Insight into Guitarist Ed Mottau

Robert Mottau

Ed is a former session musician and solo artist who recorded several albums with John Lennon, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Plastic Ono Band, Bo Grumpus, and Felix Pappalardi of Mountain. He has released two solo albums: No Turning Around and No Moulding. To this day, he continues to perform.


His career

You were a session musician for many years, Can you tell us what that is like?

“It’s very challenging, you don’t hear material before recording, you’re working on the fly, and it’s a multi layer process. You do the basic track, then add in different instruments. Some cases, the lead singer goes first so you can keep in time.”


You are a lefty, what is your opinion of playing an upside down guitar?

“I’m not really playing upside down because the strings are reversed. There are right handed guitarists, however, who play left handed. As a result, they play the strings backwards.”


Whats your inspiration?

“I get inspiration from all types of music. I could be listening to a classical piece and take something from that and write a song off of some of those melodies. Inspiration comes from everywhere. One time in NY there was stone arched building and a doo-woop African-American choir singing there because of its echo. Inspiration comes from everywhere, even from something as mundane as a commercial.”


Bob Dylan controversially switched from acoustic to electric, have you ever played electric?

“I have played electric for a while, but without as much of a shift. One time, we were performing at the Gaslight cafe in NYC and it was a small place, the size of a living room, but it was famous, and everyone played there. We were on break in the kitchen and Bob Dylan walked in and he asked if he could borrow my guitar because he had just wrote a new song. He sang us “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and we were the first people ever to hear it.”


What guitars have you used?

“Gibson electric, 335, Fender stratocaster 1965, Martin D28S(2nd ever). Materials can make the guitar more expensive. Hawaiian Koa wood was a sought after material for a while, and it almost drove the tree extinct.”


Who do you think the rock greatest guitarist is?

“I think the best all-around guitarist is Eric Clapton.”


You recorded multiple albums, Can you take us through the process of recording one?

“What you usually do is… You (especially if working with a group) rehearse tunes then put down a basic track (it’s quicker now because it’s digital). A basic track includes electric or acoustic guitars, bass, drums, and piano. Keep in mind, digital has made this process much easier. Then you put in vocals. Then if there’s a guitar solo, reuse the guitar, and then back the vocals. Then you mix the song. You have to give each instrument a certain sound so they sound good together. At times, mixing could take longer than recording. It take could 4 hours to make drums sound good via analogue, but now it takes 4 mins. You can find a guy to do this nowadays.”


What genres have you played?

“Psychedelic, folk, and rock.”


What is your favorite genre you have played?

“Folk Music – it’s where I got my roots. I also enjoyed psychedelic rock, and I recorded at Electric Ladyland(Jimi Hendrix’s studio). And I played with Maggie Bell there.”


Whats a genre youd like to see return?

I don’t know. I’m not looking so much for anything to return so much as I am to find out what is new. You can always listen to what has been recorded before. I like to hear new stuff.


What labels have you worked with?

“I did a Single for Scepter. I also recorded for Epic Records, Atlantic, RCA, Columbia, Apple, MCA, and Warner Bros.”


Nuclear Ono Era

Do you think Ono broke up the Beatles?

“Working with her, and being on her road gigs, she was not talented. One time at a record plant she lost her place in a song and kicked everyone out because she was mad, but she was the slow one. However, I don’t think she broke up the Beatles. I think they did that themselves.”


How did John Lennon reach out to you?

“I met him with Paul Stookey. We were recording and an engineer was looking for an acoustic player, and he recommended me to John. So I went with him and started playing with John.”


Did you record with Elton John on Whatever Gets You Thru the Night?”

“Yes, I was the guitarist on that track, and I recorded with Elton John.”


You played acoustic guitar on Lennons Walls and Bridges” and Rock n Roll.” What was it like?

“Fun. ‘Walls and Bridges’ was more challenging, and R n R was the result of a lawsuit with Tower Records and a lawsuit for Chuck Berry and “Come Together” by Morris Levy. He took us to his ranch with May Pang and John in a limo. When John was scrolling through the radio looking for “Through the Night,” the radio played Eleanor Rigby. John told me Eleanor Rigby was influenced by Paul McCartney listening to a lot of Vivaldi. We got to rehearse at the farm, but there was mostly drinking. Everyone already knew the songs on the album. I also had to testify. John was nervous, he said, ‘I thought they were gonna get you Ed.’ I’m still in contact with May Pang today.”


Current state of music

Would you ever consider putting your albums on digital streaming services (i.e. Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora etc)?

“Probably, I’m recording an album right now, but I’d only do it for promotional reasons. I’d do it so people can hear it on the airwaves. Music is a labor, and I’m not doing it to make money; that’s who I am.”


What do you think of the modern music industry?

Its okay. Music is evolving; you like it or you don’t, and there are certainly trends. There are a lot of record companies that take over creative control. A lot of people were also cheated out of royalties with Limewire and Napster, and the music industry was slow on the draw as a whole.


Whats your opinion on Indie artists?

There’s so many now because people could get rich off selling records. Paul Simon went to pick up a check for 90 days of airplay. He walked away with 1.6 million dollars. Artists would be cut a share of the profits. These records could not be recorded – ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Artists, and Publishers) has to pay artists (albums are being sold at gigs). ASCAP could also decide whether to release a song or not.


Whats your Opinion on Live Album vs Studio Albums?

I prefer Studio because you have more control and can experiment. Live you have one shot, but it can be fixed back in studio. Most albums sound better in studio than live.