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InterviewsLynch at 50: George Lynch looks ahead with lessons from the past

Posted on Sunday, October 24 2004 @ 15:24:20 CDT by Jedd Beaudoin
Heavy Metal Sea of Tranquility's Jedd Beaudoin checks in with George Lynch on the eve of Lynch's 50th birthday and gets some surprising answers to questions about Lynch's past and future. During George Lynch's tenure with Dokken he not only helped songs that became staples of the heavy metal canon, he also brought with him an instantly identifiable guitar style that launched more than a few adolescent males into the wood shed to learn tracks such as "Burnin' Like A Flame," "In My Dreams" and others. Lynch and Don Dokken notoriously butted heads and the imminent demise of the band (just as it was its commercial peak) didn't surprise as many as it stunned末from an outside perspective it seemed that the band had come so far and then walked away from the spoils of its efforts.

Dokken and Lynch reconciled briefly in the '90s but the idea of a reunion seems far beyond impossible. And maybe that's as it should be. Speak with George Lynch and you find that he's not as concerned with rehashing the past as he is with moving forward, expanding his musical vocabulary and continuing to create music for fans both loyal and brand-new.

In conversation Lynch is easy-going, funny and surprisingly humble, what follows is a complete transcript of an interview conducted in September, 2004. Lynch's current album, Furious George is out now on Shrapnel. His official site is

SoT: Tell me a little bit about how you selected the material for Furious George.

George Lynch: I knew you were going to ask me that.

SoT: [Laughs.]

GL: [Laughs.] We had to narrow the scope of what the record would be. We were pulling from a big area of music. I wasn't sure if I wanted the material to reach all the way back into the '60s or get into the mid-'70s, or what genre. I mean, I listened to all kinds of music when I was younger末funk stuff, progressive music, rock, blues. We ended up narrowing it down to the earl to mid-'70s bands that inspired me when I was coming in LA, playing with local bands and stuff. A lot of these songs are songs that we had in our setlists, so they were familiar to me from a band I had called The Boyz.

I originally wanted to go a little deeper and have some more obscure picks on there from bands like Groundhog and Utopia and Tempest and Spooky Tooth. The record company thought that those songs had no appeal, that they were too obscure and people wouldn't know who these people were, so it wasn't a safe bet that anybody would be interested in listening to the record. I personally think that it would have been a cooler record if there would have been more obscure bands to turn people onto but I'll have to save that for the next one.

SoT: You played cover tunes when you were coming up. There are some people who say they learned about songwriting from doing that. Do you have positive memories of that or were you one of the people who disliked it?

GL: I think you're right in that I think that it does give you the tools to understand how to construct songs and see how the pieces fit together and what hooks are about and grooves and changes and turnarounds and bridges, all the elements of songs that you want to understand when you write, unless you're writing some epic Rush song or something. On the other hand, it might also block your own impulses to do things a certain way where your personal ideas are getting diluted by other people's ideas. I know people who are in cover bands all their lives and that's all they can do. They don't have a clue about writing, somebody does it for them, then, when they try to write their own songs the tunes completely suck. They're hideous.

But I think that you kind of have to be born with the creative impulse to begin with. Some of us have it, some of us don't. I can remember that before I could even play guitar, I heard music in my head. I always have this ideal song or riff or something floating around in my head. It comes and goes. I don't know if that's because of an influence in my environment or whatever. I think that for people who write and have a strong personal writing style, it comes from within and then it's bolded by outside influences like covering songs and learning how songs are constructed or listening to the radio and records and saying, "That helps me clarify what I had in my head" vs. straight plagiarism.

SoT: What was your own development like from a writing standpoint?

GL: Early on, with bands that I was in high school and my early 20s, we didn't know the rules so we didn't know what rules to break, so we wrote these 10-minute opuses that went on forever through completely different time signatures and changes that never reoccurred. It was just a mindfuck just to remember the arrangements. You'd get seven minutes into the song, somebody'd forget a part and we'd have to start all over again. It was treacherous. [Laughs.]

It was a good little proving ground to stretch out in. But, you know, we were just finding our way. But then you find your way too much and get in to such a focus that you work yourself into a box that you can't get out of. I found that I was doing that in Dokken. I had to be so safe, I couldn't really play outside. Every song was built the same way pretty much. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't get out of the intro-verse one-pre-chorus-chorus-verse-two-pre-chorus-chorus-bridge-bridge-out-vamp or maybe a coda or something. That was a pretty typical song. We were just trying to fit it into that outline. It was like a software program, you know? Stick all the elements in there and it'd all fit.

