Tracy G has been around for many years, but hardly anyone knows who he is. He was in Dio for 6 years! Before that, he was in WWIII with Jimmy Bain and Vinnie Appice. Trace doesn’t like to draw attention to himself, doesn’t do drugs or drink, so his name probably doesn’t get kicked around music circles much. This is as he wants it! Great guitarist, and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak with.
My penchant is to find and speak with guitarists
of a different stripe. Tracy G does not disappoint.
Foregoing Rock Stardom as a member of the legendary
metal band Dio, Tracy instead creates musical
scenarios which come from his soul. Make no mistake-Tracy
invites everyone along on his musical adventures,
but he’s determined to remain true to his
sonic callings. For more on Tracy, check out his
website at www.tracyg.com
9/15/02 Another informal chat from out roving correspondant Steve Bluemlein a.k.a "Axe."
Axe: Really cool of you to do this, Trace.
Tracy G: No problem.
Axe: Think of this as a laid-back discussion. I've found that this makes for the best kind of interview.
Tracy: I'm going to be able to post this interview on my web page, right?
Axe: Absolutely. You'll get a copy and Dinosaur Rock Guitar gets a copy. It means added visibility for both our web sites.
Tracy: Are most of the members at your website guitarists?
Axe: Yes. Almost everyone at Dinosaur Rock Guitar plays. Tracy, Joe Stump told me a couple of months ago that one of his dreams was to play in Dio. You've achieved that position, and I'm in awe of that because to me it would represent the pinnacle of success as far as playing in a legendary, classy metal band.
Tracy: Thank you.
Axe: How did Ronnie James Dio find you?
Tracy: Through Jimmy Bain and Vinnie Appice. They were both in my band WW III. They joined Dio after WW III and told Ronnie to hire me.
Axe: You also played with Jeff Pilson.
Tracy: Jeff's amazing. In fact, he's going to play on my new CD.
Axe: One reason I wanted to talk to you is because I consider you a guitarist who had huge shoes to fill, as did someone like Bernie Torme when he had to fill in for Randy Rhoads.
Tracy: I remember that. He must have been under enormous pressure.
Axe: You play in a way, which you yourself describe as "controlled chaos" that not many people, including other guitarists, can relate to. I love it!
Tracy: (Laughs) Well, it's kind of out of control, but I know where I'm going.
Axe: Do you ever have times when you feel you've reached a plateau and you're not motivated to play for a few days or weeks?
Tracy: Oh, yeah. I've always done that. That's just kind of a human thing. I wish I was way more disciplined. Basically, I play because I love to play. But there are so many things, techniques and styles and so forth, that I'd love to be able to play. But you know, life goes on, things happen. You know how it is -- the older you get, the more things you have to do just to survive.
Axe: Are you married, Trace?
Axe: I am, but no kids. I'm too selfish.
Tracy: I'm completely selfish in that sense. I don't feel that I'd be able to pursue my guitar playing in the same way. And I love the woman thing, you know what I mean?
Axe: Of course! But don't worry. I'm not gonna ask you for any groupie stories. We're not that kind of web site.
Axe: When you first started playing you probably had so much raw talent that learning the instrument came very easily to you. True or false?
Tracy: I don't feel that, to be honest with you. I started playing when I was 8 years old. I think I was blessed with a little natural rhythm, but that's about it. My father played drums. But here's the kicker: I'm left handed, and do everything in life left-handedly except one thing . . . play guitar.
Axe: Wow. Very cool!
Tracy: I probably should play the other way, or at least be able to play both ways. But it's better right-handed because everything in the guitar world is geared towards right-handers.
Axe: I had no idea you were left-handed. And you would be the first switch-hitter guitarist I've ever heard of! (Editor's note: Gary Moore is left-handed but plays guitar right-handed)
Tracy: What other guitarists has Dinosaur Rock Guitar interviewed?
