Doogie White / “I’ve had a fascinating journey”
17 June 2021
The Doogie White solo album As Yet Untitled first saw the light of day in 2011. With a re-issue featuring two new bonus tracks and a new whole second cd of cover versions, MetalTalk finds Doogie still fighting the fight and putting out amazing music.
Mark Rotherham spoke with Doogie about his career, which has seen a young boy from Motherwell progress to work with legends like Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen and Ritchie Blackmore.
Interview: Mark Rotherham
MetalTalk: As Yet Untitled is a re-issue, with benefits. I did not hear it the first time around, but I have now and really like it. But for those that are new to Doogie White, what can they expect from this release?
Doogie: It was released eleven years ago, after I left Yngwie’s band. Derek Sherinian suggested I did a solo album as I had a lot of songs lying around. So I asked many of the friends I had made over the years of touring. Tony Carey did the keyboard intro to the opening track Come Taste the Band. I wanted something like the beginning of Tarot Woman to kick the album off. There were to be thirteen songs.
I asked Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie to contribute but that did not work out. The songs are all varied in style, all with different people, recorded over different times. I wanted to get the Rainbow connection out of the way at the start of the album, which is what I did with the first track.
The rest of the album is an exploration with different writing partners, different rock musicians. I also added two new songs just for fun.
To quote Lemmy, you’ve given your life to rock ‘n’ roll, and rock ‘n’ roll has given you your life. Were you always going to be a musician and always a singer?
Doogie: I wanted to be a drummer after seeing A Hard Day’s Night, but I had no coordination. Then I wanted to be a guitar player, but everyone else was already a guitar player, and they were all much better than me. When I was growing up in Motherwell, I went to the church youth fellowship, and two of my friends asked me to join their band, but it only lasted three or four weeks.
I always liked voices. They’re so personal. For example, Neil Young isn’t the greatest technical ‘singer,’ but he makes a magnificent, beautiful noise. I loved the vocal characters of Bowie and Davy Jones from The Monkees. I also liked the Bee Gees, hearing the sound of beautiful voices harmonising. When I was young, I was hearing lots of diverse and varied influences that made me want to sing.
And did singing come naturally to you? Did you have classes? Is it the kind of thing you have to practice at, like an instrument?
Doogie: I just sang along with people I liked, mainly because I couldn’t play the guitar. I couldn’t find the time to study it as I was busy climbing trees and playing football. Singing just came naturally to me, copying or trying to copy what my favourites did.
I found people whose voices I really liked, and I just sang their songs. It must run in the family because after my first show with Rainbow in Helsinki, my brother sang Soldier of Fortune back at the hotel with Ritchie. He said if he had heard my brother first, I would not have gotten the job!
I just learned my chops from listening to really good singers. During the lockdown, I’ve been trying to listen to and sing along with those guys that I really like because it’s very easy to become a parody of yourself. The same end of notes, the same timbre, you just do the same stuff, and it can get stale, and I wanted to get inspired again. Normally, that can be hard. When you’re writing music, when you’re on the road, the last thing you want to do is listen to music, so if nothing else, the lockdown has allowed me that.
The last year has really affected everyone. What were you planning on doing, and what did you end up doing?
Doogie: I was supposed to celebrate my birthday in Japan with Michael Schenker in 2020. We had rehearsed intensely in Brighton, we were ready to go, and it was pulled at six days notice for obvious reasons. Everything we had planned to celebrate Michaels 50th anniversary in the music business in 2020 was all just gone.
I was contacted about re-releasing As Yet Untitled, and also putting together a cover version disc of songs that I had recorded many years ago. The songs on the second disc are just a different take on rock classics.
Then, after heavy negotiations, I signed with Frontier Records to do an album with a great Swedish guitarist Emil Norberg. That’s now ready to come out later in the year. The project is called Long Shadows Dawn, and the album will be called Isle of Wrath. It has great songs and playing. It’s heavy but melodic.
Then, just as I was finishing that album, Alcatrazz approached me and said that Graham Bonnet had left the band. They’d had a successful new album and wanted to know, would I be their singer? I said yes, but we’d need a new record. That’s done now also, and finally, I’m going to relax and listen to some great singers.
I heard Bob Catley the other day. He is so brilliant, and what a great voice. Starting Monday, I’ve got to get back into getting vocally and physically fit just in case touring starts up again, as I’ve been stuck in the studio since last summer writing and recording.
Your career has been a patchwork mixture of bands, sessions, touring. Was that always your plan? Do you like the variety, or would you prefer stability?
Doogie: Circumstances don’t always allow things to work out as planned. I never liked the idea of being a solo artist. I like being in a band.
La Paz was my first proper band. I’m still mates with the guys, and we still speak regularly. I would have liked to be part of one band, but it is what it is. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the best players ever, who have always had revolving doors of musicians they worked with. Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker all worked that way, they’ve always had that variety, and that has been good for everyone, and I guess it keeps them fresh.
