Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Niacin - Krush / Back and Better Than Ever

Niacin, the organ based power trio made up of Billy Sheehan, Dennis Chambers, and John Novello, has returned with their eighth album, Krush, on Prosthetic Records, and it may be their best yet. It sounds like they've been downright hungry to get to this one, and their return is a very welcome one.

They've been gone for the better part of a decade, and while they have been on hiatus, it is obvious that they've not stopped working for a moment - chops are razor sharp, and on this outing it sounds like they've not only brought their virtuosity as players, but they've also been in the woodshed working on their composition skills. These tunes come off as songs, memorable and fresh.

Krush kicks it off and I wish ELP had lived long enough to sound this good in 2013 - it's a great chase with Sheehan furiously digging in and dueling with John Novello in a way that I've not heard him dig in since the unforgettable fire created by Billy and Steve Vai on David Lee Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile solo debut way back in '86. Dennis Chambers is as amazing as ever - he's kind of a ringleader on this cut, and his syncopated groove keeps the sparring melody men between the lines. Best rock/fusion I've heard since last year's spectacular debut by Spectrum Road.

There may still be three people left on the planet who don't know that niacin is vitamin B-3, and the appropriately titled Tone Wheels features Novello taking us on an awe inspiring tour of just what a Hammond organ can do. The production is crystal clear, and you can hear every nuance - something missed by many a producer when faced with recording the sonorities of the Hammond's moving parts. Sheehan and Chambers point, pluck, and punctuate in a manner that brings back memories of Simon Phillips and Anthony Jackson's amazing jousts in years past. I don't know what's better, Sheehan's chops, or his tone - let's call it a draw and walk away smiling. Novello is at the top of the heap, this is certain.

Stormy Sunday isn't exactly a blues, but it certainly contains shades thereof, but these guys are not to be constrained by labels, or genres - this is great music, simple as that. If you don't get jazz, you'll still get this, if you're anti-metal, this will still rock you. This is orchestral beauty. It's impossible for me not to sway as I'm listening and typing. You hear Jamerson clashing with Mussorgsky as Chambers conducts from his throne - majestic.

Krush is as musical in its way as an XTC album is in its. That's a genre stretch of about half a solar system, but when you hear the atmospheric Low Art, you may catch my drift. Novello's abundant supply of chord voicings create myriad harmonic suggestions, and directions - his palette is as wide as an ocean, and just as deep. His staccato riffing approaches a very cool pianistic timbre at times, and this is as fascinating as it is visceral.

Car Crash Red sounds like it would fit perfectly on a new David Lee Roth solo disc, if DLR was still this hip. This is a high rolling riff rocker that dances high on the wire with no net, and when Sheehan and Novello start squaring off, I'm reminded that heavy metal has been painfully pale for edges. This is more dangerous than any collection of death rockers on the planet - the unison runs are as good as any I have ever heard, and all I can do is smile and laugh out loud.

Electricity has Novello showing off his piano chops, and this is the disc's jazziest moment thus far. Sheehan has an amazing set of ears - he spins right alongside some dizzying runs, and riffs. Chambers sounds like he's soloing when in fact he's running the show from behind his kit, and we're reminded why much of the world considers him its greatest drummer. Subjective for sure, but he's in there on any list.

Funk rears its ugly head, and it's time to dance with the dinosaurs on Cold Fusion. These guys swing like nobody's business, and it's easy to get lost in the groove and almost miss the mind-blowing chops, and skills on display. Novello breaks out on some stratospheric synth, plucky piano, and his chops are matched by his skill as a composer - the twists and turns are always above all musical, and when they throw down some bolero styled segues, it makes nothing but great sense.

I love that every tune here is a song - they could all easily be converted to vocal numbers, and Majestic Dance is a great bit of hard rock that makes me long for the days that music like this could be heard in large arenas. This is big and majestic music, and deserves to be given the big stage treatment. This could wake the kids up, fer crissakes.

Prog rock finally pops up at the introduction of Prelude & Funky Opus. Novello's piano is huge - underpinned by Sheehan's solid tone, it's then supplanted by some hyperkinetic shuffling that will have you toe tapping. The tightness and cohesion is phenomenal, and it's even more stunning when you realize that these guys don't have the luxury of playing together very often. They just happen to operate like a three headed entity that always know where each head is turning.

The Gnarly Shuffle? Oh hell yeah it is. This cooks. Flat out cooks. Again, I am incredibly pleased that Billy's bass, and John Novello's organ don't crash, clash, or ever muddy up - when they go on their flights of fancy, they are both very distinct and pure. Then it's Sheehan and Chambers going head to head, and of course, guess who joins in? They come out of the insane unisons swinging like Count Basie's Orchestra, and it's a beautiful thing.

After wearing me down with such thunderous energy, the trio back it down in tempo, but not necessarily intensity for Drifting.This has a not quite dirge slow swagger that starts climbing up the mountain of majesty just as you think it may not - these guys are masters at timing and knowing when to make the big change. This would be the best show in any city on any night that it was played. Exciting, invigorating, and intellectually challenging - what more can one ask for?

More funk is in store with Sheehan's clavinesque intro to Sly Voltage, and I'm dreaming off how good this would sound at a summer festival. This is a straight up dance number, and it gets really nasty when Sheehan starts soloing and Novello takes some lascivious stabs at his keyboard. This sounds like the band has been missing in some sort of time loop for a few decades and walked out to some new fun technology. Billy Sheehan hasn't lost a step, and when he solos, it is clear he is still the most accomplished bassist in rock. He gets the rhythm, he's got the sound, and he never plays less than right for the tune. This one goes all Herby Hancock at the end, and you are going to love it.

That's The One is on the one, that's for sure. The synchronicity between this bunch is a work of wonder. Chambers marches them through a minefield of funkified goo, and they don't even get their feet muddy. This is a timekeeper's tour de force - maybe more fun for the players than the listener, but not by much.

All good things must come to an end, and it's the same with Krush - they go out on a talk show theme soundscape, but talk shows were never quite this hip. Triple Strength, indeed. As Chambers gives his cymbals an sound thrashing, Novello and Sheehan set it on cruise, and send us sailing down the river of musical bliss. From beginning to end, they do not for a moment let up - they are on it, and this wraps up a rock/fusion masterwork.

I can't pick a winner, or even a frontrunner - this trio is perfectly matched, and they operate as a single mind in so many ways. I hope they get to take this one out for some shows - it might be the most musically exciting event of the year.

Thanks to Niacin and Kelly Walsh at Prosthetic Records

Krush is out April 2nd.

Danny Bryant - Hurricane - A Big Storm

Danny Bryant - the big man brings it. He doesn't play like he's chasing ghosts - no, he plays like he's chasin' down the devil, and he's got him in his sights. He's furious and fearless - if all blues rock rocked like this I'd be kinder to the genre.

This guy is the complete package - he plays like the house is on fire, a Fret-King Corona SP 50 guitar (if you aren't familiar with Fret-King, that's Trev Wilkinson's company - if you don't know Trev, I can't much help you) sneaking through an angry way into a Marshall half stack seems to be his formula, and it sounds like raging magic. Bryant is also an excellent singer - he's got a great voice, very rare in a genre filled with hands, and few throats. To top it off, he can write songs - these tunes live on their own without tripping over all the tired cliches. In short, Danny Bryant is the real deal.

The album blasts off with a throbbing rocker entitled, Prisoner of the Blues - Bryant seems to know the skeletons that hide in every corner, and as he barrels down the highway he's swerving past them all. This has genuine swagger and big bluster - he has a solid band behind him, and they sound like a band, not a bunch of over paid sessioners. His solo rips the throat out of his wah, and throws it down when he's done - super bad.