Axe: We're very picky about who we talk to. You're number seven. Bernie Torme, Ulrich Roth, Roger Staffelbach, Wolf Hoffmann, Joe Stump, and Dave Meniketti were the first six. We're almost three years old, and we have big plans.
Tracy: I feel honored that you asked me, man. I feel most comfortable talking to someone who's on the same page as far as guitar goes. It's the only thing in life I'm passionate about.
Axe: I understand that particular passion.
You play in a most unusual way for a metal guitarist. For example: Where more players would hit a power chord, you hit a screeching harmonic. You keep the listener on edge not knowing what to expect. This is what I like most about your style.
Tracy: I think part of the sickness, the weirdness of my style comes from the fact that I love all types of music, not just metal. I find the goodness, the coolness in just about everyone's playing. I even learn from my students. How can you not? As long as your soul, your ego, or whatever you wish to call it is like an open funnel, shit will fall in there.
Axe: Yes. I don't close my mind to other forms of music as I used to when I was young. Hendrix always said "You can learn something from every guitarist." And my own weirdness of style is that I don't use a pick. Ever. Can't play with one.
Tracy: Awesome. That's like Jeff Beck, he doesn't use picks. He's a god -- probably my favorite player! One note and you know it's him.
Axe: I've not heard you play anything but full-throttle metal, and your control is just incredible. I know what it's like trying to keep Marshalls jacked all the way up under control. Yet there you are, ramming your Floyd down until the strings lay on the pickups, and when you come back up every harmonic screetch is in place.
Tracy: (Laughs) you're about the only guy in the world who "gets it." You understand my message. I hear it like you do. I try to squeeze every bit of expression I can out of my wang bar. It's definitely a fun toy.
Axe: And it can be thing of beauty if used wisely. Your regular vibrato is superb, by the way. Even in this day and age, not many guitarists have a very good vibrato.
Tracy: Vibrato and the wang bar, like my pedalboard, is used to express feelings and emotions by me. It's not just a bunch of buttons to push to get a cool noise.
Axe: Today at work I was blasting your Dio records to set the mood for this interview. Every time you hit that harmonic at the beginning of the song Strange Highways it just destroys me! Perfect placement. And that monster-from-hell-breathing-heavily effect on that disc still scares the shit out of me.
Axe: You know, I've never heard the live album you did with Dio.
Tracy: you've never heard Dio's Inferno The Last In Live? You've got to get it. I got to play Mistreated on it. I fucked it all up. It's awesome.
Axe: Ronnie made you play Mistreated? (Editors note: This song originally appeard on the Deep Purple classic: Burn, with David Coverdale on vocals, however the song made it's way to Rainbow's setlist while Dio was in Rainbow.)
Tracy: We were at rehearsal one day, and I started playing that lick, because it was always one of my favorite Deep Purple songs. Ronnie looked at me and said "That's one of my favorite songs." So we ended up playing it on one of the tours.
Axe: I've got to ask a couple questions submitted by the guys on the forum or these guys will kill me. From Glen Gladney:
I've seen you three times and your Dio albums are among my favorites. Was Ronnie James Dio intent on making you learn the older tunes as they were written? Or did he let you play them as you wanted?
Tracy: Ronnie was very lenient about all that. I can't speak for any other guitarist, but when I was in the band if we did any old Dio, or old Black Sabbath, or Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow he let me do my own thing totally. Unfortunately, that's also one of the reasons I had to leave the band.
Axe: How so?
Tracy: What I brought to the table was ME. So even when soloing over older stuff I left MY mark. That's what it's about to me. And Ronnie never once told me "Do the solo like Vivian" or "Do the solo like Ritchie." But his fans started to tell him that, and the people around him started telling him that.
Axe: So as time went on Ronnie became a little more dictatorial?
Tracy: At first we were playing mainly Strange Highways, because it was new and we were pushing it, along with a few Dio classics. And I always did my own thing with the old stuff, always fucked them all up with my own style.
Axe: And he just let you . . .
