Adrian Belew: "The most complete and relevant art form of our time is cinema"
1. It seems that whenever I read anything about you, it starts with "Adrian might be one of the most underrated and overlooked guitarists" or something along those lines and then goes on to list all the reasons why you should be the most famous guitar player in the world. We all know that "talk, talk, it's only talk" but how do you feel about this rather simplistic approach to your career? Does it suit you to have this (relatively) low profile? Am I wrong in thinking that you seem to cultivate it in a certain way?
Stardom is not the target I'm shooting for. My aim to is to live an "artful existence". Current pop culture offers almost nothing for me so long ago I created my own little bubble. I rarely watch TV, never listen to a radio, and probably know less about who's who than anyone you'll ever meet.
My days are consumed with trying to create. Writing new music, recording, performing, writing lyrics, painting, experimenting with sounds: that's my universe. On the rare occasions when I think about why I'm so "underrated and overlooked" I find it destructive to my creativity. It depresses me to know how easily my work can (and probably will) be dismissed and forgotten. So I try to concentrate on the creative side. It may sound strange or self-serving but the main reason I continue to make music at all is because I want to hear what's in my mind.
2. On the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation petition page, you're quoted as saying "My style, if you want to call it that, is to have no particular style. If someone asks me to be a part of their music, I can offer them five different types of ideas, and five different things to chose from. I think that's what has kept me viable through a few generations of music." When I read this, the names of some of the people you have played with come to mind - (in no particular order) Robert Palmer, Paul Simon, Garland Jeffreys, Cyndi Lauper, Joe Cocker and the Crash Test Dummies - and I've been wondering what specifically is your approach to working with these artists and, more generally, with any other artist: is it sometimes "just" a technical one as in, say, the Jimmy Page sessions in the 60s - in other words, "just" a musical analysis of the song chords so you can compose your solo or your guitar part? Or do you always take a broader approach, like a kind of musical director, dealing with the whole song, musically, emotionally, etc.?
I don't think of music in technical terms. I think cinematically. So most of my choices will be based on what is missing from the picture. Most people I work with encourage me to do whatever I want and I am compelled to take the music somewhere beyond where I've found it. I take in the music as a whole, imagine what I'd like to add to it and fire away, but I'm careful not to step on the toes of its creator. Most artists seem thrilled with the results which is why I'm asked back again.
3. On the Young Lions album (1990), you did a cover of your own song "Heartbeat" from the King Crimson album Beat (1982). This new version featured a very emotional solo, in just a very few notes. I've always thought that this particular solo was one of the reasons you felt "compelled" to re-record this track, as if you wanted to add something or even make a comment about it - am I right or am I really just a dumb fan?
I offered "Heartbeat", a song I had written alone, to King Crimson and it turned out to be somewhat of a mistake. There was consternation within the band particularly from Robert as to whether or not it was something King Crimson should do. In time I actually agreed that it was probably too "pop" to be King Crimson, but after much trail and error we did the song anyway. Later I decided to take my song back and to put it back in my pocket of work which may be what I should have done in the first place. I was young and did not understand the inner politics of a major rock band.
4. In your "Life in a Nutshell" video, you say that when you went solo, "that's when things really kicked into gear". Do you mean you felt your creativity couldn't blossom whilst you were playing as a sideman, even in experimental bands like King Crimson? (Or should I really improve my English?)
No, I didn't mean it that way. My work with King Crimson is something I cherish and the same is true for all the artists I've worked with. I had always planned to have my own solo career, to make my own personal brand of music, but it took such a very long journey to find support in doing that. No one believed in me. I remember one record executive who said, "Tell Adrian to stay with David Bowie and forget about making his own music". When the time finally came and it was my chance to make my own records I was naturally very excited. I still am. I try to make my solo records as personalized as possible. In most cases I even do the artwork myself!
5. The (not so) weird historical question: do you remember when you recorded your first full solo in the studio? What was it like?
I'm scratching my head. No, I don't actually remember my first full solo so...I guess it wasn't very memorable.
6. What do you think about the "classic" 70s rock culture, its swaggering mythology and its excesses, which people tend to associate with acts like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones or Deep Purple? Is it something you can relate to in any way, musically or otherwise ?
Everyone has the music which struck them hardest and meant the most to their young psyche. For me, because of my age group it was the music of the Sixties. But I learned and enjoyed things from all the bands you mentioned and much more. I love the Stones. The Beatles are my all-time favorite band, King Crimson is number two (even before I joined the band).
7. In your "Life in a Nutshell" video again, you have some harsh words for "modern" rock which according to you often boils down to "fashionable crap". Not that I disagree but is there anything that's worth salvaging from the rock of, say, the 90s or the 2000s?
Oh, of course I'm sure there are many things worth celebrating about the music of any generation. I just don't have the time to ferret out the good from the ugly. But I believe there are always new things happening in music. Something strange has occurred in the last few decades: when I was young music was THE hottest thing. You waited anxiously for the next record from your favorite artists and then you drenched yourself in the music, listening to whole records from beginning to end, over and over. Nowadays music has taken third or even fourth place to other entertainment forms: computers, the internet, films. For many people music is now wallpaper for their lives or something to procreate to. I've always thought the most complete and relevant art form of our time is cinema. It encompasses every art form.
Adrian Belew's official website : www.adrianbelew.net
Chris Spedding: "I wouldn't want to limit myself to playing rock'n'roll"
1. You formed your first group, The Vulcans, in 1959 at the age of 15, influenced by Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Duane Eddy and Eddie Cochran. One year later you started playing professionally in clubs and around 1965 you found yourself right in the heart of the British Blues Boom - but you said that you didn't actually like playing that style of guitar... What was it that you didn't like about the blues or this British blues scene in particular? Or was it just that you wanted to sound different?
I suppose it was more the need to be different, and the need to absorb all the different styles of American music. The Blues is only part of it.
