j o h n s y k e s
j u l y 9 9 - i n t e r v i e w

My interview with John Sykes was more of a chat session! It was pretty laid back and I have basically run through his career, of which I am a big fan.
There is a few interesting moments, especially when David Coverdale is discussed.
Before you get into it a few updates from a brief chat with John last week.
The album will indeed still have some elements of hip-hop, but not on every track and it will not be a George Lynch. I told John about that album and that is not what he is doing. It will mix elements of the classic Sykes sound with the new.

Also out is the chance of doing any work with David Lee Roth (discussed below). John Kalodner was putting something together but is now unwilling to involve David further after the two met just a couple of weeks ago.

That's about the update, besides the new album will be out in September-(ish) - now enjoy the interview!

John! So how's things?
Good, going very well

Excellent. You've got a new record just about in the can?
Well I'm working on it, I'm about two thirds of the way through it currently. You know just trying to get it polished and hopefully it'll be out by the end of summer.

The Japanese tend to get a bit excited and a bit ahead of themselves because they had you releasing it in April, then in June.
I think they just say that in wishful thinking. Actually I think they just released a Best Of, or a compilation.

Yeah, it came out just a little while back.
Yeah, so I don't want to throw them out too quick. I like to give people a little bit of breathing space so you don't bore them to tears.

You have been fairly prolific in the last few years haven't you?
Yeah I try to be you know, with Loveland and 20th Century I've sort of been chugging away at it.

Is it easier to make records these days, now that you sort of make them for yourself?

Umm, sometimes it's easier, sometimes you get a bit of a block, it just depends. It's one of those things. I mean for the most part it's fairly easy but sometimes you've got to have a bit of piece of mind and dig really deep to come up with something that's worthwhile.
Hopefully the old inspiration will keep coming. You know in the next 10 and 20 years.
I have to write something that's interesting, something that turns me on first and for most.

I've got a couple of questions about the older albums, but I'll shoot a couple of questions about the new one at the moment.
What are you doing with the new album? Style wise?

Oh I've been working with a few people to give it a bit of a different flavor. You know it's got a bit of a hip-hop feel on some of it. Hip hop and heavy guitars. So it's kind of interesting. Going into some different territory with that and with some of my older style stuff.

Older style…what do you mean by that?
Well with the heavy guitar sound.

The Blue Murder sort of sound?
The lead guitars anyway….

Are you doing lead vocals on this?
Yeah. I've been working with a black guy called Peter Black who is working with me on the project, some of the project anyway, programming loops and stuff. I may bring him into the unit and share some vocal parts with him. I don't want to think too much about that yet.

And who is in the rest of the band?
Marco Mendoza will be playing bass as usual. I've been working with a guy called Bonnie Bonapart, who played a few drum tracks on 20
th Century for me.
I may get Simon Phillips in to cut a few tracks depending on his availability, as I do like working with him.

Yeah he has a good reputation.
He's a great player you know.

What about you working with Glenn Hughes then?
Well we'd been talking about doing something for a long time.

Two Englishmen in LA.
Yeah. We've talked about it for ages but hadn't had a chance to sit down and get into it. Yeah I think we'll get together in the not so distant future. I'm not sure if there's going to be anything on this record with him.

Have you heard his new album?
Yeah it's great.

It's sensational isn't it.
I love his singing. Yeah he's one of the classics. He's just amazing.

Well, I'll go back to a bit of your catalogue if I can.
I'll start with the most recent and go back. The Chapter One release. Did the label put that together?

Yeah they kinda put it together. I haven't actually even got a copy of that. I haven't even seen the damn sleeve on it. I think they threw it together. I really haven't heard that much about it.
I just know it's a compilation of a lot of my old tracks.

Well there could have been a few more Blue Murder tracks but I guess the label would have had to have licensed those.
Yeah probably one of the reasons they didn't. I would think they were leaning it more in their favor.

Yeah I reckon that what they've done, but it's still a good collection of tunes.
That's ok, when I put out Chapter 2, I'll put more of the old ones on there.

Good one. Tell me, your records have been solely for the Japanese now for a few years, are there any plans for licensing for other territories.
Yeah I've really gotta get that stuff together. I've just been doing the Japanese thing for awhile now cause it's easy. I guess I really have to get off my arse and get into some other stuff.
I've kind of been a bit lazy in that department.

Is that something you would work on, or your manager?
I guess it would be something the manager would work on. But I've been just hitting the Japanese thing and it has been quite successful for me. It's been comfortable and easy. I should really stretch out and get some distribution worldwide.

I know a couple of labels that have formed over the last couple of years that would probably be interested. I should steer them your way to see if they bite at it. It would be great to see European or American release.
Yeah it would be really. I guess there are a lot of fans all over that would like to get their hands on it and then they have to go through Japan for extortionist prices.

