Louisiana native Lance Lopez has been playing professionally since he first started playing bars in New Orleans at the age of 14. He lived in Dallas for a short time as a child, and when his family moved back there while he was 17 he was hired to tour for six months with soul legend Johnnie Taylor. At 18 he was working with modern blues great Lucky Peterson, where he later became band leader at the age of 21. His first solo album First Things First was released in 1998. Lance has opened for such artists as Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, B.B King, Joe Bonamassa, and ZZ Top. His newest offering Salvation From Sundown is available now.
Maximum Ink: What was it like growing up in Louisiana and Texas? What were you like as a kid?
Lance Lopez: My parents split up when I was 5 so that was kinda rough and it gave me the Blues almost immediately. But other than that I had a good
ole Southern Boy upbringing. I played out in swamps and the woods. When I wasn’t in my bedroom practicing on my guitar, I was fishing and trying to catch Crawfish in the Bayou and going with my older brother to hunt Alligators and all kinds of crazy stuff like that. My mom could never find me if I wasn’t in my room playing guitar, I was either out in the woods or the swamp. I got bit by snakes and chased raccoons and did all kinds of crazy stuff like that. When we moved from Louisiana to Texas we moved to Dallas, and it’s a major big city. It was a big culture shock for me. I didn’t have any woods to run around in and no swamps to catch Crawfish and snakes in anymore. So I spent a lot more time playing guitar in my room. By that time I was 12 and I was obsessed with playing my guitar anyway. I would sit in school and literally fiend for my guitar, I couldn’t wait to get back home to play it. I would play it first thing in the morning and as soon as I got home. And when I moved from Dallas to New Orleans to live with my Dad all I did was play, every waking second of the day. My Dad started taking me out to Bars in New Orleans and that is when I first started playing real gigs and then it was on (laughs).
MI: When did you first know you had to become a musician?
LL: When I was 5 years old…the moment I first held a guitar. My Dad took me into a Pawn Shop with him and the guy had a 1957 Sunburst Stratocaster hanging on the wall and I asked him to take it down and play it and it felt so natural in my hands. My Dad was so excited that I wanted to play guitar. He bought me one a couple of years later for Christmas. But I think I wanted to be a musician before that.
MI: Who were some of your earliest influences?
LL: My Father was in the Army with Elvis Presley and he actually knew him before they were in the Army together. They met when Elvis would come play the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana around 1954-55. A couple of years later when they were stationed in Germany together Elvis remembered my Dad from the Hayride and they became friends from that day on. My earliest memories were was watching footage of Elvis on Betamax cassettes. I would watch the ‘68 Comeback Special over and over, and I would say I wanna do that. My Dad had pictures of He and Elvis together and I just knew him as my Dad’s friend who was a cool dude (laughs) He was probably the biggest “early” influence on me. My Dad then turned me onto Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Ray Charles. I also remember being about 3 or 4 years old and seeing Stevie Wonder play “Superstition” on Sesame Street and that just supercharged me. I just ran all over the house after seeing that. We had a lot of mainstream music around our house of course that was the dawn of MTV so all of that stuff, me and my older sister used to sit around and watch MTV a lot. My older brother was a rocker so he got me into alot of that early on and would take me to concerts back in 80’s and we saw all the popular Rock bands of that era, AC/DC was my favorite. My older brother turned me onto Jimi Hendrix when I was 10 years old and my whole life and the way I viewed the guitar changed overnight (laughs) And there was a big Country and Western influence that I got from my Grandmother, my mother’s mom. I would go stay with her on weekends and we would listen to KWKH Radio and hear Hank Williams Sr., George Jones, Roy Orbison, and tons of other Classic Country and we would watch Hee Haw on Saturday nights and Roy Clark and Buck Owens were big guitar heroes of mine. My Grandmother and my Dad were my two biggest supporters when I wanted to play music when I was a kid.
MI: What was it like to first start playing bars in New Orleans at the age of 14? Do you remember what was running through your mind before you took the stage for your first show ever?
LL: It was great. I was so excited to be onstage for the first time. My Dad was hanging out at a bar in Fat City (which was like a mini French Quarter in Metarie, Louisiana where we lived) he said there were some guys down there playing the Blues; walk down here and play with them. I was at home practicing to Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker records anyway. So I walked down there and my Dad made me get up there and sit in. I remember the old Blues guys were like, “That white boy can play!” (laughs) It was great and I got such a rush from it I was hooked instantly. I used to sit in with Jamil and the Jammers, E.J. and the Electric Band, J.D. Hill, George Porter Jr. and all the other guys on Bourbon Street and it just became a trend I started going out and playing gigs with those guys. Then we moved down to Florida and it just continued on like that. My Dad would take me out to the Bars and I would play and I was making a little pocket change while I did it.
MI: Why do you think Blues appeal to so many people?
LL: Well because the Blues is about real life. I like what Johnny Winter said and that is “The Blues will never go away…people need it,” I think when people get tired of working all week and wanna go out to the bar and have some drinks they want real music they can relate to and feel. It’s a release not only for the Artist but for the working class that wanna come out and unwind after a hard week.
