“The journalists in Sounds and Kerrang used to say on the news pages that so-and-so was in the studio, recording a new album, ‘as yet untitled’”, muses Doogie White in broad, Scottish tones. “And I always thought if I get to do a solo album, I’m going to call it As Yet Untitled. So I did. I had three titles that I was going to use. I used another one when I did an album with Bill Liesegang, called Visual Surveillance Of Extremities. It’s what people with leprosy do to make sure they don’t knock their digits off…”
Doogie White, rock singer from Motherwell, released his only solo album to date in 2011: the aforementioned As Yet Untitled. Even though Doogie was the go-to set of vocal chords for anyone who needed a front man for their rock startup, his star-studded solo project failed to make much impact on the universe. Nevertheless, after a 3½ year stint with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, seven years with Yngwie Malmsteen and nine with Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock, Doogie is more in demand than ever, and the world is getting another chance to appreciate his magnum opus. It has now been re-released in expanded form, with two bonus tracks and an entire bonus CD of cover versions of classic rock tracks. But the whole project may never have got off the starting blocks were it not for a nudge from ex-Dream Theater keyboard wizard Derek Sherinian. According to Doogie, “He and I were playing with Yngwie at the time. And I’m like, I really want to do a solo album. He says, well you keep telling me about all the songs you’ve got. Why don’t you just go and do it? I had some downtime and I thought I’ll just put this money in and we’ll record this album. That was taking a chance, but I ended up doing it and roped him into playing on a couple of tunes.”
The backbone of the project mines a rich seam of Scandinavian musicians, starting with two Swedish drummers. “There’s a guy called Patrick Johansson, who was in Yngwie’s band with me and Derek, and another guy called Thomas Broman, who played with Glenn Hughes for a while, and he did the Hughes Turner project,” (with another Yngwie and Rainbow alumnus, Joe Lynn Turner). Guitarist Marcus Jidell from Stockholm, best known from Avatarium and Royal Hunt, is also in the fray, “Pontus Norgren from HammerFall plays guitar on it; he produced the album, everything just got sent in from all over the world and he gathered it all together.”
Another angle occurred through Doogie’s involvement with Ronnie James Dio’s band. “I’d been working with Craig Goldy from Dio for a while; we did seven or eight songs together when Ronnie went off to do Heaven And Hell.” Some of these songs would have been a shoo-in for Doogie’s album, except that the Dio camp had a legal right over the material. Dio’s wife Wendy was within her rights to lay down the law to Goldy. According to Doogie, “Wendy said, ‘Nope, you can’t be using these ideas. You know, you and Doogie can’t do this. We’ll keep the music for something else.’ Which should probably have been the next Dio album, but then of course Ronnie died.”
So Doogie’s album ended up as something of a sprawl, with disparate musicians and a gathering of songs written at different times. “Neil Murray plays a couple of tracks on it, and Greg Smith, I think he plays one. And then Phil Hillborne, who managed to find places to put solos that I didn’t think were possible. Also Paul Logue from Eden’s Curse, because when Wendy took the songs off, I did not have any other songs ready to go, so Paul and I wrote some songs together. And Mick Tucker from Tank and I wrote some songs together, to fill in those holes!”
The album kicks off with a deliberate Deep Purple pastiche, rather cheekily named Come Taste The Band, after the only studio album recorded by Purple with Tommy Bolin on guitar. “I’d been over auditioning for a band in Germany, and they’d just offered me the job. I was coming back to have that difficult conversation with my girlfriend, because they were insisting that I went to live in Germany, so I was going to have to make a decision. But when I got back, there was a notice on my bedroom door that said Ritchie Blackmore’s Secretary had called, and could I ring this number? So Ritchie and I played phone tag back and forth for a few days, and when we finally spoke he said to me, Look, I haven’t heard anything from you since you gave Colin Hart (Rainbow’s Tour Manager) a tape that I listened to. Can you send me some new material and a recent photograph? I didn’t have anything – I mean, I’d been doing sessions for folk, which was all very lightweight, you know, just session stuff. So Alex Dickson, who was in a band called Midnight Blue with me, brilliant guitar player, we sat down and we wrote a song in the style of Deep Purple mark IV, which at the time was the only incarnation of Purple that Ritchie hadn’t been in! So I did the Coverdale/Hughes parts and he played the slide guitar like Tommy Bolin, right? We called it Come Taste The Band and I sent that to Ritchie and he liked it; he thought it was really funny. I mean, it could have cost me the gig, but he got the gag, which was good!”
