I have to confess — I really hadn't heard of Doug Aldrich until I checked out the 2002 Dio album Killing the Dragon. I think I had heard his name, but I certainly had never heard Doug play. But once I heard him play on the Dio album, I was so impressed with his playing that I knew I wanted to hear more! Checking his website, www.dougaldrich.com, I found out that Doug's been around playing in bands and doing sessions since the late 80s. And so while he isn't exactly a new player, he was new to me! And one of the best "new" players I've heard in ages.
I picked up a few of Doug's CDs, and his second solo album, Electrovision, really knocked me on my ass. The music is kind of like Satriani's stuff but with a more sex and bigger balls in his attitude. It's more Rock/Metal, and from the crotch — so it's right up my alley. Leadwise Doug has it all. He is aggressive, melodic and can really shred.
I was really glad to get this chance to talk with Doug Aldrich. When we did speak, I found Doug to be genuinely friendly, open and unassuming. He's clearly having the time of his life playing in Dio, and that's great to see because he's not only a terrific player who has paid his dues, but he's also such a nice guy.
Perhaps the best way I can describe Doug is like this: He's just like the rest of us guys Dinos at the forum — he just has a much better gig! He was so easy to talk with, we spoke for over two hours — so this is another long interview! Thanks to Andy and Doug's wife, Stacy for setting up the interview.
Interview conducted by Dinosaur David B. 10/15/02
DRG: Doug, you've landed the dream gig for every metal guitarist who grew up in the 80s. A lot of us really would like to know what it's like being in Dio. I imagine the fantasy and the reality are somewhat different.
Doug: It's really cool. Playing with one of the ultimate singers of heavy rock. His voice is so heavy and powerful, that no matter who he sings with he just sounds massive. But he's very soulful, which I dig. Sometimes he pulls off these things I've never heard him do in any of the bands — and I think: where did that come from? He still keeps it fresh. But to answer your question, it's great. It's a great gig because he pushes you to be better. To keep working hard, to go to places you never thought you be (going), but he convinces you that it's cool to check it out. Then you get there and you think, wow, this is really cool! For me, I came into the record (Killing the Dragon) after 80% of it had been written, and there were certain solo sections over chord progressions I had never played over before. So at first I thought maybe I'll just change some of the chords around a bit and make it more like what I'm comfortable with — something I know I can play really well over. And that went right out the window the first day. (Ronnie) said: Look, these are the songs, this is how they are written. He was pretty set in his ways, and he forced me to come up with some things I'd never done — which I was really happy about. So that's what I mean when I say he takes you to places where you're unsure about what can happen — you're kind of on the edge. And it's a high-pressure gig too.
DRG: I would certainly imagine so. He has a real history and a pretty clear vision.
Doug: Absolutely. And as long as he's been doing it, he hasn't lost any of his passion for it. And he wants it to be right. Whether you convince him (of something) — and he goes: wow, man, great, I love it. Or he makes you follow his vision. But the bottom line is, it's really refreshing and really challenging. He's definitely challenging to work with. It's not like some guy who's always stroking you and telling you you're a genius. He forces you to show him (if you think your way is better than his).
DRG: So what is Ronnie actually looking for in his guitarist? Does he want a guy who come up with riffs and ideas, or is he looking for a guy to just play the stuff he's already written.
Doug: Well what happened with those (already written) songs was that he and (Dio bassist) Jimmy Bain had done the majority of the work and (former Dio guitarist) Craig Goldie had co-written three of the songs — and had begun recording on two of them. But it didn't sound like anybody was really pushing him. And not to take anything away from Craig, because he's a great player and probably more of a musician than I am — and I mean that in the best possible sense — more well-rounded — but it just didn't sound like there was any fire there. And I don't know if there were personal stuff going on or what, but I'm just trying to be honest. So I figured (on those songs) I'd just play the stuff a little bit more aggressively and tighter to the track. But when I started working on the songs, Ronnie made me try different things, and we souped up the rhythms a lot.
DRG: Was this before you went into the studio?
Doug: No, I actually went into the studio two days after I got the gig. Just to back up a bit, they had been talking about how there might be a change (of guitarists) and I didn't hear anything for a couple of months, and I knew they were going into the studio, so I figured: that's it, there going to do it with Craig. And Ronnie is very loyal — he really likes Craig a lot as a person and as a player. And even if he's not 100% happy with (a situation) he's loyal — that was his guitar player and he was going to hang with him. But the other guys kind of convinced Ronnie to check me out. But I figured they had started the record — and they had — so I thought: it's not going to happen (for me) But then I got a call from Jimmy saying that push had come to shove and they were going to make the change. So I met with Jimmy and Ronnie at a pub, and we talked a bit, and Ronnie said: Look, Craig's doing the record. But would you consider playing on a couple of songs? And I just had to say no. I wasn't really interested in that. I knew I'd have to go on tour and play some of (original Dio guitarist) Vivian Campbell's songs and some old Sabbath, but with the new record, it would only be cool if I was actually on it. So then fast-forward to the studio — after three days, I hadn't really learned anything yet, so I just took it one song at a time. I did a little wood-shedding at home the night before the studio. Then I'd go in that day and play what I thought was cool. Then Ronnie would push me a little further. He wouldn't really come up with anything. Once in a while, he'd have a suggestion, but basically he'd say: no, or yes, or yes that's cool, but take it further. Listen to this note — and he'd sing the note, and say: see if you can fit that note in the chord. (Ronnie has) real ethereal ideas about how to create something different. So he was definitely up for making improvements to the tracks they had started with Craig.
DRG: We're just talking about the basic rhythm tracks at this point, right?
Doug: Yeah, right. The leads were a whole other story (laughs). But Craig had only done two and a half songs before I got in there. So we started with one of the songs he had already started and we made — in everybody's opinion — really big improvements — on the way it was written. And then I played it as aggressively as I could. Cause when I think of Dio, I think of Vivian — the young, pissed-off Vivian — he was just . . .
Doug: Yeah, exactly! And that's how I wanted to try and approach it. So we would make these little changes to the progression, or I might try a (complementary) riff, and Ronnie'd go: yeah, I dig that, but he'd also kind of reel me back in a little, so we'd compromise. So we improved the songs, and so Ronnie wasn't all: just play it like Craig did. And it wasn't all: just do what you want to do (either.) He was into it. He wanted to be involved. He would sit there reading, or doing a crossword puzzle while I was doing my thing, and then he'd make comments. I'd say something like: it would be cool to do this with the riff. And he'd say: I like that, but I like these aspects from the demo version.
DRG: So you were working off a demo that Craig had played on?
Doug: Some of it was Craig, and some of it just had Ronnie and Jimmy on it.
DRG: I find this interesting because Ronnie writes with Jimmy. If you have a singer writing songs with a bassist, where do the guitar riffs come from?
