Andy Timmons Interview - Sonic Integrity
If you were to ask a dozen or so top professional rock guitarists
to name some of their favourite players, the odds are that the name Andy Timmons would feature prominently. The definition of a consummate professional, Andy has had a long and varied career since he first came to attention at the tail end of the 80’s with hair metal rockers Danger Danger.
As a player Andy really has it all, with an ability to cope with any musical setting it is little wonder that he has become one of the top session players in the US and has played with everyone from Paula Abdul, Pink and Paul Stanley to Kip Winger and LeAnn Rhymes.
Andy Timmons has an amazing touch; and is known as one of the most tasteful rock players out there. Equally at home chicken pickin as he is on a high energy rock solo, Andy is one of the enviable few whom you can recognise within one note.
Currently musical director for Olivia Newton John, Andy is also pursuing a successful and critically acclaimed solo career. Alloutguitar.com talked with Andy on his return from touring with Olivia Newton John as he was getting ready to release his long-awaited new album ‘Resolution’.
How did the Olivia Newton John tour go?
We just did Australia and Japan and it was awesome, man; great shows, great playing and on the final night we recorded and filmed the show for a DVD release at the Sydney Opera House – you know a great way to end the tour!
Early Days and Influences
Where did you grow up, and what were your earliest memories of the guitar?
I was born in Arizona and lived there till I was about five and some of my earliest memories were of my older brothers playing guitar. There was always a lot of 50’s and 60’s pop played around the house – The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Hermans Hermit’s – so I grew up with music. There’s an early photo of me onstage with a toy plastic guitar at 3, maybe 4, years old and I’m doing the whole ‘rockstar pose’ – and imitating the guy on the back of The Hermans Hermit’s ‘Greatest Hits’ record.
I guess I first properly picked up the guitar around 6 or 7, just picking out single note melodies like ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ by The Monkees. Having older brothers around who played meant that I was influenced by what they doing – and when they were out I was always sneaking into their bedrooms playing their guitars – same old story!
Can you remember what your earliest influences were?
I was purely self taught, and being the early 70’s I was now listening to a lot Ace Frehley – the Kiss ‘Alive’ album was pretty seminal – ‘Frampton Comes Alive’, Ted Nugent, Rush were a big influence for a while…
It has been noted that you share some similarities to Michael Schenkers style, were you ever a fan?
With Schenker it was later on. In my first band, which was around 8th Grade, we did a bit of UFO – ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Rock Bottom’, but generally I got into the European players a fair bit later when I could already play pretty good – and Jeff Beck pretty much the latest of all.
You have often been quoted as saying that your main influences were came from Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton…
Lukather first really hit me when I heard ‘Breakdown Dead Ahead’ by Boz Scaggs on the radio, and then of course the first Toto album – again around 76,77. It was rock guitar certainly, but there was definitely something else going on as well – you know some of the chromaticism – it was just a hipper harmony. With Carlton I’ll never forget the first time some one played me one of the Crusaders records. Larry’s ‘335’ album is to this day one of the greats.
The thing is I heard these guys back to back the same summer and it changed the way I looked at and heard the guitar. They both connected with me in a very different way to the normal rock guys, and this was the beginning of a liking for that whole West Coast Session scene and sound. I looked into lots of the other guys around at that time – Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Elliot Randall, and Rick Derringer – you know that whole Steely Dan scene. It took me in a whole new melodic direction – I didn’t necessarily learn all their stuff note for note, but I really listened to it a lot…..
When did you start playing live?
My first gig was my own 8th Grade Graduation Ball, and it was a power trio; we were doing all Rush, Ted Nugent, Kiss stuff – although at this one I think I had my back to the audience the whole gig! I ended up playing with that drummer for years, right up until I left for Miami to go to University. By the time I was 16 I was gigging 3, maybe 4 times a week.
As a teenager learning how to play in the 1970’s hearing Eddie Van Halen must have been a pretty major event?
Once Eddie arrived it was a turning point, it was like there’s no turning back now. I remember hearing Eruption the first time, and everyone freaked. I got the Guitar Player mag which showed how he did it – you know that whole two handed tapping technique. Before that I had thought that it was him moving his right hand behind his left – moving the nut around or so to speak. (Ed note: US guitarist Brad Gillis, who made his name in the stadium rock band Night Ranger made somewhat of a feature of this technique.) We used to do ‘You Really Got Me’ in my band at that time – and I did it the wrong way for years! He really shook it all up, no one in the rock world like it – I mean Allan Holdsworth was around, but he came from an elite ‘jazz fusion’ background – what Eddie did was good old rock’n‘roll, which was accessible to just about anyone.
When did you start to have formal lessons?
From about 15/16 I first had some lessons by a local guy who was a real deal Jazz guitarist. He started me on learning how to read music – at first just pretty basic single note melodies – and then onto some Jazz standards. I also took Classical lessons at around 18. I was pretty decent as a rock player but, by this time I knew that I wanted to make music my living and making it in a rock band seemed such a long shot. So with all these studio guys around that I used to read about – and Tommy Tedesco’s column in ‘Guitar Player’ magazine was an influence – I thought it made sense to become as well-rounded possible.
You see, when I heard the really tricky stuff, well, it was often the Jazz and Country guys – “How do these guys know what notes to play?”
I was really enamoured with these players and it really drew me in.
I was really lucky to have this guy Ron Pritchett who turned me onto players like Joe Pass and Barney Kessell, and he could play that stuff very well. Being immersed into these guys really got my ears attuned to this. I am still in touch with Ron, and he still lives and teaches in Evansville, Indiana, and he’s a really great teacher. He has a really good jazz chord method book out –I think it’s available on line and we’re going to revamp my site to have some links.
