One would he hard pressed to find a guitar player with a more diverse and exciting output than Doug Aldrich. He started his career in the mid 80’s with hard rock bands such as Lion, House of Lords and Bad Moon Rising, and became more prominent after joining Ronnie James Dio’s solo act. Doug later joined Whitesnake, where he stayed for 11 years, until he decided to pursuit other opportunities. Since 2014, he has been involved in a multitude of bands and projects, including tours with Glen Hughes, Revolution Saints and Las Vegas musical Raiding the Rock Vault. Also, he’s now a full time member of The Dead Daisies, with John Corabi (vocals), Deen Castronovo (drums), Marco Mendoza (bass) and David Lowy (rhythm guitars).
One of Doug’s endeavors, the extraordinary band Burning Rain, was established as early as 1998 by himself and vocalist Keith St. John. Now with a renewed lineup featuring the amazing Blas Elias (Slaughter) on drums and bassist Brad Lang (Y&T), Burning Rain are releasing their fourth album, Face the Music. A fresh and heavy release, this effort evokes the sound of the classic 70’s hard rock scene, but also stays true to the Burning Rain sound.
Our senior interviewer Rodrigo Altaf discussed with Doug several aspects of the new album, his work with Dio and David Coverdale, and much more. Read all about it in the interview transcript below:
Doug, it’s great talking to you, man!
How are you, Rodrigo, thanks for having me on!
I’m very good, man. I’m sitting here in Toronto, where we’re still having negative temperatures in mid March, but other than that, it’s all good! [laughs][laughs]Toronto is cold man, but what a beautiful city!
It is indeed! Well, you have a new Burning Rain album releasing today, so tell us a bit about the composition and recording process of the album!
It all started last year. Keith [St. John, vocals] and I had a few songs that we had written in the last couple of years, and eventually we got together and listened to all of it – one of them was Face the Music, the title track – and though “wow, this is really cool, we should finish this up and get it out!”. I happened to find out that the Dead Daisies was going to take a little break through this year, so it made sense, it really was the perfect timing to finish it up and get it done. So Keith and I went back to writing in my free time when the Daisies were off the road last year. We’d write a couple of songs, then I’d go on the road for six weeks, then come back and write a couple more songs, and eventually I had a break in the summer time and we finished the record and started recording, with Blas [Elias, drums] and Brad [Lang, bass].
The new album, like you said, is called “Face the Music”, and it’s the second release through Frontiers records, following ‘Epic Obsession” which was released in 2013. Did you use the same process as before? And why did it take you so long between the two albums?
When I did ‘Epic Obsession” I was in Whitesnake and really had to focus on them, we had a live album and a DVD that came out. So we released “Epic Obsession” and really couldn’t do much to promote it at the time because I was busy with Whitesnake. And then eventually I had enough of Whitesnake and started working in Vegas, and that’s when Serafino [Perugino, manager of Frontiers Records] asked me about another Burning Rain album in 2016. At the time I said “I’m not sure when I can get to it”. To be honest with you, Rodrigo, at that time I wanted to spend time with my son. I had been away so much during my time with Whitesnake and had gone through a couple of relationships and marriages, and just missed my boy, I just wanted to be with him. So I told Serafino I didn’t know when I could do it, and he said “don’t worry about it, let’s sign a deal”. So we did, and then I got some fun offers – I did a tour with Glenn Hughes, I worked with a Russian ballet playing guitar for them, and many other different things. I did also the Revolution Saints album at the time, and eventually I joined The Dead Daisies, which has kept me very busy for the last couple of years.
I want to talk about all these endeavors and many others, but let’s take a step back if I can – Burning Rain was born out of the friendship between you and the amazing singer Keith St. Jones, and now you have Blas Elias on drums and Brad Lang on bass. How did Blas and Brad get involved in the band?
I had known Blas through the years when he was in Slaughter. When I left that Las Vegas gig, which was called Raiding the Rock Vault. and started doing The Dead Daisies, I came back every now and then to do special appearances, and eventually met Blas again one of those times and jammed with him. He’s awesome, and had been laying low for a long time, raised a family – he has a beautiful family – and started working in Vegas. He did the Blue Man Group and then was doing the “Rock Vault”. I asked him if he’d like to join Burning Rain, and he knew about the band. So I showed him the new songs I had, and he loved it, so we got him on board. We wanted to find guys who wanted to be in Burning Rain and stick around, and not people who viewed it as a band they could join for a minute and then leave on the next. Keith mentioned Brad Lang, and I knew he had played with Y&T, so we met and I showed him what I had. He wanted to be involved straight away, and he’s like our glue, man…he’s ready to go at any time, and he’s awesome. We jammed, and it felt great from the start, so we got him on board.
