Doug Aldrich: Epically Obsessed!

By Jeb Wright

Doug Aldrich is one of hard rocks most ferocious guitar players.  His talent knows no bounds.  He can shred, play a slow melody, kick out a gut wrenching blues lick or pick up an acoustic guitar and play a sweet shit ballad.  This guy is the real deal, from his Rock God look, to his Rock Star style. The only thing missing is the Rock Star Attitude; as Doug is one of the nicest and most sincere guys in the business. 

For over a decade he has been David Coverdale’s go to guy in Whitesnake, before that he was the lead guitarist for DIO.  He has been in the bands Hurricane and Lion and way back in the day, damn near made the cut in Kiss.  Now, he is back resurrecting the band that made him a Rock and Roll Pin Up Boy in the Land of the Rising Sun back in the 1990’s, Burning Rain.

While the band never made it in America, or Europe, Japan rallied behind the band as they released two albums there with major success.  So much so that Frontiers Records came-a-calling for a third release almost a decade ago.  At the time, Aldrich agreed to write the album, but then he got the call from David Coverdale to join Whitesnake. When Rock Royalty wants you in his band then the only correct answer is ‘yes.’  Doug said ‘yes.’

Whitesnake has stayed busy ever since with Coverdale and Aldrich performing countless concerts and releasing two successful albums, Good to Be Bad and Forevermore, during that time. 

By chance, Frontiers is now Whitesnake’s record company and recently released the concert DVD and CD Live in Japan.  Somewhere along the line they realized Doug had blown them off for long enough and demanded the third Burning Rain album.  Aldrich agreed and went to work, quickly writing the songs and producing the album.

The album, titled Epic Obsession, is now released and is finally seeing the light of day.  It’s an album full of ‘80’s guitar anthems and power ballads and is filled with Aldrich’s amazing guitar playing.

Doug sat down with Classic Rock Revisited to talk about Burning Rain’s album, Epic Obsession, and what Whitesnake will be doing in 2013, including welcoming back iconic drummer Tommy Aldridge to the band.  Along the way, the conversation drifted into hot ass chicks on album covers, his favorite classic Whitesnake album and a show down with shred-master Yngwie Malmsteen.

Jeb:  I have interviewed you since you were in DIO and I had to find out about Burning Rain from Brian Tichy?  You couldn’t drop me a note?  Send an email? 

Doug: [laughter] I have lost so much perspective, as I have been trying to squeeze this in during the hours that I am not working with David [Coverdale].  There really was no time for me to do anything else. 

Between doing this album, and everything that I do with Whitesnake, I have not even been able to stay in touch with people.  It has been a really busy time.  I’m sorry, man.  Now you know…I have a new album.

Jeb:  Tell me the history of Burning Rain.

Doug: The band started in 1998 and was pretty much exclusively released in Japan, as I had a following in Japan from bands I had been in called Lion and Bad Moon Rising.  This band, pretty much, picked up where they left off.  We were influenced a little bit by bands like Whitesnake.  We put out a record and the response in Japan was good enough that a year later we went in and recorded another one.  The second one was even better.  On the first album, it really came across that we were a new band and we were hungry sounding.   The second one had a little more depth.  The songwriting had expanded.  Neither album ever came out in the USA or Europe.

During that time, I started doing some sessions with Jimmy Bain, who was in Rainbow and DIO back in the day, and that led to me getting the opportunity with DIO.  From there, I went to Whitesnake and that is why Burning Rain stopped.  When I joined Ronnie’s band, and later, David’s band, I became too busy to do anything else.  I am really blessed to have been able to be in both of their bands.

With David, the chemistry we have together is amazing.  We started out just playing together, but when David and I started doing some writing together, then that led to new music for Whitesnake.  When that happened, there was no longer time for me to do anything else. 

In 2004, we had taken some time off.  I got a call that year from Frontiers Records and they asked me if I would like to do a third Burning Rain album.  I told them I thought that would be a great opportunity and that I would love to do it, but I had to work around Whitesnake’s schedule, as that was, let’s call it my day gig.  It’s a great day gig, by the way! 