It cost $50 Australian for a Japanese disc.
That's ridiculous. I have thought about selling it myself on the net. Maybe I'll do that.

Well that is what this interview is for, my website. There are certainly some fans out there.
That's killer.
You know in America the general consensus is that rock is dead. Ever since the alternative thing came in. With rock, it's like they just don't want to know about it.

That's the same as here.
It's a shame really. Because good music is good music.

Yeah well from friends I've grown up with and talk to still ask me "what are these guys up to".
It's like well they are still going, the bands, but you just don't hear about them. You can't pick up a magazine and read about it.
It's just not mainstream anymore. I mean I went to see Toto at the House of Blues, the other week.
They were fucking great.
Steve Lukathur is just an amazing guitar player. Even Steve said on stage the same thing about rock, and that they get no support from their label.
People are kind of interested, but because it's not in the mainstream it doesn't get that push. But life goes on!
Its strange cause a lot of the older bands have these reunions and they seem to do really well.

You've done the Thin Lizzy thing a couple of times, did you enjoy that?
Yeah we've done that a few times and it's always fun. You know we go out and pay our respects to Phil Lynott. He wrote damn good songs. It's just a great pleasure to go out and play and think of him.
Like a group of old veterans we tell a few lies and have a few laughs. Go and play the tunes and it's great.

I talked to Darren Wharton about that and he was much in the same opinion. He said it's great to get out there and play the tunes again.
You know Phil is one of those guys that should be in the Hall Of Fame really.

What is it about Phil that has made such an impression on so many people?
Well, just an unbelievable charisma.
An outstanding talent. To be honest, in being in this business 20 years like I have, you never met anybody like him. He was definitely a one off. They broke the mould after him. He was one of those blokes that absolutely lived it. He was sort of like a Keith Richards sort of character. He was just a born rock ' n roller. He lived every second of it.

Yet unfortunately didn't make it through.
Yeah unfortunately he didn't, because he was the real thing. There's not too much of that around.

Is there any chance of you, because Darren tossed it around, of you maybe recording some new material?
Maybe the original members, but not necessarily under the Thin Lizzy name.
I don't really know, I've talked to Scott. He's asked me about doing some recording. I wouldn't want to go and record under the Thin Lizzy name, it wouldn't be right. Thin Lizzy was really the band around Phillip. It's different to go and play under that name and pay respect to Phil.
More of a tribute thing. It's a whole other bag of apples to go out and record under Thin Lizzy.
Me personally I wouldn't feel right about it. That's not to say I wouldn't go and record something under a different name with Scott.

What's Scott doing these days?
I think he's probably playing golf and watching a lot of telly.

Haha! I loved his 21 Guns album. I thought it was sensational.
His new one.

Yeah, his first one was my favourite.
Actually I think I prefer the first one.

I think the singer did it for me in the first one. Maybe the songs were a little bit better in the first one.
That was a good solid album the first one. I probably only heard the second one once or twice.
I really need to listen to a record four or five times before I can judge it. It takes me awhile to get familiar with all the songs.

So going back a little bit further. Why 20
th Century and Loveland, why split them into two releases?
You know a rock album and a ballad album?

Well initially the label wanted me to do a 7 track extended play of some ballads.
I started laying them down and recording them and I had a few tracks left over.
I just called up the AOR guy and said we might as well do a ten-track album, instead of a 7 track EP because this stuff was sounding pretty solid.
After I played him some stuff he agreed. So I went with the full album on it.
I'm glad I did cause I love that album a lot. There's a lot of variety on it. It was a nice break to get away from the rock stuff. Then after that I was definitely geared up to do a good solid rock record.

So they were separate recording sessions?
Yeah, separate. So I pretty much wrapped up the ballad one and a lot of people were going he's gone soft!
So I thought fuck it and threw the 20
th Century one together.

Yeah well you don't get much heavier than 20
th Century.
Yeah it's a pretty driving record.

It signaled the return to the big guitar sound.

Well obviously on Loveland, cause that was a ballad record, but even before that. On 'Out Of My Tree" you kind of departed the big sound a little bit.
Yeah that was a little different too. I try to diversify as far as the albums go. I try not to remake the same record over and over again. Which some people tend to do. Always trying to get into some different area, different space.

How was the response to those three albums?
Yeah, it was good. To be honest as far as the fans go, at least in Japan, I always get a good reception. The fans are pretty loyal with me. The fans went with me, and accepted the ballad album and it got great reviews. People seemed to like it. It was actually nice to have a little break and show people another side to what I could do.

The one before that was the Blue Murder live album. That was a monster live record.
Yeah that was one we recorded in Tokyo.