Tracy: That's to his credit. He was respecting my (artistic) voice. Which was just amazing. But when Strange Highways didn't, like, sell ten million copies, things started to clamp down on Ronnie. And when time came for the next record, Angry Machines, management was tinkering with the chemistry of the band. They wanted Ronnie to go back to the old style. Well, with that my naturally rebellious playing style started to clam up. Because when people start to tell me what and what not to play, I might as well not be playing. I don't work like that!
Axe: It's unusual that a guy like Dio would give a guitarist that much leeway.
Tracy: He saw early on that I wasn't a clone; I wasn't Blackmore or Iommi or Campbell, but I was a little piece of everybody. And he let me be me, and it was a beautiful thing for a couple of years. But at the end I got a call in which management told me: Hey, we need a guy who plays more like Ritchie Blackmore. I told them: Go that route then. I'm leaving. I can only play like Tracy G.
Axe: Amazing. You gave up a dream gig because you actually stuck by your guns and wouldn't compromise your musical principles. I haven't heard of anyone doing that since Rory Gallagher.
Tracy: Yeah, and I'll probably die broke and unknown!
Axe: Broke maybe, but not unknown. You have the respect of more people than you realize.
Tracy: Bottom line is: I have to play what comes out of my soul. Otherwise I might as well drive a truck.
Axe: Only in our musical genre do people make such idiotic statements as: You are technically proficient on your instrument. Therefore, you can't be playing with any emotion or feeling. Can you imagine telling a classical musician that?
Tracy: Totally ridiculous. I agree with you one thousand percent. On my website I have this statement posted: Don't follow the world. Make the world follow you. That pretty well sums up my worldview. It basically means just do your own thing.
Axe: From Andy Craven in England: What gear did you use in Dio? What gear did you use in WW III? How did you get those weird mechanical robot scraping noises and what not on the Dio albums?
Tracy: (Laughs) That's funny! Yeah, ok. (Laughs harder)
Axe: I'm sure you use Marshalls, right?
Tracy: A combination, actually. And my equipment didn't change at all from band to band. The "robot effect" as you call it is nothing more than an old ADA Flanger. I tweak the nobs in a way that makes it do that noise if I just drag the pick across the strings. As far as amps, I go into a couple of old Marshalls and a couple of old Randalls, which are solid state.
Axe: You know how some Marshalls come from the factory and just scream and others are duds?
Tracy: Oh yeah. You gotta search through them to see which ones are cool because a lot of them suck. I'm sitting here in my studio and I'm looking at 70 Marshall, a 69 Marshall, and I have three Fender Bassmans for my blues stuff.
Axe: Are you a Stevie Ray Vaughan fan?
Tracy: Oh god. How can you not be?
Axe: You're one of the few guys who can shred and and still be a fan of the blues. And I mean a real fan, not just lip service.
Tracy: This is why it's so hard to answer the question "Who are your influences?" I've been through anybody and everybody. I had a year of Michael Schenker, a year of Jeff Beck, a year of Yngwie Malmsteen, you name it.
Axe: Do you ever use ANY off-the-rack guitars? Or are they all custom made?
Tracy: No, I never have used a production guitar on stage. I do have a 76 Gibson Explorer that I use once in a while for recording. I've had it forever. I do want a Les Paul, though. But it's gotta be old vintage. A Black Beauty would be nice, or a Goldtop.
Axe: The Black Beauty could probably be had if you have at least a few thousand bucks.
Tracy: Which I never do lately.
Axe: There's that damn integrity again. Gets expensive. (Laughs)
Tracy: The guy that made Randy Rhoads' polka-dot Flying V makes my guitars, Carl Sandoval. He made my main guitar, that old beat-up strat-type, seventeen or eighteen years ago. It's usually tuned a half-step down.
Axe: Is the original Floyd Rose still on there?
Tracy: No, I think Dave (Cervantes, Tracy's guitar tech) had to put some updated Floyd or something on there. To be honest with you, I find it hard to keep up with all that.
