“Is this Valerie?” Whitesnake guitar player Doug Aldrich asks when I call for our interview. Realizing his mistake he apologizes with a laugh. “I’m sorry, Leslie. That’s what I meant.” It seems Aldrich has a good reason for being a bit confused, as right before our planned talk a friend stopped by with a surprise that has Aldrich feeling giddy as his young son playing in the backyard. “This is why,” he starts to explain. “A friend of mine just brought me a guitar to my house and gave it to me and my head is kind of spinning and I just lost my mind (laughs). You know, it’s not very often that somebody brings a guitar and just gives it to you. It’s so cool. That is the quickest way to a guitar player’s heart is to give him a piece of gear.”
And even though Aldrich is itching to get his fingers on those strings, he is equally excited to talk about his band Burning Rain’s new CD, Epic Obsession, which debuted on May 21. A long time coming due to Aldrich’s departure for Dio and subsequent relocation to his current home in Whitesnake, Burning Rain had been quiet since 2001, when their last album, Pleasure To Burn, was released. Chock full of hard rock anthems like “Sweet Little Baby Thing,” “Pray Out Loud,” the rocker ballad “Our Time Is Gonna Come” and the current single, “My Lust Your Fate,” Epic Obsession has already swooped up a load of positive reviews. And that makes Aldrich happy that his work with vocalist Keith St John can still please the metal masses over a decade later.
Currently out on tour with Whitesnake, I talked to Aldrich during his two week break before they started up the tour busses. “I’m excited to talk to you and I’m excited to talk about whatever you want to talk about,” Aldrich said happily. “I’m in LA, it’s a beautiful day and I got my little boy hanging out with me in the backyard. And then this guy drops off the guitar. And now I get to talk to you. It’s a pretty good day.”
Tell me about this guitar that just walked into your life. What makes you so excited about it?
A friend of mine, well, actually, he’s my guitar tech from the last couple of Whitesnake tours and he’s a great guy, a great technician, and basically he works now for Nancy Wilson of Heart. The way Heart tours, they tour for two weeks and then they’re home for two weeks and it’s a real comfortable schedule where with Whitesnake when we get out we’re gone. So he didn’t really want to get away from home for the whole rest of the year so he’s not going to be my tech but he started building guitars. We had talked about a guitar that I’d like to have at some point and he surprised me. He built it and it’s basically like a Fender Telecaster and just gorgeous. It’s totally unique. I don’t know, it’s just a rare thing that somebody drops off a guitar like that.
That says a lot about you. I’ve heard through the grapevine that you’re a really nice guy. You must feel blessed.
I do feel blessed, totally. You’re absolutely right. I mean, I’m not saying anything about me but I’m saying that there’s a lot of change going on within my life and stuff but it’s all positive, it’s really, really good.
And you have a new CD out with Burning Rain. How did it feel to return to that band and create some new music?
It’s a really different thing for me because you know I’ve been completely dedicated 100% to David [Coverdale] and Whitesnake for the past ten years and to be really honest it felt a little awkward to have my name attached to something else. I didn’t know how to really deal with that. But it was a situation where it was a commitment I had made to a record company about eight years ago and they knew that Whitesnake was going to be off last year and they really started asking me. They said, “Look, why don’t you do this thing, get it done?” I had been writing off and on with Keith and we did have fun and we had some stuff that I really liked. But still I was busy with Whitesnake. But we got it done and then I just felt like, wow, this is really interesting because I haven’t done anything like this since working with David. I didn’t want it to sound like a Whitesnake record. I wanted it to sound like where Keith and I had left off when we had done some work previously and we maintained our own sound. Obviously, there is only one Whitesnake and I am so fortunate to work with David. He’s one of a kind, nobody sounds like him and there’s no band that I feel sounds like Whitesnake. So this worked out good because it doesn’t step on Whitesnake’s toes, which is something I wanted to make sure that it didn’t.
Is that the reason you decided to get Burning Rain back together, because you’ve done this before?
