Key to the Highway: Eric Ambel

Interviews Key to the Highway Series

Americana Highways’ Key to the Highway series

Fans always clamor to learn more about their favorite, most beloved musicians and those who travel with them. There’s such an allure to the road, with its serendipity, inevitable surprises, and sometimes unexpected discomforts. This interview series is a set of questions we are asking some of our favorite roots rock Americana artists to get to know more about them and what they’ve learned and experienced on the road. We are sure they have key insights to share and stories to tell. Here’s one from Eric Ambel.

How do you like your coffee or other morning wake-up beverage?

I like my coffee black when it’s good. I’m a self admitted coffee snob. I make my coffee in a special 2 cup French Press rig. I only use single origin beans (no blends). I got a fantastic refurbished Conical Burr Grinder years ago from Baratza. They are a great company and they have sent me replacement parts for free. I heat the filtered water in a temperature calibrated kettle then I pour off the top of the hot water in my cup to pre warm the cup. The beans are ground at the coarsest setting just before I pour a little water over them to let the beans “bloom.” One minute of bloom then I carefully pour the rest of the water in to let the coffee brew for 3 more minutes. After that I pour the water from the cup and carefully pour my coffee into my cup for my pending enjoyment. Then I usually go to my desk to drink the coffee while looking at Gordy’s webcam in Fontana, WI.

What’s the most interesting or strangest motel/hotel or place you have stayed (while on the road?)

I don’t know if this is the strangest but towards the end of the ’80’s the Del-Lords started touring Europe a lot. Our booking agents were based in Paris. Generally Euro touring covers a lot less miles than US touring. We used to come back to Paris all the time for the nights when you don’t make as much money (Sun, Mon and sometimes Tuesday). Paris is famous for its super tiny hotel rooms. We always stayed in Montmartre. One time I got this fantastic corner room with its own balcony. It was terrific. As we were headed out for the next weeks’ gigs I glanced at my tour book and noticed we were coming back to that same hotel. After we got in the van I ran back inside and did my best to communicate with the desk guy, asking if I could get that same room again. He was happy to oblige. I did this over and over, spent all this time in Paris in this fantastic hotel room. When the other guys asked me how I kept ending up with that room I told them I thought it was alphabetical?

If one CD is stuck in the player in the van for the entire tour, what do you hope it is? And why?

This has actually happened to me and for longer than one tour. The first Suburban that I owned was a big box 1989 2-wheel drive Chevy that I bought in Springfield, MO with the help of my guru the late Lou Whitney. It had a cassette deck. A couple cassettes got stuck in there. I dug them out with a Leatherman tool but finally there was one that simply was not coming out. That cassette stayed in there for almost 2 years until the truck was stolen from our parking lot in the East Village. Sometimes I wonder if the thief liked Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind as much as I did?

What’s one personal item you must have with you on your road trip?

That’s changed over the years. At one time I might have said “Hair Goop” but then I learned about the miracle hold of beer as a hair product. Beer is almost universally available at gigs. Nowadays most things forgotten can be remedied with a credit card but nobody really wants to be caught out there with no phone charger.

What is your relationship with food? How do you handle this on the road, and what’s your favorite dish on the road, (or restaurant, and what do you order there)?

I’ve lived quite a few places. Grew up in the midwest (Illinois & Wisconsin), went to school in Laramie, Wyoming. Moved to Hollywood with my Wyoming band during the punk rock time. Moved to London and Holland with Joan Jett before settling in NYC almost 40 years ago. I like different foods. I find food chauvinism to be really limiting. Pizza chauvinism, BBQ chauvinism. It’s limiting. I like to have my mind open to great food when traveling. On tour with Steve Earle those guys had been going to the same towns for years. Steve’s longtime bass player Kelley Looney was a foodie before people were called foodies. They really had a lot of different regional spots wired. I forget where this quote came from but: “there’s the best rock and roll band in the world and the best rock and roll band in the world tonight.” I want to be that band, the best rock and roll band in the world tonight. And by the same token I want to be open to the best breakfast, lunch or dinner possible wherever I am.

If you could pause your life for a few weeks and spend some time living in a place you only have passed through, which would you choose, and why?

I’m currently recovering from surgery that was done on my spine to alleviate extreme pain due to the narrowing of nerve openings at my C7 vertebrae. 40 years with a guitar hanging right there probably didn’t help. I really can’t do anything right now but sit here with this neck brace on and let myself heal. My life has been paused and this question has come up. I know I mentioned Paris in the whacky hotel story but I can’t think of a better, more beautiful place to take a break than Paris or Barcelona or Copenhagen.

What quote or piece of advice have you gotten from someone on the road that has really stuck with you?

Always tip your bartender, even on free drinks. Especially on free drinks!


Find all things Eric Ambel, including a t-shirt made from his own hand drawing, here:  Check out a recent release, here:  Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s Roscoe Sampler. Recent albums he has produced include by Spanking Charlene, Girls On GrassSarah Borges, and The Bottle Rockets.

See other Key to the Highway interviews here: (click here for: Dan Baird, Robbie Fulks) Sign up for our weekly newsletter here for your Friday reminder for this series and more:

29 thoughts on “Key to the Highway: Eric Ambel

Leave a Reply!