Lance Lopez has seen a lifetime of change in recent years. The 38-year-old Dallas-based blues guitarist lost a dear friend, found sobriety and love, formed a new band with other blues legends and fathered a baby girl named Lilly. He’s also come a long way as a musician since the 14-year-old Lopez was inspired to take up guitar after watching Stevie Ray Vaughan play.
Lopez's new album, Lance Lopez Live in NYC, was released earlier this year, and he was recently recognized for his contributions to music by the Arkansas/Louisiana/Texas Music Heritage Festival. The Dallasite passed through town on Saturday night for a gig at Gas Monkey Bar & Grill, so the Observer spoke with him about his new album, his new band of blues legends and his newfound sobriety.
It’s been two years since you last spoke with the Observer. What’s been happening in your world?
Man, the last two years have been a behind-the-music documentary. I’ve got a new band, a new wife, a new baby and sobriety.
Which came first?
Definitely the sobriety. [As a musician] you’re not able to sleep because you’re traveling nonstop. There’s a misconception [about drugs] that turns into a trap. The first couple of times it may work, but then you’re trapped in this horrible cycle. I was [touring with Johnny Winter] and in the middle of dealing with it. Johnny would talk about all he had gone through [with his heroin addiction] because he knew I was struggling.
What did he say to you?
He was very instrumental. But he didn’t lecture. Instead he shared with me the damage he had done in his own life. I was going through it, and the light bulb went off. When I lost him [Winter died in 2014], it was a hard period of time, but I snapped right back and have been that way ever since.
When did you meet your wife, Kayla Reeves?
I’ve known her her whole life. She would sit in with us during the blues jams at these blue clubs. She started as a young prodigy blues singer. When she was 17, she was hired by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. We lost contact, but she showed up in the middle of it. She’s the one who said, “You're better than this. Let me help.” We fell in love. We had our little girl on the Fourth of July.
How did the new band Supersonic Blues Machine come together?
I had been touring Europe quite a bit [over the past three years], and a lot of people were telling me that I should hook up with Fabrizio Grossi, a bass player and a producer from Italy who’s now based in LA. I went out to Los Angeles to work with him and put some songs together for an album. Billy Gibbons, the legendary guitar slinger from ZZ Top, called and said he wanted to work on the song. Fabrizio said, “Man, I just had a guy from Texas in here.” Billy said, “Oh, you know Lance? He’s fantastic. I’ve known him since he was a little kid. You two guys need to form a band. If you do, I want to play with you guys.” That’s what started Supersonic Blues Machine.
Why Supersonic Blues Machine?
Fabrizio came up with the name because, like a machine, it’s got a lot of moving parts. But we don’t just have Billy playing. We also have several other great guitar slingers, such as Eric Gales, Chris Duarte, Walter Trout and Warren Haynes. They just alternate. Kenny Aronoff, who’s played drums with John Cougar Mellencamp, Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, completed the band.
Talk about some of the songs you’ve recorded together.
Billy had finished a car called “Whiskey Runner.” It’s similar to the ZZ Top car. So he and Fabrizio began writing a song about the car and bootlegging. He wanted a car to go with it, represent bootlegging. We cut the song “Running Whiskey.” Warren Haynes came in, and we did another song; and then we started reaching out to all our friends. That’s why it’s the Supersonic Blues Machine, because a machine is made up of different parts and it's driven by blues.
You have an album together now, too.
We worked on our debut album, West of Flushing, South of Frisco, over the years. It just came out in February 2016. We’ve done two shows. We headline a blues festival in Norway and then the Holland Blues Festival in Amsterdam. We’ve got touring in the works for the end of this year and next year. We’re going to start in Europe and then tour in the states.
What about your latest album?
I released a live album back in April that was recorded at Johnny Winter’s 70th birthday party, which would be his last birthday party, in 2014 at B.B. King’s club in New York. I didn’t know they had recorded my performance. About six months later, they listened to the recording, and they were knocked out by it and said that this needs to be an album.
So why is it only just coming out?
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We were still grieving. Johnny was a hero and an icon, but he was also a dear friend to me. He was like family. So I wanted to wait to release the album. We just released the album, Lance Lopez Live in NYC, in April on Cleopatra records.
Van Wilks opened for you at Gas Monkey. Do you two go back?
He’s a Texas guitar legend, and he’s been a fixture down in Austin for 40 years. He’s toured with ZZ Top and [was] managed by the band’s legendary manager Bill Ham, who recently died at 79 years old. We’ve been longtime friends. We did a show in Austin and we’ve yet to do one here. Van comes to Dallas for the Dallas Guitar Show, but we wanted to do something outside of the show. Billy [Gibbons] loves Van and suggested we should do some things together on stage. He’s one of the few guitar players who can say he’s played rhythm with ZZ Top.