Long time rock n’ roller, songwriter, and guitar enthusiast Tom Guerra has firmly cemented his status in the rock world.
The former Mambo Sons guitarist and Vintage Guitar Magazine writer has just released his fifth solo album on March 25th, titled Sentimental Junk. Released through indie label Thin Man Music, the 11-track album features ten original songs, and one delightfully obscure Bob Dylan cover.
Over the course of his career, Guerra has worked with notable artists like Rick Derringer, Max Weinberg, Mark Nomad, Kenny Aaronson, and The Delrays to name a few. Following over a decade of success with Mambo Sons, the group went on hiatus in the early 2010s, and Guerra began focusing on studio recording of other musicians as well as his own solo projects, the first of which – All of the Above – was released in 2014.
Guerra’s new album, Sentimental Junk, is chock full of vintage rock n’ roll energy, and is a testament to his career and legacy.
In celebration of another full and exciting release for Guerra, we asked him some questions about the new album and what’s next.
So you are merely a few weeks into the release of your latest album, Sentimental Junk. What’s the inspiration and influence behind it? Any overarching themes or motifs?
The inspiration is most likely the desire to keep on keeping on in the midst of a two-year lockdown due to the pandemic. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but one of the mastering engineers said, “This sounds like two years of pent up energy due to the lockdown,” and I thought about it, and he was right. As far as influences, shortly before I started writing for this album, I picked up a gloriously beat up 1957 Fender Stratocaster that helped me write the songs for Sentimental Junk.
How would you say it differs from your 2020 record, Sudden Signs of Grace?
Sudden Signs… contained a lot of acoustic material, which I guess is because that was where my head was at when I was writing those songs. I think if I could humanize these albums, Sudden Signs of Grace was a sweet young girl, while Sentimental Junk is more of a grizzled combat veteran.
What made you choose, “California’s Got To My Girl,” as the lead single?
It certainly is one of the more accessible songs on the album, and it paints a picture with a strong hook. Having Jon Butcher as a guest vocalist on it made it more interesting as an R&B influenced track, and I hope people play it in their cars this summer… it has that type of feel to me.
How do you know when a song is finished? Do you find yourself wanting to keep tinkering and re-recording tracks etc.?
You just sort of know… I typically will work on an arrangement until I feel it is the best song it can be, and then track it and put together a rough mix. I will then walk away for a day or so before returning to it. If it sounds fresh and doesn’t sound like it is lacking something. Sometimes I’ll listen to a developing song in the car to come up with additional ideas that might improve the tune.
I also see you did ten original songs, and one Bob Dylan cover. Of all the Dylan songs to cover, what made you choose “Clean Cut Kid?”
I was a fan of that song since I first heard Carla Olsen and the Textones doing it back in the ‘80s. Dylan did it on Empire Burlesque, but I wasn’t crazy about the production on his version. I think lyrically it spoke to me, and although it is about a changed young man coming home from Vietnam, it might just as well have been written about a kid coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Where was the album recorded and who helped it come to life?
It was primarily recorded at Casa Del Soul, my studio with the same contributors I have used for all of my solo albums: Kenny Aaronson on bass, Mike Kosacek on drums, Matt Zeiner and Morgan Fisher on keyboards, and the additional vocals by Jon Butcher and Scott Lawson Pomeroy. Kenny was a huge sounding board for all of these songs, plus he came up with the horn arrangements for “California’s Got to My Girl” and “Think for Yourself.” I really look to these fine musicians for their input in helping to shape the songs I write.
Do you find determining the order of songs on the album to be a challenge, and how important is that to you?
Because I am old school in the fact that I still listen to albums, sequencing is very important to me. On this one, it is front-loaded with three rockers before going into the single, and I like the flow of the songs in this order. I realize though that nowadays, a lot of folks just listen to streamed songs in no order.
I get the feeling you had and have a lot of guitars. What are some of your favorites you have/had, and which might’ve been used on the record? Pedals?
I am a fan of old guitars, and there are various old Stratocasters on this album, including the ‘57 that I mentioned, and a 1963 model that was originally owned by Howlin’ Wolf. That’s a very special guitar that spent the past several years in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Musical Instruments Museum of Phoenix. I also used a few electric 12-string guitars on one song, and a Gibson Les Paul Jr. on “Eyes of the World,” a tribute to Leslie West who played one. Finally, I used a Zemaitis in open tuning for “Sat-O-Lite,” which gives it a Stonesy feel. As far as pedals, not really a lot of them, maybe an old Tube Screamer for a few of the solos and an MXR Flanger for the solo in “Let Me Learn to Let it Go.”
What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as an artist?
I think getting to work with people that I considered heroes growing up, like Jon Butcher, Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer have all been highlights for me. Also, getting to work with the musicians that I’ve done all five of my solo records with – Kenny, Morgan Fisher, Matt Zeiner and Mike Kosacek – has been an ongoing rewarding experience for me.
What might fans expect from Tom Guerra for the rest of 2022?
I’ll be spending the next several months promoting Sentimental Junk, while continuing to develop new songs. I’d love it for someone to use one of my tunes like “California’s Got to My Girl” in a movie or TV show… I think that one has some legs.