The 1980’s saw a massive increase in rock based guitarists going on to study at places like Boston’s Berklee College of Music and Hollywood’s GIT; what made you decide to give The University of Miami a try?
In the early 80’s there was a real attraction to go here – Steve Morse and The Dregs, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheney had all been and there was a really happening vibe about the place. It was really between here and Berklee, and for a small town guy it was more my scene than the East Coast Big City Berklee idea. It was a lot smaller, and you know had a more intimate
environment. By the time I got to Miami I was sort of fully formed as a rock player, but while I played a little Jazz I was by no means proficient at it. But what was good was that out of every group of players there would be someone who was a real rock player, one a jazzer, another a country guy and so on. It was a very helpful environment – just absorbing these separate stylistic influences.
An area that I really wanted to focus on was to learn to read properly – as I’ve said, I had the basics down but there were guys here so fluent and for what I envisaged I would be doing career wise it was something that I really needed to focus on. Reading is very much like playing through changes – something you use or lose. And to be honest, I am pretty rusty as we speak because now I don’t get that much call for it.
What do you think are the real benefits of your University experiences?
There was a combination of things. Because there was such a high level of players there you couldn’t help but improve, but first and foremost it was the understanding of music, how the whole thing worked. As a group we all knew that we had our medium and sharp points, so we would hang around with each other and play as much as possible. I was one of the rock guys, there were some funky Nile Rogers guys, a lot of Carltons and Jazzers – I remember one who had jammed with Joe Pass a lot; these were all serious players. I am still in touch with a lot of them and quite a few have made good careers out of it, doing sessions and film scores and the rest – one of the guys Timmy Mitchell is with Shakira, so we all sort of did it you know.
At around this time Yngwie Malmsteen hit, most guitarists have an opinion about the charismatic Swede! What were your impressions of him?
Yngwie was the next guy in that “Oh my God!” list – Hendrix, Eddie and then Yngwie – as far as taking it to the next level and showing what was possible. He also has an incredibly expressive vibrato, and command of dynamics; sounds strange when talking about Yngwie, but what I really like though is when he slows down!
A Varied Career
In 1989 Andy stuck it big as a member of melodic rock band Danger Danger, and their self-titled debut album on Imagine/Epic Records was a big hit, spawning two hit singles in ‘Naughty Naughty’ and ‘Bang Bang’. A rock band with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, Danger Danger released ‘Screw It’ in 1991 and looked set for a long and successful career. How do you view those days now?
The whole Danger Danger thing was both a blessing and a curse. It was a great opportunity to live out a childhood fantasy, and I got to open for a lot of the bands that I’d worshipped when growing up. My roots are total rock – my first ever concert was Kiss on the Destroyer tour, and here I am a dozen years later opening up for them – so it was pretty much like a dream come true…but at the same time it was what it was. I had spent a whole load of time trying to be this well versed, rounded player, but here I was in a band that wasn’t really respected. That whole 80’s hair band thing – and here I was right in the middle of it! There was a lot of the good, the bad, and the ugly about this period. From purely a rock’n’roll lifestyle thing it was very entertaining! But all those stories about the nature of the business are true man. It’s a very-cut throat life, and at first I wasn’t really cut out for it – moving to New York, being in a band of New Yorkers… dealing with all the business people.
Legal battles with label Sony in 1993 meant that the third album ‘Cockroach’ was shelved and things fell apart all too soon. Soon the whole of the rock industry changed as Grunge swept in…
Danger Danger were unlucky in the timing – a few years earlier and we could have ridden the success for longer. The first album happened pretty quickly – MTV jumped on it and we toured it everywhere and it did real well, but by ‘Screw It‘…it was that little bit too late. At this time a lot of bands were chasing the tail of Bon Jovi and it did get too saturated. We had our window of opportunity, and grabbed a bit of success particularly in Europe and Asia, but things had shifted by the turn of the decade.
By the time we came to do ‘Cockroach’ things were pretty strained; Ted Poley had quit just after we finished the record so we had to re-do it with Paul Laine – and we had longstanding problems with the record label. When ‘Screw It’ was released there were a hell of a lot of US fans who didn’t even know the thing was out it had so little promotion. There was a real concerted effort by MTV, and to a lesser extent radio, to kill the scene. Kip Winger told me a story about how he had a chat with an MTV executive to ask about why the new Winger video was being ignored, and it was like “I dunno Kip, there’s this new band Pearl Jam and we are going to make them the biggest band in the world”.
Well, fair enough, but it was kind of brutal the way the industry tried to suddenly dispose of a whole genre. There were millions of fans into this music, they hadn’t disappeared somewhere…but if they were not being told about new releases, or given the chance to see a band on tour then they will move on to a new band, you know? Looking back, I can see the whole melodic rock thing had maybe got too refined and polished, with everything Mutt Langed into oblivion – some people perhaps couldn’t relate to them as proper bands anymore. The grunge thing was a definite reaction to that, and brought back that ‘bunch of guys in a room knocking out real music’ kind of vibe – it somehow had a more genuine, no bullshit feel too it – more life to it.
You were already an experienced session guitarist at the time that Danger Danger broke big; do any memorable early sessions stick in your mind?