You’re right, that’s part of the thing, because had it been something brand new then it might have been a little bit more of a shocker or something, but these are all friends of mine and we have fun playing together. And it was just time, where the record company said, “Look, we’ve been waiting for this thing and we want it.” And I said ok and I worked it out with David where I could find the time to finish it off. But it was a little bit strange cause, like I said, I haven’t attached anything to my name other than Whitesnake. But it turned out really well and I’m proud of it. I wanted to do it also for Keith because he’s like a real shining star that is still kind of getting known. And he did a great job on the record. And he’s got his own thing, the way he approaches lyrics and stuff is very different than what I’ve been used to so I really enjoyed it.
Who is playing on the album with you?
It’s me and Keith, obviously, and Sean McNabb played bass. He’s played with a lot of LA bands over the years and he’s known as a really great old-school player. Meaning like he’s got the roots of people like John Paul Jones and John Entwistle and Jack Bruce and those kinds of people. So he’s always been sought after because he’s really good. So he played bass. We actually had a few different drummers on it. We had Brian Tichy play on some of the record. We had Jimmy D’Anda from Bulletboys play on some of the record. Then we got Matt Starr after the drums were actually cut and he turned out to be the absolute perfect guy. He would have for sure been all over the record had we had time to do that. But it was already cut by the time he joined the band. He is a great addition and we’re really happy to have him. He came from Ace Frehley’s band.
Brian Tichy is a monster drummer.
I know (laughs) He is, he really is. There’s only a number of drummers that I think are in his league. He’s so good and he’s such a natural player. We’ve got this Whitesnake DVD coming out too and Brian Tichy is on that and he’s just killing on this DVD. He really drives the band and the confidence of the band is just super high because of him. He’s actually one of those guys who you can call up at the last minute and say, “Hey, we need you to come in and play” and he’ll do it. He’s so good that he doesn’t really have to know the song verbatim. He just kind of plays it. And it worked out well. The other thing was that we had kind of discussed with Jimmy D’Anda of Bulletboys about joining the band on this project and he ended up doing, I guess, about five or six songs, something like that. And he did a great job as well.
On Epic Obsession, it sounds like everyone is having a good time.
Yeah, I agree with you. I think it sounds like a fresh, hungry band and to a large degree, that’s coming from Keith because he’s got a different voice and a different perspective and certain things I was able to, you know, help him with. And other things I felt like, wow, he’s really taking this in a cool direction lyrically. I think that’s where that real big change from some of the other things that we can hear lately, because his perspective is really fresh. Not to say anything about the guitar or anything but I feel like I am always trying to push myself. But the lead vocalist is probably the most super-important guy in the song. He did a great job.
Whose idea was it to cover Zeppelin’s “Kashmir?”
That is actually a track that we had cut a while back for fun and I think it was my idea actually, because a lot of times you need to have some extra tracks for bonus material or for maybe an exclusive for iTunes or whatever. And we were just jamming on it one day and it’s a fun song to play, obviously. But we had cut it originally and it kind of sounded like we were copying Zeppelin so I wanted to change it and make it more like Burning Rain doing Zeppelin. It’s kind of a bold thing cause if it were say, a country artist or an R&B artist or somebody that did a copy of “Kashmir” it would be cool. When you’re already a rock band covering a Zeppelin song, it’s dangerous. So it was really important if we were going to do that, to make it sound like we weren’t trying to copy them and just doing it our own way and paying tribute to it, keeping the essence of the song, but doing it in the Burning Rain way. And I feel like we did, like we captured that pretty good.
So how did you go about creating these new songs?
The process is pretty much that I would go through musical ideas and put something in musically that worked and then I would always have a melody in mind and then I would present those. So I created all those songs, with the exception of one, which is one of my favorite tracks that Keith brought to me, which is “When Can I Believe In Love,” a piano ballad. It’s a beautiful track. He said, “Can I play you something?” And I said, “Absolutely, man, we need it. The more the better.” And he brought this track over and I thought, this is really cool. It’s a totally different side to anything else we’ve got. So we rewrote the chorus and the bridge and a couple other things and I really like it a lot.
Do you have a favorite track?
