First of all, for our readers, can you remid us
your musical career, where you grew up and how you were first interested
in music ?
I have been playing music most of my life. I've been in a bunch of great
bands. Most people of course know me from being a guitarist in Lynyrd
Skynyrd. As far as my musical interests, my dad bought me a record player
when I was four or five. I still have it. I used to listen to his Hank
Williams Sr records on it. I was born in Kentucky, and raised in the
country in Ross, Ohio. I used to watch my dad pick and sing when I was
little, and loved it so much I wanted to do it myself.
Can you tell us about one of your first band, Helen Highwater, whose
name was chosen by Allen Collins ?
Helen Highwater was a fun band. It was made up of friends of mine that
were good players. I started it in High School, when I first met Allen.
We were called 100 Proof band then, and that wasn't a very original
name, so Allen gave me the name Helen Highwater. It was my first full
time "pro" band. We went on the road when I was 19. We still get together
once in a blue moon and do a gig.
You've been lucky to get guitar lessons from Allen Collins, how was
he as a teacher ?
He was too much fun. He showed me the solo in Free Bird, and a bunch
of other stuff. I was just a kid, and he took the time to make sure
I had it right.
How have you been involved in getting Randall Hall's position in
Lynyrd Skynyrd ? How did it happen ?
I had been out on the road with Skynyrd for a while, writing songs with
Ed King, during the Last Rebel tour. I also started writing some with
Gary. Randall had just left the band, and Gary and I were hanging out,
writing and playing a bunch at that time. We got into a bottle of "Booker
Nose" one night and played till dawn at a guy's house in St. Augustine.
He asked me to join the band at the end of it. I told him to call me
the next day if he really wanted me to do it, and he did.
What is your best memory with Lynyrd Skynyrd ? Was life with the
band an easy life ?
There are a bunch of good memories. A lot of my best ones are from off
the stage. Writing with Ed, Gary or Johnny on the bus was a lot of fun.
Playing sold out shows was a blast. Watching the Andy Griffith show
on the bus with Gary, laughing like nut cases, Gettin' stupid with Billy
or Leon. It was great. It wasn't ALWAYS easy, but for the most part
You certainly had a blast playing with Ed King. Tell us about it.
Ed is one of the best damn pickers on the planet, bar none. It was intimidating
at first, but I eased up with it. We had some great nights, where we
really locked into a good thing, and some not so great nights, when
we couldn't hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle. On occasion, he
thought I was too loud. Those were the times that I thought he wasn't
loud enough...(Laughing my ass off)
With no intention of being controversial, what do you think of GAry
and Johnny after they fired Ed ?
Well, Johnny wasn't really involved in that. There was nothing he could
do. I tried to stop it when I saw it coming, but Gary had made his mind
up, and there was nothing that I could do either, and the next thing
was, I was in the way as far as Gary plans went, so I went too. It's
Gary's band, he can do what he wants. As far as how I feel about them,
Johnny and I still talk on occasion, I still consider him a friend.
He stood up for me until he could go no further. I understand that.
I've talked to Gary a couple of times, but it ain't like we're goin'
fishin' this Saturday or anything. I was mad for a while, but I'm long
over it. I'm very grateful for my time in the band. At that time, I
wanted it to go on forever. Nowadays, I'm fortunate enough to play with
all kinds of great musicians, in all kinds of different settings.
Do you enjoy listening the latest Skynyrd releases ("Twenty" and
"Edge of Forever") ?
I haven't really listened to those records to tell you the truth. I've
heard a couple of cuts while I was in a club in Europe. From what little
I have heard, I think Johnny's voice sounded better than ever.
We really enjoyed Drivin' Sideways. Can you remind us the musicians
in the band and why the band splitted ?
I'm glad you enjoy it, thanks. That was a real kick ass outfit, I thought.
Sideways was me, Bird, who still plays bass with me in Mike Estes and
Brave New South, and did a stint in APB, Randy Peak on guitar, who I
had sit in with APB a week or two ago. Randy was in Helen Highwater
with me forever. Jim Jenness on drums, who I'd met on the road, and
had some laughs and beers with. And Rok Campbell who came in to play
keys after we did the album, on Bird's recommendation. We had some great
shows together. All the guys from that band are singers/ writers. They
are great at what they do, and there was never any ill feelings between
anybody, it's just that the record company screwed us big time, and
myself and Paul Abraham who was my co writer and manager with the project,
had beat our heads against the wall with it. We still do, sometimes.
