Roy Z

Groupology

  • Tribe of Gypsies
  • Bruce Dickinson Band
  • Halford

Jurassic

Watch Roy Z in Action at the bottom of this page!

Famous / Infamous for

For being a young, in-demand, producer-on-the-rise and for using an initial for his last name. Roy's best known for being the producer and sometimes songwriting partner for vocal metal gods Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. And it's not a stretch to suggest that both guys sounded even better with Roy producing them than they had in the bands that made them famous. His other credits include bands like Helloween, Rob Rock, and his own band, the Tribe of Gypsies. That's right, Roy is a guitarist too, and a damn good one.

Influences

Obvious: Though more people have heard Roy's guitar work with Bruce Dickinson, anyone who's heard Roy's own band, the Tribe of Gypsies, will immediately notice the Carlos Santana influence on Roy's own guitar style and compositions. Also easy to hear in that style are Peter Green, and Gary Moore.

Not-so-obvious: Roy has mentioned Hendrix (and three of Jimi's biggest disciples,) Uli Roth, Frank Marino, Trower, and Yngwie Malmsteen among others and in his 2003 interview with DRG, stated "when your talking about guitar influences, I'm influenced by everybody, basically, because somewhere down the line I learned some of their stuff. So I take a little bit from everyone."

Strengths

Songwriting. A major strength in many styles. Most diverse are his Tribe of Gypsies songs which often feature heavy guitars over hot, syncopated grooves. There are also some riff oriented rockers, pop things, and ballads. Most of these songs have a Latin and an Aeolian minor flavor to them, ala Santana.

Then there's Roy's metal work with the Bruce Dickinson Band — which breathed new creative life into the Iron Maiden frontman's career in the 90s. Their first collaboration, Balls to Picasso gave Bruce some new ideas to work with while preserving the things Bruce does best. The next two albums, Accident of Birth, and The Chemical Wedding were even better.

Lets face it — there weren't many good Dino style, melodic metal albums in the 90s. But these two outstanding slabs of metal are extremely heavy, extremely melodic, and can whomp ass with the best metal albums from the glory years of the 80s. The songs and vocal performances on both, arguably surpass all but Bruce's finest moments with Iron Maiden. And that was a pretty high benchmark! So how did Roy do it?

Selflessness. Perhaps key to Roy's success is keeping his own ego out of the equation and doing what was best for each vocalist. In his interview with DRG, Roy said: "I try to come up with a canvas where a guy like Rob or Bruce can really just go off within their style. And I've studied music in a different way too. I went to school, I learned what makes things tick musically, so for me it's pinpointing: well, this makes that work, so I kind of already know what I'm going for." What he's going for is working. Bruce's voice sounds stronger and better on his solos albums that it did with Iron Maiden — possibly because Roy wrote the songs in the singer's most comfortable range. Has Steve Harris ever considered that?

Further, with both Dickinson and Halford, Roy has played effectively in a two guitar tandem. Roy says: "I always try to play what fits and where I'm needed most. And if there's already a guy playing real fast, for example, I won't play fast. (I'd rather) fill the void, you know? If it's a slower song, I'll play the appropriate lead."

And while Roy didn't play guitar on the Halford albums, he did have a hand in the songwriting of both Resurrection and Crucible. The results seemed to please the Halford fans as much as Bruce's albums had pleased Bruce's fans.

Production. Right now, Roy is probably known more for his work as a producer than he is as a guitarist, and he's in a position to pick and choose the projects he wants to take on. Roy explained: "I just can't sit in a studio with anybody anymore. They have to justify my time. And I'm not talking money either. The artist has to be worth my time. And you can't put any price on time because no one knows how much you have. So that's why I'm just cutting back on what I do. I don't do every band that approaches me. I'm really selective. I work with guys, A) they've got to be good guys, and B) there's got to be something there."

Chops. Roy can play with plenty of flash and speed. He has excellent chops.

Weaknesses

Selflessness. For my money, Roy is a tastier and more distinctive soloist in the Tribe of Gypsies than he is with Bruce Dickinson. Why? I think that Roy is perhaps too selfless when he works for someone else. Roy says: "It's almost like I'm a different person when I'm doing (someone else's band). I kind of have to . . . I wouldn't say hold back, but what I might want to do has to take a back seat to what fits. And I know Bruce, and I know who some of his favorite guitar players are, so I try to get into that — like a Blackmore kind of thing, cause he's into that. So I try to just make it fun, man. Make it a good time for Bruce, and for myself. So my criteria would be: I have to play what fits, but also stuff that I like!"

I personally think Roy's so concerned about being a team player, that he may not get enough of himself into his lead work with Dickinson. Roy's solos on Bruce's albums certainly fit, but in the context of such strong, dramatic compositions, Roy's solos often sound generic and unmemorable. They just don't seem to have as much attitude as the stuff he plays for the Tribe of Gypsies. There are exceptions — like the excellent solo in Tears of the Dragon. Fortunately, Bruce's solo albums are so strong, this situation doesn't really detract from them at all. But Roy's lead work doesn't add that much to them either. I only point this out because Roy's lead work definitely does add value in the Tribe of Gypsies.