From a personal point of view one of the most memorable was a demo session for Paul Stanley. Danger Danger had toured with Kiss a couple of times and I was still living in New York, and Paul was in Manhattan. I got the gig through a mutual friend – a bass player called Bobby Held who was working with Paul. So, I got this message on the answer phone one night “Hey Andy, it’s Paul Stanley. Give me a call – I wanna do some work with you.” I remember I was eating an apple or something and I nearly choked!
You’ve gotta understand that these guys were my heroes when I was a kid and one of the main reasons that I was in this whole business. So to actually work with one of your original idols is definitely, you know, one of life’s good moments!
Anyway, I get down to this studio and there’s also Eric Singer on drums; Bobby and Paul were working away on this tune and it’s a cool acoustic 12 string type piece – kind of a pop tune. I later found out that Paul was trying to get it used by Rod Stewart. Paul said that the song was originally one of the outtakes from the Rock’n’Roll Over album – again an album sitting in my bedroom growing up that I wore out – so the whole thing felt really cool, sort of being linked to a bit of real rock’n’roll history there. I never did get a copy of what we did though – every time I see Paul I ask him and it’s “Yeah, I’ll get it to you kid” but…15 odd years later I’m still waiting!
You took part in a mega line up gig at the 1993 NAMM; what memories have you of this show?
This show was great exposure for me and led on to loads of things. Ibanez and Tama were doing this thing called ‘Axe Attack’, which was a series of live shows at the 1993 NAMM show, and it was a real mega line up: Steve VaI, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Reb Beach, Alex Skolnick and Shawn Lane. Ibanez came to me and said that they were putting together a rhythm section with Simon Phillips and they had recommended me to Simon. Simon stipulated that as well as backing all these guys he would do some of his own songs in between the other artist sets.
So for me it was great; I had the opportunity to not only back up and play with all these monster players but also to play solo with Simon. Of course this was demanding to say the least – here I was on stage still reading off the charts in front of audience, and my reading at this particular point in time was pretty crappy! But it all ended up real good and opened up a whole new audience and stylistic genre for me.
Did taking part lead on to further things?
One of the doors NAMM opened up for me was touring and recording with Simon. Simon had been working pretty much exclusively since the 70’s with Ray Russell – an English session guitarist – but for some reason he couldn’t do the European Tour so when Simon called me up I grabbed it.
The mid to late 1990’s saw Andy go it alone, sorting out the release and distribution of the acclaimed instrumental albums ‘ear X-tacy’ in 1994, followed by ‘ear-X-tacy 2’ in 1997. More vocal orientated projects followed with “Pawn Kings” in 1997 and ‘Orange Swirl’ culminating with “The Spoken and The Unspoken” in 1999. I ask Andy why he felt the need to do these independently…
After my Danger Danger experience I wasn’t too much in a hurry to get tied in with a record label again. This time around I wanted to own my own records, and never be in the situation where you’ve put your heart and soul, and so much work, into something that ends up not being yours in any way – and you have no control or say as to what is done with it. No; for a few years there I simply did all of it myself, and got some licensing deals in Europe and Japan.
The Andy Timmons Band got together in 1988, and that line up was basically the same right up to the ‘Ear-X-tacy’ record. We’d recorded loads of tracks over the years – in my downtime from touring and whatever (just fun stuff at home) so when the Danger Danger thing was sort of done with, we all hooked up and looked at the tracks and realised we actually had a record here. So, rather then re-do it all again in one go – and possibly lose a lot of great spontaneous moments – instead we cleaned up what we had and put it out as it was. And you know, as a record of different moments in time and my career, well, I think it stands the test. You can definitely hear the changes in my playing over the years.
An absolute classic from this period is the haunting ‘Cry For You’ – an instrumental masterpiece. It is highly recommended that readers check out Andy’s ‘Live Bootleg’ DVD (available from his website) which features an amazing rendition of this track (alongside some storming versions of other Andy Timmons classics).
We always close the show with this one, as it builds up so much it would be like what “the hell do you follow it with?” It’s a song based very much on a certain period of my life, and there’s always someone in my mind to dedicate it to.
Andy has played on stage with a bewildering array of guitar stars including Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Ted Nugent, Ace Frehley, Steve Morse, Mike Stern and Eric Johnson. Taking a break for a moment from the chronological history of his career, I throw Andy a few names and ask him to recount his experiences. I start with Mr Paul Gilbert…
Unbelievable – a great guy! I’d seen him around over the years due to the Ibanez thing, and we hooked up again at NAMM. Obviously brilliant on his instrument, but he’s also a really funny and creative guy, you know, and incredibly knowledgeable about pop music. Both Paul and I come from a big covers band background so we kind of have a lot in common. We did an interview in Japan with the two of us and they put a stack of Beatles albums in front of us and it was “Discuss” . They just let the tapes roll and it was just us having a ball, remembering funny little things about this record or that record – you know, stuff that normal people wouldn’t know!
Not only did I get to know him when we did the big NAMM jam, but around that time we spent a week together on the road doing Ibanez clinics. Again an incredible player, but more than that it was his sheer knowledge about everything. I believe he’s one of the few real geniuses that I have ever met. So well read in every possible area, with a massive wealth of knowledge about all music and music history. We’d talk for hours about fave moments in pop history – you know like George Harrison’s second slide solo in Day After Day…..just moments that a lot of people sort of missed but when talking with Shawn you just knew he had such a wealth of popular culture and knowledge that he’d be right with you. And speaking of George, I know that it seems to be his slide that gets talked about the most, but it’s his overall melodicism, taste and touch that do it for me.
