Mike McCready on reissuing The Rockfords' debut LP: "It brings me back to the excitement of what guitar was like when I first discovered it"

Mike McCready of Pearl Jam performs at the 2021 Ohana Festival Encore Weekend on October 01, 2021 in Dana Point, California.
(Image credit: Harmony Gerber/WireImage)

On January 7, Seattle, Washington-based guitar stalwart Danny Newcomb revealed that a previously lost LP from his band The Rockfords, which features Pearl Jam guitar royalty Mike McCready, was set for re-release. Now, the self-titled debut LP, which had been long forgotten after its release on Epic Records around the turn of the millennium, is prepping for its proper unveiling on all digital platforms. 

Last week, band released the lead single from the unearthed LP, Silver Lining. And another is set to drop soon ahead of the full LP release in late February or early March (the group and its team are still working out the details). Also featured on the album is Heart icon Nancy Wilson (one of the greatest rhythm players ever, according to McCready). 

The Rockfords formed in 1999. The band comprises Newcomb, McCready, vocalist Carrie Akre and rhythm section, brothers Rick and Chris Friel. Newcomb and the Friel brothers have known McCready for decades and played in early bands, including Shadow, with the guitarist pre-Pearl Jam. 

We caught up with McCready 22 years since The Rockfords broke musical ground on their debut LP. The guitarist detailed his six-string approach on the album, what the recording process taught him, what might be next for The Rockfords – who also have a live album and an EP out there in the world waiting for new attention – and what’s next for Pearl Jam in 2022.

How did you approach The Rockfords' debut guitar-wise in 1999?

“I think we just fell back into the old patterns of, like, 'Okay, here’s a riff and then let’s rock on it.' Danny [Newcomb] has structured ideas on stuff and it’s more visceral and it comes off the cuff for me.

“It’s funny to play with Danny because he likes to rehearse. He analyzes music a bit, I think. He feels it, too – I’m not saying that [he doesn’t] – but mine is less of that. And I think those two things work together well. I think we push each other to play better leads, in a way. It certainly does feel that way for me. Because I love his style. 

“Writing with Carrie [Akre], you know you want to write a song that she’s interested in singing, and I feel like a lot of those she gravitated towards. She’s a super-professional and gets the job done, and she has a beautiful emotional voice that comes through on The Rockfords record. When we were recording this, John Goodmanson, who I’ve been working with a bit lately and is a great producer, he just let us do what we wanted to do. 

“He had some suggestions here and there, but he just knows how to get great sounds, too. So, John Goodmanson and all of our collective history and Carrie coming in, and her and Danny and Chris’s collective history, it all made this cool record that we didn’t overthink. I think we had fun with it, and I always feel like I’m pushed in a guitar way when I’m playing with Danny.

“He’s such a good guitar player that I want to play symbiotically with him. I feel like I do that with Stone [Gossard of Pearl Jam], too. Stone is a groover by nature and he can be somewhat analytical, too, in terms of his playing, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. And I’m more the fiery off-the-cuff player. So, Danny and I and Stone and I, there are similarities in all that, I think. 

I think I learned how to play with Stone Gossard because I played with Danny Newcomb for a long time. They’re very similar in how they write songs

“I think I learned how to play with Stone because I played with Danny for a long time. They’re very similar in how they write songs.”

How do you approach playing with a new singer? How does the vocalist impact the way you approach your instrument on a given project?

“The vocalist has always impacted how I play guitar. In terms of the earliest Pearl Jam records, I always want to play around and emphasize the vocal. I want to not play over it. I want to maybe even do the vocal part on guitar just to emphasize it behind the vocal. I never want to go over the top of it. So, I’m very conscious of it. 

“In terms of working with Carrie, it’s the same thing. I want her vocals to shine and they’re the main important part of the song, as it is with Pearl Jam, as it is with Temple [of the Dog] or when I played In the Name of Love with Eva and Cedric [Walker, of The Black Tones]. The vocal is so important – you don’t ever want to overplay. And I can overplay, for sure, because I am hyper like that! But I am consciously thinking about writing around the singer and, if not around, emphasizing their importance in the song. So, that is something I’ve always thought of.”

The Rockfords

(Image credit: Bootsy Holler)

What pedals, guitars and amps did you use with The Rockfords?

