||Don Airey revealed||
"Music isn't to be trifled with"
Despite a solid pedigree, and having worked with some of the most major musicians in the industry, Don Airey is still unknown to most rock fans, especially in North America. As Deep Purple embark on their second major North American tour of 2004, The Highway Star shine the spotlight on the 'new guy' behind the keyboards.
THS: If you look at your career over the whole period of time, you're primarily known as a session guy. You have a huge resume, you've worked with a lot of people, but it sort of looks like everything you've done has sort of been as keyboardist-for-hire: you walk in, you do your keyboards -- it seems this is the first band situation you've been in. I know you were in Rainbow and with Ozzy, but...
DA: Somebody said this to me the other day, "you're a session guy, what are you doing in a band?" I said, "I'm actually a band player, that's what I do." A session is something I do on the side. As a keyboard player, you're not like a guitarist where you are absolutely necessary to proceedings. You can be, in some rock situations, pretty much of a spare part. If people have to economise, you're the first to go. I tend to stay for three years in every band I've been in.
THS: Is that by choice or just the way it worked out?
DA: It just seems to work out that way. I seem to get tired of it after about three years so sometimes I move on. That's just the way I am. I think my first band was Cozy Powell's Hammer. The people in that band were Bernie Marsden, Neil Murray, myself, Frank Aiello and Cozy. We're all still in touch except, of course, for Cozy; we're in touch with each other every week, such is the closeness of that band. I was with Cozy for two or three years, Rainbow for three years, Ozzy for four. During all that time I've worked with Gary [Moore] over periods. I stepped out of the business in the early 90's when my son was quite ill. Well, he was very ill actually and I spent a lot of my time in the hospital with him, but doing bits and pieces just to keep going. I came back in around about 1996 when I joined Electric Light Orchestra, which was a wonderful band.
THS: So that was a band situation, it wasn't as much a hired gun?
DA: That was when Lou Clark dropped out and they asked me to take over for him. I think Lou thought he was indispensible. When he found out that it was going rather well, he decided to come back. He came back so I was out of a job and then I worked with Uli Roth on and off for two or three years. Then with Bernie, Micky Moody and Neil in Company of Snakes.
THS: You wouldn't actually think of any of those as a session situation? Those were all being part of the band at the time?
DA: Yeah, it's a funny how they work. Bands are funny things, they are very expensive things to run. It's a high risk business. I've seen people that want to be in a band, they put a band on the road and they ruin themselves. I've seen people lose both houses and...
THS: Just burning up money left, right and center.
DA: Yeah, I think somebody said it's like digging a hole, putting 50 pound notes in it and pouring petrol on it. It's something you'd like to be part of all the time but it doesn't always work out. I've made sure that I do sessions, I'm mobile, I'm ready to go. I do a lot of arranging.
THS: I was about to ask you that. You did the Katrina & The Waves thing for the Eurovision Contest. Was that just a one-off deal again?
DA: They've got a studio near to where I live and I met them when I was doing a festival with Bernie Marsden in Switzerland. What a great band they are! They were a real band!
THS: I loved them back in the 80's, they were great.
DA: They're still great. I think this was in 1993 and I went up to their studio and they said, "can you play on this track?" and I just played something, and they went, "hey, that's great!" You know, one take. So I ended up doing the album with them. I did a couple of albums with them. They were doing a thing for the Samaritans. I think Alex Cooper, the drummer, his brother-in-law runs the Samaritans, and they approached Katrina: could they write a song for the Samaritans?
THS: For a benefit?
DA: For an advert, they were doing some kind of big promotion. So we did "Love Shine A Light", which had been been knocking around for a bit. It was like a little folk song. I said, "oh, come on, let's rock it up!", so we rocked it up. The Samaritans sent it back, they hated it! They said, "we can't use it!" So Alex phoned me up and he said, "I hope you don't mind but we're going to enter it for the Eurovision Song Contest." I said, "oh great! I'm such a fan of the Eurovision!" I mean, we never thought for a minute...
THS: You thought it was just one of those throwaway things?
DA: "Oh, we'll just enter it", and we won the British bit and they said, "we're going to Ireland and we want you to arrange for the orchestra." So I did a no-holds-barred arrangement with trumpets and everything. About halfway throught the week it suddenly occurred to me that we could win this.
