Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features guitarist Terence “Snowy” White.
When Roger Waters put a band together for his 1999 In the Flesh comeback tour, bringing guitarist Snowy White into the mix was a no-brainer. Their history goes all the way back to 1976 when White joined Pink Floyd as a live member for the Animals tour. He stuck around for the 1980 Wall tour and Waters brought him back for his own 1990 Wall show in Berlin. Simply put, there was no other guitarist on earth (short of David Gilmour) more qualified for the job.
“Roger phoned me up and he said, ‘I’m only doing this little tour, just three weeks,’” the guitarist recalls. “‘It would nice if you were in the band.’ I agreed to do it since it seemed like a nice chance to get out to America and do some shows. I thought it would just be three weeks, but that short tour turned into 13 years.”
White is most famous for his five-decade history with Pink Floyd and Roger Waters, but he was also a member of Thin Lizzy in the early Eighties and he’s played with everyone from Peter Green to Mick Taylor. He also scored a hit on his own in 1983 with “Bird of Paradise.”
We phoned up White at his home in Petersfield, England, to hear his whole saga, going all the way back to his earliest days on the British blues circuit. “You’re dredging up memories,” he says, “that were almost lost to the mists of time.”
Who were your musical heroes as a kid?
When I was in my early teens, I started to like people like Cliff Richard and the Shadows. But I didn’t really have any musical heroes as a child. In fact, we didn’t really have any music on at all in the house now that I think about it.
My dad was a drummer. He had his own little dance band and they played the holiday camps. But I don’t remember what I listened to until until I started hearing some blues in the mid-Sixties. That sort of woke me up.
What blues artists first captured your attention?
I know it’s cliché, but it was actually Eric [Clapton]. In 1964 or 1965, I was playing with this funny, new thing that my dad had bought, which is called a tape recorder. I was messing around recording on this tinny, little radio and I recorded a Saturday morning session with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. I didn’t know anything about them. But I happened to record it, pretty much by accident, and I thought, “Wow, what’s this?”
I just loved listening to that. Then I started to think, “It must feel really good to know what you’re doing and choose the right notes.” I thought, “I want to know what that feels like.” My path was laid down from then on, really. I blame everything on Eric.
Did you pick up on the guitar quickly?
No. I’m not a natural musician, not at all. It was really hard work. When I look back, I realize I was really determined and it took over. I had to learn the technique of how to get these little phrases to sound right, where they were on the fretboard and that sort of thing. I was sort of a loner when I was younger and I was happy to sit in my bedroom and listen to tape recordings and try to figure out how they were played.
My first guitar was a Hofner Futurama II. It was ice blue with a white fingerboard and I thought it looked like the bees knees, but it didn’t sound very good. I didn’t know why because I didn’t understand anything about guitars then and I still don’t, to be honest.
Then I graduated and got a job, so I bought a Strat. That didn’t suite me either. But then I saw all of the pictures of Eric with a Les Paul, and that’s what I ended up with.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to do this as a career?
Well, when I started playing, I had no thoughts of anything like that. I just wanted to know what it felt like. I wanted to be able to do it. It didn’t occur to me that I might earn a living or play in front of people or make a record.
That didn’t occur to me for quite a long time. I was probably about 18 when I started to figure out that I could play a few licks and started to feel better about the whole thing. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could earn a living playing guitar?” It was a bit of a dream, but I just kept at it. I was about 18 when I thought, “This is what I’m going to try and do.” I just loved it so much.
How did you meet Peter Green?
I rung him up. When I got to London in 1970, I got into a band and the drummer knew Peter quite well. He gave me Peter’s number. I walked down to the bottom of my road to the call box, since there were obviously no mobiles, and I rang the number. I think his dad answered. He was living with his mom and dad. I said, “Is Peter there?” He said, “Hang on a minute.”
Peter came on. I said, “I’ve just come into town. Chris gave me your number. I was wondering if we could get together and have a jam?” Instead of saying “no” he said, “Come down to the house and we’ll have a jam.”
He was such a generous spirit, Peter. They were living in New Malden, which is in South West London. I drove down there the next day with my guitar. I went in the house and it was a little, semi-detached place. They had a parrot and a dog. Everyone was very kind to me. I was just this young kid.
We had a little jam and played a bit and talked a bit. Then Pete’s mum said, “Do you want to stay for dinner?’ I said, “Yeah, I’d love to.” So we had dinner and a chat. It was fun. I think Peter quite liked me. I said, “Could we have another jam at some point?” He said, “Yeah.” That’s how it started, really.