I really love the sexiness of “My Lust Your Fate.” It could be like an anthem-y kind of song in a way. It’s fun and it’s sexy and confident and I really like that. And it’s simple too. At the same time, I really like the song “Ride The Monkey.” It’s very dark lyrically, maybe more so than I would be comfortable with, but I didn’t want to step on Keith’s toes on that one. But musically, it’s just totally right up my alley. I love it. Then stuff like “Our Time Is Gonna Come,” probably one of the closest things to a Whitesnake-type song that we have on there but it also resembles a type of song that Burning Fire had did on our last two records. So I really enjoyed that one. But I feel like they all go together good and there’s a lot of ground that’s covered. Songs like “Too Hard To Break” have that really 80’s or late 70’s kind of Foreigner-ish thing. There’s even some kind of punkish stuff with “Sweet Little Baby Thing.” All that is good to me because it’s different than Whitesnake, which is, like I say, important.
Are you going to be able to tour with Burning Rain at some point?
I think we’ll be doing some dates later in the year. Fortunately, and unfortunately for Burning Rain, but fortunately for me and Whitesnake, we have a big tour so I’m not going to be free to do any kind of touring with Burning Rain until later in the year. But I would reckon we will absolutely be looking into that and if someone wants us to come play, with a band like Burning Rain, it’s really easy because we don’t have a huge road crew. When you’re in a situation like that, you basically are going, ok, we’re going to go out and the fun part is going to be playing. It’s going to be rough traveling. It’s not going to be touring like with Whitesnake, where it’s cushy. It’s going to be hard work and you’re going to be riding in the back of a van. But we’re into it. So to answer your question, I really think that we will definitely do some things in Europe and hopefully a nice little run in the US would be great. We just have to see if we can, economically, work it out.
But it’s got a youthful, fun thing to it. We’ve been doing this for a long time and we don’t have a huge following yet. Individually, we probably have bigger followings than we do as a band so people are hearing us going, “Whoa, it’s got a real unique sound to it and it sounds like these guys are really hungry and it’s very together.” And it’s because it wasn’t like the first time we’ve worked together. We’ve been doing this our whole career but this Burning Rain band has been dormant for twelve or thirteen years, something like that. We’d kind of get together and bang out some song ideas but then I’d get caught up with a Whitesnake record or a tour and that took priority.
Where did you grow up and what kind of kid were you like?
I was a complete angel growing up (laughs). I was perfect in every way (laughs). I was born in North Carolina and I’m proud of coming from the south and it’s definitely in my roots and my music and stuff that I enjoy musically. I lived on the east coast and I grew up on the east coast. When I was seventeen or eighteen, I graduated high school and moved to Los Angeles. I just wanted to, not get away from my family, but I wanted to have a fresh start and I had always really dreamed about being on the west coast. I loved being near the water and stuff like that. So I moved out and immediately started playing in bands. But as a kid, I guess I was probably kind of shy. I was really good at sports for a while until I started playing guitar and then I definitely gravitated to the guitar and sports kind of took a backseat. Then I didn’t get the starting position anymore, so I kind of faded away from the whole sports thing. As a kid I played football and soccer and baseball. I never was great at basketball but I did play a little bit.
You look like a baseball player
I love it. You know what, that’s one of the greatest things, especially when you’re on the road and arriving in a city on a day off and there’s always a baseball game playing, you know. They play so many games and to go to a game and relax and have some hot dogs and a couple of beers. It’s a great day. But I was kind of pretty good at it when I was a kid. Then I got into music and it just took over my life.
How did you discover rock & roll?
I have two sisters, a younger sister and an older sister, and they both had record players and I didn’t have one. I don’t know why. I guess cause I was into the sports thing, you know. But my oldest sister was into stuff like Zeppelin and Jeff Beck and she had Frampton Comes Alive. She was into stuff like Stevie Wonder and stuff like the Allman Brothers and I’d hear this stuff coming out of her room. And my younger sister had bands like KISS and the Bee Gees and different stuff and my younger sister had a guitar. One summer when, I guess I was around eleven, a bunch of friends, neighborhood friends, had all gone away for the summer to go to camp or something and I was left with nothing to do during the day and I just decided to pick up my younger sister’s classical guitar and learn it and I really liked it. Being able to make music by myself was so cool and it felt great.