31 Greenwood - ring a bell? The beloved Hubert Sumlin was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1931, and not many guys could move me in tribute, but Danny does it. Drummer Trevor Barr brings some Bonhamesque backbeats, and bassist Ken Barr manages to keep things solid without weighing things down as so many young blues bassists do - if you see him smiling in videos, it may because he brought his boy up right.

Next up is a ballad that will be dearly loved by anybody who remember what Gary Moore, and Michael Schenker could do with a piano in the room. Bryant really shows his songwriting and singing off here to wonderful effect. Melody is thick on this one, and the drama is delivered believably. His guitar fills are melody, not the same old, tired blues riffs, and when he solos, it is memorable and soaked with feeling. Can't Hold On shows Bryant to be a very complete package, indeed.

Hurricane is a mid-tempo rocker that has a great chunky guitar riff that sounds like it walked off of an '80s MTV video set (in a great way). This type of guitar rock can come off terribly, but again, this guy pulls it off convincingly. Bryant must have been spoon fed great music since birth - it's attached to his DNA. His singing gives me hope for his generation, and you haven't heard me say that in  a while.

When he tackles a genre, or a song style, Bryant is smart enough to try to up the ante, and not just lick at boots. Devil's Got A Hold On Me is a Texas boogie, but his Strat-edged tone bites perfectly, with enough serration on the edge to keep things cutting.This tune isn't as adventurous as those previous, but he's still keeping me engaged - I try to nit pick, but that's all it would be. The solo sails - you know where it's coming from, but he owns it, and that is what matters.

Danny Bryant is a great singer - I'm Broken will thrill fans of Glenn Hughes's phrasing and vibrato. He's the best blues belter since Gary left us, and that is no small praise. I don't bandy Moore's name around casually, nor my buddy Glenn's. His guitar tone is always right on the mark - it's all in the hands, but he also makes great use of the right tools. Goddamn, this is good. At times he approaches the tones that made Deep Purple's forays into the blues such gems. I kid you not.

All Or Nothing again reminds me of Moore's Run For Cover album, on which Moore and Hughes came so close to connecting - it has the melodic synth underpinnings and the straight up beat that made Gary's poppier moments so delightful. I hate to keep dragging in comparisons, but if the shoe fits, and I'm referring to some of my favorite moments of an era, and I want to remind you of them, as well. Bryant is today, but he connects with some magic I feared lost, and am thrilled to re-find.

This guy knows how to pull heart strings, in an era in which false emotion has become our shield - at a time when we need our hearts on our sleeves more than ever. Losing You is a delicate number that tugs gently and sweeps you into a cold, dark, and lonely alley to face your tears. This may be marketed as the blues, but I'm hearing all kinds of rock and pop - have we gotten so stuck in a pentatonic haze that we've forgotten what true beauty is? Danny Bryant's solos are achingly right - his sound is the perfect combination of Hank Marvin melody, and Schenker fueled passion. Again, if you don't get that, look them up.

Danny Bryant is a great musician, and an impassioned soul - I hope you give him a good listen, it will do your heart right. He breaks out an acoustic on the album closer, Painkiller, and again, the son-of-a-gun avoids the obvious somehow, and this is his, all his. His voice keeps stunning me - it fits the songs, and that's where it all begins, the songs. He decorates them in a manner that is maybe more stately and beautiful than I've heard in some time. When he leans into the thick side of his Marshall's throaty distortion for the solo on this one, I am swept away in rock reverence.

I know I'm given to hyperbole, but goddamn this is a great record. Danny Bryant deserves a listen from anyone who reads this, and of course, a great many more. He's worked his ass off here, and delivered what I feel may be tough to beat in the blues rock field this year, though again - this isn't really at all what I would call a blues album, this is just good rock with some bluesy vbes. If you liked the hot guitar slingers of the '80s, who combined melody with chops, great vocals and songs, you are going to really dig this one.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Doug Aldrich - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"He's a really generous guy, and we are mutual supporters of each other. He's been really good to me, man - I feel completely blessed just to have the opportunity to work with a legend like him, and to work with him for an extended period of time." ~ Doug Aldrich on working with David Coverdale

Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich has been with the band for ten years now - much more than just a guitarist, he has become David Coverdale's co-writer, and musical director. It's no mean feat to be in that position - it takes tremendous skills, not just as a musician, but also as a human being.

Whether it's in being able to laugh when Dio fans throw beer bottles at you because you're the new guy, not rushing David Coverdale into a creative partnership, being humble enough to know why you didn't get the gig with KISS, or knowing how to ask Jimmy Page to carve his initials into your guitar. Doug has time and time again displayed the wisdom and courage that has allowed him to get great gigs and not just keep them, but to grow within them. Reading back over this interview, it becomes clear to me that while Doug is obviously a huge talent, he's also a hell of a good guy.

Made In Japan is Whitesnake's new DVD/CD package, and it shows the band at the height of their considerable talents. The band was wise to focus on some great material from their last two studio efforts, alongside some 'Snake classics - there's also a great CD of extras that displays the band in an acoustic setting, and some great rough cuts taken from various sound checks. As if that weren't enough, Aldrich also is getting ready to release the third album with Burning Rain, a band he started with singer Keith St. John back in 1998.

We started off our chat with me congratulating Doug on both projects. I mentioned that I had talked to David Coverdale just a few days previous, and that his boss was extremely effusive with his respect and admiration for his partner's skills, and that he was especially thrilled that the guitarist brought with him to the band what David called, 'An amazing treasury of awareness' of the early history of Whitesnake. I asked Doug how his education in all things Whitesnake came to pass:

Doug Aldrich: "I was in Los Angeles, around early 1984, and I had heard maybe a track or two from the Slide It In album - so I knew about Slide it In, and Slow An' Easy, and I really liked them. Whitesnake was just at the beginning of cracking big in the US and so I got this call to join this band with the ex-drummer from Steeler, which was Yngwie's first band, and this drummer, he had actually kind of helped discover Yngwie, and got him together with his first record deal with Mike Varney. 
"Yngwie had split and left Steeler, so this drummer, Mark Edwards, he said, 'Hey, I want you to play guitar - I've found the next David Coverdale,' He said it was this singer from Scotland (Kal Swan), who was really a Whitesnake aficionado, among other bands like Slade, and Status Quo, bands I had never heard of up to that time. 
"He was the one that brought those early Whitesnake records to my attention - and immediately those chords and melodies resonated with me. I felt really lucky about that, because it was very cool and very different - I was very easily influenced at that point, and I could have easily fallen into a more glam thing, or whatever. 
"Living in Los Angeles at that time, the whole thing was going big and bands like Motley Crue, and all that, but I really loved this different sound that Kal showed me. Whitesnake had these blues progressions, but done in a heavier way, and I just loved it - and that was what our band, Lion, tried to do. To have our sound be more European. Eventually, Lion broke up, and Kal and I tried some different projects, but later, when I met David - there were so many things that I remembered Kal telling me that was great information for me in becoming a member of Whitesnake."