I told them that we had a tour coming in fall of 2004 and that I would love to do it when I had some free time.  Since then, and this is the truth, Whitesnake has been so busy that I just did not have any free time. I’ve put all my time into new WS music and helping DC with whatever needed to get done.

Jeb: Since the second album, had you and Keith St. John, the singer, even seen other

Doug: Keith St. John and I always get together and bang around some ideas, but I never really felt there was a flow going. You need more than a day here and there to get it going. I was so focused on what I was doing with David, and there was a definite flow going with him, obviously. 

When I was working with Keith we were never, during all of this time, ready.  We had a couple of songs ideas that I thought were really cool, but we were a ways off from having anything solid.  Finally, last year, I got a little time off.  By this time, I was starting to get hit up by Frontiers.  They were saying, “We’ve waited for about eight, or nine, years for you; give us that frickin’ record!” 

Jeb: [laughter]   I can see where they may have been ready for you to move forward!

Doug:  I agree.  I had to tell them, “You’re right and I really appreciate your patience.”  We started working and the songs were about seventy five percent of the way, but we still needed work on the lyrics and the melodies and things like that. 

We were just about ready to finish writing the Epic Obsession record when David got a hold of me and said he wanted to do the new live Made in Japan DVD that just came out. I got up to Tahoe and we started mixing and finding bonus material. When Whitesnake is working, it’s full on focus for me, so I had to stop what I was doing with Burning Rain. 

I knew that even though I was going to be busy with David that I could not go back to Frontiers and ask for more time, it had been almost a decade already!  I spent all of my free time finishing the Burning Rain record. It took a while because I could only do it on weekends and that caused a lot of pressure. To make a long story, a little shorter, I felt that I had such a great chemistry, working with David, that it made it tough for anything to stand up to that. But we got there...I do feel like there was a thing that I started with Burning Rain and this finished it off nicely.  It is what it is, but I am really happy with how it turned out. 

Jeb: There are some nods to Whitesnake on the Burning Rain Record.  But, there is still enough different that it is Burning Rain.  Does that make sense?

Doug: Well, it does not sound like Whitesnake because David is not singing on it.  I wanted Burning Rain to be a progression of the first two records and not just sound like Whitesnake. It’s a bit more raw and edgy maybe.

Jeb: Did the songs on the album come from the old days, back when the band was together, or were they new songs? 

Doug:  It is really a little bit of everything.  There were songs like “Ride the Monkey” that have been around since 2004 or 2005.  “Out in the Cold Again” is an older song, which is very influenced by Led Zeppelin.  We really hashed those songs out and they changed over time.  We also have newer songs like “Sweet Little Baby Thing” and “The Cure” and they really fit in with the older songs.  “My Lust Your Fate” was one of the last songs we did and we have made a video for that song, which was influenced, in some ways, by stuff I’d done recently with Whitesnake, but, melodically, and with the syncopation and the vocals, it has a new flavor to it as well.  “Heaven Gets Me By” we just jammed out and it came together nicely. 

Finally, we were able to have all of these songs and, despite the fact that so much time had passed, they all worked well together.  I feel like the album has a lot of different flavors to it and I wanted it to kind of take the listener on a bit of a journey. 

Jeb: Working as closely with Coverdale as you do, you’ve had to learn a lot about melody. 

Doug: That is the reason why David is one of the all-time greats.  Just look at a song like “Here I Go Again.”  That song just has it all.

If you work with David Coverdale, Ronnie James Dio, or Keith St. John, then you discover that they all have a different thing that they do and they are all great in their own way.  There is only one David Coverdale.

You’re right, I have learned a lot from him and it really has been a very rewarding time for me.  It is not just playing on stage with him.  It is the times when nobody knows what’s going on and he has a little song that we are working on and nobody has heard it but us...its great to be in that moment; that is the payoff.  I might give David an idea and I may do something to it and give it back to him, but the truth is that when he opens his mouth and starts singing, it is pretty much, always spine-tingling stuff and I love it. 