Eventually I talked my mom into getting me a really cheap electric guitar that was kind of a copy of a Jimmy Page guitar. And it took off from there. Immediately, local neighborhood guys, we started a band called Purple Haze, named after Jimi Hendrix’s song, and the first riff I played on electric guitar was “Smoke On The Water.” Just like probably a hundred thousand other guitar players. You know it’s funny, I can say that like everybody knows it but it was an enlightening moment of hearing that riff and playing it and the power of playing that riff. And then it went from there.
When did you know that you had the talent to take it out of the backyard, so to speak?
I still am not sure if I have the talent (laughs). I swear, I mean, I’ve been really fortunate and blessed but I’m constantly trying to learn and trying to get better and I’m constantly feeling like, I wish I would’ve written that song or I wish I could play like that guy. I’m definitely still inspired. When I was a kid, I just loved it. It made me feel good and it was never really a click where I went, “Oh, this is what I want to do. I want to be a rock star.” Or “I want to be a musician or a performer.” I never did decide. It just happened. I’ve been really, really lucky and very fortunate. I’m kind of a late bloomer in terms of getting noticed or getting some recognition but it’s ok cause I was just having fun. I wake up and I get to play guitar for a living and it doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like I’m doing the thing I’ve always wanted to do. I still get excited about, like when we were first talking, I get a new guitar and it’s like I just want to look at it and play it and take it with me. I was just walking around the backyard cleaning up dog poop with the guitar strapped on before you called (laughs). I just love it.
When I’m on tour I always carry a guitar with me all the time because, to give you a little background, like with a band like Whitesnake, we carry a lot of equipment and it’s all in road cases and you don’t have to carry a guitar with you cause the guitars are all shipped and they’re there and they’re all ready to go and tuned up and you just show up and play. But I love having a guitar with me and sometimes, say for example, we’re flying into Japan, we might get there and have two days off before the first show, which means I wouldn’t have a guitar in my hands for two days unless somebody would loan me a guitar or something. And that doesn’t work. I need it, I need it with me all the time. Even if I’m not playing it, I just want it there. It’s like my kind of, I don’t want to say friend, but it’s like a comfort thing for me to have a guitar close by; in case I want to write a song or in case I want to practice or if I get inspired or if I need some music and I’m not hearing the music I want to hear on the computer or the radio or whatever. Then I can pick up my guitar and do it. It does become a problem now traveling with a guitar. It’s more and more complicated to fly carrying a guitar on board and it breaks my back sometimes because these guitars get heavy after a while and you’re taking two or three flights a day. But I’ll do it because I want it with me.
You sound like you love what you do and I heard you were a guitar teacher and that you were really good at that. Do you think that was an important thing to have to be able to teach people to play?
I think that I just really enjoy helping people. I didn’t have a teacher. My first teacher that I tried to have was kind of critical of my guitar, actually. I didn’t have a case and he was critical that I had the guitar in a cardboard box and that was my case. I had a towel inside a cardboard box to protect my guitar. I was fine with that but he wasn’t. And he made me feel kind of bad about it and then he was like, “There’s three kinds of guitar players: There’s rhythm guitar players and there’s lead guitar players and there’s guys like me. I do both.” And he goes, “What do you want to be?” I was like, “I guess I want to be like you.” (laughs) He just wasn’t encouraging and I really enjoy helping people, especially with the kids that were really excited about guitar in the 80’s. I was teaching out of an area where there were three high schools and everybody wanted to play guitar. Everybody wanted to be like Eddie Van Halen or wanted to be in the Scorpions. Everybody wanted to play those songs and learn how to play that way.
