Whitesnake and Burning Rain guitarist Doug Aldrich spent a few days in Belfast this month ahead of the first date of Whitesnake’s UK tour with Thunder and Journey. During that time he held a guitar clinic for Livewire Belfast in the Crescent Arts Centre and did a fairly extensive round of interviews for the media. He very graciously met with me on two occasions to get this interview completed for Rock Radio NI and I am very appreciative of the time he committed to us. What follows is the transcription of a 40 minute interview that covered a wide range of topics including the release of the new Burning Rain album and the forthcoming Whitesnake live double CD “Made In Britain – The World Record”.
The interview was broadcast on the Friday NI Rocks Show on Rock Radio NI on 17th May.
NI ROCKS – Doug, welcome to Belfast and thanks to agreeing to an interview for Rock Radio NI. You’ve been here for a couple of days ahead of the guitar clinic in the Crescent Arts Theatre and of course the Whitesnake concert on Thursday. Have you had a chance to see much of the city?
DOUG – Not as much as I’d like to. I’ve been to a couple of pubs, “Fibber Magees” I think was one of them and a couple of restaurants. A friend went to the Giant’s Causeway today and shot some video and pictures and stuff and it looks amazing. I was pretty jealous actually that I couldn’t go but that’s the life when you’re on tour. You come into town and there’s not much time to do all the sight seeing that you’d like to. I can live through the pictures and say I was there!
NI ROCKS – Did she go to Bushmills Distillery whilst she was there?
DOUG – No she didn’t. She saw it but she didn’t go in. Although someone bought me a Bushmills today – a great Irish girl called Maggie.
NI ROCKS – I believe you got a small bottle of Bushmills last night.
DOUG – Yes, though that’s not for me; that’s for David.
NI ROCKS – I noticed on Twitter that you were arranging to get together with our own Cormac from The Answer. An excellent local band – one of many here – how do you know Cormac and are you familiar with the Northern Ireland music scene at all?
DOUG – Not the local scene that much. But obviously I’m a fan of Lizzy, Gary Moore, U2 and even Sinead O’Connor back in the day when she had those beautiful songs and Rory Gallagher. Ireland had a lot of great bands in the 60s and 70s. In 2005 or 2006 The Answer supported Whitesnake on a bunch of UK dates, I don’t think we did Ireland. The Answer were great, really cool guys. Cormac is a superstar you know, Paul, all those guys. They’re great players and I’m really happy for them. I’m jealous they were playing before AC/DC every night for a long time.
NI ROCKS – How often do you do events like the guitar clinic and what do those who come along expect to see?
DOUG – Not very often to be honest. I’ll do them periodically if something comes up that is interesting or I’m going to be in town and I’ve got some time off. I’ve done a couple in the UK and I’ve done some in Italy, one in Germany, a few in Greece and the one in Livewire Belfast was my first in Ireland. It looked like it was going to be a great thing and as it turned out it was one of the best ones I’ve ever done. Even though in my state I was a little bit out of it from travelling, people were really kind. It’s interesting because you plan to have those things go a certain way and the one last night started off badly. I was getting some weird sounds and I had to change some batteries and in the meantime play some acoustic.
NI ROCKS – It was a great night, particularly with Michael Devin singing some Whitesnake stuff.
DOUG – Yeah, he stole the show…...bastard! (laughs). No, it was cool. I paid him to steal the show. I gave him a little bit of bread. I mean it was his day off so I said why don’t you come down. He would have done it no problem, but I said I’d chuck him some money. We had a great time. He’s a real deal type of artist and he loves singing. He’s got a nice tone. It was fun. It was a nice change up to because a lot of times I’ll end up going for two hours talking and playing and people just end up watching.
NI ROCKS – It’s a great combination of playing and story telling
DOUG – Yeah, it turned out really good.
NI ROCKS – You’re in Belfast of course with Whitesnake but I wanted to talk to you about your own band Burning Rain and the new album “Epic Obsession” which is released by Frontiers Records on Friday 17th May. It’s an outstanding album and has been getting a lot of airplay on our station. First question I suppose would be why it has taken 13 years to get from album two to album three?