Doug: Well Ronnie wrote a lot of the last album (Magica) with Craig, but Ronnie and Jimmy can both play and they can write riffs and stuff. They'd have these riffs that were real simple, and that would be the basis for the songs, but they definitely wanted me to soup them up. Which is what I did — but there were times when I would go too far. As a player, you always want to do something really brilliant, and sometimes there's a tendency to put too much into something just because you can. You don't do it on purpose, but it just sort of happens. So its good that Ronnie reels you back in and says: Here's the simple meat and potatoes of the riff. I like what your doing with it here, but lets keep the integrity of the riff on this part. So we compromised. And in some cases it was really challenging to figure out where they wanted it to go. And I was almost like a session guy.
DRG: I can see where aspects of that situation would have that kind of feel to it. What happened when you got around to those songs that you co-wrote?
Doug: Well they had a board up in the studio with the names of the songs that they'd been working on and the various tracks and stuff. And I noticed that there was only eight songs on the board. So I'm thinking: that's kind of weird — only eight songs. If that's what they're doing it's really a throw-back. But then Ronnie said: we're going to need a few more tracks. And I thought: great — but when are we going to (write them)? We're gonna have to take a break from the studio at some point. And they were already a little behind schedule because of changing from Craig, the Christmas holiday and stuff. But in the end, we knocked those songs out pretty quick. Jimmy and I got together a few times and came up with what we felt were six strong "rough ideas." Which consisted of a main riff or groove, verses, choruses. Sometimes a solo section where I'd jam out some leads just to get the idea across. We did that at my house — I have a really comfortable home studio that's disconnected from my house. So we sat out there a few days knocking this stuff out. Then we gave Ronnie a CD, and he picked two of them that he liked. One was a song that Jimmy had initiated called Along Comes a Spider, and the other was Scream, that I had initiated. And once Ronnie picked those two, we went to his house, and banged around the arrangement a bit. We pretty much kept Scream the way I had envisioned it. Just very simple. We spent more time tweaking Along Comes a Spider . So in a matter of three days or so, we had done those two songs. And I worked out the guitar parts doing demos at Ronnie's house, so it was just a matter of getting the performance the way I wanted it in the studio.
DRG: When you were working with Jimmy, did you start completely fresh, or did you have some unused riffs and ideas ready in the back of your mind? Or was it all spur-of-the-moment stuff?
Doug: Well the thing Jimmy had was cool, but I felt it was a little "stock." So I tried to soup it up a little. And you know, I didn't want to "rock the boat." Ronnie was real generous when he was talking about us writing more songs and said: we'll write this stuff together and have you on the record. And the first thing I said to him was: Look, you don't have to do that. I'm not trying to get a deal on the record as a writer. I want what's best for you. I want this to be a kick-ass record, and I don't care who writes it! And in the past, I've been a part of things where someone would come in halfway through (a recording session) and they would get real pushy and try to force their ideas on you, and it messes up the soup. So I did not want to be that guy who comes in and is real pushy. So I said: Look, I'll come up with some stuff, Jimmy will come up with some stuff, and we'll do some stuff together,but I said: Please, please, please do not work on something you're not into just for my sake. So we didn't tell Ronnie who had written which songs. He just picked the ones he liked best. And the one that came from me just came from something — I always do this - I just sit around and put riffs down on cassette tape. And it was a riff that sounded to me like a cross between Sabbath with Ronnie and old Dio. And after hearing the other songs and where the album was going, I think it kind of filled a void — in my opinion — of what was going on on the record. So it was cool that he picked it. But to answer your question, I was just trying to fill that void on the album and do something I thought Ronnie would dig.
DRG: So how did the other parts of the sessions go?
Doug: Well I had heard that Ronnie was really "hands-on" when it came to guitar solos and stuff. He had told me that a lot of times with Vivian, he would sit there and help Vivian with what (Ronnie) wanted and Vivian would play it.
DRG: Vivian was very young and very green in the beginning.
Doug: Yeah, and he was real nervous about playing for Ronnie and stuff. And in some cases — in the beginning, I was a little freaked-out too! You'd turn around and . . . there's that dude.
Doug: But I told him I was gonna try and play what was right for each song. And (when we started) he was really adamant about not wanting the solos played until his vocals were done.
DRG: Was that just the way he works?
Doug: Well, he didn't want me to be stepping all over where he was going to be singing. He wasn't sure where he was gonna sing yet. So he would be experimenting and getting his track the way he wanted it, and there would be room for the lead part — wherever that was — when he finished (his vocals). So when I first started cutting solos, the two choices were between two songs (where the vocals were done). And I could tell there was some tension (in the band surrounding) What's Doug gonna do with the solos? What's it going to sound like? And the tone was a big issue. We banged around guitar sounds for a while. So I started with this one song, and after I was done, I could definitely see that Ronnie was relieved. He saw that I wasn't trying to take over or overplay or shred on something where it should be melodic. And eventually he got to where he would split from the studio and let me work on the solo. And when I got one I was happy with, he'd come in and pretty much would always go: I love it — except for this part here. Or: I love it, but can you take this a little further. Or he'd say: what do you think of it? And I'd say: I dig it the way it is. And that was what he was waiting for me to say. Then he'd say: Well I'll tell you what I don't like — I don't like this note right here. And it would be one note in a trill of about 30 notes!
Doug: And I'd say: that's not a problem. And he'd say: well it is to me, mate. It's really gonna bug the shit out of me, and if you don't change it, I'm gonna have to tell the press I can't ever listen to that song again because you've got that fucked-up note in there!
DRG: (laughs) Was he just busting your balls?
Doug: No, he was getting really intense about it. He was serious. Aside from the fact that he didn't want to be arguing with the guitar player, it initially bugged him. And then when I'd get defensive and say: I dig it, he would go twice as hard: well I definitely don't dig it! So you better do something about it. And I could have held my ground and said fuck you, but that's not my personality and I wanted him to be happy with it.
DRG: Yeah, you don't wanna do that in this gig!
Doug: No. And anytime you're in a band, you want the guys in the band — more than anybody — to dig what you're doing.
DRG: Yeah, but it's a little different if it's your band. This guy has been working with Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi — he probably has a good idea of what he wants!
Doug: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. And if its a little thing and it's not that big a deal, it's better to give in. There was one thing where I was playing a diminished scale thing, and the last note of the run had a slight — and I mean real slight — rub with the chord that was under it. But you know, sometimes those weird little things turn out cool.
DRG: Yeah, they either create tension, or they don't work at all.
Doug: Yeah. There was some of that in early Randy Rhoads. There were some notes he hit where you go: that's pretty bizarre. It wouldn't be the first note you'd think of, but it was cool the way Randy did it. So I did give in and I said: you know, you're absolutely right. Technically, there is a rub there. It doesn't bother me, but and it obviously bothers you, so we'll fix it. So I just replayed that section.
DRG: Was it a minor mistake or just a note-choice thing?