Let’s talk about a few songs from the album – the first one that stood out for me was the new single, ‘Midnight Train”. It’s great to see you with a double neck on the video of that song![laughs]Yeah, people ask me “why the double neck”, because there’s no double neck guitar on that song. I didn’t record that songs with the guitar on the video, but it sounds killer with it, so I might take it on the road with me. I don’t know what it is about the double neck, but there’s something about that extra wood that makes a huge sound!
I understand that underneath the lyrics of “Midnight Train” there’s a deeper meaning than just sex – it talks about a troubled protagonist, right?
That’s something that Keith would be able to tell you in more detail. For me, “Midnight Train” is a dark sex type of song, but he should be able to expand on that a bit more. This song is kind of similar to some of the stuff I did with Whitesnake like “Love Will Set You Free”, but with Keith’s lyrics it takes a different direction.
Another one that caught my attention is “Lorelei” – I’m always intrigued by songs named after people. Is Lorelei someone you know, and is she the woman on the album cover?
That’s kind of what we’re saying, but Lorelei is an old sailor’s tale about a girl on the side of the rocks, and there’s also a place in Germany that has these huge mountains on the side of this river, and as the fame goes, the ships would come and try to see the girl and end up crashing on the rocks. That kind of ties into “Face the Music”, but I love the story that Keith tells on that.
Yeah, that one is really cool. And one of my favorites is “Nasty Hustle”, which I see as the best song that Aerosmith never recorded – there’s a distinctive Aerosmith vibe on that song, don’t you think?
Yeah, it’s a very pissed off song too, it’s like “you pissed me off, so get out!” [laughs]. That one is pretty edgy, right?
It is, you’re right! And speaking of edgy, let’s talk about “If It’s Love”, which starts with a simple beat and chord progression, and grows into this big number towards the end.
I love this one too, I love these minor chords. I did those with Whitesnake, and I remember hearing those in bands like Slade. That song is based off of minor 7 chord progressions, and it’s something that Dave Coverdale could have sung really well too!
Absolutely! And how would you compare the way things work in Burning Rain versus The Dead Daisies and Revolution Saints?
The Dead Daisies is very organic: the entire band works together all the time, and it’s really the best way to do it. Not every band can do that because for whatever reasons sometimes the band is spread out over large areas of the country, or maybe someone wants to work on the songs by themselves and later show them to the band. I love the process of The Dead Daisies where everyone works together. With Burning Rain, we didn’t actually have a band when this record started, so Keith and I asked Blas and Brad to just take their parts and make their own. Brad did a great job too man, he played some killer bass lines on it. But next time, God willing, we’ll sit down together and we’ll write together. With the Revolution Saints, it’s strictly a project, so songs get written by various people: I’ll write some, Jack [Blades, bass] will write some, and Alessandro [Del Vecchio, keyboards] will write some, and we’ll pick the ones we think are best for the record and that’s it.
Speaking of The Dead Daisies, the band seemed like a revolving door of musicians until you came into the picture, and now it seems more like a stable unit. Was it something intentional – to bring you on board and make it a stable band – and did you discussed this when you joined them?
No, they said it was a revolving door, but when I joined the band it just stopped being that way [laughs]. But we had a great time doing my first record with them, Make Some Noise, and it turned out to be a pretty successful record. We toured and toured and released a live record, and then went straight back in the studio and did Burn It Down. We did make a change on the drums because Brian [Tichy] wanted to do some other things musically and go in different directions, and he didn’t want to be locked in. At the same time Deen [Castronovo] had been off the scene for a while and wanted to get back into playing. It was a perfect timing for Deen because he came in and he killed it. That’s a very solid lineup we have at the moment.
I saw you guys live here in Toronto last year and you guys crushed it!
Thanks, I do remember that show. Did we get to meet at that time?
Not really, I covered that show but didn’t go to the after-party. The one time we met was when you played in Rio with Glenn Hughes in 2015 – it was a small club, but it was packed, and of course you guys brought the house down!
Oh right, I do remember that club as well! That’s cool man. Glenn is insane!
At that time we had a brief interaction, and since there was only one Revolution Saints album released, I asked you about the possibility of a second one. I remember you being skeptical about it, but eventually the second album saw the light of day. So is there a chance of a third Revolution Saints album?
There is actually. We’re going to do a third one, Deen will be tracking the drums in May, and Burning Rain will do a mini tour in Europe in March, and after that we’re going to let the record marinate and put together a tour for the fall. During that down time, we’ll do another Revolution Saints album. Even though there are no plans to tour or anything like that. People just like the music, so we’re going to keep doing it!
That’s great to hear! And speaking of Glenn Hughes, I kept hoping you would do an album with him, but it never materialized. Sorry for being a bit blunt in this question, but why did you decide to leave his band so soon?
