KINGSNAKE HAS AN ACE UP THEIR SLEEVE
Ace Moreland Remembers Steve Gaines, Talks About The Blues, Recording with Edgar Winter, and His Friend Derek Trucks
by Michael Buffalo Smith
When you're born to be a musician, it shows up early on. Ace Moreland, for example, couldn't put down the guitar after the first time he picked one up at age five. He played in his first band at twelve, then proceeded to learn how to play slide guitar, harmonica, and various other instruments he came across. Singing came naturally, followed inevitably by the writing of his own original songs.
As he hit his teens and twenties, Ace began traveling in and out of his own home state of Oklahoma with different bands, playing with and opening shows for such notables as Bonnie Raitt, .38 Special, Steve Gaines, Leon Wilkeson, Gary Rossington, Artimus Pyle, and Randall Hall of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Along the way, Ace's Oklahoma and Cherokee roots plus his inbred love of the blues began to garner him critical acclaim as a versatile singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist of extraordinary talent, and took him to the four corners of the nation until he wound up in Jacksonville, Florida where he formed Ace Moreland's West Side Story.
Soon he was signed by King Snake Records' Bob Greenlee, and his first album, "Sizzlin’ Hot!", was born in early 1990. Ace's unique voice and and guitar/harmonica styles, combined with original songs and contributions by Edgar Winter on sax and vocals, made the blues world sit up and take notice.
Ace was now a full-fledged member of the King Snake family, playing gigs and making records with the Midnight Creepers, Noble "Thin Man" Watts, Kenny Neal, Lucky Peterson and many more. There followed for Ace a second album, "I'm a Damn Good Time", then a third, "Jealous Man,” and a fourth “Keepin' A Secret.”
Moreland's newest album is named after his frynd Steve Gaines. Many of you will recall that Ace Moreland is from Oklahoma. He and Steve Gaines literally grew up together. Ace Moreland is family to the Gaines and vice-versa. Ace Mo is all Heart and Soul and it shows in his music, and this latest album is no exception.
“Give it to Get it,” as we all know is a Steve Gaines song, and the album is a fitting tribute to the late Skynyrd guitarist.
GRITZ is proud to present an exclusive interview with one helluva lead guitarist and an awesome all around talent and person, Ace Moreland.
Tell us a little about where you were born and raised.
Well, I was born in Miami, Oklahoma. I was raised three miles away in Commerce, Oklahoma. That’s also the home town of Mickey Mantle. I grew up with Steve and Cassie Gaines (Lynyrd Skynyrd), I knew them since I was about eleven years old. I was real good friends with Steve, I played in some bands with him.
There were a lot of great musicians that came out of your home state of Oklahoma, especially Tulsa.
Yeah. When I first moved to Tulsa, most of my band already lived there. And Junior Markum owned a club there called The Paradise Club. I produced an album on Junior that came out about a year ago. Anyway, Junior grew up with Leon Russell and J.J. Cale, they were in their first band together back in the early ‘60’s. They all went to California together. Junior actually got better offers from the record companies than Leon did, only Junior turned them down and Leon took ‘em. (Laughs)
By the late ‘70’s Junior was back in Tulsa and he owned the club, and he had a band that played in it, but they didn’t want to play six nights a week every week, so he was the first club owner in Tulsa to give me and my band a job. Bonnie Raitt started coming in. She came in and jammed with my band about twelve times. A couple of times we hung some microphones down, we thought we were making a record with a cassette deck. But I’ll be damned if I can find the tapes. I wish I could find it. It’s a great tape. It’s got her and Junior singing “Honest I Do,” and “I Got My Mojo Workin’” with Bonnie playing slide, and I’m mainly chunking rhythm guitar.
There was a band there that was on tour from England called The Fabulous Poodles, and one of ‘em jumped up on stage with a harmonica right in the middle of our deal, and Bonnie turned to me and said,”Somebody needs to get them limey’s off the stage.” (Laughs)
You were talking earlier about Steve and Cassie Gaines earlier. Tell us a little about Steve.