It was a fun thing for me to do to teach people to play music. And by teaching, I really became a much better player myself because I was doing rudimentary things that are important to practice if you want to improve. I was doing it day in and day out all day long, seven days a week and I started to get burned out just by working so much. But I did enjoy it and it was amazing to see, cause I had kids that were super talented, with God-given talent, that really didn’t need to work that hard and they were just good. A couple of kids would just scare the heck out of me because they were so good. I was like, “What am I going to teach this kid this week? He’s more advanced than I am.” Then sometimes those kids would kind of just give up cause they’d get bored. Then there would be other kids that really wanted it really bad and practiced so hard and we were not seeing the improvement rate that the kid wanted. And I was like, “Come on, man, you sound great. And you don’t have to sound like this other person. Just be yourself.” And when it did kick in for those kids it was really cool seeing it and then you feel great. You know, somebody struggles with something for a while and then all a sudden it clicks and they go, “Whoa, ok, now I can do it,” and not only are they doing it but because they worked so hard at it, they do it their own way and it’s unique and I loved that. It made me feel great. And fortunately it was good money for the age I was. I was teaching a lot of kids and it was good money.
When you went to LA, was it a big culture shock for you?
No, I loved it. There was a show on Tv that was called, and I’ve never talked about this and it’s just kind of goofy, but there was this show called The Rockford Files. This guy, James Garner, was this detective who lived at the beach in California and he was a private detective. I’d watch that show every day and I’d play guitar and practice watching that show. It was on in the afternoons and I just loved it and fell in love with the whole look of California. Then there were bands like Van Halen coming out of LA. And no, it wasn’t a culture shock. It was amazing. I was free, I was just a kid and I was free on my own to do anything I wanted to do. I got into trouble a little bit, nothing major, but just like financial trouble. I’d never paid a bill before. I never knew what that was like and then the lights went off and I was like, ok, I have candles (laughs). The first thing to go off was the phone cause I had no idea that if you were late a couple months or whatever that eventually they’re going to shut you off. But nothing too bad. It was like I got to the point where I’d eat off $3.00 a week. I’d get like Ramen noodles. You could get them for like ten cents a pack back then. Then maybe on like a Friday night, I’d treat myself to a hamburger or something or I’d get somebody to buy me a beer. But I loved it cause I was free, I was on my own and playing music full time. I don’t know if I was very good or not but I was loving it.
I loved being in California and I loved the weather. You have to come because it’s a really great place. A lot of people go, “I’d love to visit there but I wouldn’t want to live there,” cause you’ve got fires and earthquakes and all this stuff. But it’s perfect for me. Some people really enjoy a rainy day or they enjoy the weather in the wintertime and I don’t miss it at all. I’ll take the sunshine any time (laughs).
But I came up by myself and after a couple of weeks I got together with a band and we started playing in LA and one of the first things was I got asked to audition for KISS. This was in 1982, I guess it was, and Ace Frehley had left and they were looking for a replacement. This was the time before people had ever seen them without their make-up. It was like a real secret and I got to play with them a couple times. I went in the studio and recorded, they didn’t use my tracks, but in order to audition me, I played in the studio with them. This was prior to me teaching or doing anything like that. I didn’t really know what I was doing but maybe I had a good thing going and I had a style that was different or something and they noticed it. But I’ll never forget, I was in this studio and Gene Simmons goes, “Hey, I love that part but could you play it more in a major thing?” I said, “Major? What are you talking about?” “You know, a major scale.” “I don’t know that one.” And he goes, “Do-re-me-fa-so” and I go, “Oh, ok, I know that.” I knew it by ear, I just didn’t know what it was called. It was a really interesting thing. I was obviously way too young for that gig but it made me realize, hey, I got something going on, and it really made me want to work harder and harder to become better.
When you see something like the video for “Powerlove” when you were in Lion, what is the first thing that goes through your head?
(laughs) Well, just how dorky we look. That’s the first thing I would say goes through my head. Like, wow, I really look like a dork in pretty much every aspect. But you know, at the time that was the thing. You know, it’s interesting that you bring up Lion, because we were not your typical LA band. Our singer was Scottish and he was influenced by bands like Whitesnake and he was really influenced by David, bands like Thin Lizzy, so we did not do the whole spandex thing. We definitely had the big hair and all that stuff but our music was a little darker. “Powerlove” was really an exception. It was kind of like a pop-y song that kind of got us noticed. But I think that was kind of part of the reason that we never really got signed to a big label, because our music was kind of different. It was more blues-based and we weren’t doing the whole glam thing that was really big in LA at that time.
