Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Pearls of wisdom from George Lynch
Date of interview: July 14, 2010
For the past six years, I have been wearing out Track 3 of George Lynch's 2004 covers solo album, "Furious George."
Which begs the question, "Can you really wear out portions of a CD by playing them over and over again?
Had this been a vinyl album, like the old days, the groove on the record surely would have worn down. Had it been a cassette, the tape would certainly have been stretched thin. Luckily, it was on CD, and as near as I can tell, the third track -- Lynch's searing version of "All Along the Watchtower" -- sounds as pristine today as the day I first heard it.
There's just something about Lynch's eviscerating leads and solos in this song that compel multiple listens whenever I slide the CD in. I could envision Lynch locked away in his studio for days, throwing down multiple riffs and fiery fills until meticulously nailing just the right one. The end result is not only an homage to the Hendrix version, but it also takes it to places Jimi could not even have envisioned when he recorded it in 1968.
But I was sadly mistaken. Turns out Lynch's cover of "All Along the Watchtower" was simply another day in the office for the former Dokken guitarist, as he explained when we discussed the song. Further taking a wrecking ball to my mental myth, Lynch said the record company basically forced him to record it, and some other more well-known tunes, instead of all the obscure influential covers he originally wanted to do.
No matter. To my ears, Lynch's is still the best version of that oft-covered tune ever recorded -- whether that be on vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD or thin air.
George's current project, Lynch Mob, appears Friday at Club Vegas in Salt Lake City, along with the Michael Schenker Group. In this interview, Lynch discusses his reunion with original Lynch Mob vocalist Oni Logan, the band's new album, the camaraderie he shares with other rock guitar players and much, much more.
He also offers a bit of advice: Avoid the oyster bar at a famous franchise named after owls.
George Lynch: Oh, no problem, thanks.
DH: Well, first of all, where am I reaching you today? Are you in your home state?
Lynch: Yeah, I live in L.A. and then we also have a place out in an area called Joshua Tree.
DH: You know, my family, growing up, used to have a cabin out in Joshua Tree. I used to love it out there.
Lynch: Get out!
DH: It’s probably changed a lot over the years.
Lynch: Well, Joshua Tree itself has stayed relatively small fortunately.
DH: Oh, good.
Lynch: But the areas around it have blown up quite a bit, unfortunately. But we’re really off the beaten path. We’re up in an area called Gamma Gulch, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere. In fact, people that go out there, like, can’t believe it. “You actually live here?” It’s an old homestead property that the government was giving away in the 50s, if you just go throw a shack up there and whatever, you get the 5 acres. So we got one of those grandfathered down to us. It’s pretty awesome. It’s beautiful. It’s just all boulders and solar panels and we’ve got a studio built in a bomb shelter — which the bomb shelter was already there, I didn’t build it. I’m not that paranoid.
DH: That’s cool. You must have an affinity for the desert because you used to live in Arizona for a while didn’t you?
Lynch: I lived in Cave Creek, Arizona, for 13 years. I do love the desert, it’s definitely in my bones. But, you know, I’ve tried moving away and I always end up coming back to L.A. because that’s where the music business is, you know?
DH: Right. Exactly. Now I don’t know if you remember this, but the last time you were scheduled to play in Salt Lake, you ended up suffering from food poisoning and having to cancel the show.
Lynch: I’ve got a recommendation for all your [readers]. I don’t know if there’s any Hooters in Utah, I doubt it ...
DH: There is one.
Lynch: Yeah. Don’t go to Hooters and eat the oysters. I mean, I have never dropped a show in my life, I don’t think, other than when I’ve gotten violently ill on stage, which has happened a couple of times when they had to drag me to the hospital for, like, collapsing on stage. But other than that, I’ve never missed a show, like, not feeling well. But in this instance, I guess we had just deadheaded from some place a couple of days before up in the Northwest. And you’d think the oysters would be OK up there ... and I never thought about it, and then a day and a half, or a day later, whatever, I was so violently sick. I could not get up. I couldn’t move. I was just lying on the floor in the back of the bus and I could not move. It was like I had 200 pounds of lead weights on me. It was the most bizarre feeling, and these people rushed me to the hospital, and I guess I had food poisoning and was dehydrated and so forth. But I couldn’t physically, no way could I have held a guitar and played it. It was killing me that I couldn’t do that. We feel like we still owe Salt Lake a show, so we’re coming back, you know, [nearly] seven years later to fulfill our obligation.
DH: Unless I’ve somehow missed you coming to Utah in between there, I think that was the last time ...
Lynch: You know, I love playing the West and the Southwest, to me I enjoy it because of the drives and just being there. And we always end up just working in the Northeast and the Midwest and the Southeast – and I’d rather go someplace else [too]. It’s really unfortunate. The problem with the West is it’s so spread out, it’s really hard to tour there economically. I mean, you’ve got these massive transits in between. Like I said before we started interviewing, to get to you, we’ve got to drive from Wisconsin. It’s a two-day drive, so ... it’s tough, but it’s worth it. I love it there.