An absolute classic album from the 90’s is Kip Winger’s ‘This conversation feels like a dream…’ This stunning album features some of Andy’s best recorded playing and will be looked at in a feature in a later issue of alloutguitar.com How did you first meet Kip?
I first hooked up with Kip through Reb Beach. Reb and I met through Sylvia Villarael who had worked at Atlantic records for forever – she’s still there now – and she had said “You guys should meet as you’d get along real well” – and we did. We hung out together a lot, always jamming, going to shows and everything. I was actually asked to join the band when Paul Taylor was leaving, although for a variety of reasons it didn’t happen in the end. But we all remained good friends and so when Kip was making his first solo album ‘This conversation…’ he called me up and to this day that’s one of my absolute favourite things that I have ever done.
Not only listening to it, but how it went down is a great memory. What happened was that over several weekends I’d fly in and get to work, and often his approach was to roll tape immediately without me having heard the track before and he was after capturing that first moment.
Well, a lot didn’t get used or was unsuitable, but there was a lot that had ‘it’ – those once in a lifetime captures of inspiration – and Kip would then work from these and build his melodies and vocal lines from these improvisations – sort of reversing the whole normal songwriting process. One of my favourite moments is the George Harrison type slide solo on ‘How Far Do We Go’ – Kip worked off the solo to score the string section and of course doing it this way means that the music goes in a completely different direction.
I had much the same experience a couple of weeks ago when I went up to Nashville to work on his new album – I came away with much the same feeling I had when working on his first solo album 10 years ago…by far one of the deepest musical souls that I have ever encountered. Absolutely incredible, the arranging, the writing – his whole concept of music is very advanced and very different. A fantastic musician and a great guitarist. I’m just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up!
One can occasionally hear snippets of Eric Johnson in some of your phrasing; as you are both Texas dwellers imagine that you’ve met a few times…
I like that guy so much…we first jammed together on the G3 tour and playing with that man is one of the biggest honours of my life. He did a few shows here in Dallas a while back and I got invited down and he asked me if I wanted to sit in…which was nerve racking! I mean this guy – not just musically but sonically….there is a complete integrity to what he’s achieved over the years. My tech put the Boogie Lonestar on stage, switched it on, and off we went. I had no time to tweak anything, they had me up there, the mic on the amp and then they are counting the song off. He had me through his monitor rig and I dunno what he was using, but it was stellar. When Eric played, those tones that he got from his set up just couldn’t be believed. And when we played it was one of those nights when you had two players who were really listening to each other and complementing what the other was doing – it was a pretty magical night.
What are your views on Jeff Beck?
I got into Beck in a second-hand way really – through the people that he had influenced – I really started to dig Steve Lukather in a major way around ’76, ’77. Again my brothers had all the Beck albums like ‘Truth’, ‘Wired’, ‘Blow By Blow’ and you know I dug it in a way but it didn’t really connect with me in the same way that Lukather and Larry Carlton did. I finally saw Jeff Beck live about 5, 6 years ago (ed note US tour in support of the 1999 album etc).
At that time I was sort of uninspired by the whole guitar scene, and in particular the instrumental scene seemed really tired. I was at the Dallas Guitar Show and there were these girls handing out free tickets to the evening gig – I guess maybe it hadn’t sold out or something – and I almost didn’t go but it remains to this day the absolute best guitar playing I’ve ever seen or heard. It was like everything – every note, every pause, every little nuance had an absolute purpose, and really made you feel something…
I got to meet Jeff through Simon Phillips and Jennifer Batten who I knew through the Ibanez association.
The turn of the millennium saw Andy back with a record company, in this case Steve Vai’s prestigious Favored Nations. How did this come about?
My first contact with Favored Nations was through my friendship with Steve Vai, which first began through both us being with Ibanez and rubbing shoulders at various NAMM SHOWS. He’s always been very gracious and supportive towards me, and I have played on all the G3 tours when they passed through Dallas.
In the year 2000 I was again invited to go down and play with them, and this year it was when they had John Petrucci in the line up. I remember I was really in two minds about going along, I wasn’t feeling too great but it was, well, they’ve invited me so I really should go… So I went and played, ended up having a great time and afterwards Steve said “I’m forming this label and would you be interested?”
It’s a really cool and focused place. It’s a fairly small label but the
trade-off is that Steve really knows the genre and the people in the company are very savvy about reaching the right audiences. Also after expenses and everything has been recouped there is a straight 50/50 split between label and artist which is unheard of in the record industry. Everybody’s working together and has the same goal.
By no means a typical shredders label, Favored Nations is home to an eclectic array of artists, from acoustic masters Tommy Emmanuel and Pierre Benususan to Frank Gambale and Allan Holdsworth through to off the wall players such as Mike Keneally and Vernon Reid…
Well I like the fact that there is a lot of variety in what they release; instead of it being a shred type label Steve’s much more interested in the whole musical picture. ‘That was Then, This Is Now’ was the first record I did with them and having that machine in place meant that this was the first Andy Timmons record that was properly released in the States – and it did well.
It may surprise some readers to know that Andy has also done some pretty high profile sessions in the pop world…
I did some playing for a Paula Abdul record that was kinda whacky; Vanilla Ice…loads over the years – I recently played some stuff on the new Pink album as well. I love her, she’s just awesome – great songs, great vibe. The way that came about was Mike Daane and I were tracking drums for Resolution and a woman who lives across the street is A&R for Destiny’s Child and Jessica Simpson – kind of a big name in the pop industry. She was A&R for the new Pink record and so by chance we met up and it’s like “ We’ve got this track and it’s supposed to be done, but I don’t think it’s quite there yet – see what you can do with it”. So we laid down some guitar arrangements and it came out really good; they ended up using a lot of what we did – not all, so it’s kind of watered down from our vision of the track – but it was really nice to be asked to do it.
