"I've been collecting Gibsons for a long time," says guitarist Rocky Athas. Originally from the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, Texas, Athas grew up with none other than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Throughout his career, Rocky has worked with the likes of Glenn Hughes, Buddy Miles, Southern rockers Black Oak Arkansas, as well as his own band the Rocky Athas Group. Since 2009 Rocky is the guitarist for British blues legend John Mayall, with whom he plays well over a hundred shows per year. We caught up with Rocky while on tour in Europe with Mayall, and spoke about everything from his previous projects, up until his most recent release The Essential Rocky Athas, Volume 1. But most of all, we talked about Rocky’s passion - guitars, especially of the Gibson variety!

Tell us about how you got the gig as John Mayall's guitarist?

"Well it was interesting because my group, Rocky Athas Group, opened up for him in Dallas, Texas, and I noticed he was standing next to me the whole show. We didn't talk a lot. I gave him my CD, but he didn't say anything. People give him CDs constantly. Four years later, he called me. He contacted my website, and asked 'Hey, would you be interested in coming out and working with me, you were my first choice,' and I said 'Yeah, all right!'

Youre following in the footsteps of legends like Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, and Peter Green. Were you a fan of Mayalls work before joining the band?

"Oh, big time! Him, and the Yardbirds. I liked them both about the same. But actually I liked it because... Well, first off I liked it because Clapton was in it. Oh, and then they got a guy named Peter Green. So it's like 'Oh, my god! This guy is great!' So, yeah, I was in love with the band. So, I've always played in that style. You know, the blues rock genre - it's what I've always loved. Then I went on to Cream, Freddie King, things like that, you know. But really, English blues is what got me excited at first. More so than Freddie. Even though my first concert was B.B. King, hearing the English blues was just where it was at."

You hail from the same neighborhood as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Oak Cliff, Texas. Could you share any memories of your friendship with Stevie?

"Steve, and I were childhood friends. Best friends in school. We used to go to jam sessions together, and our mothers were friends. So, we just grew up together as childhood friends, and we'd just talk guitars all day. Then he told me one day, he said: 'Wow, my brother got to open up for Jimi Hendrix,' and my jaw just went... Cause Jimmie Vaughan was playing in a band called The Chessmen, and he got to open for Hendrix. We were thinking 'Oh my god, it's big time!' Stevie, and I were real close, and we stayed close until he died. We didn't see each other very often, because he was so busy. But when he was in town, and stuff, we had good visits."

Could you tell early on that he had a special gift?

"I think so. I think he kind of did a quick jump before everyone else. I don't know if that was because of his big brother who just gave him a few tricks, because back then you know, we didn't have YouTube, none of that stuff to teach us. We had to take a record, and learn it, and usually we learned it wrong. I think Jimmie might have given him a head start, but that's just a guess. But yeah, I think he had a leap on everybody, and then everybody started finding direction as we went along. But yeah, that was pretty cool, getting to know Steve like I did. We ate lunch every day at school together."

You have toured with Glenn Hughes in the past, could you tell us a bit about that?

"I did, I've done an album with him, and we're best friends too. Glenn, and I go way back, from when he was actually in Trapeze. He would come to Dallas, and we just befriended each other. Then he asked me to play with him, and we started writing songs together. We wrote ten or eleven songs together, but they never got put out. So, then we did an album together [Glenn Hughes & Friends - A Tribute to Tommy Bolin]. That sold really well, it did quite good, and we did about two year’s worth of touring with that album.

Do you have any plans for another album of all new material?

"I do. I'm going to complete the compilation thing, but I do have a new one in the works, and if you'll notice on this [The Essential Rocky Athas, Volume 1], John Mayall does a guest spot. Never before heard track [“Think About It”], only available here. I've got two other tracks that will be released on my new album of all brand new material. It should be out and about in another eight months. My last album I did was an instrumental. The whole thing was instrumental. I'll never do another one of those though, it's kinda hard to do. It's like - 'Always have a vocalist.’"

So, lets talk a bit about your guitars. I understand youre quite a fan of the Les Paul - theres one on the cover of your latest album, The Essential Rocky Athas, Volume 1.

"The one on that cover, it was actually in pretty bad shape by the time we got it. But it had such beautiful maple on the top, and it's only about that thick. Somebody sanded at least that much off the back [indicates about a quarter inch]. You don't notice it until you feel it, you can't tell its thinner. But it's an old one. It's just cool to have it.”

Rocky Athas

Do you know what model year it is?