Axe: Some guys like Malmsteen still use non-locking stock Fender tremelos.
Tracy: Yeah, he's an old-school guy.
Axe: Let's shift gears: How do you feel about playing under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol? I know what happens on tours such as the ones you've been on, and the kinds of things that get thrown at you-namely all kinds of substances and pussy. Do you try to resist them?
Tracy: I've been on four world tours and have been in this business for many years, and I have never done drugs. I just never cared to even go there. Everyone else was going there, and so I wanted no part of it. It's like getting a tattoo. I don't have any because everyone else has them. I want to be away from the pack.
Axe: You mean to tell me that in all the years you've been doing this . . .
Tracy: I've never even smoked a joint. Ever.
Axe: Wow. Good for you! You mentioned earlier you wished you had more self-discipline, but apparently in this area you have plenty.
Tracy: No, because it takes no discipline. I simply have no interest in it. And I don't really know why.
Axe: Cool. Let's move on. A lot of guitar players become little clones of their favorite guitarist. Is this something you tried to avoid?
Tracy: I didn't necessarily try to resist it, it's just that each player would have one or two things I was attracted to. It was like a woman. One may have a perfect ass, another one a perfect face, but very few have EVERYTHING. Tony Iommi had that killer tone, Ritchie Blackmore had that trippy lead style . . .
Axe: Yeah. Ritchie was an innovator.
Tracy: You know what I mean.
Axe: In the old days if you could play like Chuck Berry you were god. Then if you could play like Hendrix you were god.
Tracy: Can you imagine Hendrix, when he came out, playing shit like that? I mean, whom did he listen to to play like that?
Axe: It boggles the mind. Tracy, I'd like for you to give me your thoughts of these guitarists: George Lynch.
Tracy: I know George and he's kind of from the same area as I am. He's a whole story by himself, an amazing player. He has his very own trippy lead thing going.
Axe: Michael Schenker.
Tracy: Fucking amazing. I saw Michael play a show once, it was an acoustic unplugged thing. He was playing all that UFO shit -- Lights Out -- and so on, and the speed and the vibrato were all exactly like the electric versions. You know how hard it is to play solos on an acoustic, dude?
Axe: Yes, sir. That's one reason I don't even like to play an acoustic.
Tracy: Schenker has hands of steel. He's tasteful and precise. Sickening!
Axe: Ulrich Roth.
Tracy: For a long time he was my favorite guitarist. I wish he was still in Scorpions. Sails Of Charon was a killer track. I was always copping licks off of Taken By Force. You remember that tune?
Axe: Hell yes! And Uli recorded that in the 70s. I still listen to the Scorps version and Yngwie's, also.
Tracy: I don't remember where I was when I first heard Uli, but I was like: Who the fuck is that?
Axe: John Sykes.
Tracy: John to me is like a monster Gary Moore. He's a scary player.
Axe: Sykes is very popular at Dinosaur Rock Guitar. He can sing better than most singers, too.
Tracy: That's another thing. The guy can fuckin' sing. Amazing.
Axe: Craig Goldie.
Tracy: I wasn't real impressed with Craig when he joined Dio after Vivian Campbell. I liked Vivian a lot better. Although Dio's never had a really crappy player. Ronnie wouldn't put up with that.
Axe: Zakk Wylde.
Tracy: He's great. I don't know him, but I love his sound, his style, and his vibrato. I love his tone-he's very aggressive and blues based.
Axe: Edward Van Halen.
Tracy: I met Eddie when I was 16. We were talking about amps before the show, and he said they had just gotten a singer named Dave Lee Roth. We're talking a long time ago. Then they opened with (the Rainbow classic) Man On The Silver Mountain! Anyway, my jaw has been dropping ever since.
Axe: Speaking of Eddie: I still think tapping is a beautiful thing.
Tracy: Yeah, but it's got to be done with feeling, or it sounds stupid. Some guys took it too far. When it becomes a gimmick instead of a feeling, it's worthless.
