Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Guitar God – An Interview with Whitesnake’s Doug Aldrich

By Jeb Wright - Classic Rock Revisited

Let me introduce to you a true guitar God. His name is Doug Aldrich and if he had been born 15 years earlier his name would be mentioned in the same breath as Page, Nugent, Blackmore and Iommi.

He has the look, the skill and the creativity to make people appreciate true musicianship in today’s music industry that seems to thrive on boring drivel void of soul.

Aldrich’s skills go beyond his instrument as he co-wrote and co-produced the new Whitesnake album titled Good to Be Bad. The result is the most complete Whitesnake album since the golden era of Slide It In and much of the thanks goes to Aldrich. Sure, Coverdale sounds great and the songs have a distinctive Whitesnake sound but it is Aldrich who gives the album pizzazz.

Doug is not a newcomer, however, as he cut his teeth in the 1980's with Lion and later appeared on one album by the band Hurricane. Ronnie James Dio spotted the axeman and recruited him for his Killing the Dragon CD and a pair of live DVDs. Dio knows a thing or two about great guitar players as he has played in bands with Ritchie Blackmore, Tony Iommi and Viv Campbell.

Another rock icon, David Coverdale, has also played with his share of virtuoso guitarists. His resume includes Campbell and Blackmore but he also has played with Steve Vai, John Sykes, Bernie Marsden and Adrian Vandenburg. He, too, knew a good thing when he heard it. He snapped up Aldrich at the end of a DIO tour and has kept him around for the last five years.

Read on to learn how Aldrich came to write the new album with Coverdale and why he thinks guitar solos are just a break for people to get a beer and take a leak.

Jeb: I have to tell you that when I saw the album come out and knew that you co-wrote it, I knew it was going to be good. You are one of my favorite guitar players. You have technical talent and creativity.

Doug: I did the best that I could on this project and it was a rewarding experience. I am just glad that it is over because it really kicked my ass.

Jeb: How do you take the a riff and make it a complete songs?

Doug: I have to give credit where credit is due, David is a master at this stuff. We were on a creative roll and we were on the same page. We got frustrated sometimes but it was a really creative time for us. More importantly, he is a complete songwriter. He can write these types of songs with anybody or even by himself. I was fortunate enough to have some ideas that inspired him. He would send me something he had and I would do a demo of it and send it back and then we would change the key or do something to make it better. It was tenacity that kept us writing and writing. We finally got a batch of songs that seemed to fit together.

Jeb: You have been with a lot of different bands. How do you write in the style of Whitesnake?

Doug: This is similar to where I started off. My first recording band was back in the ‘80s called Lion. We were not real well known. Our singer was a huge David Coverdale fan and he turned me onto a bunch of the early Whitesnake albums that had not been released in the United States at the time. It really turned out to be inspiration for Lion because we were like a junior Whitesnake.

When I worked with DIO I wasn’t able to bring in the bluesy elements as much because he is more metal – and that is the way it should be. When I got the call to work with David then I knew this was a really good opportunity and that I could bring something to the party.

Jeb: Coverdale has even said that this album has a lot of elements of early Whitesnake. I think this line up of the band has you on one guitar for the blues and hard rock and Reb Beach there for the 80's flair.

Doug: Reb can play anything; he is a master. He went to the Berkeley School of Music. If I don’t know what chord I am playing all I have to do is ask Reb. Our styles compliment each other. My roots are in the British blues and bands like Zeppelin and Cream. Later on I got into Southern Rock. When David got out of Purple then I thought Whitesnake had a Southern Rock vibe that I thought was really cool.

I love early Whitesnake. There is a record that I know you know called Come & Get It that has a bunch of great tunes on it. We are going to cherry pick a couple of those tunes to play live. We dabbled with "Love Hunter" when we did it in a medley and that was fun. We have played "Take Me with You" which is a fun song to play live. I send David emails all the time and say, "Here is some food for thought. Let’s play "Child of Babylon." He says, "Slow down. We can’t take "Here I Go Again’ out of the set. If we can fit something in then we will."

Jeb: You co-produced the album. Had you produced an album before?