DOUG – That is because when I made the agreement with the record company that it had to work around the Whitesnake schedule. There has never been enough time to just focus and get the songs written first of all. And then to record them is a whole other process. At the beginning of 2012 David said he wanted to take some time off and to go ahead and do some sessions or whatever came up. And the record label talked to David because it’s his record company too and they said we’ve talked to David and we know you’re off, give us our record, we’ve been waiting for a long time. I said Ok and Keith and I sat down and we finished writing. We had a few songs that we had kinda started that were pretty cool. One was “Ride The Monkey” and “Out in the Cold Again” was one. Then we started to add to that and finally came up with six or seven new songs and said ok we got a good batch of tunes here. Then I started to get busy with David and it was like “how am I gonna get this thing recorded?” I really only have weekends off and I’m trying to get home and spend time with my boy. When I’m at home that’s what I want to do – hang with him, play cars, go to the park whatever – it’s just awesome. I would wake up on a Saturday do his breakfast, lunch, dinner, bath and put him to bed. Then me and Keith would get in the studio and start and finally we got it together.
ROCKS – Are there are plans to re-release the first two albums originally released in 1999 and 2000?
DOUG – They are coming out. At the same time. They’ve been remastered and there’s some extras on them. There’s also a bonus track of “Kashmir” on “Epic Obsession”. People would normally say if you’re a rock band you don’t cover a Led Zeppelin song. But we had dabbled with the song and played around with it and recorded a version of it. When I listened back to it I thought it was pretty cool.
NI ROCKS – yeah, it’s pretty impressive I have to say.
DOUG - What is cool about it is that it sounds like the way we recorded it that we might have written it. Like it was our song. It has a Burning Rain kind of sound the way Keith sang it. And the way I played guitar on it – I tried to be respectful. The chords on that song you can nail on top of them – you can shred and go crazy, but I tried to hold back and it ended up turning out pretty cool. When I say a rock band, I don’t mean just us. I’m influenced by Led Zeppelin so should not really be doing a Led Zeppelin cover. If it was No Doubt maybe that’s cool. To hear Gwen Stefani or Lady Gaga or something do a version of “Whole Lotta Love” that would be cool, but for us to do it was probably a dangerous thing, but it worked out I think OK. It sounds like a song we could have written the way we did it.
NI ROCKS – It sounds excellent I have to say. You don’t often get a Led Zeppelin song covered by another rock band but it works.
DOUG - It was cool, I’m glad we did it.
NI ROCKS – Where did you record the album, who else is on the album with you and who produced it?
DOUG – Me and Keith. A bass player called Sean McNabb and a drummer called Mat Starr. Sean’s been around LA for years and years. We’ve worked on a couple of projects together. We were looking for someone to play bass and once he heard the demos he was really enthusiastic and he sings really well too. We decided we wanted to do some gigs to try out some songs and he recommended Mat Starr. With Mat it felt immediately that there was a camaraderie. As much as there could be. We were all doing other things. I was flying back and forward with Whitesnake and Keith has a music school / dance studio that teaches kids about music and dance and stuff. It’s doing really well so he’s always busy with that. Anyway, we played some gigs and there was a camaraderie and we decided to make that the band. But I should say that also that Brian Tichy played some drums on a few tracks and Jimmy D’Anda who used to play in The Bullet Boys played some tracks. Both those guys have - in fact most drummers, Mat has as well – every drummer has a studio where they can practice and these days usually have mics set up so that they can do sessions for people, or demos or whatever. The sounds that both those guys were getting were really good so it ended up I just recut guitars, vocals, overdubs and stuff and it worked out cool.
NI ROCKS – Are there plans for Burning Rain to go on tour once you’ve finished with Whitesnake this time around?
DOUG – When I’m free I would love for Burning Rain to tour. Definitely to come to the UK and Europe. It would be an honour to come anywhere over here.
NI ROCKS - Going back a bit further in your career. As far as I’m aware the old recordings by Lion and Bad Moon Rising aren’t easily available anywhere. Are there any plans to get those albums back into circulation?
DOUG – Not really to be honest, maybe there could be or should be but there is not any plan at the minute. A lot of the record companies have gone and a lot of times the rights have gone back to the artist but the artist doesn’t know how to get approval. You can’t just all of a sudden take that record and re-release it. You have to go through the channels – do we have a contract that shows that we’re free to release it? There’s all kinds of legal stuff, especially with the music business. It’s very difficult to move without the danger of some sort of lawsuit or losing your royalties; it’s very difficult.
In other ways it has been made easier by the changes that have happened. If you have a band you can record something and have it released and millions of people can hear it immediately. If it begins to trend on Facebook or something it can go viral and people love it. And then you’re cool! But that has also made things difficult. When you’re song-writing, payment is through publishing and mechanical royalties and stuff and all the companies that collect for artists and have gotten smaller and it is complicated to get paid. When someone buys a record digitally it’s a whole different situation, it’s less money again. It’s a little bit rough for bands but at the same time you can get your record out immediately which is kinda cool.
