Interview: Gregg Erwin of Magnolia Boulevard- Backstage at The Tree
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Gregg discusses his style and guitars
Lead guitarist Gregg Erwin of Magnolia Boulevard sat down with TOF in early February to discuss his band, his musical influences, his gear and aspirations. Soft-spoken and introspective, he outlined how the group’s southern soul/rock/R&B roots, through a synergy of talent, grit and providence, have developed into a sound as unique and as pretty as their eponymous magnolia blossom. Along with the collaboration of four very talented partners, Erwin attributes quite a bit of the band’s present sound to PRS equipment.
Gregg learned to play on a Stratocaster knock-off and having been schooled in particular by the slide guitar work on the Allman Brothers’ “Desdemona,” he knew that that was the sound and style he wanted to cultivate. He experimented with American Strats and Gibson SGs, but saw the pitfalls of sounding too much like a lot of other slide players out there, “I’ve been trying to find my own voice…” he said, and so it was on a fortuitous trip to Willcutt Guitars in Lexington, KY, that he spotted, tested and subsequently bought his first PRS: a gold S2 Standard 22, scratch and dent, on sale with a 10% discount and a trade-in of his Gretsch mahogany resonator, “I picked it up…and man, within seven seconds, I was like…okay…I have to have this…” That axe became the principal instrument in perfecting his razor-sharp slide work and when a new guitar was being contemplated for the band’s lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Maggie Noelle, Gregg advocated for the semi-hollow body PRS Zach Meyer model, “…because it was a semi-hollow… and her style…her rhythm playing would just bloom through that…” Together, the guitars helped to guide the band’s sound away from derivative influences into something more expressively their own.
Gregg added two other PRS axes which he uses on stage: a McCarty 22 and a Custom 22 Core model. Providentially, Maggie won an S2 22 Vela in a drawing at a Willcutt celebration and these round out the main arsenal for their guitar pairings.
On the technical side, Gregg uses standard guitar tuning on .010 – .046 strings and does not use a plectrum. He adjusted the truss rod on the gold S2 to give the neck a slight “back bow,” while on the Custom 22 the neck remains “factory straight.” He explained both necks facilitate smooth and easy riffs, “…especially with slide…” and he finds the sweet spot for a lot of his improvs between the 3rd and the 12th fret running a glass Dunlop 215 slide painted on the inside to prevent tube rolling during a performance.
While making it clear he does not disapprove of the use of pedals, Gregg is consciously trying to wean himself from them, “I’ve never been a big pedal guy, you know…it’s always been a thing of mine to plug straight into an amp.” The desire stems from Gregg’s contention that keeping as closely as possible to any guitar’s natural sound will allow the instrument to showcase not only its own unique voice but the musician’s as well- making the choice of one’s guitar self-revelatory, “You can make so many different sounds just playing an electric guitar acoustically and if that guitar sings in your hands…and speaks to you and resonates in your soul, man… then you’re on to something.”
To achieve the authentically symbiotic relationship between player and instrument Gregg amplifies through a 1967 Super Reverb which he describes as his baby, but also employs a custom PRS (Doug Sewell) 50 watt head with a 4x10 cab on stage. He relies on an Amprx BrownBox to modulate the current to fit his amps’ specs so the clean character of the instruments’ natural voicing is made possible.
Deferential when discussing his bandmates (percussionist Todd Copeland, bassist John Roberts, keyboardist Ryan Allen, and lead vocalist/guitarist Maggie Noelle), Gregg notes the group’s collective harmony allows him the freedom to play expressively and participate in the quintet’s songwriting, “It’s a democracy…we all put our own flavor on it and we all develop it to what it is…we all split everything equally…we’re a family.”
The gear for the rest of the family consists of Copeland’s vintage 1960’s Sonor Teardrop drum kit, Allen’s Hammond B3 with a Leslie, and Robert’s Fender Precision bass.
Near the end of the interview, Gregg was asked to name three guitar heroes who influenced him most, and he responded, “Can I make that to five?” Without hesitation he rattled off the names of Duane Allman, Derek Trucks, Jimmy Herring, Jack Pearson and Warren Haynes. Not surprisingly, all were at one time or another, members of the Allman Brothers Band. In fact, he humbly muses that one of his life’s goals is to play on stage with all the surviving players on the list. (Note: he already got to play a number with Jack Pearson at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville.)
In summing up his primary ambition as a guitarist, he simply states, “My life-long goal is not to play a guitar, but to sing a guitar.”
Magnolia Boulevard will be performing on February 25th at the TOF Nightclub.