Check out this interview from “Classic Rock Revisited”.
By Jeb Wright
There are few keyboardists in hard rock that have the pedigree of Don Airey. Hmm, I better rethink that grand written statement. I am incorrect. There is only one keyboardist in hard rock that has the pedigree of Don Airey…and that is Don!
The man played with Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Gary Moore…just to name a few. It is Mr. Airey that’s talents recorded “Mr. Crowley” perhaps the most famous organ playing in hard rock music history. Oh…did I mention that since 2002 Don has been a member of Deep Purple? Only Don could have a chance to replace the mighty Jon Lord.
Don Airey is the rock ‘n’ roll keyboardist and that’s all there is too it.
In addition to all of the accolades I have given him in this intro…and believe me there are a lot more I could say…Don is also a very fine solo artist. Coming on May 25th is his next. It is hard rocking!
In the interview that follows Don gives us a bit of background on the album to come out called One of a Kind. Don promises that this a hard rock album that will please his guitarist friends who follow all of the bands he has been in.
Classic Rock Revisited will follow up with Don in May to talk more about the album. For now…we get the news of what is coming soon…Of course I take time to ask him about some of the stuff he has done in the past.
This is a fun interview with the best church organist I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Jeb: I have major respect for you as an artist. I am excited to hear you have a new album coming in May of this year. It is called One of a Kind. And Don…you’re one of a kind. How did that name come about?
Don: It was from a jam in a local rehearsal studio with Carl Sentance and Simon McBride – listening back to my recording afterwards I heard Carl sing “One of a Kind” over the chorus section. I think he was referring though to a glamorous young lady rather than a crusty old keyboard player.
Jeb: Your last album in 2014 was called All Keyed Up. That one rocked and was not at all what I expected out of a keyboardist. Will this one be similar?
Don: Its very much in the nature of a band album and it’s not so “prog” as the preceeding albums have been. Eleven songs, lots of soloing, melodies, riffs, something for everyone hopefully.
Jeb: Tell me about how writing differs when writing One of a Kind and writing Deep Purple music.
Don: The main difference is the time factor – you have a couple of days to get things together rather than a couple of months. Same with the recording sessions. I just take all the ideas that come tumbling out of the jams and try to turn them into songs.
Jeb: You’ve played with some of the best hard rock guitarist on the planet…how does Simon McBride hold up against them?
Don: Its very hard to compare one with another. I met Simon six years ago. We became friends after he played at my biannual fund raiser in the village where I live. I got him in to play on “Keyed Up” and then into doing some of the gigs. He’s one of the nicest people I have ever worked with a fund of ideas. He has a fluidity in his playing I haven’t encountered since working with Gary Moore. Incidentally, Simon is from Belfast, almost from the same district as Gary. But he is nevertheless very much his own man, and just hope I can hang on to him for one more project before he hits the stratosphere with his own.
Jeb: All are the 11 new songs….new compositions? Or have some been lying around?
Don: They are all brand new. Carl and myself are fairly dutiful about getting together for writing sessions and having Simon involved added a welcome new dimension and immediacy to our output.
Jeb: This is slated to come out May 25, 2018 on earMUSIC as 2CD release. The bonus disc is live from a live concert you did. They are classic Deep Purple, Rainbow and Gary Moore tunes. Which of these was the most fun to look back at and play live?
Don: Without a doubt “Still got the Blues.” Simon just nails it and I don’t know of anybody else that has, or could. And of course, on a personal level, it honors the memory of perhaps the greatest musician I ever knew.
Jeb: Here is a hard one…there is no real music business like there was back in the day you came to prominence. Why bother doing this type of stuff? Isn’t it easier to just play the hits and collect the checks?
Don: Stuck in my ways, I guess. My publisher and good friend Stuart Taylor used to say “If you want to be in the music biz, you have to make music. What you got?” Collecting checks in the music biz is a good trick if you can do it though.
Jeb: You like the Hammond. I’ve heard you even play at your church in your local village. Is that true?
Don: Yes, I am officially deputy organist at the local church, the only proper job I have ever had. If I am around and needed it’s a privilege to play there, but not the easiest of gigs, I have to say. The organ dates back to Victorian times, and is a splendid instrument, and of course you have really to be on your toes…keeping up with the choir…and not missing the many service cues…and remembering the important part dynamics and phrasing play in hymns, anthems and psalms.
Jeb: Get specific on what I am going to hear in May with these songs. What can your fans expect?
Don: Well, a large helping of English classic rock – perhaps more Rainbow-ish than DP.
Jeb: Are there any you think the fan base will find particularly exciting?
Don: Yes, its quite “heavy” in parts
Jeb: I want to do an in-depth follow-up interview when this album drops. But…I also want to end this sucker with a few self-indulgent questions as I am a huge fan of your work. Let’s start with a biggie…is Deep Purple close to retiring?