Andy has also worked with country superstar LeAnn Rimes
This was through a mutual friend, Dan Wojciechowski who I’ve done loads of work with on my earlier records, is in Olivia’s band, and also plays with Lee Ann. He was always trying to get me in the band, but schedules and everything meant that it never happened until recently. We worked together for a little while – and she was tremendous – a great talent.
For the last few years Andy has been the Musical Director for antipodean star Olivia Newton John, not an obvious union perhaps; how did you get this gig?
Yet another gig through word of mouth – Simon Phillips of all people. It was a situation where Olivia was coming to the states to do a few shows for the first time in a long while. She had to all intents and purposes retired, so it was a ‘real dip your toe in the water thing’. She had her Australian touring band coming over to do the tour but Brett Garsed, her guitarist, couldn’t do it for some reason. Olivia’s management is also Toto’s management (who Simon has been playing with for years now) and so I got the call. It seemed a little odd to me at first – you know ‘Olivia Newton John?’ So I got the gig sight unseen, so to speak, and we went out and it went so well that they asked me to be in charge of putting together a US based band, and it all snowballed from there. So now I am Musical Director and you know once you’ve got the right mix of players together its cool gig.
On May 2 2006 Andy released his long awaited new instrumental album ‘Resolution’ (reviewed elsewhere in this issue).How do you think this differs from previous Andy Timmons albums?
Resolution is the first all new album since I’ve been with Favored Nations and we have worked closely from the beginning of the project – so I’m hoping to really get out there, and with some proper marketing behind it, be able to really work it.
The making of this record has been very different to anything else I’ve done – one aspect of which is the daunting fact that I knew Steve Vai was going to be the first guy to hear it! I mean that is also a great thing as well, because it inspires you like hell to do something a bit different. And I think that’s been the whole focus of this record – to do something a bit different to the past.
When we first got together to work on some tracks for Resolution it was the first time that I actually co-wrote with my rhythm section (Mike Daane on Bass and Mitch Marine on drums) and it soon became clear that we wanted to make it a proper Andy Timmons Band record. All my other records have been fragmented; some of the tracks I would play almost everything on, they were done at different times – but this one first and foremost would be a proper ATB Band record from start to finish. A lot of the stuff came from jamming stuff out, getting a rough idea and then recording whilst everything was still fresh.
But the crucial thing that evolved after these first sessions was the realisation that I wanted to make it completely different to the previous records – you know, record a couple of rhythm guitar tracks, then melodies, then layer some stuff, fly in the solos at the end…same old process and, for me, that sort of record has been done. In this genre if you are not very careful it can sound like you are simply repeating yourself. And here I was and I felt….a bit…well I wanted to try something new. Right at this time my son Alex was born, so everything was put on the backburner for a while – and in retrospect that was definitely for the best. I had a bit of space, and came back to the project with a fresh head.
I realised that I wanted to see if I could pull off a record without any of that stuff – no overdubs – and, you know, go through the record with one guitar on each track. In that way I found the freshness that I had been searching for. A challenge and an inspiration – and it became extremely difficult task to see it through! Even though I have done loads of live playing with my trio it is different to doing a record – the fullness of sound that a finished record needs is a whole lot different.
I had to figure out how do these parts in one pass. How about the different sounds that different sections of a song might need? The songs were all basically written, but in order to achieve what we wanted – and doing this as, in a sense, a live record – meant that we had further work to do compositionally. Mitch and Mike were responding a lot to what I originally played on the first sessions together, and what I had to do was go back and sort of try and learn the things that I had previously improvised – so I was sort of backtracking whilst also trying to better these. I was still working compositionally as well. Energy-wise I wanted to keep the freshness of the originals, but sort of use these as a framework and create the “ultimate Andy Timmons solos”…as you can imagine, this took a hell of long time. What with Olivia’s tours and everything, it took at least a year to get everything to the standard I needed.
Perhaps even more than the actual performances, was that we were working so hard to nail the actual tones being recorded. When Mike Daane offered up his services to work on this I don’t think he – or I – knew what we were about to embark upon. You know, this should take maybe a month or so to finish up…but it took easy two maybe three weeks of constant experimentation with different amps, mic placement, different guitars – leads even – in all sorts of combinations for each track.
Eric Johnson was very much the benchmark on this record, not his playing – I didn’t want to do a record full of Andy Timmons playing in the Eric Johnson style – but in his commitment to tone, which is amazing. Both live and on record he has one of the great tones ever. So on this I was striving to adhere to that same sonic integrity that Eric has, that complete focus on achieving this thing we were searching for.
And this is way different to my normal approach – I’ve always been a grab an amp, get my guitar as in tune as I can manage and do the take. By doing it this new way I have learnt about amp and guitar tones, recording techniques – even tuning. When there really is only one guitar on a track all those little intonation and tuning discrepancies, things that sort of disappear when you double track, are brutally out there. It also exposes any problems with your technique – particularly fretting hand intonation. If one finger was pushing too hard and sending just one string out, we were listening that intently that we would pick it up – and it was time to do it again. I really began to appreciate guys who really play in tune – like Joe Satriani and Eric.