2. You've done a lot of things that many people today are unaware of. I thought you might tell us a little about some of them if that's OK with you. For instance, in April and May 1969, you played in the sessions for Jack Bruce's Songs for a Tailor album at Morgan Studios, on tracks such as "Theme For An Imaginary Western", "The Clearout", "Tickets To Water Falls", "Wired Of Hermiston" and "The Ministry Of Bag". Do you have any memories of these sessions and of your collaboration with Jack Bruce that you could share with us?
It was my first experience of a big deal session. I had just done a few demos and a little small time studio stuff before. With the exception of "Ministry Of Bag", which was a full live band with horns, and "Clearout" which had Jack on bass, most of the other backing tracks were recorded with just Jack on piano, John Hiseman on drums and me on guitar. No bass, and no vocal. I'd never worked like that before so that was a valuable learning experience.
3. From 1972 to 1974, you concentrated solely on The Sharks, the group you formed with Andy Fraser, and cut out all freelance work and sessions, even saying later that this band was your "only serious attempt at being part of a group". Even though you seem to have mixed feelings about the whole period, your time with The Sharks seems to be a pivotal stage in your career, if only because after the group broke up, people started to look for a "Chris Spedding" sound during sessions. You said that you "started looking for new directions" and played with John Cale, an experience that you found "very challenging and inspiring" (on stage rather than in the studios, apparently). Could you tell us what it was that you liked about this collaboration, especially as you had already experimented extensively with the Battered Ornaments a few years before?
I'd say that by the time I came to play with John Cale, both John & myself had worked thru' our more extreme experimental ideas (John with the Velvets, me with the Battered Ornaments) and were both more mature as musicians, but still with an experimental edge. We suited each other very well.
4. In March 1975 at EMI Studios, according to Roy Harper, you stood in for Dave Gilmour and nailed the complex final section of "The Game" in just 10 minutes! Interestingly enough, Harper also said that Bill Bruford's busy playing and your supposedly "minimalistic" (sic) style didn't really gel. Do you have any recollections of those sessions? More generally, how do you feel about the widely varying environments when working as a session musician (the different styles, skills and personalities of the other musicians)? Are you sensitive to the general atmosphere in the sessions or do you approach them on a strictly musical level?
I enjoyed playing in the studio with Bruford but we didn't get on very well playing live. "The Game" solo was an overdub. I didn't play on the backing track. I don't know what was so "complex" about "The Game". I just played a generic rock-bluesy solo over the backing track.
5. You once said you've "been through all the scenes that an electric guitar player can go through. [You]'ve played sound effects, bebop, skiffle, rock and roll, Wes Montgomery, and random music, and [you]'ve sorted out what [you] want to play". So, a few months after the release of your twelfth original studio album Pearls, how would you describe your style today? Would it be simply "rock and roll"? And do you think the words "rock and roll" still mean anything anyway?
I wouldn't want to limit myself to playing rock'n'roll, any more than I'd limited myself to the blues in the early part of my career. To me, "rock'n'roll" refers to a genre of music that was popular many years ago, and is fine in that context. Having lived the majority of my professional career in the USA (28 years) I can probably say with legitimacy that I play "Americana" because all the styles I draw from have their origins in American music. I like the term "Americana".
Chris Spedding's website: http://www.chrisspedding.com/
Dave Ellefson: "As a culture and lifestyle, rock 'n' roll sometimes reinvents itself but just as often it actually repeats itself"
1. In one of your blog posts, you wrote that an original track (as opposed to a cover) must allow a bass player to take some liberties and put his own creative spin on it. In terms of your own bass parts, do you always make an original track your own or are there too many other factors: how creative you're feeeling that day, how you feel about the song, how you get on with the other players, your mood, etc.? In other words, are there original songs which you know that, no matter how inspired your bass part might be, you will never "make your own"?
Ultimately I think it depends on who writes the song. In some instances a bassist is called in to lay down a part for someone else's creation and that writer may or may not want the bassist to take many liberties on creating a bass line. For me, the most rewarding sessions are those when you do have some room to create your own part, whether you were a writer on the song or not. Certainly the producer and other musicians will have an influence on the part as well, especially the drummer, who is the usually the right hand man for most bassists.
2. Believe it or not, as I write this I'm listening to "Rust In Peace... Polaris" (a pretty complex number, especially the outro if I'm not mistaken) and this immediately suggests a question: when you write a song (or a part of a song or even a bass part) is there any competitive edge involved? I mean, not necessarily competitive with other musicians (or bands) but simply with yourself? In other words, putting the creative process to one side and always with the good of the song coming first, is there sometimes a part of you which says "Hey, let's see if I can play this", just to step outside your comfort zone?
Years back I was probably more inclined to write or play a part that was difficult just for the sake of proving to the myself that I could play difficult stuff. I was young and still wanted to know that I could create something musically off-the-hook and pull it off! While that was fun, I learned through that process that if the part doesn't enhance and serve the song then it's really just an exercise in self-indulgence. Therefore, I've learned to just be in the moment and create bass lines that sit well in the song, whether I'm the featured musician or simply playing a supportive bass line to the tune.
3. How do you feel about the bass parts you wrote two, ten or even twenty years ago? Are they very much connected for you to a particular time in your life (and probably a particular personality) and when you listen to them, do you sometimes catch yourself thinking "I wouldn't do it like that now"? Do you think that a bass player's approach to playing can develop while keeping the same style? (All right, too many questions!)
Fortunately most all the records I've played on over the years had expert producers involved in them who helped ensure that the parts from all the players were the best and most accommodating for the song during those sessions. Sometimes I'll listen back and wonder if there might have been other lines I could have created but to me the past is the past and I trust that I played the right line at that moment.
4. I've read and listened to all the advice you have given on bass playing. Playing for the good of the song takes priority of course, but I was wondering what you think of bass solos in thrash metal in particular and in rock in general?