Jeb:  One song I have to bring up on the new album is “Our Time is Gonna Come.” 

Doug: You like that?  Cool.  I will tell you about that…The song is very similar to a song we had on our second record.  Before I was even on David’s radar we had a song called “Judgment Day,” which was kind of had a Zeppelin and Whitesnake sort of vibe to it.  “Our Time is Gonna Come” is in that same vibe. 

I had actually started to work on this song with David, but I realized that we didn’t really need it for Forevermore, the latest Whitesnake album, so I saved it and I played it for Keith and that is how it got to be a part of the Burning Rain record. 

Keith really did a great job on that song and the entire record with his lyrics.  He is one of those guys who, and I really dig this about him, that I can play him anything and he goes for it.  It does not have to be a finished song, it can just be a musical idea and he picks up on that and really adds to it. 

Jeb: The song really has a Zep theme, almost a Led Zep rip-off but not quite. 

Doug: There are a couple of Zeppelin rip-offs on the album [laughter].  I mean, I can’t help it because I love Led Zeppelin. They are an influence. With Keith, we just let it go where it goes and there are not any rules.  If there is an influence to the song then we don’t run away from it.  We both love Led Zeppelin. In the end, it will sound like Burning Zep!

Jeb: You actually include a bonus track which is “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.

Doug: We cut that track with the original drummer of Burning Rain around 2000.  We just did it for fun and we had no idea of ever doing anything with it.  It was originally recorded on two-inch tape.  I transferred it to ProTools and re-cut the guitar and the vocal. 

The thing is that a rock band really wants to stay away from doing a cover of a Led Zeppelin song; it usually is not a very good idea to do that sort of thing. If it was NO DOUBT doing it; that would be doing it was a risk.  This, however, turned out pretty cool and it has the same flavor of the other Burning Rain songs.  We were not trying to be Zeppelin, but we just love that song and we did it the way we do it. It sounds like we did it confidently and with our own flavor.

Jeb: I love how you play the main riff on the guitar.  

Doug: I kept it really simple and I didn’t want to overplay it.  It screams for you to just start wailing on it and I had to hold myself back on it.  Originally, on the two-inch tape, I had flipped the tape over and done some backwards lead parts and some of that is still on there now.  When I play my regular way, and I flip it backwards, then it kind of sounds like George Lynch [laughter].  It really does remind me of him. I need to play it for him.

Jeb: “Heaven Gets Me By” is a powerful song.  You do a full band version and an acoustic version.  I am guessing that is a new song. 

Doug: It is a newer song.  Normally, on something like that, I would work with David on it.  I was with Keith and I started playing it and he just immediately jammed out the foundation of the song, to the point that I knew it was his song.  He latched onto it and lyrically he nailed it.  Keith had a personal loss in his family and he dug deep for those lyrics and it is really personal for him. I was influenced by Stephen Stills on the guitar parts.

Jeb:  As always, there is great guitar playing.  On Burning Rain, you did not go as crazy, start to finish, as maybe you do on Forevermore.  You play a lot more melodic on Burning Rain.  Is that fair to say?

Doug:  I think so. Its does have more shredding in spots than anything I do with WS.  There is a lot of first take solos on the Burning Rain album. It’s raw with mistakes included!  This album is more about the energy and the vibe of the song then it is about going back and dissecting a technical solo. Melody and hooks are more important. This is something that has really sunk in from working with David Coverdale.  It is very important to have the right melody in there to support the song and I think that is what I wanna do now.

Anything you tell me, Jeb, is relevant and fair to say.  I am not trying to prove anything on this record.  I just wanted to have the guitar support the song. I like the “Ride the Monkey” solo and “My Lust Your Fate,” but “When Can I Believe in Love” has a nice feel to it even though it’s mellow.

Jeb: In your career, you have been the go to guy for David Coverdale and the same thing for Ronnie James Dio.  With Burning Rain, you are now answering only to yourself.

Doug: I did have an agenda, sound-wise, as I wanted it to fit in with the first two Burning Rain records.  With Ronnie James Dio there was a specific framework that things had to fit into.  I only wrote a couple of songs with Ronnie and it was a great experience. 

