An Interview with UK Guitar Legend
(Formerly of Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne)
Interviewed mid August, 2003
by Glenn Milligan.
What have been you most ambitious musical step and in what way?
That's a question and a half. I think I would have answered that differently at different times in the past. It would be hard to identify any one specific thing, its always a huge challenge getting a chance to play with really good musicians so that you have to struggle at the beginning to keep up and work your bollocks off to try to outshine, because that's what a guitarist is there to try to do. So joining Gillan, standing in with Ozzy, doing Rooster and more recently working again with Phil Spalding were all initially struggle to keep up situations. very challenging. In those terms Gillan probably most of all, because I was relatively green, and McCoy and Colin Towns were both major forces to reckoned with, and neither of them ever took the easy way out, or ever let me take the easy way out.
On another level it has been to try to step out of the cliche, the "what I've always done" thing. To be heavy without being the same as all other heavies, even the same as the heavy I used to be. To try to be human as well as beating people to death with what I do: I don't think I've ever pulled it off to my own satisfaction, but I think I'm a lot closer to it on the album I'm working on now than the past stuff.
My favourite album that I've ever done is Scorched Earth, which is live: and having done that I realised how much I dug just a simple three piece with no tracked guitars. To me my guitar sounds best on its own, I really hate the processing and tracking and beds: it takes all the humanity and humour and feel and passion out of my playing. That was a very big penny to drop, and hey I must be very f*cking stupid not to have seen that in the past, it would have saved all of us a lot of grief and recording time and arguments if I'd known that in '79.
also a bit ironic that I work that one out when everyone else is tracking 3 million
guitars panned hard left and right for that classic not so nu-metal now sound.
Oh well whatever works for you, it's a big world. And ironic that I now have a
recording studio with a top of the range Pro-tools set up that can record about
128 tracks or
Maybe even other instruments, now there's a thought.
How was it working alongside Ozzy and Gillan and what are your favourite/worst times and why of these eras? What made you decide to leave them?
It was great in both cases. The first year of Gillan was just fantastic, I suppose the best moments were the reading festival appearances which were always a blast.
The worst moment was a US tour which was disastrous, no-one knew we were there apart from us and our crew. Specifically getting food poisoning and nearly dying on that tour.
With Ozz it was great to get to play with Tommy Aldridge who I always thought was fantastic, and Don Airey and of course Rudy Sarzo. And watching Ozzy onstage, that was unsurpassable. Especially getting the chance to do Madison Square Gardens, that was a real notch on the gun. What was bad about that was the fact of replacing Randy. And seeing people in the crew, and band crying when they looked at me onstage. You would not want to be there. Too sad. I did not want to stay with Ozz for that reason, it didn't seem to me to be a good vibes situation for me. I had only initially been asked to stand in, I wanted a break from the hired gun situation, and by the time they were sounding me out about the tour carrying on for what seemed like forever, I had really decided that there was no way I could see to do this in my heart of hearts. I did try to carry on, but it wasn't meant for me, I wouldn't have been happy, and when I'm not happy I just get into doing things that I shouldn't. I was lucky I had been through the Gillan thing and knew enough about me to make that choice, otherwise I'd probably be dead now too.
love Ozzy, Sharon is a totally brilliant manager, and she really cares about Ozzy,
but I must admit to also having a problem about the prince of darkness crap and
the satanic bit. I'm not really into organised religion, and that seemed to me
to be promoting a particularly mindless and stupid form of it. There's enough
I left Gillan because it became obvious that it was Ian's holiday from Purple. He basically did not appear to give a toss about the band or anyone in it, other than keeping his name in the lights so on the Purple reformation he could negotiate a better deal for himself.
The promise of shares and points which had really brought all of us to work with Ian for very little, all vanished into the middle distance as soon as there actually were any sizeable sales. Its a very common story, especially in seventies bands, but it was no fun.
We all could see this, maybe I did a little clearer than the others, and being a bit more of a kamikazi nutter, I left. They stayed. It's generally recognised by all of us now that I was right: which is ok, because for a couple of years after the event they would never admit that! Or hardly speak to me. They also all had families and kids at the time, which I didn't. That makes you act differently.
New stuff, old stuff can be boring to play repeatedly. I like jammy stuff like mystery train, just because it's different every night.
John McCoy and I always referred to the band as the Gubbins band, The Giltkups or the Grumbleweeds. F*ck knows why.
I had relatively good quality tapes, and I owed peter at Angel Air an album for various reasons. I do have a few other tapes of gigs, but to be honest it doesn't really fill me with enthusiasm ploughing through all of it. Rather do new things. If it was all that good it would've come out at the time.
What bands (if any) would you like to rejoin/reform and why?
