Legendary rock journalist Steve Rosen has finally released his long-awaited book about the friendship he shared with the late iconic guitar player Edward Van Halen. The book is titled Tonechaser – Understanding Edward: My 26-Year Journey with Edward Van Halen and chronicles the writer’s remarkable relationship beginning in 1977 (before the release of Van Halen’s first album) and continuing through 2003.
Rosen, who has previously authored seven other books including biographies on Jeff Beck, Free/Bad Company, Black Sabbath and Randy Rhoads, writes about what it was like being friends with the greatest guitar player in the world.
Not an easy task to undertake.
In order to tell the story accurately, Rosen pored over hours of interviews—all fastidiously recorded and catalogued on cassette—and peered deep inside distant memories to create a book unlike any other out there.
The journalist spent many hours with Edward at his own Hollywood Hills guesthouse; up at Van Halen’s 5150 studio; on airplanes, in cars; and even jamming on several occasions with Ed. There is no other book out there that captures the heart and creativity of the late master instrumentalist. Rosen was Edward’s friend—close friend—for many years and no other writer can lay claim to that title.
Tonechaser – Understanding Edward: My 26-Year Journey with Edward Van Halen is a hardcover, 580-page tome with a 7×10 format. Front and back covers were shot by the iconic Van Halen photographer Neil Zlozower who also provided interior photographs.
The author was going to write Edward’s authorized biography back in 1985 but that book never came to light. Van Halen fans have literally been waiting some 37+ years for Rosen to revisit the book. If early responses from readers are any indication, fans say the wait was well worth it. Steve Rosen writes, “I chose that title,Tonechaser, because Edward once described himself in that way. I thought it was such a beautiful, fragile, and poignant word for him to use in his pursuit of the ever-elusive Brown Sound. I also thought it worked on another level in terms of the “tone” of his life and being a guitar player, bandmember, husband, father, and icon.
“I had never heard Edward ever use that phrase anywhere else and in fact after interviewing hundredsand hundreds of guitar players, I’ve never heard one of them ever use that word to describe what they do.”
To purchase Tonechaser, send $47.00 to the link: paypal.me/Tonechaser. Include your address. Send payment as FAMILY & FRIENDS. International buyers can contact the author here for details about shipping: firstname.lastname@example.org
Heaven Gets Me By (Acoustic) by Burning Rain – Free Download
Doug Aldrich’s career can be traced all the way back to Lion, the ‘80s hard rock band. He recorded albums with Hurricane and House of Lords before forming Bad Moon Rising with Lion vocalist Kal Swan. His next project was Burning Rain, which was formed with vocalist Keith St. John. Burning Rain released two albums: The self-titled Burning Rain in 1999 and Pleasure to Burn in 2000. Aldrich later joined the late Ronnie James Dio band in 2001 before finally joining Whitesnake and becoming a songwriting partner with David Coverdale. While Aldrich had joined Whitesnake in 2003, he and St. John signed a recording contract with Frontiers Records in 2004 for a third Burning Rain album.
With Whitesnake’s resurgence in popularity and a relentless tour schedule that soon led to releasing two studio albums, subsequent releases of live albums and DVDs, Burning Rain was put on hold – until now. So after a nine-year hiatus, St. John and Aldrich have returned with their third studio album Epic Obsession. The album contains 12 new blistering hard rock songs and two bonus tracks. Co-produced by Aldrich and St. John, the duo has rounded out the band with bassist Sean McNabb (Dokken, Quiet Riot) and Matt Star (Ace Frehley).
Burning Rain delivers music that is a product of the bygone 1970s. The songs and arrangements are infused with the ‘80s arena-style hooks, which are elevated by today’s advanced recording technologies. Led by Aldrich’s sure-handed fret work and St. John’s grit-infused-bluesy vocal swagger, they hold their own when compared to their peers, including going head to head with Aldrich’s other band, Whitesnake. There also is a comparison to be drawn; Aldrich grew up on British rock, and Coverdale’s Whitesnake was an influence for him way before he joined the band.
With that said, Aldrich is his own man. He has developed his style over the years, working in many bands and projects. He is the foundation of Burning Rain, just as he is with Whitesnake, Lion or Bad Moon Rising. His fret-work is exhilarating, energetic, sure-handed, aggressive and elegant. Whether it’s Keith St. John or Coverdale, the music always tells the tale and gives quality singers a canvas on which to paint their vocals.
As a hard rock, heavy blues rock fan, which you surely are if like Burning Rain, well, the band brings it. And while it has been awhile since we had fresh music to enjoy, maybe it’s bitter sweet to have waited so long. Because the final product is everything you want and more. Keith St. John sounds amazing here and hasn’t skipped a beat. Aldrich brings forth up-tempo rockers that carry the torch of rock, and for good measure, delivers a ballad or two. Fourteen tracks, 74-minutes in the hands of lesser musicians would be tiresome, but Epic Obsession begs to be listened to, and the time goes by in the blink of an eye.
1. Sweet Little Baby Thing 2. The Cure 3. Till You Die 4. Heaven Gets Me By 5. Pray Out Loud 6. Our Time Is Gonna Come 7. Too Hard To Break 8. My Lust Your Fate 9. Made For Your Heart 10. Ride The Monkey 11. Out In The Cold Again 12. When Can I Believe In Love
13. Kashmir*; 14. Heaven Gets Me By (Acoustic)*
Label: Frontiers Records Album Review by Hardrock Haven
Depending who you ask, Whitesnake singer David Coverdale is either almost single-handedly responsible for keeping bluesy hard rock alive in the British charts during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, or is merely a Robert Plant clone who hit it big in the U.S. later in the ‘80s as an “MTV band” — by merging familiar Led Zeppelin sounds with pop metal/power ballads, and sexed-up videos. Born on September 22, 1951, in the British town of Saltburn-on-Sea, Yorkshire, Coverdale was born into a family of avid music fans, which resulted in an early interest in the guitar, before switching over to vocals. He soon began fronting local rock outfits, including Denver Mule, the Government, River’s Invitation, and the Fabulosa Brothers (from the late ‘60s through the early ‘70s). Looking for a new gig in 1973, Coverdale one day picked up the popular British music mag Melody Maker, and answered an ad for a group looking for a vocalist. Little did he know that the group in question was Deep Purple.
Purple had become one of the world’s top hard rock/heavy metal bands by 1973 (thanks largely to their massive hit single “Smoke on the Water” and such classic albums as Machine Head and Made in Japan), but when singer Ian Gillan was ousted from the group, a vacancy developed. On the strength of his singing and songwriting talents, Coverdale was welcomed into the group immediately, resembling a true-life “rags to riches” story. The Coverdale-led version of Purple got off to a solid start with another hit album, 1974’s Burn, but by the time of its follow-up (and second band release of the year), Stormbringer, cracks began to appear in the Purple armor. Guitarist/bandleader Ritchie Blackmore’s interest in the group began to wane around this time — due to the other member’s desire to incorporate funk into their style — resulting in his exit (Blackmore would go on to form the progressive metal outfit Rainbow).
Instead of packing it in, Coverdale remembered the name of a guitarist he heard a few years back on Billy Cobham’s landmark jazz-fusion release, Spectrum, and figured he’d make a good replacement for Blackmore. The guitarist in question was Tommy Bolin, who accepted the invite to fill Blackmore’s large shoes. Despite an underrated album, 1975’s Come Taste the Band, this would prove to be Purple’s last hurrah, as they split up a year later. It didn’t take long before Coverdale re-emerged as a solo artist however, sticking to his blues-rock/rock & roll roots in the face of the era’s burgeoning punk movement, as evidenced by such releases as 1977’s Whitesnake and 1978’s Northwinds. In the process of recording and touring behind these releases, Coverdale had assembled quite a backing band, especially evident in the twin guitar attack of Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody. As a result, Coverdale opted to issue albums under the name of Whitesnake — although it gave the public a sense that it was a true band, Coverdale was the undisputed leader, as he’d be the only constant member throughout its many subsequent lineups.