He was a really good person. He wouldn’t put anybody down. Like this one guy I knew, he was kind of a country singer, a young guy. He played rhythm guitar. He went up to Stevie at one of his breaks and said “Yeah, I play guitar and sing, but I just do country music man. I wish I could play like you do, man. I really like the way you play.” Steve said, “Hey, man. Don’t ever try to be like anybody else. Just do what you do, and do the best you can do. Never try to be somebody else.”
This friend of ours dad owned an American Legion Hall, and Steve’s band, I think they were called Man Alive at the time, they practiced in the big room and my group practiced in the smaller room. Sometimes they’d be getting done about the time we’d be getting started or something. I had a record player back there, and I kept trying to figure out that Edgar Winter song “Keep Playing That Rock and Roll.” You know how the guitar lick goes in that. (vocalizes the guitar lick) So I said, Steve, man I’m trying to learn this song by Edgar Winter, I said, but the guitar playing is so fast I just can’t pick it out. Can you help me? So he sits down and in about five minutes he’s got it, you know. So he shows it to me real slow. And then we play it a little faster, and a little faster, until I learned the song.
And sometimes I’d go over to his house, just show up at about 8-o’clock at night, unannounced. He’d be sitting in the living room watching TV with his wife. I’d say ‘Steve, would you show me a few guitar licks?’ He’d say ‘Sure Ace, c’mon in.’ We’d get back to the bedroom and sit down on the bed without plugging our guitars in. He’s say ‘What do you want to know, Ace?’ I’d say, ‘I don’t know, just show me some blues licks. Because I obviously can’t play worth a damn. So he’d sit and show me things for thirty minutes to an hour. I’d go over once or twice a week and we’d do that. I was a couple of years younger than him. He was just a real giving person. A few years later he’d be playing in clubs and he’d invite me up to play. He’d see me walk in and invite me up to sing and play. He wasn’t one of those guitar players with hot licks that turn around when they play ‘em so the guitar players couldn’t see what he was doing. He was a good guy. He’s help anybody.
When Steve joined Lynyrd Skynyrd, didn’t you join his band as a replacement?
Yeah. I had just moved down from Macon, Georgia back to Oklahoma, and I was playing in my brother in law’s band. Cassie got him an audition in Kansas City at a concert. He auditioned for ‘em, and they said “ Well, we’ve got Wes Montgomery, and somebody like Jeff Beck that also wanted the gig.” But they told him they would let him know following the tour in two months. As soon as he got back from Kansas City, he called me and said “Ace, I think I’m gonna get this gig with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’ve just moved my keyboard player and my bass player from Detroit down here. We’ve been playing to eat and pay the rent, and I want you to join my band. Then if I do get this gig, them guys can keep on eating and paying their bills. So I started playing with the group, mainly playing rhythm guitar, and maybe I’d sing a few. We were kind of preparing in the event that Steve left, which obviously happened.
You spent some years living in Macon, right around the time a lot of things were happening at Capricorn, right?
When I moved to Macon I had a six night a week job at Grants Lounge for two weeks in a row. The very first night I played, Elvin Bishop came in. Of course, I didn’t know who he was. When we took a break, he came up and introduced himself, and said he was from Oklahoma. I told him I was from Oklahoma too. He said he was cutting a record down here at Capricorn, and said “Do you mind if I get up and play some on your last set?” I said “I’d love for you to.” So he did. At the end of the night he said, “Ace, we start recording at three in the morning. We want to invite you and any of your band guys who want to to come down and listen.” I said, “I’m right behind you!” Some of the other guys had girl friends and stuff, and they were going home, but I told him I could make it. I’m there. Then he said, “How about tomorrow night, do you think I could bring my whole band in and play the last set, kind of to warm up for our recording session?” And I said, “Sure, I’d love that, Elvin. Only thing is, you got to play a few songs with my band first.” (Laughs)
Did you ever work with other Capricorn artists while you were there?
I tell you. It was a small town, but it had a lot of big bands- The Allman Brothers, Marshall Tucker, Wet Willie. All the Capricorn bands. Grinderswitch. I had the best local band in town. Them guys were all national stars. But I had the best local band. Hell, it might have been the only local band. No, I think there was another band or two. But all them guys, when they were in town would find out where I was playing and they’d come in and jam- Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe- Jaimoe was a good friend of my drummer at the time. I jammed with Gregg at the park one time. He came pulling up in a red Excalibur, with Cher, that she had just bought him. And she sat on the back of the stage like she was waiting on somebody to ask here for her autograph or something. (Laughs) Yeah. Them were the days.