Doug: It was just a note-choice thing. And I had already roughed out the basics of the solo at home (beforehand) — it wasn't one where you would just jam it out (in the studio). There were some modulations going on (in the progression) and I had to actually figure out what note choices would work. So I did a little woodshedding on some of those solos at home — at night, and come in the next day with a rough idea. And it always turned out better in the studio when I did it for real. But this was one case where it didn't bug me at all. It kind of had this tension. But his ears hear things. And if there's a rub — he doesn't dig it.
DRG: Yeah, well I can certainly respect that. Anytime you're gonna commit something to tape — forever — you don't want it to bother you every time you hear it.
Doug: Well it wouldn't have bothered me, but it bothered him, so I changed it. And other times, I'd be doing doubles (double tracking guitar parts) Sometimes when you double something — say like a single note thing — and the parts are not always 100% real tight. Sometimes there's a cool width that comes from that. And I kind of dig that sometimes — when it gets a little wide in spots. And that's another thing that Ronnie really isn't into. He wants them very locked up. And mainly it's a tuning thing with him. He wants them locked up so their in tune. You'll notice certain songs on the first couple of Dio records where Vivian's playing — it's real tight, and it sounds real cool, but he's doing one thing on one side and something different on the other side. And it just happens to work. So he got away with that, I guess.
DRG: So did you rough out all of your solo ideas?
Doug: No, only on a couple of things.
DRG: Is that how you like to work? To go in prepared? Or do you like to do them spontaneously.
Doug: I like to do them spontaneously, because anytime I've done a demo solo — if you do a great demo solo, it's really difficult to recreate it. Sometimes you visit that magic spot once, and in order to get it back, you have you play full-circle until you start making mistakes and stuff. And eventually you get to the point where you have every little thing from the vibrato, and the bend, and the way it bends, and the timing — the little things that made the demo cool. Eventually you can work yourself back full-circle and play it just like that. But it takes a long time, and most of the time in the studio, there's not enough time to do that. So I prefer to stuff spontaneously because you can capture the really great moment. And you don't have to recreate them — except live. And live it's always a little different every night anyway.
DRG: Yet a lot of your stuff does sound worked-out.
Doug: I don't know (why). Maybe it's just the way that I play. My favorite solo on that album is on a song called Throwaway Children. It's real melodic and has a cool vibe about it. All I did with that was I came up with a melody in the front to start with. And as the solo builds, I just kind of jammed-out a bunch of ideas. And then I did a comp. The first melody part was the hardest part — 'cause I wanted the intonation and vibrato to be just right. And hopefully not be stiff. And then for the rest, I'd just wing off ideas until I had about seven or eight solos that were all different. And at that point I was getting confused about which ones had been good. So I said: I definitely like the front of this one because the melody is just the way I want it, and after that, I really didn't know. So I just let the engineer pick his favorite other parts. And he put it together, and I just went away cause I was frustrated. And when I came back in and heard what he'd done, I thought: man, I love it. It's great!
DRG: So did you go back and try to play it like that all the way through?
Doug: Nah, we just used the comp. Any guitar player can go in a re-play the solo. There's nothing that's groundbreaking where it's like fuck — I could never play that again. All that stuff is playable. And I had played it already, and it was roughly similar to a couple of the takes I had done. There were just certain transitions where I would stay on one little idea too long and lose the vibe — and on another (take) I'd cut away from it too soon and it didn't develop. So having this guy come in fresh and put it together — basically in three sections — and it worked out. You know, I'm not afraid to say hey, I'll comp a solo. But I've read where some guys like Eric Johnson will spend three weeks working on a comp of a solo. I definitely don't want to bother with that. I'll totally lose interest.
DRG: There's a point of diminishing return there.
Doug: Yeah, you start going well is this solo even good anyway? So just piece it together (quickly). And there were a couple of solos that pretty much were (done in) one take. Like Along Comes a Spider — which was one take. I played a few of them (for that song, in one take) that were really good and that was just the one Ronnie liked best. Though I think I fixed a small problem on it and just replayed it. Sometime it's easier to replay it than to do a comp. And I knew exactly where the problem was, so I just replayed it.
DRG: Talk to me a bit about are the differences in what you'd do in the studio on one of your own projects vs. what you do in the studio making an album for Dio. How would you go about getting your sound if it was just for you, vs. what you'd do in a gig like Dio. Did you just go in with your gear and your stuff and set up like you usually would?
Doug: Well I went in with my gear, but we had a proper engineer and Ronnie producing on the record, so it didn't come down to me making the final decision on the guitar sound or the tones we ended up with. It was more like me saying: here's a bunch of amps that I've got. here's a bunch of guitars that I've got. And for one song I might start with one thing, and they'd say: let's try a different guitar. I like the amp. Or vice versa. But the majority of it was the same amp I've used on a lot of those other projects I've done. And it sounds totally different. And the only reason I can think of is it's a different studio with a different person (other than me) EQ-ing it. When you have a studio at home like a lot of us guys do, you get really good at tweaking stuff and getting it the way you think it sounds good. You get to know your gear and you get to know your room. And on the projects that I was in charge of, I just got it to where I thought it sounded good. And the good part of that situation is that I could experiment as long as I wanted to. The bad part is if you sell yourself a little bit short — maybe because you don't know any better, then that's too bad. But that was the cool thing about the Dio project — I knew I wasn't going to sell him short because his job was to make the final decision. I'm supposed to give him the best of what I've got — and then he decides what's best. And this one amp I have has a really nice bottom end.
DRG: What is it?
Doug: It's a 78 JMP 100 watt (Marshall) that's on its third transformer. And it's been modified by the guys at Bob Bradshaw — a guy named Martin Golan. It's one of Bob's mods that he designed with John Suhr. And the way they've got this amp tweaked, it's got this bigger, open bottom end. And regardless of whether it sounded like that on the record or not, it was bigger-sounding than the other amps I brought down. Which were a whole bunch of older Marshalls, and stuff that had worked at home. But for whatever reason in that studio (with Dio), they didn't sound as good. So this (modded) one was pretty much the one (for the Dio sessions) and it would just depend on which guitar I used.
DRG: This was an EL-34 Marshall, right?
Doug: Yeah. So I pretty much would just start with (a tone) I thought sounded good, and the engineer would kind of tweak the tone a little bit. And I remember in the beginning, with the rhythms, we didn't have much trouble with the tones and stuff. But when we stated doing leads, the lead sounds were a little to similar to the rhythm sounds. And what I do at home is, I just EQ it differently.
DRG: How did they mic you up? Did you just use one cabinet?
Doug: I think we ended up using two cabinets. On of the cabs had a (Neumann) U-87 on it. And the other had a (Shure SM) 57 — or a couple of 57s on it. And there was some stuff where we used a (Sennheiser) 421 — and that sounded really good.
DRG: Were you just close-micing or room micing too?
