"When Michael approached me and said, 'Do you want to do it?' You have to say yes. He is one of the all time great guitar players, and I wanted to see - I wanted to do a good album with him, and see if I could stand up with the great vocalists he's worked with." ~ Doogie WhiteDoogie White is one of the most well-respected voices in the world of classic hard rock, and he's earned the acclaim - he writes well, sings well, and is well-loved by his peers. That being said, he's just upped the ante somewhat considerably with his latest efforts.
Bridge The Gap is the album by Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock, and while it is the legendary six stringer's best record in decades, it is also the album that will make Doogie White a household name in hard rock circles. Mind you, Doogie is quite well-known already - he's not stopped to take a breath since he was handpicked by Ritchie Blackmore to front Rainbow nearly twenty years ago, and his work has always been very in demand.
I reached out to Doogie because I wanted to hear his side of the tale - I knew I'd be talking with Michael, but I loved White's work so much on the new record that I had a great desire to hear what he had to say on the eve of his greatest success. As expected, he came across as a very proud papa - not one to brag, but quite aware of what's been achieved. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
|Photo by Markus-Hagner Photography|
Doogie White: "But we're here to talk about bloody albums, aren't we?!"
Indeed - I asked the singer if this felt like a band effort, and not just another guns-for-hire gig:
Doogie: "That's what we were hoping for, we're hoping that people see this as a new band, rather than a new version of MSG. There have been so many versions of MSG - I think with Herman (Rarebell) and Francis (Buchholz) in the band, especially, I think maybe Michael felt it was more respectful to them, and a chance to launch a new phase of his life and career."
This completely echoes Schenker's comments, which came several days after our conversation - you can find that interview here:
Doogie White's writing on Bridge The Gap is exceptional. He balances Schenker's wild flights of creative composition on guitar by keeping the songs very structured and extremely melodic. I asked how he approached writing an album with Michael for the first time. I half wondered if he just received a package marked 'songs' in the middle of the night by a masked courier:
Doogie White: "That's pretty much it! That's what happened!
"We had finished the last tour in September of last year, and at the airport, we were going our separate ways at the Frankfurt Airport, and Michael said to me, 'You and I should really write an album together!'
"And then I never heard from him - never spoke to him. So, I started having building work done around my home on the 7th of January, and on the 7th of January I get nine song ideas from Michael!
"I had builders tearing out windows, knocking down walls, and ripping floors up, so I just had to sit in my little home studio here, and work as quickly as I could. What I tried to do was to keep the momentum going - I'd write a verse, a bridge, and a chorus, then I'd send it down to him and (producer) Michael Voss.
"I did that every day for a week. I'd wait for a response, and if they liked the idea, I'd expand upon it and write more lyrics. See, Michael is a very compact writer - he can squeeze into 3 1/2 minutes what a lot of bands can't do in seven or eight! It's an extraordinary talent, I think, to be able to do that."
I agreed and mentioned that many in the musical community miss that point - the point that Michael Schenker is an exceptional composer, and not just a hot handed six-stringer:
Doogie White: "No, no, no - he's very good as a composer!
"What I did notice about him, for me, is that he doesn't do what we in the UK call the middle eight. No middle eights in any of the songs. He does the verse, then the (b) part working into the chorus, but once you've done that a couple of times, generally there is a kind of melody that is slightly different musically, but he seems to use that for his solos.
"So, it was just a matter of overwriting, as I normally do. Because there were no strict forms on any of the demos, it was just a case of me overwriting and filling in holes.
"When we got to the studio to record them, we'd go in, and they'd say, 'No, that's the solo there, so take your bit out!'
"We wrote the first nine songs in about twelve days, then I went over to Vossy's studio over in Germany, and we took five days to record the nine songs. We were doing two songs a day, and then on the last day, we used that as a backing vocal day.
"Voss would get there at 9, I'd be there at 11, and Michael would arrive around noon. Voss and I had listened to what we had recorded the night before, and then it was off to the new day's project. We were trying to do two a day, and we'd work until maybe 4 o'clock in the afternoon.
"Because what happens to me is, when I'm in the headphones for any length of time, or longer than you should be, my ears go dull. If your ears go dull, you can't pitch anymore. It's not like knowing where the notes are on your guitar when you've got the music blasting.
"What we'd do with every song is we'd do three takes, but sometimes it'd just be one take, because the fire was coming out, initially. I've been in other situations working with other people where nobody believes you can do it in 1, 2, or 3 takes, so they'll have you back in there forever! You lose all the magic and you squash all the passion and improvisation - you lose the fire."