DH: I remember the support band was on [the night you got sick] and they just kept playing and playing and everybody was like, “Why are they playing for so long?” I think they were still hoping you were going to make it.
Lynch: Kind of like a Blues Brothers, huh? (laughs)
DH: Well, anyway, so you’re just a few days away from the start of your summer tour, are you in rehearsals now?
Lynch: Actually, today is the first day of rehearsals. I mean, the guys in this band, we’ve got Brian Tichy, who is on drums, who was in Foreigner, Billy Idol, Ozzy. He just got hired for Whitesnake, so he’ll be leaving our band next year. And the bass player Michael Devin, played with Kenny Wayne Shepherd for five years and he just got hired to do the Zeppelin Experience with [Jason] Bonham, and a big huge production. The good news for these guys is they’re pros and they’re really doing wonderful things. The bad news for me is that I’m losing half my band next year. So to see this band in this form you’ve got to see us this year, you know.
DH: I was going to say that on the new record, I read that you had Marco [Mendoza] and Scott [Coogan] and I noticed it had been changed to Michael and Brian.
Lynch: It might go back to Scott and Marco, I’ve actually been talking to them. Scott has been in Ace Frehley. And Marco, since he left Lynch Mob, has been in Thin Lizzy, Neal Schon and now he is with Ted Nugent, playing with my old drummer Mick Brown. Small world, huh?
DH: Yeah, and Brian, of course, was in Foreigner with [former Dokken bassist] Jeff [Pilson].
Lynch: Yes he was. We all kind of live up here in the same area, which is pretty interesting. Jeff lives a few miles from me and Brian lives a few miles from me, so we’re all kind close-knit here, so we might as well be in a band together if we’re neighbors.
DH: Have you done shows with Michael and Brian yet with Lynch Mob?
Lynch: Yeah. We’ve done quite a few shows.
DH: So they’re not just joining in time for this tour?
Lynch: No. And Brian will be in the band the rest of the year, and we are going to Europe in October and November. Marco may come in and replace Michael Devin for the European tour, and if things kind of work out the way I hope, we’ll get the band back together next year that was on the record, which is interesting.
DH: I guess the other constant besides you is Oni, can you talk about him rejoining the band again after so many years?
Lynch: Well, the big obstacle to getting back together with Oni is the fact that he lives in Switzerland, somewhere in the middle of the Alps. So, it’s a really long commute (laughs). I mean, when you think of a band, you’re hanging out together, you’re practicing, writing songs — well, that can’t really occur with him because of his situation. It’s difficult. Every time we need to go on tour, we have to fly him halfway around the world and he has to leave his family, which is hard for him. But it’s wonderful because as soon as we sat down together, after being back together, it was like we never skipped a beat. It was just going back to the 1990s. It was weird.
DH: Well, I did see you guys on that one tour, the Wicked Sensation tour, it was very good.
Lynch: He’s a much better singer than he was back then, thankfully.
DH: Now, that was part of the problem with the breakup, wasn’t it one of the issues?
Lynch: It was. And he would admit that. I felt bad for him, I mean, we really wanted the best for him. But, for whatever reason, it was dropping every show. It was pretty painful. The last straw was we did a show on ABC, you know, we played with Lenny Kravitz and the Cult, and our management company was there ... and it was a big deal, televised all over the country or wherever, and he just couldn’t even sing — couldn’t even sing a note. At that point it was like, “Well, what do we do? We have to do something.” So we did what we had to do. It was unfortunate, but since then, he’s really taken care of himself, and he doesn’t miss a beat. I mean, it’s awesome now. He sings everything, his range isn’t quite what it was, but that’s OK. He’s really perfected what he does to the point that he’s a definite consummate professional now. He goes out there and delivers a really strong show every night.
DH: I’ve read where you’ve said that the “Smoke and Mirrors” album, that this is the album that should have really been the original followup to “Wicked Sensation.” Now, obviously, a part of that is natural with Oni being back in the band, but I’ve got to think there’s a lot more to it than just that aspect of it.
Lynch: Well, you think a lot about the record you’re going to make, obviously, and you have a lot of ideas, and you’re throwing down riffs and beats and trying to put songs together and make arrangements and everything, and some things go a little left and some things go a little right, and what we tried to do was make the “Smoke and Mirrors” record be the natural evolution of the first record. I mean, we had that in the forefront of our minds when we were writing, obviously. But when I write with Oni, if I write something that’s maybe too modern sounding or maybe just too simple or dumb, you know, he won’t let it get by you. He’s very focused on what it is he feels he wants to do. So I write for him. And that’s the direction I need. In that sense, he acts as sort of a control factor and a producer in a sense. You know, I write a certain way with him. I write the music, most of it, and he takes it from there. In any band that I’m in, that’s usually how it works. So, I write completely different depending on the chemistry of the writing partners. And with him and I, that’s just the kind of music we make together, you know?