Doug: Just close-micing.
DRG: But on several speakers.
Doug: Yeah. We just tried to determine which mic on which speaker fit the vibe the best.
DRG: Would the blend them, or just take the one they liked best?
Doug: Yeah, sometimes he'd blend a little bit of this or that. Sometimes they'd just pick one mic. That was the difference really — that was up to (the engineer.) Where as when I'm working on stuff, I can tweak. I mean I love trying things and tweaking things and experimenting. Even if you might get a little bit of a weird buzz on the top end, or a waffley distortion on the bottom end or whatever — the vibe is going to make you play it in a certain way, so the vibe is cool! So I don't care about (those imperfections). But (in Dio) we went through some stuff where the engineer was saying: Man, there's this hi-end (noise) that's happening, and it's going to bug me forever if we leave it. So we swapped cabinets, we swapped cables — whatever. So it was a drawn-out process getting the sound. And that was mainly during the lead stuff. Cause every time I was getting the gain that I needed to play that stuff, there was that (same) top-end distortion that was really bumming out the engineer.
DRG: Was it just coming from the rig?
Doug: Well, basically, as you compress the sound with a little bit more preamp, you get a little bit more buzz happening. And it didn't matter if I cranked it up and went for more of a tube preamp thing, as soon as it got to the point where there was enough sustain to be able to do what I wanted to do, we'd get this problem. And eventually, we just kind of EQ-ed (the noise) out. Cause that's what I'd do. When I'm at home and I've got a problem with the sound or something — shit — I don't know what's right or wrong — just twist the nobs until it sounds right! (laughs) And that's what we ended up doing. But the engineer would have preferred to put a mic up there with a flat EQ.
DRG: So what would you do in your home studio? Would you do the same kind of thing and use one close mic?
Doug: Yeah, because I have a smallish guitar room where my cabs are. It's shaped kind of like a baseball diamond, and that actually works out pretty cool. But it's very small. If you squared it off, it's probably 10'x10'. So it's not a big room. And I've experimented with putting mics in the top corner of the room away from the amp, and that's kind of cool sometimes, but I find that for aggressive heavy rock, it kind of muddies it up.
DRG: What kind of effects do you like to use for recording? Studio effects, of footpedals and stuff?
Doug: Mainly straight into the amp. There were a couple of songs where I used a Strat — a true Strat with a single coil in the bridge. In that case, I used a (Ibanez) Tube Screamer. It was a weird sound on it's own, but when I doubled it with a Les Paul, it just had this really cool vibe. I think I used that sound on Along Comes a Spider. It's a nasally thing without as much bottom or top end. More of a midrange thing like a Tube Screamer does. I put that on one side and put a Les Paul on the other side with just a big, open sound. It kind of blends really neat.
DRG: So on the Dio songs, you did both left and right side rhythms?
Doug: Yeah, on pretty much everything.
DRG: Is that something you also do on your own stuff?
Doug: Mostly, but the older I get, the more I want to experiment with different dimensions. On some of my solo stuff, I've experimented with other approaches, where it might go to a single guitar in one section of a song, and then it might jump to a stereo thing in another section. Cause I like how it breaks things up so everything isn't totally linear and flat all the time. But (double tracked rhythms are) how the Dio records are, and that's what Ronnie wanted. So I did that. And there wasn't much time to experiment anyway, cause we were a little under-the-gun. So we doubled everything and threw a third track on a few things here and there.
DRG: And you used a combination of Strats and Pauls on the record?
Doug: Mainly Les Pauls on the rhythms and Strats with humbuckers for the leads. There was a couple of cases where it was the reverse of that. I had a couple of Teles down there that I used to emphasize certain little parts — or doing a triple (track) — playing the fifth of the part and blend it. Or to change the tone completely and blend it underneath to get more of a stringy sound. But it was pretty much straight in, and I didn't use many effects. There's a little bit of wah. For leads, I have a couple of amps that are pretty high gain. It was just a matter of getting a little bit more of the preamp (sound).
DRG: The same amps we talked about before?
Doug: Different amps. The other one I use a lot is a '71 Superlead that's been modded by a bunch of people over the years, and the last guy was Mark Cameron who works for Standel amps now. It's a cool amp. Sometimes those mods sound better at low volume — I don't know why — maybe they don't compress as much — but this records really well at a lower volume. I know that sounds weird! Cause those amps are known for sounding best cranked-up. And I had a couple of Bogner heads I borrowed. They were Marshall-modified Bogners actually.
DRG: Oh really?
Doug: Yeah, Marshall-modified. Yeah, I had a '69 Superlead plexi that was a Bogner, and another Bogner that was a different mod. And that was a metal face — a 71 or 72 or something around there. I had a stock Super Bass plexi. And I brought a Fender Tone Master down and used that for some stuff. And a Fender Super, which I only used for one little clean part. I've got a bunch of Marshalls, but I'd love to have an array of different amps.
DRG: Do you run a stereo rig live.
Doug: Yeah I do. I take a send off my main amp and go through a delay on one side and dry on the other side through a stereo power amp. So I've got a dry cab in the center coming off the head. And then I've got a send that comes off the head and one side goes through the 26 millisecond delay on it, and the other has a stereo reverb/chorus/delay. So the sound man gets a totally mono dry cab in the center and stereo rig on the outside.
DRG: Is this just your Dio rig, or do you use it for Burning Rain and everything else?
Doug: It's kind of always been my rig. The same concept anyway. It changes a little. I'm running a Bradshaw (pedal system) now, so it's a little more complex. But it's pretty simple.
DRG: I want to talk to you about some of your other projects too, because I'll confess — I hadn't heard you play before I heard the Dio album. But when I heard that, I liked your playing so much I went out an bought a couple of your other albums. And I like those a lot too!
Doug: That's cool, man. That solo stuff is kind of esoteric and a little self-indulgent. But I like it, and I like having the freedom to try stuff.
DRG: Electrovision really really turned me on!
Doug: Thanks, man!
DRG: And I played a few clips off of it in our site's listening room, and a bunch of the guys went nuts over it. Cause like me, they hadn't heard much of your work.
Doug: Well I've always been famous for being an unknown guy who nobody knows about and no one's heard of! (laughs). And that's one of the best things about working with Ronnie. All of the sudden, people notice (my guitar work).
Doug: Some people are very supportive. And others are like: I could do it better. Why'd they get this wanker? But that's cool that some people are getting to hear some of (my solo stuff).
DRG: Yeah, they were. And they were definitely digging it!
Doug: Electrovision actually sold really well in Japan. And I did a compilation of two solo records in Europe, and that sold pretty well. But it's very schizophrenic — that stuff, and hearing it in hindsight I think: well it would have been cool to hone it a little more in one direction. But you know, that's what's cool about a solo thing. You can do whatever you want. And as a guitarist, you know that you're always searching, experimenting, trying to find something that gets you off. And sometimes its not always the same kind of music over and over (from one track to the next).
