Article by Elizabeth Ramanand
Guitarist Shaun Hague has been delighting “Layla” lovers and Eric Clapton die-hards with his group Journeyman: A Tribute to Eric Clapton. At age 17, Hague was named “The Best Young Blues Guitarist” by The House of Blues and by 21 he played guitar for Kenny Wayne Shepherd where he met Whitesnake bassist Michael Devin who he will be performing with at The Iridium next month. We caught up with Hague to chat about the influence Clapton had on him as a musician as well as his friendship with Devin and admiration for fellow guitarists like Joe Bonamassa and Gary Clark Jr.
You’re performing an Eric Clapton tribute at the Iridium next month. Describe the first time you heard or saw Eric Clapton live.
Wow that was way back. I can tell you the first song that ever really hit me was “Layla” because of that piano ending. I remember I was in like fifth or sixth grade and I absolutely loved that song and that made me a Clapton fan but not the fanatic I became. Seeing Eric [Clapton], he was the first concert I ever saw, I was a freshman in high school. I saw him in Boston, he was doing The Pilgrim Tour in 1998 and oddly enough the weekend we play at The Iridium in New York is just about 20 years to the date that I saw him for the first time ever, it’s crazy timing. I saw him in 1998, my dad took me, we had floor seats, it was great. I watched him play and I was maybe 15-years-old at the time and I just said to myself “I want to do what that guy is doing.” From that show on, I just absorbed everything he did.
That’s kind of a full circle moment for you, in a way.
It is, especially since two days after we play New York we go to Fall River, Massachusetts where I grew up and play a 400 seat theater there and it’ll be even more full circle there. To be in the town I grew up in and play these songs 20 years later after seeing for the first time and being a high school kid in that town. It’s pretty unreal.
What other band or artist would you like to play a tribute setlist, as a musician, besides Eric Clapton.
I don’t know if I could pull it off but I think I would love to do a tribute to George Harrison just because it’s the stuff from The Beatles and I love his solo career. There is a John Lennon tribute and there are a couple of popular McCartney tributes out there touring. There’s even a Ringo [Starr] one that’s pretty good but there’s no George tribute. There’s a lot of instrumentation on his records so it would have to be a pretty big band but he’s my favorite Beatle in the post Beatle years.
How has it been working with Whitesnake bassist Michael Devin?
It’s been great. Michael and I have been friends since I was 21-years-old – so about 14 years now, we’ve been friends. We met playing in the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band – I got hired in 2004 for a tour with Kenny. Michael was on bass, I was on guitar and as luck would have it, we’re both from Boston originally. We paired up as roommates – a lot of the tours we did with Kenny, unless the venue paid for it we doubled up on rooms so he was my roommate for two years and we’ve been best friends ever since.
Was he a good roommate?[Laughs] Yeah he was. He stayed up later than me – everyone in the band but me played online video games. I would be trying to sleep at 1:30 in the morning and they would all be awake and the lights would be on.
Are there any present day guitarists that you admire musically?
I like Joe Bonamassa a lot, we have similar interests and style. When I was in Los Angeles for about 10 years Joe and I used to hang out and he’s a good guy in general, outside of music. I like Gary Clark Jr., he’s a good player, it’s different, his tone is great and he’s got a great look – people like Clapton appreciate him and respect him so that says a lot about his character and his playing.
It’s funny Eric mentioned in an interview a couple of months ago that guitar was dead. In some ways I think he’s kind of right because there’s a lot of bands that I listen to that I really like, like War on Drugs but the guitar is not very present, it’s kind of been lost, the guitar solo – I don’t know it’s not really there anymore.
Do you agree with him that the guitar is dead?
I don’t think it’s dead, it just like anything, things just have cycles. People today are going back to stuff from the early ‘60s – like Bruno Mars goes back to ‘50s soul in his music. I think it’ll come back around again. I’m still looking for the saxophone as a lead instrument to come around. [Laughs] Every solo in the ‘50s was a saxophone solo, Clarence Clemons was like the last breathing sax soloist that was in mainstream rock music.
What does the rest of 2018 have in store for you musically?
Lots of stuff, we have this two week run. It’s going to be busy, 10 shows in 12 days. Then we’ve got a couple of bigger theater shows in May, festivals in the summer and then we could be headlining some 1500 seat theaters in the fall on both coasts with the package that I’m in called Icons of Vinyl, it’s us, The PettyBreakers who are playing the Iridium in June and Dark Desert Eagles one of the better Eagles tribute bands from New England. So we’re doing three 40-minute sets of classic hits from three very classic bands.
With all of these shows coming up, what is one think you must have on the road with you?
My migraine medication. [Laughs] It’s kind of a joke but not really, I suffer from pretty bad migraines, it’s detrimental to have those on the road. I also like having a good book, something to read on an off day to just disconnect. Backstage, most of the time we’re sitting around and hanging out so having a good book to read – my four-year-old daughter usually gives me some knick-knack that I have to take with me or she’ll just stick it in my bag to make sure I have one little thing I’m supposed to take before I walk out the door.
For 14 years, Les Paul played The Iridium every Monday night with his Trio. If he was still around and you could recreate the Les Paul Trio with Les, yourself, and one more musician, who would that be?
Wow, well I think I would have to get a piano player and it would probably be Roy Bittan from the E Street Band. He’s so universal and I love his piano playing and it would be fun. Les was good at bass lines, he could do bass and guitar at the same time so we wouldn’t need a bass player. [Laughs]