Axe: You said earlier you wanted a Les Paul. I don't know if you've ever tried to play a gig with one . . .
Tracy: I did a long time ago and I fuckin' loved it. It's heavy and bulky and bitchin'.
Axe: I used to use them exclusively. But then one day I picked up a Strat at a guy's house, and I asked myself: Why am I playing this piece of Les Paul furniture with difficult upper-register access? And I've got a long reach. They sound great, but so can almost any guitar if outfitted properly.
Tracy: They feel great to me and I love the tone. Simple as that.
Axe: Are you able to make a living doing what you do, Tracy?
Tracy: Barely. I just get by.
Axe: I saw your Christmas album on your website. (A Spooky G X-Mas, available at www.tracyg.com)
Tracy: I did a blues version of Jingle Bells, an instrumental, which fuckin' kicks! (Both laugh)
Axe: I'm holding a copy of Angry Machines in my hands. What did you think about this album in comparison to Strange Highways?
Tracy: It's not even in the same ballpark. It ties in with what I said earlier. Everyone's attitude had changed by that time. Guitar solos were supposedly on the way out, Ronnie was saying: Well, maybe we shouldn't do as many solos. . . and the few solos I did were mixed way down.
Axe: So even the great Ronnie James Dio is susceptible . . .
Tracy: It took us eight months to write that thing because the creativity was at an all time low. It totally wasn't happening.
Axe: I know that artists sometimes do things just to shut management up. It's a reality of the business, and lots of otherwise great musicians have done it.
Tracy: Yes. When I joined the band, Ronnie had one more album he owed Warner Bros. So we made the album we wanted to make: Strange Highways. Which I thought was heavy, bombastic, and almost a continuation of (Black Sabbath's) Dehumanizer.
Axe: You've got to understand, I hold Strange Highways up there with my all-time favorites. Right up there with UFO's No Heavy Petting, Yngwie's Trilogy, Ozzy's Blizzard Of Ozz, and my other faves.
Tracy: That record was made without any record company executives putting their shit in our ears!
Axe: What have you been working on lately, Tracy?
Tracy: Basically I said: fuck it to everything and started producing my music -- uncompromised -- in exactly the way I want without anyone telling me what to play. I'm selling all my albums, instrumental and otherwise, on my website without anyone else's fingers in the pie. That way when I die I'll leave behind an honest representation of what I was about.
Axe: Music's a powerful thing. It can lift people out of their mundane existence. Not just musicians, but anyone.
Tracy: It's magical. That's why everyone wants to be a part of it.
Axe: Tell me what your typical day is like. Or are you a night owl?
Tracy: I sleep pretty much during the day. My whole life is here in the studio. I want to tell you about the new CD I'm working on.
Axe: Please do so.
Tracy: It's a tribute CD to my favorite influences. I couldn't fit them all in, so I chose the top ten. Then I took a track or two from each one of them and re-did them. I got together about 20 different artists for this record. It's almost done now, and they're all classic rock tunes. I did two Hendrix songs . . .
Axe: Which ones?
Tracy: Fire and Little Wing.
Axe: Cool. Who's singing on this album?
Tracy: I got eight different guys. I did a Gary Moore tune called The Sky Is Crying. I did a ZZ Top's Beer Drinkers And Hell Raisers.
Axe: I love that one!
Tracy: (Laughs) You know what I mean? There's two Jeff Beck songs.
Axe: Sounds great.
Tracy: This is what I work on until 5 or 6 in the morning, and usually I don't even know what day it is. I'm alone much of the time when I'm tracking and none of the bass players, singers, or other guys that worked on this CD met each other because of my crazy schedule.
Tracy: The end result is that it sounds like Tracy G is playing in eight different bands.
Axe: And this will be available at your website?
Tracy: Yes, by end of September-early October.
Axe: Tracy, I've enjoyed this visit with you immensely. Thanks so much! Can we do it again sometime?
Tracy: You bet, dude. Stay in touch. Take care.
We at Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Tracy G for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.