Posted May 2020
Boomerocity is dedicated to the entertainment interests of you, the baby boomer, or, at least those who are younger and who love our music and the artists who made it. With that, one might wonder why the heck am I interviewing someone who was part of one of the major chunks of the soundtrack of the eighties.
Of course, I’m talking about Adrian Vandenberg, the former guitarist for the group, Whitesnake.
Why Whitesnake on Boomerocity?
Well, because Whitesnake was one of the bands who managed to reflect some of the sounds of the seventies into the eighties. An integral part of that sound was Adrian Vandenberg’s signature guitar licks.
Since those chart-topping, heady days of the eighties, the band split up and went their separate ways. Vandenberg has stayed busy with various projects. Most notably, his own self-named band. And speaking of his band, Adrian is dropping a new LP this month (the 29th, to be exact) entitled, “2020” – and it’s the kind of album you would expect from Vandenberg and his band.
I called Adrian at his home in Holland, a couple of hours from Amsterdam. While making small talk before asking him questions about his new album, I asked him how many guitars he currently owns.
“Quite a lot, to be honest. I think probably about twenty, twenty-five. There were even more. I mean, for a couple of years, as you probably know, when I went to work with Warren Demartini - he used to be in Ratt - he did a tour with us in Whitesnake - and he called it ‘the acquiring syndrome’ that guitar players have, you know. You run into a great Marshall amp somewhere that you think I'm never going to find it like this again.’ You get it and you put it in storage or something. The same goes for the guitars. You run into a great guitar and you think you never gonna find one like that anymore. The stupid thing is that I keep playing pretty much the same Les Paul that I had bought brand new in 1980. It's become like a body part. I get like an almost human connection with that piece of wood.”
When Adrian learned that I live in Nashville, he said:
“Nashville has become basically what L.A. was in the eighties, as far as music goes. Everybody kind of moved to Nashville and people who are originally from Nashville, weren't too happy about it because it became less relaxed than what it used to be.”
Moving our chat to the new album, Adrian said:
“Well, yeah, I suppose it sounds like cliché because everybody says it about their new album, but I'm really, really excited and very, very happy about it because it turned out exactly as what I was hoping for. Which is, you know, you'll be able to hear, is like very organic, fresh, dynamic, straight-in-your-face rock without too much polishing like what happened in the 80s, as we all know. It was a lot of production and got very, very polished and lots of reverb as if we were all the way in the back of a big stadium. It was something I really aimed to put this album to sound like a serious kick-ass rock band, where you are right in front of the stage at one of the best rehearsals; where the guitar and the bass and the drums and the vocals are loud and when you close your eyes, you see the band playing right in front of you. That was basically my hope that it would turn out like that, and it does!
“The funny thing is that I'm still playing it a couple of times a day for my own entertainment. That's never happened before. I write the songs and I demo the songs and all the stuff. I must have heard the song a hundred or a thousand times and I'm still playing it so that’s a serious way of measuring my enthusiasm on the record.
When asked how long the record took to make, Adrian said:
I started writing as soon as I knew Ronnie was going to be in, I probably wrote for about a month and a half, two months or something, and had little bits and pieces. Then I started working on it before Ronnie joined because I was hoping he was going to join. I had a couple of riffs that I already wrote and worked them out as soon as I knew Ronnie was on board. Then I flew to Madrid where he lived, and I recorded his vocals on my demo that I made on my iPad. That sounded great already. And, then when we went to Los Angeles, it probably took about two and a half weeks. When I got back home, I finished a couple of guitar parts that I didn't have the time to finish before. All in all, I think the actual recording and the mixing probably took about two to three weeks.”
How was this record different to record than his past efforts?
“I had maybe a more specific plan about how I wanted it to work out, as far as dynamics, the content of it. It was – I wouldn’t say relatively easy, but in a way it was. It fell together very naturally. And I was really, really happy to find the drummer and the bass player in the band because they play about 90 percent of the album. Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy, they play two songs and all the other stuff is played by Koen (Herfst, on drums) and Randy (van der Elsen, on bass) – the bass player and the drummer. I'm really, really happy with the drummer.