DRG: No. Your solo albums were very varied. And I liked that. And I like hot, instrumental guitar work anyway. And I liked the songs with the vocals on them too.
Doug: I like the instrumentals best out of that stuff. I would not have put any vocal stuff on there, but the Japanese record company made me. Probably a good thing I did, though.
DRG: I thought they were catchy songs! Particularly on Electrovision.
Doug: On that, the first one (Trash and the Fascination) is with (vocalist) Ron Young, and that was one I wrote that I wanted to have that Hendrixy, Stevie Ray kind of vibe — but still be heavy and melodic. And he kind of took it in almost a Beatley direction in certain parts — which is kind of cool. The one with Matt Kramer — from the band Saigon Kick — was something he and I just did for fun. And it kind of had a Stones vibe, or a Hendrix-meets-Stones vibe. And I liked that. It was something that didn't work for what he and I were doing at the time, but when it came to Electrovision, it fit. I think there were only three vocal tracks on that.
DRG: I think they're all strong in their own right. And it's weird, because sometimes when an album is half instrumental and half not, it can be disjointed, but I don't think that's happening on your stuff.
Doug: Well it is a little disjointed — if I'm being honest.
DRG: Well obviously more so than if you went all one way or the other, but I don't see it as a bad thing here. I think it's just a different thing. And frankly, I think it's because both types of songs on the albums are working compositionally. The songs with vocals are working for all the right reasons, and so are the instrumentals.
Doug: Well the thing that's cool about that too — and by the way, you're very kind (laughs) — is that — and you wouldn't have know this, cause you didn't know about me — but I played in bands that would be considered poseur bands or hair bands back in the early 80s. And that was never what I was into. It was just the vibe back then, I guess.
DRG: Well the ones I know of now are Lion, Bad Moon Rising, and Burning Rain.
Doug: Well those were ones that I was a part of from the get-go. Then there are sessions. I did a record with a band called Hurricane just as they were fading in popularity. A lot of people tell me they like the Hurricane record. I wasn't blown away by it, and it was really difficult to record it. Really painful working with the producer. He was a pain in the ass, and I was probably a bit too pushy and immature at the time, so I just didn't want to hear it from some guy — unless his name was Max Norman or Martin Birch or (similar). Then I did session with House of Lords on a record called Sahara. And that was really cool to work on. And they had Andy Johns producing. It was fun to work with him. And they asked me to join the band, but I was already in Hurricane, and we had already shot a couple of videos, and the record was just about to come out. So it was just the wrong time to quit and make a change. Even though I really liked working with (House of Lords). They wanted a guitarist that had that 80s look, and they got some guy and put him on a couple of solos and threw my name down under "additional musicians" with the people who had helped them with demos — which made it very confusing. But the bottom line was when they went to tour, they weren't happy with the guy they had hired, so they called me back and hired me for the tour. And while they made things confusing, I played every note of everything on that album except for two solos on songs they cared less about anyway. And I've done a lot of other sessions over the years. Last year I did a couple of sessions with Brian McKnight for overseas products. I've worked with all kinds of different people. In the past four or five years, a lot of female artists. Actresses — people like Maria Conchita Alonso — she has a recording career in South America, Venezuela.
DRG: How does that work come your way?
Doug: From producers. That work (with Maria Conchita Alonso) a manager of mine had met her and she was interested in doing a new record and he recommended me as a "rock guy". She actually wanted to play guitar, and this guy suggested I teach her. And I said: no way — I don't wanna teach anymore. I'm no good at it anymore. But I talked to her a little bit and ended up writing some stuff with her. And the producer said: why don't we demo it up. And (Maria) is still trying to get the record out. But it's just sessions, and you get whatever you can get to pay the bills! There was a pop artist named Martika — back in '89 or '90 — she had a number one song — all these people who are one hit wonders decide ten years later that they want to get back into it. So they're always looking for musicians. So I started doing a lot of stuff like that.
DRG: What about your other bands like Lion, Bad Moon Rising, and Burning Rain?
Doug: The band I was in, Lion, got signed in '87 to a the Scotty Brothers label.
DRG: Right at the tail end of the metal period.
Doug: Yeah, and it was actually a strong record — kind of like Whitesnakey. And we got good reviews and had done a video that was getting good airplay. But the record company wouldn't put us on the road. And we were a live band! And until the hip-hop period came along, everybody played live. And because we weren't out there, we couldn't get any bigger than being just a local LA band. But we did play Japan, and they really liked us a lot. And that was cool — being really popular in a split second! Then coming back to LA and not being popular. While we were there, we did well and sold a bunch of records. And after Lion broke up and I did Hurricane and House of Lords, the singer of that band — a guy named Cal Swann — and I put together Bad Moon Rising. And we got a big push in Japan and sold a bunch more records over there, and made some pretty good money and stuff. Then the record company said: OK your doing well, but if you really wanna get over the top, you've got to get a deal in the U.S. This was about '91 or '92, and that type of bluesy hard rock was just not in at all (in the U.S.)
DRG: Nah, it was getting killed by Grunge.
Doug: Right. So we were trying to get noticed, so what happened was we kind of altered our sound a little bit to fit in a bit more. There were some bands that we dug like the Cult — when they were doing their heavier stuff — we liked that. So we started writing songs more in that vein. Heavy, but kind of cool and trippy too. But we ended up watering down our sound to something that was a compromise. Although now, a lot of people dig that record in Japan. At the time it got panned!
DRG: I think it's been labelled "alternative." It's actually a much higher calibre of musicianship that you typically hear in true alternative, but it has that flavor to it.
Doug: We came from the 80s, so the second Bad Moon Rising record it definitely wasn't (purposely) alternative. But is was darker and more depressing. But not enough so to get noticed in the States. So we didn't accomplish anything. And we ended up alienating the fans we created in Asia. But now everyone's like: man, I love that record . . .
DRG: Sometimes that happens. Things don't hit right away, and then people look back later and go: wow that was really cool!
Doug: It was just a learning experience. My advice to anyone would be just stick to your guns and do what you want. Don't ever, ever do something to try and please anyone other than yourself, cause it will just end in tears every time. It doesn't work. You gotta just do what's in your heart. Which brings up another point. That's why I play like I do. Some people say Doug's got a dated sound — or whatever — but you know what? That's what I do, and that's what I do well. And I've got to stay with it. I love to dabble and experiment, but I have to keep things in perspective.
DRG: Though plenty of people do seem to lose their way, that's a pretty common theme. Dave Meniketti told me something very similar in my interview with him just two months ago.