This is right after he left Fleetwood Mac?
When I first met him, he’d just left Fleetwood Mac. Then he went back with them to help them on their last American tour [in 1971]. But he’d just left.
How was he doing emotionally? I know this was a hard time for him.
He was fine. He was absolutely fine and normal, living with his mom and dad. I think over the next two or three years, he became a little more disturbed and unsure of what he wanted to do. He said he didn’t want all the money and things. It got worse, basically.
He used to come and sleep on my sofa. At one point, he brought all his things for me to look after. I had all his stuff in my flat for ages, his record collection and his tapes with John Mayall, his Les Paul, his bass, his amp, and various other bits and pieces. I looked after them for months while he was being a bit of an itinerant person, wandering about.
As a fan of his work, it must have been hard to see him struggling like that.
It was strange. I was still in awe of Pete a bit, although by then I’d sussed out that these guitar players were just normal people. When you start out, you think they are something special. But you learn they aren’t. They just play the guitar quite good.
But then I started to worry about him. I started doing my best to just stay as a friend. And I saw that people took advantage of him because he was such a generous spirit. He was at some sort of home for a while. I was the only person that went to visit him. It felt like he’d been left alone.
Songs like “Man of the World” were so beautiful. It’s hard to process that it could all go so badly so quickly.
Yeah. People were trying to get him to play. He was being pushed about with people expecting things from him. He just withdrew from all of that. He got a few ordinary jobs. I went to see him once and he was cutting the grass in Putney Graveyard.
Were you a fan of Pink Floyd before you went on tour with them in 1977?
No. I didn’t know anything about them. I think I was the only guy in England that hadn’t heard Dark Side of the Moon. I was a narrow-minded blues-er and they played all that funny stuff. It didn’t cross my horizon, really.
So how did you wind up joining them?
I sort of drifted into it, really. I love the blues and I knew Pete and listened to Eric and B.B. King. That was my world. Things outside of that world didn’t really impress me much. I didn’t know that Pink Floyd were a really big band. It didn’t occur to me because they didn’t play blues. I didn’t register.
Someone told me once that Pink Floyd’s manager was trying to get in touch with me since they were looking for an augmenting guitar player for live stuff. And so I went to the office in London. He sort of explained that they were looking for another guitar player and I’d been recommended by a few people. He said, “Actually, do you want to go and see the band? They’re finishing recording the album at their studio on Britannia Road.” It was the Animals record. I said, “Yeah, OK.”
I got to the studio and they were all in there. It didn’t occur to me that this was anything to think much of [laughs]. I know it sounds funny, but I’m like that, especially in those days. I was so narrow-minded in my music, to be honest. I did think it was interesting. And then Roger [Waters] said to Dave [Gilmour], “Why don’t you take Snowy into the office and explain what the gig is about?”
We went into the office and he said, “Well, you need to play a 12-string and some lead, a bit of harmony and some rhythm. You need to play quite a bit of bass. You can play bass, can’t you?” I said, “Yeah, yeah.”
He said, “So, do you want the gig?” I said, “Well, yeah. OK. Maybe we should have a jam so you can hear me play?” He said, “You wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t play, would you?” I said, “No.” He said, “Well, alright then.” That was it, really. I just sort of drifted in like that. I didn’t really understand what it was all about.
Do you know how they heard about you?
Yeah. I think a guy called Jim Cregan. He’s a really good friend of mine and he used to play with Rod Stewart and a few other people. Somebody told him and he said, “You should try Snowy.”
How did you wind up on the 8-track version of “Pigs on the Wing”?
It was that same day. We went back in the control room after I was offered the gig. Roger said, “As long as you’re here, you might as well record something.” They’d been recording “Pigs on the Wing.”
He said, “Why don’t you do a solo in the middle? Use any guitar you like.” There was this white Strat there. I picked it up and played a solo. A few days later, Rog said to me, “We’ve got some bad news.”
I thought, “Oh, no. The tour is canceled or I’m not on it.” He said, “We’ve decided to split ‘Pigs on the Wing’ between the first half of the beginning of the album and the second half at the end. We’ve lost your solo.” I said, “Is that all?” It didn’t mean anything to me.
Because of the 8-track, they didn’t used to stop. They used to turn around and carry on. They put the solo back in for that. That’s why it’s on that. I have an original here still in its cellophane wrapper, the old 8-track.
How were the rehearsals for the tour? It was their first time working with an additional guitarist, aside from that brief time when Syd Barrett and David Gilmour were in the band together.