Glenn really wanted to focus on his solo stuff by himself. He had just found out he was getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…I would have loved to have done it and written with him. And you never know, we might do an album together some day and call it Hughes/Aldrich or something [laughs]. When we played together, I used to call us Hughes Force One, because we were like the plane Air Force One flying all over the place. We’d go into all kinds of different directions and it was so cool! But Glenn had a couple of dates, and we did a tour in South America like you said, we did an European run, and we were going to do a run in the U.S. in March. Glenn got his knees done and he cancelled it. I had previously just joined The Dead Daisies and they wanted me free for that period but I told them I was already committed with Glenn for three weeks of U.S. dates. They rearranged the whole schedule because of me and then Glenn said he was going to do the run by himself with somebody else. And that’s cool, no problem, I’m happy to take some time off and relax. I think he was bummed out that I had joined The Dead Daisies a little bit, but there was no plan. Every time I asked him he’d say “I have a record ready to go”, and I’d say “well that one really doesn’t include me”. At the same time The Dead Daisies were saying “we will make a record and we want you to co-write and to tour with it”, so I said “I gotta stay with Glenn and do what I promised”. I would have been happy to stay with him, but I think he wanted to focus on himself. Which is good, because he just got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he didn’t need me anymore. With that said, I’d love to work with Glenn – you never know what’s gonna happen in the future.
Between Glenn, Dio and David Coverdale, you worked with seriously high profile singers. We always hear the stories about the difficult relationships between singers and guitar players. Why do you think that happens?[laughs]It’s interesting because with John Corabi I never had anything like that. He’s a great guitar player as well, so he kinda plays both sides of it. I don’t know, man…the singer and the guitar player are usually two guys who are both very valuable and want to make the band go in a certain direction and can’t see eye to eye sometimes. And then there’s that search for the spotlight as well. I mean, with Van Halen, I can certainly see how David Lee Roth could be the most important guy in the band because he’s the front-man. But to me, Eddie Van Halen is the most important guy. David [Coverdale] and I never had any kinda problem because it was always Dave’s band. I was his right hand man, and I simply wanted to write music that would inspire him. Same with Ronnie [James Dio] and with Glenn. With The Dead Daisies, there’s none of that, and it is a band. With Burning Rain, I’ll be honest with you Rodrigo, Keith and I, we butt heads many times! [laughs]And it’s a good thing! We both care a lot about each other, I love Keith. But I’m not afraid to tell him “change those lyrics, I’m not feeling that”. Other times he goes “let’s change this I’m not singing that!”. We have these tough situations sometimes, but it’s good, because we both want the best.
If you don’t mind me asking, between Dio and Coverdale, who do you think was the toughest to work for?
Well, I worked with David a lot more…I think it was similar in some senses, because there was always pressure to do great. Ronnie was very focused. He wanted to do a certain thing and that’s it: heavy metal. He didn’t want to do something that was poppy or light. There was a song on the Killing the Dragon record that was a bit of a major [key]sounding song and Ronnie called it “the jolly song”, because it was happy. It wasn’t really happy, but that’s what he called it. With David, it was hard for me, because I’d bring the music and he’d work on it and he’d say “Doug, let’s do this record and you’ll be in charge”. I didn’t think I was ready to be in charge, but I did my best, I worked really hard, and now I’m proud and thankful for the opportunity that he gave me, because I learned so much! He just put me right in the seat and in the center, and asked “how are we going to do this”, and I’d find a way to do it, you know? It was really a great opportunity.
Early on in your career, you were involved in many other bands like Lion, Bad Moon Rising, Hurricane and House of Lords. Is there any particular project or band you were a part of that you wish would have gone further?
Well, I’d have to say Lion, because it was a really good band, we had a strong record, and we were a very Whitesnake-oriented type of band. We had a British singer who even was the one who turned me on to Whitesnake in the first place – the early Whitesnake, before it had been popular in the U.S. That was kind of our sound, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Slade, not the typical L.A. band. We were not a glam band by any means. It’s unfortunate – we did a great record called Dangerous Attraction, and the record company didn’t support us. Our Japanese label supported us and we did really well there. If our American label had supported us, we would have done well in the U.S. too, but that didn’t happen. So that band ended up breaking up, and that’s unfortunate. But these things happen, and in the music business you have to live and learn. If we were a glam band, we probably would have gotten signed to a major, major label and we would have been fine, but we were a different kind of band. Everyone wanted to sign the next Mötley Crüe and the next Ratt, so we didn’t get a good deal. We were sort of in the middle – we weren’t heavy metal like Metallica and we weren’t glam metal like Poison, so it just was difficult for us, but I wish that band could have carried on.
You also did a few solo albums through the years. Was it your intention to establish yourself as a solo act at some point, like what Joe Bonamassa does now, or not?
