Cris Cohen: What do you learn from playing with guys like guitar legend Steve Wariner?
John Hall: Modesty. It's just an incredible pleasure and it's inspiring. It's kind of like sports when they say to try to play with somebody better than you are, because your game will improve. One of the things Steve is very good at is playing rhythm guitar, and rhythm guitar has always been kind of the bedrock of my songwriting. I wrote the song "Half Moon," which was the first famous recording of a song of mine. Johanna and I wrote that song for Janis Joplin. And it starts with that guitar lick. I was listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix at the time. And his songs are all built around rhythm guitar. "Foxy Lady" or "Wait Until Tomorrow," or "Axis: Bold As Love." Pick any Hendrix song, it starts out with a rhythm lick, that the song is then built around. It's a skeleton that you can hang the rest of the song on.
And so whether it's "Dance With Me" -- I started that with a guitar lick -- or whether it's "Still The One" or "Half Moon" or "What I Need" or, on this record, I would say, "Alone Too Long"… there's a bunch of them where the rhythm guitar is the foundation. That's just something I've come to value.
When I was playing guitar with Taj Mahal, recording that live double album of Taj's "The Real Thing," I got an education in rhythm playing. I thought I was hired to play lead. Taj disabused me of that notion and really schooled me on rhythm playing. Ever since then, when I hear other players who just do a great job with rhythm… Steve Cropper, for instance. He plays a couple of lead licks, but he's really known as a songwriter and a rhythm guitar player.
As I get older, my appreciation of different aspects of music has changed. Maybe when you're younger, you feel like flashy is better. Later you appreciate the importance of other things that hold the rest of the band up.