And so we worked to this extreme level of detail for each track, finishing a track and starting again for the next one, and so on. Of course the problem then is that it can start to lose that freshness and sound laboured, although part of the way we kept things fresh was by no dropping in. If it took seven or eight takes to get the thing done then that’s what we would have to do.
The whole point this time was that I had to be able to really play the thing – no drop ins no pro tools – so I was going for not only a sonic integrity but an honesty to the performance there as well. This, all round, is the first Andy Timmons record where it sort of hangs with the best playing that I’ve done.
What are your personal highlights on Resolution?
The ballads tend to get the most attention – probably I go for these in different way emotionally and vibe wise. I like Gone and The Prayer and The Answer. That’s a funny one that song – everyone who hears the intro thinks it’s old Fender Twin – but unbelievably it’s an old Marshall! You know you don’t hear too often “Wow that fantastic Marshall clean sound”! We tried everything and at that moment that old Marshall was perfect.
What are your plans for touring this record?
We are working on a gameplan to hit the road as soon as possible. Also, I am now officially managed by Fitzgerald Hartley – which having seen his name on the back of every Toto record feels like things have sort of come full circle.
You have a lot of fans in the UK – is there any possibilities of a visit to the UK?
That is a real desire, and it’s something that with the new record company behind us I hope we can achieve. The problem is doing it yourself, without proper back up – it’s just too expensive. I know I have a following over in the UK as I am always getting e-mails, so fingers crossed….
Have you any idea what sales to expect “Resolution” to achieve? After all, whilst the tide does seem to be turning for this type of music, we are not quite back to the heady days of the mid to late 80’s…
I guess the big guys like Joe and Steve are shifting easily in the hundreds of thousands of units, but guys like me are a fair bit below that. It’s getting better than it was though! Also with the internet at least you can now basically get anything that’s out there – it used to be a real problem when no retailers would stock instrumental music. So, with the new label and everything we are real positive about the new record!
Finally, any enduring memories or personal highlights from your playing career that you can share with us? .
The first Danger Danger album comes to mind. I had just joined the band and the record had already been finished when Mike Stone was brought in to mix it. As a way of getting me on the record it was decided that I would replace some of Tony Bruno’s solo’s – so this was my first experience of the real business – playing on a record that would eventually be released all over the world. Mike had of course worked with all theses mega bands, so to work with him was an experience in itself. I’ll never forget sitting alongside him at the console with my Kramer, and a Bradshaw rig rented from Andy Bauer, and Mike was a bit put out because he had been hired to just mix it, yet here was this kid and suddenly he’s got to sort of start producing and recording a guitar session as well, which wasn’t what he thought he’d be doing. Anyway, we rolled tracks on the first song and I got it in two takes, then another and I did the same and so on – and these were the solos that made the record. So afterwards Mike turns to me an in a deadpan voice: “Oh yeah, man, everyone I‘ve worked with gets it in two takes….” I guess I was a little green and thought he was serious at the time, and it took me a while to realise that he was being ironic! Obviously he’d had experience of spending weeks with obsessed guitarists taking forever to get it down…funny how things come around – now that sounds just like me on Resolution……!
As one of the rock world leading guitarists, what general advice can you give on improvisation?
To me, listening can be just as important – if not more so – than copping specific solo’s, licks and riffs. It’s all part of the process of really absorbing the whole essence of music into the subconscious – and getting to the point when you can really flow whilst improvising. I think it’s a wrong path that many guitar players take – learn, say, 50 licks from some books/videos etc and then when it’s time to blow it’s “Ok, here’s my Charlie Parker lick” or “here’s my Eddie lick” – this can sound cool in it’s own way but it will never really connect and flow.
A common desire amongst rock guitarists is to gain a bit of jazz into their style, what would you suggest will help to attain this?
Well, first of all, again you have to put some serious time in listening to as much as possible in order to try and absorb some of this stuff…..players like Wes Montgomery, Barney Kessel, and horn players like Cannon Ball Adderley – because it’s that swing thing that is always the hardest thing for your traditional rock players to get. Loads of rock guys practice their triplet, 16th and 32nds scale sequences with a metronome – which is great because it gets that accuracy you need to pull off a great rock solo.
But a real cool thing is to practise basic 8th note scales or melodic patterns playing in swing time – keeping on top of that steady pulse, really keeping in time, but swinging with it. That’s the beauty of so many Jazz players – they really know how to play in time, and can play with time – knowing when to push the beat, when to pull back. This provides colour and variety to phrasing, which can be what is lacking if you take a standard 4/4 rock guitarist approach all the time. Mixing rock techniques and attack with a touch of a jazzers swing approach and sense of phrasing is what I‘ve striven to incorporate in my playing for many years now.
Have you any particular learning habits?
With everything you learn it’s all about application; if you learn all the shit and don’t use it in real life then it’s kind of pointless. And with Jazz especially it’s something that you have to constantly keep your chops up – I go through periods when I am working on other projects in other styles, and if I don’t keep my playing over changes up on a regular basis I get rusty real quick. Your ears are still sort of there – I mean you can definitely still hear what it is that you should be doing, but something physically gets lost and you can’t realise what you’re hearing in your head.
Have you ever managed to sneak some more jazzy lines into your rock gigs?
Most of the Danger Danger material was pretty straightforward and required straight diatonic melodic rock solos, but in the live shows I’d often take an extended solo and it was here that I’d do all my Lukather influenced chromatic type – almost Mike Sterns – lines. On the first tour we used to have these little meetings to see what we could all do to improve the show, and several times it was bought up: it was like “Hey, Andy we’re not sure about that thing you do in the solo – you sure that’s really a rock scale?!”