“I’m sure I used a JCM800 Marshall with those guys on The Rockfords. I used my 1960 – which I thought was a ’59 Strat forever – on that record, for sure. I know I used a Les Paul on a few of those songs, probably a Fender Bassman for sure for the cleaner tone. But again that was 22 years ago. So, it probably isn’t anything that’s too extravagant and different than I would use with Pearl Jam. It’s probably the exact same thing, almost. 

“But in working with different guitar players, I want to be the opposite. A lot of times if Danny is playing a Les Paul, I want to play a Strat. And if Stone is playing a Les Paul, I want to play a Strat or a Telecaster. Or if he’s playing a Strat, I want to play a Les Paul. I don’t want to double the sound. It’s the old Aerosmith factor that I always loved that those guys did. Joe Perry had whatever he had, a B.C. Rich. And Brad Whitford would have had a Strat, or something like that. 

I always liked the combination of two different sounds… Being in a two guitar band, you want to be different as possible, if you can

“I always liked the combination of two different sounds. So, I would have been thinking about that, too. I would have been thinking about, 'Well, what guitar is Danny playing on? What tone is he going to get and what tone should I get so we don’t sound the same?' Being in a two guitar band, you want to be different as possible, if you can.”

Does the band scratch a particular guitar itch that you needed to attack?

“Oh yeah. It brings me back to when Danny and I were playing Love is Like Oxygen by Sweet through our Fender Champs when we were 11 or 12 years old irritating our parents. That and the newness and the excitement of what guitar was like when I first discovered it. But it also since we’ve gotten better at guitar players – yeah, we speak that same language. I’ll watch Danny do a lead and go, 'Cool, he’s bending it this way.' And I’ll think about that. 

“I’ll also just love it because it sounds good. I don’t want to sound like I’m analyzing everything so much! I want it to sound good. And I want the two of us to sound good. But it’s something that just happens. Like, 'Oh yeah, we’re rocking out and I feel like I’m learning.' All the time when I’m playing with other guitar players.”

There’s a great solo on the opening song Adelaide. There’s also great acoustic work and some tasty licks on Distress. Spiral has an awesome riff. But do you have any favorite leads or moments from your playing on The Rockfords?

“I like the riff on Spiral a lot. I was happy and proud when I came up with that one. To me, it reminded me of an Aerosmith thing, and that’s how I approached it in my mind. With Distress, I think that was an early example of me actually writing lyrics for that song. I wrote lyrics for that song, which I’m forgetting right now! It’s been a long time!

“But I did use an acoustic on Distress, probably some sort of Martin at the time. And it was just a pretty but dark lyrically song. I’m proud of that song. So, those two songs are fun. And they’re totally different. One’s sort of mellow and one’s more of a rocker. I like the fact that they’re both different, you know?”

Do you sing on the record?

I hope Pearl Jam can release some music, because we have a lot of music that we haven’t put out

“I don’t sing on that record, no. Maybe I did some backups. In working with such great singers over the years, you know, Carrie, Chris [Cornell], Layne [Staley], Ed [Vedder], it’s hard to want to sing! And I do sing and I like doing it. But I did not on The Rockfords.”

Did this album influence how you thought about the guitar on later projects? 

“I think that any time I play with anybody else rather than my band – even in my band – I learn something. So, yeah, for sure. I would watch Danny and say, 'Oh, wow, he’s doing it this way.' Or he hits a power chord in a different way than I do. He does it in a way that I’ve only seen two people do it, him and Kim Thayil. They hit this chord and their fingering is different and it adds to their sound. 

“So, I feel like I probably took some melodic stuff from The Rockfords sessions. Ideas of some pop-sounding things. But I’m sure I took some of that. It also added to my confidence in writing with Pearl Jam and with other projects. Every little step doing music with somebody else, I feel like I learn something. And I want to learn something. Even if I’m not trying, I feel like through osmosis I learn things.”

Do you have any other side projects in the works at the moment, and what might be next for Pearl Jam?

“I’m working with a director named Thomas Zimny right now, who I worked with on a Johnny Cash documentary and an Elvis documentary already. We’re doing a Beach Boys one. So, I’m working on music for that right now. I’m working on music for a movie called Daft State with my friend Chris Bacchus, who’s the star of it. And I’m doing some music for that. So, I’m doing music for some movies this second. 

“I’m working on a little project myself that I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet, but it’s something that I’ve been working on for a long time and it’s going to have something to do with Seattle and my role in it and coming up.

“And Pearl Jam, we hopefully will be touring in Europe in the summer and maybe in the States before that. With Omicron, who knows what’s going to go on? I hope we can release some music, because we have a lot of music that we haven’t put out.”

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