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Podcast interview with Dean Delray

Let There Be Talk, Part 2 of 2, Episode #502

Introduction (00:00 - 08:36)

Springsteen on Broadway (08:36) 

JM: But you know the person who's kicking my ass the most right now is Springsteen.

DD: Let's get into this a little bit, because here's what's going on with me: I grew up I hated Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, and Springsteen. Couldn't stand them. Bruce, you know I first saw him on the Dumb Records' Lucky Town and the other one I was like “I'm out of here.” It was terrible. And then I saw Ghost of Tom Joad tour and that was it for me. I've been hooked so hard and then the play on Broadway [Springsteen on Broadway]. 

JM: I was bawling. I was almost convulsing crying so hard. And I was with my tour manager, and we were sitting watching the show and Bruce begins to talk about the road, you know, in this beautiful way. You know, [says lines from the play], and I start kind of getting choked up. And I hear my tour manager getting choked up and I'm like “oh this is because we do this thing, we happen to be getting upset at this.” Then I start realizing oh, everybody's crying here. You start hearing the sound of people who swear they're not crying. [makes coughing sounds]

DD: Oh yeah, that ain’t me. “Something’s in my eye! This old theatre’s dusty.”

JM: [Laughing] And then when I realized that this was what was going to happen and it was expected, I felt slightly violated because I was not prepared. I did not bring my armor for this. And he spent the next two hours destroying me—basically taking all 206 bones out of your body, stacking them up in front of you, inventorying them, and then putting them back in and going "have a nice night.” 

DD: I’ve never seen a guy like this.

JM: Never seen anything like it. It was a metaphysical—I don't even think a Netflix special can—I don't think you can show anybody the Netflix special.

DD: I wish he never even filmed that.

JM: It's impossible to film. It’s like trying to take a picture of the moon on your iPhone—it’s just like, what are you going to do with this?

DD: People are like “did you watch that?” And I go “no, I refuse to watch it because to see it live was so moving and insane that I don't want to fuck with that memory ever.” 

JM: Where are you from, are you from the east coast?

DD: San Francisco. 

JM: Okay so, and it still fucked you up. See if you're from the east coast, anywhere in the last 50 years, you smell the sky he's talking about. 

DD: Oh, I know.

JM: Even if—I didn't grow up in New Jersey, I grew when I grew up in Fairfield Connecticut—same Drake's Cakes, same Entenmann's, same New York Mets 1986 World Series, the same paper, same things, you know? And same crispy autumn air, same relationship with the seasons, same relationship with the world, and he was basically like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney, and you get in the boat and he takes you through your life. I've never seen anything like it.

And I remember I went back and met him—which I didn't want to do because I was so upset and I knew that he was gonna get a part of me that wasn't so careful with making sure I didn't bother somebody about how great they were.

DD: Right.

JM: I normally like to kind of contain myself. [Bruce Springsteen:] "No no come on down man, come on down, come on down." And I realized something that night that took me a long time to realize. Longer than most people. Bruce Springsteen knows how good he is and doesn't need John Mayer to formulate an interesting abstract way to say it so he could go, Oh shit, really? And that what I had tried to do was what every other person whom he's touched has tried to do, which is try to get the man that good to know how good he is. Which is like pissing in the wind. 

DD: Absolutely.

JM: But I had to try. 

DD: I mean, you know, when you hear like "Meeting Across the River."

JM: Mhm. 

DD: It's just like, what?

JM: Look maybe life has to happen in a certain order and music has to happen to you in a certain order — because I'll send young artists "I Shall Be Released" and they don't get it. And I can't understand how any writer of any age couldn't understand "I Shall Be Released".

DD: That's what I love about music, though!

JM: I love it.

DD: It slowly keeps unraveling through my life. If it didn't do that can you imagine at 53 and being like, Oh, I'm done with music, I did that.

JM: Every year, theoretically, gets better to be a young person discovering music because there's more to catch up to, and only the good stuff is gonna come out, ya know? For me—Bruce —it took a minute but I had to go through Bob Dylan and Neil Young to understand the flavor of that stuff. 

DD: Well I was always a Neil Young guy, but I wasn't a Bruce guy, which was weird. 

JM: But for me my point of entry—and I started hearing things I really liked, I loved "My City of Ruins," I love that.

DD: Oh my god!

JM: [says lyrics from "My City of Ruins"] "There's a tear on your pillow darling where you slept, and you took my heart when you left." And it's sung, [sings line]. It's unbelievable.

