PHOTO: Jerod Harris / Getty Images
Scarface Talks Guitars and His Rock Influences
Hip-hop legend Brad 'Scarface' Jordan dives deep on his musical family and how he learned to play upside down.
By Mike Duffy
Brad “Scarface” Jordan is a legend of hip-hop.
The Texas storyteller pioneered what would become known as “Southern rap” in the early 1990s through his work with Houston outfit Geto Boys, not to mention a solo career that has spawned 11 albums (three platinum, four gold).
Oh, and it also bears notice that ‘Face headed up Def Jam South from 1999-2003 and helped launch the career of Ludacris.
But Scarface’s musical journey extends far beyond rap and hip-hop. Even though one could cite luminaries of the game like Ice Cube, Jay Z, Nas, Dr. Dre, Whodini, Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane as Scarface contemporaries, a young Brad Jordan found his entryway to music through rock heavyweights like Black Sabbath, KISS and Jimi Hendrix.
The cousin of reggae singer Johnny Nash (of “I Can See Clearly Now” fame), Scarface grew up around a collection of family members who played in bands and encouraged him to pick up guitars and basses as a kid.
Below, the talented multi-instrumentalist discusses his journey, from being a young rocker to one of the most influential MCs in the world, and how he learned to play the guitar upside (a la Hendrix himself):
”When I Grew Up, We Were All Music."
“I grew up in a band. My uncles were in a band, my cousin was in a band. My uncles would just jam and then go take smoke breaks, and I would be that fly on the wall watching them all day. When they’d leave, I’d pick up the guitar and just try to do what they did on their Strats or P Basses.”
”I could only make the chords that sounded good to me."
“I was just messing around, trying to make chords with my fingers. From C to the F to the E, that’s all you need to do a lot. I didn’t learn the names to the chords until I was an adult, like in my 30s. I couldn’t just listen to the sound and tell you it was an A minor, but I could tell you what it would sound like when looking at the hand.
“Now, I can hear it and tell you it’s a G minor, but not then. It helps now when you’re jamming if someone calls out ‘A minor’ and I can follow along with them.”
”I learned how to play upside down."
“All my uncles were left-handed, but flipped their guitar to play right-handed … what some people would call the ‘right way’. Me, I didn’t know how to play, so I took it and played upside down. So the chords that he was making were right for him, but upside down for me. I didn’t know any better, so I guess it was easy. The first song I ever learned on the guitar was ‘I’d Love to Change the World’ by Ten Years after. And then I started playing ZZ Top’s ‘La Grange’.
”All we did was make music. It’s just what felt good."
“I don’t want to overpower anybody when I’m playing. I don’t want to be louder than anybody. I just want to be in the pocket, complementing what’s going on. A lot of people want to over-play the bass or the drums, but I just want to blend in.
”I basically learned how to play guitar by a bass player."
“It was my uncle, Eddie, who was a nasty bass player. He makes some of the weirdest chords on the guitar. When I tell people that I was taught guitar by a bass player, that’s why a lot of my licks sound like I’m slapping the guitar and sliding up and down the neck. But watching a bass player play, taught me the rhythm, the pocket, the vibe.”
”I want to be a walking encyclopedia for guitar playing."
“I always try to sit next to people who are exceptional players. That’s how you pick things up. It only makes me better than what I was when I walked in the building. It’s a journey, and you always need to keep learning things that you can implement into your playing.
“You have to learn. You never stop learning, whether it’s history or how to put numbers together or science. I meet people who will forget more about guitar than I ever will learn in life. The knowledge that they have on the fretboard, I can only wish for. And I appreciate picking up those lessons.”
”I would listen to Thin Lizzy, Rush and 38 Special alongside Parliament and Prince."
“My mom would drop me off at my grandmother’s house when she went to work. I spent a lot of time there, and over there they played rock and roll. We listened to a lot of Molly Hatchet, Rush, Sabbath, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, KISS. Just all those guitar heroes. And when people in the house got done playing guitars, they just laid them on the bed, so I would play them myself. I went from that to my mom’s house, where they played Parliament and Prince and the Isley Brothers. You mix everything up, and I’m finding myself brainwashed by Pink Floyd and Chaka Kahn. Cheap Trick and the Commodores at the same time."
”The guitar is an extension of my life."
“It’s a big part of my career. People that want to take the easy way out and just use computers and synthetic sounds, but we lose a lot of the elemental basis of what makes music. If we don’t put that element back into the generation behind us, it could get lost.
“If I didn’t take the guitar that I got from Fender and give it to my 4 year old, I would lose the music. If I didn’t pass that Squier guitar down to my son … I feel so blessed to be able to pass down what someone passed down to me. His first song—I think he was 7 or 8 years old—was Nirvana ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. I heard that coming out of his room and was like, ‘What in the heck?’ He’s 19 now, and he can play.”
Click here for more from Scarface, including information about his 2015 memoir, Diary of a Madman.