But I've done things since then that have tried to evolve from there, especially a lot of the stuff that I've done that's remained unreleased. I've done quite a few records on my own that've never seen the light of day where I've experimented with different styles. One thing that I did release that was different was Smoke This in '99 [with Lynch Mob]. I really tried to push it a little bit and go into some different areas. But I think that, historically, when people try to do that they don't have as much immediate success but they'll have more critical recognition later on because they tried something different.

SoT: You have such a distinct voice. There are some players who say that from day one they sounded more or less that way and others who say that they evolved into their voice. How about you?

GL: There was a big learning curve there. If I would go back and listen to the first record that I recorded for a friend, it's a song called "A," a 45, it's a lame song but I was 17 and I came in with Fender amp, my '61 Les Paul Special, my Jordan Bosstone. I had a completely different style. It was really along the Leslie West vein, thick and slow and bluesy, that '70s British invasion rock vibe. That's what I listened to, Peter Green, stuff like that.

Eddie's the same way. He started out as a Clapton freak, playing a Bassman and Paul and he evolved into what he's famous for now. I sort of went the same trajectory. I got into using different effects and got into the Marshall thing, started tweaking those. But I was also heavily influenced by what was happening around me in the late '70s and early '80s. I wasn't immune to that. I wasn't this huge trendsetter, I was just, you know, listening to Eddie. Jake E. Lee and the guys who were coming up around me were compatriots. We were learning from each other on a daily basis. Warren DeMartini would be in the rehearsal room next to ours using a PQ-3, I had to go get a PQ-3. He'd come over and listen to my rig and tweak a little bit, it was all give and take. We were all sharing ideas. We ended up being almost the same-sounding guitar players actually because of it.

SoT: Did you all have a sense that you were that good, that you were going get record deals and move out of the club scene?

GL: I think that we were realists but realists with a tremendous sense of optimism. We were all very cocky and believed in ourselves and for good reason. We all were just about to peak in our abilities. Our bands were all really good and we'd gone through our high school periods and our late teens and early 20s, honing our skills, working on songs and preparing ourselves for playing out and doing demos. We felt poised. There was us and other hungry bands that were hungry and determined to make it末Quiet Riot, ourselves, Van Halen, Snow with Carlos Cavazo, Stormer, Orange, Wolf Gang, Legs Diamond. There was a progressive band at that time that had a whole show that had a magic show in it. Randy Rhoads had a completely different style from Kevin from Ala Carte who was doing this ZZ Top-meets-Rocky Horror Picture Show thing. It was in drag but they were the nastiest, blues-rock bunch of guys. It was theater at the same time. Van Halen were just the masters of playing kick-ass hard rock. Great songs.

We were a lesser version of Van Halen, I would say. I think we all had this sense of entitlement, this sense that we were all going to make it. But you had to beat the other guy out. I remember when Ratt got signed. We had some kind of shitty, fucked-up deal back in France or something with no money and living in a little hovel, living off of stale pizza and shit while those guys had just signed with Atlantic. It was like, "Goddamnit! What makes them any better than us?" It just made us more determined to get over the hump.

But getting signed is not the whole battle. It's really about what you do after you get signed and who you have behind you and how you manage yourself and the connections you have. Dokken would have never made it without the management we had. We made it despite ourselves, despite our inabilities and a lack of a lot of things. [Laughs.] I really don't think that Dokken deserved to be a band that was out there, honestly. That's my absolute, honest opinion. I think that we made it despite ourselves. We had tremendous management末Q-Prime management which managed Metallica, Queensryche, Def Leppard and a half-dozen other amazing bands. They were supremely powerful and we got seven years of major support touring out of it. We were jammed down WEA's and Elektra/Asylum's throat. We were jammed at radio. We were created.

In the end it's not how good you are or how good your songs are. None of that really matters. The fact that people did pick up on it suggests that we did have something to offer. I don't that we would have ever made it on a grass roots level, just on our own accord.

SoT: Why don't you feel that you should have been in that echelon?

GL: My band before Dokken, X-citer should have been. They were a very powerful band. Great songs, great chemistry. We had all the elements. That was the band that I loved and felt deserved to make it. I believe that if we would have stuck it out, we would have been OK. I don't know what kind of OK but we would have probably been able to make records, which would have been nice.

SoT: You've essentially boiled everything down to George Lynch at this point. Lynch Mob and Lynch/Pilson are both essentially done. Is that how you see things progressing from here? Have you decided, for instance, that maybe you're at an age where you don't want to mess around with bands?