DD: How about when he just comes out [sings line from "My City of Ruins"] "there's a blood red circle in a cold blood sky!"

JM: I got chills going up the back of my head. 

DD: I saw him play that on that benefit—it was the, uh, the telethon thing.

JM: Yeah the 9/11 telethon.  

DD: And you’re like, “What is this song?!” It’s crazy!

JM: It’s unbelievable. And so then I discover—for me what really knocked me out was "Tunnel of Love," cause whenever a record sounds like records I know I find it very helpful. Like I turn people on to Grateful Dead Spring '77 because they're the Betty Boards and they sound like records people know. If you can overcome that chasm then people have a better chance of—you can't just give people like, oh you know, April '69 and go “have fun.”

DD: Oh, '69, they’re just kind of like, “huh?” 

JM: That's a show-off for the Dead Head trying to turn on another person. 

DD: I always play it safe, I go like, you know, mid-70s or even '72 where I just take the Europe '72 stuff. 

JM: Right, just take the Europe 72 stuff. I think it's tinkered with, right? It's tinkered with. It's like the way they did it in the '70s, they bring it back in and they —

DD: Right, I think so.

JM: And then it was like "Tunnel of Love," and then I heard like on that record there's "Brilliant Disguise", there's "Tougher Than the Rest," there's all these great songs on there. 

DD: You played Bruce on this last tour. 

JM: I just played "Tougher Than the Rest" on my birthday just as a birthday present to myself. And then I heard Nebraska and that messed me up. That just messed me up. And then like—one of my favorite things I've ever heard is "Growing Up." Have you heard the acoustic demo of "Growing Up?" Do you realize it's a two-word chorus? And it'll knock you across the room.

DD: It's so great! How about when he plays it in the play? 

JM: That's what made me sob. Have you ever heard someone sing a word or a phrase that way that embodied the very experience of that phrase? He sings Growing Up with all of the bitter sweetness of growing up. 

DD: I’m obsessed. I got all the bootlegs. There's a bootleg called “trust your car with the man with the star," and it's at the bottom line and it was something I played for probably a year and then I got the Fillmore '78 I think, or seven and then the Roxy [...]

JM: Oh, you go deep. I hope to go that deep.

DD: Oh yeah, when you get into—it's really crazy when you get into that mid-70s Bruce the muscle they had but it didn't sound like, you know, it wasn't like metal or anything but you're like, how is this so so strong? And then of course I love "Youngstown" and stuff on Ghost of Tom Joad. I think that's like my third favorite record.

JM: See I have to listen to it. Part of me being a curious dude is not acting like I know everything and I have to go listen to that.

DD: That's great. 

JM: I have to check it out cause I'm on that Linn drum, sit at home, write music with your Yamaha dx7 and a Linn drum thing, which just breaks my heart. I mean I like having my heart broken by people who are just 10 times better than me and make me feel like nothing. I like feeling like nothing in that way. I like hearing a song and going “I am a giant piece of garbage."   

DD: I'm like that with comedy. I tour with [Bill] Burr, I tour with [Mark] Maron, I've opened for Chappelle. I'm not over here tootin' my horn, but [it] immediately just let's you know right away—

JM: Do you like that feeling? I really like it.

DD: I don't like it but I do like it because it makes me want to work. 

JM: Exactly.

DD: And I think that if it came easy I would have been bored and tapped out. 

JM: Yeah, oh I wish I could someday sit down and write a thing that feels so good as [singing] "tougher than the rest.” I mean these are—if you think about it on a songwriting level—a lot of Bruce songs are verse-refrains. Which means—for those listening—it's not like here's a verse and now here's a chorus. It's a verse that takes you around and around and drops you on the last line of the verse. And that's a lot of his way of writing.

Do you know how good you have to be for the last line to take all of the power that was assembling—that was crescendoing—and drop it on your head and have it work? It is so hard to write eight lines and have the last line go "oh my god every one of those lines was worth it and he multiplied the power of each line by a hundred and it came down.” That's how he resolves it. It's very hard stuff. It's easier to be abstract and you see that a lot now [...]
DD: He's so good that I ignore his guitar tone. I would never say anything bad about Bruce, but I've never understood his guitar tone. It's the only thing I don't understand. 

JM: The Takamine thing. But even then you could say his loyalty to Takamine is so strong that he won't play another guitar. Cause you got to imagine that Springsteen playing an old D28 would knock you on your ass. 

DD: Oh shit, can you imagine? It's almost like he went like no that's Neil's thing I'm not playing.