Whitesnake built a rabid European following on the strength of such albums as 1978’s Snakebite and Trouble, and 1979’s Love Hunter, and also benefited by changing musical tastes, especially the uprising of new U.K.-based hard rock/heavy metal bands — a movement dubbed “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal.” The ‘80s saw Whitesnake become even bigger in their native land, as they scored a major hit single with “Fool for Your Loving” (which even managed to scrape the middle of the U.S. singles charts), and offered further hard-rocking albums as 1980’s Ready an’ Willing and Live in the Heart of the City, 1981’s Come an’ Get It, and 1982’s Saints and Sinners. But despite their success back home, Coverdale had his sights set on breaking the U.S. market.
Coverdale enlisted former Tygers of Pan Tang/Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes into the Whitesnake ranks, a move that paid off immediately, as 1984’s Slide It In became the group’s biggest success yet in the U.S., just barely missing the Top 40. Although worldwide breakthrough success was just around the corner, Coverdale’s singing career was put into jeopardy when he developed a serious sinus illness, which doctors thought may prevent him from ever singing again. This proved not to be the case, but as a result, not much was heard from the Whitesnake camp for over two years. Some feared that the break in action had killed off any buzz surrounding the band, and it certainly didn’t help matters when it became known that Coverdale had dismissed Sykes from the band (even though he had penned and played on the majority of Whitesnake’s upcoming album).
1987 finally saw the release of the highly anticipated follow up to Slide It In, simply titled Whitesnake. The album signaled a new path for Whitesnake, as they honed in directly on Led Zeppelin (both musically and in Coverdale’s close vocal resemblance to Robert Plant), especially evident in the leadoff single/video “Still of the Night.” The video also starred Coverdale’s girlfriend (and soon to be wife), B movie actress Tawny Kitaen, setting a trend in which the group would play second fiddle to Coverdale and Kitaen acting out steamy scenes in Whitesnake’s videos. But it did pay off wildly for Coverdale, as Whitesnake finally broke the band big time in the States — almost topping the album charts and spawning such further hit singles as “Here I Go Again” (a number one) and “Is This Love” — making them a bona fide arena headliner.
Whitesnake’s massive commercial success wasn’t long lasting, however, as the group basically repeated the same formula (with less than stellar results) on 1989’s Slip of the Tongue. By the time the ensuing tour wrapped up in 1990, Coverdale’s marriage was over, as was the group, and it appeared as though he’d completely disappeared for the next few years. With all of the Led Zeppelin comparisons still fresh in fans’ minds, Coverdale provided more fuel for the fire, as he re-emerged in 1993 alongside guitarist Jimmy Page, as part of the super group Coverdale/Page. Despite a single album, Coverdale/Page, and handful of gigs in Japan, the union was incredibly short-lived (in fact, many feel that the unsuccessful partnership helped convince Page to hook up once more with Robert Plant a year later).
Coverdale pulled a disappearing act once more, eventually resurfacing with a new Whitesnake lineup in 1998, and a pair of releases, Restless Heart and the “unplugged” set, Starkers in Tokyo. With interest in ‘80s hair metal still at a lull, both albums failed to even see a proper release in the States, but an audience still existed for the group in other parts of the world. It was also around this time that a rumor began to circulate that Coverdale was to become Van Halen’s next frontman, which ultimately proved to be false. By the dawn of the 21st century, nostalgia for ‘80s pop metal bands had emerged, and there was suddenly a demand once more for groups like Whitesnake. Sensing this, Coverdale put together another new Whitesnake lineup, and launched a co-headlining U.S. tour with the Scorpions in early 2003. Later in the year, Coverdale made plans to issue his first true solo album since the late ‘70s.
By Steven Rosen-Source: Steven Rosen Archives First Published here: January 7, 2014
Virginia-born Jake E. Lee stands virtually alone in the arena of electric players. The lanky guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne is one of the very few guitar gladiators confronting the beast of heavy metal without the weapon of a vibrato bar.A listen to Bark At The Moon or The Ultimate Sin reveals his unique use of finger vibrato, neck-bending and beyond-bridge tweaking.
He first took up guitar at age 13 when he picked up his sister’s cheap acoustic. The first song he learned was The Guess Who’s “No Time” and in no time he was fronting his own original bands in San Diego, California [his family moved there early on]. He joined Ratt for a brief period – “Stephen Pearcy was mainly why I quit” – toyed with Rough Cutt and then auditioned for Ozzy. He was 45 minutes late for that date, late for his first American appearance with Ozzy in concert, and over an hour late for this interview.
But he was worth waiting for. His responses are to the point, honest, and poignant. Here, then, Jake E. Lee: the man who hates time and tremolos …
‘You had far more input on The Ultimate Sin album than you did with Bark At The Moon. Did you want to become more involved in the writing and recording process or was this just a natural progression of knowing Ozzy better?
It was thrust upon me, more or less. I wanted more input. Every band I’ve ever been in I had almost complete control over. Except for Ratt, which was almost a partnership between me and Stephen [Pearcy, vocalist], but I had control over the music. It was like a Van Halen/Roth thing. Steve had control over the clothing and the show and I had control over the music. So I was used to being in control of the music in a band. And I wanted it that way.
What was your role on Bark At The Moon?
Most of the music was mine: “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rebel,’ “Bark At The Moon,” “Now You See It (Now You Don’t),” “Waiting For Darkness” and “Slow Down” were mine. How easy or difficult was it work with Ozzy in regards to presenting him with material? On Bark At The Moon I approached it really cautiously because I was the new guy and I could be out at any second. So I just played him riffs and if he liked the riff then the whole band would work on it. When I write a riff, I don’t just write a riff – I write a verse and a chorus and everything around it. And Bob Daisley [bassist on BATM] might change a part here or there and Ozzy might change a part and that was it really. I didn’t argue too much if I didn’t like the way something was coming out. I’d go, ‘I don’t really like this’ and they’d go, ‘Well, what do you know?’ And I’d go [in sheepish voice], ‘I don’t know anything, let’s change it.’ The strings on ‘Bark At The Moon’ I hated; ‘So Tired’ I hated. Actually, I didn’t mind that when it was done as a four-piece band but then they schmalatzed it up with all the strings and I hated it. So I’d present some thing and they’d fight, debate, say it sucked or whatever.
Everybody contributed a little bit and it didn’t necessarily come out the way I imagined it would. On The Ultimate Sin, while Ozzy was in the Betty Ford Clinic, I got a drum machine. One of those mini-studios, a bass from Charvel – a really shitty one – and I more or less wrote entire songs. I didn’t write melodies or lyrics because Ozzy is bound to do a lot of changing if I was to do that. I just write the music. I write the riff and I’ll come up with a chorus, verse, bridge4 and solo section, and I’ll write the drum and bass parts I had in mind. I put about 12 songs like that down on tape and when he got out of the Betty Ford clinic it was, ‘Here ya go, here’s what I’ve got so far.’ And I’d say half of it ended up on the album.
Does Ozzy hear what you’re trying to put across musically? Or does he make drastic changes in your riffs and arrangements?
He almost always does something different than what I expect him to. He sang a lot bluesier on this record [The Ultimate Sin] than I thought he was going to. Sometimes I’ll write something weird that I think he’ll like and he’ll say, ‘That’s too weird, are you on acid or something? This isn’t Frank Zappa.’ And I’ll write something simple that I think he might like and he’ll go, ‘That’s pop, what is it?’ So it’s a weird little area – it can’t be too commercial-sounding and it can’t be too weird. I think it can be pretty weird-sounding, but in Ozzy Osbourne you can get away with a lot. But he doesn’t want it getting too weird. Especially on this record, we almost played it safe. We didn’t go out on a limb. We didn’t try to make it commercial but we kept what we thought Ozzy could get away with without raising too many eyebrows. And that’s what a song like ‘Shot In The Dark’ was a surprise because it borders on FM pop. Yeah, we had our doubts about that. I write a lot of songs like that – most of the songs I’ve kept have been really commercial or really weird – and I wasn’t so sure of that when Phil [Soussan, bassist/write of ‘Shot In The Dark’] first presented it. It was getting kind of commercial and Ozzy wasn’t too sure of it either. But [producer] Ron Nevison gunned for that one and it worked out alright.
