Josh Lamkin is a powerhouse performer. He’s a 24 year old guitarist, singer, and songwriter that’s been delighting audiences in Florida since his high school years. I caught up with him at a venue called Ukulele Brand’s. He was playing there with his band, Automatic Heat, which is a trio. But tonight, the trio became a quartet, adding special guest Rob Stoney on keyboards. The set was electrifying, as usual. Mr. Lamkin cued the band masterfully to soaring heights, quiet whispers, and that sweet terrain in between.
Lamkin is a bundle of energy outside of the stage as well. This makes it clear that his onstage presence is very far from being a put-on. He’s the real deal. Sometimes he spoke so fast that my Hispanic ears didn’t have time to decipher every single word he said. Luckily, the conversation was recorded…
The first time I met you, I saw you waltzing into the venue in your snazzy outfit. Almost everyone went to you, it was like they were idolizing you. My first thought was, “What’s with this guy? He seems pretty arrogant.” Moments later I was introduced to you, and two minutes into our conversation I felt like a complete idiot for ever thinking that. Then I saw you killing it on stage, and I thought, “Yikes. He’s got every right to feel cocky, yet he’s humble as pie.” Thoughts?
No, man, it’s just sometimes you walk into a jam like that, dude, there’s a lot of hacks in there. I’m not going to name any names or say anything bad about people, but people have attitude with me sometimes. So, I go in there with the attitude of, “Yo, I’m here to play.” And I was hosting that night, and there’s people you may or may not wanna play with. So, they’d get up, and I’d just go, “Alright, man, let’s get it on, let’s jam.”
How did you get so good on the guitar? Did you have any formal lessons?
I had a couple of formal lessons between when I was 11 to 15. I wasn’t really going every week. I’d just take a lesson, and I’d work on it. I started playing when I was six. My dad kinda showed me how to play. He raised me on all that country stuff, and he kinda introduced me to the blues. He took me to see Johnny Winter…I forget how old I was. And I saw him, and I thought, “This is what I wanna do.” And I went from there. I started playing gigs when I was in high school. I had a band, I think all through high school. Trying to get gigs and get out as much as I can. Took me about eight years to meet Matt and Sam – the people I made the record with. I’d been in the studio a couple of times, and I went, “Man, I’m not ready.” I recorded it, but it does not sound good, you know? I had to work on it. But, I finally got something I could be proud of. It was a good thing for me to finally get a record out.
Do you consider Elmore James, Johnny Winter and Ry Cooder to be your major influences, as indicated in your bio? Who else has influenced you?
Aw, man! I listened to a lot of Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton – the Telecaster masters! That stuff’s cool, man. The Band and Little Feat, bro – that’s…uh! We did [Little Feat’s] “Sailin’ Shoes” on our record. We had some extra time [in the studio], so I was just like, “Dude, let’s just run through it.” It’s one of my favorite songs on the record. It just came out great.
How would you describe your guitar style?
Man, I don’t know! These are hard questions!! [laughs]
Well, I like to hit hard.
[Laughs] How would I describe it? I’d like to think that…a lot of people in blues bands spend a lot of time listening to Freddie King. Stuff like that. Freddie King, Albert King. All those people, like Johnny Copeland – they all play a certain way. Stevie Ray Vaughn was an influence on me. I’d be lying if I said that he’s not. Now, do I think I play the same way [as Vaughn]? I don’t wanna do that. There’s so many people out that are doing it, man. Some of the Johnny Winter-ness…it’s Johnny Winter meets Roy Buchanan. That’s what I’d be going for. Rock…country…I like funk a whole lot, too. I like to dance, man!
You just played “Cissy Strut” by The Meters.
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s where it’s at, that’s where the funk is. But “funky” don’t mean “faster,” and it doesn’t mean more notes. There’s gotta be space.
On your shows, how much original material vs. covers do you play? Does that vary a lot according to the venue?
I would change according to the venue. When you play a bar, people aren’t interested. But I do my original stuff. Anywhere I go, I shove my original stuff down people’s throats whether they like it or not! [laughs]
Songs like “Pride and Joy” and “Red House” I get [asked to play] all the time. And I’m like, “Those are great songs, man, [whispers] but I don’t want to.”