I'm cool with featured solos and in MEGADETH we used to do them in our live shows in years past. If you headline and do a 90-120 minute show it is good to give your listeners a break from the sonic onslaught and sometimes featuring an individual solo s a great way to spotlight a player's talents AND give the audience a break, too.... I wouldn't be surprised if you had the Charlie Watts approach (i.e. no solos, bass and drums are just there to support) but then again you do solos... (This might well be the first time that you've been compared with Charlie Watts - those crazy French people...)
Serving a song doesn't mean having to always play less. In fact in Thrash metal it can mean having to learn very detailed riffs that the bass should follow rather than just plunk along next to. So, I think it is more a matter of musical instinct on what to play in any given song.
5. And last, something a bit different. What do you think about the "classic" 70s rock culture, its swaggering mythology and its excesses, which people tend to associate with acts like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones or Deep Purple? Is it something you can relate to in any way, musically or otherwise ?
Well, the 1970s bands were the formative years of what we then did in the 1980s, refined in the 1990s and are now once again experiencing a rebirth of in the 2000's and beyond. In other words, as a culture and lifestyle, rock n roll sometimes reinvents itself but just as often it actually repeats itself.
As for the bass playing styles, the 1970s are probably my all time favorite. This is in part because that is an era that I learned my early vocabulary of licks and also because there was a real groovy, bluesy sound and movement to the bass lines back then. In many ways, the 1970s had some of the best guitar riffs, which then led to some inventive bass playing that worked really well in and around those parts. At the same time, some of those songs were simply playing around chord changes and to me that is a very open manner in which to create some melodic and catchy bass parts.
Dave Ellefson's official website : www.davidellefson.com
Dick Dale: "You could call me a rebel... but what I really am, is a no nonsense honest person"
1. Let's start with that distinctive guitar sound of yours. A lot has been said (sometimes wrongly, which I know has frustrated you) about this outrageous, throbbing, heavy, machine-gun, staccato-picking, roaring-waves, chopping sound and the non-Western scales that you sometimes use. You yourself have said that your inspiration was the famous jazz drummer Gene Krupa and his sound based on that of native drummers at fertility dances in the jungle, and... tarabaki drumming. In short, it's really all about pulsation - a mesmerizing, sensual, even sexual sound. For many people, however, your sound is all about heavy metal, even violence sometimes, and I doubt if they would associate it with sensuality. Do you think they have misinterpreted your music? Or is violence in fact an important part of it?
Violence has nothing to do with it.... In one sense it is a powerful focusing on pulsation to a count starting on the one, like Gene Krupa playing his drums on the floor toms. On another sense I play with a very romantic feeling when I play country love songs or when I play Latino songs. Everything comes from the romantic side of me. The power songs I play is like I am in the tube of Mother Nature with my board or I am listening to my lions and tigers calling me when they want to eat... I imitate their sounds on the strings of my guitar.
2. Your technique. You once said that you're not a musician, referring to the fact that you are completely self-taught - which I think includes all kinds of guitars, from bass guitar to ukulele and banjo, but also trumpet, saxophone, trombone, xylophone, piano... and probably many more! Anyway, you even said: "I'm not a guitar player". We know that you have many other passions (like Sky Ranch or martial arts) but do you mean that your guitar playing, although important, should be considered as just another aspect of your life?
All types of music is what I play, but like everything else in life. There are many windows in my life, building houses, flying my planes, hanging out on my yacht, geology, history of this planet, dealing with the children and the elderly that have the same diseases that I have. I can go on and on and that would fill a book. Curiosity is the driving force that makes me tick.
3. Your independence. For obvious reasons, you seem to be irritated by the persistent inaccurate statements about your life and work - about your "Lebanese descent"...
I am proud of my heritage, both of them. My fathers parents were born in Beirut Lebanon and my mothers parents were born in Poland and went to school in Russia. I love the history of all races and I feel that everyone should take the time to study them and they might learn to respect them much more deeply with respect, learning about their hardships that they all had to endure to survive. That is why I have always been a supporter of the indigenous people of this earth.
... about surf music being invented in the 60s (instead of the 50s)...
I started playing my strumming style when I was in the 7th grade of junior high school. I started playing "Misirlou" back in Boston Massachusetts when I was 12 years old, that's when I developed my style of strumming from listening to Gene Krupa. It became more intense when I came to California when I started surfing and raising lions and tigers and other types of exotic animals to protect them from the poachers in the jungle.
... about the surfing sound being about reverb (when there's no reverb at all on your first album Surfer's Choice)...
Leo and I created the reverb to make my voice sustain when I sang. I stole the idea from taking apart a Hammond organ and found the reverb tank mounted inside.
... etc. - to say nothing of the sound engineers who tried to impress you and thought that they knew how to capture your sound better than yourself! On the other hand, you once said: "The only honesty I've found is in rare people, like surfers with the spirituality of the waves. Also in animals". I certainly don't want to push this too far but would I be wrong in saying that you seem to feel rather bitter towards some parts of the music industry?...
I don't have bitterness towards anything, I am just wise of the actions and the operations of the business world. Look at how governments are run. So I just try to inform the young beginning innocent musicians about the industry before they make a mistake and sign their life away.
... Do you think your career might have gone in a different direction if you had met different people? Or do you feel that the music industry will never change and that all in all you enjoy being "the bad guy in the system"?
I never thought about my career, I just did what I was told to do by my dad. He was always yelling at me cause I was always surfing instead of going to the office to meet people in the business. Yes, you could call me a rebel... but what I really am, is a no nonsense honest person. I won't take crap from anyone let alone the business world. I have never put drugs, booze nor do I smoke or put red meat into my body, my body is my Temple. I walk my own path.
4. The Dick Dale legend. Correct me if I'm wrong but the Dick Dale legend (let's put it this way!) started with a series of gigs in the second half of 1961 at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa...