GL: You're right. I had been trying for so long to live that dream and attain that ideal of the perfect band. I've been doing that since high school. I've come close on occasion but it always falls apart, it always ends up being a situation of failed relationships, personal differences. I know I'm not going to fail myself so I just leave it to myself to do what I need to do. It was a little easier when I was younger: You're at the bottom. You don't have anywhere to go but up. Then you get bigger, that's great. You get older and you've had success and, you know, there's a payoff, that's worthwhile, you're making a living but you have responsibilities. You can get people to play with you and at least pretend to care because they're getting paid. But at the point that I'm at now, just dealing with all these personalities ... it just doesn't work anymore.

What would a person at my age with my history, what would I have to do to go after somebody I really want to play with to be able to play with them? Usually, it's going to be a younger guy, so then I'm the new Ronnie James Dio. I'm this 80-year-old guy playing with 20-year-old kids. That's just sad, dude. [Laughs.] I don't want to do that. I haven't found the guys that I really want to put together that perfect band with. I hire a band, I do a record, but I create all the music. That's fine, you know? I do miss playing with Mick [Brown]. He had a great Bonham-solid feel and I pretty much ... we played together 22-years and I really do know how to groove with him. But other than that, it's kind of exciting to play with new people. It's inspiring to get with a new drummer and get off on his playing and it's good. I did my stint with being faithful to bands, sticking it out for decades.

SoT: You must have had offers over the years to be the second to a singer末a Coverdale or Dio kind of situation. Has that ever come in and why did you maybe resist that?

GL: I had an offer to join Ozzy three different times and I never did make it. There was the time when Brad Gillis was leaving and I flew to Scotland and did some rehearsals with them in Texas and played with them quite a bit. Then, at the last minute, they pulled Jake [E. Lee] in instead. That was kind of heartbreaking. There's been a few instances. I remember when Phil Mogg asked me to join a band with him and some other guys. But I was so dedicated to the people I was working with at the time that I wanted to bring the rest of the guys with me but Phil didn't want that. I was playing with a singer named Robert Fleishman末an amazing vocalist who was in Journey for a short time. He wrote all those amazing songs like "Wheel In The Sky" and everything in that period. He would have been like a Paul Rodgers or something. He was just amazing when he was young. We really wanted him in the Boyz. Ironically, Steve Perry auditioned for us, too but we didn't like him because he sounded like a girl. We wanted Robert. Robert ended up playing with us for a little while, then joining Journey. Then he got the boot because he's an egomaniac and got Steve Perry. They got both of our leftovers. But the funny thing is that Robert wound up calling me back, wanting to for this kind of supergroup with one of the guys from Ted Nugent's band and some other guy. I couldn't do it. I wanted to bring Mick Brown and the bass player ... whoever that was at the time. I was so dedicated to him that I can't remember his name! [Laughs.]

SoT: [Laughs.]

GL: I've had a few. I talked with Nikki Sixx recently about the Motley Crue reunion but that's probably not going to happen for me. I wouldn't be comfortable in that. I really like playing my own songs. I write. I've never been good in cover bands so I probably wouldn't be very good at playing somebody's else's music in a big band. I'd probably screw up all of Mick Mars' riffs. [Laughs.]

SoT: [Laughs.]

GL: It's hard stuff!

SoT: What happens when a band with big management dissolves and the management goes away and you're back to where you were before? Is it frustrating or is it in some ways a relief?

GL: It's frustrating. It is. I think the key for bands coming up the key is finding management that on one hand cares enough to care enough about you and not him. And, secondly, to have enough clout to open doors and have people return phone calls and put you on tours, at a showcase, to get you signed and on radio. That's a really, really hard balance to find in a manager. Those kind of guys are in demand and can only handle two or three acts effectively. So you get somebody .... There are so many management companies out there that'll handle 20 bands and they'll have a bunch of people in cubicles like at a beauty salon or a telemarketing place. They're all dealing with the daily stuff and the main management guy's not doing anything except making money. He's got his name on the door and that's it. There's a lot of companies like that.

I've been very lucky to hook up with Dobie Management, which is Kevin Lee from Left Bank with Motley Crue and Go-Go's and Disturbed and a bunch of other really good acts. They're big enough and small enough. But there are so many other elements to it. You have to have a publicist. You have to have the right lawyers. You have to be on a label with an A&R person who understands you and is in it for more than one record and they're there to develop the talent rather than give you one shot at radio and then write you off. Obviously, the right band and crew ... everything's important. It's quite an undertaking to get the whole machine together.

SoT: Can the machinery ultimately be the demise of a band, that you work hard only to find that it's all really just a big bitch?