NI ROCKS – Burning Rain was formed following the demise of Bad Moon Rising. Had you known Keith St John previously and how did the band come together?
DOUG – I didn’t know him, but when Bad Moon Rising kinda gave up around 1995 I took a little time off and I was just doing sessions or whatever and I wanted to do something new. With Burning Rain I wanted it to be more old school European rock / metal sounding. More UK kinda sounding. With Bad Moon Rising we started off that way but with the 90s and grunge the only way we could get competitive was to blend our sound a little bit and have some of that grunge thing. And it didn’t suit me so I wanted Burning Rain to go back. We found Keith through a bass player who was with Bad Moon Rising, a guy Ian Mayo. He said this guy Keith was pretty cool. Immediately we wrote a couple of things and it was really great, but I could see that with him and me personality wise there was a little rub. With Keith and I, we’re like brothers. The brothers in Oasis or The Black Crowes. We’re always ready to duke…(laughs). That’s how we started. Me and him. Then we got Ian to play bass and a guy called Alex Makarovich on drums on those first two records.
NI ROCKS – Throughout your career you’ve played on a huge number of albums. I’ve had the House of Lords album “Sahara” for over 20 years and actually didn’t realise that you’d played on it until doing some research recently. One of your most recent contributions has been a bonus track on Lita Ford’s recent album “Living Like A Runaway”. How did that come about?
DOUG – She was looking for some songs and Whitesnake had some gigs with her. I’d never really met Lita but we kinda hit it off. She said I really like your playing and I said I loved her playing too. She said she was looking for some ideas and asked if I had something to send her that would be cool. I sent her three or four things and she finally heard this riff for “Bad Neighbourhood” and said she loved it. The way I was doing it was kind of more of a Zeppelin influenced thing and she sent me the rough guitars on a track and asked me to play on it. So I basically did it the way I thought it should sound which was like the demo and the Zeppelin influence. In the end she liked the more Judas Priest influence thing so I just said why don’t you use what you got, it sounds great and if that’s what you’re looking for use that. I just wanted to help her. She was going through some personal obstacles and she was looking for help and I thought she was cool and the queen of metal so I didn’t mind I was just happy to help her.
NI ROCKS – So you’re not actually playing on the track, you just co-wrote it?
DOUG – Yeah, I just wrote some of the music.
NI ROCKS – How often do you get approached to guest on other recordings and how do you pick and choose which to get involved with?
DOUG – I get offers periodically when friends will just say to me. I have a friend who is an engineer who would say like “I’m doing some songs for Jada Pinkett Smith do you want to play on it” and I’d say yeah if I’m available. Generally I’m always busy so it’s hard to do but once in a while there’d be an odd session where he’s doing a session with Lady Gaga or this guy or this girl or whatever and I’ll say yeah. With the Lady Gaga thing I said yeah I’d love to and I said when is it and he says in thirty minutes. I said sure what do you want me to bring and he says Les Paul, a Marshall, a Strat that’s all we need. Stuff like that happens and nowadays with the technology I’ll get a call from people saying can you put a solo on such and such track and they’ll send me an MP3. Michael Sweet from Stryper did that – a solo project I think it was. I don’t know if it’s out yet, it might be already! He asked would I play on it and I said sure man. He sent me the MP3, I load it into the computer and record real guitars through an amp. I have these really nice Neez mic frees that sound really fat and warm so I can do a session and once you record your guitar part you just export that and it’s on the record. It’s really cool.
NI ROCKS – You’ve just arrived in Belfast from Japan. Hopefully all your equipment will have caught up by Thursday. Roughly how many guitars would you take on tour?
DOUG – I have eight in a road case that’s a vault and I carry one with me so that I can have it.
NI ROCKS – You’d mentioned that you had trouble getting it on the plane sometimes.
DOUG - A lot of times. It’s getting harder and harder, even when you’re travelling in business class or whatever. We were just in Japan and they were hassling me about it not fitting on the plane and that I was going to have to buy a seat for it. I’m flying from Osaka to Tokyo to London to Belfast; that’s like about $15,000 in business class seats. No, I’m not going to buy a seat and I ask them to let me try to get it on and they say no. What works now, but will probably change is being super nice and saying things “what about this” or “can I put it in the cockpit”. Sometimes even asking stupid questions like that where they’re gonna go “no you can’t put it in the cockpit” and you say “what about if I put it in the coat rack? Where do you put your coat?” Just asking and keep going and eventually they’ll go “we’ll try it” or “we’ll ask our superviso”r. Once in a while though I have to check it! But I need it with me. Not just because I’m doing a clinic. I got into Belfast on Saturday night so going to Wednesday without a guitar wouldn’t work for me. I need it.