The writing I have done with David, for Whitesnake, has been the freest experience I have ever had in music.  David gives me more leeway than I had with Burning Rain, to be honest.  He will take any goofball idea I have and he will make it bad ass. He trusts that I have his back and the best interest of WS at all times.

It’s very different with Keith. We are like brothers that compete. There is a definite rub that works with us. It’s cool even though it gets aggressive sometimes. I will say this about Keith and it is a roundabout compliment, but he is very stubborn and very set in what he wants to do. I would fight him over songs. I liken us to Chris and Rich from the Black Crowes, or the Oasis brothers. Always pushing each others buttons! I tell him, “I don’t like that and I don’t want to take the song that way.”  We would eventually come to a point to where we would work it out.  The super heavy song “Till You Die” was one of the songs where we really bumped heads.  I didn’t like where he was taking it.  I kind of forced him into trying it, one time, the way I wanted him to do it and it made him get his head around it. Then he understood that I was trying to help.  Other times, he would do that to me and I would finally see what he was doing was right for the song.  We really do butt heads, but that can be a good thing if not too difficult. 

Jeb:  Do you and David butt heads like that?

Doug:  David is so secure with himself that he can say, “I like what you did there.  Let’s stay with that and see where it goes.”  He really trusts me and wants to see where an idea goes.  It may, or may not, end up working, but he is so secure in himself that he will try things.  I think that is why I have never done anything other than Whitesnake for all of this time. 

I think that in Burning Rain I have an opportunity to do something different.  Keith has a good tone and he has a really strong voice and he is my brother, as I’ve known him forever. He is very confident too. He is stubborn and he wants to do it his way and it doesn’t matter to him if I have worked with David Coverdale, or Ronnie James Dio, or whoever.  He is still going to try it his way. If David or Ronnie said, “Jimmy or Ritchie did it like this...” I would wanna learn from that ya know?  The cool thing about me and Keith’s musical relationship is that it makes it sound like the band Burning Rain. 

Jeb:  You should have Burning Rain open for Whitesnake. 

Doug: That would be like when Zakk Wylde would have his band Black Label Society open for Ozzy.  I don’t think so [laughter]. When I’m doing Whitesnake, I can’t do much else, specifically, on tour. I’m constantly trying to improve the set and help DC with whatever we need to do. Sometimes the set needs adjusting for a certain festival, or whatever, and I need to take care of that. Whitesnake is fulltime right now. That said, Burning Rain has some cool offers to play when I get off with WS. We will definitely do Japan and some stuff in Europe, the UK and various gigs in the US. It’s obviously down to when.

The Burning Rain record came together pretty quickly…other than the fact that it took a decade [laughter].  What I mean is that when I finally had the time, I was able to work quickly.  It looked like it may never happen and the only reason it finally happened was that I owed it to Keith to finish this album. He waited too and I think his songwriting is pretty bad ass. His lyrics are dark and twisted which make for some interesting songs. Plus his lovey-dovey stuff is very real and not made up.

Jeb:  We have to talk about the cover. That girl is hot. 

Doug: It has a flavor like the Slide It In era.  It is not going to piss anybody off, but it is sexy.  I feel like it is kind of artsy. 

With Whitesnake, I only focus on the music.   David knows what he wants with the artwork and stuff.  With Burning Rain, the label said, “You’ve got to come up with the cover.”  I was like, “What do you mean?  Can’t we just take a picture of the band?”  We, then, came up with the title.  This record really has been an Epic Obsession for all of us.  For normal guys, however, like you and me, we are epically obsessed with a girl like the one on the cover.  I don’t know who she is, but she has got a nice shape to her. 

Jeb:  Forevermore is a great, great album.  Compared with Burning Rain, how much time did that take?

Doug: I appreciate that, Thanks man.  The amount of time I spent on Burning Rain was just a fraction of the amount of time I spent on Forevermore.  We had to do Epic Obsession really quickly, at the end, in order to get it finished. But we got lucky. It sounds good and is getting really good reviews.