When did you move to Florida, and how did you come to be signed to Kingsnake Records?
I came to Florida in a group called Smoot Mahuti. Our drummer lived in Jacksonville. We were out of Joplin, Missouri. He got us to come down there, and we played for two or three months and then the band went back to Joplin and I stayed. Then I started a band called Ace Moreland’s West Side Story. A lot of the musicians in my band lived on the West side of Jacksonville, and that’s where Lynyrd Skynyrd was from. My organ player, Barry Rapp, that I had played with off and on since about 1970, he was married to Steve Gaines’ widow. Artimus Pyle, when he wasn’t on the road with the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute, he played with my band. He was good friends with my drummer, and we’d just have two drum kits. Leon Wilkeson would also play in my band when they weren’t on tour, same as Randall Hall.
Right around that time this guy and his 9-year old son came up to me and my drummer, who was my band leader, and said “My kid really plays good slide guitar, would you let him up to play on a couple of songs?” I said, well Chip, what do you think? He said, “I know this guy Chris Trucks is Butch Trucks’ brother, and he’s took little Derek all over town to every place that has bands, and all those bands were way too cool to let a 9-year old kid up to jam with them. Let’s let him up to play a song and see how he does.” Derek was standing by the front door, looking down, all scared looking. I asked his dad what he knew, and we decided on “One Way Out” and “Statesborro Blues.” So we got up there and he ripped. So I had him play two or three more after that, standard three-chord blues songs. He was great. After that his dad started bringing him to every single gig we played. After about a month, he was such a crowd pleaser, he’d play the last three songs in each set. The tip jar started going bonkers. One night we said, okay Derek, all the money that goes in the tip jar is gonna be your money. But first, Chip’s gonna count that money, and if it’s more than what I’m gettin’ I’m taking some of it. (Laughs) I said “As long as you’re not making more than I am it’s all yours, pal.”(More laughs) At the end of the day we gave him his money, about a hundred dollars, and that’s quite a bit of dough for a 9-year old kid- we counted it out to him, and said “Well Derek, what are you gonna do with your money?” He took it and said,”Well, the first thing I’m gonna do is go back in there and see if I can buy a six-pack for my dad.” (Laughs)
His tenth birthday came around, and all the band guys chipped in and bought him a Gibson SG. He was a gifted student, made straight A’s. His dad talked to the teacher, and ‘Oh yeah, he could go on tour with Ace.’ He just had to turn in his home work when he got back. So we went to Key West and play at Sloppy Joe’s for two weeks, then we’d go Richmond, Nags Head and up the East Coast. I took him to the Toronto Jazz Festival in 1990.
My father passed away in 1990, and I moved back to Oklahoma. That’s when Derek started his own group.
How did you come to record with Edgar Winter?
I was at a Leon Russell concert backstage, and i found myself sitting next to Edgar. I started telling him about my album project for Kingsnake, and I just came out and asked if he’s play sax on some of it that I thought would be right up his ally. He said, “Well, I don’t know. Send me a tape of your tracks, and if I like the stuff, I’ll play on your album. If I don’t like it or it’s not my style, I won’t.” So I mailed him my tracks out to L.A., and he called up and said, “Yeah, I dig this stuff. I can play this.”
So we just made all the arrangements through his manager. Then he came in and worked his magic. He’d play something and I’d think, “Wow. That’s fantastic.” And he’d say, “No, no. Let me do that again.” He’d stand there and think for a few minutes. Then he’d go,”Alright.”and hit it again. Then I asked him to sing, and I didn’t figure he would, but he just let it rip. He wasn’t holding nothing back, just like he was working on his own album or something. He was giving me everything he had.
What’s coming up next for you and your band?
Well, what I hope’s coming up next is I’ll get some airplay off the new album, and start getting some better jobs. I’m getting too old to go out and play these clubs all over the country. I’m ready to step up to the next level. I got a new band, all those guys in Jacksonville. But I’m tired of doing the chittlin’ circuit. •
ADDENDUM: Ace Mooreland passed away in Miami, Oklahoma on February 8, 2003 from lung cancer. We will never forget him.