The funny thing is I heard him in ’94 in Holland. It’s small here - the music scene is not too big. But I wasn’t aware with his playing until I found a drum solo of his online and I was blown away. What I really like about his drumming on this record is it's so energetic and kick-ass and loud and in-your-face and, at the same time, so graceful. It really has to drive that this kind of rock n roll needs, whether you're playing something mid-tempo or up-tempo or whatever. The energy of the whole band really comes across, which makes it an extra big bummer that we can't play for a while until all this Corona stuff is over. I think one of the strongest points of the record is that it really sounds like there's a band playing right in front of your face.”
In the course of the conversation, I brought up my recent chat with my friend and former Badlands’ bassist, Greg Chaisson. Adrian jumped right on the subject.
“I really like Badland. I know Jake E. Lee pretty well because I spent quite some time with him when Vandenberg was supporting Ozzy Osbourne on our first American tour at the time. I always thought it was so sad that Ray Gillam passed away because they were such a fantastic band and everybody that are into that kind of stuff and were into Badlands were really kind of expecting those guys would be pretty big. Then that happened. And apparently it kicked Jake's ass so hard - the whole sadness of it, he stayed way out of the music business for twelve or thirteen years.”
Concluding his thoughts on Badlands and its members, Adrian said about Chaisson:
“He’s a great player he always had a great time on stage and his cowboy hat. Very psyched, you know?”
Shifting gears, I asked Vandenberg to tell about his lead singer, Ronnie Romero.
“About five years ago, I read somewhere that Ritchie Blackmore wanted to do a couple of Rainbow shows again. I thought it was kind of curious because I've always been a very big Rainbow fan, especially from the period where Ronnie James Dio was singing. So, I was curious so I was gonna take a look on YouTube and see what he's going to do,
“I was blown away by this small Chilean guy singing like Dio in his best years. At the same time, singing songs like Soldier of Fortune that were originally, of course, sung by Coverdale and he sang it just as well. I thought, ‘Geez, where the hell does this guy come from?!’
“So, a couple of months ago when, Well, actually, a little longer than that - about three quarters of a year ago, I started thinking about reviving the name Vandenberg and making like a kick-ass album and putting the band on the road. I suddenly remembered Ronnie. I thought, ‘Hmmm, I'm curious, what are you doing these days? Because I knew that Blackmore only wanted to do a few such shows every two years. So, I said, ‘Maybe he’s interested in joining this band.’
“I got in touch with him. He was really enthusiastic because he does quite a lot of session stuff but he would prefer to be like in a main band like this, basically, and not sing everybody else's music all the time, like it like he does with all these other projects. So, it came at a good time for him, too.
“I flew to Madrid and we spent two days together. We hung out and we had a great connection right away, which is, of course, as you know, very important, because when you start touring, you're on each other's list, so to speak, all day. So, yeah, we had a great connection right away. I flew back a couple of weeks later, probably about a month or two months later when we had all the demos ready, which I like to record on my iPad, always makes. It makes it easier to work on a train or an airplane or wherever. And so, I went back to Madrid and explained the vocals to them, and he sang them already like 80 percent of the quality of how it sounds on the record. He just knew the songs. He's really quick. He said that it was because most of this music that I wrote fits him like a glove. You can hear that on the record.
“So, then a couple of weeks later, we found ourselves in LA recording the album with the Great Bob Marlette. We ended up working with Bob because he had exactly the same ideas about how this should sound as I did. And it turned out exactly what I was hoping for.”
What song would Adrian point to as a calling card for the entire album?