Have you a practise schedule?
Not for years, mainly just doing what I need for a particular gig or session. Having said that, if I have the spare time I just love going up to the studio putting on a Bossa Nova type rhythm, and doing my best Pat Metheney. But it’s also wonderful to just run scales – I am always amazed how, if I have had the time to do it consistently – over, say, a week or two – how much sharper my playing is.
What would you say is the weakest area of your playing?
Probably my outright technique and chops, which are no way close to what they could be – simply because I just don’t have the time to woodshed them.
And the strongest?
It’s always hard to comment on your own stuff…but probably my note choice at a particular time and moment.
Do your “non rock chops” require more attention to maintain?
While you could always do more, my technique in these areas is so established that it’s pretty much always there – you know, if I have a particular gig that needs a particular style, I will just spend a couple of days woodshedding in that area to sharpen up.
What general advice can you give to fellow guitarits out there?
Just to carry on learning – different things and different styles because everything helps. Jam a lot, gig as much as possible and commit yourself to learning new songs every month – not just riffs here and there, but complete songs. Stretch your abilities by maybe booking a gig that’s outside of your comfort zone. It’s like if someone asks me “how do I learn country guitar?” – book a country gig! Put that pressure on yourself and it’s amazing what you can do. Necessity can be the mother of all skills – and that’s what, over more than 30 years, has worked for me.
Life As a Session Guitarist In The Real World
Is there such a thing as a typical day in the life of Andy Timmons?
One of the great things is that there is no such thing as a typical day: for example today I have had the guys from Mesa Boogie over earlier, then it was this interview, and later I’ve got to do three online interviews – which can be a bit like pulling teeth for me! – and then I‘ve got to record a Guitar lesson for a German guitar mag. Let’s see… tomorrow I travel to Tampa for a guitar clinic for Sam Ash Music, and next Tuesday I leave for South America for an Ibanez Clinic Tour for about two weeks. Of course, when I’m on tour there is a bit more of a structure; with the travelling, hotel check in, sound check and all. But, really, every day is different. That comes with the territory being a self-employed musician – you never really know what’s gonna happen next! You know, I am 42 now and I’ve been at it a while, so I guess I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it!
During the 90’s you were a regular fixture on the Dallas live scene, has that changed recently?
Nowadays its how I imagine a lot of the Cities have become in the US – the pickings are just getting slimmer and slimmer and a lot of music venues have closed, or are closing. There’s an area in Dallas called ‘Deep Ellum’ which is kind of a Mecca for a lot of the musicians over the years, but it’s all gotten run down and now is so dangerous. Years ago the local live scene was fine and there was plenty of work, but you cannot rely on it now. Over the last five years or so I haven’t done much locally really as I have been concentrating more on touring. I do occasionally play the ‘Granada Theatre’, but compared to even only half a dozen or so years back it’s way down. I wish it were different. With the Pawn Kings we had a regular gig at ‘Blue Cat Blues’ and it was really an excuse to do loads of great blues and cool covers, but that place has gone too – such a shame as it was great fun!
It’s actually something that I am increasingly thinking about: it would be great to start a new place up. A cool live venue where you can get away with all sorts of music – from Jazz to metal to whatever; build up a cool reputation and act as a cool place for the next few generations to learn their trade like the places we had. I’m sort of keeping my eyes open and if the right venue comes up, well this is one of those things that I am sure I’ll get going.
Is there any standard way that you get your session jobs?
Almost all work now is word of mouth and through people in general who I have always worked for over the last 15-20 years. They use me regularly for whatever projects they have got. Obviously the nature of the business means that it’s in constant change – some of these guys were really hot back in the day but aren’t so much now – and some off the others who were just starting out then are now really busy. I guess I’ve done it the old way, built my reputation up and over the years so I haven’t got an agent or representation or anything. A lot of guys probably do in LA and Nashville, but I haven’t found it necessary. Sometimes it would be nice I guess – particularly to handle the financial side of things like chasing money and arranging fees – because that’s my least favourite thing to deal with.
What sort of fees can you attract?
Oh, the money varies massively. Going into a project I try to keep in mind what the likely end result will be and price accordingly. If it’s a local demo type thing you keep it lower than something that will have a national or international release, or TV and radio airtime. Regarding general industry rates they vary from city to city. From what I understand, in Nashville it’s less than it was. There’s not as much general work around as there once was, so you’ve got top shelf players going out pretty cheaply compared to a few years ago. Here in Dallas, because there aren’t as many fish, so to speak, I‘m a bigger fish and can command a higher rate.
As far as the American Musicians Union goes, there is a standard minimum rate for a session that is something like $87.50 per hour – but again there is a different scale for different purposes. That having been said, you get a lot of people call up who may not know all this, and so I have to give them a basic rate once I have figured out what it is they are doing and what is suitable for their budget.
Has new technology and the ability to e-mail sessions had any impact on your business? .
This hasn’t really affected me so far. I have done a fair amount of stuff when they will send me some tracks on CD, and we will have discussed on the phone what it is they are after. I will then record here at my place, and then send it back to them on CD – but as to doing it all in the digital domain I guess that I am a little bit behind the times. I’ve got a decent studio set up in the top part of my house, but I haven’t been home enough with the spare time to upgrade everything so that I can start doing work this way. It is something that I really do need to get into. I might get left behind you know, and this literally opens up the entire world.