JM: But knowing Bruce he likes a guy at Takamine who's been there the whole time.

DD: He's blue collar!

JM: He goes “I just call Gary.” I can’t disappoint. And then you'd be like that's why that guitar sounds good to me because he would never let Gary down.  

DD: Yeah. I wanted one of your stagecoach guitars big time. 

JM: That guitar was actually inspired by a scene of Dylan playing at a protest. Maybe he was playing Medgar Evers Blues or something.

DD: I'm so into the Joan Baez one, and then Martin in the 90's put out like 50 of them. 

JM: Do you know there was a sticker under that guitar that's under the top?

DD: It's on the reissue also. I tried to buy one of the Joan Baez once right when they came out. Sold out in a minute. Still have never been able to get one, there's only like 50.

JM: But isn't it fun to Google? Every Sunday night I'll be like, what's on my to-look list. I have a look list that is a mile long and—

DD: What's on it? 

JM: Certain brand of vintage glasses on eBay. 

DD: What are you looking for? 

JM: I'm looking for, basically, I don't want to—I can't give anybody my search term. Right? 

DD: I get it.

JM: Vintage sunglasses. And they come up every once in a while—I’m like “oh my god, these are great.” Sometimes I look at eBay to see what the markets doing with watches. You ever do this? You go, Where are 5270's at? 

DD: I always do that with GMTs.

JM: Yeah, how are modern Patek perpetuals doing? And I always tell myself the story, now there's Chrono24, which is like the Reverb.com or the eBay of watches. So you kind of average out what the ask is. I'm always looking for stuff. I'm trying to think of like what's a thing that I could say I've been looking for. And I can't say it, because then people will go and try to find it. 

DD: Right. I get it. 

JM: But there are these little things, they're from the eighties and they're not that hard to get.  And then I'll always have one thing that I get into that's not expensive and that's not hard to find. And right now I'm super into Casio G-Shocks. 

DD: I know, I saw you wearing one.

JM: I know I wear them at home all the time. I think they're super fun. They're like a little chemistry set on your wrist. Barometer, altimeter, compass. I just like to remind myself that this is not a stock market for me.

DD: What was that white watch you wore on last run?

JM: The rotor goes around the dial. It's nutty. And the thing about AP's, when you get a really complicated AP, they never get old. There's something about them. You ever think when you put a watch on it may burn you out? A GMT next burned me out. And the crazy AP concept—that watch is always cool to me, because of how much technology has gone into it. 

DD: You said something interesting to me when I first met you about the new Daytona, the ceramic white face. You go, "That watch is too good. It just feels like a ghost on my hand."

JM: As soon as you put it on you go, What now? It's the most balanced thing in the world it disappears. 

DD: I can't read it though. That's my problem with it.

JM: Against the white?

DD: Just any of the Daytonas. I can never read 'em.

JM: Because of the sticks? Because of the hands?

DD: Yeah, because of the sticks. 

JM: Interesting. I have trouble reading metal hands on a black dial. You can't see it. 

Martin 00-45 Stagecoach Guitar and Bob Dylan (22:28) 

DD: Yeah. Let's get into that Stagecoach stuff.

JM: Yeah the Stagecoach so, I'm watching "No Direction Home" and I'm just blown away, just everything in me is different. And I look at Dylan playing this slotted headstock 12-fret tiny body country guitar and he's singing—is it called "Medgar Evers Blues?" I think that's what it's called. And he's at this protest or something. I'm looking at the guitar he's playing. It sounded like a million dollars on him. I'm like “that guitar’s gorgeous.” So I start looking up 00 guitars.

DD: Which are, by the way, the worst to fucking string. Slotted headstock. 

JM: It's a nylon string headstock.

And then I was watching Pawn Stars a lot and I remember someone came in with like a poker set for Pawn Stars and the thing was mother-of-pearled out. It was for a stagecoach. Someone's like “yeah this is a poker set from a stagecoach. This is like a gun case for a stagecoach.” And I remember hearing the story about like rich stagecoach people going across —like steel magnate —going across with their mother-of-pearl inlay chess set. So I took the two things, which is you get into a 00 body Martin guitar where it connects with the 12th fret—maybe this one connects to the 14th. I don't know. But there's nothing you can do on this guitar but play a song. You can't solo. Can't play up past the ninth fret really, the neck gets too thick. The strings won't budge.

