Eddie Roberts, guitarist for the supremely funky British band The New Mastersounds, is a master of mixing soaring hard bop guitar lines with authentic James Brown grooves.
The group has been rapidly gaining fans by bringing their infectious vintage soul sound to clubs and festivals across the country.
I talked with Eddie about how he developed his style and what new projects he has on tap for the future.
GUITAR WORLD: How did a guy from England get into playing Meters-inspired funk/soul music?
I’m originally from Wales and I was really into jazz, a bit of rock stuff as well, a bit of Black Sabbath and a bit of Hendrix. I then went to the Jazz College in Leeds, England, where there was a DJ scene that was just kicking off about that time. DJs were digging in the crates finding these old funk 45’s and playing them at clubs. As soon as I got to Leeds there was a club that was doing that and I got quite involved the scene. The DJ’s were doing all the homework for me, finding that great music and making me compilation tapes. That scene kicked of in the late 80’s and I was surrounded by that music so I naturally became influenced by it.
How do you go about coming up with such funky interlocking guitar parts for The New Mastersounds?
Well, I’ve always got a groove going in my head. Sometimes it will come to the forefront of my mind and I’ll sort of beat-box ideas into my phone. It’s usually just drums and bass that I’m hearing before I come up with the guitar part. I collect all of these ideas in my phone and then go to rehearsal and work on them as a band. Once we’ve got the groove settled, I’ll add my guitar parts, which is kind of like the icing on the top. It’s usually a very spontaneous process.
Can you describe how you’ve developed your bebop-style lead playing?
It’s definitely come from the jazz side of things. I pick every note so I’m not playing any hammer-ons, which is a bebop approach. I think your style develops subconsciously over time by trying to first emulate certain sounds that you’re listening to. Then once those styles become embedded within you, you start to develop your own hybrid style. So in the early days, I was copying a lot of jazz guitarists and eventually I grew into my own sound.
What jazz players were you into?
I like Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and George Benson. You could say I sound like Grant Green, but when I listened to him, I think I don’t really play exactly like that anymore. But I was very influenced by Grant Green and I actually play the same model guitar he played.
Is that a Gibson ES model?
It’s a 1965 Gibson 330, which is a hollow body unlike the 335, which is a semi-hollow body. A lot of people assume I play a 335, but it’s actually a 330 with single-coil P90 pickups.
Does that model lend itself well to the percussive tone you achieve with your playing?
Yeah, I’d say it’s percussive. I use very heavy strings and pick every note so it’s a very rhythmic thing. The way I approach and enjoy music is really from a rhythmic standpoint. Everything starts with a rhythm in my head rather than a melody.
What are some of the new projects you're working on?
We have a new New Mastersounds album, which is our seventh or eighth studio album, that will probably be out around May or June. I also have a new collaboration with a British DJ called Lack of Afro, which is jazz based but mixed with DJ beats. I’ve just put together the Roughneck project to play in the U.S. It is a similar kind of concept, as well as a trio with Robert Walter of The Greyboy All-Stars and Jermal Watson of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. That’s where I’m heading at the moment, and I hope to get a couple albums with those projects out by the end of the year.
Check out The New Mastersounds' Facebook page and official website.