Doug: I had not. When the whole home recording thing came on then everybody started to do stuff at home and that kind of puts you in the production chair because you are making decisions on how the song is going to go and how it is going to sound. We kind of slipped into that production thing. The Brutal Brothers produced this Whitesnake CD and they are David, Michael McIntyre and myself. I would do one part of the production and if I got stuck then Michael would do it. David is the Governor and he would come in and say that he liked this or that, or that we needed to do something different. It was like having three different producers. It took us a little longer to get done. We knew what we wanted it to sound like, I am not going to say that we got it 100%, but we got close.

Jeb: How difficult is David to work with when it comes to not compromising?

Doug: He doesn’t compromise and that is what makes him who he is. I love that about him. The worst thing is when you have something and you work really hard on it and then someone just goes, "Oh, it will be find. Don’t worry about it." He is all for making sure that everything is right. We were hard on each other on whatever we happened to be working on, whether it was a drum program or something we were writing. We really pushed each other. David is not difficult at all; he just wants it to be the best it can be. He has Whitesnake’s best interest at heart and that is good enough for me.

Jeb: You are also a music fan. I have to ask if you ever can’t believe that no only are you playing with Coverdale but that you get to write with him.

Doug: It is amazing and it is an honor. He created a niche with Whitesnake and he is the ultimate front man. There is no one that has a more thick and syrupy voice. He is a huge music fan like you and I are. Sometimes we would be writing a song and doing a demo and he would do something and we knew we had to use it because it was just killer. When you have time to experiment then you can get these moments. David sounds really great on this record.

Jeb: Where did Tommy Aldridge go?

Doug: The short story is that there was a scheduling conflict. Originally we wanted to write and record the record by the end of last summer. The record took longer than expected. We needed to get into the studio to properly record the songs with the band and Tommy couldn’t make it. Unfortunately, we had to move forward. We had written a lot of the drum parts with him in mind and we had to restructure that for the new drummer, Chris Frazier. We knew were going to miss Tommy but when we got in the studio with Chris then we knew we were going to be okay. Chris brings a groove like Ian Paice used to bring to Whitesnake. You can’t replace Tommy as he is a legend but Chris brings something different. We did a couple of weeks in Australia last month and Chris was amazing. He can play this stuff with one hand tied behind his back. He is a great guy to hang with on the road as well.

Jeb: I saw you with DIO and you had an amazing solo section. I then saw you with Whitesnake and you did a different solo piece – both times your guitar when flying through the air.

Doug: I never meant to do that so much. I am not going to do it anymore. Originally I did that out of boredom. Ronnie James Dio would give me the stage and he would tell me to do whatever I wanted to do. It would get a little long-winded. I was throwing my guitar and then I would do this Stevie Ray Vaughan thing where you put the guitar on the ground and you just use the whammy bar and the guitar bounces around the stage like a fish and you end up chasing it all over the stage. I did that just for fun and the guys in the crew were like, "That was killer" so I started doing it all the time. When I got in Whitesnake, I told myself I wasn’t going to do that anymore – but then it happened.

Jeb: Is your solo piece written out or is it all improv?

Doug: When you are playing on stage and there is a big crowd then you can’t remember that note for note. You just sort of wing it. There are certain sections that you want to do but you just have a free for all in between the sections. Sometimes it turns out really great and sometimes it is a little rough. I am not a huge guitar solo fan, to be honest with you. It is mainly an opportunity for the singer to get a break. It is a good time for everyone to get a beer or take a leak.

Jeb: I love watching you solo. You really have a unique sound. When you play lead, you are very fluid. How do you approach a solo like the one in "Best Years?"

Doug: With that song the chords underneath the solo make it what it is. I am not doing anything that special. I am trying to just execute the solo. It is very Whitesnake. The chords underneath are from another song that David has and I told him that I wanted to experiment with that and play over it. A lot of times the chords underneath the solo are what makes a solo interesting. It is difficult to have a chord that just keep playing over and over and make a solo interesting. A lot of times I just put down the first take and then try to build upon that. Other times you throw down ten solos and listen to them and then take some of this one and some of that one and then make the solo. When that happens I like to take it and then relearn it and record it and play it in one pass so that is sounds natural.

Jeb: How did Coverdale get you away from DIO? Was it just money?

Doug: Everyone thinks that it is all about money but you don’t do the music for the money. You won’t be able to survive if you are just going for the quick dollar. I was wrapping up a tour with Ronnie and David called and told me that he was reforming Whitesnake for a 25th anniversary tour. He told me that it was going to be a couple of months long. I was free and I told him that I would do it. I have been a fan of David since he was in Deep Purple and I really wanted to do it. Ronnie was cool with it. The tour went on and it was going really well and David and I hit it off. Eventually, David asked me to join permanently. It was very innocent on David’s part. He wanted to put together a cool band for the tour and that is all his intention were. He wanted a guitar player that he could envision in Whitesnake and I was that guy.