Doug: Well, we learned the hard way. And Bad Moon Rising broke up because I wanted to go back to what I was good at and what I enjoyed playing. And the singer wanted to go further in the other direction. So I said: let's just call it a day. And that's how Burning Rain came about. Which is back to the roots more of Lion and the early Bad Moon Rising. And its fun. It's got fun rhythms, and proper leads and stuff. But it's in its own niche. Which leads me back to the solo thing, and what's so fun about that is you can experiment and try things and your not trying to impress anyone but yourself.
DRG: Which of your projects or albums are you most proud of at this point?
Doug: I'd probably say Electrovision, cause it has some moments on there that are definitely not perfection, but feel good to me. And I've noticed that a lot of the Dio fans on the net don't dig it.
DRG: Well, it's not straight metal.
Doug: No that's not what that's about.
DRG: Did you record Elctrovision in your home studio?
Doug: Yeah. I did it on ADAT too. Which was detrimental to the sound at that time. They weren't as good as they are now. And I didn't know what I was doing. I recorded the drums and all that stuff. We put mics up — me and the drummer — and we just experimented. He's a great drummer, by the way. His name is Chris Frasier, he played on Steve Vai's Flexible and Passion and Warfare. we did some sessions and stuff together too. And though he'd been in the studio a lot, he'd never done his own sound. So we just threw mics up and experimented until it sounded good. Then I'd invite Andy Johns over and he'd go: well this is completely wrong. You don't do this, you don't do that. But you know what, Doug? It sounds fine — go with it.
DRG: What are the indispensable items in your home studio? Aside from the basic monitors mixers and recorder. Are there any specific things that you always like to use.?
Doug: I have a couple of Neve 1073s (mic preamps) that I bought ten years ago that I like to use. They're off an English console. It's the mic preamp that was really famous back in the 70s. And as these consoles became out-dated, people would take them out of the mixer and mount them in a rack because they loved the tone of them. And these things are really desirable. And they cost a fortune. But I got a pair of them really cheap back in 82 or something. And they've tripled in price. And they're great. And my guitar's always going through that at home. I've got other mic pres too but these things just add something — like this warmth. I go straight to tape with those and bypass the mixer. Then I re-EQ it off the mixer when it's coming off tape or ProTools or whatever. And they just sound real good.
DRG: This is a tube preamp?
Doug: Actually it's a transistor. But it's got a tone about it. It adds something that's more punchy and in-your-face. They had 'em in the studio for the Dio sessions so I didn't bring mine. And the Dio album was done on ProTools, but personally, I think that tape is the way to go. I have a two inch tape machine at home and it just sounds so fat. And I used those ADATs for both of those solo records and a bunch of other things I did. But I got that tape machine in 98, and it's just old-school. It's not as precise or clean as ProTools or ADAT, but when you record a guitar on two inch, it actually kicks back a little more bottom end. And you get a little bit of that tape compression.
DRG: Some of your Japanese fans have some questions. One wants to know if the Killing the Dragon tour will go to Japan?
Doug: We were planning on being over there now (October 02 ) actually. There was a big festival in Korea that Dio was going to headline. The Japanese market is pretty tough actually, but that Korean gig was going to make it worth while. And that got cancelled, so our plans got derailed. I love Japan. I've spent a lot of time over the years over there and it's such a cool place. The people are really great, and I love it. But their economy for international music has really gone downhill consistently from about '91. The budgets keep shrinking, so getting somebody like Ronnie James Dio over there — ten years ago he'd be making a lot, but now he can only play smaller places, and the financial guarantee is much smaller. For someone like Ronnie, it's a matter of if the market comes back, or if there's a great gig, but a lot of times it's just not worth it. And that's kind of what happened. We were gonna play like four gigs there, but we could agree with the promoter, so it fell through.
DRG: Another Japanese fan wanted to know — now that you're in Dio, is Burning Rain was going to do any more work? Or are you going to stay in Dio for the foreseeable future?
Doug: Well there's a lot of things that I'd like to do. Obviously, working with Ronnie is great. And I want to continue doing that. We've got another five weeks of dates booked this year, and then, I don't know what the plan is. We may take a break. We've been on the road since May with only a few weeks off. I think Ronnie's getting to the point where he doesn't want to see our faces for a while. (laughs) And if Ronnie wants to take a break, that might open the door to do some other things. And one of them might be — I really want to do another solo record. And also, when I was waiting to hear (if I got) the Dio gig, it took so long that I had started to work on another Burning Rain record. And right before Christmas of last year, we had a plan to go into the studio, but then the Dio thing happened, and so I basically — selfishly — put that on hold, because this was a really great opportunity. I really wanted to do it, and everybody understood. But the Burning Rain fans got cheated-out a bit cause they were waiting (for another album). We pretty much have everything written, but we haven't recorded it. But I'd like to do a Burning Rain record — even if it's the last one — just to finish it up. But my plan isn't for it to be the last one. It's something I enjoy doing and a lot of folks dig that who aren't interested in my solo records or into Dio. So I'd like to keep that going. And Ronnie's gonna wanna do another record soon.
DRG: Has he told you at this point if you're going to be involved with the writing this time?
Doug: I think Ronnie is really excited about working with me and Jimmy together. And once again, my thing is whatever's best for the soup — I'm down for that! I'll do my best to come up with the riffs.
DRG: Do you make any kind of distinction between the kinds of songs you'd write for Dio vs. the kind of songs you'd write for Burning Rain?
Doug: Yeah, I just think of the person who's singing. With Burning Rain, (vocalist) Keith St. John is a bluesier guy and lyrically he's a lot lighter. And with Ronnie has this really dark, heavy thing. If I presented a Burning Rain type song to Ronnie, he'd just laugh. And for Burning Rain, a dark heavy thing might turn more Zeppeliny. So for Ronnie, I think of things a bit simpler, and a bit heavier.
DRG: Making room for that voice of his.
Doug: Yeah. You've got to, man.
DRG: He's unreal. He doesn't sound like he's lost anything over the years.
Doug: And live, he's amazing. He just kills it every night. We were in Europe for six or seven weeks and we all got sick. Our bus was like an experimental germ pool on wheels. And Ronnie ended up catching it. And he still sang amazing every night. No one would ever guess he was sick. There was one (journalist) who wrote: yeah, I think Ronnie was sick tonight, but I think he was just bullshitting us, cause he sounded amazing as usual. And Ronnie got pissed-off at that after he heard about it, and Ronnie was like — fuck him! But the point is the guy was, in a round-about way making a complement. Cause Ronnie really was sick, and he did sound amazing like he always does.
DRG: I only know what I've read and what I've seen in interviews, but Ronnie just seems to me like someone who is so interesting, and someone who it would be fun to hang out with.