It started in the late 50's in Balboa Ca. at a place called 'The Rinky Dink Ice Cream Parlor. It had a Folk Singing area attached to the side of it and that's where I started playing in Balboa. I later opened the Rendezvous Ballroom where all the big bands played in the past.
... This particular period of your life has always fascinated me: with Elvis Presley just back from the army, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran dead, Jerry Lee Lewis boycotted on the radio, Little Richard becoming a born-again Christian, Chuck Berry in prison and Gene Vincent in England, rock 'n' roll was supposed to be dead... and along you came - on your own - with your very own surf music phenomenon. From 17 surfers in sandals and ties on opening night to 3,000 people a few weeks later, your sold-out gigs with the Del-Tones, which soon became known as "stomps" with a ban on alcohol and a dress code, created the legend of Dick Dale as "the King Of The Surf Guitar". Do you remember when you realized that you had created a new "Dalemania" phenomenon?
Nope... Never did, I just played like my dad wanted me to. I was more interested in surfing and being with my animals. Remember: Thoughts become Words, Words become Actions, Actions become Habits, Habits become your Character, Your Character becomes your Destiny.
Dick Dale's official website : www.dickdale.com
Ian Gillan: "The only thing I get from the lyrics is the pleasure of writing them"
1. Let's back-forward a bit: when you started, did you model your singing style on anyone in particular? Was there any influence on your style other than other rock singers?
Back-forward a bit eh? I like that; it's how I walk when I'm on my way home from the pub. In my formative years from '62 to '69, I copied everyone I liked. That ranged from the young Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, through to Howling Wolf, Dusty Springfield, Brook Benton, Solomon Burke, Marvin Gaye and then some of the more eclectic West Coast groups on the Elektra label and pretty much any artist on the Chess label. Add in the influence of every musician I've ever worked with and you'll see I finally found my own voice in '69 when I joined Deep Purple. It was good schooling.
2. On the whole, has your approach to singing changed at all? Or do you more or less tackle a new song the same way as you would have ten, twenty or thirty years ago?
I think it changed when I started to write my own material, and then again it changes every time I work with different groups of musicians or writers; the chemistry is forever changing and I try to deliver what seems right for the mood of the moment.
3. I've always thought that your spectacular voice obscured your skills as a writer - I'm thinking about the humorous, picaresque "Anyone's Daughter", the comical, innuendo-encrusted "Mitzi Dupree", and the caustic and vindictive "MTV", to name just a few. Do you feel that your lyrics usually don't get the attention they deserve?
I am humbled by your observations but really the only thing I get from the lyrics is the pleasure of writing them, and I think a job well done if they are good to sing. For example the percussive value of the syllables is very important rhythmically. And I do get off on the enigmatic nature of a tricky subject where the true meaning is deeply buried - particularly with Deep Purple - when I can't claim to 'speak' on behalf of the whole band through the lyrics; we all have such disparate views on almost every subject.
4. After you left Deep Purple, you retired from performing to pursue business ventures (if I'm not mistaken). We all know that "you musta made a million the night that Frank Zappa caught on fire", but - on a more serious note - did you really want to retire from the whole music business then or were you simply exhausted?
It was a long time ago but I seem to remember it was mostly disillusionment with the 'business' part of the music business; it was shockingly brutal to this callow youth. That was the one element for which there can be no preparation during the years of 'paying your dues'. Paradoxically it is called success. And no, the other 'businesses' were really just stuff I'd drifted into. I'd been living in hotels for so long I couldn't do without one... that was The Springs Hotel. The old De Lane Lea studio - where we had recorded so many early Deep Purple songs was closing down, so I was persuaded by Martin Birch to buy it, and he was going to run it. But around about opening day he left me to it and joined Deep Purple on the road - duh! And I helped a buddy of mine, Mike Eglington, to develop his motorcycle racing team and design a new bike. That was Mantis Motorcycles. All of these were brilliant from a design point of view but I was far too enthusiastic to be a good businessman. Then music came calling again.
5. A bit about the period between 1975 and 78 if you will. The Ian Gillan Band still had some hard rock grooves but also had a pronounced jazz fusion direction - some cuts like "Clear Air Turbulence" almost sounded like Weather Report with an incredible voice on top. Did you simply want to try something new for a change, to be experimental, or was this style a passion of yours?
The guys in that band were fabulous players and well into fusion. And you're right, Weather Report was an influence with them - er, but not me... I like a backbeat with my rock 'n' roll. I was learning all this new stuff, but it didn't go down at all well and so the situation deteriorated and I left my own band. It still sounds pretty good to me but call it a passing phase.
6.As billions of viewers know, Caramba TV is the best TV channel in the world. Is it true that you've been nominated for the Best International Investigative Reporter Award for your work?
Well thank you Nicolas, my proudest achievement is actually the little known fact that I invented 'air Hammond', but I do like to get out the camera when something takes my eye from a tangent.
Many thanks for your time!
You're more than welcome - I couldn't sleep anyway. Cheers, ig
Ian Gillan's official website : www.gillan.com
James Williamson: "There's only one thing worse than trying to play in a band with guys you don't like and that's trying to produce guys you don't like"
1. Almost as soon as punk "officially" emerged at the end of the 70s, people started trying to trace it back - as far as they could - to bands and artists like The Velvet Underground, MC5, The Sonics, The Modern Lovers, The Pink Fairies, Gene Vincent, Link Wray and of course, The Stooges (in particular your work as guitarist and composer on 1973's Raw Power), so much so that it seemed as if punk had always existed and was just another name for (true) rock 'n' roll. Well, so much for rock's circular history. As for you, you said that during the Raw Power sessions you didn't have a clue what you were doing, just laying tracks down and developing your innovative style as you went along, without any supervision (an engineer from CBS was present but there was no actual producer). You were just enjoying your first recording session. So today, almost 40 years later, as everyone hails Raw Power as a landmark in punk rock and you as one of the very first iconic punk musicians, do you consider yourself a punk guitarist or do you think it is just a convenient way of pigeonholing your style? What does punk mean to you anyway?
