Axeman extraordinaire. Veritable Virtuoso. Flaxen haired guitar God. The adjectives are many but the owner is the one and only Doug Aldrich.
Cover photo by Marc Villalonga
Tapped by legendary front men like Dio and Coverdale, Aldrich has shared the world stage with some of rock’s biggest legends… while creating his own fairytale simultaneously. Picking up a guitar at age 11 proved to be a pivotal point that would launch an enviable career in Los Angeles just seven years later…and Aldrich hasn’t stopped since. We recently had the chance to pull Doug Aldrich out of the studio in Lake Tahoe to talk about his career and his new release with Burning Rain – “Epic Obsession”… proving that the best years are ahead and we’ve got what you need.
AAM: Doug-what happened to your southern accent? I live about an hour and ½ from where you were born… I thought I’d be speaking to a good ‘ole Southern boy!
Doug: Well I wasn’t speaking when I was there so that may explain it! <laughing>
AAM: Ok – I got it – so Doug – before we start talking about the new album and tours – I wanted to set some ground work and talk about your intro into the music world… for the uninitiated – let’s first start with your history. Let’s pretend someone doesn’t know who you are…tell us about how you got into the business, what bands you have been in, the experiences you’ve had and what has brought it full circle to where you are today?
Doug: I was born in Raleigh, NC so my roots are Southern, there’s no getting around it… my family also moved up and down the East Coast – spent some time in Maryland and then – around the age of 11 or so, my sister had a classical guitar – and I was bored, my friends were away and I decided I wanted to learn to play that thing, and I really enjoyed it… eventually I decided that was my life – it helped that my older sister had a record player and she had Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and Stevie Wonder and she really got me into the electric guitar .
Eventually I got a real Les Paul – like my heroes Jeff Beck and Jimmy Paige and so I played guitar all through High School and became completely obsessed with it… in fact when I was kid if I got into trouble, my parents could ground me, take away my cowboy boots, anything but it could not be my guitar. They did it one time and I just stopped talking for two days. I had gotten in trouble for something – like smoking weed or something and I told them I would do anything to make up for what I did wrong but I begged them to not ever take my guitar away. They never did it again. After high school, I decided I have to get out of here and I moved to Los Angeles… and I’ve been here ever since.
When I first moved out here I got into a band and started playing the Sunset strip before all of the hair bands and LA glam bands hit the scene, eventually I got a name around town and got asked to audition for KISS. That was really bizarre, I guess I felt at the time that was what you do, you move to LA and join a big band <laughing> in this case it just happened to be KISS. I spent some time with those guys, but I was just a kid – I was 18… and it was just way over my head, but what it did do was get me more serious. I started to really work hard on my music, playing and I started teaching… and getting involved in playing in bands – my first real band was “Lion”… Power Love made Headbangers Ball on MTV.
AAM: Which is a show I miss terribly…
Doug: I know – well it was just a great time – the LA bands started gearing up-you had Motley Crue, Guns and Roses, but Lion –our singer was British so our sound was a bit different – it was Whitesnake meets… well it was very European… it was like a junior Whitesnake but that isn’t what the record companies were signing at the time so we didn’t really get a great record deal… we worked it as best we could until we broke up. I then joined a bunch of different bands, fortunately that meant that I got to work in Europe and tour. It wasn’t until 2002 that I joined Dio and worked with Ronnie and we toured extensively and it was my first real major tour and a way to really get out there.
I got to play in places I had never heard of… along the way David Coverdale decided he was going to put Whitesnake back together in 2003 and I got the call. It just so happens that at the same time Ronnie was going to be done touring… and David and I started touring and I just hit it off with David so much and he asked me to stay on. That’s pretty much how I got to where I am.
Meanwhile I had been working with my friend Keith St. John, we did a record in 99 and 98 – and these records had a cool vibe and he’s a fantastic singer. We had a lot of fun making them but we never had an opportunity to really work it… so when I got the call to join Dio I went. So we had these records for over 12 years, around 2004 we got a call to do a Burning Rain record with Frontiers Records and I wanted to do it – but my main gig was Whitesnake so I had to work around David’s schedule and we had been extremely busy. After 9 years I never had time to work on it – so last year I finally had a good group of songs I felt good about and a chance to really devote the time to work on the project – It’s not like Whitesnake – and I didn’t want it to be – you know? I didn’t want it to cross-collateralize in any way.
AAM: Exactly- that would be a pitfall to avoid.
Doug: Exactly – so the album is Epic Obsession, and it was an obsession – I would come home from working with David and start working in the studio – every waking minute was spent trying make that record, and we did and it’s coming out and I am very happy about it.
AAM: I just got a chance to listen to the cd – going through all of the tracks it is a solid – good cd – I was curious about the break in time between cds which you’ve explained.
Doug: We had written some songs around 2001 – I was going on tour so we put it on ice – joining Dio was great and working with David has been a dream come true. I’ve learned so much from him – we toured and we started recording and in 2006 we did a live record- with new songs and for the first time in a long time Whitesnake had new songs out – that in turn meant David and I did a lot of writing together. In 2010 we released Forevermore – Keith and I were working together but we just never had the chunk of time to finish it. I think what we have is a good mix – songs that go good together in the same way any good record would; it takes you one way, stretches you, and then brings you back – Keith St John, he is like a real shining star on this thing. He did a great job.
AAM: Keith has a great voice.
Doug: He does, he has killer tone and I know tone – working with Ronnie first and then David – a dream vocalist – he is the greatest of all time – Keith is an undiscovered talent, and he has a great voice – I have been really lucky with singers.
AAM: You have been – he does have great tone – his voice is different enough – yet it picks up on that sound that I think people are wanting to hear again.