THS: Yeah, "hey, wait a minute!"
DA: Some journalists there asked me, "you're heavy metal, what are you doing here?" I said, "I'm playing with a great band, representing my country, I'm proud to be here." And I was!
THS: It's like a professional hockey player going to the Olympics.
DA: Yeah, it was a fantastic experience.
THS: Would you do it again?
DA: Oh no, once was enough! I don't think it comes twice in one lifetime.
THS: It was just one of those opportunities that drops in your lap and you run with it for a while.
DA: Yeah, and the best thing was when I came down where I live. I went to the pub the next day in the afternoon and of course they had all been in the pub watching it. They were up on the tables at the end. Joy was unconfined! So we had a tremendous party. It was a great thing. Something totally out of the blue. That is one of the delights of the music business.
THS: That leads into the next question, are you an arranger at heart or is that just something you do on the side?
DA: Well, it's something I've taught myself to do.
THS: I am thinking of the Police project you were involved with.
DA: When I left Rainbow I thought I was fed up with being on the road. I had been on the road for eight years more or less non-stop and I thought, "I have to find something else to do". I had three months between Rainbow and Ozzy. I got a lot of scores and I just sat down and went back to school. We had learned a lot of stuff in college and done a lot of exercises, so I found a harmony teacher, a music teacher where I lived, and I did exercises with this guy; I'd go up to see him every week and he'd mark them and show me this and show me that, just to bring me back up to speed a little bit with arranging, until I went out with Ozzy. During that time I think I made some connections with the symphonic people in London. They came back to me and said, "we want you to do this," which was the Police project. I came off the road with Ozzy and they said - and this was September 1st - they said, "the orchestra is booked to September 26", and I hadn't written a note! And that's how that business works, they want it now. You know, "when do you want it? We want it yesterday!" So I had really a couple of weeks to do all these arrangements. It's a pretty unpleasant experience, doing all that. But it is the most satisfying thing to me. It's the worst paid job in music, being an arranger, but it's the most satisfying, if you know what you're doing. And when you hear the Royal Philharmonic doing it's stuff, wow...
THS: I bet that's the attraction for Jon, when he wrote the Concerto; part of that is wanting to hear that full-bodied...
DA: Yeah, you hear that sound and it's the most marvellous thing. The standard of the musicians is just so incredibly high. There's nothing you can write for them that they can't play.
THS: Did you get any Frank Zappa moments where you wanted to write something impossible just to see...
DA: It's funny, was it the Royal Philharmonic, the famous session at Abbey Road with Frank Zappa that crumbled to dust? He really upset them and if you upset an orchestra, they can be bogus, they just won't work for you. It's like a horse -- if you don't know how to ride it, you can't get a horse to go. Orchestras are the same. They'll pretty much suss you out in a minute. Someone like me, I mean I don't pretend I can conduct, but you don't need it. I met this wonderful man when I was doing Eurovision who was the Slovenian MD [Musical Director] and he was 73. It was his 5th Eurovision. He said, "they use me because I am the only person left in Slovenia who can write music." I asked, "will you give me a conducting lesson?" He said, "yeah, come here!" He said, "all conducting is that you give the orchestra the time and let them get on with it." It's a simple thing and that was great advice.
THS: Basically you're a human metronome.
DA: You just have to give them the time and...
THS: The rest is showmanship, without the players?
DA: No, no, no! I mean, the great conductors, that IS just wonderful to watch. But when you're a jobbing arranger, the orchestra, they're so good those guys that they can get on without you and they can help you, that's the thing. You can just let them know what you want, and as long as they think you kind of know what you're talking about, you're alright! So it's a funny thing.
THS: You mentioned someone said to you, "you're heavy metal, what are you doing over here in this other vein?" Your personal stuff -- I am thinking of the K2 project, for instance -- it seems like your personal material is more in a classical vein as opposed to hard rock and heavy metal. Is that true?
DA: Classical music has played a great part in my life and it does tend to come out a bit. When you're a keyboard player the devices that are open to a guitarist aren't open to you.
THS: What do you mean?
DA: The music, the riffs and stuff, come from a guitar. The whole thing is guitar-based, it comes from the guitarists, from how these guys play. It fall under their fingers. That kind of stuff, when you're a keyboard player, it doesn't fall under your fingers naturally. A piano isn't built to play heavy metal, if you get my meaning.