Well, like it or not, we and I are viewed as proto punks and perhaps "The Proto Punks"... However I have never viewed music very categorically. Yes, of course it's impossible not to use terms like "Classical Music", "Jazz", or "Blues" but these types of terms describe the genre whereas "Punk" more describes the attitude or approach. An attitude is not a genre so I can't really relate to that category very well. I just view what I do as making "Rock and Roll" music... that's a genre.
2. Let's talk a bit more about your style. It's very distinctive and it seems as if everyone has had a go at describing it. So I'll now try myself, for our readers. Let's say something like: loud, raunchy, violent, slightly vicious, downward-picking, straight-through-the-amp rock riffs... and many - many - complex chord changes. In addition to this - and I don't want to over-interpret or over-intellectualize your work - I've always thought that what also characterizes your guitar parts, in particular on Raw Power, is their intertwining dynamics within a song. They seem to form a kind of story with twists, sudden climaxes etc. like, for instance, on "Search And Destroy" (as opposed to, say, Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" where riffs, brilliant as they are, seem to come one after another). Does this description tally at all with the way you wrote songs for Raw Power? In other words, did you compose your riffs (mainly on your Gibson B-25 acoustic guitar, if I'm not mistaken) bit by bit, naturally, almost on the spur of the moment as you went along, or did you consciously try to build a whole sequence of interacting riffs?
As a songwriter, I'm very conscious of the overall composition, so yes, I begin the writing process with say a stand alone riff, but then I elaborate on the riff and search for bridge and the outtro parts and try and find the transition chords into and out of these. I think that's what you are referring to in my writing.
3. I've always cherished the ill-fated Kill City LP, obviously an album that was very difficult to record as you had to look after Iggy Pop, who right in the middle of the sessions checked into a mental hospital. You said that during these very difficult sessions, you would go to the hospital every day, pick Iggy up, drive him over and once his vocals had been recorded, take him back to the hospital. On a more artistic level, you also said that it corresponded to a period, just after the demise of The Stooges, when you wanted to evolve, be a better musician, write even better, be both more professional and more mainstream. In short, to play things that people might like and try and make a living out of music for a change! As far as I can gather, you found the resulting album - a kind of high-quality demo album if I may say - rather disappointing. But what I find fascinating is the evolution of your style, still unmistakably yours on these 11 tracks. Your guitar parts seem to "interact" more with the other instruments as if the songs no longer rely just on your guitar dynamics but on the interaction between all the instruments. All in all, a widening of your musical scope, I suppose. And yet you once said that you "have a unique sound that's exclusive to The Stooges" and that no singer other than Iggy "would be able to come up with lyrics to that crazy music". Does it mean you've always had a "once a Stooge, always a Stooge" mindset? Have you never wanted to work with other singers, to mingle or confront your style with other genres? Is it something you would think of doing now?
Well, your observation is correct in that although we initially recorded Kill City with only guitar, bass, drums and keyboards... even then I tried to put the song first and not be overbearing with the guitars as on Raw Power. Eventually, when I finished up Kill City and added the saxes and synths, etc. it was even more so than that. Regarding working with Iggy, despite our ascetic differences from time to time, we work together very well. Every decent song I've ever been involved with has had his hand in it in some way or another (usually lyrics, but sometimes arrangements, etc.). So, while I'm not fundamentally opposed to using another singer, I've yet to find one that I could work with... of course I also haven't tried much either, I'm busy getting the one I have to keep working with me.
4. You seem to have mixed feelings about producing records, which you did at the end of the 70s, in particular Iggy Pop's 1979 album New Values and then some of the tracks on Iggy's next album Soldier. Is it because of the experiences of working on those albums, or did you find out along the way that you just wanted to play and write, and that production just wasn't really your thing? Is it something you might do again in the future?
Yes, I found out along the way that there's only one thing worse than trying to play in a band with guys you don't like and that's trying to produce guys you don't like... very painful... I guess the bottom line is that I really am not cut out for it as I can't be objective and professional about it... I have to invest my emotions in the product and so it's by definition something that I don't want to do that often. That's not to say that I wouldn't produce anybody anymore, but rather that I am so super selective that I most likely won't get that opportunity. At my age, life's too short for bullshit.
5. You once referred to your "double life" as your "Spiderman years": early retirement from rock at the beginning of the 1980s and an electronics degree leading to engineering work at Sony Electronics as a Vice President of Technology Standards, your past unbeknownst to your new colleagues. In a famous quote, ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr said you sound almost "how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he was in a band". My last question is very simple, for a change: are you a superhero or an arch-villain?
Regarding your question of whether I'm a super hero or an arch-villain, I'm neither one, I'm just a guy with an extraordinary gift for imagining new musical patterns which get turned into songs sometimes. And, I'm a father and a husband and a friend to some and an enemy to others. In short, I'm your every man... at least that's what I strive to be.
J. Williamson's official website: straightjameswilliamson.com
Joe Bouchard: "When the Beatles played on American TV, my fate was sealed"
1. As a trumpet, keyboard, guitar and bass player, can you remember what it was that first got you turned on to music? Can you name any records that had an impression on you while growing up?
I liked all kinds of music as a young boy. Classical piano, orchestras, chorus music, swing jazz. Before I played any instrument, I would go to square dances at the Knights of Columbus hall in our small town. I was amazed how a very corny sounding country band could make a sound that would get everyone up on the floor dancing like crazy. Music=dance=ecstasy... They had a piano, a fiddle, a crude drum trap set, a trumpet and a square dance caller. No bass or guitar, but it was a magic to a young boy.
Later I would marvel at the local rock and roll bands that played Les Pauls and SGs, through Fender amps. I'd sit on the fence in my Grandma's backyard and watch the bands play for dances in the local saloon. They rocked the joint like nobody's business. It was all good.
When the Beatles played on American TV, my fate was sealed.
