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Altered Five Blues Band’s Jeff Schroedl: “With slow blues, take your time. Don’t empty your magazine too soon”

Jeff Schroebl
(Image credit: Aigars Lapsa)

Holler If You Hear Me, the sixth album from Milwaukee-based quintet Altered Five Blues Band, is a joyous celebration of all things earthy and honest. Their take on the blues is multifaceted – taking inspiration from different eras and movements, as well as channeling elements of swing and jazz to add to their collective pentatonic power. 

For guitarist Jeff Schroedl, it all stems from his love for Joe Pass and Charlie Christian alongside heroes like Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King.

What’s the secret to sharing space with harmonicas, keyboards and other instruments?

“Playing guitar alongside an organ and harmonica is much different from playing in a blues trio. I need a brighter tone to cut through the mix, and I carefully pick my spots to throw in lead licks and fills. I listen closely to the vocal and weave my guitar lines in the gaps. Space is good; sometimes I sit out for a few measures and let the song breathe.”

The title track solo mixes different major and minor tonalities, as well as passing tones. Where’d you learn how to fuse country, blues and jazz like that?

“I cut my teeth playing jazz, and listened to a lot of Joe Pass, Charlie Christian, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino and Barney Kessel, as well as early B.B. King, T-Bone Walker and Grant Green. They all seeped into my own playing. I try to use all the colors in the palette if it makes sense for the song. Holler If You Hear Me swings hard, and almost anything goes when it comes to soloing over that one.

Clear Conscience, Bad Memory has some strong SRV seasoning. What advice can you offer to guitarists hoping to play like the late, great Texan?

“With slow blues, take your time. Don’t empty your magazine too soon. Keep it simple and in control, and use long notes and space. When you tell a story with your voice, you use inflection and sometimes vary your delivery of the words. 

“The same applies to music. Don’t always start on the downbeat and play evenly in time. Mix it up and don’t think too much! That’s a surefire way to ruin the vibe. There’s an old saying – ‘It’s not the meat, it’s the motion.’ That’s especially true with blues.”

What guitars and amps did you use on this album?

“I used two Strats on the entire record – my 1966 and a 1962 that was at the studio. The ’62 had a lot of mojo, so I played that quite a bit, using different pickup combinations. I mostly plugged directly into the amps and cranked them up to about eight – including my 1968 Super Reverb, tweed Bassman and 1964 Vibroverb.”

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Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences. He's interviewed everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handling lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).