DH: There’s some great tunes on “Smoke and Mirrors,” ones that sound like they would translate into being great live songs. Are there any that have already become a favorite for you to perform?
DH: I was going to ask which of those songs you were extending the jams out, but it would seem to me that “Let the Music Be Your Master” would be a great fit for something like that. It’s got that feel already to it.
Lynch: Yeah, our Ted Nugent ripoff? (laughs) “Stranglehold”? Right. Yeah, that’s one of them. We do that, but we mix it up every night. We do it with “Wicked [Sensation].” We do it with “River of Love” and another song off the new record, but I can’t remember the name of it, and “Mr. Scary.” At the end of “Mr. Scary” we just kind of add a whole ‘nother 10 minutes (laughs). Then we do this other thing, at least on the last tour we did, we had a couple of riffs that we cobbled together and I play slide and do this echo thing, you know, it’s kind of different every night and it’s a lot of fun and people react well to it, which is surprising because when we used to try and jam in Dokken people usually didn’t respond as well.
DH: That’s interesting ...
Lynch: We’re like, “What was that? Maybe go get a hot dog or go to the bathroom. What was the point?”
DH: I don’t know. My initial reaction to that would be that I guess the people that are coming to see you in Lynch Mob are the real guitar-oriented fans, not that they would necessarily expect that, but they’d probably really enjoy that aspect of it right there along with you.
Lynch: Well, there’s different kinds of listeners. I mean, there’s people that are just there to hear the songs that they know, and there’s many musicians that are getting off on the performance, and everything in between. Personally, from my vantage point, I love going and seeing a band that stretches out and hearing the songs as well, you know, so a little of both.
DH: You hooked me with your guitar playing back in Dokken, the specific song was “The Hunter” and you’ve got such a great tone and fantastic solos, I was wondering if there are any guitarists out there that when you first heard them, they really challenged you or inspired you to kind of look at how you played differently or to light a spark under you or anything like that?
Lynch: So many, we don’t have enough time to list them. You can pretty much name a guitar player that is well-known from the ’60s and ’70s, and the ’80s and the ’90s (laughs). I was learning from them and was a fan of all of theirs. Everybody from Hendrix, Beck, Page and Clapton in the early days to, you know, Eddie came along, and Yngwie came along and everybody in between from John McLaughlin to Allan Holdsworth to lesser-known guys, Billy Gibbons, Leslie West, Michael Schenker, Ritchie Blackmore, they all influenced me. Johnny Winter, all huge influences, and all the records, I played to them all the time. Now more contemporary guys, obviously, that are out there, metal guys, they’re from Jeff Loomis from Nevermore, Alexi Laiho from Children of Bodom – there’s so many awesome players out there, you know metal guys, that are just shredding it up and it’s just a whole new world out there with guitar playing. These guys are so technical. It’s kind of scary.
DH: So you still get pushed even today?
Lynch: Oh, more so today ... there’s as much pressure today as there was back in the latter part of the ’80s when that was all just coming to a head. All these guys were just getting faster and faster and more technical and more proficient – until it imploded. We’re at that level now, except I don’t think it’s going to implode. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I mean, like the kid in Ozzy now ... unbelievable. They grew up with maybe Eddie or maybe Yngwie, and that’s where they started — and then they took it from there. I grew up with the Beatles, you know, that’s where I started.
DH: Speaking of which, I’m seeing Paul McCartney in concert tonight, he’s playing in Salt Lake.
Lynch: Oh, his guitar player, we used to be in a band in the L.A. area back in the ’70s that we used to play with a lot. Rusty Anderson. He was in a band, I can’t remember the name of the band off the top of my head, but they were kind of a contemporary of ours in the L.A. area and we would play lots of shows with them, out there playing the same gigs, playing to the same crowd. It was pretty interesting. And I ran into him a few years ago at A&M Studios and he’s like, “You don’t remember me do you? I’m Rusty Anderson” from whatever the name of the band was. I went, “You’ve got to be kidding.” “Yeah, I’ve been playing with Paul McCartney for a decade and a half.” Pretty good gig, huh? He’s a great player.
DH: It is amazing how small the music world is, all these people that you’ve been talking about and how they interconnect.
Lynch: Well, it is cool because you’re kind of a member of a club once you kind of arrive, you know. And so I get to be part of that club, whether I feel like I deserve it or not, it’s still cool, I take advantage of it and I get to hang out and talk and communicate with all these guys like Jerry Cantrell and Beck, who lives down the street from me, and Slash and whoever else, you know. We’re all kind of in the same world. But it’s kind of interesting, guitar players have always been very competitive, but at the same time there’s this camaraderie there too, you know.