THS: When you sit down to compose, what comes out is in fact classical lines?
DA: Well, it's different from what a guitarist would come up with. I think the heaviest keyboard player is Keith Emerson, his music is standout. But he's taken a lot of his stuff from Bartok, and a lot of it is Stravinsky. He has just lifted the whole harmonic, how can I put it, that kind of harmonic world and used it for his own devices.
THS: When you think of the classic keyboardists, if you think of the British ones, like Emerson as you say, and Wakeman, or Jon Lord for that matter, they all have a classical background. Now, if you think of the great American keyboardists, they all have a jazz background. Is that a result of the training you guys are getting or is it just what you have been listening to, because there's a large jazz history in the US?
DA: There's a big jazz history in England. It's very unappreciated in the US how big a scene is the jazz scene in England. It's pretty much unpaid but some of the musicians are very good. It's quite sad, you go into jazz and you've had it, really. You will never get out of it.
THS: And you'll never make any money either.
DA: That's what I mean, yeah. It drives you in and it's a tough, tough world being a jazz musician. I've played a bit of jazz and the first twenty minutes are the hardest. You puff and pant and then you kind of get into it. And really, rock'n'roll is a whole different thing. There are no rock'n'roll keyboard players as such, they all come from classical and they join a band, like I did, because they fancied getting out a bit and meeting young ladies. You know, when you're an adolescent you're just for better or for worse, it's never easy. I found life a bit tough, until the very minute I joined my first beat group at school; when we went out playing i found my life changed completely.
THS: Is that what got you into the business, that moment?
DA: Yeah, I just thought "this is for me", being in a band playing Beatles songs. You're with a bunch of guys having a great laugh, and you know the girls are loving it! So that's what gets you into rock.
THS: And then what keeps you there?
DA: Money, I guess. It's a profession, and that's how you have to think of it. That's what you do. I didn't plan to do it; I didn't ever think when I was young and trying to picture myself at this age. You just can't think that you will be doing what you are doing, when you are sixteen.
THS: That may be true, although I suspect that there are some people who have a clear sense from the start about their direction. As Roger once said, "I didn`t set out to have a hit record, this is just what I do".
DA: Actually, Roger told me that his ambition as a kid was to write a standard. And he ended up doing that, but in a most unexpected way.
THS: So in your case, what is the ambition you still haven't fulfilled yet?
DA: No, I've fulfilled them all. I've stopped having ambitions - I remember, I was sitting with my wife in 1993 or 1994 watching the Eurovision song contest which we never miss, and said to her "God, I'd love to win this, it must be marvelous" -- and two years later it happened so I thought "I musn't wish for anything ever again!"
THS: A lot of people, especially our German readers, want to know your take on the whole Ozzy hype.
DA: Well, I think there's no one more surprised that they are that all this happened. I went around to see Ozzy a couple of years ago having not seen him for a long time, and as I knocked on his door the MTV crew were just leaving, having finished filming what was to become the first series. So me and my son Colin had afternoon tea with the Osbournes, and Ozzy was in great form. He just talked and talked, and covered a lot of ground. He said that he wanted to retire, but that "when you think you can retire you have to think again because you just can't, they just keep coming for you and I have to keep going." He was quite busy then, and that was before all of this started. Now it's off the wall. But I don't think it's turned out quite as well as they hoped. It's brought a lot of problems: Sharon's been very ill, Ozzy's been quite ill I understand, Kelly had a breakdown, Jack's been in rehab.
THS: It's a bit like the Curse of the Monkey's Paw.
DA: Yes, exactly. But when I saw them two years ago they were just great, the kids were great -- they were so well behaved. We all sat down, they were asking polite questions, like "would you like some tea?". I was so impressed. I wrote them a letter afterwards, saying how great it was to see them just as normal parents, so obviously having done a good job bringing up their kids.
THS: I wonder if the whirlwind of the past few years has blown them all out into another place. Do you think they'll be able to get back to the way it was when this is all over?
DA: No, you can never go back, can you, once something like that happens to you.
THS: Well, in some respects that's true for you too, now that you're a member of Deep Purple. That's going to change everything. Speaking of which, let's talk about DP for a while.