Indeed they did - one of the things that I notice in Doug's playing that makes him stand apart most of the Los Angeles rock guitarists of that era is his slide guitar stylings which Coverdale had just called two days previous, 'that filthy, dirty, underbelly of the blues groove.' David was recalling Aldrich's playing on Steal Your Heat Away from the new live set, on which Doug unleashes some lovely slide. Doug is a little more humble in his assessment of his slide skills (I tend to agree with Coverdale on this one):

Doug Aldrich: "To be honest, I don't know if I'd say bad-assed, I might just say, bad! Hahaha! 
"I'm learning, and I love it - I feel it. I love that sound and I'm trying to find a way to do it that is a little bit my own, even though my technique is still in the learning process. But when you listen to the real guys, like Derek Trucks - now that guy, he's just sick! He's so good, and Warren Haynes, anybody that's ever played slide with the Allman Brothers, starting with Duane. 
"I also love all that ethereal slide playing that David Gilmour does. I didn't know that a lot of that was lap steel, but it just sounds so cool. That was definitely an influence, and when I got into Whitesnake, I actually had a reason to get a lot better, because the early Whitesnake - Micky Moody was the slide guy, and those songs are very unique because of that. I've just tried to develop this a bit."
Photo by Jon Beckel

Coverdale had just told me that the tune Steal Your Heart Away was a fantastic marriage between early and current Whitesnake, but in fact it had been written very organically, and with no prior discussion of the past. I asked Doug to recant the origins of the tune:

Doug Aldrich: "That was a kind of funny song - we were just jamming and David sang that first line in the verse, and I was like, 'Man, that is really cool,' and I thought, 'Let's see if we can get this song together.' 
"This same week, we were up at his house writing, and I got stuck on that song. I didn't know quite what to do with it, but I knew it had potential, so I said, 'Hey DC, can I move on to something else? I have something I want to work with you on,' and we started jamming on Love Will Set You Free, and I was like, 'Whoa, that one came together so fast!" He started singing and it was immediate - this is great. 
"Then we did Tell Me How the same week, so we had done two full, new songs and we made some rough demos, and I was getting done, and David was in a meeting, so I thought, 'Well, let me listen to that Steal Your Heart Away thing again.' I had been beating myself up about it, and when I listened to it fresh, I was like, 'Whoa, this is actually very cool!' So we kind of roughed up the arrangement a little bit to get through it, and we finished it up the next time we got together. 
"A lot of this stuff is like updated early Whitesnake. Love Will Set You Free is not so far away from songs like Ready 'N' Willing."
Photo by Michael Wiersch

Coverdale and Aldrich have now been writing partners for years, but it didn't start that way - Doug was a member of Dio, and had been hired by Whitesnake for a two month tour while Dio was on hiatus - I was curious as to how Doug's role evolved from hired hand to right hand man. I would advise anyone who ever thinks they may join an established band to pay close attention to his answer, as I think it addresses head-on how Aldrich has been so successful in a very difficult business:

Doug Aldrich: "Well, we would jam on stuff just for fun, but I was very conscious not to, um....David basically said, 'This is going to be a short tour, and that's it - that's all I need.' 
"I was, at the time, a member of Dio. Everything was kind of on the surface - we're doing this tour, and that's it. Once we started touring, we'd jam around on some stuff just for fun, and I thought, 'Hey, this is pretty cool,' but I never really thought about pursuing things with David, just because you don't want to push, and have anybody feel pressured - the worst thing you can do when you are new is to come in and go, 'Hey, let's write a song!' 
"Hold on - first, let's see if we have some chemistry going. It's best for things like that to happen naturally. Eventually, it did happen, and we didn't force it. 
"But to answer your question, it was probably at the end of the year in 2003 when we started banging out some songs for real. We were both getting used to how the other guy works, and obviously, I was learning a lot. David's done this a lot, so I was learning from him the whole time. What to focus on, and which melodies are more important - things like that, and I'm still learning." 
"We were both being very polite, so the first songs that we worked on, I wasn't - not aggressive - but not as honest, as to, 'This is what I'm hearing.' He was the boss, and I didn't want to push anything, and I think the same went for him - he probably heard things I was doing, and he could have suggested some improvements, but he was trying to encourage me and not to shut me down. 
"It wasn't until about 2006 that we decided, let's see what we got. Let's get together, do some writing, and see just what we've got. That's when we came up with the Good To Be Bad record - I think our songwriting improved 1,000%, and I think it's still improving!"

Doug Aldrich has had the opportunity to work with two of the greatest vocalists in the history of rock, and I was curious as to both the similarities and the differences in working with, and for Ronnie James Dio, and David Coverdale in Whitesnake:

Doug Aldrich: "It's weird - there are a lot of similarities about them because of the structure of the bands - like you said, Whitesnake is looked upon as a band, and it is a band, but David is the leader, founder and in the end he's the only non-replaceable person in the band. It's his band, and it was the same in Dio. 
"There is that mentality of we've got a leader, a captain of the ship, so I knew how to handle that situation from working with Ronnie already. When it came to the stage, Ronnie basically said, 'Look, I'm going to give you the stage, and you take it over - do whatever you want, it's your time. Ronnie was very supportive, and he set me free on the stage - I learned a lot and got a lot of touring and performing experience. 
"Watching Ronnie, and being on the road with him - it was the first really big tour I had been on, and it was a little late for me. I was in my late 30s and we started in May and we toured all the way to Christmas. I learned a lot, so when I got into Whitesnake, my chops were definitely together. I had been through everything that I thought was possible as far as what I thought could happen onstage - an amp going down, or somebody throwing something at you, hahahaha."

I stopped - What, what do you mean someone throwing something at you? Doug's answer again gave me pause to realize the importance of cool, poise, and calm:

Doug Aldrich: "When you join a band like Dio, or Whitesnake - there are going to be some fans that go, 'No - I don't like this guy, I liked the other guy.' 
"We were doing a festival in Germany with Dio, and somebody chucked a beer bottle at me. I happened to catch it out of the corner of my eye that it was coming - I bobbed my head and it went right past my ear, and I laughed. I was like, 'C'mon, try it again!' That's the mentality - where people go, 'Yeah, that guy's all right!' You can't get flustered by that - of course, Ronnie set out to find the guy, and get him thrown out, but I thought it was funny! 
"So, in Whitesnake, I was prepared for anything like that, because Whitesnake had some great guitar players, like the original guys, then Sykes, Vandenberg, Steve Vai - and it's hard to please everybody! 
"I think, though, it's different in a lot of ways, because Whitesnake is a different kind of band, a different kind of music."

Bringing things back up to current events, I told Doug that I had been listening to the new record, Whitesnake - Made In Japan for the last week and that I was mightily impressed by both the power of the band, and the attention to detail throughout. I asked if there would be some intensive rehearsals before the band set off for Japan in May:

Doug Aldrich: "Cool - I'm really happy to hear you say that, Tony - I haven't listened to it since we finished it, and I felt it was pretty cool, but you never really know. 
"Yeah, we'll be rehearsing - obviously, we have a new drummer (the legendary Tommy Aldridge). I say new, but he's been in the band before, so it's exciting to get him back. 
"We've got Tommy coming back, so he and I, along with Michael Devin are going to spend a few days jamming together before we start the Whitesnake rehearsals to get our feet wet - I want to be sure that Michael and Tommy start locking in, and get to know each other before we jump into hardcore rehearsals. 
"Rehearsals with Whitesnake - it's exciting, but it's like mayhem. You've got crew guys running around, and this guy's trying to get his gear together, and David's coming in and saying, 'Hey, try this guys!' We're all trying to find our ways for a few days, so I think it might make sense to Tommy and Michael Devin to spend dome time together and get to know one another. 
"That's the backbone of any band, the rhythm section - it's so important, and I'm very excited about the possibilities of hearing....I've played with Tommy a lot, and I've played with Michael a lot, so I'm very excited about the two of them together, because they are both obviously fine players - Tommy is a legend, and I think Michael is a legend in the making. He is just so solid, and such a natural, amazing bass player."

I wondered what, if any, difference it made to play with a drummer who has such a different style than his predecessor:

Doug Aldrich: "It's definitely different, but it's going to be fine, because I know how he plays. 
"It doesn't really effect me - it will get me off in a good way, when I hear somebody do something that is their signature thing. We know that Tommy does have his signature sound, and he has these things that he'll do with the kick drums that are very 'Tommy-esque,' you know? 
"By the same token - Brian Tichy is one of my favorite drummers of all time. I think he is an extremely talented musician all the way around, and when he plays the drums it is just so natural. It feels great - I guess I'd say he is a little more of a pocket player. A little more simple in style, and he plays a little heavier, and Tommy has a little more finesse in certain ways, but they are both amazing."