Ron Nevison is a veteran producer who has worked with everyone from Heart to Bad Company. What was that experience like?
(Takes a moment, grins) I’ll be diplomatic – he was hard to work with. He doesn’t have a very open mind; he hears things his way and he thinks that’s the way it should be done. And I heard things my way and I think that’s the way it should be done. And there wasn’t a whole lot of compromise. It was mostly who felt the strongest about something and argued the longest won out. There were parts on the album where I said, Definitely not, I don’t want it that way, this is the way it has to be.’
And he’d argue, but I’d win if I felt strongly enough about it. And then there were parts where we’d argue and if I didn’t feel that strongly about it, I’d say, ‘Okay, have it your way.’ It wasn’t like trying something in the middle; we were buttin’ heads through the whole record.
Did the problems like in the songs themselves or the sounds you were presenting?
Everything, really. Not so much song structure, really; it was more the production and the sounds. Because he liked the way we had written most of the songs. There were some songs where he halved a verse and had a chorus come in quicker, but it was mainly the production. What type of guitar sound were you going for on these albums? It depends on the song. I got the same guitar sounds more or less through the whole record, which I didn’t want to do. I brought in 16 heads and 12 cabinets loaded with different things: EV’s, Celestions, JBL’s, everything, so I could get a good sound.And so I could get a different sound if I wanted.And I finally got a good basic sound aafter a long time. We cut the stuff that I wanted to use that sound with and when it came to the other songs, I said, ‘Okay, I’d like a different sound here.’ And Ron said, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Because I don’t think it should all sound the same.’ I had just talked to Phil Collen of Def Leppard and he said they try different guitars and different sounds and mix and match. And he [Nevison] said, ‘What? You want to sound like Def Leppard?’ And I said, ‘No, but I don’t want it to sound like one single sound for the whole album.’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s a good sound and I don’t think we should mess with it.’ And we argued about that for quite a bit and I finally said, ‘Fuck it, I want to play guitar.’ I wanted a lot more variety in the guitar tone. That can’t be a healthy environment to work in.
I didn’t go in the studio with the attitude of, ‘Oh, boy, I get to play today, let’s see what we can put down!’ I went in there thinking, ‘ Oh, shit, what are we going to argue about today?’ What is your guitar and amplifier situation with Ozzy? My main guitar is a 1974 [or 1975] Fender Stratocaster which has been Charvelized with Gotoh tuners, brass bridge and Gibson frets. The headstock is carved down and the neck has been shaved [it is now thinner and narrower]. It has a maple neck with rosewood fretboard and the body allows the strings to run entirely through it.
There are two single-coil DiMarzio SDS-1 pickups that have been slanted in the opposite position so the pole pieces for the bass strings are closer to the bridge producing more bite and less mushiness. The bridge pickup is a Seymour Duncan Allan Holdsworth prototype. I use a 1977 Marshall 100-watt head [stock] powering a Marshall 4×12 cabinet with EV speakers. I couple this with a Marshall 50-watt top [circa 1964]. I do use pedals: a Boss CE-3 Chorus; BF-2 Flanger; DM-2 Delay [for rhythm]; (2) DD- 2 Digital Delays [for lead]; a GE-7 Equalizer [7-band]; an SCC-700 computerized pedalboard; and a Variac [set between 90 and 100]. I set the digital units so one is for slow leads and a lot of delay and the other one set normal for leads with just a touch of delay.
How was Nevison different than Max Norman [producer of Bark At The Moon]?
Max doesn’t have as much control over Ozzy’s stuff as he does with other people’s stuff. Because Max more or less got his start with Ozzy and worked on the first couple of records. Max was basically an engineer and because of the sounds he got he became a producer and other bands started using him as a producer. I hear that he’s strict and has a lot of control in the studio, but when he works with Ozzy he’s back to being an engineer. So there was a lot of difference between Max and Ron.
Max made me try harder to get the doubled rhythm tracks [Jake doubles and triple all backing tracks] more in sync with each other than Ron did. Max wanted them almost perfect whereas Ron liked just a little bit of difference. He thought it sounded cool that way. With Max there were times when I thought it was good enough and he’d make me do it again’ with Ron there were times when I didn’t think it was good enough and he’s say it was fine.
It seems a bit funny that you would double triple-track rhythm parts because, at heart, you seem to be such a purist: no whammy bar, no pedals …
A purist? Probably more of a masochist is a better way to put it.I thought bands were cheating because you could tune the guitar down and do all that other sort of stuff that I do so you don’t need a bar. And you could do fake echoes like I do so echoes were cheating. Flanging was covering up something that was boring that you should have made more interesting in the beginning. And that’s the way I felt before joining Ozzy but I still feel like I’m cheating. I know Warren [DeMartini, guitarist for Ratt] has gone back to the same thing that I used to do; he’s only got an equalizer now. I saw that when they were opening for us in England and I said, ‘That’s a nice set-up you’ve got, Warren,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I got it from this one guy I used to go sell all the time. He got a real cool sound but he’s pedal-mad now’ [referring to Lee]. He made me feel guilty about it. You have to play a lot cleaner and pay more attention to what you’re ding. If you screw up there’s no echo to cover you and flange to cover up your sloppiness. That’s the way a real guitar player should play. In this era of whammy-crazy players, the fact that you don’t use one singles you out. How did that develop …. or not develop? Oooooh, everybody who uses a bar is going to hate me [laughs] and everybody uses a bar. What Brad Gillis does with a bar is pretty innovative; some of what Eddie has done with a bar is fairly innovative.I don’t think a lot of what he has done with a bar is innovative, but he has brought it back. It had been done before and it is a cool sound but he doesn’t rely on it like some people do. It’s real easy to hit a harmonic at the 5th fret of the G string to start a solo and when you’re done with the solo to hit the E strong and hit the bar. That’s easy. I’m nt saying that Eddie relies on that because obviously he’s a great player. But a lot 9f people do use the bar when their brain or their heart quits thinking about the music.They need to have a filler and that’s why I think a bar is cheating. I think young guys should learn how to play without the bar and then once they’re pretty happening they can start incorporating the bar. That’s what I always planned on doing, but then I’ve never gotten around to it yet.
Did Ozzy ever make mention of the fact that you don’t use a tremolo bar?
Yeah, the first thing he said was, ‘Do you know how to play a guitar with a wang bar on it?’ And I said, ‘Of course, anybody can play a guitar with a want bar but I don’t like it.’And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you think about using one?Because I don’t think you can play some of these songs without one.’ And I said, ‘I can, I’ll show ya’ and after rehearsal he said, ‘Yeah, fine, it sounds like you’ve got one. I don’t care. As long as it sounds good, you don’t need to use one.’
Playing guitar with Ozzy Osbourne is probably the best and worst gig in the world – there’s all the attention but on the other side you may be seen as just a sideman at times.If anything, I think I get more attention than I deserve as a guitar player. If somebody comes up to me and goes, ‘Man, you’re Number One, you’re the best guitar player in the world,’ I start feeling stupid. I go, ‘Nah, there are guys better than me.’ But if somebody comes up and says, ‘You really suck, you’re nothing compared to Randy,’ then I go, ‘Hey, fuck you, I’m good, I’m probably 10 times better than you’ll ever be. No, I never feel obscured at all.”
In this exclusive interview with Izzy Stradlin, Steven Talks with the former Gun N’ Roses guitarist about his years in Guns, what happened, and what’s on the horizon.
Source: Steven Rosen Archives, February 1998
“Izzy Stradlin did for Slash what Brad Whitford provided for Joe Perry, what Keith Richards gave to Brian Jones – a backbone, a rhythmic spine upon which the lead guitarist could build his riffs. Izzy was very good at what he did. From 1985 through 1991, he was a mainstay of Guns N’ Roses, providing the rhythmic pulse of the band and also contributing in a major way to the songwriting process. He left the band in November of 1991 and began working on his own band and career. With the Ju Ju Hounds, he mixed the blues of the Rolling Stones with the angst of Alice Cooper. In 1998, he recorded 117 Degrees. Here, he talks a bit about that record but mainly addresses his work with them.