I’m interested to know who is doing the backing vocals on the finished version of that track, which are quite prominent, but clearly a different voice. “Well, I wanted my brother to do it with me – but there was a female singer called Patti Russo, who was Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light girl for years, and she did Notre Dame de Paris in the West End, at The Dominion. My mate Steve Balsamo was also in it, and I’ve known Patti for years, but I didn’t know she was doing the show! So she came round, and I just said, will you sing this? So I do what was originally the Coverdale-y parts, and she does the Glenn Hughes parts, and then we harmonise together. And Tony Carey put a Rainbow Rising-esque keyboard intro on the front of it, which I thought he did brilliantly.”
It is brilliant too, and I’d always wondered what happened to Tony, because I completely lost sight of him after Rainbow Rising, with his iconic intro to its opening track Tarot Woman. Doogie is pleased to fill in the gaps. “Tony’s been living out in Germany for years. He’s had loads of hits out there as a songwriter and as a solo artist. I did a couple shows with him actually; one with Axel Rudi Pell at a festival in Germany and then then we did a couple of biker festivals, me and Tony, in Norway. The Hells Angel type guys. That’s scary – but very nice!”
If the main album is gathered from disparate sources, then the bonus CD is a step further still. It consists of twelve covers of classic songs, given the Doogie treatment – but not necessarily songs you would expect. A couple each from Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Nazareth and UFO, plus some ancient works from Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke. Also, I’m pleased to say, an ambitious punt at Thin Lizzy’s Emerald, a classic track from a classic band.
“Well, these were all done in 1999. There was a guy called Lea Hart, who used to be in Fastway. He was a singer, he always had a project on the go, and he decided to do cover albums, which did a lot of business back then – I think the American guys were doing them; there was no work because grunge was still sort of petering out. Lea just got a whole bunch of guys into the studio; Billy Liesegang plays on there; the FM boys, the guys from UFO – you know, they couldn’t even tell me who was playing on the records, they lost all the track listings and things.”
The fashion for cover CDs was a boon for vocalists as it turns out. A singer like Doogie, whose nomadic band membership has entailed a constant effort to learn other people’s songs, finds that the covers are not always a natural fit. Playing with Schenker’s Temple Of Rock, for example, has meant covering a number of UFO tunes, and as he says, “Phil Mogg has such a unique voice and such unique phrasing. It was always difficult to find it.” But as long as a version can be found that has someone else singing on it, then it is bound to include some pointers on how to perform a convincing version, without having to sound exactly like the original. Even so, the performer finds they don’t always stick in the mind, as he explains: “Brian Adams, who runs the record label, said, ‘Look, I’d like to put your solo album out. And I’ll get two bonus tracks and we’ll do a CD of all these songs from tribute albums that you did.’ You know, some of them I don’t even remember doing. I mean, I don’t remember doing Twisting the Night Away, or Not Fade Away, or Let’s Spend The Night Together. I have no memory of doing them at all. And I never even heard them until I heard this CD!”
Nevertheless, it may have been this experience doing covers that honed Doogie’s ability to put on other people’s personas, sometimes with tongue in cheek. On the main album, there are a couple of original numbers that are consciously performed in the style of other bands. It has already been mentioned that Come Taste The Band was a deliberate take on mark IV Deep Purple, but Catz Got Your Tongue and Time Machine could easily be Bon Scott-era AC/DC. “Just to have fun, yeah!” he agrees. “All those songs were written at different times. I mean, Come Taste the Band and Catz got your tongue were written in the same session for Ritchie, but I know how much he hated AC/DC, so we didn’t send him that one. So that was back in ‘94.”
Doogie’s induction into the Rainbow family was arguably his intro into the big time, but his face had bobbed up above the fence from time to time well before that, even though he was relatively late to the game. “My first proper band was not till I was about 24 years old, called La Paz. There was another band I was always filling in for – their singer/guitar player was really temperamental, and he would leave every other week, so I was doing all these gigs with them. At one of these shows, Chic McSherry, who was the guitar player putting La Paz together, said I want you to sing in my band. He was really instrumental in kind of moulding me, you know, to be more professional about it all. Then that led on to me getting offered the job with Midnight Blue and going to London.”
In these southerly climes, Douglas White from Scotland morphed into Doogie White, rock singer. “I changed the spelling of it, because I lived in London; I stayed in Chiswick for 30 years. And when I started doing stuff, people were saying, ‘All right, hello Duggie’. But I said it’s not Duggie, it’s Doogie, like ‘Don’t blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, blame it on the boogie.’ So I changed it to the double ‘o’, which just meant nothing but trouble up here in Scotland!”
There was also a spell with New Wave Of Heavy Metal rockers Praying Mantis. “That was just ten days notice. They were due to go to Japan; I was living in the house with Jem Davis, the keyboard player with FM. Mantis’ singer had just landed the starring role in the musical Hair, so they needed a singer, and Jem said why don’t you take Doogie? He’s here, he could learn it. So while we were flying over on the plane I was still learning all these songs, because I’d never heard them before! It was just weird, but it was great; that was my first time in Japan and I fell in love with the place. So from London, you know, it was just bouncing around from different things until Ritchie found me.”
