Blues-rock guitarist/singer/songwriter Benjamin Booker hasn’t slowed the torrid pace he set for himself and his bandmates in 2014, when he released his self-titled debut album, embarked on his first-ever headlining tour, and recorded Benjamin Booker: Live At Third Man Records on September 24 in Nashville for release on 12-inch vinyl on Jack White’s record label. “This record is the result of a year on the road,” Booker said of the album. “Thank you Mr. White and everyone at Third Man Records for welcoming me into your home and giving me a chance to share something I’m proud of: the live show.”
This spring and summer, Booker, Max Norton (drums) and Alex Spoto (bass) are bringing their blistering live set to a mix of clubs, theaters and festivals that include Coachella, Governor’s Ball, Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, and others. The trio is appearing in North America up until June 21—with the exception of a May 28 performance in Barcelona at the Primavera Sound Festival—and then spending late June and July in Europe.
Booker’s band is traveling with Nolan McGuire, who is multitasking as tour manager, front-of-house engineer, driver, tech support and merchandise salesperson. “It’s a lot of work but very satisfying at the end of the night when the show goes as planned! Never a dull moment out here,” McGuire says. “I’ve also been very lucky, as I’ve been to a lot of venues that we did on this tour and know a lot of people, so it was great to see old friends who will put in the extra effort to help make Benjamin’s show rad—especially venues like First Ave, The Metro, Music Hall of Williamsburg and the 9:30 Club in D.C.”
McGuire says this tour is relying entirely on the venues for sound reinforcement, also renting much of the backline due to the extensive mileage involved. “We are completely at the mercy of what the venue has in-house, which can go both ways, really,” he says. “Console-wise, [for] my three favorite shows of the tour I was mixing on the Midas Heritage 2000 Series, and those were my best shows sonically. I think I prefer analog [consoles] over digital, especially for Benjamin’s style; I think it makes it sound the warmest.
“I do my best to make Benjamin and band sound big and full, and yet still have a nice warm, old-timey rock ’n’ roll mix,” McGuire says. “I get into using phasers and panning to make things a bit more psychedelic-sounding. I think it’s always important to have the vocals stand out in the mix—not blaring over everything, but just a bit on top and warm sounding. Also, the kick, snare and the hi-hat have to pop. Everything else just falls nicely into place. Mixing Benjamin and company is actually quite a treat, as they have the old Muscle Shoals kind of sound, and it’s my fave.”
For Booker’s distinctively gravelly voice, McGuire prefers a Shure SM58. “His vocal chords almost have a natural effect to them and I think this mic makes his voice sound amazing,” McGuire says. “He definitely has the most unique voice out of anyone I’ve mixed. I just throw a nice comp on it and then we are off and running.”
As for Booker’s guitar sound, McGuire says, “He uses two Fender Twins cranked way up. I use a 57 on the stage-left amp, and this amp has a lot of the highs cut out on it and [it] sounds way sludgy. For the stage-right amp that has more highs and mids, and less bass, I use a Sennheiser e 609. I whack a couple nice comps on them and these two [amps] combined make for a really sweet sound in the end.”