I inquired whether that is mostly a matter of experience and seasoning:
Doogie White: "I understand the process much more than I did, say, when I went into it with Blackmore and Rainbow. We had booked a residential studio for four months - so we were determined that we were going to use that four months to play mostly football, or soccer, as you'd call it!
"The other thing that was interesting for me working with Michael - I had never really worked with Michael before in a writing/recording situation, apart from Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, which he just loved, and that was it. He likes to write in 6/7 and that's a very difficult timing for singers to work in.
"I didn't know how flexible he'd be, so I'd just give him my vocals over his parts, and they would change the drum parts. The guitars are still in the 6/7 rhythm, but the drums are straighter. And he had no issues with that at all.
"It was for the good of the song, he wasn't concerned about anything other than what was going to make a good song. We'd put it all together, and say, 'Well, that's a good song!'"
True enough, much of the albums smooth sophistication is in the exquisite interaction between Schenker's riffs, White's compelling melodies, and the incredible syncopation of Herman Rarebell's drums:
Doogie White: "Herman was very much up to speed because he'd played a lot last year with Temple Of Rock - so he was playing up to speed, and he practices every day. He just goes in there and rocks out.
"Him and Francis (bassist Buchholz) just lock together - it's an amazing rhythm section. They are two peas, they are the yin and yang of one another. They compliment each other so beautifully."
After touring with this band for months and months, I asked if doing a band record had been on Doogie's mind:
Doogie White: "Well, I had been asked to do some stuff with Michael before, as whoever was in his band at that time couldn't do it. So I started learning the setlist, and then ten days before we were due to go wherever we were going, they said, 'No, the original guy is going to do it,' so I was sort of left out of it.
"Then, Chris Glen, the bass player, invited me down to Shepherd's Bush Empire to sing a song, because I'm old mates with Chris. I went down and I sang Doctor, Doctor with Gary Barden. Then Michael and I met up in Sardinia, and we just sort of hit it off. He heard me sing, and thought, 'OK, I'll try this guy out for the next tour.'
"So, we went out for the next tour in Europe with the Temple Of Rock album that Vossy had done. Voss was going off and doing his Mad Max project on his own, so he wasn't available. So he got me in, and we got on very well! There are no issues in the band, and we just get on with it. We've all been involved, and we're all professional."
At which point I had to ask if there was any hesitation on either Doogie's or Michael Voss's part - two lead singers in the same room, one singing, one producing could be tense in some situations:
Doogie White: "No, no - Vossy and I get on very well!
"I had no issues with him recording me, and he had no issues recording me. He made his decision to go with Mad Max, which left that job open. I'd have never pitched for that gig if Vossy was in the band - you just don't do that, it's like trying to steal someone's wife!
"When Michael approached me and said, 'Do you want to do it?' You have to say yes. He is one of the all time great guitar players, and I wanted to see - I wanted to do a good album with him, and see if I could stand up with the great vocalists he's worked with.
"He's clearly back on top, because he's been working so hard, and I thought - 'I can do this!'
"We can really build something here, and with Herman and Francis, and of course, Wayne Findlay's been there for the last 14-15 years, giving him all his support through everything. Between the five of us, the dynamic in the band is fine - you see us walking around in pairs, or twos and threes setting having breakfast, or having a chat, whatever."
For many years, Doogie White has been one of the busiest vocalists on the scene, popping up with great bands like Tank, La Paz, Demon's Eye, and others - I had to wonder what would happen in 2014 once Bridge The Gap tour dates started coming in:
Doogie White: "When the Temple of Rock album comes out, and the tour dates start coming in, I have nothing - my books are clear for the next year. I said I would keep my schedule open for Michael for the next year.
"I enjoy being in the band, I enjoy singing the songs, and I want to take the songs I've written with Michael out live. We could play most of the new album - we probably won't but we could. The album was written for the live environment.
"It's a very exciting album. We wrote it in two parts - we wrote the first part in the freezing cold winds of wintertime, and then I went to Japan with Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner, and we did three or four gigs over there, then I came back and finished the remaining songs that we had. I came home, did the laundry, and then went back out on tour for another five months. But, I'm really looking forward to going out again!"
At that point I felt like we had covered the ground pretty well. After chatting a bit about the record's release dates, I mentioned that I'd be talking with Michael two mornings hence:
Doogie White: "Well, send him my best! I haven't spoken to him since we finished the tour. You just don't, you know?
"When we get together and we're together for 5-6 months, then you go off and do your own thing - then when you get back together, you're all fresh and happy to see each other. Ready to go and do it all again!"
It was nice to hear from Michael that he and Doogie had a nice phone chat the day after our chat - they are certainly on the same page, and this may be just the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Thanks to Doogie White, Michael Schenker, Felictas Siegel at In-Akustik, and Peter Noble at Noble PR.