Sometimes we get asked to play AC/DC stuff. I’m like, “Man you… you got a jukebox, play that on the [set] breaks. Do you wanna hear the ‘radio rock’ you hear all day long? You don’t wanna hear us, man?” I wanna do something different.
What are your current listening habits? Are you into a lot of the current pop music, or do you lean more old school?
Definitely old school. Actually, I’m into Tom Waits a lot. Tom Waits is the man, dude! I mean, just for the writing. The dude’s a wordsmith.
He’s very quirky. Which leads me to ask: Is there anything in your album collection that would completely shock your fans?
Aw, man! [long pause] [sighs]
Any death metal?
[Loud laughter] No, no…nothing too scary there.
Well, Tom Waits is pretty obscure. You mention his name to people and they go, “Oh, he was in Bram Stoker’s Dracula…you mean he sings!???” [Laughter]
It would have to be him and Ry Cooder. He’s obscure but he’s not really surprising.
I like the blues, I like soul, I like funk.
Tonight you have keyboardist Rob Stoney playing with you, but that seems to be a bit of an exception. You seem to favor the trio format. Any particular reasons why?
I like to play all the notes, dude. It’s just me. Nobody else gets to solo, it’s just me.
So, it all comes down to selfishness, huh? [I asked with a smirk]
Well, in a way. It’s also a monetary thing. It’s easier to book shows. It’s hard to keep a band together, and hard to pay them. I’d rather have three guys that I could pay well, than have that fourth guy…
Have there been any personnel changes in the history of your band, Automatic Heat?
I’ve been through like, fifty drummers. And, I do pick-up gigs with different bass players and stuff. I think I have a group of guys now that I can really rely on. Rob Stoney, the keyboard player, he’s the guy that played on our record. He was on tour with the Warren Brothers from Nashville. He’s played with everybody. I’m very fortunate to have him.
What do you look for in a musical partner?
Just compatibility. Somebody who listens, and doesn’t suck. Someone who’s not afraid to “go there” with me. I don’t like timid players. When it’s go time, it’s time to rock n’ roll, man!
How much touring have you done?
I went to Memphis. That’s about as far as I’ve been. We go to the [Florida] Keys, every now and then, but it’s all mainly in Florida. I’m wanting to branch out and do more. Hopefully next summer we get out to New Orleans. I got a couple friends down there.
What’s your favorite setup when it comes to guitar, amps, and effects?
No effects, man. I play a Mesa Lone Star [amp] special, 30 watts. I don’t think I’ll ever buy another amplifier. I love it, it’s my pride and joy.
I got the Les Paul with P90s [pickups] in it. I was a Tele guy for a long time, because of Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. I like a solid Tele, man! Yeah, anything with P90s in it, anything old.
Do you practice guitar by yourself often, do you prefer to practice with the band, or do you mostly just go in there and let it out with no prior planning?
We don’t rehearse very much. If I’m bringing in a new guy, we have one or two rehearsals. Once we got it, we play a lot. It’s like a baseball team. You practice during the off season, and then you play games. And, a lot of it is off the cuff, free for all kind of thing.
At home I don’t really practice, I just play. There’s things that I work on, of course. I do a lot of writing, and a lot of exploratory stuff. I don’t really sit down with an agenda. It’s just, “Ok, I’m playing.”
What’s your take on the musical scene in the central Florida area?
It’s horrible. Well, music scenes everywhere suck. The country’s in recession…sad times for everybody. But you just gotta keep plugging away. You can tell the size of a man by what it takes to stop him. There’s no stopping me, I’m gonna do this. I know what I wanna do.
What are your short and long-range plans or goals for the future?
I’d like to do another record in the summer. Hopefully it will be out by July . I’d like to do that, and be rich and famous, drive Lamborghinis. [smirk] Naw, man, I’m just trying to make a living. I’m happy just getting to play music with my friends. That’s all I can ask for. Just to play with a really tight band. Good people.
Thank you very much, Josh. I wish you much success in all your endeavors.
Thank you, man!