Burning Rain, another of Doug's ongoing projects, has been on the shelf since 2004, due to the guitarist's Whitesnake commitments, but in mid-May they will see the release of their third album, Epic Obsession, on Frontiers Records. It's a barnburner - more metallic than Whitesnake, and far enough afield that there should be few comparisons that make any sense, beyond the very basics. I told Doug that I thought it was the best Burning Rain yet, and I asked if he and Keith St. John had been stockpiling material, or if this batch was au courant:

Doug Aldrich: " I appreciate that! Pretty much, it was all of the above! We had a few songs like Ride The Monkey which is one of my favorites on there - it was something that was really old, and we re-worked it several times over the years. I wanted the lyrics to be right, I wanted the music to be right, and I feel like now that it's a really cool song with dark, crazy lyrics and I really like the guitar work on there a lot. 
"My Lust Your Fate was the last song we wrote when we did it, and it was a pretty rough demo, but it turned out really nice on the record - much better than I thought it would. We actually have just started shooting a video for that song - a very dark, sexy thing. 
"I wanted this Burning Rain record to sound different than Whitesnake. I didn't want it to sound like Whitesnake junior. We tried to maintain the sound we started with, which was a little more towards the metal side, melodic based metal. Of course, I'm just a blues based guitar player - my roots are that, but I wanted it to sound different. I didn't want there to be any cross-collateralization between Whitesnake and Burning Rain other than the fact that I was playing guitar on both. 
"I'm really glad that you got it, and are digging it!"

One song in particular has kept me going back - and it was the huge guitar tones on Pray Out Loud that did it - time to switch to guitar talk, and I was guessing there was some heavy-gauge string action going on:

Doug Aldrich: "I was using 11-50s on that guitar, because it was a slide tuning and it needs a little thicker strings to stay in tune, but the real combo I'm using is the same one I've had since you were in Hollywood (we had earlier discussed the fact that we were both living in Hollywood in the mid-80s) - I had bought a 1979 JMP Marshall from Guitar Center that was on the other side of Sunset. I don't know if you knew it, but the Guitar Center used to be across the street from where it is now."

I laughed, and explained that actually, I was working at that store when we moved it across the street, and there was a good possibility that I had sold him that very amp:

Doug Aldrich: "Hahaha, so you and I might have some history there! I bought the amp at that store. It's a JMP Master Volume, and this amp is just awesome! 
"I've used it on every record I've worked on, and loaned it to Satriani for The Extremist record, he used it on that. Then Godsmack rented it for some records they were working on, and everybody that hears this amp loves it! I used it on Dio, on Whitesnake, and Burning Rain, too!"

On both the Whitesnake records and Burning Rain, one consistent factor is the hugeness of Aldrich's guitar tone - I asked if he was still making great use of his signature Majik Box Overdrive and Boost pedal, the Rocket Fuel:

Doug Aldrich: "I do use that. In the studio, though, I do things a little differently because I want to use the shortest amount of cables and connections as possible. I'm a little bit, I guess I wanna say anal - but there's no reason for me to go through any box - it's better for me to go straight into the amp when I'm cutting rhythms. 
"When I'm tracking with the band, I might go through something like the Majik Box and a wah, and I'll keep the solo parts with that setup, and end up replacing the rhythm part, because I want to be sure that it's as clean as possible for my main rhythm tracks. In other words, unless I'm doing something super heavy, I don't use any boxes. For solos, I definitely use the Majik Box - it's a really cool box. I've never found any one thing that I could rely on so much. 
"I had been using for years this Furman PQ-3, I don't know if you remember that from LA (in fact, I do - it was the de facto secret weapon in every guitar rig on the Sunset Strip at one point), but that was the kind of go-to thing back then, and it's got a great sound, but I wanted something in pedal form - but was like that. The guys from Majik Box - we did a prototype that was super cool, but it was noisy and kind of unusable, because it had so much hiss to it. Then they said, 'Hey, we've got this other thing we've been working on that's a different idea, but we can arrange it so that the bottom end stays. That was what I wanted, so they showed me a prototype, and we started tweaking that, and added the bass shift switch, which is really nice for solos because you don't lose so much bottom end - it still boosts the mids - it's still big sounding. I'm really glad you like that guitar sound!"

Exactly what I liked about that guitar sound is the fact that even though the tones are thick, fat, and beefy, it does not mush out - they retain the articulation of Doug's right hand. It's a great right hand full of power and precision - I told Doug that, in fact, his right hand reminded me of that of one of my favorites, the late Gary Moore:

Doug Aldrich: "Hey - thanks, man! Anytime I get mentioned in the same sentence with Gary Moore, I'm pretty happy! He's one of my all time favorites, and he was a huge inspiration to all of us rock guitar players - I definitely miss him. 
"In fact, Somebody asked me the other day, 'If you could have a guitar lesson from anybody living, or passed on, who would it be?' I said, "You know what, that is a great question!' I just picked who came to mind, and it was Gary Moore. 
"It's funny - in 2003 Gary supported Whitesnake in the UK, and he was very quiet! I thought he didn't like me, but he was just very quiet and very shy. We had this little exchange at one point, and I realized, he's just shy! 
"The thing that was cool was he'd be warming up backstage, Reb and Me would be sitting there - we'd be in our dressing room, and he'd be in his, and we'd be listening to him play, going, 'No way!!' I think Reb actually recorded something on a little cassette player, and it was awesome because he was just playing off the cuff stuff that was just so sweet!"

I told him I knew exactly how that felt - when I worked for the McAuley/Schenker Group, my favorite part of every day of the tour was sitting on the bus beside Michael Schenker as he practiced for two or three hours each morning:

Doug Aldrich: "Man - I'll tell you what! You and I are definitely on the same page as far as these guys go. I love Michael Schenker - he's so inspirational to me. As far as that whole wah thing - you find the sweet spot - right in the middle where you find that Schenker tone!"

One of my favorite moments on the Burning Rain record is one of the bonus tracks, and what a bonus it is - the band does a great version of the Zeppelin epic, Kashmir. And they do it justice - where many bands might assassinate it with too much, Burning Rain nails it. I asked Doug how they came to record this one:

Doug Aldrich: "Uh.... we needed another track, hahahaha! 
"We had a jam of that track, Keith put down a vocal, and I put on some backwards guitars - and you know what's really interesting about that? I didn't want to mess up the song with a bunch of shredding - I wanted it to be more ethereal, I wanted it to sound like Burning Rain, but to keep the integrity of the original in some way. So I'll do some backwards guitar parts. 
"Eventually, that track was cut on a 2 inch tape machine that I have - we cut it at my house, so I ended up getting that out and putting it down on tape - then I chucked it onto Pro Tools so I could edit it, and clean it up. 
"Then I noticed - when I listened back to my playing when it's backwards? It sounds like George Lynch. A lot, hahaha! 
"It was really funny, I was like, 'That's where George got his style! He flipped the tape over!' There are some moments where I'm doing my normal 'Doug' things, and I'm like, 'Whoa, that sounds just like George now!' 
"You know, I got to be friends with George about ten years ago, and he's a great guy. Sometimes at Christmas he'll have a party, and we'll jam, or I'll see him at the NAMM show - I can't wait to tell him this story, he's going to crack up, man! 'I can sound just like you, George - all I gotta do is flip the tape over!'

When I'm able to stop laughing, I remember what I'm doing, and comment that the orchestration he chose to lay upon the Led Zeppelin classic was most appropriate:

Doug Aldrich: "Thank you, man - that means a lot to me, because the worst thing I could ever do is to ruin something. We had just done that for the fun of it, and we needed a bonus track, so that's what we did. It wasn't originally for the record, but it turned out to be just that, a nice bonus. 
"But I really appreciate your comment because if I had to pick my favorite all time guitar player, it would have to be Jimmy Page, even though I don't sound like him, I absolutely love his writing, his playing, his everything - the whole package - pound for pound, Jimmy Page is my guy! 
"I hate to say it, but I'm sure that Jimmy would hear that and just go, 'Yeah, man, that's.......'"