I’m not sure they knew what to expect. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I just went and played. But when I think back, it must have been a bit strange to have a new guy there. The first rehearsal was in November 1976. Dave and Roger had an argument in front of me [laughs]. I’m standing there and I’ve got the bass on.
That’s because Dave said to me, “Can you play bass?” I told him I could, but actually I couldn’t. I phoned Jim Cregan and said, “Can I borrow your bass? I’ve got three weeks to learn these songs.” But it’s not difficult to learn simple stuff.
So I had the bass on. We were supposed to start with “Sheep” and I’m playing the bass and doing the intro. There’s this argument going on. It wasn’t a real sort of cat fight. It was just words. I thought, “Hmmm. What have I let myself in for?” But I stuck around.
Did it take a while for them to weave you into their sound?
Well, not really. It was all fairly obvious what needed to be played. In those days, I had no idea about keeping things in character or the concept of the song. I was still playing blues. When I learned the bass, I was playing things with my fingers. I thought to myself, “I better keep going and get all these blisters on my fingers.” I got a bit funky, which wasn’t a good idea. And in the first rehearsal I’m playing away and it was alright. Roger turns to me, “Snowy, do you mind playing with a plectrum like I do?”
I’ve got all these blisters on my fingers for nothing. But it was fairly simple. It wasn’t difficult to do what was necessary. I just did my best to play the right things.
Dave was quite generous. He’d say things like, “Why don’t you do the solo in ‘Money?’ I said, “Yeah, alright” and did my thing without thinking that probably, all the people wanted to hear Dave play the solo. It didn’t occur to me to play anything that was actually to do with the song. I just got my sound, which at the time was a cross between Peter Green and Santana. I used to just fire away.
We used to jam at the end of the gig. At one point, Roger said to me, “You know that solo you do in that so-and-so? Do you mind keeping it a little bit shorter?” [Laughs] Those were the days when it was loose.
What was it like walking onstage that first night in Germany? That must have been a very new experience for you.
It didn’t affect me at all, actually. I had to walk on on my own and start the show, playing bass. The cue was an airplane flying over the top and then I had to walk on and start playing [“Sheep”]. I was actually concentrating hard on just getting my parts right, so I didn’t really take notes. I know it sounds funny, but it never really bothered me. It never occurred to me that it was anything special. I just wanted to go and play the right thing.
The set list on that tour was pretty bold. You started by doing Animals straight through even though there weren’t really any hit singles off that album.
That was strange, but the second half is Wish You Were Here and these other bits and pieces after a break. There was one gig where we had the interval and when I came out, I noticed there was one empty seat about two rows back in the middle. Someone had gone.
Funnily enough, the next day I was at a shop. I think it was somewhere in Germany, maybe Dortmund. But I went to this shop and there’s this woman serving and she was talking about the gig. It was her! I swear, honest to God.
She said, “I left the gig. I was so disappointed. They didn’t play anything that I recognized.” I said, “If you had stayed, we did all the stuff in the second half you’d actually heard.” There was that one empty seat and I went into that one shop and it was her. Really strange.
But you’re right. Playing the first half of a show all the way through a new album was quite brave, actually, when I look back at it.
Then you come to America and you’re playing to these baseball stadiums.
It was the same deal, really. I was just concentrating. I could see it was a big crowd. All I’d be thinking was, “It would be nice to play some blues.” [Laughs] It didn’t occur to me that I was in a big, successful band and I should be in awe. I’m just too normal. I was like, “It’s nice, but it’s not blues.”
It’s a real shame they didn’t film these concerts or even tape them. I’ve just seen some blurry photos and heard some bad audience tapes.
I don’t even have any photographs. I didn’t take a camera with me. I’ve got no photographs of me or anything. It was what it was. There is this recording of the one in Montreal, the last gig of the tour. We did play a slow blues at the end of that. It was a second encore and I let it rip a bit. I heard it not long ago and thought, “That’s not bad, actually. I had a little go at the very end.”
That show is very famous in Pink Floyd lore. What’s your memory of that night?
It wasn’t very good vibes for some reason. That was the show where I looked to my left and I could see Roger spitting at one of the audience members. I thought, “What’s he doing? That’s not very …” [Laughs] I remember that. But it was all a bit funny vibes.
Then, during the encores, David didn’t go back onstage.
He went and stood by the mixer. I was playing away and having fun. Then a guitar tech came up and said, “I’ve got to take your guitar off you.” I look around and we’re playing away, but the crew are dismantling the gear. I stopped playing. Rick [Wright] stopped playing. It ended up with Nick [Mason] on snare and hi-hat. That is how the tour ended.