‘Bouncing around’ seems to be a pretty good description of his career. I inquire whether he sees himself as a band member, or more as a kind of gun for hire; a wandering troubadour who drifts from town to town righting wrongs, like David Carradine in Kung Fu.
“I don’t see myself as a band leader. I don’t see myself being responsible for putting a band together; that’s not what my bag is. I don’t know that I’m a good commander, but I’m a very good second in command. I’m good at coming in and being Spock, you know, as opposed to Captain Kirk! Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than to have stayed with Ritchie for three albums; I would have loved to have done that. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ritchie, you know, and to tour the world with him. I’ve been lucky to do two albums with Yngwie Malmsteen. These guys –these artists – need to change the musicians, you know, to keep their energy levels going. They need to change, and it’s normally the singer that gets punted first, so they can fool around with it. I mean, I was three and a half years with Ritchie; I was seven with Yngwie. And I was nine with Schenker. And I did two albums with Tank, but the climate wasn’t right for Tank to tour. So I can’t sit around. I mean, I’ve got bills to pay, and the world to see. So if somebody wants me to do something, and I’m available, and I think I can bring something to the party, then I’ll do it, I enjoy it. There are no laurels for me to rest on.”
His latest move has been a bit of a surprise to many – Doogie is now the official front man for Alcatrazz, which has been Graham Bonnet’s gig on and off for nearly 40 years. Doogie is disarmingly candid about that move.
“Well, when Graham was touring with Alcatrazz, they came up to play in Edinburgh and he phoned me up and said listen, can we go for a wander and a coffee? And I said what’s going on, and he said I f*ckin’ hate this. I said what?? He said, I hate Alcatrazz. I never liked it; it’s not the kind of music I want to do. I want to do the music I can do with the Graham Bonnet Band. And I said, Well Graham, you’re 73 years old for heaven’s sake man, go and do what you want to do. Don’t be tied to this if you don’t want it. I didn’t know he was gonna leave and they were going to offer me the gig!”
Quite apart from the shocking realisation that the Down To Earth man is now a septuagenerian, I had an uneasy feeling that I was hearing gossip I shouldn’t really have heard. So I ask Doogie, in all seriousness, whether it’s OK for me to print this stuff or whether it’s strictly off the record. Again, he’s up-front about the whole business. “Sure! Absolutely. He knows I’m not telling tales out of school. It’s entirely up to him what he wants to do. And if you’re not enjoying it, just don’t do it; if you have an opportunity to do something you like to do, then go and do it.”
I muse that it’s not as if Bonnet is going to have difficulty putting a band together or getting people to play with him. Doogie agrees. “Of course not. He’s just finished a Graham Bonnet band album which he started last summer. His last two Graham Bonnet albums were really good, I really liked them. And the new Alcatrazz album, it’s called Five. I’ve got the mix in today. We’ve shot one video for it, and we’ll be shooting another. There are two original members in the band anyway, then Joe Stump on guitar and wee Mark (Benquechea) playing drums, and we’ve written a good album. I’ve known Graham for 20-odd years, we’ve toured the world together, you know, we’ve hung out in Japan and been mad and crazy, him me and Joe; it’s been great. I don’t want to piss him off; I mean, he knows that I’ll treat this with respect. But what do you do? If he doesn’t want to do it, do you just put the other guys out of work and go right, OK, that’s it, over? So while it’s always been associated with Graham and it always will be, that’s okay, because there’s a new audience out there. I’m sure there’ll be some people who won’t be happy about it, you know? The thing is, you just go. you present your best work, it’s best foot forward, shine your shoes and charge into the fray and see what happens.”
Doogie has certainly been charging in full force, presenting on several fronts at once. “So the solo album comes out right? I sign that away and then Frontiers approached me and said they’ve got a guitar player/producer/songwriter named Emil Norberg from Scandinavia they’d like me to work with. And we wrote a brilliant album together. Remember I told you I had three titles for albums, right? We’re using the third title for the name of that project. It’s called Long Shadows Dawn, and the album is called Isle of Wrath. That comes out at the beginning of August, on Frontiers. And I was just finishing that when the Alcatrazz guys contacted me. So I’ve got three albums coming out; two that I’ve written in the last ten months and one that I wrote ten years ago!
And so the rolling troubadour gathers no moss. The new double CD version of As Yet Untitled is already on the shelves as of 4th June; Isle Of Wrath from Long Shadows Dawn is scheduled to hit the streets on 6th August. Stay tuned for news of Alcatrazz Five. In the meantime, amuse yourself by trying to find a band in the classic rock arena that Doogie has not fronted at some time…