Doug: Yes- This record is important to me – to make sure it was different than my work with Whitesnake – I didn’t want to step on toes..I wanted it to be different in its own way – it is a little more metal than Whitesnake and I hope people will hear that… it’s got some pop influences too.
AAM: I am curious – you have been extraordinarily well placed in your career over the years… you’ve played with some of the cornerstones of the music industry – Dio – Whitesnake – House of Lords – as you look back at your career – which experience has taught you the most about being a musician and why? Is it possible to segment that out?
Doug: Well you are learning every day of your life – but I’ve always been a little bit immature so it’s taken me a bit longer than most <laughing> I will say this; the most fulfilling times I have had since I have created music is with people – so than creating music on your own – it’s been very fulfilling and what I have learned from David is what it’s like to work with a songwriter. With Ronnie- we did record a few songs together, and we toured a lot so I learned a lot about performance from him – as far as songwriting goes, I have learned the most from David because I have spent the most time with him.
AAM: You’ve been credited with pushing Whitesnake into the forefront again… obviously the hard core fans have remained true, but your name has become synonymous with the resurgence and by no means that takes away from David at all… but that must be exciting to be in that place.
Doug: Well… no matter who is working with David it would have been the same thing – I appreciate if anyone feels that way – but I just feel we have had a great time working together – and it has worked out..in the same sense he’s the one that is pushing – he never stops – he’s like the energizer bunny – he’s like “let’s do this” – “let’s do that”… it’s not so much like let’s write a song and do a record, it’s more of let’s be better, Let’s make this show better than the last, or let’s make this record better than the last – so it hasn’t been a conscious thing – it’s fortunate and with the band working together-we have a dvd coming out and a big tour coming up.
Also, I’m just really happy to get Burning Rain off the ground-it’s a great band of guys (The line-up for the new album is rounded out by Sean McNabb on bass (ex-Quiet Riot, Dokken, House of Lords) and Mat Starr on drums (Ace Frehley).
I think Keith deserves this – he’s been working with Montrose for years… and his writing is filled with great lyrics – I am really impressed with him all the way around and he has been a good partner with me on this thing… We hope to do some dates later in the year.
AAM: You can hear the chemistry between the two of you – I think there’s a finite point with great partnerships where you can physically hear the connection – it sounds like the vibe and cohesiveness is there – which isn’t always the case. So-you mentioned about teaching guitar – and you taught extensively – so tell me, what is the mistake you think guitar players make in approaching their instrument? If you had to give advice – what would that be?
Doug: That is a really good question! And no one in all of my years doing this has asked that – they always want to know what’s the best thing a guitar player can do… it’s absolutely something that has to be considered. Kids that hole up in their bedrooms and play by themselves – no-to me what is really important is working with other musicians and learning what people do… you make music and create music. I’ve seen amazing musicians who could play anything – technically they were proficient but this is when they are sitting down in their bedroom. It’s important – for me I wanted to get out and play with a drummer. The other thing is try to have fun… don’t try to sound like someone else, if so you will develop your own style. There’s only one Yngwie. There are a lot of guys who can kind of play like him, but there’s only one. Be yourself and have fun.
AAM: It’s a hard business and if that component isn’t there you probably aren’t going to last.
Doug: You really have to be good for the right reasons – there are those who want to make a lot of money – and the business has changed – technology has changed a lot – for example, when I was in LA there used to be big famous image makers – photographers of the bands that made them look epic and nowadays everyone has a digital camera and anyone can take a picture – and mags can get those pics – same with the music business – you just have to adapt – it’s not a bad thing it’s just different. I can tell talking to you, that without music neither one of us would be here right now. It’s really important.
Doug: I even love the radio – I wake up in the morning and listen to the local radio – it’s random – I’ve always had it in my life.
AAM: Well, you are still excited about what you are doing – and those that are in it for the long haul have that pulse point – it’s not just a business it’s a life line.
Doug: The other thing is – well I’ve got a little boy now – he’s 3 ½ and eventually he may want to bang around on the drums, but the one thing I would make sure he did was get his education first. I regret that I didn’t get more business minded. When you don’t have any business skills and you get a chunk of money you end up blowing it – you’ll end up being a better musician too. I have friends that are in garage bands, or play during the weekends… etc. they played music, made a career and now they are happy – still playing music – I used to think that if you made a record on a certain label you’re rich man. It’s not the case always.
AAM: No it’s not.
Doug: The other day I got a check for 32 cents – I mean it took more to mail it! I think I am going to frame it.
AAM: That should keep you going! So let’s wrap up before David returns and pulls you back into the studio – let’s talk about tour dates – where, when?
Doug: Well, I haven’t played in NC in ages – like since the 90’s – but we’ll be back in the area. The South is great – I can’t wait to get back there. Whitesnake’s DVD is coming out- it was filmed in Tokyo – with Limp Biscuit, The Darkness, it was a fun show and a turned into a fun dvd. Our last dvd was really successful, and we wondered how we could make this one more special and it turned out to be a great dvd – called “Made In Japan”. With Burning Rain, our record comes out May 21st and then I’ll be touring in between. Whitesnake will be in the US this summer. For more info go to whitesnake.com and David is now on Twitter! He’s totally great to follow… way more interesting than me!
For Burning Rain – go to my site dougaldrich.com and obviously FB.
AAM: Awesome – Doug thanks for your time and we will see you on the road!
Doug: Thanks Kim!
Burning Rain was founded by current Whitesnake axeman Doug Aldrich together with singer Keith St. John (ex-Montrose). The line-up for the new album is rounded out by Sean McNabb on bass (ex-Quiet Riot, Dokken, House of Lords) and Mat Starr on drums (Ace Frehley). EPIC OBSESSION comes after a long hiatus from the release of the band’s second album, PLEASURE TO BURN, in 2000.