You played on Rick’s solo album Wet Dream right after that.
Yeah. That was nice. Rick was a lovely guy, actually. He was very gentle and I think Roger was occasionally quite fierce with him.
Was making the record with him a positive experience?
Yeah. It was down in the South of France. We went down for a couple of weeks. I liked Rick. It was nice to work with him. I felt that he used me because he was familiar with me as a person and guitar player. It was his first solo album and he was slightly nervous about how it was going to work out, so he wanted people there that he knew. It was a nice experience.
At the same time, you did the Peter Green record In the Skies. Tell me about that.
Pete called me up and said, “I’m thinking about going back in the studio and doing some recordings because my brother is working for this little record company called PVK and I thought I’d go in the studio and help him out. Can I use your band?” It was me, Peter, and Reg Isidore on drums. We all went in there and we jammed, basically.
Was he in good spirits then, or at least a better frame of mind?
He was in pretty good spirits. He didn’t really want to play much. He kept saying, “Snowy, play some lead on this.” I’d be saying, “It’s your album, Pete. You play a bit of lead.” We had a bit of competition to see who would start playing rhythm first.
It’s a shame since he’s such a great guitar player.
His mind was somewhere else, really.
The Wall tour must have been a very different experience from the Animals one.
Yeah. I knew what to expect by then on the road and in rehearsals. It was more of the same for me, just different songs. The fact that none of it was really anything to do with me made it a relaxing environment in different ways. I just kept to myself and played my parts the best I could. I didn’t have to worry about success or audience reaction or promotion or ticket sales. I just played. I mean, I saw the hard times going on and I just kept out of it. It was nothing to do with me.
It’s an even bolder set list this time. It was just the new album and not a single old song.
Yeah. That’s another brave move. You have to hand it to the band. You have to hand it to Roger, mostly, since he wrote most of the songs. But they wanted to do the whole thing. In those days, the technology wasn’t like it is now. They had these great, big 24-track studio tape machines on the road. They were massive things that were supposed to sit in studios. They used them to get some of the effects. Linking things up and making it all work was a major task. There was a lot of production rehearsal.
I’m sure everything was so precise with that show that you didn’t have any chances to improvise.
That’s when it started to get like that. The first tour, it was loose and I got a lot of musical enjoyment and fun. And then it got tight and you had to play your parts. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s the show it is. I got no problem with it. That’s how it began and that’s how it’s been from then on.
Was that first Wall tour frustrating? I know there were lots of tech issues.
Yeah. There were a few. There was always something going wrong. They had that mirrorball thing that came up, but it didn’t always come up. A lot of the audience didn’t know what they were missing, though.
It was an odd schedule where you’d do about six nights and then have five months off.
[Laughs] No good for me. I got paid by the gig!
I guess it was so hard to set up that they didn’t have any choice.
That Wall tour was not possible to be on the road. You had to stay at one place and people had to go to you. There was no way of taking it on the road. Now, all that stuff is on a laptop. It was synced-up tape machines and click tracks and all sorts of stuff back then.
They even lost money. I’ve always read that only Richard Wright made any money.
That’s right. Roger put him on wages [laughs]. I think he sacked him from the band and put him on wages, so he was the only one that made any money, at least apart from me. [Laughs]
How did the Thin Lizzy chapter of your life begin?
That was another sort of drift, really. I got this gig with Cliff Richard at a festival because his guitarist had become ill. We were rehearsing at Shepperton Studios and I literally bumped into [Thin Lizzy guitarist] Scott Gorham as we were opening the doors. I saw him backstage at Madison Square Garden when I did the Floyd thing. He said, “What a great gig, man. Hey, we’re trying out guitar players next door. Do you want to come and have a go?”
I told him I couldn’t since I was rehearsing with Cliff Richard. But I gave him my number and he called me up a couple of days later and said, “We haven’t found anybody. Do you want to come and have a go?” And so I did. We played and got on very well. I thought there were good vibes. Phil [Lynott] said, “Shall we get Snowy in the band?” And they all said, “Yeah.” He said, “Do you want to join the band?” I said, “Alright.” It was one of those.
I sort of drifted again, really. The Thin Lizzy environment and the Pink Floyd environment weren’t really my right environment. I just drifted into stuff because I wasn’t doing anything, really.
I liked Thin Lizzy. They were a great band. Great songs. Phil was a fantastic frontman, but I didn’t really fit properly. I think I added some stuff, though. But it wasn’t really a comfortable time.
It’s a tough gig since you have to recreate all those famous guitar parts on the road.