Is there a general format on your sessions regarding how the music is written out? (stave/chord charts/Nashville system etc)
Again there is no fixed way that a session will go. It can go from extremes – such as Simon Phillips stuff, for example, where I would get pre-production recordings that had it played pretty much as it should be on the finished track, fully scored out in manuscript. I’d have to replicate everything exactly as written – every note, every phrase had to be nailed. The only area that I had room to improvise with, do my own interpretation, was the solo sections. In this particular case, having all of this in advance meant that I had time to woodshed the solo sections well enough to know what I would do in the “real thing”.
The other side of the coin is people coming in and its like: “uuhhh..well, here’s a C chord…” and not really having their shit together at all. With these types of gigs you often end up basically producing the whole thing yourself, not just laying down the guitars.
Often it’s guys writing out chord charts and “Give me something like George Harrison did in Revolver” and they rely on your experience in knowing what styles and sounds are required to see the project through. Often what happens now is that when I get called for a session the producer, or artist, is aware that I can pretty much cover most players from any period of pop history. They know that they can mention a song, or a player, and we can get a sound down and approach the session stylistically from that perspective. Whilst reading is useful, the most valuable thing is to have that experience and flexibility and to have knowledge of recorded music history.
To know what “in the style of Steve Cropper” means guitar style wise, chord wised, sounds and performance – and to be able to write a part there and then that will get the job done, is really what it’s about. I mean, even though I haven’t got a 7 string electric if someone says “do it like Korn would” (not that this particular example has happened yet!) you know I‘d better be able to handle it – because at some point you can be sure as hell that request will happen!
My approach has always been to listen – really listen – to what’s going down in any given song so that stylistically and performance wise we can get the job done.
Having worked with many of the leading musicians from both the Pop and the Rock industries, do you think there is much of a difference in the musical approaches?
Thinking about it, there is certainly a different mindset between your typical ‘rock band’ players and guys who work in the ‘pop world’.
I think, probably, a lot more of the rock guys are much more ‘band’ orientated. They are totally focused on making it with their own band in the rock world. A lot of the top pop musicians will work with more than one artist, so they have to be more versatile – more ‘career focused’ – as opposed to most rock musicians who are more ‘band focused’.
How hard do you think it is to make a sustainable career out of being a rock musician?
It’s real hard for many purely rock players to get a long term sustainable career. It really comes down to what you really want out of the whole thing, and I always made it a priority to be in it for the long haul, you know? I would have LOVED to have been part of a mega big rock band, but a part of me, even when Danger Danger were doing big business, always knew that I had to be able to do the job if and when the “big” success stopped…as it did! So my approach, pretty much from my early/mid teens, to try to cover as many styles as possible has been needed – I’ve been really lucky to have played with such varied musicians and bands. Bottom line, that just wouldn’t have been possible without the versatility to play in widely different styles.
What guitars do you favour nowadays?
On ‘Resolution’ a good 90% of the record was done using my Ibanez AT300; other than that, my old AT100’s – the ones with the maple necks. On the country track I had it pretty good with the Ibanez, but when I tried it with my old ‘68 Tele – even though it was harder to play – it had that sort of snap and responsiveness that meant it was ideal for that track. As a session player I have collected all the usual more vintage stuff, nothing extremely valuable, but all the usual guitars a working guitarist needs – Fenders, Gibsons, Rickenbackers, various acoustics and basses.
You seem happily back in the Mesa Boogie camp again…
I am using Mesa Boogie’s a lot again, and I tell you, I am so thrilled with my new live rig – I’ve even started using it on some of my recent sessions. I did a record session last week, and normally I would have taken a ’64 Vox, a ’65 Twin, my Marshall’s and the rest. But this time I just took over my Boogie Lonestar – which I am mainly using for a slightly more vintage type clean and lead – and my Boogie Stilleto, which is also fabulous at nailing all the tones off the new record. We did 12 tracks in two days – I didn’t plug into anything but these and ran them in stereo, just making little arrangements as we went along track by track – and I’ve never had more compliments about my tone! To say that I’m thrilled with these is an understatement.
I’ve used Boogie’s on and off for years and I really liked the Maverick (which was kind of Voxy with it’s EL84’s), although the Rectifier was never really my thing. I really think that Mesa Boogie are entering a new period; their stuff is really stellar and I am really pleased to be working with, and using, Boogies.
Are you much of an effects junkie?
Not really, I use all the usual suspects. I’ll grab whatever pedal’s I think I’ll need for a particular session, grab the shortest lead, and go straight into the amp and go for it. But, looking around my studio now…and thinking about what I generally have regardless, the following are pretty much my essentials: Carl Martin Compressors – these are great and I really love them, particularly for the clean stuff; Ibanez Tubescreamer – I always have these just in case – real warm sounding and I’ve used them forever; and the Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere. Now, most records that I do are going to have some kind of Leslie sound in there as I love that sound – and the Hughes & Kettner Rotosphere sounds amazing. Obviously if you have the luxury (and space!) to use a real Leslie One Twelve you’ll do it – but for all other situations the Rotosphere is the real deal. Just make sure that you put it into the FX loop as it’s real noisy in front of the amp.
Finally, what strings and picks do you use?
I use D’Addario 10-46 strings and Jim Dunlop H3 Tortex picks. Remember to experiment with picks, because I went for a few years to Jazz 3’s, and whilst the tone seemed better my timing and everything wasn’t up to scratch. I mean, I used these for a couple of years – the new stuff on The Spoken & The Unspoken, for example, was all recorded using these; but when I tried the small H3’s again it was “Oh, I can play properly again!” – so it’s very important look at every link in the chain in order to get your sound right.