If I hadn’t had that experience, I’d have missed out on working with these great players. I wouldn’t have travelled and seen different cultures, seen how people react to the music in different corners of the world. That’s a huge thrill, and I like the challenge.
However, if I could have stuck with one, I may have done so, but that’s not how it happened for me. I had nine years with Michael Schenker, but I was never in the Michael Schenker Group. We had Temple of Rock together and later Michael Schenker Fest. So when Michael wanted to reactivate MSG, he made changes, and now he’s got different players. He did suggest we do a new Temple of Rock album somewhere down the line.
The As Yet Untitled album cover has DTW, I’m guessing it’s your initials. What does the T stand for?
Doogie: Trustworthy or Trouble, I can be both. (laughs). It’s actually my Mother’s maiden name, Thomson. That’s a tradition in Scotland for the first born.
Have you ever played, or do you intend to play the CD2 covers live?
Doogie: In ’98 or ’99, a lot of rockers came together with Lee Hart. Tribute bands and albums were selling a lot back then, and a lot of people were involved. The Maiden one sold 50,000, so they had us back in doing another one. They were popular. You would get to hear great musicians doing great covers, the record company has put them together, trying different stuff, but it’s not part of my live set.
The first track on the album is Come Taste the Band. You were in Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore was in Deep Purple, and Come Taste the Band was a Deep Purple album. Coincidence?
Doogie: No, it was a deliberate thing. Come Taste the Band was the first Purple album I heard, back at the Motherwell church youth fellowship. I would take in my Bowie album, which I had saved up for a month to buy. At the fellowship, there was badminton, table tennis, darts. The girls would listen to Donny Osmond, but the boys would bring in ELP, Bowie and Deep Purple.
Come Taste the Band came in and it was amazing, I loved the voices, and I soaked up all the Purple stuff. Years later when Ritchie phoned me up to audition for Rainbow, he needed something new from me, so I went away and wrote some songs with my old mate Alex Dickson. Come Taste the Band was one of them.
Ritchie knew it was the name of the Purple album he had not been on, and we also mimicked the mark four line up. He thought I was a cheeky young Scotsman and it worked, I got the job.
Sticking with Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore has a reputation for being moody, but Don Airey tells a great story about on the road antics, where Don would go to his hotel room and find that Ritchie had completely emptied it. Can you tell any stories that show Ritchie’s lighter side?
Doogie: When we were rehearsing for the Rainbow album in upstate New York, we’d go out for dinner. In the car, Ritchie said he’d forgotten his wallet, and he had to go back into the house we were working in. On our return, I looked up, and my room light was on. I’d never leave a light on, I’m a Scotsman (laughs). I knew Ritchie had gone into my room, and he had.
He’d switched all the bug killers off, and my room was crawling with the critters. We had to get the inspectors in to clear them out. On another night, he shampooed my bed with green shaving foam. All his beard and hairs were all over the bed, and he’d put all my towels in the bath and shower. It was all good-humoured, depending on how you took his gags. For me, it was another part of the journey.
Much is made about the influence that Ritchie Blackmore had on Yngwie Malmsteen and his playing. Having worked with both, do they have more similarities than differences, or the other way around?
Doogie: They are completely different. Ritchie was an influence on Yngwie initially, on looks and performance. Especially with those things that, at the time, we could only imagine. Back then, there were no concert videos or YouTube, you only had the odd photograph. Of course they both use Strats and Marshalls, but they are brilliant in completely different ways. Yngwie is an astounding player, in that neo-classical style he created.
Neither him nor Ritchie hammer on or fake their notes. They both pick every string, as does Michael Schenker.
They also had no booster effects, it is pretty much a guitar going through a delay and that was it. They get that sound through a bit of overdrive and delay and the magic in their fingers.
I remember playing on stage one time with a guitarist who had the biggest pedal board, bigger than a 56 inch TV! It took up half the stage. And that’s all fair enough, and for them it works. But the guys like Angus Young, they just plug in and go for it.
On the As Yet Untitled second CD, there is a lot of Nazareth and UFO. I’m getting that they were big influences on you?
Doogie: Nazareth were the first band I ever saw, in ‘72 or ’73 and it was by mistake. My brother’s mate’s grandma thought Nazareth was a show about Jesus. She saw their hairy faces in the Motherwell Times and panicked. We got her front row tickets and it was great.
UFO was never really on my turntable, a bit like Zeppelin. I grew to appreciate them later. I was into Purple and all the off-shoots: Whitesnake, Gillan, Rainbow, plus AC/DC, who I saw for 50p. Van Halen, Sabbath, that was my kinda place.
What do you prefer, playing live or recording?
