Ludwig Vistalite drums (per Bonham) and Fender P bass helped, but the bottom line was I was there to hear woody guitar tones and tasty playing, and was not disappointed.
I made sure to stand right where Jimmy’s amp was projecting so I have to confess that I couldn’t hear Carmen’s guitar so well. But I already knew what Carmen sounded like through his Sommatone Vibe 45 amp (killer) from hearing him play through it at the NY/NJ Amp Show two weekends ago. Mostly I was curious to see and hear what amp Jimmy would choose to play through and how it sounded.
Turned out Jimmy was running one of his Overdrive 35 6L6 heads into what I think was a 2×12 cab. He had what looked like a Roaring 40 combo next to it but he told me later he only played through the Overdrive 35.
A little about the Overdrives: Since I was already familiar with the Roaring 40 a bit, the Overdrive series – in particular the Overdrive 75 – really caught my ear at the Amp Show. That was the Sommatone amp I didn’t want to stop playing. Of course it sounded great, but it also had something I’m not sure I’ve ever heard with any other amp. At the Amp Show, I struggled to describe it to Jimmy. I think the closest I got is that the gain, or overdrive, seems to be “under” or “around” the note rather than on top of it.
You know with preamp gain or an OD pedal, the gain, distortion, overdrive or whatever you want to call it seems to surround or sit on top of the note. But with Jimmy’s Overdrive amps, you get this big woody note and the hair but in a different order somehow. I’m probably doing the amp an injustice by trying to describe it at all but it’s just one of those amps you want to keep messing with because it sounds so good and you know something with your name on it is in there.
(More on this amp coming soon on AmpGAS.)
Anyhow, as I said Jimmy sounded great through that amp and cab. He played a lot of slide, and the notes were big, woody and clear but still with a bunch of sustain and some hair. Jimmy says he loves that amp for slide, and after hearing him I can see/hear why.
I can also say that after hearing Robbie Krieger from The Doors play slide – though it seemed like it was more for effect rather than melodic lines – to my ears, Jimmy slide tone was way better.
So I’m happy to report that Jimmy’s amps sound good in a hotel room and on stage. Jimmy’s a heck of a player too.
First of all, a band named The Doors makes communication difficult. Questions like, “When are the doors opening?” get responses like: “The Doors are opening?” I guess it’s tough to communicate capital letters verbally.
(Technically it was Ray Manzarek (keys) and Robby Krieger (guitar), not The Doors, but it’s as close to The Doors as you’re going to get so I’m going to call it that.)
Since I’m not a Doors fan I figured my buddy Alan and I would be out the door before we heard one note from The Doors. But Wiser Time only played a 30-minute set and we’d barely started on our tea and crumpets, so we decided to stick around. I have to admit I’m mostly glad we did. Mostly.
The Doors were a very good band, and it helped that they played songs that I pretty much “knew” from radio airplay back in the day. Ray and Robby were the only two original members in the band and sounded and played very well, as did the drummer (good player, did not dig the drum sound) and bass player.
But the real highlight of the band for me was the lead singer. He had a TON of stage presence, sung the tunes very well and generally brought up the level of the place to make that a gig to remember for the audience. Speaking of which, the audience had quite a few younger folks in their 20s – or maybe even younger (an all ages show) – and many were singing all the words. Pretty mind-blowing.
So who was the singer? Miljenko “Michael” Matijevic, a Croatian guy who was and still is the lead singer for the ’80s metal band Steelheart and who also provided the vox for Mark Wahlberg’s character in the movie, “Rock Star.” Think this guy has some pipes?! I’m officially a fan. Love to have that guy in my band…if I had one.
Did he “sound like” Jim Morrison? Enough for me and the most of the audience, it seemed. He made the show, regardless.
In the harsh stage lights Kreiger looked every year of his 65, but so what – you couldn’t tell from his fingers. He played great and sounded good through Fender Hot Rod DeVille combos (he had a pedal board but I didn’t see it). He played old SGs, and we wondered whether those were the ones he played in the ’60s. They sure looked like it!
Just to give you a taste, this was the actual show I was at. Visuals not great, but sound okay.
Here’s a show from a few days before, better video.
More on Robby’s Rigs
From a recent interview with Premier Guitar:
You’re most known for playing a Gibson SG Standard. How did you come to use that guitar?
Before I played electric guitars, I knew nothing about them. But then I saw Chuck Berry and had to get one. I went to a pawnshop and all I could afford was a used Gibson SG Standard—it cost me $180. That was the guitar I used in The Doors. I played ES-335s and ES-355s also, but I always went back to the SG. It’s the most comfortable guitar for me. It does what I need it to do and always has.
Do you still have that original SG?
No, it was stolen a long time ago. I found a ’67 that’s almost identical to the one I had, and I still use that one all the time.
Tell me about Gibson’s recent Robby Krieger SG reissue.
I’m happy with it. They copied the ’67 SG I have now. I didn’t like that guitar’s original neck, so the neck on it is actually a copy of a friend’s ’61 SG Junior that I preferred. Gibson wired the front and rear pickups out of phase like a wah. It was a mistake, but a good one.
What other instruments are you using right now?
I have a Stratocaster that I use once in a while, and I still play ES-355s but only in the studio, not live. I also use an older SG Special with P-90s for slide – I believe it’s a ’75. I have about 30 guitars total.
Robby on his amps:
The first amp I used with the Doors was a Magnatone with two 12″ speakers. Then we got a deal with Acoustic, and I used their 260 model for a while. Ray was using one of their amps too, but we both grew disenchanted with them after awhile. Then I started using a couple of Twin Reverbs that were rebuilt with JBL speakers in them by my friend, Vince Traenor, a crazy genius who also works on pipe organs. He likes to sneak into cathedrals and play the pipe organs. My current rig is two Fender Hot Rod DeVilles, with either 2×12 or 4×10 speaker cabs.
On his board:
I use a Boss ME-10 multi-effect unit, which they don’t make anymore, and I use the gain channel on the amps too. That’s my basic rig. Very simple.
If you’re wondering whether I stayed for the whole Doors show, the answer is no. It was surprisingly cool and fun to watch, but then they played some song that sounded like a bar mitzvah tune (several folks backed me up on that), which isn’t the worst thing at all but didn’t seem to fit in a rock show. Time to bolt.
All in all a cool night. If you’re remotely into the Doors, go see Robby, Ray and company. If you ever get a chance to see Wiser Time in NJ or play one of Jimmy’s amps, do it!
> This is worth noting, from Wikipedia: Steelheart disbanded in 1992 because of a bad stage accident. Near the end of the tour that year, the band was opening for Slaughter in Denver, Colo. During the performance, Miljenko decided to climb a lighting truss, which was not properly secured and fell. He tried to get out of the way, but the 1,000-pound truss hit him on the back of the head. He fell face-first onto the stage and broke his nose, cheekbone and jaw, and twisted his spine. he managed to walk off the stage, but was immediately taken to a hospital. Wow. One tough MF.
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