You can go like: [singing strummed chords] You can play Marty Robbins songs. But it brings something out in you for playing it, and that's a great guitar is it brings something out. And I'll take that guitar out tune it up and just play "El Paso," or play some old country western song or "Devil Woman" on it, you know. [Singing] "Devil Woman, devil woman let go of me, devil woman let me be." You play these songs that don't have any tricks. It's a no-frills guitar with more frills inlaid in it than you can find on any other guitar. And I love the juxtaposition of those two things.

This thing is an abacus, and it's like—I always thought about could I have a dental floss—you know dental floss dispensers are just the worst. Could I get a platinum dental floss dispenser. That you would just take out the floss, when you got a new one, and put it in your platinum dental floss dispenser. But it would be like the simplest thing done the best. 

I love this idea — this is what we call the rig. Anything that is simple in its system but perfect in its execution is to me the most beloved thing. 

DD: Yeah, like a platinum plunger. [Laughs]

JM: Yes. Someone had a Porsche at my house one time—and I'm no Porsche aficionado, I'm no expert—and it was like an 86 Targa. It was parked, the sun was going down, and it looked like a car commercial. I went, That's a rig. That does one thing. Not as well as the new ones, but perfectly for what it's supposed to do. And you go, “There, that's a rig.” 

DD: I love how they never changed the body either. It's like guitars. It's pretty much like four shapes.

JM: That's discipline. I always think that's such discipline for a company not to go like—I mean you see how watch companies slowly move. I mean look at a Royal Oak. The same watch or an Oilless. They're pretty much the same thing. They're so disciplined. 

Old Martin Acoustic Guitar 

JM: The Europeans are disciplined designers. I think other designers tend to go like, "This time five wheels, and this time—" But to be that stoic and staid it pays off over time because you look at it you go, This is as cool as it ever was.

So I like rigs. I've got a 1940 triple-0 forty-five [000-45]. It's unbelievable. It's museum-quality. I got it and it didn't play. The frets were gone, the bridge was rising up. I was like, I want to play it. The thing was not cheap.   

DD: Oh no, Brazilian. Right? What do we do?

JM: Oh god, there's one owner. The guy had passed away, from Aberdeen Washington. Pictures of the guy. 

DD: With the green felt in the case!

JM: The catalogs are in the case. It was a hundred and eighty-five dollars.

DD: Oh man!

JM: I go, How do I fix this thing without desecrating it? And I think to myself, Send it back to Martin. Send it back to the company that made it. And I send it back to Martin. They cracked the thing like a lobster. [makes cracking sound] And put the neck back on the way it needed to be. I think they at least redressed the fret. They had to take the bridge off, put the bridge back on the right way. And now the thing plays like a guitar.

And sometimes I wish this was my only guitar because I'd play the rest of my life on this guitar. Sometimes I don't like switching. Sometimes I don't like how many jackets I have, I wish I had one jacket. And at the end of my life this thing was the softest thing you ever saw.

DD: When you walked in we were talking about as we get older getting rid of stuff and becoming one something, one one one. And also that gets into—I'm a weird dude where I love patina but I don't want my shit to get patina. I think it's because mostly I'm scared I gotta sell it all.


Dumble Amplifiers (36:41)

DD: Let's get into the Dumble stuff real quick and then we'll all ask you some other stuff here. But I was always fascinated with Dumble. I actually thought the guy died years ago. That was always the thought that he died years ago, but no he's in Santa Cruz or whatever right now, still with like a waiting list. Let's get into the history of the Dumble; you got Santana's right?

JM: That one is one of Carlos's yeah. The one that I used on this last tour.

DD: And how many Dumbles do you got?

JM: Several. My answer is always just "several." Yeah I actually don't even know, and it's just it would be designed to just make people go, "blah." There but look at it like this I'm the kind of guy who wants to buy three of a thing to find the best one

DD: I'm the same way. I am the same way!

JM: And then when you get the best one you sell the other two. But then it just so happened that selling them seems silly because they're so in demand. I don't like selling things. There's very, very, very few things out there that I have sold. Very few things.

But I knew Stevie Ray Vaughn had played one and god knows I was looking for that sound.

DD: I knew that too. He's what made it famous.

JM: He's what made it famous. Now before Stevie you've got Jackson Browne, you've got guys from Little Feat, got guys in Jackson Browne's band—I think Jackson Browne was probably the biggest "Avon Lady" for Dumble because anyone who played in his band got one. Danny Kortchmar had one, David Lindley had several of them. So it's from this era of California music. Kind of post, you know, sort of early 70s, kind of Southern California Eagles.

DD: Yeah, Troubadour.

