HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: January 2024. We had the great pleasure to talk with a very talented guitarist and a true gentleman: Andy Timmons. He is one the best guitar players of our time releasing albums as a solo artist and with his Andy Timmons Band. He has been a member of Danger Danger, a longtime musical director and guitarist for Olivia Newton-John and has also recorded with Simon Phillips, Kip Winger and others. In 2022 he released his latest solo album, “Electric Truth”. Read below the very interesting things he told us:
Could you please describe to us the writing and recording process of “Electric Truth”?
Well, every record that I do can be a combination of tunes I may have started quite a while before that particular record. A song like “Grace”, I had actually written a few years before after I had seen Billy Cox, the great bass player from The Jimi Hendrix Experience when he was performing on the Experience Hendrix Tour. So, little things might have a long way that I didn’t get around to recording with my band. When I met Josh Smith, we had just become friends and he invited me to come and record at his studio and this felt like a good idea. I respected his playing so much. A lot of people say: “Hey, we should do something together”. Sometimes it feels sincere, sometimes is like: “Yeah, ok, that’s a nice idea”, but you know, everybody is so busy these days. But Josh is a very sincere and direct kind of person, so I really felt through my communication with him that this will be something really cool to explore. And why it was exciting for me, was that I tend to be my own producer or co-produce with other band members like my bass player, Mike Daane, who has produced the “Resolution” (2006) record with me and “Theme from a Perfect World” (2016) and that’s a great way to work, but I like the idea of going into another situation outside of my normal circle of people that I work with.
The idea was the Josh would produce the record and he would pick the players; I would just show up with some songs and my guitar and then we would put together the record like that. So, it was kind of liberating for me, in a way, that it didn’t have to be an Andy Timmons Band record; it could be something completely different. I always enjoyed the players that he used on his recordings and when I saw them live on Youtube I thought: “Oh man, this always sounds great”. It feels great. Of course, he brought in Lemar Carter on drums, Travis Carlton on bass and Deron Johnson on keyboards. So, I had a few tunes that I was writing with the Telecaster in hand, influenced by Josh because he is a long time Tele player, therefore I would choose: (ed: he plays on his Ibanez signature guitar) It’s some funky stuff, that has an Al McKay/ Earth, Wind & Fire kind of vibe, but the Telecaster -I wrote “Apocryphal” and some of the other songs on a Telecaster- is out of my normal writing voice. Some of the songs happened very much with me thinking about what it would be like in Josh’s little world; not trying to play like him, but just trying to get a more R&B, blues influence into my music realm.
So, in the “E.W.F” tune I had the riff and then Josh wrote the B section (ed: the “bridge” or “middle eight”) to it. We collaborated over the phone on a couple of things. I wrote “Apocryphal” on my own but in songs like “When Words Fail”, that was one of my normal ballads and I always like to have a nice ballad or two or three on a record, you know. “One Last Time” was another song like that, but the overall tone of the record thematically, at least in my mind, is mostly instrumental, of course, but the two songs “Say What You Want” and “Take Me With Me” are very much in line with the nature of society and how restrictive things can be, that to truly speak your mind is a dangerous thing. There is so much misinformation and so much crazy out there, that music for me has always been my guiding line, my lifeline. I can always trust that. I know what music gives to me emotionally. I know what I put into the music emotionally when it’s me creating the music. The important thread for me was just that music is my security, my secure area that I trust, that I say what I want, I can play what I want and that’s the idea, the “Electric Truth”; that’s what music is for me, the guitar is my North Star, it’s how I express myself on a very deep level and sometimes verbally. “Take Me With You” is literally just like me saying: “When you find a good place to go, take me with you” (laughs). It’s just pretty straight ahead. Nothing to left for imagination there. It’s a very good question, I know a jumped around a little bit, but that’s the honest thing: There is never one specific way for me to write a song. It can very much be influenced when I talk about current events or meeting somebody or just thinking about a particular emotion or thing. I let it happen the way it happens and if it feels good in the studio, then I pursue that and hope it comes out ok.
Josh Smith produced “Electric Truth” and you also had Lemar Carter (drums), Travis Carlton (bass) and Deron Johnson (keyboards) as your studio band. How important was their contribution to this album?
Every band that I’m ever in the studio with, their contribution is invaluable ‘cause that’s the feel of the music. I may be the “singer” on the guitar, I may be the focal point, I may be delivering the melody, but it’s meaningless without the great unit. You are only as strong as the band; you are only as strong as your drummer, specifically. The feel has to be right, but their contribution was remarkable. I love the sound of the record. It’s not me that I am commenting, I am commenting on how the bass sounds, the drum sounds, the wonderful keyboard layers and textures that Deron came up with and Josh very astoundingly helped shape on the way. I love the way the things feel on that record and the good news is we are gonna record a second record in the first week of February. I am writing the songs now, I should say: “Compiling the songs”. There are songs that are already written, some songs aren’t finished and I’m writing the finishing touches. Josh and I reconnected, he came to Joe Bonamassa’s a couple of months ago and on our way to barbecue I said: “Yeah, we should record another record”. So, he said: “Yeah man, late January/ early February I’m open, come on!” It may not be called “Electric Truth II”, but it will be very much a continuation of that same core band Josh producing. We’ll see where it goes. But yeah, I love playing with that particular band and working with Josh as a producer. It’s great because Josh is such a wonderful guitar player and that’s unusual for me to have somebody that plays that great at the helm. It’s usually me and my bass player engineer and other people might co-produce, but to have another guitar player involved, that I have some respect for, was really-really inspiring for me and lit an additional fire in a certain way and his input was great. We would occasionally have these little bits of suggestions and whatnot. I would always take them very well and want to explore what his path might be, because this is gonna bring something different out of me and that’s why you work with a producer. I can do my own thing all day, every day and it will be fine, but to work with that other respected entity, whoever may be, being any musician or engineer, it’s gonna inspire you and if it’s the right relationship, it ‘ll bring something different out of you that maybe you didn’t even know you had. And Josh provides that opportunity for me, outside of my normal circle, so I like that.