Jeb: David has been tough on guitar players throughout the years.  They come and go in Whitesnake.  How have you been able to stay?

Doug: Honestly, I think he really cares about how hard I work and how much I care about his musical vision.  I might make a mistake and overstep my bounds, now and then, but David knows I am only doing it because I really care.  I think that is a part of it. 

My style fits in with him, as well.  Reb [Beach] and I really work well together for Whitesnake, as well.  I think for me, he [Coverdale] is at the point to where he does not need to prove anything to anybody, but he still wants to move forward, anyway. I love that. At the same time, I’m going, “Let’s try this!”  I am not pushing him, but I am enthusiastic about our music.  I love the guy and he is one of a kind and I have a lot of respect for the fact that he is still going for it. I love being in WS and DC knows it.

By the same token, if David said to me that he wanted to go back to any one of the past guitar players, I would absolutely respect that and I would be appreciative of everything that we’ve done together.

Jeb:  A lot of guys in your position would not be that humble, or nice, about something like that.

Doug: When David first contacted me about doing Whitesnake, I had heard he was going to reform the version of Whitesnake with John Sykes.  I said, “David, there is no reason for you to talk to me if you’re thinking of getting back with Sykes.  I have my own thing to offer and I am not going to be in a band with him.”  David said, “No, no, no, I want you.”  So I thought “YES!” “Okay, cool.  Let’s talk.” 

There was a period, in 2003, where he said that he might do something with previous members and he wondered if I would consider being a part of it.  At the time, I said no because I hadn’t put my mark on WS yet. It wouldn’t have felt right to me at that early time. Now we have 30 plus songs together and I’m very proud of them. Now we jam with past members all the time and its fun.  I am humble and inspired working with David and very thankful for our relationship.

Jeb: Do you have a favorite era of Whitesnake?

Doug: I love it all.  I love the original Whitesnake. They didn’t happen over here in the US the way they happened in Europe.  Whitesnake was really a heavy blues rock band back then.  Maybe that lineup wasn’t as conducive to the MTV era because there was a transformation to where David went from guys like Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody—I love their playing on those early albums—to newer guys. 

David needed more of a spark on guitar, so he got John Sykes.  It went even further when he got Adrian Vandenberg and Steve Vai; he went into a much different direction than where Whitesnake started.  David, then, put the band on hiatus until he brought it back with Reb and me.

I didn’t want to just pick up where Whitesnake left off on Slip of the Tongue. I wanted to have it be more like the Slide it In era...but its a different time and place with different people, so its unique to now I guess....a bit of a hybrid.  We bring back a little bit of the blues side, but we still have the muscular side, as well. 

Back to the original question, my favorite is probably the Slide It In record with Mel Galley and Micky Moody.  Sykes was not on the original record, he came in later, but he added a nice spark to the USA release.  I love the early Whitesnake, but I am most influenced by Slide It In

Jeb:  I have thought about this and I know the side project you should do with David.  Here is the lineup: Coverdale on vocals, you on guitar, Ian Paice on drums, Don Airey on keyboards and Glenn Hughes on bass.

Doug:  That would be awesome, but I will be straight with you…I would not be the right guy for that.  I could do it and it would be a hell of a lot of fun, but you’re talking about a Deep Purple Mach III lineup.  I would think that would be better for Yngwie Malmsteen, as he knows everything Blackmore. 

I have actually done a couple of gigs where there were jam situations where I have jammed with Yngwie and Glenn and those two were insane together. 

I will tell you a funny story…Yngwie, Glenn and I, along with a bunch of different people were playing at Wembley Arena last year for Jim Marshall’s birthday, and the 50 anniversary of Marshall Amps. 

Jim had passed away, so they turned it into a memorial for Jim.  Zakk Wylde was one of the headliners and Kerry King was there.  It was a one day gig and we had Brian Tichy playing drums in the backing band and it was killer.  I played a couple of songs with Ripper Owens and Cory Taylor sang a song.