Izzy had been away from GN’R for several years at the time we did this interview About six years earlier, he’d released Izzy Stradlin & The Ju Ju Hounds and received sort of mixed reviews. It seems, that no one was going to let him get away from the music he’d made with Slash and Axl. So, he’d have kind of a hard time of it in terms of a solo career.
We met at a restaurant somewhere near the beach. I don’t remember which beach much less which restaurant. But I do know you could hear waves breaking and that he had a pretty hearty appetite. There may have even been a drink or two involved.
‘You said you got a little burned by the business. What were your feelings after leaving Guns N’ Roses?
That was okay. Between ’91, when I left, and ’94, those 3 years, I went right into recording with Ju Ju Hounds. We did a world tour. It wasn’t all that long by touring standards, but it was like continuous travel. We played Japan twice, Europe twice, Australia. We kept doing laps. So that tired me out a little bit, I suppose. I was working with Alan Niven, who was the original Guns N’ Roses manager, and that kind of grew old. I had signed a really, what I thought was a pretty bad deal. It was like a 5-year deal. Then in the interim, between ’91 and ’94, I had to hire a law firm, and Guns N’ Roses had their law firm. We were going through this like…What’s it called? When you leave a business…All this red tape. Like when you leave it says, “Okay, well, here’s what’s going to happen from here.” So I had attorneys draw this shit out. It was like just watching tons of money go for no reason. It’s just kind of depressing.
When you look back at the whole Guns N’ Roses experience, how does it play out now?
It was a trip, man.
What happened with it? Why couldn’t it go on?
You look at the five personalities that were in it. Everybody was living…it was just five knuckleheads. The shit hit the fan in a big way for us. That’s all. I mean, some of the stupid stuff that went on, it’s hilarious when I look back on it. It’s all pretty miraculous that everybody lived through it. There was a lot of drug use – well, it’s the same with all bands. I mean, Aerosmith, Zeppelin. They’ve all gone through that stuff. But it was kind of like that monkey-in-the-cage thing. You’re on the tour, you’re living out of hotel rooms all the time. Our first tour lasted, I want to say, 14 months from day 1. The first week everybody was just hammering yourself as far as you could go. After 2 weeks, you go, “God, we’ve got to conserve a little bit of energy if we’re going to last out here.” After 12 months, you don’t even know your name. You’re just on this circus ride. So it was pretty wacky. In that sense, it was pretty wild. When the dust settled, it was like today. There’s nothing left of it. I mean, I’m still friends with Duff and Slash. I don’t think there is any animosity amongst everybody, probably not even with Axl. But the actual band is pretty much…it’s just him now.
Guns could have said so much more musically, too.
Yeah. I think it would still be easy to do a record with those guys. When I left in ’91, I always left the door open. I told them, I said, “Look, man. I’m out of this stuff, you know? This is a fucking out-of-control setup.” I managed to get sober in ’88. God, has it been that long? So I remember when I was in the band, I was like the only sober guy for over a year. I mean, I’m living with these guys who were good friends and we used to hang out on the streets together and were always, always hanging out together.
You were one of the first to stop drinking?
After a year of being sober in the band, I was just watching these guys killing themselves. I finally got to the point where it was like, I had to get out of that whole thing. I just said, “Either I follow them down or I step out and hopefully they’ll wake up and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’” I look at Duff now, and he’s completely together and sober. He’s healthy. He works out. It’s just incredible because when I left he was bloated and he was drinking a giant thing of vodka. I mean, he had it by his bed stand. I was just as bad with everything else.
So it was more that reason than a musical problem?
Yeah, the music at that point had kind of taken a backseat, and I think it does with a lot of bands. You start out and it’s just the music. This is how it worked for us. The music was like the center. That was the thing. That was everything. As it became TV and video and national stardom and all this shit, it became, “Well, now you’re famous and you’ve got to put another record out.” I mean, that’s how it seemed like when we were doing the Illusion stuff. I read a book once by Alice Cooper. It’s called Me, Alice. It’s so great. It was written in the ‘70’s. I remember reading the book and he said, “There’s no way you could ever prepare yourself for massive, international stardom.” I remember reading this and I was like – well, I was 18 or whatever – but I was living out in Pasadena in this guy’s basement. I remember reading that quote and I thought, “Wow, so if we ever make it, maybe that’s how it will be.” He said, “You’ve just got to hang on to it and kind of ride the rocket.” And I remember that. As soon as we had like the big top-10 videos, I was like, “This is the rocket ride that I read about.” It was pretty trippy. It was funny, too, because when we left Hollywood, it was like “Least Likely To Succeed: They suck. They’re junkies. They’re going to fail.” Then we came back and everybody loved us. I was like, “Wait a minute! They hate us!” Even the label was ready to drop us. They were like, “What you mean you don’t have a manager? What you mean there’s no fucking record?” We couldn’t get a manager to save our lives. They’d come and they’d take one look at us and leave. We met them all! I remember one night, me and Slash had just come back from Tijuana. We had tequila. We had an apartment off of Sunset there. We had tequila and heroin was my thing of choice back then whenever we could get it. We were dabbling in it at that time, too. We didn’t have serious habits. But I remember we were just sitting on the couch and one of the guys came in to meet us. He was there 10 minutes and he must have known. I guess when you’re that stoned you think nobody else knows. We’re all sitting there, thinking we’re cool! Then Alan Niven came along, and thank God he came along. He took us on. He probably looked at us and said, “Ah, they’re a mess” – but I think he had been there maybe himself and saw potential. He worked with us and he kind of, whether anybody says it or
not, he became like the 6th silent member. He was like a major factor in getting Guns N’ Roses out of this town and into wherever. He was really important.
Were you involved with the Guns writing process heavily?
Oh, yeah. I would say about half of that was put together in my apartment, over there on Orchard next to Holiday Inn (in Hollywood near the famed Sunset Strip). But we used to hang in the apartment there. We wrote “Nightrain.” We worked on arrangements and stuff.
When you left Guns, did you have a batch of songs that you knew you wanted to put together?
I kind of started fresh again because I had always been writing, all through Guns N’ Roses. I always had a 4-track or something, a cassette player or whatever. I would always be constantly writing. I still do it to this day. I’ve always got a tape deck laying around, just like a little pocket thing. And if I get an idea, I’ll like hum it on the tape. I’ll play acoustic guitar and I just leave it with ideas. Sometimes it will just be a clip of like 10 seconds, 15 seconds. It will be maybe a full tape of that kind of thing. If I get to the tape and play it back and I hear something specific, I’ll work on it and kind of build it up into a song. But yeah, I was always writing with them, especially once we started getting out on the road. I’d get a lot of ideas. It would keep me busy.
Are you one of these people who believes that without the drugs Guns N’ Roses might not have had the same kind of fame?
I don’t know. At the time, we sure thought! At the time, we thought, “That’s the way it goes. That’s how you do it.” Because look who we’re looking at. I mean, I learned from guys like Aerosmith, Zeppelin, Stones. “All of these guys did it! They’re cool!”
Getting back to the music for a moment, how do you build a track in the studio?
I almost always come in with at least half of the stuff already. It always starts with acoustic guitar and usually either some melody or some lyrics. Then on most of the stuff, I just take in the song as I thought it would go. Then we kind of hash through it and maybe take a little bit out here and there, or maybe add a little bit here and there. Everybody kind of chips in with ideas until we feel it’s like finished.
You were playing Telecasters and Gibsons back in the day, right?
Yeah, although lately I’ve started getting into some Gretsch guitars the past few years. On most of this album, I use this Gretsch Country Gentleman, like a 70’s with the fake f-holes that were painted on. Don’t ask me why. I think I went to buy this guitar and I thought it was something else. I got it home and it worked really great. It stayed in tune with the whammy bar on it. I got a hold of this Country Gentleman, and I ended up using it on almost all this stuff. I ran it through one of those Fender reissue amps that looks like an old vintage amp, 10-inch speaker. It’s got 4 knobs: volume, bass, treble, and maybe one other. But once you get it set, that’s it. It’s great. I think I did use a Tele, though, on “Ain’t It A Bitch.” It’s got a real Stones-y kind of sound. That’s the only one where I used the Tele.