MI: What was it like to get hired by Johnnie Taylor when you where 17? Did you feel lucky at the time to not have the normal job for those of your age?
LL: Well I was faced with a choice at that time: go to Berklee School of Music or go on the road with Johnnie Taylor. I chose to go out with Johnnie and them and it was the greatest Music school I could’ve gone to. I learned a lot real quick. The money thing as far as having a job was kinda funny because we had to pay our own hotel rooms and if you made a mistake onstage you got fined. So when I first joined the band I made a lot of
mistakes, so I had so many fines that sometimes I didn’t even get paid (laughs).
MI: What does it feel like to be able to do what you love for a living?
LL: Well I’m grateful that I get to do what I love, the “for a living” part is sometimes questionable (laughs). But I’m working on it. Bon Scott said it best “It’s a long way to the top if ya wanna rock and roll” (laughs).
MI: When you first started working with Lucky Peterson did you ever dream you’d become band leader?
LL: No not at all. I didn’t speak to Lucky for about year when I joined his band. I just stood in the back and played Rhythm guitar and did my job and
was quiet. Then one day we started partying together and then he found a partner in crime after that, so that’s how our working relationship went for a long time. Then all of the sudden he looked at me and shouted “You gonna be band leader!” I was like “uhh ok” (laughs) Some of the other Band members were jealous and didn’t even acknowledge me as the MD (Musical Director). But we had a great band back in the late 90’s and Lucky did so much for me. He introduced me to Europe and really pushed me to be up front and he gave me a lot of solos. I learned so much playing with Lucky.
MI: What was it like to open for Steve Vai, Jeff Beck, and BB King?
LL: It was truly an honor. I was fortunate enough to share the stage with some of the greats. Every time I did one of those shows I went into it ready to learn and I sat on the sidelines and took notes and watched their every move and tried to remember every lick they played. I spent a lot of time talking with BB and Jeff Beck, not so much with Steve Vai because he was very sick with the flu when I opened for him. But B.B. was great we sat on the bus and talked about women and he asked me about my girlfriends and stuff, it was great, he gave me tons of advice and really scolded me for playing Stratocasters (laughs) He said “all you young guys got a raggedy Stratocaster, I’m tired of it” (laughs) I play Gibsons today and I know that makes B.B. proud. Jeff was great and we would talk about gear and he showed me all his amps and talked me into using the JCM 2000 DSL 100 Marshall which I still use off and on today. Jeff is so great and I really have such a blast hanging with him.
MI: Of all of the musicians you’ve worked with, which of them has passed on the best advice to you? (and what was it?)
LL: Wow thats a good one. A couple of people come to mind and one would be Johnny Guitar Watson whom I met when I was Johnnie Taylor’s guitarist and he told me “Keep Yo Money right, yo women tight and yo mind light” (laughs) I’ll never forget that. And then B.B. King told me “If she breaks your heart once, that the blues…if she breaks your heart twice you’re a fool” (laughs) those are two that I remember right off the top of my head.
MI: Can you tell a little about your Salvation From Sundown?
LL: The title means a rescue from the darkness, which I had some pretty dark periods in my life the last few years and this disc and everything surrounding it was almost like a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. I am very proud of that disc and it’s my first project with Jim Gaines Producing. I had a lot of the material I had written for years and I finally got to record some of it. Some good blues and some ballads, and I saved one of the heavy rock tunes for the end. It really helped having Jim there to help me put it together and mold the rough edges and make things fit. He really takes an song and brings the best out of it. I’m very happy with it. I’m also very proud of it sonically, I had some of the best engineers working on it like Chris Bell in Dallas and Pete Matthews and Adam Hill in Memphis so the sound came out great. I just found myself starting to get into a groove with Salvation, I’ve got a mot more material and I’m excited to get going on the follow up to Salvation from Sundown.
MI: How would you describe your particular sound?
LL: Hardcore Texas Blues Rock, I have a lot of Rock influence as well as Blues and tons of regional influence from Texas and Louisiana so I would call it that. Carrying on the tradition of ZZ Top, Johnny Winter and SRV…but Lance Lopez-Style with my own twist on it.
MI: Other than music, what other things do you enjoy?
LL: I love cooking and trying cuisines from all over the world. Everywhere I go I take pictures of my food and post them on Facebook and sometimes if I don’t do it for a while everyone says “Hey what’s going on, you’re not posting pics of your food” (laughs) I’m also an outdoorsman. I love being out in the woods, that comes from my childhood. I love traveling and seeing new places and the ancient history of places as well, whenever I have time.
MI: What projects are you looking forward to completing next?
LL: I’m really looking forward to starting on the follow up to Salvation. I’ve got a lot of great material and I’m gonna call the new disc “Handmade Music” I’m very excited to get started; me and Jim Gaines have had some discussions about it and I think it’s going to be great. I’m really looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording some new tracks.
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