Known for his ability to “transform the guitar into a virtual Afro-Western orchestra” (Jazz Times), Lionel Loueke is a musician who transcends genre to create unparalleled sounds. His new album, HH, released Oct 2020, is a pivotal album in his already fascinating journey from humble roots to international stardom. Over the last two decades, he has worked tirelessly as a sideman and guitarist for hire. HH is Lionel’s opportunity to stand at the forefront and shine on his own, very special project. Performing music from his mentor and legendary musician Herbie Hancock, this album is hugely personal for Loueke. We interviewed Lionel about the new album, his relationship with Herbie Hancock, and much more below.
PRS: Having begun your musical journey with percussion instruments, do you feel that your guitar playing has been influenced by that early experience with rhythm?
LL: Absolutely my sound and my playing are deeply rooted and affected by my early training and influence as a percussionist. That is the reason why I play so much percussion on the guitar.
PRS: You have enjoyed success both as a band leader and as a sideman for some of the biggest names in the industry. Do you prefer one of these roles over the other when it comes to performing?
LL: Having the opportunity to play by the side of so many great musicians is in my opinion the best opportunity to learn. It’s a privilege for me to learn with the Masters. Not from the books but on stage. Also I like to play different styles of music and playing different genres just give me more chances to learn from different musicians too so I can better serve my music.
PRS: Who are some of the players that for you, exemplify perfection in tone, style, or phrasing?
LL: They are many of course but to name few guitarists, I will say Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery, BB King.
PRS: Do you have any unique pre-performance rituals, or a perhaps a lucky piece of gear that must be present at every gig?
LL: I am Kemper amp user so I absolutely need my head amp so I can be connected with my sound beside the guitars of course.
PRS: How have you been occupying yourself this year during the moratorium on live music? Have you been writing and recording new material, or maybe just enjoying some down time?
LL: I have been recording from my home studio, some music for different artists. I have also done some online teaching and some solo livestream performances. I have been practicing also, at least more than when I was on the road.
PRS: You have had a close relationship with the legendary Herbie Hancock for some time now. On your upcoming album “HH” we will get to hear you reinterpret material written by your long-time mentor. How did you go about selecting the fourteen songs you did from Herbie’s catalog?
LL: Yes the Master Herbie is my mentor and it was time, after playing with him for more than 15 years, to take a moment and pay respect to this living legend who influenced and touched so many of us and many generations. It was important for me to have my take on his amazing compositions. Make them like my owns by taking them in different directions. On the 14 tracks, there are 2 originals that I wrote basically for him.