Describe your rhythm guitar sound.
On this record, it just ended up being that Gretsch through that Fender. Mainly, I can throw it in the back of my car and just take it anywhere, plug it in, and it always sounds the same. It’s just real easy to set up.
Is it a high end-y kind of a thing you’re looking for?
No, not so much that. With the Gibsons, I always play on tour. Touring, I don’t know if I’ll end up using a Gretsch. On touring I always used the 335 Gibsons, like a Chuck Berry guitar, through a Mesa Boogie cabinet with old Fender Bassman heads. You get this big, gravelly, meaty sound. I don’t know if the Gretsch will be able to cut it live with the touring stuff. We’ll just have to try it. I’ve always used those Bassman heads, though, and like Gibsons. So the Gretsch, it will be an experiment. We don’t have any big live plans right now. We’ll try it out. I think the whammy bar thing, I started to fall into that groove. I was getting into doing that vibrato stuff, like western surf kind of thing. I just started to dig on that for a change because I never had a guitar with a whammy bar. I always thought that was for Eddie Van Halen. I just never really had one and I started getting in to it. I was like, “Yeah, this is cool.”
Were you always a singer?
I’ll put it this way, I always thought it would be cool to be a singer originally. But you know, it’s a lot of fucking work to sing and play drums because I started on drums. Not many guys do that. In all the Guns N’ Roses rehearsals, 9 out of 10 times, Axl was never there at the rehearsals. So 9 out of 10 times, we needed somebody to sing the songs. I would do a shitty version of “Welcome To The Jungle”! My range is about three notes, whereas his goes to all that high stuff. But I was always the guy singing all the Guns N’ Roses songs at rehearsals. So when it came time to do it myself, I was like, “Well, this is just the next step because it’s just like soundcheck or something, without the singer.” Eventually I thought, “Well, shit. This isn’t so bad. Actually, you don’t have to worry about another guy being on time.” It worked. I was always a fan of Dylan, Tom Petty. I figured those guys, those guys aren’t like great singers, but they’re great to listen to. So why not?
Are you harsh on your own performance?
No, in fact usually it’s the producer Eddie (Ashworth) that says, “Are you sure you guys don’t want to do that again?” “Nah, fuck it! That sounds good!” He’s like, “Uh, come back in here then.” No, I’m pretty lax on that stuff. After you get going, you can feel the ones that seem pretty good. It’s good not to be too critical, I think, with that kind of stuff. You can really start going backwards with it all.
Are you a better songwriter now than you were doing the Guns’ days?
Geez, I wouldn’t know. I don’t know. I wouldn’t have any ideas.
Do you think the songs are better realized?
I don’t know. I’m not sure because sometimes I hear a great song on the radio and I’ll be like, “Damn, that’s a fucking great song.” I listen to everything, the arrangement, the instrumentation, and the whole song. I soak it up. Then with my stuff or the stuff that we do on this record, even in Guns N’ Roses, as soon as it was recorded, I hardly ever listened back to it at all. It’s weird because I guess once we get it to the point where I think it’s finished, I just consider it done. I never really go back and analyze it, which maybe I should. I don’t know. With Guns N’ Roses, between Axl and I, it was a lot of intense criticism on each other, like when it came down to songwriting. Like half of the songs I would play to him he would go, “Ah, man, that’s fucking Black Sabbath. That’s Led Zeppelin, blah, blah, blah.” I would go, “What the fuck are you talking about? This is something completely different.” We would argue back and forth about it. He was a real nasty critic. So sometimes there was a lot of nitpicking in the music, trying to get stuff finished. I guess in the end it came out okay. People really dig it, so. But with my stuff, the stuff I’ve been doing since I’ve been solo, we don’t get nasty about it really. We take a little bit more laid-back approach, I think, for better or worse.’”
BY STEVEN ROSEN- First published here January 6, 2014
How sobriety raised his guitar playing to a higher level.
Source: Steven Rosen Archives, March 2011
There was a point in time during the Guns N’ Roses days when it seemed like a pretty sure thing that Duff McKagan was headed for a fall. He and bandmate Slash were a disaster waiting to happen. But they pulled it together and cleaned themselves up and rose to the occasion of becoming some truly inspired musicians.
On Sick, Duff’s newest album with band Loaded, he shows off that sobriety by bringing in musical influences as far a field as the Rolling Stones and horns and punk and straight up rock. Behind the microphone, Duff sounds confident and angry and passionate. And on guitar, he is bashing out some very innovative rhythm phrases
There is much more to Duff McKagan than most people might know. Here he lets us inside his head for a little while.
‘How much is Loaded different in comparison with Velvet Revolver or Guns N’ Roses? I’m referring to the emotional aspects rather than the actual music. Does it feed your soul in bigger ways than the other projects?
Maybe it does, in that amazing way you just put it. It’s healthier for my soul. I’m not saying that Slash isn’t healthy for my soul, but it is a thing that happened during the journey thus far. There was just a ton of drama, things I couldn’t contain or put my finger on. So you become a little lost. For me, being a sober guy, it’s either me sober or me six-feet underground. I become lost and I start swimming around, and that’s not healthy for me. This is something that, number one, is containable. Number two, there is a lot of humor in this band. VR is very serious. When things started getting heavy with Scott, things became more serious. There was no joking. We would get on tour buses and it would be silent. So I really needed this to happen. I didn’t try to make Loaded happen – it just did happen again. We would play a couple times every year during the whole VR time anyhow, and we always knew we were going to make a second record after Dark Days. We didn’t think it was going to take eight years, but things happen for a reason. I think last summer we started writing new songs for this record and just kept hanging out together back home in Seattle. We would come up here every summer, and if I’m on tour then my family is here anyhow. That makes me feel better. I think it’s a better place for my daughter. I feel more secure up here in Seattle. I feel smarter in Seattle. It’s a more intellectual and cultural town than Los Angeles by far. In a coffee shop here, people are talking about books. They read, for example. It’s just being with these guys. It’s funny all the time. Mike Squires, the guitar player, he has an IQ of something like 160. He’s an extremely smart guy. We talk about politics and the economy and discovery and esoteric things, and it’s great. We do crossword puzzles. We’re nerds, man! But I like being a nerd, and it’s really who I’ve always sort of been. I think maybe I’m kind of a cool nerd. I grew up in punk rock being here in Seattle, and that really nurtured forward thinking. It’s okay to think differently, and you don’t have to do what everybody else is doing. You don’t have to play Journey songs in a bar. You can write your own songs.
Does Loaded have the same kind of energy that Guns N’ Roses did in the early days – without the drugs and alcohol? Is there still an organic type of feel to it, in that you don’t have to push to make the music happen?
Well, it started it with that, and then we decided to make our second record. “Let’s do it.” That was two Christmases ago when we played that charity show in Seattle. By Spring of ’08, I knew that the VR tour was going to come to an end. So last summer, we simply got into a room to start hashing out some songs. Out of nowhere, out of left field, inspiration happened within the band. It became really exciting and really great. We wrote melodies and these really hard songs and really heartfelt songs like “Mothers Day” and “Wasted Heart,” and kick-ass rock songs like “I See Through You,” “Sleaze Factory,” and “Flatline.” It was just like, “Wow, all this stuff is happening and it’s really great.” We did a little record deal, and we just thought we would make a little record and go to the UK and play some gigs in the States and go back to Japan. Loaded is actually big in Japan. We were big in Japan from the Dark Days record. We’ve gone over to play there a bunch of times. It got up to where we were selling out every place we played. It was great. So we really thought small, though. We did a little record deal. We made this record for 20 grand. We didn’t need anything more to make it. We were ready to go and went into the studio. We just went in. The record sounds more urgent, I think, as a result. We don’t got time to fuck around. We don’t even have time to have lunch. We don’t! We’ve got to get this drum track and everything down that day. I think that the record is healthier because of that limited budget. We decided to put out the EP in Europe and go tour there last fall. The tour was just amazing. We sold out and did our own club tour and small theater tour in the UK. I wanted to go to the UK because that’s where Guns broke first and where Velvet broke first. I thought, “Well, if they like those two things, then they’ll like this thing. We can get solid ground underneath us.” It’s hard to break in the States as your first thing, simply because you’ve got to travel so far between cities, number one. Radio here – well, you know the politics of radio. It’s so tough. So we decided to start over there, and we went back to Japan in October. It was great. The record is coming out now, and it seems like things are picking up. There’s really, really, really good reviews on the record. It’s like, “Wow, no shit? Q Magazine likes it? They hate everything in rock.” It’s pretty great. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, but we’re playing Download. We’re playing Rock-am-Ring and Rock-im-Park. We’re playing some great radio festivals here in the States. The things we have booked so far have been really great. People want us on their festivals, and it’s so cool.