DH: You mentioned Michael Schenker, and this tour you’re going out with him. Are you the type that you will be out there checking out his sets also?
Lynch: Oh, of course. But I’ve toured with him twice before and he’s actually wonderful to tour with because he doesn’t play games like sandbagging and basically crushing the opening act to make yourself look better, which is something that some people do, which I think is wrong to do because it really robs the people who are paying to see both acts from the joy and pleasure of seeing both acts be a hundred percent. If you go in an opening situation and you’ve got very little sound and very little lights and no soundcheck and getting treated really badly and not allowed to do certain things, you know, it affects your show and it affects what people are watching and witnessing and listening to, and it’s just not fair. I’ve run into that the last 25 years quite a bit, and with Michael it’s not that way. He basically gives you what you need and you get to go out there and do your thing. And we’re completely different players, so I’m not stepping on his toes in any way, nor is he stepping on mine. He’s a great guitar player and he’s got a great legacy and great catalog. We just want to put on a good show.
DH: Well, I’m sure it will be a fantastic show. Your version of “All Along the Watchtower” is one of my favorite songs. The guitar parts on there I find simply amazing. Jimi Hendrix’s version of that song is so iconic, did you feel any trepidation at all taking that one on when you decided to do it?
Lynch: Well, the way that record came down, and you’re referring to the “Furious George” record, is that I had submitted a bunch of songs that I wanted to do, and the record company basically said, “No.” Because they ran it by all these people and they said, “These are all too obscure. Nobody will know these bands.” I had, you know, some of these bands that I grew up that probably hardly anybody’s ever heard of, like the Groundhogs, and Savoy Brown, and the Comic Rooster, and one of my favorites was Boomerang, who had a great guitar player, you know, all kinds of different stuff, pretty obscure. The only band that made it on the record actually was Captain Beyond, one of the bands from back in the day. So they came back with all these well-known acts with well-known songs and I reluctantly agreed. And I actually wish I hadn’t. Maybe it was a good decision because these are songs people recognize, quick songs like Zeppelin songs and ZZ Top songs and Hendrix songs, you know, Hendrix doing Bob Dylan. You’ve got three days in a not-so-great studio to do all these amazing classics. Hendrix probably worked in Electric Ladyland for weeks or months, you know, knock yourself out. One thing you have to remember is, for me, sometimes things are just work, you know? There’s the love part of it and the creative part of it and all that’s wonderful and I do that anyways, but sometimes it’s just work. Like if you’re a plumber and somebody calls you up to fix their sink, you’ve got to make a living so ... and I’m sorry to make it sound so unromantic, but, I mean, there’s kind of nothing wrong with that because it is what we do for a living.
DH: That’s interesting to get that other view of it because, to me, this would seem like something – I mean when I play that CD, I honestly can never get it past that third track because I just keep playing that one over and over again and then I get to where I’m going ...
Lynch: My favorite track on there is the Robin Trower song ... “Bridge of Sighs.” And then I just put out another record similar to that called “Orchestral Mayhem.”
DH: Oh, I haven’t heard that one yet.
Lynch: Now that is different in the sense that all the songs except for one are public domain songs, so that they’re kind of classic, classical classic songs that nobody actually owns and, again, it was work for hire and I got hired to go into the studio for a couple of days and do this. But it actually came out really well. I enjoy listening to it and I think people will like it.
DH: I’ll have to check it out.
Lynch: Yeah, it’s called “Orchestral Mayhem,” I’m not sure, you’ll just have to go online.
DH: I’ve probably used up my allotted 20 minutes, I could probably talk to you for a long time.
Lynch: Yeah, absolutely.
DH: But I definitely appreciate your time.
Lynch: Yeah, next time I’ll make sure I don’t eat oysters on the way to Utah.
DH: Yeah, that’s been one of my disappointments, that I didn’t get to see you that night. But we’ll make up for it this time.
Lynch: You could have seen me, you just would of had to go to the back of the bus and look down on the floor and I was right there. But it was funny. Just in parting, I just wanted to mention I was watching “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” last night, which was filmed mostly in Utah, so anyway ...
DH: Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort is just 20 minutes from where we’re at right here.
Lynch: Ah, nice. He’s a wonderful guy and really gets behind what he supports and what he stands for and his efforts to kind of make the world a better place. He’s always used his money and his fame to kind of do good things, so I appreciate that.
DH: Do you do a meet and greet at all?
Lynch: Sometimes. But look me up, I’ll be there .. at the back of bus, lying on the floor throwing up, but I’ll be there.
DH: I’ll be the one not bringing the oysters.
Lynch: I appreciate that, thank you.