Doug: He is! He is really cool to hang with and really intelligent. If you had any question, or if you needed advice — not friendly advice — real advice — he's really good with that. He's not gonna blow smoke up your skirt. He'll give it to you straight and say: look, you're making a mistake here, or that's great, you need to pursue that. In personal things that have nothing to do with music. He's really great like that. He's always got time — I mean — he has the most dedicated, almost psychotic — I mean that in a good way — crazy fans that are just dedicated to him and only him. And it's because over the years, he's been that way with them. We'll go on stage at 10:30, get off at 12 or 12:30. We'll be waiting for him at 3:30 in the morning, he's still hanging out with fans. And they don't give a shit about talking to me or anyone else, they only care about seeing him. And he won't leave until the last one has their fill of what they're talking about. He'll sit there forever with them, and I think that's great. And it's funny, sometimes I'll look in the audience, and the people are watching every move he makes. Doesn't matter if I happen to be on that night or play some amazing thing or whatever. People don't even know who's playing the guitar.
DRG: Well, I guess that's part of the gig. You knew that going in — the guys a legend!
Doug: Yeah. I also wanted to mention that on the Dio website, there was this huge controversy over Craig leaving and me joining the band. And all this stuff — and you have some people who are his supporters, and some people who are my supporters. It almost turned into a feud at one point. It's mellowed out now. I can totally understand how people feel about it. I don't play like Craig does. I'm not a jack of as many trades as he is. He's someone who can play all kinds of different styles. I like to dabble in different styles, but I'm only good at one or two of them. So I can understand when people hear Craig and go: well Doug doesn't sound like that. And it's true, and I don't try to. But I do try to play what's best for Ronnie. And it's just weird that there was this controversy. I just don't want anyone to think that I thought Craig was a bad musician or anything like that. I think the guy's great.
DRG: I wouldn't worry to much about it. Controversies on web forums are a dime a dozen. Let's talk a bit about your guitar style, your influences and your playing.
Doug: I didn't have a stereo or anything, but I heard Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Clapton a lot on the radio. The first real guitar record I heard — my sister had a stereo with a record player — she had (Jeff Beck's) Blow By Blow. And without knowing anything about that kind of music — fusion — it just had a bad-ass edge. I loved that record. And then she turned me on to Frampton Comes Alive which was really big at that time. Then I got a stereo, and I got Zeppelin II, and (Hendrix's) Are You Experienced and other stuff people had been talking about. Then into more mainstream rock — Aerosmith, Ted Nugent. I listened to all that stuff, but I didn't really have a style at that point. I was just trying to learn to play everything that I could.
DRG: So you remember what kind of things did you specifically work on when you were learning to play? What kinds of things you practiced?
Doug: I wasn't a good practicer in the beginning. I would lose interest, and I kept jumping form one thing to the next. I couldn't play a whole song all the way through. I could play this riff or that riff, or a little piece of a lead, but I couldn't play the whole thing. I'd learn licks from Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, or some chords from Hendrix. And I'd think: cool — I got that riff down! Now let me learn Smoke on the Water! Which, by the way, was the first song I actually tried to play.
DRG: You and everybody else who's ever picked up a guitar. (laughs)
Doug: At least from 1970 - 80.
DRG: How old were you when you started?
Doug: I guess I was eleven or twelve.
DRG: Well that is kind of young to expect to have a really disciplined practice regime.
Doug: And I didn't know how to practice. I tried taking lessons and that didn't work out. It was either sight-reading from a Mel Bay guitar book, or guys trying to teach you songs you weren't interested in or stuff I could figure out on my own. The last lesson I took, the guy said: you can either be a rhythm guitar player and play like this — and he started playing some rhythms. Or you can play lead and play like this. Or you can be like me and do both. What do you want to be? And I'm like: Uhh, I guess I want to be like you. (laughs) And he was kind of playing licks in between the chords. And he thought a lot of himself. Cause I'll never forget the way he said it. And then he said: You should really get a case for that guitar. I had a Sears Les Paul that I carried around in the box it came in. I put a towel in the box, taped it down and kind of made a case. And he made a joke about of it. And, well — that was our last lesson. (laughs) I just wasn't impressed. I did end up getting a case, but I didn't take any more lessons from that guy.
And I stopped taking lessons and just started learning little-by-little. At that time, you'd always meet people at school to play with. I lived in a kind of conservative area of Philadelphia. And one of the coolest things for me was that I met these brothers. One guy was a bass player, and the other guy played drums. And they were real serious and had cool gear, and we did a lot of woodshedding. They turned me on to Ritchie Blackmore, and Rainbow, and got me even more into Deep Purple. And they had all the records — Sabbath — they turned me on to UFO. Rush, and Pat Travers. So we would sit in the basement and try to recreate that stuff exactly. So that was a big turning point for me. Finding guys who were really serious. And we didn't give a shit about anything else. Every weekend from Friday after school till Sunday when I had to go home, we'd just sit in the basement and dissect stuff, and try and match the sounds and songs.
DRG: How were you managing to do that? Where were you learning your scales and stuff from?
Doug: Well, I wasn't really good at playing lead, and I didn't know any scales, really. I just knew the basic blues box shape. But as you start playing those songs and licks, you start noticing stuff.
DRG: So you were picking stuff off the albums without actually knowing the scales?
Doug: Yeah. And I think that's pretty common. A lot of people I come across play stuff and they can't tell you what they're playing. Even great players like Gary Moore — they're not trained, but they can play like a motherfucker. But I wasn't really a lead player then. I was more of a rhythm player at that point. And those guys weren't real supportive of me playing lead at that point. They said I was better off playing rhythm. They said we'd get a singer and a lead player and do some gigs. But I did try. And I guess after highschool was when I started really practicing and trying to figure out scales. Somehow — I think it was by listening to Randy Rhoads — that's my clearest memory of learning to play a diatonic scale. Some of the runs he'd do — it was weird. If you played it over one chord, it would sound mean and cool like Randy Rhoads. And if you played it over a different chord, it would sound happy and light. And I was trying to figure out why that is. Somehow along the way I figured out it was a major scale being played in a different spot. And listening to Van Halen too — he was a little more complex. Randy sounded simpler and didn't have that jazzy thing Eddie had.
DRG: Well Randy was coming from more classical roots and Eddie was more free-form.
Doug: Exactly. Eddie's phrasing was more free-form and for me it was more difficult. The stuff Randy was doing was equally cool, but I found it easier to figure out.
DRG: You have what I consider a very highly-developed technique at this stage in your career. Where did it come from? For example, if no one shows you alternate picking, it's easy to develop the bad habits.
Doug: Well what I did was, when I moved to California in '81 and started playing in bands. And I had nothing to do but practice all the time. And I started developing a few little techniques that I could do pretty well. And I didn't know who they sounded like or whatever, but they were easy for me and they worked. And I'd notice that people would go: wow, man, that's pretty cool. And once you get a few of those little things together, you can build off of them. And at that point, I still didn't know what I was playing. I was 17 or 18 and started playing gigs. And there were a lot of kids at that time that wanted to play rock guitar. So I started teaching out of my apartment. And I bullshitted my way through that for a while until I thought: I should go to a music store and do this. I have to work to make money, so why not do it at a music store. So I started teaching at a store, and there were real teachers there that were real good. And they knew what they were playing at all times. So it forced me to learn. I learned the modes and learned how to read music.
