20 Questions with Van Walker

Van Walker is the vocalist and one of the guitarists in Daejeon-based BUZZARD LUCK.  We sat down and fired twenty questions at him…

  1. Why do you play the guitar? Quoth John Lee Hooker, “It’s in him…and it’s got to come out.” I’ve always been fascinated with the instrument, and once I began learning, it just became a part of my life. I can’t imagine not playing.
  2. What was your first guitar? My first guitar was a BC Rich Platinum Series. No one’s first guitar should be that guitar. It had a Floyd Rose locking tremolo, scalloped frets, super sensitive humbuckers…and I could Not. Play. A. Lick. I had no idea why I kept getting feedback and why I couldn’t keep it in tune. It was a nightmare. I’m not sure I’d keep it if I had it now, and I’m a LOT better than I was back in September of 1993. The best thing I ever did was sell it and get an off-brand beater.
  3. Who was your biggest musical influence? Jimi Hendrix. He was my gateway drug to the blues. From Hendrix I worked my way forward to SRV, then backward to Billy Gibbons, then Elmore James, and finally Muddy Waters. But Hendrix started it for me.
  4. What was the first concert you ever saw? Advanced age may be messing with me, but I believe it was Van Halen at the old Checkerdome in St. Louis in ’79. I was a freshman in high school and lied to my parents about going to a bible camp. Best lie I ever got away with…GOD what a show. 
  5. Do you like kimchi? Love it. My wife and I rate restaurants by the quality of their kimchi.
  6. What’s your dream guitar? The vintage ’55 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty. Pretty sure I’d sell one of my kids for one of those…
  7. List 5 songs that you think every guitar player should be able to play? (In no particular order) 1. The Clash – Should I Stay Or Should I Go. 2. Green Day – American Idiot. 3. Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love. 4. Deep Purple – Smoke On The Water. 5. The Troggs – Wild Thing.

Anyone that can’t play those five songs has no right to calling himself a guitar player, period.

  1. Tell us about the worst gig you ever played?The absolute worst gig I ever played anywhere happened here about four years ago, in the band that would eventually become my current band. The guy who sat behind the drum kit (I will NOT insult drummers everywhere by calling him a drummer) could not count to four if you spotted him the first three numbers. We were at the Brick House (in Daejeon) after a Biker Rally for the orphanage, and this knucklehead was all over the place. Songs sped up or slowed down for no discernible reason other than his inability to keep a straight beat. Add to that, he kept Dropping His Sticks. Like, all the time. A song would finally be chugging along when Oops, no more snare…and there goes the kick drum all over the place because Bonehead is groping around on the floor for the stick he just dropped again. It was the only time I’d ever contemplated fist-fighting a bandmate on stage.
  2. Can you play a show drunk? Yup. Completely in the bag. It’s better if I GET drunk while playing, but I can handle it if I’m already there.
  3. The Beatles or the Stones?  Why? STONES. As much as I love the Beatles, the Stones had a four-album run (Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street) that only Led Zeppelin could exceed for overall quality.
  4. How is the music scene in Korea compared to back home? It’s harder over here because there are fewer venues and fewer players. Back home, you can play out pretty much as much as you want, and you can almost always find a gig willing to throw you a little cash if your band isn’t complete crap. Back home, I could sit in with anyone that needed an extra guitar that night; that’s pretty much impossible here. Back home, you can find anyone playing anything you want – like a keyboard guy with an actual Hammond B-3 organ (all 400 pounds of it), or a horn section, or a marina restaurant looking for someone to play acoustic tunes during lunch. Over here, because of the dearth of equipment, a drummer is worth his weight in gold. Over here, guitar players are a dime-a-dozen (well, that’s pretty much the same back in Detroit) but you can also find other instrumentalists – here, finding a drummer is like finding a winning lottery ticket.
  5. What music on your mp3 player would surprise people the most? Meshuggah’s 2012 album “Koloss.” That is the heaviest and blackest metal I’ve ever heard…it’s so damn heavy, I’m pretty sure it’s a singularity – I mean, not even LIGHT can escape this album’s gravity. Just utter, relentless, grindage with machine-like precision.
  6. Which song that you’ve written are you most proud of? Probably “Hellhound”. That song MOVES, especially at the end when we get gut-bucket funky.
  7. Which Korean artists impress you? Probably Psy, because he’s got a subversive sense of humor in his songs and he’s hella energetic in his shows. You go to a Psy concert, you know you have seen a show.
  8. Gibson or Fender?  Why? Both. I have a Strat and an Epi Custom, and I can’t pick between the two of them. Both of them have their endearing features, and I’ve customized both of them to myself so that I really like what I’m hearing when I play them. It’s like trying to figure out which of my kids I like better (but if that ’55 Black Beauty comes around, I WILL be making a decision…lmao).
  9. If I handed you a guitar and asked you to play the first thing that came to your mind, what would you play? ZZ Top – LaGrange.
  10. Name the three most important things a guitar player should know? Tempo, tuning, and tone (alliterative, yes?). A guitar player has to have a solid metronome in his own head – that’s utterly essential for being tight live. Think about it – nothing sounds worse than a guitar that just misses a cue.

If missing a cue is bad, being out of tune is worse. It’s like listening to a toothache. And yes, tuning is a LOT more than just making the little light turn green on your tuner. Intonation is 99% of tuning – if the intonation is off, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing down at the head stock. This is why guitars like my old BC Rich Platinum are dreadful for first-timers – there were too many tuning variables for me to keep control of.

Finally, TONE TONE TONE. Tone is a lot more than plugging in a series of Tube Screamers and cranking the volume knob over to 11. Tone is the guitar’s voice, and the more unique you can make it, the sweeter it sounds. Basically, I’d tell someone just starting out to find a guy whose sound they like, and try to emulate that as much as they can on their personal instrument. What will happen then will be a gradual education on the kind of equipment necessary for creating a unique and sweet tone.

  1. What do you do to prepare for a gig? Generally, I just try to warm myself up without going too hard – scales, bends, string-skipping, cross-picking, nothing too strenuous – and then I’ll run through a couple of covers that have complicated licks (Cult of Personality or Still of the Night). 
  1. What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage? See Question 8. I’ve never felt worse in front of people. It was complete amateur hour. We couldn’t do anything right that day.
  2. What’s the best venue you’ve ever played? I forget the name of the place, but this would be back in 1999. We were in Nashville, the first band on stage before Galactic Cowboy and then King’s X. 5000 people in front of us, ready for some rock. The energy of playing in a genuine concert hall in front of a real rock crowd is something you can’t fake. We were carried along by the crowd, and our 40 minute set went by in like 30 seconds. Then we got to hang out with the King’s X guys backstage (not ashamed to say that I learned/stole a LOT from Ty Tabor that day…lmao).
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