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There is a problem, and it’s called guitar

An interesting interview with Don Airey, dug up from the mu:zines depth and breadth. This was done around Ozzy’s Bark at the Moon time and originally published in February 1984 issue of Electronics & Music Maker.

The interview will be of a particular interest for vintage synthesizer aficionados (you know who you are). Don also talk about his illustrious career up to this point, that started at a tender age of about three, the student years, the TV work, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Rainbow, Solar System, Milky Way, The Universe…

After Gary left Colloseum II we carried on a bit with my brother Keith, but I fancied something a bit heavier. Then Cozy rang up and invited me to work with Richie, and I was a bit doubtful, but we got on great – for the first year, or at least that first album we did, Down to Earth. That was basically me Cozy and Richie. Then Roger Glover came in, initially as the producer and then subsequently at the bass player and we eventually found Graham Bonnett after about six weeks of recording, and the band was born. It was a truly English sound, very heavy and melodic and beautiful. Donnington festival was the next triumph for that band, and then inexplicably Richie let Graham and Cozy leave and he brought in American musicians which was fine and great, but he tried to go for a sort of Foreigner sound – much more commercial, which I felt was a mistake. We had four hit singles altogether, two from each album, including All Night Long that brought us in new audience altogether, but after that, the stage shows became, well, mistimed I think is the best term, and I handed in my notice and left at the end of tour – which didn’t go down well…

Undeniably, there are real problems with being a keyboard player in a heavy metal band, and not least the guitar. First off, the guitar is very loud, but also the guitar is an amazing instrument, it is very expressive and you just have to listen to it. But what works for me is trading ideas with a guitarist. Almost any keyboard can sound great on its own – especially in the studio, you put a bit of Lexicon on them, down into stereo and wham! It’s wonderful. As soon as the guitar comes in it vanishes. So you have to hone your sound very much so that you have something that can compete with the guitar and also to get right behind it. I try to get a blend with the guitar so that we can support each other. Over the years I’ve obviously worked with a lot of guitarists, and there have been varying levels of success, but between Gary Moore and myself there is a sort of bond. We’ve worked on a lot of things together which sort of came to a level on Variations – what a long time ago that was!

Read more in mu:zines.

6 Comments to “There is a problem, and it’s called guitar”:

  1. 1
    Terry says:

    Don Airey is so refreshingly honest in interviews and gives a great insight to the workings of a band in the studio and on the road. I think Deep Purple have become a more honest band since he joined .

  2. 2
    uwe hornung says:

    He’s the best thing that could have happened to them after Jon had to make a choice. And he has developed and expanded his role since he joined them in leaps and bounds.

    And what I find personally especially gratifying is that not only has he changed DP, but DP have changed him too. The solo marathons at DP gigs have made him a much more fluent and expressive player. I’d go as far as to say that Don’s keyboards today are more dominant within DP’s sound than anything since Jon’s overbearing Hammond in Mk I days. And the band is better for it because he has something to say on his instrument.

    Jon was of course rock royalty and an icon – as well as a great musician in his own right. Creatively, he also really lit up within DP one more time on Purpendicular and the subsequent tours. But come Abandon, he took a step back (leaving Steve more space, something Steve himself has done with Don’s entry into the band) – maybe he was missing Ritchie more as his musical sparring partner than he cared to admit.

    Something in me still wishes that Jon would have recorded a DP album with Bob Ezrin at the producer’s helm too. This with all respect to Don who these days is the spit and vinegar of the band. Vielen Dank for that.

  3. 3
    Aireight says:

    I’d just been admiring his work with Cozy on Over The Top, then thinking how there could be no one else to replace Jon Lord. His connection with Gary is even more special. There’s an interview from around this time where Gary found Don after auditioning 55 players. Truly phenomenal.

  4. 4
    Uwe Hornung says:

    A very young Don Airey and a skinny Bernie Marsden (having survived his short-lived stint with pre-Schenker UFO) …


    Banal glam pop it is, I always liked that song, I knew it from some K-Tel Sampler (remember those? I think it was K-Tel’s Power Hits, the blue cover one). Powell was already in Rainbow when I heard it, but little did I know then that both Marsden and Airey too would play such a major role in the Purple family’s history going forward.

    That said, I have no idea whether Marsden and Airey actually played on the recording; with Mickie Most production stuff you could never be sure whether what you heard is what you saw.

  5. 5
    Ted The Mechanic says:

    Can any one tell me who the guy standing on Don’s Kurzweil seen in Hellfest’s Birds of Prey is? I cannot for the life of me determine.


  6. 6
    Solaic says:

    It is a bit strange though when Don mentions first incarnation of Ozzy’s band and talks about Tommy Aldridge….while it was really Lee Kerslake on drums then…

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