"It’s Pretty Simple. I take a Guitar, and I turn it into a Party":
An Interview with Bob Log III
with Max Johns
One-man blues band Bob Log III will notch up his 39th show of 2019 when he plays Hamilton’s Nivara Lounge on Friday May 3, with Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 in support. He’s bound to surprise a few punters with his face-hiding crash helmet, human cannonball suit, and party-at-all-costs approach to blues guitar. HUP had a laugh-filled phone call with Bob a few days before he flew over from his adopted home in Melbourne.
Bob: It’s pretty simple: I take a guitar and turn it into a party. There’s a lot of ways to do that, and I’ve figured out most of ‘em, ha ha haaa! Having fun with my guitar is the ultimate goal in every song: “This is a really fun thing to play on guitar, oh my god I love playing this thing on guitar! How can I make this thing more fun?”
Then I add some drums to it. With my drumming it’s electronic beats, but not a whole song programmed, so it can change at any time. Then I also play real drums on top of that. I’m trying to sound like two drummers, and one of my drummers is good and the one of my drummers is terrible and they absolutely hate each other! And I finger-pick on top of that and sing into a telephone in my helmet attached to my head.
The basic idea is I’m doing this fun thing with my guitar and making it as fun as possible until people spill their drinks and someone loses a shoe. If there’s one shoe on the ground, and it’s totally wet because of the puddles of spilled drinks, then I‘ve done my job right.
HUP: For a guy with no rhythm section, that’s a lot of work.
Bob: Yeah, who needs a rhythm section? They say drummers are crazy, guitar players are idiots and singers are assholes. And I gotta be all of ‘em.
I’ve been a one-man band for about 22 years now. I came up with a new way to play drums, a different way to play guitar and a different style of singing and I’ve kinda been sticking with it ever since 1996.
HUP: Is it possible to disguise how good you are at guitar by putting on a great party?
Bob: There’s no disguise. It’s all there, believe me. When I make a record, it’s all about the guitar. You’re not seeing me riding a boat, and I’m not making you drink out of a duck, it’s just guitar and drums. So the records are designed to put on at a party, and your party goes up a notch.
Then I try to add to that in a live situation. But the guitar parts are all there and you will notice, if you’re at the show, what the guitar is doing, because there’s nothing else making any noise. You can’t be all jumping around and not playing anything.
That’s probably why so many clubs are having me back, because it’s not just about drinking out of a duck or a dogbowl. The guitar part is in front of all that. I get invited back so many times because people are still tryin’ to work out what the hell I’m doin’.
HUP: Have you played Hamilton before?
Bob: I’m not entirely sure. I played a bunch of places with Cortina and I don't think Hamilton was on that list. This would have been 15-something years ago - and I wasn’t driving, so sometimes things got a little hazy.
I get a new stop almost every tour, I insist on it. All my agents know they gotta give me some adventure show, or things get weird.
HUP: You’re playing Raglan’s Yot Club, too, where you’ve been before.
Bob: Yeah, this’ll be my third time to Raglan. There are some places that will always be an adventure no matter how many times, and Raglan’s certainly one of those!
Bob: I’ve toured about half the year, every year, for at least 30 years. I’ll go back to the States and Canada in June and July, there’ll be Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam hopefully around November and back to Europe sometime before then, I think.
HUP: What happens to you when you stay still?
Bob: I do both. I tour for about forty days, then I usually go home for about the same amount of time and tour around on my motorcycle, drive my daughter to dance class, cook lasagne - I try and cover all my bases. I’ve been living in Melbourne for about 13 years now.
There are a million places to play in Melbourne. It pretty much never stops here - there’s something going on all the time. In some ways I’m glad I didn’t grow up here.
HUP: Where did you grow up?
Bob: I grew up in Tucson [Arizona, USA] where there was nothing to do and you had to make your own fun, which can go a lot of different ways.
HUP: That’s why you start a band, right?
Bob: Yeah, man, when you’re bored out of your mind! There’s a couple of ways to invent something, and it’s either sheer panic or absolute boredom. And I’ve had a bit of both in my life.
