Spirit of Keef surfaces on top-notch Matt Mays & El Torpedo



By Steve Newton

There’s a foldout poster that comes with the self-titled Matt Mays & El Torpedo CD, but it’s not your typical rockers-posing shot, suitable for taping on any starstruck fan’s wall. It’s more like what veteran Straight scribe Alexander Varty describes as “guitar porn”: a photo of more than 30 alluring guitars and amps lined up-SGs, Flying Vs, and Rickenbackers-most displayed in the full-frontal position.

As Mays explains from Ottawa, where his quintet is kicking off a two-month cross-Canada tour, that’s his “main squeeze”, the red Gretsch Nashville, getting special front-row placement. But one’s eye is also drawn to the curves of what looks like a vintage Telecaster lying on the floor.

“It’s actually an Esquire that used to belong to Keith Richards,” notes Mays, “and it was given to Don Smith, who produced the record, as a gift. There’s a thank-you note in the guitar case signed by Keith Richards. So I played that a lot on the album. It’s probably the nicest guitar I’ve ever gotten to play.”

Perhaps due in part to the old Stone’s boundless capacity to inspire, Matt Mays & El Torpedo turned out to be one of the most impressive Canadian CDs of the year. A worthy follow-up to 2002’s Matt Mays, it boasts raw, raggedy guitar-rock that simultaneously brings to mind Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Tom Petty, and-in the case of the disc’s vibrant first single, “Cocaine Cowgirl”-Tom Cochrane. The loose, no-frills approach of producer Smith, whose credits also include Bob Dylan and U2, really suited the band’s freewheeling style. No wonder the guy scores priceless tokens of appreciation from rock legends.
“It was really great to have him,” says Mays, “because there’s very few producers that let mistakes go, as long as there’s a good take. He’s all about the mojo and the vibe, and at the same time he’s a terrific engineer. He started as an engineer working with Jeff Lynne, and he engineered [Tom Petty’s] Full Moon Fever. So he knows how to get the sounds.”When he wasn’t deftly manhandling Keef’s old axe, the 26-year-old Mays provided lead vocals, harmonica, and pedal-steel guitar, an instrument he picked up while a roommate of Canadian session ace Dale Murray. “I lived with him for years,” says Mays, “and there was always a pedal steel in the living room, so I’d get up in the morning and just kinda screw around on it. I was lucky to have one around to learn on.”There’ll be no pedal steel on the stage when Mays’s stripped-down band plays Richard’s on Richards next Thursday (November 3), but that won’t detract much from the rootsy, down-home feel that the native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is known for. He’s proud to be part of today’s thriving Maritime music scene.

“There’s so many good artists in every genre there,” he contends, “and it’s been like that for a while now. It’s just got great folk artists, great rock artists, hip-hop. It’s like the best music scene in Canada.”

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