That was the one that completed your contract with Geffen?
Yeah that was the last thing with Geffen.
So I did that and fulfilled that contract. I went over to the Mercury people in Japan. I mean Geffen didn't really do a lot for me, so it wasn't like I was losing a whole lot.

Yeah they had two good damn records and…
And they kind of sat on both of them, which wasn't too pleasing. What can you do, you can't cry about spilt milk. You have to get on with it and like 'fuck 'em.'

I was talking to John Waite and he said almost the same thing - after Mercury dropped the ball on with his last album.
John Waite from the…

The Baby's and Bad English.
Oh, he's great. Bad English was a great band. He's a great singer.

Totally! Now, If I go back to the start of Blue Murder.
Actually I'll go back a bit further. Whitesnake. Can I swear in front of you John?…..David Coverdale.
Oh yeah. I don't think anything which way on it. (laughs) That's so old, almost like a lifetime ago.

1987 is such a phenomenal album.
Well, its funny people still till this day come up to me and ask me when I'm going to get back with Whitesnake. When are we going to see you and David together? I have.
Although we did some great work together and everything else he kinda has to get off his high horse a bit if we are ever going to work together again.

There are two things that I have read in interview that David has said I'll run past you to see what you think. The first was 'You and him recreated rock history inside 5 day when you wrote this album, recreated the hard rock sound."
I think it might have been longer that 5 days but I think he might be right. You know when that album came out I think it definitely made a few people sit up and listen. But the thing is I just can't understand why he killed it so quickly. I think one of the reasons people sort of got disappointed by the Whitesanke band, is that 9 times out of 10 when people buy a record they want to see the people that played on the product perform the product. Not David Coverdale the voice and then a backing band form the local bar or pub. They want to see the real deal. He sort of robbed people of that opportunity and I think it's a real shame.

There was such a great line up on there.
I think it was very short sighted of him to do that, although he probably made a killing to start with.
In the long run I think it's probably hurt the whole thing.

Who or what got in his ear and convinced him that he needed a new band?
I can't really say cause I don't really know.
I mean if it had been just one person, fired me or just one of the band member's cause they'd had a little tiff or tizzy or something you could understand it. But he fired everybody. The drummer, bass, me, the producer. It was like he was just cleaning shop and the only reason I could imagine that would be for is so he could have a lot more control of things, certainly in the financial department.

I mean the record that followed that he even stiffed his guitarist (Vandenberg) to bring in Steve Vai.
Well the thing is if he needs a blues based guitar player - he's not a blues player.

The record was ok but it didn't suit the whole feel of his voice at all.
It was almost like it wasn't believable anymore. It was like these semi rock/pop songs.
There wasn't really a whole lot of depth to it I felt.

I don't think any of his records match that sound, because of the guitar sound, the rhythm section.
Well actually David's just used my bass player on his record, Marco Mendoza.

I was going to ask you about that. Did you feel betrayed by Marco?
Well I wasn't too pleased about it and I did give him a good chewing up about it.
I know Marco has to make a living. He said to me it was basically just a cheque to him, which is fair enough. It's just a session to me. Initially I felt a bit betrayed by him but after talking to him he has assured me it was only money to him. I've got to be a big enough man to take it and get on with things.

The other thing that Coverdale said and for me this just sums him up. ' You and Robert Plant should go off and form a band called the Anti Christ's.
Me and Robert Plant?!! The Anti Christ's?!
Hahahaha!! Him and Plant aren't real good buddies.
Dearie me, he's still all upset.

This is about 5 years ago.
I did talk to Robert once. Later I got a call from one of his personal assistants to go check out his show. I went down and met with him briefly but nothing ever came of it.
That makes me laugh. Anti Christ's, not a bad idea.
David may have felt a bit threatened by Robert, with all his years in the business. With me, I pretty much say what's on my mind. Especially when it comes to creative things. Sometimes it like you just say your thing, not a big deal. But if somebody constantly want you to kiss their arse and you don't do that. It becomes something some people can' t handle too much. I'm just not an arse kisser.

What's he doing, a solo record?
Yeah, he's got some called Earl Slick playing guitar on it.
I can't think of what he did?

He was in Phantom Rocker and Slick and Dirty White boy with David Glenn Eisley.
Oh he's got a hell of a good voice. I nearly had him in the band for Blue Murder at one stage.

Slick was also in Little Caesar.
I think David's got someone else in the band. Maybe someone from Mister Mister. What's his name…Steve….

Yeah? Steve Farris?
He's a real nice bloke.
Well that's about it from that front.
I spoke to John Kalodner. He was trying to get me and David back together.
I can see that John would like to recreate the old magic. Like he has done with Aerosmith.