Tucson’s funny, like when they write about me in the New Yorker they just assume I have two teeth because I’m from Tucson. I got all my teeth, we all got all our teeth! But New York City is like, “oh, Tucson, you must only have two teeth.” I don’t know if Auckland would think that of Hamilton…
HUP: Oh, yeah, totally. When you get here you’ll discover what the crowd is like at a rural supply village that outgrew itself.
Bob: Ok, man, well it sounds like we’re all kinda from the same place here.
HUP: And you’re touring with Labretta Suede and the Motel 6...
Bob: Yes. We’ve played together quite a few times. Every time I play with them, one of their songs, ‘Mexican Coke Bottle’, gets stuck in my head for weeks!
They brought me to New Zealand the last time, and I went all over the place with them. I returned the favour and they came to Australia. We played some fun shows in Melbourne and around Ballarat and other places near here. Tiny mining towns are my specialty.
HUP: When you record, do you play everything all at once like you do live?
Bob: I do most of it live, because as a one-man band I can slow time down, I can speed time up, I can take time out to dinner, I can buy a piece of cake and shove it in time’s mouth and shove some bubblegum in there and make time chew it all at the same time! I can do anything I want to time and this is the most addicting thing about being a one-man band.
Being the complete master of time is the advantage of being a one-man band. So when I record, I can’t go back and adjust my acoustic sound to match up to my electric sound [Log’s guitar is equipped with two pick-ups] and get that kick drum slowing down at the same time. You have to do that live.
I will sometimes sing the song after the fact, but the music itself has to be done live because of the way I turn time into a rubber band.
HUP: I’m thinking of Bump Pow, Bump Bump Bump Pow which slows right down and comes right back up again.
Bob: The Bump Pow single I made with this guy in Spain. He had two kids, about 6 and 4, and he put Bump Pow on the stereo and the kids went absolutely ballistic! They broke a lamp! And he’s like, “See? This music is for children!”
I take that as a compliment. When I sometimes get to play for drunk people and kids at the same time, they do the same exact thing. When I’m playing guitar, I’m actually trying to become that 11-year-old kid I was when I started, like, “Oh my god, this is so fun!”
Little kids just innately know what’s fun. If you put on a complain-y folk song to a little kid, they’re not going to do anything. But if you put on AC/DC to a little kid, they are going to move. Kids innately know what’s a party, and that’s why I’ll test my songs out on little kids.
Bob: My daughter’s 12 now, it’s unbelievable. She’s still my test kid on some of it, but she’s heard too much of it at this point. There was a time when I was playing a little too much banjo, and every time I picked it up she’d be like, “Papa, no!”
I learned to play banjo while running away from her. So I play running banjo now.
HUP: Is it harder to play running banjo or crowd-surfing-in-a-boat slide guitar?
Bob: The boat is much more prone to injury, and much more difficult, depending on the drunkenness of the crowd. People keep landing me on my head. C’mon people, you’ve got the choice of killin’ me or not killin’ me, hahahhaha!
HUP: You do bring your own helmet, though.
Bob: Yeah, they think I’m covered, they’ll make me live for days. Don’t you make me live for days, Hamilton!
HUP: Which leads to this question sourced from a fan - How many helmets you have been through?
Bob: The very first one, I tried to cut earholes in it and that was a disaster. The second I used for years and years, but the foam in it started to disintegrate and at the end of every show I was coming out all bloody. Now I’ve got two, a gold one and a silver one, and that’s it. Four. I have done a couple of one-offs, like when I wanna go purple tonight or whatever.
The faceplate can change, depending on damage and, umm, amount of spit.
HUP: Is it still easy to find telephone receivers to stick into the front of those faceplates?
Bob: Hell no, man! I’m old, and when I started doing this we used to have these things called payphones, hahaha! So when I started, you could just go up with some scissors and boom. Then one day I went to get one and the payphone cable was now metal. Do you remember that? I feel partially responsible for that change to payphones, but I didn't take that many.
Phones were a dime a dozen, too. Nobody cared about them, so you’d get ‘em at thrift stores no problem. Now they’re all in antique stores for fifty or a hundred bucks. Buying a phone like I used to use because I couldn’t afford a microphone is now more expensive than buying a microphone.
HUP: Another fan question, from a guitar nerd: What is your tuning? Because it is looooow.
Bob: A lot of people ask me that. Think of an A or an E chord, then just put on big, bad strings and go way low.