THS: First off, you were deputized to fill in for Jon Lord briefly. Did you know at the time that it was a sort of audition for a permanent position, or was it strictly a one-off thing?
DA: No, it never crossed my mind that I was taking over for him, except that at one point Ian Gillan said to me on the tourbus, "if this came along would you fancy it?". I replied "yeah, I'd think about it." But no, I just stood in for Jon at very short notice. I had a great time. It was the most enjoyable tour. I mean, Europe in the summer, spending three days in Monaco at the Hotel de Paris; it was just fantastic. When I got back home I went straight from that into something else, and kept going until Christmas. I remember, it was December 20 and I got home from something at two in the morning, and was thinking, "I have to do something", because I was done in from having played about 165 gigs that year, a lot of hard work -- and there was a message from Bruce [Payne]. So I phoned him up, and that was it, "yep, I'll do it".
THS: So perhaps that why the tour was so much fun, because at the time it was simply a short drop-in situation, without the added pressure of auditioning.
DA: Yeah, there was the pressure of getting the parts right, but not of auditioning for the job -- I was just standing in for Jon.
THS: Talking of standing in for Jon, what was it like on the joint tour [Jon's farewell tour of England]?
DA: Well, I wasn't too happy about that situation -- and neither was Jon, quite understandably. So it was difficult, but it just went great, I have to say. It was just a joy to do.
THS: Certainly, from the perspective of us out in the audience, it really felt like it was a passing-of-the-torch kind of thing.
DA: You know there's a lot of skullduggery and untruths and deception in the music business, but with Purple -- they're almost naive, in a way, but they're very genuine about things. It's quite unusual, I find, but they're really quite considerate. They were just considering Jon really, and me. They thought this would be the way to do it. And I didn't question it, I just felt wrong somehow.
THS: So whose idea was it to do the two halves, and the sharing at the end?
DA: Well, it was my idea that it went down at the end of my keyboard solo and then hey presto, Jon appears. I thought that would be the way to do it. And it just worked like a treat. He was great -- I mean, to hear him play, to stand next to him and just watch that going on, it was very instructive; it was something absolutely marvelous. I travelled in his car on a couple of days, and we kept getting lost because we were rabbiting so much. You don't see your brother keyboard players that often. So, against all my expectations, it just worked out great. I think Jon enjoyed it; he felt he got some kind of closure, and could move on to his next thing.
THS: And yourself, each successive time you go out on tour you seem to be getting more comfortable with the position. I remember the first time I saw you at the outset of the 2002 US summer tour you seemed very tentative, unsure of where you fit in. How do you feel about it now?
DA: That was strange, that tour. The first few gigs, the band was not firing on all cylinders, really. I dunno what happened, it just seemed to be.. not lost it's way, exactly, but..
THS: Yeah, I remember that the first gig where I thought you guys really hit was the San Antonio gig, and that was several shows in already.
DA: That was when we put Fireball back, I think. It dawned on the band that things weren`t quite going as they should be. Some bands drift along and never do anything about problems, they just putter along and it just keeps going and going; for us it became apparent that things should change, so they changed and it just started to move up and the band's has just been getting better all the time since.
THS: As part of this getting comfortable with the band, are you feeling like you have 1/5 of the input when writing?
DA: Yeah. That was really the crucial part for me, because I didn't know how it would go. I'm not keen, these days, to go into the studio. I've had enough of it. It's tough work making albums. Gustav Holst said "never compose anything, unless the uncomposing of it becomes an absolute nuisance", and I feel the same way now about recording. Don't record unless you absolutely have to. So I was quite unprepared for what happened: we went into the rehearsal room, Paicey goes "Bam!" and all this music starts coming out. It was great, we just jammed away for three weeks, Michael Bradford came in and was marvelous, and then we went into the studio and recorded it all.
THS: My impression is that in fact that's how Deep Purple music seems to get made, and perhaps you're just not used to that experience?
DA: I think rock musicians went through a terrible quest during the 1980's, where machines came in and "you've got to overdub again", and "that's not good enough"... people ended up with "we've been doing this wrong all this time", and you forget actually how you should record. Well bloody hell, you're a professional, after all -- just get in there and play it!
THS: That's how the old jazz players used to do it -- you look at a Jimmy Smith recording, it was "four hours on Feb 26th"...