JM: That Troubadour thing. Yeah exactly, I was looking for it, you found it. And so that world had him and then because Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded Texas Flood at Jackson Browne's studio he discovered this Dumble. And it was a Dumbleland Special. Big hundred and fifty watt thing, I think.

DD: God, super loud.

JM: Super loud. It will tear your head off, but the right way. Ever had your ears torn up the right way? There is a way to go deaf in style. I heard AC/DC play the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and I've never heard something that loud

DD: There's nothing better than that.

JM: When I heard Angus Young's guitars I said two things: I'm going deaf, and this is the greatest thing I ever heard. It's the right kind of loud.

So I'm making my second record and somebody brings a Dumble around. Some rental place. "Oh I got to try the Dumble. We got one, we got one." I tried it out. I don't remember how I felt about it. And then I found a guy who had an Overdrive Special from the early 90s and I bought it.

DD: In LA?

JM: No, this guy was from Kansas. He was a dealer. And I bought one and I used one on Chuck Berry's giant showman cab on my second record. And I kept renting it because they needed to keep it in case Chuck Berry—"That's Chuck Berry's"—when he comes through and gigs we need to have it for him. So I just kept renting this showman cab. Six tens in there or something.

DD: Six tens!

JM: It was like a big giant cab. And I remember the sound of that amp and I think I liked it more for being a Dumble than for being a great amp.

But it did kind of what I wanted it to do. And then I would kind of like want to buy a backup because I'm a backup guy. Everything needs a backup.

[40:20 - 43:27: Talk about buying backups of shirts, etc.]

DD: So you got you got the second Dumble and then when do you start chasing and realized I've got the great Dumble? Is that the Santana one?

JM: No, that's the Steel String Singer. 

DD: No shit. Cause that's a weird one they didn't even make that many of.

JM: You want to talk about the rarest thing that I've ever come across, it's the Steel String Singer.

DD: What they make like five of those?

JM: Five. Five maybe. And I had number five.

DD: How long were you chasing that?

JM: Forever. Because that's what Stevie had. It's all I wanted. And I finally found one and I had it delivered to me when I was making Continuum. It came in a Jackson Browne road case. When I was making Continuum, this would have been 2005 or really early 2006. I took it out and we started playing it and someone had sent me this Japanese Stevie Ray Vaughan Bible and in there is a photograph of that amp and it said this is the amp that Stevie Ray Vaughan played Texas Flood through. And I flipped out. 

I went, Look at every little scratch in this amp. "Rene this is the amp." Rene Martinez, who was Stevie's tech, "Rene, this is the amp, this is the amp." He went, That's it buddy, that's the amp.

And he wasn't saying it like he remembered seeing it, but he went, Yeah that's the amp in that photo.

And we thought the Japanese were never wrong about this stuff. I thought I had it. I couldn't sleep. And then I called Jackson Browne's gear guy, "Will you run this, will you check this with the serial number." And he goes, No this isn't it.

And that wasn't it, but that's the amp I took around forever. That's the ones still on stage. And then I found another one a couple years ago and as the backup .That one sounds cool, it was Henry Kaiser's. It was the one in the blue—if you ever saw the blue suede Steel String Singer—that's the one. And that was Henry Kaiser's. It was originally in a big combo and then he had it taken out and put in different— 

So the speaker for that combo for that head is the former combo so it's missing the top. The top is blacked out. It's got a panel in the front which is a weird little part of history.

So the thing about a Dumble, and I don't know that many people outside of guitar players will know this or understand this, is that they're really fast. Their response time is so fast and unwavering and they don't sag.

Sag is like this thing in an amp where you hit a note and it kind of takes a second. It goes through the tubes kind of has this natural compression and the transformer has to figure out what to do with it. And that's what people like about a lot of things, because it's kind of apologetic to your playing. 

DD: That Tweed Deluxe sags like crazy!

JM: It's kind of a compressor. So you start doing that Stevie Ray Vaughan stuff and you realize, Oh he liked this stuff because it was so fast. 

It's immovable and it's lightning fast and I love that. I love an amp that doesn't back down it just stays there. And so that's the Steel String Singer thing to me.

And I also have this other one, another Dumble, that's the fastest sounding amp I've ever heard. You just play it, and it's like you hear it before it's done.

DD: Whoa. What are the tubes on those? Are they always the same?

JM: No, and I'm not a tube guy outside of a 12AX7. Another thing I collected before it got nuts.

DD: Tubes.

JM: I have more 12AX7's. From every brand. Mullard. Phillips. A lot of these were made by the same manufacturer.