Snowy White has been described as; "the classic blues-oriented British electric guitar player”, and it's a mantle that fits him very well, as evidenced on latest album 'Something on Me". Beginning his career in the late '60s, the guitarist has been a member of Pink Floyd's extended touring line-up, Thin Lizzy, as well as a collaborator with Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green. We sat down with Snowy for a chat about the new album, touring 'The Wall' with Floyd and Roger Waters, and his tenure with Ireland's greatest rock band. Renegade; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Snowy, how are you today?
I’m not bad. What have I been up to? Nothing, really! The sun’s shining, and I’ve had a bit of lunch. I’m taking it easy these days.
In fairness, for the last few years, you have been extremely busy out on the road with Roger Waters.
Yeah, but not for the last five years. In fact, from 1999 until 2013, I toured with Roger every year, all around the world, for months and months and months. That finished in 2013, and then we did something in 2016, but since then I’ve just been doing my own thing.
You did ‘The Wall’ dates with Roger, didn’t you?
Yeah, I did all the ‘Wall’ shows. We finished in Paris, I believe, in 2013. Oh yeah, I did all the ‘Wall’ shows. In fact, I did the first ‘Wall’ shows as well, in 1980.
It must be quite amazing to have been a part of the original ‘Wall’ production with Pink Floyd in 1980, as well as the later shows with Roger.
Yeah, it’s interesting though, because if somebody said to me in 1980; “you’ll be playing these songs in 2013”, I would have gone; “no, no! I’ll be successful in my own right, and rich and famous. I won’t be doing anybody else’s music”! [laughing] But it’s alright. It was a very civilised situation doing those shows, and all around the world, over and over again, in all these places that I probably wouldn’t have seen. So, it was fine, yeah!
For those in the crowd, those shows were an awesome sight; what was it like from your angle?
I was the third dot from the left, depending on how far back you were! Well, it was obviously a bit different. We had seen the show because we stood out in the arena and we watched the whole thing when they were doing the production rehearsal. They were trying everything with stuff that they’d recorded of ours the previous day, and then they’d play it and they did the whole show with it. So, we knew how good it was, because it was good; it was absolutely brilliant. In fact, it’s the only show, really, that I’ve actually said to my friends; “you have to come and see this show!” Normally, I wouldn’t say that, but it’s such a fantastic show. But obviously, when you’re on stage, you don’t really see much that’s going on. When I was on stage, I was just concentrating on not making any mistakes – Roger didn’t like mistakes!
So the famously grumpy Roger Water’s is still that way?
My lips are sealed!
On that first ‘Wall’ tour in 1980, you played the role of David Gilmour in the ‘fake’ Pink Floyd that opened the show.
Yeah, that was me. It was interesting, is all I can say about that! Roger has so many ideas. I remember when we finished the ‘Animals’ tour , we were flying back from America, and I was sitting next to him in the plane, and he said; “I’ve got this idea of building a wall between the audience and the band, as the band is playing”, and I thought; “yeah… that’s a bit weird! And anyway, nobody’s ever going to get that together”.
You’ve just released new album ‘Something on Me’, and it’s really laid back affair.
Yeah, I’m sort of laid back these days, and it comes across. I sort of feel I haven’t got anything to prove, but I like to make things sound good, so I don’t like to leave loose ends or put something down that I think it’s not as good as I could do. I suppose I’m a sort of perfectionist, in some ways. But I was lucky with this album, because I managed to get the backing tracks done just before the lockdown in March , so I was able to work on it while we were locked down. I was in my studio, and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything because I’d have been in there anyway. So I was able to take a lot of time and do all my overdubs and everything, so it worked out quite well for me.
You seem to have paid close attention guitar tones, employing varying ones to match the mood of any given song on the album.
It’s really great that you noticed that. I’m not sure anybody else would! Yeah, it’s easy to get one sound and play all your lead bits, but it doesn’t feel good to me. There are songs that need more of a mellow thing, and songs that need something a bit grittier. But I try to make it all listenable; I don’t want it to be so hard that you hear it once and you think; “I don’t want to hear that again”. The album is something you can listen to over and over again, and maybe get into the guitar sounds a little bit because there are a few different ones. It’s quite subtle, in some ways, but it’s all there.
There’s a beautiful clean lead sound on ‘Cool Down’, and in contrast, ‘Another Blue Night’ has a real dirty tone.
Yeah, I do whatever I feel suits the songs, really. I think some guitarists are a bit scared about being too clean, but I’ve never been like that, really. I’ve always gone that way ever since I started playing. I like the clean thing.