Roy is (by choice) a "role-player guitarist," rather than a guy who demands the spotlight. I don't believe his focus has even been about being a "guitar hero." Instead, Roy seems happiest making other people shine — either through his compositions or his talent as a producer. This focus pretty much guarantees that he's never going to be a household word. In fact, he'll probably do well to avoid total anonymity among guitarists. He is the focal point of the Tribe of Gypsies, but his band has tiny fanbase and their albums aren't even available in stores.

Timing and circumstance. Roy was too young to catch the melodic metal wave of the early 80s. Nonetheless, his talents landed him work with two of heavy metal's most legendary vocalists of that era. And while Roy did outstanding work for both, the climate for melodic metal had waned, and neither singer's solo career was as lucrative as their past glories. So while metal fans everywhere have rejoiced that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest have reunited, the person who really loses in this equation is Roy Z. — and those few fans like me who felt Roy was writing stronger material for Dickinson and Halford than Maiden and Priest had come up with in years.

Tone

To me, Roy's most pleasing tone — the Roy Z. tone — is the one is the one he gets with the Tribe of Gypsies. It's a classic, thick, Les Paul-Marshall tone inspired by Roy's Santana, Peter Green, Gary Moore influences. Roy gets this tone from a 69 Marshall head and an early 70s Gold Top Les Paul Deluxe with Bill Lawrence L-500 mini humbuckers. Roy says: "I just plug in. One cab, one mic. That's the end of that. Real simple setup." For a lead tone, Roy used a preamp 250 and a Tube Screamer depending the sound he wants. At the time of his interview with DRG, Roy was raving about the Digitech X series effects pedals.

Roy uses different tones when he's a sideman — both live and in the studio. With Bruce Dickinson, Roy says: "I go strictly Marshall, and I'll sneak in some Oranges and some Laneys for that Tony Iommi kind of vibe. It seems to fit with Bruce — that kind of vibe. And live (at first) "I took my old 69 Superlead (Marshall) — which doesn't leave the house anymore either. (Later on) "I took the Laney Iommi and a Marshall 30th Anniversary with me." When he toured briefly as Rob Halford's guitarist, Roy said: "I'm using some Fernandes guitars — they're really cool guitars. But my main two guitars are two Gibson Vs. I'm going out with (Mesa Boogie) Triple Rectifiers. And the reason why is that I like the distortion that's already built in. I don't have to do too much more to get a lead sound. I just kick in the old Tube Screamer and there it is — the lead sound. See the Roy Z interview for more details on how Roy likes to get guitar sounds in the studio.

Guitar Style

Roy is a schooled player who has studied: "everything from flamenco, to jazz, to how to score music." He says: "I learned and studied music so that I could basically break the rules! And that's my whole thing." So while Roy is a schooled player and has taught guitar, he's not one of those guys like Satch, Vai, or Petrucci who hits you over the head with how much he knows. Roy's playing is definitely more about feel. Roy's schooling comes out in more subtle ways, such as in his excellent compositions and arrangements. For his guitar style, Roy sticks much closer to the fundamental building blocks of rock and metal. His rhythm style is mostly the standard rock/metal fare of bar chords, power chords, and amped up folk chords. Roy did tune down for extra heaviness in his rhythms on some of his work with Bruce Dickinson — particularly on The Chemical Wedding album.

Similarly, despite having the schooling to draw from, Roy's lead work mostly combines the Major and Minor Pentatonic, and a heavy dose of Aeolian in his compositions, melodies, and licks. Sometimes you'll get a taste of something a bit more exotic or discordant such as some of the flavors in Sacred Cowboys, and 1000 Points of Light from Balls to Picasso.

Roy's solos — particularly those with the Tribe of Gypsies — are very melodic, flashy, and sound well thought-out. He often likes to start off with slow melodic phrases and work toward a blistering crescendo, ala Gary Moore. Roy's solos on Landslide, We All Bleed Red, and Mothers Cry are great examples of this approach.

Roy's got his alternate picking down cold, and can blaze away quite fast, but he also likes slow melodic playing and uses legato in the places where you'd expect to hear it. You can hear a touch of Roy's Yngwie/Uli Roth influence in the Neo Classical arpeggios and shredding of Mero Mero Mombo. It's not his whole bag, but rather just a seasoning. As such, it's very tasty and effective.

Vibrato:

Even and controlled, but fast, and seldom wider than a quarter step — that is, not as wide as you might expect to hear from a guy who's into that thick Santana/Moore Gibson rhythm pickup tone. I'd like to hear Roy milk his vibrato a bit more in the areas of both speed (slower) and width (wider).

Roy Z in Action

Recommended listening

Tribe of Gypsies

Bruce Dickinson

Profile By Dinosaur David B. Copyright ©2003 All rights reserved.