Guitar Talk

Pocket Honore playing his ESP
H-1000 guitar.
POCKET HONORE
When Milton "Pocket" Honore, one of two guitar players in the Jada Pinkett Smith fronted heavy metal band Wicked Wisdom, called me to do our pre-arranged telephone interview I was excited and worried. 

It’s been a few years since my last phoner with a well-known guitar player and my interviewing techniques are a tad rusty.  In fact, they’re so rusty when I tried to switch over to speaker phone I accidentally hung up on him.

Not a good way to start an interview, right?  I called him back and we started over, but things didn’t go any smoother — at least not right away.  My nervousness caused me to trip over easily familiar words and I fell into several cognitive crevasses, but the Louisiana native wasn’t at all fazed.  He was gracious, cheerful and thrilled to be talking about music. 

As gracious as he is talented, when it comes to playing the guitar Honore is a heavy metal town crier who is spiritually deep in the pocket.  Listen to him shred a few bars and you quickly understand why he believes performing provides all musicians with a connection to God that the everyday person doesn’t get.

Loyalty is just as important to him as music is and it shows in his relationships.  The Musician’s Institute alum has been a member of Wicked Wisdom since 2004 and current band members Jada Pinkett Smith, Cameron and Taylor Graves (sons of Oingo Boingo’s Carl Graves), and Aaron Haggerty are tight on stage and off.

Business relationships are just as solid for the 44-year-old axe man.  Tim Carthart, Artist Relations Manager at ESP Guitars, shared his admiration for Honore saying the company is still very excited about their longstanding connection with him.

Making a connection with the band’s musical director is easy.  His down to earth personality and positive outlook on life is so contagious it teases you into chatting with him for hours without realizing so much time has passed.

As they begin a short club tour that runs through November (confirmed with the band’s publicist today), Honore stopped to talk with us about his greatest passion.  

In part one of this Guitar Talk Q&A, you’ll meet a gifted artist; a true musician whose passion drives him to freely carry a message and above all else, minister the music.

RRR: Where are you from and when did you start playing guitar?

PH:  Well, I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and I started playing guitar at the age of four.  I saw Roy Clark on Hee Haw.  

RRR:  [laughter]

PH:  Yeah, go ahead laugh.  That’s a great one huh?

RRR:  No, he’s one of the best pickers around.  I’m laughing because I get it.

PH:  Yeah, I saw Roy Clark on Hee Haw and he blew me away.  When I was a kid I used to watch Hee Haw all the time before going to church with my folks on Saturday. 

RRR:  Get outta here.

PH:  He was a big inspiration.  It’s like I knew who Roy Clark was before Hendrix.

RRR:  Oh, get outta here!

PH:  Then I got to see guys like Jerry Reed on there playing and Glen Campbell who’s like, one of the scariest guitar players ever.  So, cats like Roy Clark, that’s what got me into playing guitar.  And actually we’re going to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he’s over some kind of music foundation for guitars so I’m trying to set it up now to meet him.

RRR:  Oh, really?

PH:  Yeah, I’m trying to meet him.  I gotta tell him thank you before, you know, you never know what happens with people, you know what I’m saying? 

RRR:  Right.  You know, I never would have expected that [from you].  I figured out years ago that Roy Clark never got the accolades he deserved.  It’s like, people don’t know what a great picker Vince Gill is because they don’t get to see it that much.

PH:  Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs will blow you out of the water.

RRR:  Who are some of the bands and artists you’ve played with?

PH:  I used to do a lot of R&B music and records.  I played with Erykah Badu like three and a half years.  I used to be on a TV show called BET Live in L.A.  One year with John Salley, the year before, the very first year, was with Michael Collier and Rachel.   

I played with Eric Benet, I played with Patti Labelle and her writer Stanley Kinney,  I worked with a producer Danny Sembello, who’s a good friend of mine, the Pointer Sisters.  I got to jam with cats like Chuckii Booker … I played with Jody Watley for a while. 
Wicked Wisdom L-R: Cameron Graves, Pocket Honore,
Jada Pinkett Smith, Aaron Haggerty and Taylor Graves.

Then on the BET show I got to play with all the acts that didn’t have bands.  So, I got to play with people like Sparkle, Dave Hollister, Avant, a lot of different up and upcoming R&B people.  I also used to tour with Shai, the guy group.  Those were like close buddies of mine … Najee.  I’ve dabbled in everything.

You know, looking at Roy Clark and looking at my career, his biggest lesson to people is to be able to adapt.  He jumped between different instruments in his genre then he jumped outside of his.  My thing was to be able to adapt to whatever makes me feel good and whatever I want to play at the time so I can actually 
play it and enjoy it.

RRR:  How did you get the nickname “Pocket”?

PH:  Well, I got it from two people.  The first one was my buddy Ricardo Pasillas, he played drums with Marc Anthony, we call him Tiki.  We were about to do a rock performance one day at school.  It was a class called Rock Performance, I went to MI.

RRR:  Musician’s Institute?

PH:  Yeah, I went there in 1989.  We were about to go do a performance and we were some of the only cats in the school who weren’t playing rock and roll.  We’d go into Rock Performance [class] play funk tunes and just play the hell out of them.

One day everybody kept saying hey man, you takin’ one of those crazy solos today?  I’m like naw, man I’m gonna play pocket.  Me and these cats started groovin’, we played in the pocket the whole time.  My boy Tiki started calling me Pocket.  And that was the actual official time.