That goes hand in hand with how you’ve been described, as “the classic blues-oriented British electric guitar player”.
I used to listen to a programme on the radio called ‘Saturday Club’, and occasionally, BBC studios used to have a live session on, and I heard John Mayall’s Bluesbreakes with Eric Clapton on that, and it was like 1965, ’66, and I loved it. It was really clean, and it really turned me on to blues, and I wanted to know what it felt like to be able to play those simple things; simple chord progressions with that nice sound. So, when the ‘Beano’ album [‘Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton’, 1966] came out, I was really keen to buy it, so I bought it, and I think it was ‘Hide Away’ that I heard on the radio, and I played it again, and Eric had this quite distorted, heavy sound, and it really disappointed me! I really liked the cleaner thing, and that’s why when Peter Green came along, I thought; “yeah, that’s exactly how it should be”; these lovely sounds.
Elsewhere on the album, ‘Aint Gonna Lean’ has got a really bright tone to it; it almost sounds like you’re using a Fender Telecaster.
No, it’s all my Les Paul. I know how to work to get some different sounds. Everything’s on my Les Paul, apart from the acoustic, obviously. But yeah, I enjoy getting different sounds because it sort of makes me play slightly differently, and it keeps my interest as well. I hear some albums and I can tell that the guitar player’s gone in for an afternoon and just done all the guitars; that doesn’t feel right to me. I don’t do that.
Going back a little into your past, and I wanted to ask you about the blistering guitar solo you performed on Thin Lizzy’s ‘Chinatown’.
I just did that in one take, if I remember rightly. I was younger then, and I could do that sort of thing! I just had the sort of fingers that worked; they used to do what my brain tells them to do. They’re not quite so like that now, these days, but yeah, yeah, I was sort of hot in those days with my playing, and I just lashed down a solo, really, with a bit of passion, and it was alright!
There’s passion, but there’s technique as well, and it’s got some odd timing to work around.
Honestly, I didn’t think about anything; I just played. I got a sound, and I had a decent mix in my headphones, and I just played it. You know, I don’t know anything about music; the timing might be awkward, but it wouldn’t occur to me; it wouldn’t make any difference to me. I’m too basic, and so, yeah, that sort of thing, I just played them, and that’s how they came out.
You’re credited as co-writer of the song ‘Chinatown’; do you remember who wrote which parts?
I wrote the opening riff, and I wrote some of the chord progressions. I’ve got a feeling that Scott [Gorham] and I came up with that rundown [descending scale that follows intro riff]; we sort of played and were messing around; “what about this? What about that?” It’s all al little bit hazy, but I think that’s what happened. I think Scott had a little more to do with that rundown than me, but I can’t really remember.
‘Chinatown’ is an album that perhaps doesn't the credit it deserves, compared to the likes of 'Jailbreak' and 'Black Rose'.
I actually don’t know. I think there were some good things on it, and I think there were things that could have been quite a lot better, because, to be quite honest, Phil [Lynott] didn’t really do a lot of homework and come into the studio with finished ideas. He we would write the vocal as he was recording it, and it would take ages, so I just felt that some of the material wasn’t really quite as finished as it could be. I like the album; I think it’s a nice album, but how it compares to the other albums, it’s sort of different. So, it’s difficult for me to be objective about it.
Which do you prefer out of the two Thin Lizzy albums you played on; ‘Chinatown’ or ‘Renegade’?
Oh, ‘Chinatown’, I think would be my favourite.
You obviously parted company with Thin Lizzy after the 'Renegade' era, and with things in the band in disarray, that must have played a part in your decision.
That was 99% of it, to be honest. I mean, I thought Thin Lizzy were a great band; great material, really nice, and although I really enjoyed playing with them, after a while it became odd. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead or anything, but Phil, I think after a while, he seemed to want to be a celebrity, rather than a musician. The final straw was, I used to get in the studio for say an 11am start, so I’d get there for 11 because I’m very punctual, and Phil would roll up at 10 o’clock in the evening with a few of his mates; Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, and sit there and smoke and drink, and I’d be thinking; “hang on a minute; I’ve been here all day. This is not right.” It went on quite a lot. It was quite prevalent, and one day when he wasn’t there, I did some really nice guitar bits actually – I thought they were great – and he came in, and I said; “you weren’t here, so I put a few guitar bits down”, and he went; “no, I need those tracks for vocals”. And he didn’t even listen to it.
So that must have caused a bit of a divide, in your mind.