Yeah. All those harmony things. That was easy enough. That’s all it was. You go to a Thin Lizzy concert and you want to hear all the old Thin Lizzy stuff. That’s it. And that’s what we played.
How was it recording the first album with them?
I only got back from doing the Wall show in L.A. two days before. Then I ended up going into the studio to do this Chinatown album. I had a few ideas. I had the riff at the beginning of “Chinatown” and a few other bits and pieces.
But I discovered even then that they wasted a lot of time in the studio. I’m not like that. I can’t sit around for hours smoking dope and stuff. I’ve never taken drugs, ever. Seeing people sit around wasting hours and hours when they’re supposed to be recording … It was difficult for me to stay engaged with it.
They were getting to be past their time and they went through a lot of guitar players. It must have felt chaotic.
To a certain extent, yeah. They blew it, basically. I think Phil blew it. He got into drugs and he got into a situation where it seemed like he wanted to be a celebrity more than a musician. That’s how I saw it. It all became a bit too much for me.
I got to the studio at 11 a.m., which was the start time. Phil would turn up at 10 o’clock in the evening and go all night. You can’t work with me like that.
You also worked with him on his solo record.
Well, it was all mixed up with recording Thin Lizzy albums. After a while, Scott and I didn’t know if we were on a Phil Lynott solo track or a Thin Lizzy track. Scott said to me, “I’m fed up with this. I don’t mind playing on Phil’s album, but that’s a session. He should pay me for that.” But it all drifted on. It was quite chaotic.
Was it at least fun to go onstage and play “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Jailbreak” and all those songs?
Yeah. They were great songs. I enjoyed all those bits. It was the rest of it. I wasn’t all that good onstage with Thin Lizzy. I’m not the sort that jumps about. I did my best. I played all the right stuff and did some good solos. My fingers used to work in those days. That aspect of things I enjoyed, but everything else was quite difficult.
You left the band in 1983.
What happened was we went to Dublin to write songs for the next album. I actually said to the management, “If I go to Dublin and I sit around the rehearsal place for hours and then Phil turns up in the evening, that’s not going to work for me. We won’t get any work done.” They go, “No, no. We’ve had a word and everyone is going to work hard.” Of course, it didn’t happen like that. I was sitting around, twiddling my thumbs in Dublin.
When we got back home, I woke up in the morning when we were supposed to go back in the studio. I said, “You know what? I’m not going in. I can’t be bothered.” And that was it. I didn’t see anyone to say goodbye to. I just didn’t go in. Management called me up and said, “It’s all over, isn’t it?” I said, “Yeah.”
Tell me about making White Flames, your first solo record.
Well, what a relief to get out of that, Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy. Nothing wrong with either of them, but not really suitable for me. During those times, I’d been very close to [bassist] Kuma Harada and [drummer] Richard Bailey. I knew Richard since he was 14 and Kuma I knew since he got to London in 1971. We’d become good friends and we used to jam and play.
It was great. I thought, “The next thing I want to do is get in the studio with these guys. I’ve got a few ideas. We’ll kick them around and make an album.” As soon as I was free to do that, that’s what we did. And we actually did it in a rehearsal place with a mobile studio outside.
You landed a pretty big U.K. hit with “Bird of Paradise.” Tell me about that one.
I had the idea of that song hanging around for a while. I’d gone into the studio once with Kuma and we were doing a few things. At the end I said, “I’ve got this idea for a song. I want to put it down and see what it’s like.” When we started recording the album, I brought the song back in and we worked at it. I added the solo at the end to see what it would sound like and it ended up just staying there.
At the time, and for good reasons I feel when I listen back, I didn’t want to sing. I’m not a singer. I don’t have a singing voice, certainly not a powerful one. I was actually looking for a singer. I was looking for one to sing “Bird of Paradise,” but the record company wanted to put it out as a single. I said, “Yeah, but I’m looking for a singer.” They said, “We think it’ll be alright as it is.”
In the end, I agreed. I thought, “Nobody will hear it anyway. It’ll just sink without a trace.” So Kuma and I went into Ringo’s studio which is tacked on to the end of his house, Tittenhurst Park. We actually edited “Bird of Paradise” and changed things around and made it a single. We sped it up slightly, just under Mickey Mouse.
That was released. And I’ll always remember. I was driving over Putney Bridge with the radio on. It was Steve Wright in the Afternoon, which was the biggest program on Radio One. And he played it! I’d been told he was going to play it and I listened because I wanted to hear what it would sound like on the radio.