Doogie: I love the live stuff. I only record so I can get out and play live. This is the longest time since 1984 that I have not played a gig or been on a plane. And we are all in the same boat. I am looking forward to when we can do all that again.
Alcatrazz should tour in the late summer with Girlschool, I have also got an orchestral tour in Russia and Ukraine with Graham Bonnet, Uli Jon Roth and Marco Mendoza. It will be great if it comes off, but it depends on the vaccine and people’s behaviour. So who knows?
There are lots of stories about less than friendly band splits. You’ve always been associated with amicable ones. Do you think the press makes too much of the drama between bands and musicians?
Doogie: The bands can easily do that all by themselves, and when money gets involved, it can really mess with people. I knew a band once where somebody wrote a song that became a hit, and it was under his name. He bought a car and a house, and the rest didn’t. The band did not last long.
The press is always good at building everything up, and it’s their job, it’s the way of the world. There’s nothing I can do about it if someone doesn’t want to work with me anymore. Yes, you can beat yourself up over it, but what’s the point? There’s nothing to be done. I don’t go bleating to the press as it would not do any good.
And right now, Graham Bonnet knows I’m in Alcatrazz, but he knows his legacy is in safe hands. He and I went out and had a coffee the last time he was in Edinburgh. He said “I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t to be in Alcatrazz,” and that’s what he’s done. So do the original band members give in or find someone else?
I’ve been friends with Graham for twenty years, we’ve toured the world together, we’ve sung Rainbow songs together, and we’ve been mates for years. There’s nothing else. It’s a non-story. That’s the end. We both understand that.
It’s like after you get dumped by your first girlfriend, it hurts, but then you get over it, you move on, it’s the way of the world, and you realise it’s not the drama you once thought it was.
At the next Alcatrazz gig, if you’re allowed any guest musician on stage for the last song, who would it be, what song would you play, and why?
Doogie: Yngwie Malmsteen, as it’s Alcatrazz. It would be glorious, even though it would never happen. And I’d also only want him to play a Steve Vai song, God Bless Video. It would be really interesting to see Yngwie’s take on Steve Vai. I used to do Hiroshima Mon Amour with him, and it’s got a high F. It’s right up there, and I’ve got to learn it again for Alcatrazz.
Graham Bonnet is unique. You hear his voice, and you know it’s him. Like Dio, Plant, Ozzy, no one sounds like him. Nowadays, many singers combine Coverdale with Dio, combine it with their sounds. I nicked from Glenn Hughes. Yngwie is a complete musician, so are both Ritchie and Michael.
Michael is more rehearsed, Yngwie could play anything, Ritchie picks his moments, it’s so rewarding to work with great musicians. I worked with Jon Lord. I did three shows with him. What a player.
I’ve had a fascinating journey, and I love this. I hope to get back on the road soon, and I really hope people dig the re-released solo album and the two new albums from Long Shadows Dawn and Alcatrazz coming to a record store near you. Do we still have record stores?
How did you get to the audition with Iron Maiden? Are you in the running if Bruce ever gets a full-time job with British Airways?
Doogie: In 1993 I was in Belgium recording an album and I got a phone call. A friend said “Bruce has left Maiden, you need to send in a tape.” I did, but I heard nothing for ages, then Dickie Bell, production manager for Maiden, turned up at my door and I had a weekend to learn 20 Maiden songs and audition.
I auditioned, I spoke with Steve Harris, they invited me back, but Blaze Bayley got the gig. He did a great job and they made two brilliant albums, but I felt that the sum of the two camps was not as good as the whole. When Blaze left and Bruce came back, I thought things had returned to their natural order.
There is a story that one time you were selling hot dogs at Hammersmith Odeon?
Doogie: After Midnight Blue split, I was unemployed and back then you had to go to Re-Start at the dole office every three to four months. The woman at the dole office asked me what kind of work I was looking for. I said “entertainment”, so she got me the job at the Odeon selling hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks.
I had to buy my own uniform with money I did not even have. I quit when Extreme or Mr Big were playing Hammersmith. The Great British music press bought popcorn from me and then started lobbing the stuff at me, so I quit.
The next time I was there I was singing in Rainbow.
With the incredible list of musicians you have worked with, is there anyone missing that you want to work with?
Doogie: Earl Slick. He is a great guitar player. He was in Dirty White Boy. He is a magical player.
Also Tony Iommi. As a rule I don’t look for a gig if someone else has already got it, that is bad form. Tony Iommi did call me just before Heaven and Hell got together. He said he had a bunch of songs but was not sure if he would do them with Ozzy Osbourne or Ronnie James Dio or someone else.
We chatted and he ended up doing Heaven and Hell with Ronnie, which was the right thing to do. I have met him a few times since and we chatted, and then he went back and did the Sabbath thing.
I guess I missed my chance there, but that’s life.