Now, I've got about half a dozen questions form fans online.
One of them asked now that John Kalodner is resurrecting the portrait label in Sony is there any chance you will end up over there with all the other 80's geezers?

Well I haven't called him and asked him about that one. I'm not sure. I'm doing this next record.
He did mention to me briefly about doing a soundtrack cut for a movie with David Lee Roth. Which I don't think is going to come through, as I didn't hear more about it.

So you are playing guitar for David Lee Roth.
Yeah, for a new movie with Adam Sandler. Like I say I didn't hear anymore about it.

You jumped to Geffen and put out Blue Murder, that was around '89.
Yeah I came out with a pretty heavy one. It might have been a bit too heavy.
That one has almost become like a cult classic. It's like a record that you really like and then still like it 10 years later.
It doesn't sort of get old and wear out on you. It still stands the test of time. I definitely had a lot of angst in me at that time

Over the Whitesnake thing?
Yeah I really wanted to come out with something that would establish me; I did feel cheated about the Whitesnake thing.

How many did that go on to sell?

Pretty solid figures then.
Yeah I still don't feel that the label promoted it that well. Other bands were selling bigger units.
There were a couple of singles on there. I just didn't think that the label backed it up that well.
You really have to have a whole lot of things in line all at the same time, ready to go, to get the green light from upstairs. If you don't really get to make everything happen at the one time, you know promotion, making sure you are on the TV a lot, maximum exposure. If all that's not happening pretty soon the whole deck of cards fall on you. There was a lot of radio interest in Jellyroll but no real follow up from the label.
I've heard through the grapevine I probably shouldn't have signed on the same label as David, he had a hell of a lot of power there with all the record reps. I might have suffered a little bit with that.

Previously we didn't even know you as a lead singer?
I didn't even know myself actually. I tried a lot of guys. Tony Martin from Sabbath for example. But the thing was I kept trying all these different guys but I had already sung a lot of the songs in the demo format myself.
I think what happens is when you listen to something over and over again you kinda get brainwashed with it and I think when I sent it to John he's listened to it so much with my vocals, eventually he said just sing it yourself. I didn't really want to get into that but kinda got pushed it to it…eventually once I got into it I became comfortable with it.

You've got a sensational voice. It suited the material.

Another question now.
As far as singing is concerned how much and to what extent have Phil Lynott and David Coverdale left their mark on you?

They have definitely left their mark on me as far as working with them; I've picked up a lot of influences from both of them. I think in some of my songs you can hear a bit of both of them.
I was fortunate really and lucky to have worked with both of them. I mean David is one fucking good singer. Phil was an amazing singer in his own right. I managed to pick up a bit from both.

Yeah you do a great version of 'Still In the Night'…

Haha! It was about 9 minutes long?
Well we've played that song and it's lasted 25 minutes.

Haha! Awesome. What about that famous solo in it with the cello?
Yeah, well that was actually the first part of that song I wrote…was the middle section.
All that was written on guitar in my mum's kitchen. It wasn't till months and months later that I came up with the other stuff and basically got the riffs and the chord for the verses.

You must learn form people you work with cause after the first Blue Murder you produced the second one yourself?

Why did you decide to do that?
More control.
Not really the control thing. I had a lot of time on my hands. Actually if I'd used a producer it probably would have got done a hell of a lot quicker.
I was just mucking about and experimenting. I thought I would just give it a go.

How does it compare working with Neil Murray and Unbar to Menoza and O'Steen?
Well I never worked with Dunbar in a live situation; we only worked in the studio.
Working with Neil was great. Good solid player. Not as fiery as Marco.
I can always rely on Neil, very rarely fucks up. Marco's just an amazing player.
He's got a lot of heart and soul. He can play pretty much anything you want him to play.
Tommy a great drummer.

What's the deal with the Thin Lizzy boxset?
I don't really know. I don't know how many different box sets you can put out really.

Is there any original Blue Murder demos with Ray Gillan and Cozy Powell featuring on them?
I didn't even know you had Ray Gillan on some vocals?
Oh yeah. There was a lot of stuff on reel to reel that, I think got wiped. There is some stuff I think I've got in the archives.
I have thought about releasing that. I did think about it when Ray died. I have a great original version of ' Riot ' with Cozy Powell on. Where he just slamming on it.

Yeah poor old Cozy as well huh.
Yeah. Actually Cozy played a lot on the old demos. Some of them have Ray on vocals. At some point I will go through it all. I will do a box set with some these rare recordings.

Well next time I'm out there, I'll come and sort it out for you.
Yeah, ok. How often do you get out here?
Give us a call when you get out here. It's a great place.
Thanks a lot for this and the good questions.

Sure, a pleasure John!
Well listen you have a good one and we'll talk soon.
Well I'll hopefully talk to you in the not so distant future

Bye mate.