When I got to my management office, they were all jumping around with excitement. I couldn’t quite understand it, really. They said, “Don’t you realize? This is the biggest show!” And not only did he play it, but he played the end solo again afterwards. That was sort of unheard of.
I was still a bit naive then. I didn’t really take much notice of that aspect of the business. But it became quite a big hit. It was a mixed blessing, basically.
Why a mixed blessing?
Well, because I was singing it. I sang it because I wanted to do a demo vocal. Because I was singing it, I found myself having to sing it. Then people seemed to think I was a singer who happened to play a bit of guitar, which was another uncomfortable experience.
I’m sure the label wanted to turn you into a pop star.
That’s where it was heading.
You didn’t want that?
You know what? I wouldn’t have minded that. I just wasn’t any good at it [laughs]. I was useless with all that. You know, when I’m onstage and the spotlight hits me, my natural inclination is to step out of it. I’m not a frontman. I’m not anything like that. I’m not anything. I’m just a blues guitar player. That’s why I learned to play. I wanted to know what it felt like. It all gradually evolved into all these things.
Lots of people, if they had a hit that big, would have kept trying to do more songs like that. They’d make video for MTV and go on tour …
Yeah. [Laughs] Not me, though. I probably missed out, but I don’t know. It was just not me. In the end, I had enough of this and I formed my Blues Agency Band with a singer. I didn’t sing. I just played guitar. I was happier, but not as wealthy.
Tell me how you got pulled into the Roger Waters Berlin Wall show in 1990.
He called me up and said, “I’m doing this big show. I’d like you in the band.” I said “yes,” basically. It was just a one-off charity thing. It was for the Leonard Cheshire Trust. They did things for ex-serviceman.
It must have felt like déjà vu to be back onstage playing those same Wall songs 10 years later.
Yeah. It wasn’t the happiest experience in various ways. It was one of these things where I did it and it was done.
Why wasn’t it happy?
Well, it wasn’t unhappy. But by then, my head was somewhere else, really. But I did it and it was alright. I had no problem with it. But it could be quite difficult at times to do everything that Roger wanted, make it sound like he wanted it. He can be a hard taskmaster because his reputation is dependent on this sort of thing.
You played with Mick Taylor in the Nineties?
Yeah. My drummer in the Blues Agency knew Mick and was like, “Mick is coming over from L.A. and trying to put a few things together. Want to come over and play some rhythm and just be back-up a bit?” I said, “Yeah. That’s nice. That’s the sort of thing I like.”
We did a few gigs, but Mick is so un-together as well. All these people are so un-together. I don’t understand it. But I quite enjoyed the gigs because I had no pressure on me at all. I just played a bit of rhythm and then step forward and do one or two bits and then step back and play a bit of rhythm. That was it. It suited me fine at that time in my life.
In many ways, it must be more fun to play blues at a club than appear in front of 60,000 people at a stadium.
People often ask me that question. “What’s your favorite gig? What is it like playing in a big stadium? This big show must have been a highlight.” I have to explain to them. “No, it wasn’t. First of all, I’m playing someone else’s music. And it’s not blues.”
I can tell you the favorite time of my career. It was the mid-Nineties. I had a three-piece with these two Dutch-Indonesian guys, Juan [Van Emmerloot] and Walter [Latupeirissa]. We just went around Europe and played everywhere. There was humor in the band and the feeling was great, just fearless. We played people’s front rooms on Monday night just for the hotel. We’d do anything. We’d travel around and hump our own gear. I’d actually book the hotels sometimes and drive. It was my most favorite time of my career. I loved those guys. I loved the way they played and I liked them as people.
Occasionally we’d do a gig where everything would jell and the audience would be great. The gear would work. We’d all be in a good mood and we’d get one of those gigs where we have those really good moments. To me, that’s what it was all about. I’d get to bed and go, “Oh, that was great.” To me, that’s what I always wanted to do. That’s why I learned to play guitar.
So then what drew you back into the world of Roger Waters for the 1999 In the Flesh tour if you were so happy in your blues band?
I wasn’t doing much. Although we’d been playing around and doing all this stuff, it hadn’t gone anywhere. We didn’t have a proper management structure or record deal or anyone doing promotion or making the most of what I thought was a really good band. We sort of drifted and people were doing other things, which was fine. But we weren’t doing so many gigs. That’s when Roger called me for the 1999 tour.
I remember when they announced it. It was originally booked at small amphitheaters, but after a couple of weeks, they moved it to the 20,000-seaters.