Did most of the musical ideas form in the studio? Did you have anything ready to go from past projects?
YWell, no, no, no. “Sick” was a song we wrote back in 2002. “Wasted Heart” was a song I wrote in 2006 or ’07. I wrote the whole song. “Forgive Me” was something I had written outside of the band. I brought it into the band. I wrote it on acoustic guitar. Once we started talking about making this record two winters ago was when we started. The great thing about GarageBand and MP3 is you can have this riff. Then you send it to everybody. So everybody starts going, “Well, okay. Shit.” Then Jeff Rouse will send me something back. “Well, I like that riff, but what if you changed it to this?” All of the sudden, you can write a record by doing this. I was in L.A., and these guys were up here. Or I was on the road, and one of those guys would be on the road. You can still contact them. So by the time we got into the rehearsal space The Brewery here in town, it’s a crappy little room that smells like rat poo. We got in there, and we kind of had an idea of where we were going. GarageBand has been a killer, killer tool.
“Wasted Heart” is one of the ballads on the record, and I sense that it has almost a Stones type of feel. Is that accurate or did the influence come from somewhere else?
know I’m influenced by everything I’ve heard. Whenever I’ve written a song, it’s not because I’ve been listening to the Stones for two weeks solid. “Wasted Heart” just happened. I try a lot of different tunings. Some of the tunings I don’t know if they’re legitimate or not! I’ll just tune a guitar to G Sharp Minor with a suspended something and write a song. Tunings, to me, lend to opening up a guitar. “Wow, what’s this? If I lay my finger over here and put my pinky here, listen to that.” “Wasted Heart” was one of those songs. I forgot what I tune the guitar to. Open A or something? The melody of the verse came right away. It does sound like a Stones thing. I wrote it about a kind of difficult time. The riff dictated what the melody was. The melody dictated to me what the song was going to be about. That’s how it always happens.
“Flatline” is the first single off the record. Was that how you wanted to introduce Loaded 2009 to an audience again? Would you say that particular song best represents the band at this point? Was it because it’s a good radio song?
I think it’s because it’s a good radio song. I don’t know. You would think I would know what good radio is, but I don’t know what it is anymore. I don’t know what anything means. I do songwriting for other artists. In the past couple years, I’ve gone to Nashville a couple times with some guys. People request me to come and write. This guy, Brian Howes, he’s from
Vancouver, B.C. He wrote the whole Hinder record and produced it. They’re bands that I don’t know much about like Nickelback and stuff like that. He’s like the godfather up there in Vancouver. He had asked if I’d be interested in coming up there and writing for some artists he had. I went up, and sometimes you can sit down with a guy and it’s not going to work. Sometimes it will. We wrote a couple songs, and then I heard him play this riff. I’m like, “Whoa, what’s that riff, dude?” “What riff? I was just fucking around.” “No, that riff.” He goes, “This?” We started writing, and it was the only song on there that I wrote with somebody else outside of the band. I wrote it after the record was done. I’m like, “Dude, this song has got to be a Loaded song.” I brought the song down and asked the guys in the band if it was cool. “Great. Let’s record and cut it.” Wewent back into the studio and cut it, and it was like, “Well, this could be our first single.” It kind of worked like that. My manager heard it and was like, “Yeah, this is definitely good for radio.” Then it will get somebody’s ears trained to sort of the minor-ness that is Loaded. It’s kind of off of left of center. Maybe they’ll open themselves up to “I See Through You” or “Sleaze Factory.”
Are there horns on “Blind Date Girl”?
There is, yeah.
Does that come from your Stax influences?
There is a band from Australia called The Saints. Yeah, I love the Stax shit, by the way. There was this punk rock band from Australia in 1977 that were called The Saints. They influenced a lot of bands. They were an influence of Guns. There was this song called “Move To The City” on our first EP. My brother played the horns on it. Guns would always have horn stuff on “Live Or Let Die” or something. My brother always played the horn stuff. So we were up here in Seattle, and that song “Blind Date Girl,” I heard horns in it. It all comes from The Saints, man. It stems from The Saints. My brother wasn’t up here in Seattle. He lives down in L.A. He came into the studio, and I couldn’t pay him much! Those horns turned out great.
Did you know from the beginning that you would be playing the guitar rather than the bass?
Every song I’ve ever written was on guitar, whether for Guns or VR or punk rock bands. I used to play guitar and sing in bands. I used to play drums in bands, too. I made a record on my own in ’93 and I played everything. I was playing drums and I played bass and guitar. Then I went and toured that record right after. I went to Europe, and I played rhythm guitar then. The Neurotic Outsiders was my first band in 1995 after sobriety. I was playing rhythm guitar, and Steve Jones was the lead guitar player. I sang a bunch in that band, and it’s way easier for me to sing and play rhythm guitar than it is to play bass. It’s like a million times easier. Then the idea of Loaded started. It was like, “Okay, I’m going to sing and play guitar.” So Jeff Rouse, the bass player for Loaded, I think is a better bass player than me. He’s really creative and really solid. I lucked out there, finding one of the best rock bass players who is unknown – until maybe now, hopefully. It’s just easier for me to play rhythm guitar. I have a rhythm guitar style that I think lends itself to the band.
Did you know there was going to be a second guitar player? I mean, did you know that you wouldn’t be taking on the lead guitar duties?
Mike Squires has been the lead guitar since 2001.
Did you learn how to get a good rhythm guitar sound from watching Slash or learn how to step up to a mic watching Scott? Did any of that rub off or was it more subliminal?
I think anybody would be lying if they said they weren’t influenced by the people they played with. In saying that, I certainly haven’t tried to mimic anything. I probably have learned the most about rhythm guitar playing from Izzy. He was probably the ultimate rhythm guitar player. I probably learned most of my guitar playing from my earliest influences. My style is more Steve Jones from The Pistols and Johnny Thunder. That’s what I gravitate towards. I don’t even know what Slash does on the guitar. He and I warm up together before gigs. We’ll play the different songs or whatever. We’ll play riffs. So I’ve seen him play for years and I know how he plays, but it’s all what comes from his brain. God knows what goes on in there. Slash, when I met him we were 19 years old. He already had this old soul to playing guitar. He’s a freak of nature, that dude. He’s so talented. He’s one of those guys that is good at anything he does. If he decided to play basketball tomorrow, he’d be good. I don’t know. Squires is definitely a different guitar player than Slash, but Squires is 36. He grew up playing to Slash and George Lynch. Those were his idols. So he comes from a different place than I do. I’m like, “Really? George Lynch was your idol?” I mean, I get it.
Do you have any specific equipment that you use to get that perfect rhythm guitar sound?
