Mike Estes's interview
by John Molet and Philippe Archambeau - Septembre 2002

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 it was.

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 a hit!

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 go ?
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.


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