NI ROCKS – And for all the guitar fanatics out there, what gear and set-up are you currently using?
DOUG – Mostly Les Paul and Marshall. I’ve always been a Marshall guy. There’s a lot of other amps out there but there is no comparison for me. Even that amp at the workshop last night was just a stock DSL 2000 I think. Stock, out of the box, sounds kick-ass. I love Strat, I love all guitars. Right now I’ve a thing with Les Pauls. It was the first good guitar I ever got when I was a kid and I like them for that reason. Reminds me of when I was a kid.
NI ROCKS – What can fans expect from the upcoming tour with Thunder and Journey?
DOUG – We have an updated set list that is pretty cool. It includes some songs that we haven’t played for ten years together, since the first tour that I was in. And there’s a couple that I’ve never played with David. I’m really excited about it. It’s just going to be a streamlined, kick-ass Whitesnake show – David firing on all 12 cylinders. He is the best frontman in the business for me. People will say Steven Tyler or Freddie Mercury or whatever but for what I personally like, he’s got the tone and has got everything that makes a great frontman. He’s the boss and he’s gonna kick ass.
NI ROCKS – How long will your set be?
DOUG – I think Belfast is 80 minutes. It varies depending on curfew. Some venues there’s an earlier curfew so everybody has got to take one song out or something. Then other gigs you can stretch it out.
NI ROCKS – The Whitesnake UK tour of course coincides with the announcement of the release of the new live double CD package “Made in Britain – The World Record” in July. The band recorded every concert from the “Forevermore” tour in 2011. Were you involved in selecting which recordings made it onto the CD?
DOUG – Me, David and his long time partner Michael McIntyre. We lovingly call ourselves the brutal brothers because we’re hard on each other, where one guys thinks something should happen the other two will go “no, no, no we’re going to look at this again” and when somebody new comes in to work on the project we’re really hard on them, like “no, no, no, this has to be great. You got to make this great”.
Let me say this though. Right now we have the “Made in Japan” DVD out and it’s really cool. It’s a great capture of that show at that moment. It’s a shorter set but it’s a very natural looking and sounding DVD and the bonus material is really cool, it’s all stuff we recorded in Japan on tour at soundchecks and what not.
Then David said we’re going to do this double live record and I’m like “we just put out a DVD”. The boss says we’re doing it, so we’re doing it. I’m thinking how are we going to make this different and why would fans buy this when they already own the DVD? That’s what I don’t understand. And David says on one of the discs we’re going to pick songs from different shows and call it “The World Record”. I thought that’s pretty cool, that sounds interesting. Then he says we’ve got this other thing in mind called “Made in Britain” where we’re going to sit down and pick the best songs from Britain. I don’t think there was an Ireland show on that tour but we did have some in Scotland and I think it made it and Newcastle or somewhere. It’s a little bit undefined. I did know where they came from but I’ve forgotten. “The World Record” is really cool – there’s a version of “Soldier of Fortune” with David singing and you can kind of hear the ambience of the crowd and it sounds big, but you can’t hear the crowd because they’re being quiet listening to him; then we break into the “Burn” riff and all of a sudden you hear the crowd and it sounds massive, louder than the band is playing it. That kind of thing is pretty cool for “The World Record” and the “Made in Britain” one is pretty intimate. It’s got a much smaller sound to it because it’s not the arena sound it’s theatres. It’s more in your face and I actually sonically prefer that to the DVD. The DVD sounds good, I like it a lot. That was the first thing we did that’s way I was saying to David that the DVD sounds better than the last one we did so how are we going to make a live CD sound better? He said we’re just going to look for better performances. So we found a couple of shows that for whatever reason things just sounded really cool and in your face. And for “The World Record” is was just wherever the best audience was really.
NI ROCKS – I get the impression that the band has a lot of fun on tour. Would that be right? And is there any favourite stories from the current tour so far in Japan?