DA: That's right. You look at those album credits and you think, "yeah, that's how you should record" -- and that's how we did record: one or two takes of everything, most of the keyboards went on first time, a couple of afternoons with Michael Bradford saying "do you fancy a bit of piano, let's do this, let's try that". I was in a pretty lowly position as the new boy, but you know, i've my methods of getting my own way sometimes. I can't believe it was a year ago already.
THS: Do you compose on a keyboard, or a synth or a piano?
DA: A piano. I write everything on a piano. I'll tell you what's a great thing to compose on: a Memory Moog, that's an old six voice polyphonic keyboard. A wonderful keyboard. That's great fun to work with.
THS: What's it like working with the Hammond? Were you used to playing it? You seem to be more known for synth and piano stuff.
DA: No, I'm not known as a Hammond player but that's how I started. In the town where I grew up in the north of England, called Sunderland, it's famous for these places called Working Men's Clubs. These are clubs where you can get a cheap drink and they have a stage and they have lots of acts and singers. And it's a great learning room. When I was 14 or so, that's where I learned to play, working in these places. And all of these places have Hammond organs, which were very daunting. I worked at one club, it was the Ivy League Social Club in Sunderland. They had a Hammond and they used to let me go and practise. They had two Leslie cabinets and a thing called PL-40, which is the original Hammond tone cabinet. The one I learned on was the most incredible sound until I joined Purple, it was just the most wonderful instrument.
THS: So it was more like coming back home again?
DA: Yeah. I discovered Jimmy Smith at the age of eleven, and I was mad about him. Not that anyone where I lived had ever heard him, or that I could get any records. I found two singles in the junk shop in Sunderland and I still play them to this day. I used to listen to all the jazz programs such as they were on the BBC. Occasionally I'd hear Jimmy Smith, "Aaaahhh!". So that was a big thing. When I started in the business I owned a Hammond but we got rid of it because we did a week of doing three gigs a night with this singer, going from club to club. At the end of the week, we carried this thing up four flights of stairs, and the drummer said, "this bloody thing's got to go!" So I think I turned to a Wurlitzer piano and that was much better. I miss that Hammond. I wish I'd never sold it. But then I had a Hammond with Colosseum II and then of course the Hammond with Rainbow.
THS: So the Hammond you have now, is that Jon's?
DA: It's Jon's, yeah. Well, it's not Jon's, I think...
THS: Did the band buy it or did you buy it?
DA: I kind of did a deal with Jon, it's all a bit vague. I said to Bruce, "I've got a Hammond at home, I don't know whether I can be dealing with having another one, the one at home is enough." I was surprised Jon got rid of it actually. But I suppose it's...
THS: It's a chapter of his life, perhaps?
DA: He's quite an extraordinary character. I don't think he thought twice about getting rid of it actually.
THS: It's a combination of the organ and the way he's got this thing overdriven through amplification that sort of gives it that distinctive sound, isn't it?
DA: Well, every Hammond is different. Every single one is different.
THS: So you really had to have that one to duplicate his sound?
DA: I talked to Jon about it. I said, "I don't like it very much. It doesn't give up its secrets easily," and he agreed. He said, "it's a wild bugger." I don't know, it's one of those "get your hands off me!" kind of instruments.
THS: That's because it used to be Christine Perfect's...
DA: Yeah, I think it wants Christine back! <laughs> That's one thing where Jon and I agree, it wants Christine back. It's just one of those things, it's who's playing it, which determines its sound. I don't think the Leslies have been doctored. I am certain the Hammond hasn't been doctored. It's just a Hammond. You put the foot pedal all the way down... It's one of those things. I've had a lot of work done on it. When I first joined the band, when I stood in for Jon, the Hammond was in a dreadful state. It was not working properly.
THS: So Jon made it work despite itself?
DA: They're not easy to fix and if a Hammond goes sick... I don't think it was because he hadn't had it repaired, I just think they couldn't find what was being wrong with it.
THS: All those open-air concerts, perhaps it got soaked..
DA: There was a guy in England, he managed to get halfway there, Dave Hill. He found something and then we found this guy in LA, just before we sat down to make the album, who came in and he was there for 24 hours. He found what was wrong and fixed it. I think there was a lot of old stuff from when Jon had it MIDI'ed up to an RMI piano or something. We took all that out and I put some new outputs on it because I wanted it to have an amplifier, a guitar stack sound as well. So it's quite a bit done to it so it's sounding quite different to when I first encountered it.