At the end of the night, we were going to do something more, so I said to Glenn, “Why don’t me and you play a Purple song like ‘Burn,’” because I do it a lot with WS. Glenn said, “We should get all of the guys playing and I will sing it.”  I said, “That is a lot of guys playing a lot of notes.” [laughter] 

As it turned out, Me, Glenn and Yngwie were going to do it.  Glenn said, “Who’s going to do the solo?”  I said, “Ill do the main one,” knowing that Yngwie would be wailing all over anyway.  He said, “I might need to ask you to be the bigger mate and let Yngwie do it.  Would you be up for that Doug?”  I said, “No Glenn, I’m gonna do it.” I’d been doing “Burn” with David for years in the UK, so it didn’t feel right to play behind Yngwie. So, I told Yngwie, “Let’s split the solo.” Yngwie goes, “This is a guitar thing, we don’t need a keyboard solo.  You play instead of a keyboard solo.”  I said, “No way dude.”  Jon Lord had just passed away, so I’m not going to play a guitar solo where the keyboard solo was supposed to be! “It’s your idea, Yngwie, you do it!” [laughter]

Back to the point you made when we started this question, if those guys are going to get that lineup back together, then they need Ritchie Blackmore.

I had this conversation with David back in 2006, or 2007.  We’d finished writing Good to Be Bad and we were really happy with it and we felt that we had accomplished something that we were really proud of.  I told David, “Why don’t you do something with Purple like Ronnie did with Sabbath?  Do two songs with Ritchie, Pacey [Ian Paice], Glenn and Jon Lord.  You could put out a box set and put on one, or two, new songs and do a tour.  It would be great.”  David said that he didn’t really have the interest at that time. DC created his own thing with WS, so it makes sense in some ways not to go back. Now Jon Lord is gone so it’s emotionally difficult. But the fans would love anything with DC and Blackmore. Me too!

Jeb:  What is coming up for Whitesnake?

Doug: We are really prepared for this tour.  Well, we are always prepared, but this time we really had a lot of pre-tour meetings and this time out, David has decided to make some major changes to the set list.  I am all for that. 

He has so many great songs, including the stuff on Forevermore.  We are still going to be playing some songs off of Forevermore, but we are also going to be expanding the set list and adding a lot of songs that he has not done in a while, and I am really excited about that. 

Part of this tour will be with Journey and we need to leave a mark that Journey is going to have to beat every night.  Journey is amazing and Neal Schon is one of my all-time favorite guitarists.  It is a friendly competition, but you have to go for it.  We have a great show and it is going to be fun night of music. Thunder is on too and they are killer live. There will be a lot of great tunes and it will be a great show. 

Jeb: You also have the DVD Made in Japan

Doug: We recorded a show in Japan in 2011 that we did for Japanese television.  David took at a look at it and realized that it was really good.  They shot the entire show, so we acquired the footage from these guys and when we saw it, it was obvious that it needed to be put out. 

The band was so confident when we played.  We had just come off a three week break and we were all really fresh and it was just like the band was firing on all cylinders.  For Whitesnake fans, it is a good watch and listen.  There are bonus tracks that we took from sound checks that are really cool.  David is always pushing to try some new things and he always wants us to do this, or that.  Some of that is included on the package and that is really cool. 

Jeb: Last one: Brian Tichy is on the DVD, but he is no longer in Whitesnake.  But, the cool news is that Tommy Aldridge is back in. 

Doug: We’ve got Tommy back!  For me, Brian Tichy is a legend of a player, and a great guitar player. He is a good bud.  He wanted to do his S.U.N. project and he wanted to focus on that.  He said to David, “You didn’t get to where you are by doing Whitesnake part-time.  You got to where you are by doing it full time and that is what I need to do with S.U.N.”  David totally understood and respected that. 

David said to us, “What do you think?”  I suggested Tommy.  I had recently done a session with Tommy for a fundraising thing we did.  He is playing better than ever and he looks exactly the same.  David and Tommy talked and they agreed it would be fun to have him come back.  Last year was awesome, but I am looking forward to what were doing now.  It is all happening and it is all really good.