Some important recordings for me: The Ventures "Walk Don't Run", The Beach Boys Today album, Rubber Soul and Revolver by The Beatles, Booker T. and the MGs "Green Onions", and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
2. Looking back, do you ever regret not spending more time on a particular song (or even album), either in the Blue Öyster Cult days, or in your various bands since?
I don't have too many regrets about songwriting. It was a pretty random thing for me in the early days. I spend a lot more time now writing and re-writing songs.
I didn't have much to say about the BOC albums. Being the bass player, I would cut live tracks with Albert on drums. It would only take a few days. If I had to fix any parts that would take only a few hours. After that I was done. Guitars and vocals could take weeks to do. I didn't produce those albums so it was up to other people to tell me if it was done or not. I was pretty quick with my parts.
My songs were written very fast with BOC. I could write a song in an hour or two like on "Screams", "Hot Rails to Hell", and "Astronomy". Also "Fallen Angel" and "Light Years of Love" were written pretty easily.
I was amazed that Don Roeser took 9 days to write "Reaper" in his basement studio.
Ian Hunter taught me about songwriting in 2000-2001 when we co-wrote songs for BDS. But most of what I write is pretty unplanned.
3. You've been involved in many (very many!) projects since you left BOC in 1986: BDS (Bouchard, Dunaway & Smith), Deadringer, X Brothers, TreeTop Blues Band, solo projects, sessions, producing, educational books and DVDs, lectures, seminars... Which of these did you find most challenging?
BDS took forever to do (close to a full year), mostly because I was not that comfortable with the software, but also because Neal and Dennis were very picky about their parts and how the production sounded. My speakers and headphones were lousy. It was all mixed and remixed many times.
Other projects went much faster. The X Brothers took about 45 days from tracking to final mastering. Deadringer, I had no say in that production, took 30 days from beginning to end.
My solo album, Jukebox in My Head, was done pretty quick, about 4 months. The hardest part was re-writing some songs, adding last minute instrumentals, and the final mixing.
Writing my first book, Rock Guitar For Beginners, was very challenging, since I didn't have a clear idea of what I was doing. The later books were easier. The DVDs were fairly easy and only took one day to do.
I'm pretty lucky since my chosen vocation comes pretty easy. I don't pretend to be a virtuoso like Eric Clapton or Stevie Wonder, but I can usually get the job done. People seem to like my work.
4. Some producers view their role as simply capturing a band's sound, others as setting a creative mood, others as getting a great performance... What about you? What is your approach as a producer, on both a technical and human level?
I try to serve the song more than anything else. If the songs work I don't worry about an over "band sound". Maybe if I had a big budget I'd worry about sounds, but most of my recordings are DIY affairs and I'm happy with the results. If anything, one has to be careful not to be too neat and clean with digital recordings today. Dirty is better sometimes. The Blue Coupe Tornado on the Tracks is a very messy album, but people love it. It had a certain charm and a believable sound.
5. If you were to bump into a teenage version of you, what advice would you give yourself?
Follow your heart and stick up for what you believe in. Strive for great art and don't worry about money. With great art you can always negotiate for better money. Believe in yourself. The rest will come.
Joe Bouchard's official website : www.joebouchard.com
Joe Lynn Turner: "I always feel I can do better after the vocal has been done"
1. From your early teens to your time in Fandango, you always played guitar. Has your guitar playing given you a better understanding of harmony, which then helps your singing?
Absolutely!... I have always believed that if a singer plays an instrument it will help better his ability to sing... Not only harmony but... phrasing.... melody... etc. Even drummers can have a better understanding of these points!
2. Of all your vocal performances, whether solo or in Deep Purple, Rainbow or Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, which would you say is the best? And why?
Well... I can only go on popular reaction on this because I always feel I can do better after the vocal has been done... (laughs) But, as to my own personal opinion there are a few... "Street of Dreams,."Can't Let You Go," "Dreaming," "Love Conquers All", "Heaven Tonight"... It's difficult for me to choose as these songs are so close and personal to me... So... Maybe you can tell me!... (laughs)
3. Do you remember what it felt like when you first went on stage with Rainbow? Was it easier, years later, with Deep Purple?
Oh yeah! It was a major high! I felt like all my dreams had arrived! I had much to learn in the 'big' arena... and it took some time... but Ritchie took me under his wing and taught me many important things! This helped me grow and develop as a showman and an artist! Of course it was easier with Purple having had such great experience with Rainbow! I became a seasoned professional.
4. You released your first solo album Rescue You, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, in 1985. What was it like to work with Mr Baker, who was known for his work with Queen, Cheap Trick and The Cars?
"RTB" as we called him. HE was an amazing character... and had the "wow" factor as a producer! He just knew what it had to sound like. I'll never forget how he put a thick tape over all the meters on the studio board the first day we were in because he didn't give a damn about what the meters looked like... only how it sounded! That album still sounds great!5. What's a day in the life of Joe Lynn Turner like?
(laughs)... Well... that depends on where I am! I'm at home today but I do emails... have breakfast... go to the gym... make phone calls... do recording or video shorts for promoters to use as promo... going to a broadway show tonight... whatever! On the road it's all biz... doing shows and traveling. But, I have a very full life...very busy!
Joe Lynn Turner's official website : www.joelynnturner.com
Johnny Marr: "To be "rockist" was the big crime in the early days of alternative music"
1. I've always found it hard to discover what really made you pick up the guitar in the first place. Who were your big influences, in terms of guitar-playing or otherwise?
I had toy guitars when I was a little kid. I don't know what made me love them so much but I carried one with me all the time like some boys carry toy cars or guns. I finally got one that I could make music on and I started making up songs and learning how to play properly. I loved pop songs of the day and started buying T.Rex and David Bowie and '70s pop records and learned from them. Marc Bolan was my first guitar hero, then Rory Gallagher and Bert Jansch. James Williamson is my favourite guitar player.
