Tuned up at the crossroads
Longtime Kramer fan Jeff Caughron has made a terrific impact on the music of Every Mother’s Nightmare, Jasmine Cain, and Full Devil Jacket. The self-taught guitarist who leaves every audience he meets slack-jawed at his chops and showmanship, makes his home in Jackson, Tennesee which has a considerable history of its own as a crossroads of honky tonk and blues. And in a way, Jeff is at the same crossroads in his own style, which mixes ferocious power and sly nods to country, hillbilly rock, and classic metal. We spoke with Jeff from his tour bus bunk a few weeks ago, on the road with Full Devil Jacket just before his long-deserved break before launching into a busy New Year on the road and in the studio.
Thanks for speaking with Kramer, Jeff, how are you?
My pleasure. Our started yesterday. We’re just gettn’ started. We have 8 more days in a row. It’s fun. And it is what it is.
What’s your favorite part of the road? How do you manage to keep it fun after all these years?
Well I definitely am still not used to the part in-between. The travel is fine. You run out of things to do. What can I do to keep myself entertained here? A lot of video games. Probably just listen to music. Just chill. When I do get excited is when we pull up. Whether it’s a venue we’ve played or someplace new, I get excited about the whole process of it. The magic that’s going on that’s going to lead to a killer rock show. That part I do love quite a bit. That’s what you strive for. A bunch of people screaming their head off.
How did you begin playing guitar?
I’m pretty much all self-taught. I’ve always been a very humble person and very thankful for what I have. That’s just me. When I go up and say “hi” to you, that’s me--whether you know who I am or you don’t know who I am. If you ask about it, I’ll tell you but I’m not going to come right out and tell ya—all that blah blah. It’s not my thing. I’m not doing anything special. I’m just the guy that got lucky enough to pick up a guitar and play for a bunch of people.
Who was your inspiration to music?
My mom played music —guitar—and she still does all the time. We always had music in the family. When I went to my first concert, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I thought—I don’t even know how to play guitar right now but that’s what I want to do.
And as far as the influence things goes, I’ve always been very drawn to the shredders. But that has actually changed a lot. I grew up a big Zakk Wylde fan, Randy Rhodes, and all those guys. But in my later days it’s changed where I love Albert Lee and all these monster guitar players in the country world. I love taking what they do now--like Guthrie Trapp and Brent Mason. I love taking anything I can absorb from any of them because they all are just two different entities—that just keeps me going personally. That’s a big influence on me, driving me to be a better player.
What do you notice in young players now—do you notice similarities or does it seem very different. For instance, when you were growing up, I imagine you didn’t have access to a lot of professional teachers or players.
That’s right. A lot of the kids these days have so much access then what a lot of players my age had. They can look on the internet and You Tube and learn how to do everything. A lot of the players I know, we grew up in small towns, we didn’t have any teachers there. Maybe you had to go to another town close by. If you didn’t have the money to take a lesson, you’d have to sit down and try to figure it out yourself. Maybe read a book or listen to the song and see if you can pick out the notes. So there’s quite a bit of difference. Players can get better quicker because they have so many resources. And music styles have changed dramatically. It always evolves into something different. Now, some of the players are incorporating stuff from the past—the hillbilly blues influence and rockabilly. It’s funny to see.
How did you first get introduced to Kramer Guitars?
I grew up in an era where Kramer was all over the magazines-Eddie Van Halen, for instance. So whenever I first started talking to Kevin Bebout about Kramer and he told me about these Assaults and I started checking them out, I thought well this is really cool. I’ve always been a fan of the Les Paul body shape but it’s not quite the same. It has a single cutaway, Ebony fret board—I love Ebony fret boards—and it’s got a longer scale, too, so you have access to all the notes at the top fret. It has a lot of great qualities--fantastic locking tuners so you’re not stuck winding strings forever. Just a very good neck—they feel good. In fact the latest one I got is my favorite so far. The neck is a little denser. I have three of them out with me now and they get a lot of show time.
There’s been a long standing argument among Les Paul fans that heavier is better.
I’ve never been an expert on that but I feel it in this Assault. It’s just one of those things. It’s got good weight to it. I have one of the regular Assaults tuned to a low tuning. I have them all outfitted with EMGs and up on stage with me. They all have their own character. They’re just great.
What are your plans for the New Year—are you working on your own music?
Well not right now. I’m in the process of building a house for the family so as far as music goes, we’ll just get started with a little touring for next year. But in the meantime we’re going to start writing a new record—throwing ideas on the table and see what we can come up with. I always look forward to that.