|Yatovitz and friend.
Photo by Billy Siegle
Bay-area guitarist Hershel Yatovitz has been backing up his buddy, heartthrob crooner/rocker Chris Isaak, on record and on tour for a decade now. Yatovitz’s fluid, jazzy and always-tasteful guitar work is an integral part of Isaak’s sound, rocking when it needs to rock and lilting when it needs to lilt, always in the spotlight but never dominating it. You can be sure that whatever he’s playing is just what the song and the room needs.
Fender News caught up with Yatovitz, a noted Fender player, shortly after Isaak and co. finished a week-long late-July stint at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the first such extended gig the band has done there. We threw five questions at him; Yatovitz obligingly caught them and threw them right back, below.
FN: How does the Fender sound fit into the Chris Isaak sound?
HY: I’ve used Fender amps for my entire career. And I’ve played through a lot of different amps; I’ve recorded with a whole bunch of different amps and a lot of boutique amps over the last 15 years or so.
But there is this sort of super-clean, sparkling, ringing tone that is intrinsically Fender. I mean, you can’t really get that sound anywhere else. You can’t beat the sound of Twins for that.
FN: How was Vegas?
HY: Vegas was a lot of fun! Usually we go in for two days, and we play a large venue, and all our fans fly in and it sells out. This was kind of a trial to tap a little bit more into the “Joe Tourist” market. So our fans came in but then there are also the people who are already in Vegas. And word spread, and it got better and better …
The place where we were playing was a Vegas-style showroom with booths. Usually, we have our fans pressed together and screaming—a rock kind of crowd. But it’s a different experience playing to people in their seats. You really have to continuously rock and keep your momentum moving in order to keep them captivated, because they’re not on their feet and moving to the music in the same way.
It’s great playing in a theater—any kind of theater-style seating is awesome for building your performing chops, because people are seated—they’re not in the rowdy, rock ‘n’ roll mode. So it’s very different, and it went really well.
FN: You seem to really enjoy yourself onstage. How do you guys keep it fresh?
HY: I love working with Isaak and the guys because we have a blast; it’s different every night and there’s a lot of attention to the integrity of that kind of “pure” music. It’s very “live” music that we play—it’s not canned, and I’m really grateful to be in a band that plays real music where the players are interacting with each other so much. It’s just really pure, rockin’ music.
FN: Who inspires you, originally and now?
HY: I have a whole lot of different influences. When I was young, there was kind of the usual suspects for a kid of the ’70s—Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Jimmy Page. But then there are a whole lot of other things—my parents were jazz buffs, and I listened to a lot of jazz; everything from Wes Montgomery to Jimmy Bryant.
Also, I’m a big ethnic music lover. I love music from all over the world. I’ve done a lot of African music—it’s had a really big impact on my style. When I first joined Isaak’s band, I thought, ‘Well, I’ve played so much funk and African music’—things that you’d think would not apply. But, you know, a lot of the funk stuff applies to country chicken-pickin’ kind of stuff, and a lot of the African stuff applies to really pretty major-key-type songs.
I’m really kind of a stylistic slut! After I got into guitar-hero stuff the first few years, I switched—I try to avoid listening to guitar players. I just listen to singers, wind instruments and piano, and that has led me to being able to really feel out the sound with a smaller group. Listening to other instruments and trying to emulate that was a big part of how my style developed.
FN: Has Chris’s singing voice affected your guitar playing?
HY: Very much so. He’s a stellar vocalist. He’s one of a very few vocalists nowadays who has such an intense melodic sense. I’d say that Chris’s voice has affected me from the get-go. His music is so very guitar-oriented, and much of it is he and I trying to find parts that are kind of always in the spotlight in an otherwise fairly “naked” mix, and are so cohesive that you can just coast with them, and they don’t distract from that big, beautiful voice. I don’t want to distract; I want to embellish.