Don: With DP the watchword always is “Expect the Unexpected” but, obviously things are winding down though ever so slowly.
Jeb: How big of an influence was Jon Lord on you? Do you remember hearing his playing for the first time?
Don: First heard Jon on “Hush.” I had actually seen him play a couple of years prior to that with the Flowerpot Men at Nottingham University. I thought his playing was astounding; he was loud, driving, technically adept, and made it all look so easy. A good friend over the years to so many of us as well.
Jeb: Where I grew up we were not aware of Colosseum II. You were on their album in 1976. Tell me what that was like and what I missed?
Don: It was one of the many fusion bands that emerged in the wake of the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s success, lead by one of the greatest pros I have ever known drummer Jon Hiseman, and featuring the youthful genius of Gary Moore. We never quite captured it on record, but live the band was absolutely explosive, maniacal even.
Jeb: You were on Never Say Die by Sabbath? I heard that band was a drug infested mess at that time. What was that like?
Don: I remember walking into the session meeting Tony and Ozzy and them offering me a cup of tea. The control room was as though we were in a family’s front room. The two days of sessions were cool, calm and collected. Bill Ward did say to me at the end that he was getting a bit worried about Ozzy though. They couldn’t have been nicer to me, or more professional. I love that album.
Jeb: How did you meet Cozy Powell? I think you played on a solo album of his before you joined Rainbow.
Don: I was in Cozy’s band Hammer that had three hit singles in 1974. A lifelong friendship ensued. He was an amazing musician, especially in a recording studio. He was multi-talented as well and could have made a career as a racing driver, or at show jumping – an incredible horseman apparently. We recorded Over the Top his first solo venture, in London, immediately after finishing recording Down to Earth with Rainbow in France. Great days ay!
Jeb: Michael Schenker is a great guitarist…but another strong personality.
Don: Michael was one of the first people I knew in the biz to give up drinking – astonishing in 1975 – partaking only of sparkling mineral water. Trouble was, the gas turned to acid in his stomach over the months and put him in hospital with a severe bout of peritonitis.
Jeb: I want the untold story of writing the intro to “Mr. Crowley.”
Don: It was recorded in half an hour on a Minimoog and a Yamaha CS80—one of the first polyphonic synths—two hours into the Blizzard sessions. I thought little of it at the time.
Jeb: We all know the story that you flew in that plane only moments before Randy did. He was a friend to you. I think I saw where you played at a tribute to him recently.
Don: I just played at the “Remembering Randy Rhoads” event in Anaheim in January. It was a wonderful evening commemorating the man’s playing and composing. They even very graciously gave me an award. There is not a day goes by that I don’t think of Randy. He truly was one of a kind.
Jeb: That tour with Brad Gillis stepping into being Ozzy’s guitarist had to be emotionally hard…yet you guys killed it musically.
Don: Brad gave his all on his first real professional engagement and kept Ozzy afloat. Not very sure that Brad enjoyed his time in the band though. When I bumped into him recently in Nashville he couldn’t have been less pleased to see me.
Jeb: Gary Moore was another one…I’ve heard you were very important to getting Gary to start recording blues. Is that true?
Don: I mentioned to Gary that I had done a gig with a band called The Hawks in my local pub, featuring the twin guitar work of Mick Grabham and Ray Minhinnet. I said how impressed I was not only with their playing, but the whole measured blues feel of the band. Gary must have got hold of their album, because several of the same songs figured on Still Got the Blues. He also got hold of their rhythm section, bass player Andy Pyle and drummer Graham Walker. It definitely is the album where he found himself.
Jeb: Gary was a fast living guitarist. There has to be a couple tales of Gary and Don sucking down suds on the road…
Don: There are quite a few, but I can’t tell you them!
Jeb: Who am I missing? Oh…Glenn Tipton…Baptism of Fire. I think you played on the title track. Sad news about his health…
Don: I have worked on six projects with Glenn including three Priest albums. He is a gentleman and a scholar, and the real godfather of English heavy metal. Yes, very sorry to hear his news.
Jeb: Andrew Lloyd Webber…wow! Tell me about working with him.
Don: It was with Colosseum II. We were on the same record company. He’d heard War Danceand asked us to participate in the making of Variations. The recording lasted a week. Andrew was very charming, full of ideas, and before we knew it we were number 2 in the album charts. Still get the checks from his office 40 years on.
Jeb: Last one…what is up the rest of 2018 and next year? Will there be solo shows? More DP? What’s next?
Don: Just finished a three-week club tour of Europe with the band that plays on One of a Kind. Getting ready to do a four-month summer run of festivals with DP starting in Mexico in May, with perhaps a UK tour in November with my own band following up on the release of One of a Kind.
Jeb: Okay…really last one…you play with great guitarists…Are you really a frustrated guitarist?
Don: No, I’m really a frustrated keyboard player.