I have two different tunings; both of ‘em are an open chord. One is like an open A chord, but the lowest string is a baritone string tuned all the way down to an octave lower A. It’s almost like a banjo tuning. A banjo goes donk donk donk donk...dink, whereas I go dink dink dink donk...whomp!
Now, I say it’s an open A chord, but I’m tuned down almost an octave from that, to C. So the whole thing is tuned way lower, but in the shape of an open A chord.
The other guitar is tuned to an open E chord, but again I’m using baritone strings and I’m tuned down to A on that one.
HUP: And that’s your bass taken care of.
Bob: If you finger-pick with it, which is what I do, then it sounds like there’s a bass player and a guitar player at the same time. That’s what I’m going for. So I try to sound like two guitar players, two drummers, and one guy who’s trying to sing through a phone.
HUP: Have you ever worried that the phone makes lyrics hard to hear?
Bob: For me it’s never been about the lyrics, but I spend more time writing lyrics than I do almost anything else, which is crazy. When I listen to AC/DC or the Rolling Stones, I don’t know what the fuck they’re saying. I’m listening to the guitar and drums. That’s what I’ve always listened to. But you kinda know what they mean, and some words you get, some words you don’t.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t want my vocals understood, it just not up front.
Bob: Because I gotta say ‘em every day, so I gotta like it! And they usually crack me up: that’s what it is. And it’s all just rock n’ roll, I’m not complaining about anything. All my songs are about how to make your day better. Everything I do is trying to go up a notch from where we just were.
My guitar parts are such a party, I’m not going to be up there complaining about something while I’m making a party on the guitar. I’m not saying other musicians shouldn’t complain about things in their songs, I’m just saying that that’s not my job.
HUP: Have you ever been tempted to write a protest album, or a break-up album, or to go acoustic?
Bob: Well every song is acoustic if you really break it down [because there’s an acoustic and an electric pick-up on my guitar]. The acoustic guitar adds a whole other clickety-clack sound, so that adds another drummer to the two drummers that are already fighting.
A lot of my songs were written after break-ups but it’s not about what happened during the break-up, it’s how I felt better after the break-up was done, ha ha ha! I was sad for a while, but this is how I fixed it! And that’s absolutely, 100%, why Boob Scotch was written.
As far as protesting things, every album is also a protest album because I’m protesting boring music.
HUP: This is the final fan question, and I don’t know if they’re joking or not: Is Boob Scotch receiving a different reaction in our current climate of heightened sensitivity and the #MeToo movement?
Bob: That’s a very fair question and I understand it completely. Obviously this person hasn’t seen me play in a while because when I play that song, most of the people putting their boob in my drink these days are men. That’s the way it is, and I got one rule: when I’m making a party whatever happens during that party, I’m not allowed to stop it. It’s not my job to go, “hey, you’re outta line!”
Whatever happens, let’s go! And dudes sit on me, dudes put their boob and other things in my drink. It’s just the way the room turns once the party starts. Shit gets weird.
Also, when Boob Scotch first came out - man I’m old, we’re going way back here - you could not believe the amount of people putting their boob in my drink. It got to the point where I couldn’t taste the scotch to save my life. It was absolutely crazy! Then there was this invention that maybe you’ve heard of, it’s called a smartphone. That changed everything. All of sudden everyone’s like, “hey wait a minute, if I put my boob in this guy’s drink, my boss is going to see it before I even get to work tomorrow,” and that did put a damper on it for a little while.
About 4 or 5 years ago things switched again and in every room there’s a little pile of people that just don’t give a shit. Maybe they already lost their job last week!
I do have a deal with anybody at my shows, it doesn't matter who or what happens: If something happens and you don't go to work the next day, or your boss sees a picture of you drinkin’ from a duck or something crazy happens, just give me your boss’s phone number and I’ll take care of everything.
HUP: Has anyone ever asked you to follow through on that?
Bob: Yeah, but she was her own boss.
HUP: Is there anything else that the people of Hamilton need to know?
Bob: Just get ready, man. Put on your dancing shoes, come down and have a great time and I hope the next day your face hurts from smiling so much.
Bring your smiling face to Nivara Lounge on Friday May 3 to see Bob Log III with support from Auckland’s Labretta Suede and the Motel 6.