“Well, people who may never have heard of me, I would think if they hear Burning Heart, they will probably go, ‘Oh, yeah, I know that song’. But then I think a strong calling card would be ‘Shadows of the Night’ because it has all the elements that makes this band that strong. You know, it’s got great singing, amazing drumming. It's got the shortest guitar solo being the modest guy I am, the shortest guitar solo on the album.
“Another song would definitely be Hell and High Water because it's like an epic song. I really like one or two epic songs on any rock album that don't just do like four minutes, but definitely tell a longer story. So yeah, that those two are probably my main ones right now. But at the same time, I really got into a Freight Train because it's like one of those songs you like to play in your car and turn up and open the windows and let it blast away. It was one of those. So, I like those too, which one of the reasons why I play Highway to Hell still in my car because it's one of the songs. It would be great in a convertible cruising down some sunny road somewhere or some sunny highway.”
Because Vandenberg has been in the music business for as long as he has, I was curious about what the best and worst changes he has witnessed in it.
“One of the best changes are a few that I noticed that - and it could be connected to the worst thing in the business - is that live shows seem to be doing really, really well the last couple of years, more so than probably by 10 years ago. It could be it's connected to the fact that record sales are shit, of course. Music became like a snake almost. You can log in on Spotify and you can pretty much listen to everything for free even though it takes a lot of effort for an artist to make a record and to write it and to record. It takes all the money and all that stuff. It's pretty much free. I don't know if that results in the fact that live shows seem to have gained momentum. I don’t know if it's the same where you live, but in Holland, definitely - especially the festivals are booming right now. I mean, the last five, six years - in a tiny country like Holland, there's a zillion festivals and they're all doing great.
“I suppose, the worst thing is definitely the fact that record sales and that a lot of people seem to think that artists are pissed off about it because of the money. But that's not really it. The thing is that records used to be like a thing. It used to be, ‘Oh, man, there’s a new album coming out from Aerosmith’ or whatever, and you would go to the shop and look at the cover, and it would be like a thing that you could pick up and you really have something in your hands. Right now, it's like an abstract type thing that flows in the air somewhere. All you do is push the enter button on your computer and it's right there. So, yeah, that's not such a great thing. But in the end, I've always been convinced, one way or another, that music is always going to be such an important element of life for everybody. So many people realized that that daily stuff is usually accompanied by music, you know? They don't seem to think about it too much. But music has to be created first and recorded and that takes effort, money, and energy.”
What are Adrian’s near-term plans and how does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?
“Well, I can make a little story about the two of them, I suppose. I'm dying to take it on the road. I'm pretty confident that by the end of the year, it's even possible to start touring again. I wouldn't be surprised either if they had to take steps to make sure that everybody has to wear a mask or something. Maybe by the time there's a combination of medication that can cure everybody. That could be possible, too. So that's definitely one thing that I'm hoping for and relying on.
As far as the second one? I would suppose that for me, it's important to, because I've always been conscious about wanting to
live like that, to be remembered as a guy who was to close himself artistically. I've never made any concessions in my music or in my art, which I consider a huge privilege that I actually, have had to be able to do that. I really have to thank all my fans so to speak - or followers or whatever you want to call it - for that because those are the people who put you up there, to give you the opportunity to do what you like to do most and that comes out of your heart.
“That's another thing that I would like to be remembered for, is that I always musically did what I believed in such a way stay close to my own heart to make music that way; to make music that is honest and not contrived and that's not written in order to try to make money with it. I've never made any decision in my life based on financial motivations. You have to make your money, of course. You have to make a certain amount of money to live a life that gives you the freedom to create. For me, my living style is not very different than it used to be 40 years ago when I was just an art student. For me, the ultimate freedom is the freedom to create, whether I live in a one-room apartment or whether I live in the south of France in whatever kind of place.
“So, yeah, it's basically, honestly staying true to yourself and do as little or no artistic concessions in order to please the more financially driven elements in your life. Like record companies or fashion and music or whatever.”
Keep up with all the latest going on with Adrian by following him on Twitter (@Adriandenberg).