I go straight. I don’t have any effects. I don’t want to play any effects in the studio because I don’t want to use any effects when I play live. I don’t want to have to think about hitting pedals. So right there, I know where my box is. I have this Marshall head that I bought in ’92. It was modded by Bogner, hot-rodded by Bogner. I guess it’s comparable to when I go to Europe, where I rent the JCM 2000. It’s comparable to that, but nothing is like this head that I have up here in Seattle. I use an old, beat-up Marshall cabinet that I’ve had since 1990 or something. I think it was Slash’s that he used on Appetite. So that’s my sound. I have a couple Les Pauls that I use in the studio. I have two Bernie guitars. I got them in Japan. It’s a Les Paul, but in Japan they can copy this stuff like exactly. These Bernies, you can’t get them here because they’re illegal. But I swear, they sound better. I have this…I don’t want to say this. These Bernies accomplish my sound better than any other guitar. So I used the same guitar for the whole record. I only messed with the volume knob on my guitar.
In a perfect world, what happens now? What happens if the record takes off and they’re clamoring for you to fill stadiums?
I don’t know. One thing that I’ve learned is that I don’t know what is going to happen. I know in the next three months, I’ve got dates booked that I’ll be playing. Where am I going to be at six months from now? I couldn’t tell you. I don’t try to figure it out anymore. I’m secure enough in my own skin now that I can let things happen. I know I have to take care of my daughters and my wife. Other than that, musically I let it happen. I’m really, really happy now musically. I’m having one of the best times that I’ve had in a long time with my music in Loaded. I don’t want to wait another eight years to make a record. I want us to make a record every couple years now. I hope this is a band that I go into my 60’s or 70’s with. You can’t say that’s too old anymore because you’ve got the Stones and Iggy leading the way.
Do you keep in contact with Slash and the guys in VR?
Oh, sure, sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We haven’t made our best record yet. We wrote a bunch of new material last summer, and it’s far and above our best material. I think because we were back in that place, up again the wall. That’s when we perform the best. So we’re actively looking for a singer. The guy has got to be not just good, but great and have greatness. That will happen when it’s meant to happen. I’m not sweating it, but we haven’t made our best record yet. We all know we have to do that.
Have you heard Chinese Democracy? Do you have any comments on it?
I heard it. Axl’s voice sounds great. The rest of it, people have asked me, “Is it weird for you to have a Guns N’ Roses come out?” It’s not that at all. Maybe if I would have gotten kicked out of the band and then this record came out, then I probably would have felt hurt. But you’ve got to remember, I left in 1995. I left because the thing that we created in ’85 was over, and it had been over probably since 1989. We were just kind of chasing out tails trying to get that back. It wasn’t meant to be. So for this record to come out now some 21 years after we made Appetite, for it to have any sort of effect like “Oh shit,” it’s not like. It’s been Axl’s thing, and it always has. That will never change. As far as the band or the songs, they’re completely unfamiliar to me. There are some good songs that I really like, and there are some songs that I don’t. That could be any record we’re talking about.
I’m really glad to see that you’re not a casualty of rock and that some guys are able to pull back from the edge to lead a good life.
Mr. Curry has over 27 years of experience as a leader and executive with various publicly-traded and privately-held enterprise software and technology companies. Currently, he is Chief Marketing Officer and Board Member of eCasinoHost a cloud based guest service platform for gamming hospitality organizations. Prior, he was the Chief Marketing Officer of Conexion One, the leader in contact center outsourcing solution and technology. He previously managed both national and international channels for AltiGen Communications, a leading provider of enterprise unified communications solutions. Mr. Curry also held senior positions at Avaya, Lucent Technologies and AT&T. Mr. Curry holds a BS in Computer Science from Texas Technical College.
By Steven Rosen-Originally published here January 7, 2014
“1982 was an important year for Black Sabbath. Ozzy Osbourne had been out of the picture for several years now and replacement Ronnie Dio was coming to the end of his tether. The band was heavily into drugs, bassist Geezer Butler had departed and then returned, and now the group was forced to find yet another singer. Tony Iommi looked back on all of these changes during this conversation, talking honestly and openly about who Black Sabbath was and how they came to do the things they had done. At the very end of this exchange he touches on the subject of Ian Gillan, the former Deep Purple singer who would become the band’s new frontman. Really, by this time, Sabbath, as everyone knew them – a heavy metal band fronted by a madman named Ozzy Osbourne – had long since ended. Here, the guitarist puts it all in focus.
Black Sabbath actually started out as a jazz band?
Yeah, jazz solos and jazzy blues. We were doing a lot of 12-bar blues/jazz. I used to have everybody play in a jazz style. It was a thing that we really enjoyed at that time, doing jazz. It was good because it gave me a lot of practice on playing faster runs jazz-style. And you know, it’s helped a lot really.
Did those jazz chops come in handy when you played with Jethro Tull for a short period? The music Ian Anderson was writing seems like it may have incorporated more of a jazzy feel than what Sabbath was doing.
Well, they up and asked me if I was interested in joining and I said, ‘Yeah.’ It sounded alright. We were doing blues and jazzy sorts of things. They were listening to all these guitar players about 400 guitar players or something. I was only with them for a while; we rehearsed and got everything ready for this show, the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. It just wasn’t right so I left. At first I thought it was great, the band was really good. But I didn’t want to go for a leader in the band which was Ian Anderson. I didn’t really agree with that. I left and Mick Abrahams joined.
Had you already damaged your fingers when you were in Tull?
Yeah, it was years ago. I did welding, electric welding. I did it one day when I had to work on this press, cut the metal and shape the metal before I welded it. Somebody else used to do it but I had to do it this day because he didn’t come into work. I set it up but it was a faulty switch or something and I just pulled them (fingertips) off. It just gripped them and it pulled the others off. So, it presented a problem with my playing. It was really strange because I was due to finish this job on that day. I was going to tour with this professional band and go to Germany to work for four or five months. When this happened, I sort of thought, ‘Well, that’s it, I can’t play with the band now because I’ve done that.’ I was really hurt. I was inspired again by some guy who had brought me a record of Django Reinhardt who only had two fingers. And I thought, ‘Christ, how can athat guy play like that with two fingers?’ And it really helped me because I used to listen to this guy and I used to think, ‘Well, if he could do it with just two fingers, shoot, I could do it.’
I had to start all over again. I have to wear things now to play (these custom plastic fingertip ends similar to thimbles) because it would just slice through me, you know, it’s so tender there, the nerve endings. It’s helped me in a way because I use my little finger a lot.
You’ve long been considered the architect of a certain kind of sound and feel – heavy metal guitar. Did you have in your mind a conscious idea to create a specific tone, something that sounded sinister or dark?
As I mentioned, when we first started, we used to play jazz and blues and we were just sort of like pushed into this. It’s just something that came out that was totally different at that time. We found that we were writing all these sort of doomy songs and the words were really meaningful. We’ve never been able to explain it. We just got in and rehearsed and we came up with something that happened to be ‘Black Sabbath.’ It’s really been a mystical thing.
Without Black Sabbath today, I don’t think music would be the same. I think that’s what Black Sabbath was all about, we presented some sort of music that wasn’t around. I don’t think you have your Soundgardens and Metallicas and various other bands out there. I think of us as being innovators. I couldn’t understand how different it was and we didn’t understand much about it except we liked it. It was an exciting time.
Birmingham, England, the city where Sabbath was from, was really a thriving musical town back then.
Yeah, there was a lot of bands. You’ve got the Moody Blues, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, ELO, and the Move.
Were you actually friends with these other bands? Would you meet and talk about the newest guitar lick you’d just come up with?
Actually the scene wasn’t quite like that then. But I mean, yes, I’ve got lots of friends from them. (Jeff) Beck is still one of my best friends. I still see him. We go out to eat a lot, we’re the best of friends. I still see Planty (Robert Plant) every now and again and when I do see him, we chat. Bonham was one of my friends as well. We spoke about playing and doing stuff together, doing side projects and things.
Do you remember the first time you saw Jimmy Page play?
It was probably in the Yardbirds, I think. I didn’t know that much of him and then I saw Bonham in town one day, going to the city. Bonham and Planty together and they said, ‘Oh, we formed this new band’ and I said, ‘Alright.’ And they said, ‘Led Zeppelin and we got Jimmy Page’ and I was like, ‘Alright, great.’ They said they were going to be touring and all sorts of things. Next thing you know, they’re way up there.
