Ran into Eric McConnell over there on MySpace and he was kind enough to agree to do an interview with me, so here it is!
OK, let’s start with the basics. Tell me about your music.
Haha...you say "the basics" and hit me with the hardest question first....I'm a Blues, Funk and old R&B guy with a guilty pleasure for Rock..haha. During a live show we play a mix of everything. From Stevie Wonder and Al Green to modern rock and my original stuff. When I write, it's a bit different. I'm very aware of song structures and the importance of getting your point across quickly. My first solo album that's in the works now is actually more Rock based with some Blues highlights. I'm actually planning on covering two songs on it also: 'Old Love' by Eric Clapton and 'I Wish' by Stevie Wonder.
As for influences? Well I'm never too far from one of these guys/bands CD's: Philip Sayce, Richie Kotzen, Joe Bonamassa, Gov't Mule and Jeff Buckley.
You started playing in public at a young age, 14. At what age did you pick up the guitar and what influenced you to do so?
I picked up my first guitar when I was 13. I remember answering this question once when I doing an interview when I was 17 and I'm gonna answer it the same way yet, updated...I started playing for the girls! And if any other musician says that they didn't start playing for attracting the opposite sex (or same sex...gotta be PC nowadays..) they are lying to you. It wasn't untill later that I realized I had something to say and that it takes more than a guitar to get a date...haha.
By the time you were 18, you were in the finals of The National Jimi Hendrix Electric Guitar Competition. How did that happen?
My brother and I used to make trips to the big chain CD store in Buffalo NY (my old hometown) and it was always the same thing. We'd split up at the door and meet up at the cashiers with our spoils. I had seen an ad for The Hendrix Competition in Guitar Player magazine and just knew that I had to do it. There was only something like 2 weeks till the deadline so I was making phone calls as soon as I got home. This is actually where I met the members of the Project R&B Revue. I made the recording with some of them and they liked my playing so much they asked me to join the band.
Almost a year after the semi-finals in Cleveland, the finals happened in Seattle. A huge chunk of my family flew out there, I bought leather pants...haha...and I felt like a rockstar. There I was with Slash (I got a great story about him getting ID'd in the hotel bar) Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) Kim Thyall (soundgarden) Gary Hoey, Keb'Mo, Chris Duarte and Hendrix's Band of Gypsies. It was night I won't ever forget. Getting compliments from my idols and having breakfast with some of them before they left that afternoon...Very cool for me.
With Buffalo-based Project R&B Revue, you opened for some pretty big acts, including Robert Cray and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. That must have been pretty amazing to find yourself playing along with the blues guitar gods so early in your career. Did you find it humbling or ego-boosting?
I was scared shitless! I know I shouldn't curse but to look out and have a sea of people in front of you, dancing and singing your songs let alone having Kenny Wayne and Robert Cray watching and listening to you? That to me was both ego boosting, humbling and the biggest thrill I've had. I consider myself blessed to have it the times that I did.
When you were 21, you left Buffalo and moved to DC to study music. How did your education and the change of location influence your musical style?
This is a great question. I can't lie but going from clubs and venues to early morning classes and homework, sucked...haha. Yet, it was the best thing I've ever done. I went from this blues rocker guitar guy to a much more educated...blues rocker guitar guy...haha..seriously though, I found out that music wasn't all about the rippin guitar solo. Don't get me wrong, a rippin solo still gets me off but when you hear guys like Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake just craft a song...it hits you in a different place. Though I can only pray for that kind of ability, the thought wouldnt have even occured to me if I hadn't changed the path I was on.
How did you end up here in San Antonio?
When I was in The Hendrix Competition I met Jake Owen. Those of you that don't know Jake, you're missing out. He does some great improv/new Jazz. Anyway, he and I hit it off and have been friends ever since. I had visited the area a few times over the years. When things kinda dwindled in DC, Jake made the suggestion I move here...so I did.
San Antonio, sitting in the shadows of Austin, often gets overlooked as a great town for music. As something of a newcomer here, what is your impression of the local music scene and what do you think SA needs to put it on the musical map?
More Original Music! And more reception for original music. San Antonio has some of the best musicians I've heard. If it was possible for all of us to just say "screw covers" and go all original, we'd have an extremely powerful 'Tiny Mecca' on our hands.
I'm going to tread lightly and I don't know how to really bring this up. I've noticed something rather disturbing and frankly insulting to the bar goers, bar owners and musicians alike here in San Antonio. Bands that use tracks. If you don't know what this is, it's when they use something pre-recorded in a "Live" show. Now true, if its a Piano, Sax or a Kazoo that's extremely important to the song and no one on stage can cover that part..I can see the practical use. But when guitarists or bassists aren't playing and singers aren't singing and you hear guitar, bass and vocals, it's insulting. You're lying to the crowd.
We all know big name national acts that do this and I can understand why: rigorous schedules, little sleep and piles of money at stake but I don't condone it. But the bands that are doing this in this city..with cover material? These people that came to see YOU play and you give them overblown karaoke with props..?...Well that's just wrong. I won't name names, because Karma is a bitch and you should be ashamed of yourselves. You are the ones holding this city down from being great.
What are your plans for the future? And tell me more about these interesting side projects of yours...a novel and a video game?
Well, I mentioned before my first solo album which is gonna have a few friends on it. But the side projects kinda just happened. The novel is a suspense/thriller about a serial killer. A twisted "whodunit" and when I say twisted..let's just say due to fear of being disowned, I wont let my Mom read it.
The videogame is really cool. My brother had a job for Playstation and made some good connections there. I had told him about an idea for a Zombie game (I'm a B-movie and Romero fan). After a few different pitches about it and trying to find a way to stick with that genre, while still being fresh, we came up with a great idea. Once again, I can't get too much into it but it's not your normal cliche themed zombie tale. I'm really excited about both these projects.
Ok, bonus fun question: If you could organize the ultimate jam session, with musicians local or world-renowned, live or dead, who would you pick to play that jam?
Hmm...Well I'd take my good friend, Ron Bryant of local band Inertia (killer guitarist), Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dimebag Darrell, Keith Moon, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Cliff Burton, Allen Woody, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin and jam on Sweet Home Alabama (Okay bad inside joke on the song between Ron and I..haha)..but honestly I think if it were possible to take all of the people that influenced me that have passed on and sit'em down to just talk over a few beers, coffee, cigarettes...that would be cool.
That would be very cool. Thanks for the interview, Eric, and I've got to hear that Slash story sometime!
You can catch Eric McConnell live:
Thursday, Nov 3rd with Dave Fennley at Stone Werks Café
Wednesday, Nov 9th at Hooligan's on I-10
Wednesday Nov 23rd at Hooligan's on I-35
Wednesday Nov 30th at Broadway Bar