There was one time before that, me and another friend used to skip my music theory class all the time, go hang out at the beach.  So one day we had to show up for a class, a guy named Chas Grasamke who still teaches at MI, he teaches theory there, we went to his class.  We had been to the beach and had a few brewskis, just kicking back. Then we’d be in class sitting in the back with our shades on going to sleep. 

[The teacher] was starting to call us up to the front of the class to play with the metronome.  We went in front of the class and my friend went first and nailed it but he was a third quarter student and I was a first quarter student.  He was hanging out in our class just soaking up knowledge and stuff. 

So Grasamke made me play and thought I was going to fall off and I did it right the first time and my friend started laughing.  They called my reading teacher, Norman Brown, in there and Norman was like naw man, you’re right in the pocket, brah, you’re right in the pocket, brah. 

Then the class started going Pocket, Pocket.  So it stuck with me ever since.  I just always had this weird sense of, well, not weird sense of timing, but I’ve always understood timing, the metronome and how to play right on … and make everything feel right.  And that’s how I got the nickname Pocket.

RRR:  I have a quick question about the actual act of playing the guitar.  Several musicians have said it’s, especially playing live, is like a spiritual awakening or a spiritual enlightenment.  What kind of —

PH:  Yeah, let’s talk about that.  There’s a point when you walk on then there’s a point where you’re the messenger after you walk on.  And it’s like, for me, it’s the only time I feel free.  And then when that happens some things are beyond your control because a higher power is trying to get a message to you.

RRR:  Oh, for sure.

PH:  So, that’s where I stand on it.  Sometimes people go, man I never heard you play like that before.  Maybe that wasn’t me playing at that particular time.  Maybe that was for you to hear.  You went out and played something that made someone cry.  Maybe that’s the way you were supposed to hear it.  Maybe you heard exactly what I was feeling.  It’s definitely a connection with God. 

There’s no musician who’ll stand there and say, no I don’t feel nothin’ when I play I’m just going nuts.  No you’re not.  And if you do you have no soul.  You’re hollow.  It’s definitely a connection that the everyday person doesn’t get.  They don’t get it.
 
Jada Pinkett Smith and
Pocket Honore perform live.
Even people who go to church and they sing and they get into it and everything.  It’s a totally different connection.  [Music] is the universal language.  Playing is definitely beyond yourself; it’s definitely a spiritual awakening. You learn that when you’re playing it’s bigger than you and what you’re thinking. 

As soon as it becomes about you then it’s over because you fall into an act of selfishness.  [Music] is meant to help and to heal.  Sometimes it hurts.  Some people can learn a lesson through hurt.  It’s meant to do everything.  Yeah.  Definitely.

RRR:  Now let’s talk about your guitars.  One of the guitars I saw was a Jackson correct?

PH:  No, no, no.  I used a Jackson at my buddy’s house for a video clip.  I’m endorsed by ESP.  I’ve been there, and the other guitar player in the band, Cameron Graves, has been there since 2004.  I play all custom stuff from ESP. I have a couple of factory pieces but my main joint is a custom shop piece from ESP.  They’ve been really good to me. They were the only guitar company that took a chance on Wicked Wisdom back in the day.  Everybody else turned their noses up and made fun.

RRR:  Yeah, I remember that.

PH:  Yeah, and some of them weren’t so nice about it.

RRR:  They didn’t go there did they?

PH:  Sometimes people did go there.  I’m not even going to give the company—I’m not even going to call their name out because that’s giving them free publicity.  I’ll just have to say this:  I had several of their guitars and they all became splinters.

RRR:  Alrighty then.  I hear that.

PH:  I have to thank ESP.  They have been there with me through thick and thin.  And that’s all you can really ask for from a company.  They’ve been honest with me … they never let me down, I never let them down.  They’re family.

RRR:  That’s nice.  Ok, for the kid in Estonia who might read this, can you give me a rundown on your gear?

PH:  I play the H-1000.  There is a factory line called H-1000, but my particular H-1000, my custom, is an all mahogany body, maple neck with ebony fretboard.  The body is raised.  I call it a raised cavity.  It’s not a flat radius body, it’s raised up; it has a little butt to it, some girth to it, some thickness to it.  I’m running EMGs, an 89 in the neck, 81 in the back, but that’s soon to be changed to some Bare Knuckle attack set; a Tone Pros bridge and I use Dean Markley strings. 

RRR:  What about your effects and pedals?

PH:  I’m old school because sometimes I don’t even take out what I’m hearing at the time.  On the floor I keep a wah-wah pedal and I switch out between a Zakk WahWah Wah and the Cowboy From Hell Dimebag model.  I’m very fond of the Cowboy From Hell one because Darrell was my man.  I’m using a Boss Noise Suppressor, BossDelay Pedal, MXR Smart Gate and a loop.  That’s pretty much it.  I don’t have much out this time. 

My old Wicked Wisdom rig was way out of control.  This is the one where everybody on Sevendust tour was like Jesus you’re killing everybody!  But I was with the VHT 292, TC Electronics G-Major and a custom made pre amp by this one builder, but I’m not going to give his name.  He’s my secret weapon. 

RRR:  Ok.

PH:  On the larger tour we’re supposed to do after the first of the year, either I’m going to roll an Engl Invader 100 or I might just roll an Axe FX into a VHT 292 with KT 88.

RRR:  What amps are you using?

PH:  Right now I’m using Marshall’s JCM 2000.

END OF PART ONE

Go to http://m.bandsintown.com/WickedWisdom for tour info.

Photos courtesy of Wicked Wisdom

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