Not really. In the 80’s you had Satriani and Steve Vai being really popular, and I had an offer by a Japanese label to do a solo record. I thought this could be really fun and I could do whatever I wanted. I incorporated a little bit of Jeff Beck, which I love. It went really well, and they wanted me to do another one, and I even went further and added a bit of fusion on the second record. It’s called Electrovision, it’s got Chris Frazier on drums, who plays with Foreigner now, and we had a blast making this really crazy guitar oriented music. They don’t sell as much as a band, but with Joe Bonamassa it’s different because he sings – he’ such a great singer. I have this idea to do an album, maybe in the near future – which really is about the guitar speaking – a throwback to the guys in the seventies like Paul Kossoff, Dickie Betts, Duane Allman, David Gilmour. Those guys always made their guitars speak, and had really simple arrangements, just guitars, drums and bass, with the guitars in the forefront. It won’t be this ear, but maybe one day
Do you think you could join the G3 tours at some point in time, with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai?
I would love it, man. I know Joe and Steve. I get along great with Joe. I love Steve, but with him, there’s always a little bit of competition because we both played in Whitesnake [laughs]. Steve is brilliant, and I like what he did with Whitesnake, but we’re different players. I tell you what, I think what I did with Whitesnake was better than what he did.
Lately there’s been a resurgence of hard rock, and we have bands like The Answer, Rival Sons, Greta Van Fleet alluding to the 70’s sound. What’s your take on so many revival bands – do you think it’s genuine and comes from the heart, are they copycats, or something in-between?
The Answer are certainly not copycats. They definitely were original. I toured with them when I was in Whitesnake – I think it was back in 2006 – and they were really talented Irish guys. They’re the real deal, but at that time they couldn’t get the right songs together. Like I said, the industry is tough, and I think now they broke up. Greta Van Fleet, I have no idea. I’ve heard them, and I like some of the stuff I heard, but of course I’m biased by Led Zeppelin. And even when you look at our new Burning Rain album, there’s some stuff in it that definitely has some Zeppelin flavor, or Aerosmith, or Whitesnake…I’m fine with it, as long as it happens naturally. The song “Lorelei”, for example, has definitely an Aerosmith flavor, it’s just something that happens – we didn’t sit down and plan it. We could have sat down and said “hey, it reminds me too much of Aerosmith, let’s change it”. But I really liked it! It happened naturally: I played these chords, and Keith came up with these melodies, and the harmonies we came up with gave it this Aerosmith flavor that I love. But if a band sits down and studies another band and everything that they do sounds the same, then that’s not as good, of course. But you know what, Rodrigo, I’m really glad that Greta Van Fleet is out there doing their thing, and I hope they do well. There are many new bands coming out that are really cool, like The Underground Thieves, with Nick Perri on guitar, there’s Jared James Nichols who also sings and plays guitar, and of course there’s the king of rock and blues, Joe Bonamassa, who’s unbelievable. So it’s all good!
I think there’s a renewed interest in the songs from the late 60’s and mid 70’s – to what do you credit that?
Well, people love that music, and they’re starting to lean into that kind of direction again. They loved it the first time, and now they love it again. That’s fine with me, I love it too [laughs].
At the same time, the industry is changing – nowadays, the profit from streaming is actually higher than that of record sales. I guess collecting albums is turning into a thing of the past, right?
Well, it is. I think in terms of numbers, the record sales aren’t what they used to be, but the greatness of it is that people are realizing that vinyl is cool again. Burning Rain has a vinyl edition that’s really cool. It definitely changed with the internet, and bands have to find new ways of staying relevant, and of staying up with social media, and put out good music and find a way to play it live. Even if you record your rehearsal and put it out there – post it on YouTube, you know? Find all things that technology can help you with.
Going back to Burning Rain, what’s the plan after the release? I know there are a couple of acoustic dates with just you and Keith, and then a couple of shows with the full band. What’s the plan after that?
We wanted to be there in Europe to promote it. When we signed up to the Frontiers Festival, they said they preferred we didn’t do band shows before that, because they wanted is to premier the new lineup there. So Keith and I booked this acoustic promo tour, and we started to get offers to do gigs everywhere. We just wanted to get our name out there and play anywhere – on radios or on the side of the street! [laughs]. We’ll do a record release party as a full band in Vegas on March 29th, then Keith and I will do the acoustic promo tour, and Brad and Blas will join us for rehearsals in Milan and we’ll do the Frontiers Festival there. After that, we’ll do this kind of “weekend warrior” thing and do weekend gigs in the U.S. until The Dead Daisies kick off again. And then when The Dead Daisies take another break, probably during the fall, we’ll take Burning Rain to Europe as a full band.
I hope you guys make it to Toronto, because I want to see Burning Rain playing here!
Me too! This band is made of great guys and great players, and I really hope we make it to Canada, man!
Doug, thank you so much for your time, and all the best with the new Burning Rain album, “Face the Music”, which is released today March 22!
Thanks Rodrigo, and I really appreciate your support, man!