All of them, they were all great fun and different strengths and weaknesses. But I'd gladly join any of them again. On condition we didn't ever talk about the past.
Truly can't remember. It all blends into a haze. Remember the few bad ones more.
What are "groupies"? I once spent some down time with a girl with huge gazongas who told me that she had entertained Richard whatsisname from auchtermuchty who was in that awful Scottish new romantic band whose name thankfully escapes me, but you must know him Glenn, he was always on British telly as a TV presenter afterwards. And anyway she said he was a really, really nice bloke. That was a sort of antidote to viagra, I can tell you.
Mr Universe And Scorched Earth.
lot of Colins stuff with Gillan: keyboard stuff is often hard to do on guitar:
it often didn't sound good, the easier stuff sounds more impressive and harder.
A lot of Randy's stuff with Ozzy was very hard, because he came from a classical
guitar standpoint, and I don't. I'm playing Zeppelins "hot dog" at a
party tonight. The intro
Wish I'd played more. And possibly earnt more, but not really.
Tonight i think. My old mate Gary Owen, who sang on Torme Demolition Ball - a CD which came out around 1992, just about to be reissued, is getting married. So we are having a play at the party: weirdly, it's all countryish stuff. So there you have it, Heavy Metal Country. Definitely strange. And no one knows the arrangements.
What has been the biggest rip-off ever staged on you in the biz? Did you get your revenge?
Gillan, and only partially.
Currently recording a new album which is FANTASTIC, hoping to tour after release next year.
Jeff Beck, just great original players. Townshend too, many others. I just loved
the sound. George Harrison with the Beatles turned me on to guitar, then Dave
davies, Keith, Townshend continued it, then to Jeff Beck with the Yardbirds, Eddie
with the Creation, and then Hendrix when he arrived. And Clapton with the Bluesbreakers
and Cream. And Peter Green with the Bluesbreakers. It was all
I love it, its my world, its me, its simpler than talking.
Everyone I have for any period more than two weeks in the past, and almost anyone else too. I like playing. It's good to get your ass kicked again, and you need new things to do that.
Doing stuff with an Australian dance producer called Psyburbia, planning to do a collaborative album.
Hoping to do a jammy album with Phil Spalding on bass and Ian Thomas on drums whenever we can and whenever Phil answers the phone again. Ouch.
to (John) McCoy about doing some new stuff with him and Mick Underwood, but that's
on hold until John is up for it, he's not been so well recently.
Who have been the worst people and best people you've met in the music biz and why?
The very worst people, the ones who who've spoiled the party for everyone else are the accountants. Willie Nelson used to wear a t-shirt saying "first thing we do is kill all the lawyers...", well that's ok too, but the VERY first thing is the accountants. Now I have friends who are accountants and lawyers too, but lets face it, we ain't going to make an omelette without breaking eggs, and we all have a "pet" lawyer or accountant: we've got to start somewhere. And the journalists, whoever said that "music journalist" was a valid profession. You mean we have to have someone to tell us what's good and bad, we're too f*cking stupid to make up our own minds, and even if we do we have the guidance of such self opinionated dorks, we could be wrong after all, what do we know, we're too f*cking stupid to know anything, we need to get told what we like. Cause after all, it isn't really about what we like, its about what some pure unbribable journalist tells us is "good", and his/her opinion is of course never going to be influenced by the "prezzies" the struggling majors might try to give them if they were unscrupulous, which of course they're not. And of course its got nothing to do with the amount of advertising the majors buy either, the way it works is I give you £6000 a full page advert issue after issue, and you ignore my records. I don't mind it's all cool. You're not a journalist are you Glenn?
The best ones are usually involved in making the music.
Not much. I liked the last Anti-Product album, especially "Better Than this". But then I recorded the guitars on it. But there's sod all happening here, it all appears to originate in America now. I do like odd tracks, but it mostly seems characterless and corporate and very same sounding and produced to a formula. Mostly boring, no bands I could say I'm a fan of.
Absolutely, but I must admit I've searched hard and so far I haven't found any, definitely not intelligent life as we know it Jim. I think the life is in the music.
I'm not sure I do anything in the music business other than make the occasional phone call. Outside it? live, play guitar, drink, spend as much time in the open as I can, don't like houses much, record, mess around with my kids.
I don't really think I care much if I am remembered for anything. People seemed more interested in my friend Paul Samson after his death than when he was alive. And poor Rene Berg on whose album "The leather the loneliness and your dark eyes" I played died last week.
If you are so inclined say a prayer for them. We don't value people enough while they are around.
"Hope that's ok Glenn"
A Big Thank You to Bernie, Robert Schaffer and to http://www.retrowrek.com