I thought; “right, I know where we are”. So, for the third album that I was supposed to be on [‘Thunder and Lightning’, 1983], we went to Dublin to rehearse, and I said to the management; “look, if I go there, and I sit in a rehearsal place all afternoon and nobody turns up - that’s it.” And they said; “no, no, we’ve had a word with Phil. We’re going to be really professional about this”. Of course, I get there and nobody turns up; Phil’s out with his mates, and I just find it insulting. So, we wrote a few bits and pieces, and when we got back to England and we were booked in the studio, that particular day when we got back, I woke up in the morning and I said to my lady friend; “I’m not going in. I can’t be bothered. I’m not going in just to sit there and wait for everybody, wait for Phil to turn up, and then he’s sort of coked out”. I mean, there were times when couldn’t even play the bass properly, so it became too much for me because that’s not how I am.
It doesn’t paint a pretty picture, but, well, you were there to see it.
I don’t know how much you want to write about that, but it became too much for me, and by then, I think, probably they weren’t too unhappy that I’d left. I think they had John Sykes lined up by then. I don’t know, because I met him in Dublin when we were rehearsing. But I just didn’t go in. That’s the last time I saw Phil. I didn’t see him again.
So you were actually working on what would become ‘Thunder and Lightning’?
We rehearsed stuff, but I didn’t play on any of it. I’m not sure whether I wrote anything. I don’t think so. I didn’t get the credit anyway. It all sort of fell apart, and it was odd. Phil wanted to be a celebrity, somehow, instead of a musician. But that’s exactly what happened to me; that’s exactly how I felt, and exactly why I didn’t go into the studio.
Looking at some of your YouTube stats, and it’s really quite phenomenal; ‘Riding the Blues’, for example, has had almost 4.5 million views.
‘Midnight Blues’ had over fifteen million! I know, I can’t believe it myself! I said; “where are all these people?!” It’s funny with ‘Midnight Blues’, because it was sampled for this rapper in America – Meek Mill – who I’d never heard of [on the track ‘Blue Notes’, 2016], and he’s actually really big, but it’s basically me singing and playing the guitar, and he’s rapping over the top, and that all kicked off people being interested in ‘Midnight Blues’ and coming on to that, and it had millions and millions of hits. I’m really happy because that’s a favourite track of mine that I’ve ever done in my life. It was a track in the studio where I’d gone in and said to the guys; “look, forget radio play, forget the record company”, and we put this track ‘Midnight Blues’ down, and I did the solo live in the studio, and that’s one of my favourite tracks and favourite memories. So, it’s my most successful song, right now, which is just amazing for me.
At the start of the interview you said that you thought in the late ‘70s’; “I’ll be successful in my own right; I won’t be doing anybody else’s music”, and it sounds like you’ve actually achieved that.
Yeah, it’s strange because when Roger decided to change the band and I didn’t go on the last tour, I said to my wife; “we’ll probably have to tighten our belts a fair bit”, because I used to earn a lot of money with Rog, but in fact, I’m earning so much that I haven’t noticed any difference, and it’s all streaming and downloads. It’s just surprised me, completely and utterly, how many people are streaming my stuff. It’s really lovely for me, because I’ve never really been the sort of guy to promote myself or step into the spotlight, so it’s been a quiet revolution. It’s really nice, because people listen to my music and they don’t really want anything else from me except the next song.
And with the new album out, they’ve got that next song!
Yes, I’m very happy with the way things are going, and the album worked out pretty well. We’ll see what happens in the future. It’s just been released, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to it.
Has the current pandemic scuppered any plans to promote the album with live dates?
No, because I’d decided to not do any live work anyway, last June . My last gig was in Saint Petersburg in Russia. It was a nice gig and everything, and after that, I decided that I wasn’t going to do any more live work. I didn’t like the travelling anymore; I didn’t like all the hassle, and also my fingers weren’t doing exactly what my brain tells them to do. I just felt that it was too much stress, and I didn’t want to disappoint people, because I didn’t really do many gigs, but occasionally people used to come from quite a long way to see me, and I thought I don’t want them to come a long way and think; “oh, he’s not that good now”. So, quit while you’re ahead.
That’s great, in the sense that it hasn’t affected your plans.
I can just carry on writing songs here, and when I feel like it, maybe start another album! I don’t think many people play that style anymore, to be honest; that English-ey, Peter Green-ey style. Not many people do it. Anyway, I’m happy with where I’ve got to. I think my measure of success reflects how much effort I’ve put into my career, really. I was never a careerist, really; I just learned to play the guitar because I wanted to know what it felt like to play blues, and I’ve never really moved on from that.
Snowy White's 'Something on Me' is out now. Also available via Amazon and Apple services.
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