That was so funny. What happened was, we were flying commercial airlines at first. I can see this picture in my head of Roger sitting in the waiting area at the airport, not looking very happy at all. He used to book two seats so he had an empty seat next to him. And then I remember the promoter talking to Roger. “We sold this out, I think we better move it to the bigger place.”
It got bigger and bigger. And then four days later, we got this little private jet. Then about another four days later, we got a bigger one. Then it just kept going. Roger got the bit between his teeth and realized this could be exactly what he’s always wanted. He was totally in control of the band and music. He didn’t have to deal with the Pink Floyd thing or anything. He was happy. He was part of the band. It was a band feel. It felt really good.
I think what happened is that David Gilmour ended Pink Floyd five years earlier. There was still a hunger for it and that was a perfect opening for Roger to pick up the torch and just run with it.
Was that a fun tour?
Yeah. The first few tours were really good. It felt like a band. The first one was with Doyle Bramhall II on guitar. But then there was the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and Doyle’s wife didn’t let him go on the road. She was worried about him. Up until then, it was Doyle. He played Gilmour’s parts really well, but with Doyle still in there. I really liked that.
I imagine the Roger of the early 2000s was much more mellow than the late-Seventies, early-Eighties Roger.
Yeah. Roger was great. He treated the band really well and it got bigger and bigger. We were top-flight stuff. You can’t get really higher than how we were traveling and where we were playing.
By 2006, it was Andy Fairweather Low and Dave Kilminster on guitar.
I actually got Dave Kilminster into the band. Rog rung me up one day and said, “I need a guitar player who can actually sing a bit and do some of the Gilmour parts. Do you know anybody?” I said, “I don’t.” But I rang this guy that managed Asia and some other Seventies bands. I said to him, “Do you know anyone that can play Gilmour’s parts and sing?” He said, “Yes. Dave Kilminster.”
We then had a sort of audition in London. Dave came down. He hadn’t done any homework and he brought the wrong guitar. But he sounded alright. After he left, Roger said, “What do you think?” I said, “Yeah, maybe we should have him back and have another go.” He said, “Fuck it. Let’s just get him in the band.”
He turned out to be really good. Dave was fantastic. I went near his house to a studio where we could work on the songs, just me and him. He had no clue what he was letting himself in for, but he found out quite quickly in the band. So my phone call changed Dave’s life.
Nick Mason guested at a few shows on the 2006 tour. It must have been nice to be back with him after all those years.
Yeah. Nick is always funny, always a laugh. It was nice. Funnily enough, when Nick plays drums on those Pink Floyd songs, it sounds right. It’s really strange. Nick’s not the best drummer in the world and he will tell you that. When he plays those songs, it suddenly sounds right even though the other drummer might be playing the same thing. It’s just what it is with music. You get used to what it originally sounds like and anything else doesn’t sound the same.
How was the Wall tour of 2010 to 2013?
Well, the Wall show was just amazing. I can’t believe how Roger put all that together. It was just amazing. It was nice to be a part of it, but it was very regimented. It was down to the millisecond every night because it had to be. There wasn’t as much of a band feel then. It was more of a pit-band-in-a-theater feel because we had to do the same thing every night. There’s nothing wrong with that since it was such a good show.
It’s the only show I’ve ever worked on where I said to people, “You should come see this show.” I never said that before, but I thought it was amazing. We were on the stage, but we saw the whole show a few times since he used to record us and the show. Instead of us having to play over and over, he’d use the tape he recorded to go through it for the production rehearsals and the effects and syncing everything up. We were able to sit out front and watch the show and it was amazing.
Roger was such a perfectionist. I remember one tour where we’d been on the road for months and months and months. On the penultimate gig, I heard him talking to one of the girl singers. He was saying, “On so-and-so, maybe you should trying staying on that note there instead of …” That was the gig before the last one! He was still improving things. He deserves all the success he’s had because I’ve never known anyone to work like that.
You did the show 219 times. Did it ever grow tired to you?
Yeah [laughs]. Occasionally. There were days I didn’t feel well or was tired, or something. I’d be like, “Oh, God …” I’d get out of my hotel room and I’d shut the door and think, “I can’t wait to get back in here in about three hours.”
Even traveling on private planes and staying at four-star hotels …
Four star? They were five stars! [Laughs]
My bad. Five stars. But it’s still living out of a suitcase for months at a time. It’s still a grind.
It is. It’s an endless routine. It doesn’t matter what level you’re on. Any routine becomes, in the end, a routine. You don’t really think, “Oh, God, this is a great hotel” or “Wow, we’re on a private plane” or “We’ve got two days off in a resort hotel” or “We’re in a helicopter going to this” or “We’re in the best restaurant in town.” After a while, it becomes ordinary.