2. You once said that after signing to Rough Trade, Morrissey and yourself, as songwriters, "got slightly more listenable and more commercial". You also mentioned an early version of the Smiths first album that you scrapped. Should we conclude that this first version was rougher? Maybe even more "original"?
The record that The Smiths made which was supposed to be our first album is a good document of what the band really were at the start. It's a collection of the first set of songs we had and our live set for the first year we were together. I personally think that those recordings are quite unique. I don't know of another group that sounds like it.
3. I've always thought there were similarities between Jimmy Page's "guitar-army" approach and your "guitarchestra" approach. Do you feel connected, musically speaking, with Jimmy Page in any way at all?
I understand the comparison. Yes, we both are guitar players who produced our records and use our knowledge of guitars and recording techniques to make the bands' records and sound. Jimmy Page is very skilled.
4. When you formed the Smiths, what did you think about the "classic" 70s rock culture, its swaggering mythology and its excesses, which people tend to associate with acts like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones or Deep Purple? Was it something you could relate to in any way, musically or otherwise ?
At the time when The Smiths formed the "classic 70's rock culture" was an outdated idea and was not quite relevant to my generation. We formed in 1982 so Punk had already been and gone and that meant things were different; to be "rockist" was the big crime in the early days of alternative music.
5. Are there any guitar players that really excite you these days?
There are always good new musicians coming along. Nick Zinner from Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Ryan Jarman from The Cribs.6. Sorry for the "big" final question but here we go: from your perspective, how has the music business changed?
The Internet has changed the entire world or course. The music industry has had to adapt to this and musicians too. The experience of actually writing and performing songs isn't particularly different and being stood in a room with your band and equipment always comes down to the same motivation, for me it does anyway, but how we receive recorded music and information means the audience and artist have a different relationship, which can be an up side. It also means that the media can have an even bigger say in that relationship, which is a down side.
Johnny Marr's official website : www.johnny-marr.com
Rick Wakeman: "It's a wonderfully entertaining, but extremely busy, life"
1. Your first solo triumph came with "concept albums" like The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974) and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975) and it seems that ever since you've always had a fondness for "concept albums", be it The Seven Wonders of the World (1995), Return to the Centre of the Earth (1999) or even a trilogy like Country Airs / Sea Airs / Night Airs. Even though you also released more straightforward albums - like Silent Nights (1985) for instance - would you say that "concept albums" are the best vehicle for your music? Why is it that your work is so often "thematically" driven?
Simple answer really as the vast majority of what I write is what I describe as visually instrumental and even in the concept albums that have lyrics and songs the majority of the music is very much painting the picture of what is happening in the story . It's been pretty traditional for years that popular music, be it rock , country and western, metal etc., is based around love and relationships and for me that is extremely limiting, (in spite of the fact that having been married 4 times I have a reasonable first hand knowledge of this subject). I am always on the lookout for stories and subject matter that inspires me musically and currently have a firm list of 6 that I dearly want to do in the next few years.
2. You've done thousands of sessions, for artists as varied as David Bowie, Elton John and Lou Reed. To choose just one example, you played on Black Sabbath's "Sabbra Cadabra" on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973). Do you have any memories of this particular session to share with us?...
I don't remember an awful lot about this session to be honest . It was the early hours of the morning and I was in a studio just across the road from where the Sabbath guys were recording. They asked me if I would pop over and put some synths lines on for them which I readily agreed to being a huge Sabbath fan (and still am)... I walked into their studio, slightly the worse for drink , in the early hours of the morning and I think they were slightly the worse for drink too ! I played the parts they wanted and that was it really and we've been great friends ever since...
... Was the session just a case of you recording in the next studio and offering your services off the cuff?
This was a rarity. The only other session i can recall happening like this was with the late Viv Stanshall... Strangely enough, the same studio .
3. Is there any particular producer you particularly enjoyed working with? Was there any producer who you would say influenced your work when you went on to produce your own albums?
Working with such greats as Tony Visconti, Gus Dudgeon and Denny Cordell, I learned so much. They were all very generous with their time and knew that I wanted to learn and so by the time I came to produce my own solo albums I had had 5 tremendous years of the best apprenticeship course you could have ever wished for .
4. Do you consider yourself to be a "rock musician"? Does this kind of simplistic label mean anything to you anyway? What are you listening to these days? What inspires you? Is "rock" part of it?
I am what I am on any given day really I suppose. For example, as I am writing this I know that this particular day I am off to London to be part of a bbc radio 4 comedy programme, so today I suppose I'm a sort of comic !... Yesterday I was filming for watchdog for BBC1 which goes out tonight... So I suppose that makes me a presenter!... Earlier this week I was recording my radio show for Radio Nova in Ireland so maybe that made me a dee-jay for the day!!... I also did some recording for some tracks for myself and Jon Anderson to work on , so I'm a musician... I think the truth is, that as I've got older, things have happened that have expanded my career and I really like that. I could never get bored. I still have the big rock concerts with choirs and orchestras and my band that I do , plus one man shows as well... It's a wonderfully entertaining, but extremely busy, life .
5. On your Twitter account, you very generously let us share your deep, amazing thoughts about low-cost airlines, haircuts, backpack aggressors, sand and cucumber sandwiches on the beach and neighbour-offending snowman building. Where does such wisdom come from?
Age !!!!! And a large element of the "stupid gene" !!!!!
Rick Wakeman's official website : http://www.rwcc.com
Robin Trower: "As far as I'm concerned rock 'n roll disappeared with the artists that created it"
1. In the Chrysalis promo artist release brochure for your 1976 album Robin Trower - Live, you're quoted as saying: "Music is impossible to describe in words". Do you feel that interviews can only ever shed light on an artist and not on their music?
I believe it is only possible to describe music in the most general terms - in the same way it is hard to describe the feeling you get seeing different colours.