Are you glad or kind of sad that you guys didn’t make it?
It’s the way things go sometimes. If somebody asked me would I have rather been a part of a big band like Poison or Guns N Roses or Motley Crue or something, I mean, it would have been cool but I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if that had happened. So I’m thankful the way it went down. And I think that Lion had some great things about it. I just don’t know that we were really prepared, really ready as songwriters.
You worked with producer Andy Johns [Johns recently passed away in April]. What was it like working with him and what do you think you learned from him about being a producer?
Just the creativity aspect, you know. There was a creativity thing with him where anything would go. He would say like, “Hey, let’s try this guitar with that amp” or whatever and I learned that there’s no rules in the studio. That was one thing in particular. He was very creative. He would push me a lot as well and he would say like, “I know you can do better than that” and “keep doing it” and “this was how it went down with Jimi Hendrix back in the day. This is how it went down with Jimmy Page.” He was very inspiring and it was very inspiring for me to be around him because he had worked with those guys.
What is it like working with David Coverdale? He sometimes gets a lot of flak in this business. What is he really like?
Sometimes these rock stars get this rep, guys like David get this rep that they’re this or they’re that. But you don’t really know them until you spend time with them. Then you get to see the real person. David has been so good to me and really been in my corner the whole time. He’s been a huge influence on my songwriting and just been very generous overall. I mean, not only has he taken care of me as far as my work, he has been my employer, but he’s also taken care of me as a friend in a lot of ways and been there to give me advice on how to handle certain things that had come up in a musician’s life. He’s been there and done it. And at the same time, there are musicians that have a reputation of being, oh, he’s the nicest guy, like you said that you heard I was a really nice guy. I’m a complicated person, I’ve got my bad days just like anybody else and I can be a complete jerk without even trying (laughs). I don’t mean to because I much prefer to be happy and have people feel happy around me all the time. But there are pressures in this business and sometimes people see a bad side of you that isn’t really you. It happens. So I think with David, he has this rep of being a huge rock star and what comes with that most of the time is that people think you have a really big ego, when in fact they’re just normal people doing their best. And you can’t please everybody and sometimes people take that the wrong way.
Working with David, I’ve had an opportunity to meet a lot of my heroes and one of them, one of the main heroes, is Jimmy Page. You read stories about Jimmy Page and he’s this and that or whatever and I didn’t see any of that. I see Jimmy Page as just being a really down-to-earth guy and he’s super nice to me. Whereas other guitar heroes I have met maybe they weren’t as friendly. But Jimmy was not the dark warlock that people probably said he was. He’s just a normal guy and it’s just amazing to see that. I think people would say that about David. He’s really a normal person when it comes down to it and he’s a family guy. It just happens, you know, in the 80’s he was a sex symbol and probably had a lot of pressure on him for that. That’s what sold at that time.
And he went from being in pub bands to being in a band as big as Zeppelin. He was in Deep Purple when he was twenty-two or whatever and he has handled it extremely well. His career has flourished. When he left Deep Purple, he had an opportunity to start a new band and instead of trying to sound like Deep Purple in any way, he made it sound unique, his own thing, which was Whitesnake. And I really credit him and I respect that a lot because if you’re going to leave a big band, you kind of feel like, well, I don’t want to lose my fans by changing our sound too much but he took the chance and it paid off. And he’s seriously talented, the best rock & roll singer and frontman in the business, in my opinion. There is nobody like him. He’s the best Master Of Ceremonies you could ever hope to have on stage with you.
So what is a Whitesnake concert like nowadays?
It’s a really fun show and everybody gets to sing and you know the songs. Then you know we’ve got some new songs we do. We had a record that came out a couple of years ago called Forevermore and the stuff is really good. It’s very catchy. David still pushes the envelope. He and I are still trying to write the best songs we’ve ever done and we’re getting better and better. It’s an honor to work with him.