There were times I was on the road where I felt, “I can’t wait to get home and sit in my kitchen with my son Thomas and carry on with our backgammon tournament while the sun shines through the window and there’s a smell of cooking. I cannot wait.” [Laughs]
That’s the way it is. It’s months and months and months. I can understand why people give up on it and don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve got to that stage now, but it took a long time.
I enjoy the traveling. I enjoy going to new places. I actually enjoy being in a hotel room on my own. I actually enjoy being in a new town where we’ve got a couple of days off and I can walk around and see things. I actually enjoyed that for years and years and years. In the end, gigs became a thing like, [forlorn voice] “Oh, I’ve got to play a gig tonight.” [Laughs] It wasn’t like, “We’re gigging!” It was just another gig.
Was Roger a tough boss? I know he’s got a temper and he’s a perfectionist. It must have been challenging at times.
It was challenging. He’s a perfectionist and quite right, too. He doesn’t put up with people that aren’t doing their best. I’ve heard him chew out a few people and reduce them to tears. But he never really did that to me. He’d shout occasionally to people in the band if they messed up. But basically, he treated the band really well. He was always looking after us and making sure we had everything we need. Rog was so keen that everything should be perfect that occasionally he’d forget we were all human.
How was the night at the 02 Arena when David Gilmour came out as a surprise?
It was the same as any other night. It’s just someone else on the wall playing the solo. I was behind the wall, playing the rhythm. I remember Dave saying “I really messed that up” when he came down. [Laughs] I think Kilminster by then was playing the “Comfortably Numb” solo better than Dave played it. People wanted to hear what was on the record, and Kilminster used to do it note-for-note. Dave basically just did Dave.
He also messed up the words on the second chorus.
Did he? I didn’t know that. [Laughs] It was funny because he was staying at the hotel, the Savoy. We actually took a boat up the river to the 02 every day. He was on the boat. I said, “This is like old times, after all these years, going to a gig.” It was nice to have him there. I didn’t take notice of the solo and couldn’t really hear it, but to have him around, I enjoyed it.
The tour ended in 2013. When Roger went back out in 2017, he largely had a new band. Were you invited?
No. I’d gotten to the state where I’d had enough anyway. I would have done it, but he phoned me up and said, “I’m going to change the band around. I’m not using Harry,” who was his son and keyboardist, “I’m not going to use Graham [Broad] on drums and I’m not going to use you.”
He seemed to think that I was going to be really upset and hurt. But in fact, I didn’t mind. It didn’t make any difference to me. I had lots of things I wanted to do. In a way, I was relieved that I didn’t have to do any more of it. By then, I’d had enough anyway.
I would have done it. It was habit to do that sort of thing. But I’d played some of that stuff first in 1976 and I was still doing some of it all those years later. Luckily, I managed to do my own thing in between and playing with Rog facilitated that to a certain extent. It allowed me to get in the studio. I kept a fairly good balance. When the next tour came and Rog said he wasn’t using much of the band, I was more than happy with that, honestly.
Are you still in touch with him?
Very occasionally. Very occasionally, I get an email. Apart from that, not really, no. Nothing to say.
What’s been filling up your time in the past few years?
I’m just doing my solo albums, mostly. And getting into oil painting, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m just relaxing, taking my time. Nobody is telling me what to do, one way or the other. Nobody is giving me any deadlines. Quite honestly, I’m surprised at how well it’s going. All the streaming I’m getting and all the downloads, I can’t believe it.
When I found out I wasn’t doing the last [Roger Waters] tour, I told my wife we might have to budget a bit. In fact, it’s gone so well that we just carried on the way we were. I’m actually feeling now quite content with where I am, though I’m sure I could have made more of my career in the early days. But who knows where I’d be if I had done that? I might have burned myself out. I don’t look back and regret things.
If you never play a stadium again, do you care?
I don’t want to do any more live gigs. My last live show with my own band was in 2019 in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the St. Petersburg International Forum with Putin and the Chinese president. It was heads of industries and we were well looked after, but I decided I didn’t want any more of that.
I decided then that was my last tour. If Roger phoned me now and said, “I’ve got this massive stadium gig and I’ll give you thousands and thousands of pounds,” I wouldn’t do it.
Being happy and having the freedom to do the art you want to make is the dream of any artist.
Yeah. I look back and I think, “I actually did earn a living playing the guitar.” It seems like sort of a dream back in 1966. Funny, isn’t it? You never know.
From Rolling Stone US