I disagree, telling Doug that I had recently heard Dave Kilminster of Roger Waters band telling me a story of his having played his version of The Rain Song, only to discover that Page was not only in the audience, but wanted to meet him - turned out that Jimmy was quite laudatory about the rendition, as I'm sure he will be if he hears Burning Rain's Kashmir:

Doug Aldrich: "I hope so, but I'm not going to play it for him! 
"We see Jimmy every year when we go to England, and I fully expect to see him this year when we are over there. And I guarantee you I will make no mention of this! I would be way too embarrassed to bring it up to him, but I'll tell you a funny story.... 
"On that tour we did with Gary Moore back in '03, when I first met Jimmy and just happened to have a Les Paul backstage - he was gracious enough to, I asked him if he would scratch his initials in it. And he did it with a fork! He scratched his initials in it in 2003. 
"He was there to see David, and David was in the shower, and there's Jimmy hanging out in the hallway! I'm going, 'Jimmy, what are you doing in the hallway? Please, come in with us and hang out in our dressing room.' He came in and we just had a nice cordial chat - he's super nice, just really nice. 
"You know, for basically being rock 'n' roll's god - he was just very down to earth. So I said, 'Hey, Jimmy, I hate to do this, but would you mind scratching your initials? I hate to do this, but I'm going to anyway.' And he said, 'Yeah, man, I'll do it - never done that before!'
"And then two years later - we were playing at Hammersmith, and Jimmy was at the side of the stage, and I came off stage at the end of the show - David was doing Soldier of Fortune a cappella, and it's a great moment in the show, because David's voice is just huge, and by itself. So, I pulled out the guitar, just to show him that I still had it - of course I still have it. 
"I handed it to him, and he kind of grabbed it like he was going to go onstage with David! 
"I kind of wish that he had, it would have been so cool, you know? Maybe someday we'll get to jam with him."

After that riveting story of a meeting with a rock god, I thought it best to wind down with another story of a meeting with some rock demi-gods - Aldrich's audition for KISS at the young age of 18. I approached the topic by asking what track he was playing on the upcoming KISS 40th Anniversary Tribute record, A World With Heroes, being produced by Mitch Lafon to benefit a Cancer Care Hospice:

Doug Aldrich: "Actually, I haven't done my track yet! I don't know which song it will be. They were going to send me the track, but I'll play on any of the tracks! 
"I'll tell you what I'd love to play on - something like Shock Me, or Christine Sixteen - I love those songs, or Hotter Than Hell
"Black Diamond - I only know these songs because after all these years, I've really come to appreciate how cool early KISS was. When you get past the image, it comes down to great songs, but one song I know the guys in KISS really love, it was kind of like their Stairway To Heaven at the time - that was Black Diamond - now that would be great to play on! 
"I auditioned for KISS back in the early '80s"

I stopped to tell him that in retrospect, not getting that job was probably the best thing that ever happened to him, on many levels:

Doug Aldrich: "I agree! The thing that was great about it was that, had I gotten that gig, and obviously, I was not the right guy - I was very young (18), and inexperienced. But had I gotten it, I wouldn't have gone through a lot of things which helped me be a better musician - if you get picked up, and join a big band without having any experience, who knows, you may miss out on a lot of things. 
"The thing is, they said, 'This song, Black Diamond, is very important to us, and it comes down to how you play it, really.' And I played it pretty good - well enough that they called me back for a second look, but I agree with you. Things do happen for a reason, and you just have to roll with it."

Thanks to Doug Aldrich, David Coverdale, Whitesnake, Frontiers Records, Carise Yatter at Hired Gun Media, and Peter Noble at Noble PR (UK). 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Greg Lake - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"Songs of a Lifetime is a celebration of the age of shared music. That's what it is. I spent a long time preparing the show, I recorded all the music from scratch to build the show into what it is. I was determined that it should not be one of those, 'legend in his own lunchtimes,' sitting on a stool boring everyone rigid. I wanted it to be entertaining, and I wanted it to be emotional." ~ Greg Lake

Well, he certainly made it that - if you've not yet seen, or heard Songs of a Lifetime, it is a tremendously well done overview of the musical journey of Greg Lake. He covers his life from an early adoration of Elvis and The Beatles to the high flying private jet days of ELP to what he considers the necessity of reconnecting with his fans in a return to the 'shared music' experience, and he's done it in an extremely entertaining and emotional package.

I wasn't sure what to expect from my time with Greg, but whatever I hoped for was greatly exceeded by the man's generous and charming demeanor. We managed to keep the ball afloat for over an hour, and ended with an agreement to get together soon for more talk, and a glass of wine - this conversation definitely primed my desire to read his soon to be published autobiography, which he expects will be out by summer's end. What you'll find here is that Greg Lake is a great storyteller.

Our conversation, unfortunately, started with my informing Greg of the passing of guitar legend Alvin Lee. I asked Greg if he had yet heard the news:

Greg Lake: "No idea, I didn't. Good lord. Very sad, very sad. Thank you for letting me know - I wasn't close to him as a friend, but obviously he was there as I was growing up, and a big part of the rock scene in England during my formative years. 
"It just makes you realize that we have to be grateful for every day we've got. Because you never know. I suppose everybody, when you get older, you start to value your time more. When you're a young man, you just don't think about it, do ya?"

Getting that bit of rough news out of the way, we move on and I asked Greg if there had yet been a release date announced for his upcoming autobiography:

Greg Lake: "No, there hasn't but it will certainly be out before the fall. It's one of those things where, I get to a point where I think I've finished it - I can't do anymore. And then somebody will say something and I'll think, 'Oh crap! I've left it out, that's gotta go in,' so I go back. 
"Sooner or later I'm going to have to close the door, and say that's it. Because, literally - anybody could go on for years, just carrying on with the writing, because it's an endless book, isn't it?"

Knowing when to end a project and say enough is enough is something that must be terribly familiar to Greg Lake - he produced King Crimson's first album at the age of 22, and has since produced a great many more - so is it harder to know when to end a book than a record?:

Greg Lake: "I think in a way, it is more difficult, because there's always something you've left out. And the horrible thing is that some of the stuff is real important in terms of an autobiography. You realize that you've left someone really important out of it, no matter how hard you try. You know, life is strange - there are so many things, and so many people in my life that I have to be grateful to for having played a part in the success I've had."

Knowing that Greg is a fervid book collector, I had to wonder if any classic autobiographies from history had influenced the writing of his own:

Greg Lake: "No, actually, no. For some reason, I'm not an autobiographical collector, not for any real reason, but I'm into, I suppose, literature - English literature, 18th/19th century and also, I'm into voyages and exploration, that kind of thing."

I realize the logic of a man like Lake being into travel and adventure, given his chosen profession as a poet and troubadour:

Greg Lake: "Well, of course - that was the beginning of the touring musician, I suppose."

Looking back at his early days with King Crimson, I asked if their sophistication, and grandiosity was an intention, or just the sum of the musicians who made up the band:

Greg Lake: "I think what you refer to as grandiosity was probably the fact that the music, instead of being influenced by the blues, and American music - soul, gospel, country and western, as almost all rock and roll was up to that time, we took our influence from European music, which was classical, medieval, folk, but certainly European in its form. 
"I think that's what gave you, and other people the feeling that it was somehow designed to be grand. It wasn't designed to be grand. It was designed to be good and feelingful. 
"You know, there's a lot of feeling in songs like Epitaph, or In The Court of the Crimson King. It's a different feeling to the blues, you know? It's a different passion and so it may have come across as being 'grand' in that sense, but really and truly the intention was not so much that - it was an unconscious by-product of what we were doing, really. 
"We see, in those days it was very important to be original, and there was a premium on being original - in fact, if you weren't original, it was very difficult to get noticed, because there were so many incredible, original artists around at that time. You only have to look back at the record charts in those days to see how many acts there were that were stunningly different. 
"If you played a record by the Pink Floyd, or Hendrix, The Who, Zeppelin - you'd know within three seconds who that was. They sounded so individual, so unique, and the challenge was when King Crimson began was, 'How are we going to be unique?"