You have been in bands that had notable guitar players before you. Did you find it hard to bring your personality into those bands? Did you feel any pressure?
In the beginning in Dio I did a little bit but Ronnie gave me a lot of confidence. He believed in me a lot. If it wasn’t for Ronnie I probably wouldn’t be in Whitesnake. He put me out there and took a chance on me and it paid off for both of us. He said, “You’re a great player, you don’t have to worry about anything. You just do your thing and do it the best that you can and you’re going to be fine.” I learned really quick, on the road playing somebody else’s song. We had actually recorded a record before I got on the road with Dio so we were also playing songs that I was a part of, playing my own music too, which was good. The record got really good reviews but when it came to playing other people’s stuff, you know, I was not sure if I should do it exactly or not, because everyone’s got their own thing. There is only one Keith Richards in the world and there’re a lot of people that can play like Keith Richards or Eddie Van Halen but it’s not the same. So I was talking to Ronnie about that and he said, “Stick to the essence of the stuff that you’re doing. The essence of the way it was recorded. But then you’ll be able to do it your own way.” And that kind of stuck with me all along to where even if I’m doing my own solo that I recorded and I wrote, when you’re on the road sometimes you get a little bored or you get off on a tangent and it’s like, whoa, I’m going to try this. But you have to remember that people are used to hearing the melodies certain ways so you don’t want to go too far.
What makes a guitar a great guitar?
I think it’s different for different people. What happens is that you find a guitar that resonates with you when you’re playing it. For example, I might pick up a guitar that I think is pretty cool, it’s nice, but it just doesn’t speak to me. But somebody else picks it up and it’s like, “Whoa, I love this guitar.” And for some reason it resonates with them. I don’t know what it is but for me what makes a great guitar is it’s got to resonate with me, it’s got to make my heart sing. And there are guitars that people have tried to offer me as gifts or whatever and maybe they’ve just ended up in the closet or whatever. There’s been companies that have offered me guitars that I just, as honestly as I can say, it’s just not what I’m looking for. They’d say, “Just keep it,” but I’d be like, “No, I’d prefer if you had it back because it’s not working for me. It wouldn’t be something I’d play and I’d hate for you to think I might be playing it.” I’d rather just give it back to them.
But it’s definitely down to good wood. These guitars started as living things and in a certain sense they are still living. They help me be more creative and inspire me. And like I said originally a while ago, it’s a comfort thing, you know. If I connect with an instrument, it can be as strong as almost a person. I’ve got this one guitar that I’m sure you’ve seen me with it, it’s a gold Les Paul and that was the first real good guitar I had as a kid. This guy happened to be friends with my sister and was selling a guitar and I wanted a Gibson, I wanted a Les Paul, and he goes, “It’s a Gold Top.” I thought a Gold Top was the same kind of guitar Jimmy Page played with the gold part in the center. I didn’t realize that was called a Sunburst. So I said, “I want it, I want it, I’ll buy it.” So I worked odd jobs cutting grass, doing whatever, and I got the money and I bought that guitar. I remember going to his house and picking it up and the case said Gibson on it and I opened it up and looked at the headstock and it said Gibson Les Paul and I said, “Oh man, this is amazing.” Then I looked down at it and I go, “What color is that?” And he said it was a Gold Top and I said, “I thought that was what Jimmy Page played, you know, the gold in the center.” And he goes, “No, no, that’s a Sunburst. This is a Gold Top.” And I thought initially that it was kind of ugly. It’s not what I liked. But now, it’s exactly my favorite color in the world, you know. The Gold Top is the best color for me.
And this particular guitar that I play now is nothing super valuable except that it’s priceless to me because it resonates with me. I’ve taken it all over the world with me and I’ve played millions of notes on it, I’ve played hundreds of shows with it and it’s been an inspiration musically. I love it. It reminds me of when I was a kid. That’s the other thing that is important. It makes me feel like I’m still in my bedroom practicing, which is something that I feel really lucky about.