And now talk about the first time you met Ozzy.
It was in school ‘cause he was in the same school as me. It was at Birchfield Road School which is in Birmingham. Ozzy was in there, a couple years younger than me, well, a year younger than me. He was in a different class and we didn’t much get on at school. I was probably a bit of a bully somewhat. Bill Ward and myself were looking for a singer and an advert in a shop said, ‘Ozzy Zig requires gig.’ I knew an Ozzy so we went around to see him and he opened the door and it was Ozzy. And I insisted, ‘Bill, forget it.’ I as in a band with Bill called The Rest and then there was a band called Mythology. And then a few days later, Ozzy and Geezer came to my house looking for a drummer and I said, ‘Well, I have Bill Ward.’ And we got together just doing old 12-bar stuff and Geezer never played bass before, he was a guitar player. He didn’t even have a bass, he was playing on this Telecaster. And then he borrowed a bass off a friend with three strings on it. And then he went off and swapped his guitar for a bass and then we went off from there.
When does the name Polka Tulk arrive in this chronology?
Polka Tulk was the first name our management at the time came up with and then we changed to Earth. Then we found out there’s another band called Earth and they were a pop band. We got mis-booked for them when somebody booked them. We turned up to play and were like little scruffy things and these guys were there with these bowties. And the guys says, ‘Oh, I like your new single’ and I went ‘Oh, great’ because we hadn’t got a single at that time! To keep a long story short, we played and died a death. They hated us.
After that we started writing our own stuff and it was after I came back from Jethro Tull as a matter of fact. Tull taught me a lot that you’ve got to work for it and rehearse. I was sort of put in the spot as leader and I got the band work because of me. What I learned from Ian was the attitude, getting it done, being there on time. They even used one of my riffs in “Nothing Is Easy.”
When did you actually start writing music that would later be recognized as Sabbath music?
The first thing was ‘Wicked World’ and it’s funny, it just sort of came. I never sort of sat down and worked it out or anything. You get into rehearsal and they (other bandmembers) looked at me to come up with something.
Was Ozzy a part of that creative musical process?
No, Ozzy never wrote any music. He couldn’t. ‘Who Are You’ (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath) was the only one I think Ozzy done. He came up with the melodies.
And the lyrics?
No. He done some lyrics but Geezer did most of the lyrics. Ozzy just did the melodies, yeah.
Can you describe your experience with the first album?
We made that record in two days and it seemed like a long time. We played live and Ozzy was singing at the same time on some of them (live tracks). We just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never even had a second run on most of the stuff ‘cause they said, ‘That’s it, that’ll do, that’s fine, next song.’ I’ll never forget when we come to do ‘Warning,’ ‘cause it’s a long song, I did that guitar solo stuff in that. And we thought we were going to have to redo this. And I said, ‘Well, I don’t like what I played, any chance of doing it again?’ And they said, ‘Well, okay, we’ll try it again, one more go of it. If you don’t get it this time, we’ll have to use that (first) one.’
After you recorded the Black Sabbath album, did you find there were more gigs being offered and more money?
We couldn’t work in England so our main gigs were in Europe. We played the Star Club in Hamburg and we broke The Beatles record.
Was the band involved in drugs and drinking at this time or did that come a bit later?
It was around. When we started touring, we tried acid. Uppers and downers and all sorts of things; Quaaludes. And then it got to the stage where you come up with ideas and forgot them because you were just so out of it. But the band was fine. I think Ozzy was always a little bit worried (while on tour) because he’d go onstage and he didn’t know what to do, what to say. I’d be getting on him, ‘Say something; organize a raffle or whatever.’
Jumping ahead a bit, what was it like by the time you recorded the Master of Reality record?
We took a little longer on that; we had a few problems. We started shifting studios; we had about two or three different studios in London. And Bill had a particular problem with ‘Lord Of This World’ and we went to Olympic Studios. We came here to Los Angeles for the Volume IV album and it worked really well. We had everything: wine, women, drugs, everything. We were living in Bel Air (very expensive and elite part of Los Angeles) which was pretty good. All this happened more or less straight after the first album. The band was playing a lot of the world and everybody knew Black Sabbath by the time Paranoid came out.
Our first thing to do when we had money was to buy houses and start getting other things. Nothing seemed to mean anything anymore ‘cause you could get it so easy. I think that started settling in after the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. We came over to Los Angeles to do Sabbath Bloody Sabbath after the Volume IV album which we really enjoyed. But it wasn’t working the same, the ideas weren’t coming. Everybody was sort of sitting there waiting for me to come up with something. And if I didn’t come up with anything, then nobody would do anything. We ended up going back to England and it was like I was to blame, I think, because I couldn’t come up with anything. So we took a break and decided to go into a hired castle in Wales, an old castle. We rehearsed in the dungeons there and it was really creepy but it had some atmosphere and it sort of conjured up something. Stuff started coming out again and I think one of the first songs that came out was ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.’ And they did have a ghost; Ozzy and myself saw something one day. We saw this guy coming down the steps, dressed in black, and he just went into this door and I said, ‘Who’s that?’
And what about the albums that followed: Sabotage and We Sold Our Souls For Rock and Roll?
We went back to England for Sabotage; we went into Morgan Studios. The reason it was called Sabotage was because we had so many problems on that album. We were breaking up with our management and we were getting sued by this person and that person. But everybody put their part in. while we were working something out musically, Ozzy couldn’t do anything so he would just to out and play pinball.
And then we went to Criteria in Florida for the next album. It was great fun. And then for Never Say Die that was when the problems started setting in deeply. Ozzy left the band, he wanted to leave. We brought in Dave Walker who was with Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac. We brought him in and he sang and then Ozzy wanted to come back. It was very difficult for me.
Right after you did Never Say Die was when you went on the tour where Van Halen opened for Black Sabbath?
Yes. They were relatively new then; it was their first world tour. They came with us for eight months and I thought they were very good, excellent. He’s a great player. After that tour, we came here to L.A. and stayed for eleven months. We had a house again in Bel Air and we all decided to live together and do another album which just didn’t happen. It was a time when we were going through a lot of drugs and nothing was happening. Ozzy couldn’t seem to think of any ideas at the time and we were presenting some ideas to him but he just sort of came in and he got really frustrated.
Let’s bring to a close this conversation with what finally happened with the band at this time?
The record company was pushing us for tracks and they were asking to hear some tracks. We had come to a decision of either we’re going to just break up or Bill and Geezer said to me that if we don’t do something, they’re going to leave anyway. We came to the decision to talk to Ozzy and give him an ultimatum: If you don’t do something, we’ll bring in another vocalist. And that’s what we did. We brought in (Ronnie) Dio and had a go with him. And it was funny, Ozzy’s present wife had suggested Dio as a matter of fact. At that time, I think Ozzy had come to an end; I think he just sort of had to sort himself out a bit. We were all doing a lot of drugs, a lot of coke, a lot of everything, and I think Ozzy was getting drunk so much at that time.
Then when we brought Dio in, he came in with a different attitude and started singing to some of the riffs we’d got and we thought, ‘Oh, great, these riffs are alive.’ We wrote Heaven and Hell and it worked out really well. We went to Miami and wrote some new songs; I think we wrote ‘To Die Young’ there. And we went into Criteria and recorded it. Geezer had some problems, nobody really knew this, and Geezer left for a while (before this) because he had personal problems. Geezer came back and played on it.
They (Ozzy and Ronnie) were totally different. Ozzy was a good showman, still is. We knew Ozzy and accepted him for what he was and he knew us and accepted us. When Dio came in, it was a lot more of a different attitude; it was more professional because he came in with a different voice and he came with a different musical approach. He would sing sort of across the riff whereas Ozzy would probably follow the riff particularly in (a song like) ‘Iron Man.’
After that, we toured and toured. It was a challenge again; we had to prove ourselves (because) we were going out with a new singer. Then we did Mob Rules but not before Bill Ward left because he had problems with Ronnie. And we brought in Vinnie Appice. And then things started deteriorating with Ronnie because he probably wanted more say in things. And then Geezer would get upset about him.”