I interrupt to congratulate and thank him for his part, and his success in turning a European rock band back to their European roots:

Greg Lake: "That well of American music had been visited so many times, as great as it was, it was becoming very hard to find any new way to approach it! 
"I think it was an interesting thing to do, and I think, actually, now looking back on it, I think it had a good influence on music. It opened up music, so that instead of it just being, sort of that narrow bandwidth, as great as it is, as great as soul is, the blues is, and all American music is - it actually opened up the palette, the whole spectrum of music, and a lot of new music came about as a result of that influence."

Looking back at the late '60s and the early seventies, I asked Lake if he felt that music had somehow stagnated since - was it my imagination, or had the creativity of that era wained in the ensuing years?

Greg Lake: "I think that was a golden era of creativity - in the art, in music art. I think as with all golden eras - they come, and go, frankly. 
"The same as with Hollywood movies, there was a golden era where these great classic films were made with these great classic actors, and it isn't the same today - it's more manufactured, more processed. You get the sense that it's more processed, and less natural. 
"So that's my perspective on it - that isn't to say that there aren't great musicians around, because there certainly are. I think it's just that times have changed - when music doesn't play as big a part in culture, it's not as relevant to our culture as it was during the late '60s, and early '70s."

Being different, and original - that's an idea that never grows old, and in that regard it always struck me as fascinating that before Greg Lake and Robert Fripp decided to partner up in King Crimson, they had been taking guitar lessons, literally the same lessons from the same teacher, and yet as guitarists they are stylistically light years apart.  I asked Greg how they ended up so different as players, coming from such a similar background:

Greg Lake: "Look, all musicians are different - it's just what's inside of you, really.  
"I would say that Robert is more, sort of, his approach is more academic and technical - mine is more feelingful, and because I sing, my interest in the guitar was not being a soloist, it was being an accompanist for myself singing. I suppose that's the directional difference. 
"Although we both learned exactly the same lessons from the same man, a guy named Don Strike. So did Andy Summers, incidentally, he went to Don Strike, as well. There was the three of us there - so, that'll just show you. 
"Andy is very different from myself, or Robert - however, the one thing we do share in common is this cross-picking technique. We do share a technical similarity, but that's where it ends, really. As you grow older, you become more yourself. Your whole playing and motivation in music becomes very personal."

I noted to Lake that his acoustic guitar work is especially distinct, that I could recognize his playing in just a few chords, and this lead to a discussion of early guitar influences:

Greg Lake: "Well, that's quite nice of you to say - again, I think it's the approach, the cross-picking. And, of course, the other thing is the use of chords - European music has got more variety in terms of musical structure. A lot of guitar players play their music based around the blues effectively, and as good as it is, it can be a bit limiting. 
"As far as influences, there are two sides to it, really. The one would be people like Django Reinhardt in the early days when I was in guitar lessons. Segovia was another great guitar player that I was kind of in awe of.  
"But later, of course, it became people like Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, people who were outstandingly good who I admired, and still do to this day. Their guitar playing has never ceased to amaze me! 
"I should also mention a guy called Hank Marvin, who played for a group, The Shadows. He influenced pretty much anybody and everybody. You talk to any great guitarist - they'll all tell you that they respect Hank Marvin, because he had a wonderful way with melody, and a great guitar sound. 
"The thing I tire of now is, I tire of hearing the blindingly fast guitar players ripping through thousands of notes a second, and it really doesn't say anything! All it says is that they can move their fingers very quickly.  
"Music's not about that - it's about feelings, it's about the transference of feeling from one soul to another."

Greg Lake is a man who knows the difference between technique for technique's sake versus true musicianship. When he decided to tour as a solo artist in the early '80s, he immediately hired a man with staggering virtuosity and a ton of soul, Gary Moore:

Greg Lake: "Strangely enough, some of the most beautiful and feelingful things Gary ever played were not on record, and were not on stage. As you know, Gary was Irish, and he had this beautiful lyrical playing - we'd sit and play back and forth - if you're at all familiar with the music of Riverdance, he would play things like that, just sensational Irish music.  
"I miss Gary a lot. Somebody asked me just the other day about him, and I said, "You know, I still don't really think of him as being dead. Not in a musical way, but almost in a physical way - he's one of those people I can still see as clear as day. I can actually hear him speak, and it's really as though he's never really passed away. Very strange."

Any fan of Greg Lake will never forget the sight of him at the California Jam back in 1974. Sitting on a stool with only an acoustic guitar in front of 250,000 people - I had to ask just how that felt?

Greg Lake: "It's a strange thing - on any of those really large events with hundreds of thousands of people, you start to become in a way detached.  
"When you play a thing like the Cal Jam, it is like looking out at the ocean, or across a big carpet, haha! You don't pick out individual people, you're just playing to this field of humanity - it's awe inspiring. I mean, it's almost biblical by proportion, and you just get lost in that moment of being awestruck, and realizing that you'd better get it right, because that's going to go down in history. 
"The nervousness about it is to be sure that you don't make any stupid mistakes and you do as well as you can. In another sense, it is an overwhelming thing to experience for anyone. To get up on a stage and to play for that many people is a strange experience."

Lake is no stranger to large stages, one of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer's first shows was at the legendary Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 before over a half million people. ELP was a force of nature, known for their incredible live performances, and according to Lake, this was no accident:

Greg Lake: "In ELP, we practiced a lot - we worked very hard, so that the performances were very consistent. It wasn't that we were good one night, and not on another - you could see ELP most any night, or anywhere, and we'd hit the same mark pretty much all the time. I think we prided ourselves on that. When we came off the stage, we'd given it everything we had, absolutely everything. 
"The other interesting thing about the ELP shows was that they always ended within - and I'm not exaggerating - 30 seconds. Over a two and a quarter hour show, they always ended within 30 seconds of each other. It's incredible, because you would think somewhere, somehow, there would be a difference, but that's how locked up they were."

Given the obvious brilliance of a band such as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, I asked Greg how it was that the critics and the press attacked the band with such gusto at times?

Greg Lake: "They saw the band as being pretentious - but, we never said to anyone that we were classical musicians, or classically trained, or anything. We - all we said is that we were using these inspirations, those roots, really, as a source of inspiration.  
"I think that some people thought that we were trying to be smart asses! That really wasn't it - we were trying to be original, we were trying to be different, and we were trying to be ourselves. I mean, if you look at albums for example - Trilogy, Tarkus, Brain Salad Surgery, these are, I think, truly unique and innovative records. 
"Everybody is entitled to an opinion - you don't have to like ELP, and I think that's fair enough, if someone doesn't like it, or it's not for them, that's fine. I don't like every music I listen to, it's people's free choice, and that's never bothered me. One thing I can say, luckily, is that the audience was always with us."