I loved that band. It was a whole hell of a lot of fun. I'm sure we'd
all do it again, given the chance.
Ed King worked with you on that record. How did you work together
Ed came in and played a solo on The Ballad of Junior Johnson, and was
his usual stellar self. He shoulda played on the whole record. Ed King
was the only thing missing from that band. He was gonna join, but it
fell apart before he could. We always worked well together. I will work
with him anytime he wants to.
How was it to play with Dave Llubek and Jackson Spires from the Southern
Rock Allstars ?
I still play with them every chance I get. I love playing with those
guys, we have way too much fun to call it work. Everybody in that band
is a comedian. Jak is one of my closest friends, and is an absolute
riot to play with, a complete MF. Jay is the most under rated guitarist
that I know of. He's damn good, and he damn sure ain't scared. I love
that about him. Dave still plays with the aggression and attitude that
made him famous.I can't be around him very long, though, he cracks me
up too bad. He and I together is just a mess, just ask them. Charles
lays down the grease on the low end. People really should know about
him and his playing. He's been involved in tons of different music projects.
He deserves it as much as anybody. Their engineer, Jimmy Smith, does
a great imitation of me, and is a fine guitarist as well. His wife,
Jean, takes over the load outs. She's an itty bitty thing, but she can
sling around a 4x12 cabinet better than any of us.Those guys are legends
to me. I'm proud to call them my friends.
Do you still play with APB, Artimus Pyle's band ?
Yes I do. I have played with Artie for a few years off and on. Lately,
more on than off. I'll continue to do it as long as he wants me to.
He gave me the shot to come in and be the singer and guitarist in his
band. I'm honored that he believed in me enough to do that. We've tore
up the road together, played some great shows, got screwed out of money
together, and had tons of laughs. He's a Kentucky blood brother to me.
We actually roomed together on a month long European tour without a
single incident. People that know us personally might find that hard
to believe! He should have his own TV comedy/ talk show. He'd make it
You were supposed to come in France in november with Pat Travers,
Rock Derringer and Ted Nugent but the show has been cancelled. Do you
know why ? Do you have any further plans for coming in France ?
I have no idea why the show was canceled. I have worked with the agent
for a few years, and we never have that problem. I was really looking
forward to coming there. I would love to come to France and play anytime
I could. I have toured and played in Europe a lot of times, and enjoy
it very much. I kinda took off this year from playing over there for
various reasons, but am looking forward to returning soon
Your music, on the album "Mike Estes & Brave New South" is a bit
less rock, a bit more country, is it the musical direction you wanna
I don't know. I really don't care much for country radio, but there
are a lot of country artists that I like, mostly older guys. I was raised
on Country and Southern Rock, and I like a lot of different music. I
just write and play what comes out, I don't really set out to make a
rock album, or a country album. Hell, I might make an acoustic bluegrass
album one day, if that's how I feel. The ME and BNS album is one that
I'm very proud of. Some think it's country, and some think it's southern
rock, I really don't think much about it.
Are you working on a new album ?
Yes, but I ain't in a hurry to put it out. I have four or five songs
in the can now for it. I write songs quite a bit, and I enjoy the studio
these days, so I spend a lot of time recording. I have also been writing
and producing for some other artists, and that is what I want to eventually
do full time.
For our friends guitar players, can you tell us about your guitars
and equipment ?
I'm mostly a Gibson guy. Lately I have been playing my '59 Les Paul
Junior onstage and in the studio, as well as my re issue Les Paul Special
that I played with Skynyrd. I have a, '82 metallic red Les Paul Standard
that I leave over in Europe for tours over there.
I use Seymour Duncan pickups except in the Junior, it's stock. Ed King
gave me a Telecaster a few years ago that I love as well. I have about
40 something guitars, and I'm fixin' to sell some of them, because it's
just too many.
I use Gibson VR 10-46 strings, Peavey Classic series amps ( a 30 watt,
100 watt, and two 50 watts) and old Fenders and Marshalls as well.
If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, which
albums would you take with you ?
It would take me all day to write that list, but a few in no particular
order would be :
Steve Earle: Guitar Town
Little Feat: Waiting For Columbus
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Second Helping
Hank Sr.: The Collection
Townes Van Zant: Cracked Rear View
Lyle Lovett: Step Inside This House
Also, some Jerry Clower cassettes and some Mike and Ed King demos!
Thanks very much Mike for answering these questions. We hope to see
you soon in France.
John and Philippe.