THS: But better?
DA: Oh yeah! It's a wonderful instrument!
THS: And it's going to sound different anyway because it is Don Airey playing it.
DA: Yeah. I've watched Jon, you just go, "how is he doing that?" It's an amazing thing to watch. I set it up differently to the way Jon does.
THS: You mean drawbars and that kind of thing?
DA: Drawbars, I use a kind of different approach really.
THS: Nonetheless though, if you think of some of the classics, like the Perfect Strangers opening, that was dead on. You have better than just approximated it. I mean, you really have captured it.
THS: Any solo recording plans?
DA: I just said on my web site, "I've just put the starting touches to my new album." Yeah, I'm just starting to record something. I hope to finish it by the end of May.
THS: How do you fit that in there with all the touring?
DA: Well, there's three weeks off so I'm just planning to get it down then. Hopefully it will come out towards the end of the year.
THS: There was a rumour of a DVD coming out as well, possibly?
DA: Yes, we're still working on that. We had a few problems with that. The BBC has been very obstreperous about granting us permission to use footage.
THS: Will it be a performance or an instructional?
DA: It was me talking, rather like this and playing a bit and then showing bits from my career. The guy who is putting together, I am seeing him soon so hopefully we'll get it together.
THS: Any advice for readers who are aspiring, thinking about...
DA: If you want to get into show business, don't do it and stay at home!
THS: Other than the obvious "practice, practice, practice".
DA: Yeah, that's the three things I'd say. I used to have a piano teacher when I was at the conservatory. He used to say to me, [affecting a Eastern European accent] "for you, no TV! No drinking! No cinema! Only practice! Practice, practice!" That's what he used to say and that's what I used to do. Until, after about five months of this, he said, "good, I'll take you for drink!" and he took me to a pub. It was most unexpected, and he had five pints of Guinness, and it didn't seem to affect him at all. He was a wonderful musician. But it is good advice. I've said to young bands, "don't worry about, 'are we going to get signed? Do we look right?', worry about that middle eight. Is this working? Does this bit work? How am I playing this? Can we make the ending better?" Learn your instrument! And if you learn your instrument, to paraphrase Emerson, "the world will beat a path to your door."
THS: I read actually somewhere that if you look at all the people who are considered to be masters of their craft (and that's in the sports world or music or anything else), 50.000 hours is the magic number that you need. That whatever it is you have to do to get to the level of being not just competent, but good, really good, 50.000 hours worth of experience is what it takes. Is that about right?
DA: Yeah, it's a long time and you got to learn all the time. That's the thing, every day you just got to learn and learn and learn. I remember with Jon, I saw him with Purple when I was at music college and it knocked me for six. Especially Jon, God, it was incredible! Then I used to see him with Whitesnake quite regularly because I was friendly with Bernie, Mickey and Neil and I used to go to a lot of gigs. And Jon was great but it was like he just stood still for a bit. I always felt "well, he is searching for something and he can't find it." Then I was with Uli Roth and we bumped into Purple in Turin about five years ago, and Uli still talks about me standing on the stage, my mouth dropping, "Jon...". I came off stage and said, "I can't believe he's got it all back. And more!" And that's the secret - if Jon Lord has to do it, then everybody has to. It's not an easy thing to be a musician. It's not very nice stuff, music. It can bend your head out of shape.
THS: And that's not even the stuff surrounding it.
DA: No, music itself is terribly nasty stuff.
THS: That's a pithy quote!
DA: How can I put this? It's not to be trifled with: if you are going to dedicate your life to music, watch out, is what I'm saying.
THS: You said earlier that every situation was a "band" situation. I suppose there's still a large difference between a band like Deep Purple where everyone treats each other as family in some sense, versus a band like Rainbow where you had impetuous personalities, and almost Machiavellian-like intrigues going on?
DA: Actually, Rainbow was great fun to be in, despite what was going on. It was one of the most hilarious times I've ever had, with Cozy and Graham. There was so much stuff going on -- I think really, as a reaction to the way Ritchie was. I mean, he wasn't bad, Ritchie -- he could be awful sometimes but all I can say about Ritchie is that I learned an awful lot from him. Everybody does. He's one of those guys. You learn something. When I met him, I thought, "this is what I want". I'd had three years of Gary Moore and I needed a change!