DRG: While you were on the job?
Doug: Pretty much, yeah. I was "the rock guy" in this particular outskirt of LA. And there were three highschools there. And all the kids came to me. And there were probably twenty of them that were just brilliant. They were so good that the night before the lesson, I'd be woodshedding thinking: I gotta learn this so I can teach it tomorrow! (laughs) And by doing these basic things — especially with beginners — after a few weeks they want to learn how to play a scale. And you teach them a scale. And every half hour, you've got another person that your teaching the fundamentals to. And eventually, by teaching those fundamentals so many times, you're doing it yourself.
DRG: Yeah, but you've got to know them before you can teach them!
Doug: Well that's true. But I'm talking about the basics of how to play a scale, how to pick it. how to hold the pick. How do you get to where you can play fast? Well you've got to be able to play it slow cleanly first. People aren't born playing fast. I had to really work on it. I still have to. But teaching these rudiments over and over, my technique started getting better. And I think in some ways I did my best playing back when I was teaching, 'cause you come out of a ten hour day, after eighteen lessons and you're really practicing the way your supposed to. Real slow, real clean, and real precise. And it was a good learning time.
DRG: What kinds of things came easy to you and what kinds of things gave you fits?
Doug: Nothing came easy, but nothing really gave be big fits either. Because if I can't do something — I mean, I'm not really good at arpeggios — you know, those sweeps — like Paul Gilbert or Yngwie. I can dabble a bit here and there, and I've tried to do it occasionally (on records). But I've had dudes come in who just kick my ass on it. So I thought: well, obviously, God didn't intend me to be the sweep king. And I wouldn't blow it off completely, but I just realize I'm better at other things. I guess the one thing that comes easy for me is playing something from the heart. Playing like I mean it. Sometimes it doesn't come across. But everything that I do play, I'm trying to play it like it's the last thing I'm ever gonna play. That what I feel is my strongest thing. I feel like I'm a pretty intense person, and if I channel that properly, it helps my playing a lot.
DRG: In general, what would you say your strengths and weaknesses are as a player?
Doug: For strengths, I think it's certain legato techniques that I do while soloing. And I think I'm a pretty decent rhythm player. I can find the pocket with whoever I'm playing with and lay it in there so it feels good. I feel that's a strength. My weaknesses, would be a lot of little things. There's a lot of holes in my playing. Phrasing is maybe a weakness for me. I have these blues phrases that I'm used to hearing and playing and that comes pretty natural, but all the time I hear guys play stuff and I think: how come I don't play that? A guy like David Gilmour, I feel like I can lay into that and play it pretty well. But if it's Michael Schenker . . . that's more difficult for me. Another weakness would be chords. I know the basics, the rock inversions and little tricks. But I love all kinds of different fusion and stuff, and I hear a lot of the comping that people do, and it's like Chinese to me. How the hell do they do that? I'd love to get better at that.
DRG: You seem to favor late 60s and early 70s Strats.
Doug: That's cause my budget favors those. (laughs)
DRG: It's not just a Hendrix thing?
Doug: No. I got my first one in the early 80s, but I didn't really start getting into Strats until the early 90s. And at that time you could get a 68 or 69 Strat from between $2K and $3K. And that's about the most I've ever paid for a guitar — around $2500. There's a whole bunch of earlier Strats that I'd love to have, but they're out of my league.
DRG: You tend to use the stacked humbuckers in the bridge position, right?
Doug: Well I have a couple that are stock with single coils in the back, but I can't really use those too much in the studio, unless it's a heavier sound, and even then, it's kind of a pain in the butt to have to position yourself a certain way (to avoid the hum). And I save those pickups and can always put them back, but I started getting into these Seymour Duncan Classic Stacks. And they sound Stratty, but not not like some of the Duncans and DiMarzios (that are really trying for that specific Strat sound.)
DRG: I've got some Quarter Pounders in mine and I love them.
Doug: I've never tried them, but I've heard their great.
DRG: You should try them if you get a chance. They'll hum a little more than what you're using, but hell, they just totally kick ass.
Doug: Did Ritchie (Blackmore) use Quarter Pounders?
DRG: Yeah, that's where I got the idea from. I based my Strat on his mid 80s Rainbow era 1974 Strat.
Doug: The Classic Stacks have a kind of interesting thing too. I have them in a few guitars.
DRG: What kind of a Strat tone turns you on?
Doug: The best is those mid 70s — (Jeff Beck's) Blow by Blow and Wired. I love the sounds he got on those records. And I love the Hendrix stuff. And Ritchie's got a tone all his own. Nobody sounds like Ritchie. Stevie Ray — I love his sound.
DRG: When do you grab a Les Paul?
Doug: Well Ronnie had a really cool — one of those 1960 Classic Les Pauls that has a super hot ceramic magnet in it, and it sounded great. And I have one of those 58 reissue historic guitars. And I tried to put that same pickup in it and it didn't sound anywhere close to as good as Ronnie's. So I went to something else. And I have a 73 Custom with an Alnico II in it. And that's my favorite Duncan for a Les Paul. It's just a little bit hotter than a PAF and it's got good tone without being too distorted. It's fat. But Les Pauls are so heavy for me that Strats just feel a lot more comfortable. I pick (Les Pauls) up — it's just a beautiful guitar — the way it's shaped and everything. And they play so easily — I can just wail on Les Pauls (when I'm sitting). But when I'm standing up . . .
DRG: Your back starts hurting after a while.
Doug: Yeah, and there something about the string spacing — when I'm standing up — my fingers just seem to need more room. And they sometimes play too easy. So easy that you take it for granted or get sloppy. But the Strat fights back. They make you squeeze the sound out of it and play a little more precisely. And the scale is a little bit different. With Ronnie, I'm using 10s and we're tuned down a half-step and that feels pretty slinky. With Ronnie I only use the Les Pauls a a couple of songs where I need the extra fret. Some of that Vivian stuff sounds more like a Les Paul. And I use 10s on that and its a little bit too slinky. My Les Pauls at home, I use 11 to 49. And I like a stock Fender tremolo. There's something fun about trying to keep the thing in tune.
DRG: And they won't hurt your tone much at all.
Doug: Yeah, the Floyd changes your tone quite a bit, and I got really tired of changing the parts, and it's a pain when you pop a string, and you gotta unclamp it. So there's a lot to be said for a stock Fender tremolo.
DRG: Well, that's all I had on my list of questions. We've covered a lot of ground here. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. It was really a pleasure getting a chance to talk with you and get to know you a bit better.
Doug: You got it, man. It was my pleasure too. It was really good to talk to you and get to cover all that stuff that most people don't ever ask.
We at Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Doug Aldrich for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2002 All rights reserved.