In the frame of a mini tour of very successful guitar clinics, where Doug Aldrich provided a few tips to some lucky and aspiring guitarists, we had the chance to catch up with him and do an interview in Athens. The Whitesnake axeman turned back the hands of time for a quite interesting chat, as you will see below…
Interview: Sakis Nikas, Yannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: How did the idea of doing those clinics come up?
Doug Aldrich: I knew that Whitesnake wouldn’t be touring around winter time and it’s been really 3 years since I last did these kind of things…these clinics…the fact is that I enjoy teaching and when the opportunity came to come to Greece and to some other countries I felt great. It’s a cool way to hang with people, get to know them, maybe help them in some ways if they want to know more things about the guitar…techniques, maybe songwriting tips…for example in these clinics I try to describe the inspiration behind some Whitesnake songs that I wrote with David (Coverdale). It’s just a fun thing and it’s definitely a good thing for the Whitesnake fans to come to these clinics and learn more about their favorite band. It’s a relaxed situation…when you are on tour everything’s so rushed. There’s really no time to talk to people…
Rockpages.gr: I think it’s also quite refreshing for you as a guitarist…
Doug Aldrich: Oh yeah, it’s fun. You know…I am very shy about talking and it’s good for me to put myself in this position whereas I am in the centre of the attention…I am really nervous. I try to be honest and say to the fans: “let’s just have fun and please ask me whatever questions you want”. It’s really a casual class about music.
Rockpages.gr: As a guitarist, what are really the main differences of being on stage with a band and being in the centre of attention with the clinics?
Doug Aldrich: It’s quite different obviously…I like both, really…with Whitesnake it’s the greatest job. We get to travel really well around the world and everybody takes good care of us. We also have some of the greatest fans…in these clinics things are more music-oriented and the main point is my guitar playing and the discussions around songs and techniques. The first time that I did that kind of thing…it was around 2009 and I remember going home and feeling really good about the whole experience. I was very proud because I am not a classical-trained musician. I mean, I read music a little bit…I know a little bit of theory but what I can discuss with people is being in a band and playing with your heart.
Rockpages.gr: Does this interaction with the fans inspire your songwriting?
Doug Aldrich: I wouldn’t say that it inspires me but it pushes me to be a better player. That’s for sure…after doing this for a couple of weeks, my chops are really good…probably better than any other time because I am focused on practicing. When I am at home I don’t sit down and practice the scale, you know…(ed.note: Doud plays the guitar up and down the scale). With Whitesnake it’s really the same thing every night…I am not complaining, though…don’t get me wrong. As I said, it’s the greatest job in the planet and I love it. But, it’s the same set list and the same guitar parts every night with a few exceptions here and there. In the clinics, you have to be ready for everything. The fans could ask you about the most bizarre song and you have to show them how you did it.
Rockpages.gr: Let alone if someone asks you to show him something from the days with Lion (Aldrich’s first band)…
Doug Aldrich: (laughs)…well, he could ask and I will do my best!
Rockpages.gr: You have been influenced by some legendary guitarists like Hendrix and Beck. Yet you had your real first break as a professional musician in the 80s where technique and showmanship were really more important than the blues-based sound. How difficult was it for you to compromise during that era?
Doug Aldrich: Well, I was young at that time and it felt like the normal way to go. You know…Lion was never a glam metal or hair metal band. We were influenced by such bands as Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake and we weren’t a Van Halen-type of band like all the others in L.A. at the time. We had a European sound because our singer was Scottish and we kinda stood out; we were different. But in regards with my guitar playing…I would still play blues-based parts.
Rockpages.gr: In 1982 you auditioned for the replacement of Ace Frehley in KISS. Describe to us the whole experience and do you remember which songs did you play together?
Doug Aldrich: I remember meeting the drummer (ed.note: Eric Carr) and he invited me to come down the rehearsals and meet Paul (Stanley) and Gene (Simmons). I was a kid…I was only 17-18 years old. I was nervous because no one had ever seen them without their make-up…they were really protective about the whole thing. I remember being afraid of looking them at their faces when they were speaking to me (laughs)! I don’t even remember what they really looked like because I didn’t have the guts to look them at the face (laughs)! But…they were very nice. When I walked into the room, Paul and Gene were singing together in their mics. They were working on “Creatures of the Night”…I remember at a point where Gene came up to me and said: “Can you play this solo on a major scale”? I said…“major scale…what’s that”? He goes: “do, re, mi…”…I said: “Ah, OK…I know that” (laughs)! I will never forget that…then we played “Detroit Rock City”, “Firehouse” and “Black Diamond”. You know…these were the three songs that we played together and to tell you the truth I didn’t even know about “Black Diamond”. I loved the song! I was more of a Zeppelin fan…but “Black Diamond” at the time was their…let’s say…“Free Bird” or their “Stairway to Heaven”. Paul and Gene loved that song. Let’s see what else I remember…oh yeah…I remember walking into the rehearsal room and it was huge! It was like an arena! It was their stage and Marshall amps stacked up to the roof! They called me back a couple of days later and they asked me to learn “Calling Dr. Love” and something else…so I came back for a second time and I was really nervous because I thought that maybe I had a chance. You must remember that I have never done an audition in my life up to that point. In the end, it didn’t work out because I was too young. I was really a kid and they were already superstars.