THS: And you certainly got one!
DA: Yeah, and you look back now and think about how incredible... I took it as normal. I've got Gary Moore then, I got Ritchie Blackmore now.
THS: Yeah, you definitely have the Who's Who of rock in your CV, it's a stunning CV.
DA: It's only recently I've started looking back, to be honest.
THS: You keep scoring guitar heroes too, if you think about it. Gary Moore, Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Roth.
DA: Randy [Rhoads]...
THS: Steve Morse now.
DA: Steve... Michael Schenker...
THS: Just your karma?
DA: I don't know. I wonder what I did to deserve it!
THS: I wonder if it is because of your style of playing, in that it's complimentary to working with guitar players?
DA: The secret is you try to make a guitar player feel comfortable, that's what I always do. You've just got to be there for him. You are more part of the rhythm section than anything else. That's the secret of keyboard playing to me. I'm playing with the bass player. And who better then Roger? If you can just get that solid bed going, harmonically, and a good sound, the three of you, then the guitarist, it makes him free. It leaves him free to do what they do, to weave the magic. Things you can't do as a drummer, or a bass player, or a keyboard player, really. It comes from the guitar, this wonderful thing. I must say, that's my thing. Give me a guitar player that knows what he's doing. I want to walk in a room and I want to see a big stack of Marshalls there, and a Fender Strat, and you know you're in for a bit of excitement.
THS: Any guitar players that you haven't worked with that you would love to work with?
DA: Yeah, there is one. Eddie Van Halen. I'm a big fan of him. I don't suppose I'll ever...
THS: Have you run into him?
DA: Actually, I had a marvellous thing when I was in Rainbow. The first American tour, we got to LA and Gary had moved there and we had a night out. He said, "I've gotten matey with Eddie Van Halen." and so they came to the gig together. Eddie looked like a kid, he was such a lovely chap. So then I saw Eddie's eyes going, big eyes, you know? "Oh, Ritchie's coming!", and he couldn't believe it. So I said, "Ritchie, I want to introduce you, this is Gary Moore and this is Eddie Van Halen." And Ritchie just stormed off! He must have thought I was taking the piss or something. And Eddie went, "what did I do?" I said, "nothing." I don't know, it was very strange. I think Ritchie thought -- I don't know, I don't know what he thought!
THS: It was a Ritchie moment!
DA: It was one of those wonderful Ritchie moments! Eddie still talks about it. I saw Eddie playing last year at the NAMM show, for Peavey. Whew!
THS: Yeah, the guy has definitely got his chops down.
DA: Oh yeah!
THS: A lot of people slag him off saying he's just about fret board gymnastics but he's got a sense of music as well. The things they talk about is just the icing, he's got his basics down.
DA: He's a marvellous player. That first record, wow! Ozzy used to tell a funny story about Sabbath. Sabbath had done a tour for a year with Kiss as his foreband and it nearly killed him because Kiss had been so good. And he said, "we're never doing that again, next tour we just want a bar band from LA, that's all we want." And then he got to the first gig. Ozzy said they walked in as "Eruption" was going on. Ozzy said, "we just went into the dressing room, we sat there going, 'that was incredible', and we sat there like this, and then it finished, and we were just too stunned to speak. Then there was a knock on the door and the best looking man in the world walked in and said hello", you know, David Lee Roth. I think they only lasted about two months on that tour. Then the record broke and they just went... I went to see them at The Rainbow when they supported Sabbath. By the time they played The Rainbow again a month later, they were headlining. Incredible! With Ozzy, we did a festival in Germany, Monsters of Rock, in 1984. There were some wonderful guitar players. Accept were on, and they had two great players. Gary was on. We had Jake E. Lee, who was no slouch. Viv Campbell was on with Ronnie Dio. There was somebody else but Eddie just blew everybody off. I was watching and Ozzy was on the other side of the stage and Eddie gave such a display. They were a great band. It's a pity what happened to them.
THS: OK, I have one final question, the prototypical question if you will. If you were a tree what kind of tree would you be? Perhaps I should have asked that using a Barbara Walters accent...
DA: <laughing> I'd be a palm tree on a desert island.
Copyright 2004, The Highway Star