Moving back to current events, I asked Greg if after all his planning and preparation for his Songs of a Lifetime Tours, the shows and audiences lived up to his expectations and hopes:

Greg Lake: "Yes - they exceeded them, really! I spent a long time preparing the show, I recorded all the music from scratch to build the show into what it is, and so I put a lot into it. I was determined that it should not be one of those - legend in his own lunchtimes, sitting on a stool, boring everybody rigid! I wanted it to be entertaining, and I wanted it to be emotional. 
"I really wanted it to touch people, and I realized what it is - it is the audience that I grew up with - we were all bonded by the same thing. It was the age of shared music. 
"It was when you used to go and buy a vinyl LP, and sit around with your friends and you listened to it, and in some way you were connected by this music. And, I think what made a lot of these great events like the Cal Jam you just mentioned - it wasn't that people were going to see ELP, or Deep Purple, they were going along because they felt bonded, and they joined - it was a gathering. Joined by the event. It was a communal belonging, and that was the age of shared music. 
"That really ended with the invention of the Sony Walkman - when music became a solitary experience. You would put on the earphones, and you'd listen alone. So this really is a gathering of a family of people who were joined together in some way, bonded by the age of shared music. 
"Songs of a Lifetime is a celebration of the age of shared music - that's what it is."

Sticking with Songs of a Lifetime, I asked Greg how he selected songs for the tour, and how audiences have responded:

Greg Lake: "The set list really developed from the autobiography! As I was writing it, these songs would pop up with a story attached to them, you see. 
"I do Heartbreak Hotel, and I tell a story about Elvis, because that was just a fascinating story - and all these songs have got some story behind them, but really, what interested me were not so much my stories, I mean, I tell them because I want people to be entertained, but what fascinates me more is the people that stand up in the show and tell me stories that they've experienced connected with these songs! 
"Some nights you'll have everybody in tears, because there will be some story that is really tragic, and then some nights it'll be funny, and some nights it's tragic and funny. It's like a roller coaster, and that's part of the value of the show is that when people leave, they really have been on a journey. 
"They've been on a journey they know, in a way - a journey they've been on before. But they haven't lived it recently, and so there is that sense of going back to a beautiful place where, when you were young, I suppose, and it gives people a sense of reflection over their life, as music does.  
"Music becomes a tapestry against which we live our lives. In a way, that's what it's all about. It's sharing and celebrating our life that we shared in music. I have to say, I've never been more satisfied with a show than these - I find it very gratifying. Some nights, after the show, I'll be there at the venue until 1:30 in the morning talking with people, because they've got something they want to say and they didn't want to say it during the show - they come backstage, and they talk to me. 
"It's really like a huge family gathering. I realized that it's important for them to say what they need to say - it is important - so therefore, that's how it is. I'm very happy with the show."

One of my personal favorite moments on Songs of a Lifetime is hearing Lake recant his time playing with Ringo Starr in the drummer's All Starr Band. As I had recently with guitar great Steve Lukather, I had to ask Greg, what it was like to look back from the front of the stage to see that your drummer is a Beatle?

Greg Lake: "Hahahaha! It's a strange feeling! Especially when you're playing a song like Boys, or Act Naturally, or With A Little Help From My Friends - all these songs!
"Ringo is a great drummer - he's got a great feel, and when you really do feel what that energy was - that rhythmical energy that drove The Beatles in the way that it did. I mean, I don't know if you've ever done it, but I have - and that is I listen to Beatles records, and they're unbelievably good, the drum parts are really, really well thought out, well played - they're flawless. 
"There's no slack in them, there are no gratuitous drum fills - it's all in the right place. He's an incredible player, Ringo, and the other thing that shocked me is that he is a tremendous disciplinarian. Most people, their impression of Ringo is probably this sort of floppy haired guy at the back of The Beatles, loose and happy-go-lucky, but he's not! He's a very disciplined person. He'll stay there rehearsing until his fingers bleed! Not only for his songs, but mine. He's just like that, he has to have it right, and so that taught me something about The Beatles - that he was actually a driving force for making stuff - for perfecting the music.  
"He was not just a drummer, he was a motivator, and a catalyst in that sense - for getting that stuff absolutely perfect in performance. I don't know if you ever saw The Beatles, but they were impressive - they played, and it sounded fantastic! 
"When you look at them as individuals they were incredibly talented, it was a wonderful chemistry of four talented guys coming together to make this band, The Beatles - the perfect cocktail. The exact ingredients to make the perfect drink were right there. 
"I asked Ringo, I said, 'How on earth do you have that many hit records?' I mean, I had a couple, but not 200! He just told me that everyday, John and Paul would come in, no matter where they were, on tour, or in the studio, wherever they were, they'd both have brought a song, and they'd both be hit songs, and that's just how it was!"

Given that Greg's experience was so overwhelmingly positive, I had to ask if there had been any other run-ins with Beatles over the course of his travels:

Greg Lake: "I did have one experience a couple of years back, I went to Ringo's 65th birthday party in New York, and we all got up on stage at the end and played Give Peace A Chance - Yoko was there, and unbeknownst to anybody, as a complete surprise, Paul McCartney suddenly ran up on the stage and started playing - and the scream that went up from the audience was truly frightening. As you know, I've played in a lot of arenas, and in the hey day of ELP it was pretty screamy, but nothing like this! It was shrill and it was frightful - that's what people called Beatlemania, that shrill, out of control thing. I heard it for myself, and it was a shock to my system."

For a man of such stature, Greg Lake seems to be above all, a humble man. He wrote one of rock's enduring classics, Lucky Man, as a twelve year old boy and he's always been very subdued in blowing his own horn. But I was curious - if one can be understated about the writing of Lucky Man (the name of the autobiography, incidentally), what would one consider to be one's crowning achievement as a songwriter?

Greg Lake: "Ooooooh, I don't know! Hahahaha! 
"You always polarize to the one's that are more successful, I suppose, but I'm very proud, and very fond of one called Closer To Believing - that I wrote with Pete Sinfield. We wrote it together, and it was a labor of absolute love. We decided that every single line in it should contain a perfect rhyme - no half rhymes, no close rhymes - and each line should contain some element of what we felt, or described as being 'universal truth.' So, that was a bar we set for that song, and it took us three months to write - every day - day in, and day out.
"Eventually we finished it, and I suppose in that sense, from the sheer quality standpoint, it would be difficult to beat - but songs are....the ultimate sophistication is simplicity, and some of the best songs that anyone ever writes are the most simple - instant and thoughtless - 'Oh, there they are.' 
"Lucky Man was one of those that literally, I can't even remember, I didn't even think about it - it was out."

Knowing what I know about Greg Lake, I had to ask what he thought of the idea of ghostwriters - had he considered help with telling his tale?

Greg Lake: "No, no, no, no....I don't see the point in that, really. I mean, if you can't tell your own story, then you shouldn't tell it! 
"In fact, the only reason I wrote the bloody thing was because all artists sit around dinner tables, and tell their stories, right? And I'm no exception - I'll tell all these stories, and all rock 'n' rollers do it. People always say, 'Greg, you should write a book,' and I'd say, yeah....But one day, my manager came up to me, and he said, 'You know, Greg, you really ought to write it, because if you don't tell these stories they will get lost, and no one will ever know about them' - and the thing is, and why I thought about it, and in the end what persuaded me to do it was - everybody knows what happens about ELP, they bought the records, went to the shows, but what they don't know is what happened behind the scenes. 
"I'm not talking about the gossip, or fights and arguments, although there were the occasional ups and downs, as there are in all great bands. You show me a band that doesn't fight, and I'll show you a band that's rubbish. They all fight, because they are all passionate about what they do, they all want their own way. And I suppose it was the same in ELP. 
"We were all forceful characters. It isn't a book of kiss and tell - it's just the intimate details about how the band worked behind the scenes, and how my life worked behind the scenes. It's the same with King Crimson."

So - there you have it. Greg Lake is a superlative storyteller, and I'm sure his autobiography will be not just a best seller, but on a lot of best book lists this year. Wrapping things up, I asked Greg if after the completion of his Songs of a Lifetime shows, and the book release, would the world perhaps see some electric Greg Lake shows again?

