Now recently you’ve been touring with the Don Airey & Friends band. How did that come about?
It’s basically a band that came about through charity work we did. I put on a festival every year, and invite friends up to play. An agent saw the band and he said ‘You guys sounds great, can I put a few dates in for you?” I said “You can if you want!” and much to my surprise, he came up with a few. So it’s only an occasional thing, but I enjoy it very much.
What was the line-up?
Well, on guitar I’ve got my brother Keith. He’s played with Tom Jones. Keith is a top London session man. A lot of musicians know about him, but not the wider rock public. So hopefully I’ll be introducing him to a few new fans. There’s Steve Pearce on bass, who has played with Madonna. John Marter on drums, whom I used to play with in a band called Alaska. Then there’s Rob Hart on vocals.
And what kind of set list do you guys perform?
Oh, it’s the usual suspects. We’re doing a few Rainbow songs. Some well known, some not so well known. There’s a couple of Gary Moore things. A couple of Whitesnake. It’s all the stuff I’ve played on over the years. There’s a bit of Ozzy too.
We’re not taking the easy option though. We’re just running through a few songs that I haven’t played for years, and I just enjoy playing them.
Earlier in the year, Deep Purple were back in the studio to start recording a new album. Can you give us the latest news on how that is going? What can Purple fans expect?
We spent five weeks in a studio in Los Angeles, putting down 12 or 13 tracks together. Ian Gillan’s close to finishing off the vocals, so the album is nearly complete. We’ll have a listen, and maybe add a few more things, but it should be out in October or November, I think.
Do you have any song-titles or album names you can share with us?
I don’t know what the album’s called, but there’s some funny working titles for the songs. There’s one called Stabs, another called (something)…Of The Deep. I can’t remember the others.
It’s a bit of a departure from the last album. It’s a lot heavier, and I think it will turn a few heads. We recorded it in the same studio that used to be used by Korn, and it’s got a wonderful sound. It’s got a real, immediate drum and organ sound. I was really happy working in there.
Deep Purple are embarking on a US tour in June. Are you never tempted to just put your feet up and relax instead? What keeps you motivated?
It’s a funny thing touring. I think if some psychologists looked into it, they’d come up with some pretty interesting answers, about what makes it so addictive. Once you’ve done it, it’s very hard to give it up. It becomes part of your way of life. It’s something I couldn’t live without. They say musicians don’t retire, they drop.
Do you miss England much when you go?
Yes I do. It is very nice to get back here, even though it doesn’t contrast very favourably with some of the places we go to in the world. You can see that there’s a lot of things wrong in this country, but for me, it’s still the only place to live.
And I’m a Sunderland supporter, so there’s even more reason to be here. That’s where we belong. Back in the Premiership.
Did you manage to make any of the games this season?
I managed to make the Forest one, where we won 2-1. That was the only one though. But both my sons were there on the last game of the season, so I got first hand reports. I got a phone call from them when I was in LA, and the racket and noise in the background was incredible. Absolutely amazing.
Now recently I saw your name crop up on the latest Judas Priest album…
Shhhh, don’t tell anyone!
What is it like working with those guys?
I’ve known those guys for years. They supported Rainbow at the first ever Donnington festival, and that’s where I first got to know them. They are charming characters. I’m very friendly with guitarists Glenn Tipton and Kenny Downing, and I’ve kind of become the band’s honorary keyboard player.
I’ve worked on their last three albums, but it’s all very discreet. I just go in to the studio for a few days and record my piece. I think that last Priest album is amazing though. It’s absolutely brilliant. A fine piece of work.
You’ve played with numerous bands on numerous sessions. Is this a concerted effort to not get bogged down with the same band for year after year?
Yeah, it’s normally my policy to not stay with any band for more than three years. I think it’s good to move on. I’ve broken my rule with Purple though. I’ve been with them three years now, and I’ve got no thoughts of leaving, so long as they want me to be a part of it. It’s a great thing to be involved with.
And how do your sessions come about?
People phone you. They come looking for you, and they ask. You either say yes or no. I can’t ever recall saying no though (laughs).
Now, I heard rumours that the Living Loud project (w/Bob Daisley and Jimmy Barnes) is going to be touring the UK this year.
I’ve heard those rumours too!
Is there any truth in those?
I don’t think so, no.
So it’s not going to happen?
I’m not really in touch with them, as such.
The last time I interviewed you, back in 2003, you said that you were writing a book on your experiences in the music industry. How is the book coming along?
It’s about half done now. It’s hard work, you know! I’ve just met up with my old mate Rudy Sarzo, who played bass in the Ozzy band, and he’s got a book coming out too. He said the best way to do it is a page a day. If you can do that, you’ll be ok. So I’ve kind of slowed down a bit, and I’m just taking my time.
Is it going to contain a reference for all the hundreds of sessions you’ve worked on?
Yes it will do. It’s funny actually, because we did a gig with Joe Satriani on the bill, and afterwards he came up to me and said there’s a guy at the stage door with a wheelbarrow, who wants to talk to me. And in this wheelbarrow, the guy had 125 albums in there, all of which I had to autograph! I think I appear on over 200 albums now. Maybe more. The Catalogue of Shame, I call it!
What advice would you give to young musicians looking to get a break in the industry?
I always say the same thing. Where do you live? At home with my parents. Well, go home, pack your case, and leave home now. That’s the way you get on. It sounds like a strange thing to say to someone, but that’s the only advice I ever give. Apart from the obvious things like keep practising, and keep plugging away, because sooner or later, something will break for you.
You’ve got to get out there and live your life like a musician. Rather than sitting in your bedroom behind a computer.
Do you still remember the first ever gig you performed at?
Yeah, it was at a working man’s club in Sunderland. The bass player didn’t turn up, so we had drums, piano, and two saxophones. We did Yakety Sax, and a Duke Ellington song. We got paid 2s.6d, which was a fortune for us. Funny times.