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Clay Cook

Zac Brown Band

"Where all the stars align is where I can have a solo just kill--like really great solo--but also the audience realizes it was a really great solo. When the two world collide, and everyone's happy, and you're really proud of what you did, you can't replicate that." Clay Cook explores his upbringing, influences, and why he's been a die hard Ernie Ball and Music Man fan since the beginning.

Transcript

Clay Cook:
My stepfather owned a music store, and so in the household that I grew up in, there was always music going on. The second that I learned how to drop a needle on a record, and he taught me ... Trust me, it was like you didn't want to do it the wrong way. I fell in love with guitar playing, then I saw him doing it. He got me a guitar for Christmas, I think, a three-quarter sized classical guitar because I was little. I was six or seven.

Clay Cook:
And then he taught me Born Yesterday, which I believe was a cover on an Everly Brothers record. G, E minor, A minor, D, over and over and over. Just a chord progression. You learn how to change from one position to another, one chord to another. I guess I caught on really quick with that.

Clay Cook:
He played Slinkys, and so, I was going to play Slinkys. That was just going to be a part of my fabric. Hanging around those guys in the music store, Ernie Ball dealer since 1972.

Clay Cook:
I started out playing the 5150 set, because I was a humongous Eddie Van Halen fan. It's easy to latch onto, when you're nine years old, to see this guy doing all this amazing things with the guitar.

Clay Cook:
It's always been around me. I've always had an Ernie Ball shirt or Ernie Ball poster. Obviously, Ernie Ball strings on all my guitars.

Clay Cook:
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of these old timers, and when I say old timers, I'm talking, when I was a kid, they were 60, 70 years old, would all get together and play bluegrass music in a basement. And it would be 15 guys, two guys playing fiddle, one guy playing banjo, one guy playing mandolin, couple flat tops, one guy playing Dobro, upright bass. They would play for three hours and drink beer. That was another scene that I was involved with and got into bluegrass picking. My stepfather was really into Chet Atkins fingerpicking.

Clay Cook:
I had all of these huge influences. I wouldn't go home and listen to bluegrass, but I loved sitting there and watching guys play, and then eventually, they would let me play and it was like this whole fellowship type of thing that would happen in a bluegrass jam.

Clay Cook:
For me, I use the Ernie Ball Earthwood Phosphor Bronze strings, usually in a medium gauge, 13 through 56. Phosphor bronze just sounds right to me. I feel like I can always get the right notes no matter what guitar I'm playing. I can hit the string a certain way and get it to either sing or vibrate in the way that I want it to vibrate. Also, the tension on medium strings with phosphor bronze just feels right to me, and it feels even across the board.

Clay Cook:
We tune down a half step in this band. It projects just as well at standard pitch compared to any other strings that I've ever used, that's for sure.

Clay Cook:
When I went to college, I was one of the only guys who could play country music. You were either a jazzer or a rocker when you got to Berkeley. I was the only guy who could do the chicken picking thing.

Clay Cook:
A majority of guitar players have one style that they really latch onto. I don't know what in my brain would make me want to play every different type of style, or try to at least, but I've never been happy with just trying to play one kind of thing. And that's one reason why I love playing in this band is because it's not country music. Country radio is where they happen to play a good amount of our music, and we have hits on country radio, but we do a lot of rock and roll. We do bluegrass, we do singer-songwriter type of stuff. We play jazz. We're doing a Frank Sinatra tune in this tour, so I guess that's why I fit pretty well in this band.

Clay Cook:
Honestly, it doesn't matter to me how big a venue, as long as it seems like everybody's having fun out in the audience. You go through a phase as a musician where you just want to geek out and do stuff for musicians. As long as you make other people have a good time, that's all that really matters to me.

Clay Cook:
Where all the stars align is when I can have a solo just kill. Like really great solo, but also the audience realizes that that was a really great solo. That's when the two worlds collide, and everybody's happy, and you're really proud of what you just did. You can't replicate that in any other situation, and you can do it in a hundred seater, you can do it in 20,000 seats. That's really kind of what we strive for, is just to make everybody happy and also make yourself happy.

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