Rockpages.gr: A couple of years ago we lost Ronnie James Dio. The few times that I had the honor to talk with him, I was astonished by his kindness and simplicity. If you had to point down just one thing that you learned from him, which one would that be?
Doug Aldrich: He was driven and he was a perfectionist. He was very strong-minded about what he wanted…he was very particular about the types of riffs that he wrote and all in all he wanted one way which was really his way! I respected that…I absolutely did because he made me a better guitar player. Listen…I feel blessed to be able to be working with David Coverdale…he is my all-time favorite singer. I wouldn’t have been able to get to know David and work with him if it wasn’t for Ronnie…that’s the truth! Ronnie believed in me…he believed in me as a guitar player and he opened his home, his heart for me…he let me be a part of the Dio family. It was really cool of him. We had the best time working together…Ronnie was very intense…he would get upset if someone made a mistake but he was always respectful. When he was upset, I would go to him and asked: “Hey Ronnie, what can I do, man”? Ronnie would say: “Doug, that’s really cool but I will take care of it…I really appreciate it”. If he was mad at someone, he would yell at him but after a while he would return and apologize and everything would get back to normal. He was a real gentleman.
Rockpages.gr: Your collaboration with David Coverdale has given so far two Whitesnake records that combine the early blues sound of the band with their late 80s hard rock edge. How much did your playing and compositional style influence that direction and how does the whole thing work between you and David…I mane do you sit together and work on a song…?
Doug Aldrich: Basically, we write together all the songs. Sometimes, David plays some guitar parts and I sing to him…you know, trying to sing like David Coverdale (laughs). I can sing some background (vocals) but David is a master…he is the greatest. He trusts me and I trust him and we work really well together…it’s very inspiring and creative. We just basically try to write things that we like. For example, sometimes he sends me an idea, a vocal melody and I am trying to come up with a riff that will fit right into that idea. It just works…we didn’t plan on bringing the two sides together but since it started happening I am glad because I love the early Whitesnake….that’s the first Whitesnake that I’ve heard way before “1987”. In USA, everybody learned the band from that record…well, maybe “Slide It In” but they didn’t even know about those early records. When I was in Lion, we had the Scottish singer (Kal Swan) who was basically a David Coverdale freak! He had all the records and he was very much into Thin Lizzy, Status Quo…on the other hand, I loved Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Rainbow, UFO…all those excellent British bands. I love the groovy and the bluesy stuff of the early Whitesnake songs and all I am trying to do is capture that feeling in a more modern way. Definitely, everybody knows “Is This Love”, “Still of the Night”, “Here I Go Again”…and we are trying to write songs that will fit also with that Whitesnake mood. So, you are trying to write songs that could fit both in…let’s say…“Slip of the Tongue” and “Come an’ Get It”. It’s very difficult…
Rockpages.gr: How does it feel for you to be collaborating with Reb Beach?
Doug Aldrich: Reb is an amazing guitar player…he is more into the touring aspect of Whitesnake maybe. In regards with writing…his style and mine are very different. I think we work well together in the studio though and he I enjoy working with him there. David and I have a very natural collaboration… but it took some time to get to know how he likes to compose. When I first joined the band, David said: “It’s a two-month tour and then you’re gonna go back to Dio”. I didn’t have any problem with that. As you know, the two-month period has become 9 ½ years! Reb and I are senior members (laughs). When we were talking of doing a record in the very beginning, David didn’t make any promises but he also made clear to me that we would probably record some stuff together. David is a very honest person. Little by little, we started talking about riffs which then turned into songs and…it takes a chemistry to work with David. When we recorded the four songs for the “Live…in the Shadow of the Blues” record, I was really satisfied but when we started working on “Good To Be Bad” then we were definitely on a roll. It was a real chemistry happening. Not only me and David but the whole band. I love working with Reb…he is a genius player…Tichy is the best drummer out now I think. And Michael Devin plays with such a big heart. He really drives this line up.