"It was sanded, but I'm thinking that it was a '56, because the humbuckers aren't original route, and it's got a high tailpiece bridge, so it wasn't one of the '52s or '53s that are low."

What about the Cherry Les Paul thats pictured on the insert of the album?

"This is my prized possesion. That's a '52 that a guy did in solid Cherry about thirty years ago. It had been converted to a Bigsby, and they got rid of that crazy tailpiece. When I bought the guitar it had old PAF's in it. When they did the restoration on it, they weren't that hard to find, you know. Anyway, that's my pride and joy, the '52. But I don't bring it out with me, because it's just so beautiful."

So was that a Goldtop from the beginning?

"Oh yeah."

Every time Ive seen you live, youve been playing a Sunburst Les Paul. Could you tell us a little about that one?

"The guitar I'm playing now is a '59 historic VOS, and it's completely stock. When I got it, it had a haze over it which makes it look old. But I played it so much it became shiny! It's like I wore off the old look [laughs]! I've used it for seven years solid with John, at every gig. Now it's starting to have natural old wear to it, from playing, and sweating. It's super nice. Although I do say it's all original, I did change the pickups to the '57 Classics. I did that as soon as I got it. That guitar has been lost three times on flights.”

Rocky Athas’ 1959 Les Paul Standard Reissue on stage next to Jobn Mayall’s 1958 Gibson ES-125:

Rocky Athas

Ive seen pictures of you on your website with a really beautiful Goldtop that looks like its been around for quite some time.

"The Goldtop […] that's a 1971. Years before I ever owned it, somebody routed it out. It's got the patent pending decal humbuckings that they put on back then, so those are cool. They sound great, I didn't change a thing when I got it. That's my second favorite guitar. It plays tremendous, it does. It looks great up close.”

Rocky Athas

It looks like it has some type of black streaks on the body.

"It's just lacquer cracks. Severe lacquer cracks. It just looks great up close. Only age, only real age can do that. You know, where the cracks have happened, and people sweat in the cracks, they get kind of black. That's a great guitar, and it's super light for a '71. That was one of the lures that made me think 'Oh, I want this.'"

Any other notables from your collection?

"I've got a '68 Black Beauty... I've got a killer story with that. I sold that guitar years ago, the '68. My son got old enough, and started working at a pawn shop. I retain all the information off my serial numbers and stuff. My son called me like three years ago, and said 'Dad, what was your serial number on your Black Beauty?' And I said 'Hang on,' and went and got it. He goes 'You're not going to believe this - that guitar just came in for pawn!' And I went 'Woah! I want it back!' We had to wait for police hold, to make sure it wasn't stolen. But, it cleared police, and they said 'Ok, you can buy it,' and I bought it back. I found it back after like fifteen years."

That's a crazy story!

"It's unbelievable. My son was reading it off, and it was like the lottery 'That's it!' And then I asked him if it had a… I dropped it one time on its back on a Fuzz Face. Do you remember those old fuzzes, it had that big push button in the middle? And it fell on it, right in the center of the guitar, and it left a big dent in it. It looked like a half moon. I said, 'Does it have that on the back?' He goes 'It's right here!’ That was it, it was a scar. Like a birth mark. Great story."

Rocky Athas soloing during a gig with John Mayall in the Netherlands, 2012:

Do you only bring the VOS with you on tour? "Well, sometimes I bring the Les Paul, and a 335. There are a few pictures of me playing the 335. But when we have to come out and be gone for almost three months, the cases are too big for me to handle with all the other stuff. So a lot of times I scale down, and then Claude [John Mayall's tour manager] brought a spare guitar in case I break a string. But yeah, I'll either bring that or one of my other Les Pauls. Usually I have that Historic [’59 VOS], plus that Goldtop. I'm always keeping an arsenal on hand. But sometimes though we get to take all the stuff. If I'm out for a short period, then I don't have as much luggage. But you know, when you're gone as long as we are, we have to take a lot out.”

Do you only bring the VOS with you on tour?

"Well, sometimes I bring the Les Paul, and a 335. There are a few pictures of me playing the 335. But when we have to come out and be gone for almost three months, the cases are too big for me to handle with all the other stuff. So a lot of times I scale down, and then Claude [John Mayall's tour manager] brought a spare guitar in case I break a string. But yeah, I'll either bring that or one of my other Les Pauls. Usually I have that Historic [’59 VOS], plus that Goldtop. I'm always keeping an arsenal on hand. But sometimes though we get to take all the stuff. If I'm out for a short period, then I don't have as much luggage. But you know, when you're gone as long as we are, we have to take a lot out.”