GL: Absolutely. If you're in control of it, it's OK. But when it controls you, it's not. That's why, when you're younger you just want to blind yourself to it. You hide yourself in drugs and alcohol. You're just put on a conveyor belt, they push the green button and you go. You can't stop the machine. You've six months of touring, then you're in the studio for six months, then there's millions of dollars stake, everybody's depending on you and it's not just about you at all. It's about the 50 people surrounding you that you've built into this huge entourage. You can't stop it. But what is nicer is when you get a little older and wiser and you have some success behind you so that you can work and be in control of it and say, "Well, this is how much I'm going to tour. These are the conditions under which I'll tour or do records." You can still have your sanity and your family and your work in a sensible, san way.

SoT: Were there people you met over the years in the business that you looked at and said, "You know, they've got it together. They know how to manage the business end and keep that separate from the artistic,etc."?

GL: I know people like that who do handle themselves very well. Steve Vai, for instance. He runs a whole empire with his record label, all his different interests, his endorsements, all his touring, clinics. The same things I do but on a bigger scale. Apparently he's got all his computers networked and he even sends his wife e-mails to communicate. That's what works for him. I go through periods of productivity and then I just bail out. I don't touch a guitar and I don't have anything to do with music. I just get lost. I'll ride my bike, backpack, go out and hang in the desert, camp, travel, whatever I can do. I clear my head and just enjoy being alive and then when I feel music coming out, it's fresh. It's fun. I feel like I get to relearn al little bit. But I've been playing so long that I feel like it's hard for me to get back in the saddle. I've been playing guitar for 40 years.

SoT: You may know what you're doing by this point.

GL: I get rusty. It takes me a few days to get my chops back to where they need to be and I rehearse pretty steadily, start getting back into songwriting. I play everyday and then I'm back where I was. But the cool thing about it is that when you let it go for a little while and you come back, you come back to a different place. You change a little bit. That's what makes it interesting. You rediscover everything. You rediscover playing a new style of music and how much fun it is to play again.

SoT: What kinds of music would you still like to explore?

GL: I've always loved funk. I know that my fan base will be pissed off if I do something that's too off for what I'm known for. I did a rap metal record as sort of a reaction to that whole scene. I got dubbed Lynch Bizkit. I loved doing it. It was so fun. I'd like to do stuff that would be considered current that people would listen to and say, "That's cool" and in a historic sense wouldn't have to work as newer music or older music, it would just transcend. That's what I'm trying to do right now. Stuff that's intense, heavy and still can be funky at the same time. I don't really think too much about it. I just go in and write and whatever happens, happens. I'm definitely a little more aware of the fact that I have certain strengths and I'm known for certain things and I have to play off that. I can't just go off .... Nuno Bettencourt is back out there. I really love his playing but apparently he's in this funk pop band and that's what he loves to do. He's making no apologies. People don't want to hear that. They want to hear him shred but he says, "Fuck 'em." I'm trying to retain my identity but a lot of times if I sit down and try to play something bluesy or funky, I still default to my hard rock roots. I guess to answer your question, I'm going to be pushing the envelope but not breaking the mold.

SoT: I know that you're about to turn 50.

GL: [Laughs.] I'm trying really hard to ignore that!

SoT: How's the next half-century shaping up for you?

GL: I'm like the former Soviet Union where they have these five-year plans? I put five year plans in place and I figure that that's a big enough chunk for me to bit off. Who knows what's going to happen in five years? For my age, I have a lot of energy. I'm not your average 50-year-old guy. I try to stay in shape, take care of myself. I'm not a saint but I do take pretty decent care of myself. I don't really feel that I've achieved what it is that I was meant to achieve as far as creating the music that I still hear in my head and I'm frustrated that I still haven't been able to get out there and let people know that this is what I've got bottled up inside. Once I get it on tape maybe I'll feel like I can let it go. I want to create this music that's been eluding me for years, for all my life. I want to make another really good stab at reestablishing myself as .... I've survived. When younger bands ask me for advice, I just say, "Stay together!" Don't jump from one stone to the next. Just stay with what you do. That's 50 percent of that. I'd like to do that for the next five years, create sort of ... like what Jeff Beck has. He's a legend. I don't have the luxury of having come out of the Yardbirds or any of that great rock 'n' roll history, but he did stand out from the [others] in a way that others weren't able to. I'd like to continue to create good music. If you looked at my list of to-do things and my outlook, it's like I planned to rule the universe. If I accomplish a third of it, I'll be happy. I'm happy and I just want to keep my music out there.

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Lynch at 50: George Lynch looks ahead with lessons from the past

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