2. In a famous quote, Robert Fripp says of you: "This was a man who hung himself on the details: the quality of sound, nuances of each inflection and tearing bend, and abandonment to the feel of the moment. He saved my life. Later, in England, he gave me guitar lessons." I was wondering what kind of lessons you could possibly give to such a "progressive" guitar player as Robert Fripp. Do you have any memories of him to share with us?
Bob gave me exercises to do on the guitar and in return I showed him how I go about playing blues phrases and a little bit of my technique.
3. How do you feel about recording outside the power trio format, for instance with a rhythm guitar player or horns? Is it something you would like to do more?
I recently did a charity show with Paul Jones and the Blues Band and really enjoyed it. Playing only the lead role was a refreshing change for me and is something I will try on my next album which coincidentally is a collection of some of my all time favourite blues songs.
4. Since you first started making records more than 40 years ago, you've seen a lot of changes in the rock industry, both in technical and commercial terms. How do you feel about today's sound, the high degree of editing to obtain perfectly auto-tuned notes and perfectly aligned beats (as opposed to recording in the 1960s, when tempos would speed up or slow down, singing could be out of key and mistakes could even be left in)? Do you think that rock 'n' roll has lost something because of this modern "surgical precision"?
I think the technical changes are more to do with "pop" music. As far as I'm concerned rock'n roll disappeared with the artists that created it. What we have now is a form called "rock" which is not really my cup of tea.
5. You're as busy as ever, still touring and recording all over the USA, UK and Europe, and you even seem to be getting more and more productive! Could it be that you're having more fun now than in the 70s?
Certainly it is a blessing the creativity has not dried up but to do something worth while is still very hard work.
Robin Trower's official website : www.trowerpower.com
Steve Hunter: "I am first and foremost a blues guitar player"
1. I’m not sure if you would agree with this but I've always thought that your elegant and unintrusive solos, which always support and enhance the songs, are probably one of the most distinctive features of your guitar playing. Could you tell us more about your "solo" approach when dealing with a new song, whether one of your own or another artist's?
Well first of all, thanks for the compliment. Soloing for me has ALWAYS been about feelings and emotions. And of course, every song is different. I suppose in some circumstances there is some analysis, but I tend to keep that to a minimum. I’m more concerned about the content of the song and how that would influence the type of solo I would do. If there are lyrics, then I would tend to convey in a solo what the lyrics might be saying. If it’s an instrumental song, I might use the title or the overall vibe of the song. I would rather those things influence my solo approach rather than what analysis might bring. Analysis for me is a tool for learning, not soloing.
2. You've had a longstanding working relationship with your friend and producer Bob Ezrin. I have one specific question about your recording of Aerosmith's "Train Kept Rollin'" in 1973 (on which Bob Ezrin was the executive producer, if I'm not mistaken). Do you remember why you and Dick Wagner were brought in to perform the dueling solos on this song (instead of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford)? Do you have any memories of this particular session to share with us?
To be honest I never really knew why I was asked to do the solos on the first part of "Train Kept A Rollin'". (Dick did the solos on the ‘live’ version.) I had heard various rumors years later but I never really knew what had transpired. I do believe at the time they were working on that album, they were under the gun to finish it. I think the Train solos was one of the last things that needed to be done so they could move on to mixing. I think maybe the solos weren’t coming for Joe on that track. That’s a normal thing... that has happened to me many times. And sometimes the best thing is to call someone else in to have a fresh look at it. I think that’s why I was called in, I remember meeting everyone in the studio. They looked pretty tired but they were all very cool to me. I played a couple of passes and that was it... it was over. I was asked not to say anything.... in those days, you could lose your label deal if someone else played on a band album. So, I kept quiet about it for many years. I had no idea that song was going to do so well and help propel Aerosmith right into the big time. But there ya go... that’s the music biz!
3. You've been suffering for years from a degenerative eye disease called pigmentary glaucoma. We can easily imagine that there are a lot of (side-)effects that you have to deal with. Did it change anything in terms of how you play guitar or even your relationship with music?
Yes it did to some degree. Playing onstage can be more difficult at times because of lighting and other factors. But just like anything else, you find ways to adapt. Some are easier than others. It is true than in some respects it would have been better had I been born blind rather than have a whole lifetime experience being able to see. It’s much more difficult to adapt. But I have seen many people adapting to far greater disabilities than mine. And that gives me the strength to work things out.
4. You have released a very peaceful instrumental version of Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On"? What made you choose this particular track from all the hundreds of songs that you could have covered?
When I first heard 'What’s Going On' I thought it was perhaps the absolute perfect record. Perfect song, perfect performance and perfect production. It was brilliant and I loved the melody. I worked a long time on it actually. I began to realize that I could not chase the old arrangement and production. That what I needed to do was to try to make it my own. I played it for my friend Jason Becker who said it sounded like the 70s were crying.... which for me was the ultimate compliment. It meant I had brought something of my own to the song. Melody will always attract me to a song and to try translating that melody to guitar. That’s why I am such a huge fan of instrumental guitar music. For me, the guitar is really my voice. I want it to be just as expressive as my voice can be. It is a very expressive, emotional instrument to me.
5. Is rock part of what you're listening to these days? Does rock still inspire you or do you have to explore other musical landscapes like jazz or classical music?
Today’s rock does not inspire me as much as older school rock still does. But that’s because old school rock is very Blues based and as far as I’m concerned, I am first and foremost a Blues guitar player. Blues is and has always been in everything I play. That is also why I wanted to try doing an arrangement of 'What’s Going On'. I could hear the Blues in it. My inspiration comes from all sorts of places and has been for years now. I love classical music and play around with orchestral things all the time. While I was a student with the late great Ted Greene in Los Angeles he gave me a deep respect and love for jazz as well. So really, all music can inspire me. I listen to just about everything from African tribal chants to Thelonius Monk to David Gilmour and Jeff Beck. It’s all good and to some extent, I let them influence my writing in particular. But my playing starts and stays in Blues.
Steve Hunter's official website : www.stevehunter.com