In Praise of the Sideman – hommage to Peter Stroud

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Effortless. He made it look absolutely effortless. Like he wasn’t even trying.

Musical director/lead guitarist for Sheryl Crow, co-founder of 65 Amps in LA and musician extrodinaire Peter Stroud is what I was looking foward to a couple a weeks ago as I drove my daughters and wife out to Interlochen Music Academy for the Sheryl Crow concert. The girls were looking forward to opening act Colbie Caillat [some pop country singer who was very easy on the eyes] and Dad just wanted to see Stroud in action.

We were a few rows back from the front and to watch Stroud execute was a treat. Subtle slide work, tastefull solos, never overplaying, and the tone, that gorgeous 3-D tone that only his hands and 65 amps can create, was, in a word, humbling. The sonic landscape he created was rich and lush and never once did he even look like he was trying. Always smiling. Always engaged with the audience or his fellow musicians. No shoe-gazing here. He was the consumate professional.

There are nights on stage that i feel like I’m at war with my telecaster. I grab the neck with such aggression that I knock open chords right out of tune. It’s like I’m trying to strangle a good solo right out of the planked body of my Bill Nash T-style. Not Stroud. He moves around the stage from verse to chorus and back again with such fluidity and grace that the guitar is like an unbroken extension of his hands.

And the tone. That thick, shimmering tone delivered through a couple different heads from the 65 Amps line was a sound to behold. I just wish that the sound guy had him a little more forward in the mix, but everything from his slide work, to the rhythm and lead parts was just spot on. Every note of every chord rang through in an articulate fashion. When he dug in with his pick, the amp growled with gorgeous even-ordered harmonics. When he backed off, the chime and jangle of those EL84’s [I thought one of the heads was a London] was exquisite.

I’m told that this line of amps – 65 Amps – came about as a collaboration between Stroud and Dan Boul as Stroud wanted a low-powered tube driven solution to Sheryl Crow’s low stage volume. The problem was that for good tube amps to really sing, you have to hit their sweet spot which usually occurs at higher stage volumes. A 100 watt Marshall head can be tonal bliss in a EL34 tube, but the volume levels are huge. And “Leaving Las Vegas” at that level sounds like “Leaving Gary Indiana”.

But take an 18watt London by 65 amps and you can hit that sweet spot at very manageable levels.

So here’s to the sideman. Here’s a tip of the hat and the glass to a guy who makes it look easy. Real easy.

-Elvis McCoy

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