Jeb: At this point in time is Whitesnake a band or is Whitesnake a business?

Doug: Whitesnake is a band but the heart and soul of Whitesnake is always going to be David. A harsh reality is that the band has to make money. David has done really well for himself and I don’t know for sure but hopefully David has enough money for the rest of his life as he deserves it. You don’t want to lose money being in a band. If you have a hundred dollars in your savings then you don’t want to spend that for the band. The band has to pay for itself. We have to do that. Sometimes that will weigh into band decisions. You have to ask if you can pay everyone and you have to make sure that the bottom line is not losing money. If you are losing money at the bottom line then there is something wrong.

Jeb: Sounds like a band with a business interest.

Doug: David is excited about everyone that he has in the band. He is the bottom line and you have to make sure that he is not having to dip into his pocket to pay someone’s salary. And he is not as we are doing really, really well on all of the tours we have been on.

Jeb: You are now in the company of Blackmore, Vandenberg, Sykes and Vai. Is it a challenge to you to take that on or is it overwhelming?

Doug: I have never thought about it this way but you just make me think of it – because there are so many guitar players that have put their stamp on Whitesnake at various times, you have to bring something to it and you have to put your heart and soul into it. You can’t really think about this stuff too much because it will drive you nuts. Because there have been so many then I have to think that I probably won’t be the worst one. I might not be the best but I might be somewhere in the middle. I put everything into my playing and I am trying to get better. It is wonderful to be in the company of guys like Steve Vai, Viv Campbell and Sykes. I also am thrilled to be associated with the early guitar players of Whitesnake. A lot of guys in the USA don’t know that the early players in Whitesnake were frickin’ killer. Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody and Mel Galley are great. It is nice to be a part of it. Both Reb and I try to do a great job to that tradition.

Jeb: David has a pretty good sense of humor and a lot of people who follow Whitesnake may not realize how funny he is.

Doug: He is seriously hilarious. It is so weird because he is a massive rock star, a legend who is the greatest at what he does. He has a take no prisoners attitude when it comes to the shows and the music but when you get him away from that he is hilarious and very down to earth. You would think a rock star would always act like a rock star but he is very approachable and he is very funny. He is also very generous and he does a lot of great things that nobody knows that he does.

Jeb: Last one: You did the live DVD where you played the entire Holy Diver album with DIO. You were not even in the band at that time. How did you end up on the DVD?

Doug: Craig Goldy had rejoined the band after I had left to join Whitesnake. Craig hurt himself. I got a call and was told that there was a possibility that I might need to fill in for Craig for some gigs – I didn’t even know there was going to be a DVD. Whitesnake was touring in South America with Judas Priest in 2005 and we were just rapping up. I talked to David about it and he said, "Go for it. If Ronnie needs you and we are not working then go help him out." It is an honor for me to work with Ronnie as he really brings out the best in the musicians he works with.

So I go help him out and they tell me that they have these cameras coming out. I said, "What?" It was just by fluke that this was the show the DVD was going to be filmed. I was not as prepared as I would have liked to be for a DVD shoot.

Jeb: You didn’t even bring your own gear did you?

Doug: I brought a couple of guitars – I brought two Les Pauls and a Strat. I also had a couple of pedals in my suitcase. It was really a brutal trip over to Europe. The LA to London part was easy but then I had to take a flight from London to Amsterdam and then a train to Holland. I was lugging all this stuff with me and it was late at night and people were telling me to be careful on the train because people will jump you. I was trying to keep track of my guitars and suitcase. It was hard getting over there but it was a pleasure to work with Ronnie again.

Jeb: I am going to leave you with some food for thought. I would love to hear an instrumental Doug Aldrich guitar album.

Doug: I have done a few for Japan. You can really experiment on those records. They are not available anymore. I had some on my website but they sold out and they are out of print. I would like to put a compilation of that stuff together and get it out there some day. Maybe I can email you a couple of tracks for you to check out. It is very self-indulgent. I am a huge Jeff Beck fan. It is fun to blow off some steam doing that kind of music.


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