You started playing guitar with Stevie Ray Vaughan. How did you met him ?
We met in elementary school in the 1960’s. Our families lived close to each other in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas Texas. We both loved The Beatles and had guitar in common to talk about and enjoy
Is Rocky your real name ?
Yes, I am Greek and Rocky Dino Athas is my given name.
At the age of 23, you were considering as one of the best guitarists in Texas. It was not too young to be famous ?
No, famous is what you think you want at that age. It was a great honor to be recognized for my guitar ability so young. The recognition served as a confirmation to pursue music. I received this award at the same time with Johnny Winter, Jimmie Vaughan, and Billy Gibbons.
Thin Lizzy wrote a song about you ?
You would have to ask Thin Lizzy for confirmation. It is true that Thin Lizzy and Queen were on tour together and came to see my band Lightning play in Dallas in the 70’s and subsequently wrote Rocky. The lyrics refer to “cocky Rocky” and “dice” and we did play an original song titled “Rolling High Dice” and I did play an “old guitar” which was a 1953 Les Paul. And I proudly played every “trick” I knew on guitar. So…what do you think?
Queen guitarist Brian May was influenced by your playing ?
I wouldn’t say “influenced” by me but I believe it is possible that he picked up a lick from me at the show that I was so eager to demonstrate that night. Brian May was interviewed by Guitar Player magazine in the 80’s and stated that he discovered the “tapping” on the fingerboard technique from a guitar player in Texas but he did not mention me by name in the article. He stated that he had never seen anything like it before.
Then, you joined the Black Oak Arkansas ?
Yes, this is true. I recorded four albums with them and I wrote three songs that appear on their Greatest Hits Album.
You worked as a session guitarist for Polygram at Memphis Ardent Studios ?
Yes but only for a very brief period of time.
…I think it is a terrific album with an awesome groove… (about The Blues Berries)
In 2002, you recorded The Blues Berries with Buddy Miles, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon ?
Yes, and I am very proud of that album with Double Trouble and Buddy Miles. I think it is a terrific album with an awesome groove. Buddy was all about the groove. Buddy and I wrote all the material together. The album was completed shortly before Buddy died and consequently, we didn’t get to tour with it which was a shame. It would have been an amazing tour. I miss Buddy’s gentle spirit.
In 2003, your first CD was called Miracle ?
MIRACLE is my first solo CD with The Rocky Athas Group and Jim Gaines. I love the way it sounds. Jim is an AMAZING producer and Miracle sounds as good today as it did when we recorded it. Jim is a master of creating timeless tones.
You worked then with the vocalist Larry Samford ?
Yes, Larry and I go back many years. He was also raised in the same neighborhood of Oak Cliff. I love his unique, smokey style voice.
You formed The Rocky Athas Group ?
Yes and the first album we recorded for that project was Miracle, recorded at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio in Austin Texas and produced by Grammy Award winning producer, Jim Gaines.
In 2005, you recorded the CD Voodoo Moon ?
Yes, it was the second and final album for The Rocky Athas Group project. Jim Gaines produced that album, also. We love working together. He totally understands guitar tones and song structure.
You worked with Jim Gaines ?
Yes, Jim and I met during the recording of The BluesBerries Album with Buddy Miles featuring me on guitar for Ruf Records. This was my first album with Jim Gaines as producer. After we met, we became friends and wanted to work together more. We co-wrote the first track on Voodoo Moon called Road Fever with Jim’s wife, a very talented songwriter in her own right, Sandy Carroll. Today, Jim and Sandy are two of my dearest friends.
In 2007, your third CD ?
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE was completed in response to many requests from Lightning fans to hear my old catalog from those days. That album was recorded with one of the original Lightning singers/drummers, Walter Watson who was famous for doing backflips at the conclusion of our shows. I had so many requests for that material I decided to record the old songs with today’s technology and I am very happy with the results.
Since 2009, you are playing with John Mayall ?
Yes, it was a great honor to answer the phone and hear John’s voice on the other end asking me to join him. I love playing with John.
A lot of great guitarists played with him ? How do you feel ?
I feel very lucky and blessed to be asked by John. It is a dream gig as a guitar player to be acknowledged by him and his legendary status. We just completed a new album called A Special Life for his 80th Anniversary Year and just finished the first leg of the 80th Anniversary European Tour. It was an absolute blast! 58 shows in 57 cities in 14 countries. I boarded a plane on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2014 and didn’t get back home until Easter, April 20, 2014. Nobody tours the world like John Mayall !
Propos recueillis par Claude Dannic
Thank You Yazid Manou