Mike McCready has said that it wasn’t until he saw Stevie Ray Vaughan that he truly understood the trademark thumb technique of his first guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix.
The new issue of Guitarist is on sale today and features a cover interview with McCready, in which the Pearl Jam guitarist discusses his new signature Fender Stratocaster – alongside the influence of another Strat legend, SRV.
Indeed, in the interview, McCready credits the guitarist as a huge influence on many aspects of his musical career, from unraveling the mystery of Hendrix’s playing style, to his love of the Stratocaster and even his own shot at greatness – joining Pearl Jam.
“I know exactly why,” McCready tells Guitarist, when asked why he fell for the Strat in the first place.
“I was lucky enough to see Stevie Ray Vaughan play four times before he died. I loved Hendrix: he was my first guitar hero, growing up in Seattle. But seeing Stevie was transcendent. He made me understand Hendrix better.”
Obviously, McCready was learning to play in the late-’70s and early ’80s – sadly, not the era of endless, pausable YouTube clips. As such, the benefit of Hendrix’s unusual grip on the neck – in which the electric guitar icon would fret the root notes of chords with his thumb – had eluded him.
“I could watch Hendrix play Monterey, but I still didn’t really know what he was doing,” notes McCready.
“I saw he had his thumb over the fretboard, but it still didn’t make any sense to me. But when I saw Stevie live, it was like, ‘Oh! That’s what he’s doing.’ Stevie somehow taught me through osmosis. He was so bluesy and so real, and he’d sit on the side of the stage at the end of the show and do Lenny, y’know, that little mellow piece.
“When he did Voodoo Child, it was so bad-ass. He changed how I wanted to play, and if you listen to Even Flow, you can hear me trying to emulate his stuff.”
It’s previously been reported that McCready got the Pearl Jam gig after Stone Gossard heard him perform SRV’s Couldn’t Stand The Weather, but McCready clarifies that this didn't occur at a show, but rather a house party – and came a good while before he was invited to join the Seattle legends.
“I was at a party at my friend’s house,” says McCready. “I was in his bedroom and I put on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand The Weather and was playing along to it. I remember Stone Gossard walked in. I had known Stone since sixth grade, but he had Mother Love Bone happening already.
“Cut to about a year later when Andy [Wood] passed, I got a call out of the blue from Stone and I think it was because he saw me playing Couldn’t Stand The Weather to the record… he said he couldn’t do that stuff – and I could kind of do it.”
To read the full interview, alongside the magazine's annual gear of the year round-up and a special celebration of 50 years of Boss, pick up the latest issue of Guitarist at Magazines Direct.