James Williamson And The Pink Hearts Live Debut

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND THE PINK HEARTS play El Rey Theatre Jun. 29; photo Heather Harris

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND THE PINK HEARTS play El Rey Theatre Jun. 29; photo Heather Harris

“About this time last year, I started feeling like I wanted to write some more music,” guitarist, James Williamson (The Stooges, Iggy Pop) recalled. “But I really don’t write lyrics. I’m just no good at it. At this point in life I’ve finally admitted it, so I don’t even try anymore.”

JAMES WILLIAMSON; photo Heather Harris

JAMES WILLIAMSON; photo Heather Harris

He reached out to a couple of people, including frontman, Frank Meyer (Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs), who played with Williamson on his previous L.A. show for his solo album, Re-Licked.

“I knew he could sing and I knew he had a good stage presence,” Williamson divulged. “But I didn’t know if he could write lyrics.

“I contacted Frank because it would be great if someone could write lyrics and sing them, too. He just jumped all over that. He could turnaround lyrics like in a day. So as quick as I could feed him new riffs, he could write lyrics to them.”

All of this songwriting resulted in the album Behind the Shade, a new project called James Williamson and The Pink Hearts which not only features Williamson on guitar and Meyer on vocals but also vocalist/violinist, Petra Haden.

The group will perform for the first time Jun. 29 at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles followed by a show in San Francisco, marking the live debut of the new material. If all goes well, more dates will follow.

“We’ll focus on the album but that’s only 11 songs and so that’s not enough for a set,” Williamson explained. “So, we’ll kind of dip into my old catalogue and pull out another 9 or 10 songs and fill out the set.

“It will be a mixed bag, but I think you’ll like it because this is really a different band in a lot of ways. When you hear Frank and Petra sing some of my old catalogue it’s like a brand-new song.”

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND THE PINK HEARTS play El Rey Theatre Jun. 29; photo Sarah Remetch

JAMES WILLIAMSON AND THE PINK HEARTS play El Rey Theatre Jun. 29; photo Sarah Remetch

Joining the trio on stage will be the regulars from the album, drummer Michael Urbano (Smash Mouth), bassist Jason Carmer (Cat Power), and keyboardist Gregg Foreman. Andrea Watts, who wasn’t on the album but who played with Williamson on his last Los Angeles show, will be doing backing vocals.

Williamson has long been noted for both his aggressive guitar playing and sound on 1973’s Raw Power, a classic, explosive, rock album put out by Iggy and The Stooges. His amp-guitar combination came from a suggestion by the engineer at CBS Studio when they recorded in London.

“My go to guitar is a Gibson Les Paul Custom,” Williamson stated. “I’ve pretty much played that for my entire career. Yes, I’ve had many other guitars. And yes, I had many other guitars before I started playing those but that was the guitar that sort of established my sound on Raw Power and that along with the Vox AC30 is kind of my sound.

“Since then though, I’ve started using a kind of imitation of that guitar put out by a company called Eastman. I put my pickups in them cuz I have some custom-wound pickups that are terrific. You’ll see, if you come to the show, I’ll play a Gibson Les Paul, and also an Eastman, and believe it or not, for a couple of things, I’ll even play a Telecaster, so it’s all over the place.”

He still prefers to keep his guitar effects “old school”, using a treble boost pedal for a little extra sustain when playing solos. That’s pretty much it.

“But I do have something that’s a little bit unique to me,” Williamson said. “In my Eastman guitar I have a Piezo electric bridge that I had them put on the guitar, it comes from Fishman. What I had them do is to split it out, make it a stereo signal. So, I have the magnetic pickups and the Piezo pickups, and it goes out stereo, but I can split it outside of the guitar and send one of those sides to an acoustic emulator, so I get a very convincing acoustic sound and at the same time, I can also get the magnetic sound so that I can play some acoustic numbers on the album. It’s pretty cool.”

Williamson put his guitar aside for the tech world for many years, claiming both things required total commitment. Picking it back up was difficult, but he managed.

“Probably the more amazing thing was that I managed to do the tech thing which was really a big sort of existential gap,” Williamson laughed.

“Let’s just say it was difficult from time to time but I managed it cuz it was so exciting. I mean tech at that time was really friggin’ amazing with all the things that have happened. It was a very interesting sort of front row seat.”

Fortunately, he has picked his guitar up again and with renewed songwriting, a little bit Americana, a little bit “Stooges”, the new music fits nicely with the new millennium.