Greg Lake: "Funny you should say that, but I think the next thing I want to do is to come back out playing guitar. Strangely enough, in the show I get asked if I've any regrets, and I mean, on one level, how could I? 
"I've lived an incredible life, a privileged life - and I came from nowhere! I was born in an asbestos pre-fab, and grew up in a very poor family. I was just incredibly lucky. But, when I came to reflect on it, there is a regret I have, and the regret is, when I was young, I used to play the music from the charts, and part of that was I used to play a lot of soul music - James Brown, blues things, and once I came to this sort of 'progressive music.' I don't like that term, but the progressive music world, I kind of became detached, and cut off from soul music. 
"So I've got a kind of yearning to get back to that style, that flavor of music with more soul in it - I suppose with a more black influence, really, because it's music that I love! 
"I don't know how I'm going to do that quite, but that's what is in the back of my mind, and I'd like to try, and do at least some of that."

Given Greg Lake's track record, I can't imagine he won't find a way to do this, and do this successfully.

My thanks to Greg Lake, and Billy James at Glass Onyon PR.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Whitesnake - Made In Japan - Do Not Go Gentle Into This Good Night

"First off, I completely disregard the fact that I'm 61 years old" ~ David Coverdale

You're damned right he does. Whitesnake's Made In Japan will wake the dead, and remind them that things change, but they never really end. David Coverdale and company are still amongst the handful of giants who can put on an exhilarating show and not nearly make it through their catalog. Drawing heavily from their last two studio sets, the Snakes wisely choose to avoid repeating live sets of old, and while there are still precious nuggets from the past that can't be ignored, this lineup sounds fresh, and reinvigorated.

Whitesnake is perhaps the hardest working band on the classic hard rock circuit. There's not a second of sitting back, or the proverbial resting on one's laurels. Led by longtime teammate Doug Aldrich who is a vastly underrated six stringer, Coverdale has always filled his band with the best and the brightest - Reb Beach is still on guitar, Michael Devin is a brutally powerful bassist, and then there's Brian Tichy. Tichy has now left to seek his proper due as a bandleader in his own right, but he leaves his mark by thundering the band through this 90 minute set. Keyboardist Brian Reudy does a great job of supplying the melodic tapestries that keep things sweet, and not overly metallic.

Best Years is a great opener, as it is easily on par with the band's best - coming off 2008's Good To Be Bad, it crosses the tundra like a precision military operation. Whitesnake suffers from the brilliance of its leader's past - we've heard the old standards so often that they are imprinted upon our musical DNA, but if you came to this album without the baggage of history, you would not know which was early, middle, or present. You'd quite simply dig it.

The condition of Coverdale's vocal cords are always a question, and while I'm sure that every step has been taken to insure that this product is as high quality as it can be, I'm hearing more in the way of lower tunings than after the fact doctoring. The whole band sings, and sings well - no apologies are due - these guys work harder than hell to make what they do the very best for their audience. Detractors be damned.

David Coverdale is the one of the last standing rock god vocalists. He's singing a step lower, but his phrasing is still devastatingly passionate, and effective - Give Me All Your Love Tonight is a great example. You know how I work, I'm toggling back and forth between this record and the original, and while it's obviously in a lower key, the melody is delivered with power, passion, and precision. The band is blasting, and Reb Beach throws down a great solo - and any band that has Brian Tichy behind the kit is probably the tightest in the land that night.

Doug Aldrich keeps getting better, and better, and he was always damned good. His solo on Love Ain't No Stranger puts him firmly in league with Gary Moore and John Sykes as masters of the right hand - listen to the authority with which he picks - he's devilishly accurate and his wide vibrato is wonderful, from quick shakes to long bends, he's a master.

Michael Devin's pumping bass and Tichy's heavy backbeat are perfect on Is This Love - they're standing in the shadows of Neil Murray and Aynsley Dunbar, and they are more than up to the task. Aldrich's heavily sustained woman tone solo is a stunner, and anytime a guitarist can make me not miss John Sykes, I am immensely grateful. Thanks, Doug. His cohort Beach also does a great job of providing some sleek harmonies throughout.

When I talked to Doug Aldrich yesterday, he kind of downplayed his slide guitar technique, but I think he's being to modest - while he may be no Sonny Landreth, or Derek Trucks, neither is anyone else. That being said, he squeezes out exactly what you want on Steal Your Heart Away, a song that does a masterful job of marrying early Whitesnake circa Lovehunter to the more muscular riffage of the band's golden era. However - when Aldrich and Beach trade solos, this is now. Did I mention that Coverdale is sounding amazing on this?

Forevermore is the first song in many years that has made me remember the promise of Coverdale/Page. Amongst the finest songs in Coverdale's huge catalog, this is worthy of that over used word - epic. The acoustic guitar is held afloat by some wonderfully supportive synths, and the band is supplying some great harmonies - this bunch is busting their asses. Tichy is as heavy as a battleship, and it's perfect as the Middle Eastern motif is unfurled and Aldrich takes things into the stratosphere. Coverdale and Aldrich are a great writing team - give this a listen, and it's all there.

David takes a mid-set break, and the guitar players take over for a bit of the old back and forth. This is heaven for the fans of the Vai/Vandenberg era Snake - heavy guitar heaven, and this might be the best tandem team David's fielded yet. They've been on the field for ten years now, and they are an awesome team. When they go into the Ace Frehley approved dual bending shredfest, I'm in heaven. They leave Ace behind when they go for the throat, but their roots are showing.

Love Will Set You Free is as good a rocker as Coverdale has ever penned. His ability to keep mining gold from a familiar vein never fails to impress me. It's not easy to write great riffs, or effective lyrics that escape cliche, or trod upon the past, but he and his writing partner Aldrich have it figured out. They both say that their writing is amazingly organic, and this is surely proof.

Brian Tichy electrifies with a seven and a half minute drum excursion that serves to seal his fate as one of the great drummers to occupy the throne for the mighty Whitesnake - standing tall beside Ian Paice, Cozy Powell, Aynsley Dunbar, and the now returning Tommy Aldridge is no small achievement, and while no one can kick Tichy's decision to move on, any band would miss his fire, power, and precision.

Rounding out the show, it's time for the band to climb to the very top of the mountain, with the classics Fool For Your Loving, Here I Go Again, and Still Of The Night - you have to love and admire David Coverdale. He's stuck to his guns - even to the point of walking away for a few years when the world wasn't hearing it, then coming back stronger than ever, and delivering. Are there happier, more satisfied fans than Whitesnake's? I don't think so. They've stuck with their guy through thick and thin and he has given them back all he has to give. Can you ask for more? He and his band work as hard, and maybe harder than about any band you could name.

There's not a weak moment to be found here, and if you'd have played this for me in 1990, and told me this is where the band would be in almost 25 years, I could not have been more pleased. Great, great guitars, thunderous drums, a bass line that propels things through it all, silky smooth keys, and the words and vocal chops of one of the finest singer/songwriters to ever walk onto a stage,  Mr. David Coverdale.

Disc two is made up of outtakes from sound checks, and some acoustic treats - this is both fun and instructive. We hear the band working through the songs, and maybe it's greatest value is that it shows that what we have here is a band - not just a superstar and some hired hands. These guys have fun, and they work together very hard to produce this music that we love so much. Fun, fun, fun, and it's a great chance to hear just how well David is singing - that's a constant thing I see, and I cannot congratulate him too much, or too often for his hard work, passion, and efforts.

Especially good are the acoustic numbers - it shows a direct link to the past, reminding that Rod and The Faces may have been a strong influence in the Whitesnake template, and these nuggets are golden.

Thanks to David Coverdale, Doug Aldrich, Whitesnake, Frontiers Records, Carise Yatter, and Peter Noble at Noble PR for all your generosity and passion.

Release Dates: Europe April 19th, North America April 23rd

Whitesnake - Made In Japan - Official Press Release