DOUG – Japan is unique because everything is so different. It’s really easy. It’s probably a cushy way to start the tour for the band and the crew. They’re really forgiving and very loyal and you can stretch out. For example stuff like guitar solos are notoriously boring and people don’t want to hear it, but in Japan they’ll tolerate it and get into it and they like it. So me and Reb are trying to find ways to make things more concise and consolidated but you have to go through a process and sometimes you end up taking a little longer. In Japan it’s easy to get by with that. I few started the tour in the UK, people are like whoa, whoa, whoa I don’t want to hear all that widdly widdly shit you know! So we could figure out what worked. Now we’ve spent a couple of days having band meetings figuring out how we can improve the set and we’re gonna try to squeeze the guitar solos down to three minutes. That’s enough! That way we can fit in an extra song. Then it’s a matter of what song can we fit in, but we’re really up for it.
As far as funny stories, there is always something but I can’t think of anything that sticks out at the minute.
NI ROCKS – David seems to have become a big Twitter fan recently?
DOUG – David started I guess in January and he’s got 30,000 followers or something already. He’ll be the guy that has three million followers at some point because he’s very entertaining and very giving to his fans.
NI ROCKS – After the UK where are the band heading?
DOUG – We’re going to do Scandinavia and Russia. We’re doing some shows in Spain with Def Leppard. We’re doing some stuff in Croatia, we’re doing a Germany festival, a France festival and we get done with this particular leg at the end of June. Then we’re going to take two weeks off and do a US run for seven weeks. Then I’m not really sure after that. Depending on schedule, maybe that’s when Burning Rain can come over.
NI ROCKS – When you’re not on tour how do chill out and escape from the music business? Or do you never escape?
DOUG – I don’t need to escape from music, sometimes I just need to escape from participating in and just get back to enjoying it. I love local radio, with the DJs and commercials. In the morning that’s what I love to do. Listen to the DJs talk and all the shit. I can just relax and listen to it.
To answer your question, the majority of time I’m at home looking after my boy. I do have hobbies. I love watching sport. But my boy takes priority. We watch “Cars” or “Nemo” or something like that. I took him fishing for the first time, the day before I had to leave on this tour. It’s pretty much all about him right now.
I have things set up so that anywhere on my property there is music. I got those funny looking rock speakers hidden in the garden. That way that I can crank the radio station up. I love sitting on a Sunday afternoon, my boy playing outside in the dirt and I’m sitting having a glass of wine and listening to The Allman Brothers or whatever.
NI ROCKS – Who were you musical influences growing up and can you remember the first band you saw in concert and the first album you bought?
DOUG – Probably the first album I bought was “Zeppelin II”. My older sister had a bunch of records. She had “Frampton Comes Alive” and Jeff Beck “Blow By Blow” and some other stuff. “Zeppelin II” was the first album I bought. No, the first actual record I ever bought was the single of “Iron Man”.
I loved the guitar players Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, everybody loved Hendrix and the first riff I ever played was “Smoke on the Water” so Blackmore.
NI ROCKS – Finally, just to finish. Are there any up and coming bands that you’ve seem or heard that you might recommend to the listeners on Rock Radio NI?
DOUG – Up and coming – I don’t know that I’ve heard anything. I support bands like Foo Fighters because of Dave Grohl. I’m not a fan of Nirvana that much but I really love the Foo Fighters and I think he’s a cool guy. He’s like one of the last commercial rock stars. You don’t even see Bono anymore. Nobody does anything. But Dave Grohl is at The Grammys, the Brit awards, the American awards etc. He’s out there trying to promote the good things. He just put out that movie “Sound City” talking about the story of the recording console that he bought and who recorded through that. The movie is about this studio called Sound City. It was a complex near my house and when they closed it down he bought the recording console and he found out all the people who had recorded through it. Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, a lot of smaller bands. Lion recorded their second album there. He’s telling this very bizarre story about the console and it’s very cool. Then he’s saying stuff like music is not about being famous. Kids need to understand that being famous and being a rockstar is not something you just try to do. It’s about the music. A lot of kids out there think we’ll stand in line, audition for three judges, gig and we get on the TV show and then we get a record deal. That’s not how it is, that’s all about money. It should be about the music and creating something and having fun with your mates, playing music and growing. He just put something on line recently about that. It was really cool. Justin Beiber doesn’t know anything about that. He’s probably paid his dues, I’m sure he has, but to me that’s just not music. That’s just a commercial.
NI ROCKS – Thanks again for taking some time to talk to Rock Radio NI. All the very best for the rest of the Whitesnake tour. I hope the new Burning Rain album is the success that it deserves to be and that we see you back with that band in the near future.
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