The first single “E.W.F” is your tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire’s guitarist, Al McKay. Please tell us a few words about this song.
I just always loved the guitar sounds on those Earth, Wind & Fire records. Of course, I’m playing my “Resolution” (2006) record this weekend on my StageIt, so I should have a Telecaster here, but that middle position of funky, clean sound that I already have on this guitar (ed: he plays a bit on his signature Ibanez on Zoom). It is very much me trying to imitate the two guitar parts that he did on “Shining Star”. (Ed: He continues playing) So, it’s that boogie-woogie on the top of that and over those parts together, it was me leading to that feel and this is building a song off of that. But playing with that Telecaster, it has that kind of sound and feel to its soul. I really enjoy that track a lot and the whole thing is live; the whole track and the solo was done just all of us together. You can hear everybody interacting. I love when you can capture it with a band in a room. It doesn’t always happen and there is no shame in going back and trying a solo over again or whatever, but that one just happened as you hear it. There might have been an overdub of a cowbell or a keyboard, but that’s about it, it’s a live track.
I real like “Apocryphal”! It is like your guitar is singing a vocal melody. What inspired you to write this great song?
Thank you, man. It literally was just a tone I had (ed: he plays it). I was writing in my office, but I had the Telecaster and I didn’t normally use a Telecaster as a lead instrument but it spoke quite clearly in the low register (ed: he plays again). The song is in F minor. So, it was a little unusual for me that I was starting on the note C. That has a certain way and a certain power to it and those are the moments that I look for. Probably, I was trying to write a song. Most songs start when I am just playing and I am not making an attempt to write a song. I just have to recognise when something cool happens and then go: “Ooh! Maybe that is something. Let me address it” (ed: he plays a very beautiful, long melody). So, it’s a pretty simple song but I think that is something that really appeals to people. You say, I sound like I am singing to you. I love technical music. I love things that may be very difficult to play. I have a new record that I am finishing with the band called “The Reddcoats”, that I did a record with, a couple of years ago. It’s something that is very prog and quite difficult to play. The songwriter Matt Bissonette (ed: Elton John, Joe Satriani, David Lee Roth -bass), wrote a lot of these lines on a keyboard (laughs). When you meet his stuff, it can be perfect, but when you are a human trying to play… But I also tend to listen to more music that is just good songs and good melodies and in my music that’s what I want to hear me playing along with some of the technical stuff, too. I appreciate that as a great compliment, thank you.
“Take Me With You” (feat. Corry Pertile) is very addictive and powerful. How did it happen?
I came up with this like a jam track one day while I was just playing that riff (ed: he plays it with a lot of reverb). It’s very Pink Floyd. Yeah, in that melody. “You say: ‘I found a place where everything is ok’/ When you go, take me with you”. It’s a kind of escapist idea. In social commentary things can get so tense and complicated that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all treat each other with respect and kindness. That’s the way my heart is, anyway. But that too reflects that. I love taking a tune that it’s a ballad but then totally rock-ing it out. At the end, it’s like a Foo Fighters thing or something (laughs). Some good energy (ed: he plays a few notes). It feels good, let that go. I think it makes a nice closure to the record. It releases that energy.
When I first heard the title of your latest album “Electric Truth”, I thought that it was a combination of Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland”, Muddy Waters’ “Electric Mud” and Jeff Beck Group’s “Truth” albums. How did you really come up with this title?
I knew using the word “truth” was difficult because of the Jeff Beck Group “Truth” (1968) record, but again with so much disinformation in the world and very biased media on both sides, what do we really believe, where do we find our truth? And music is truth to me. Real music that you feel when you feel the authenticity of the artist and the authenticity of the composition and something connects with you on a very molecular level, when it moves you emotionally, that I can believe. That is true. I know that. That’s something that it has not been influenced by anybody, it’s from a very genuine, open, vulnerable, real human place and that to me is truth. It’s a rather grand title (laughs). But it’s what is real to me, it’s how I feel about the music. But it wasn’t meant to be a homage to Hendrix or Jeff Beck, though clearly I’m the biggest fan of these artists. But I can see that, yeah. Those words were very evocative because of what has come before us, for sure. For me, that’s what the title means and where it came from.
How much has your approach to guitar changed over the years?
Well, that’s a great question. It changes throughout your life, if you are open and willing to be a student at all times. I like change, I like knowing that I can get better; having complete faith in knowing that if I keep working, if I keep trying, that’s going to get better. There are going to be peaks and valleys at any point of your playing career. As a beginner, you have all this passion and energy and frustration, because you are beginning, but you want to sound like your favourite player. So, I’m some 60 years old now and I’ve been playing the majority of my life. Since the age of 5, essentially with toy plastic guitars, but my journey began. It’s just been a lifelong passion, I’m a lifelong fan of the instrument. I’ve been always been attracted to it visually and sonically. Then, once I got to a point where it was becoming part of me. Even in my early teens and mid teens, I felt what music and guitar was giving me. It was really an award for emotion, because I wasn’t very good communicating verbally, not that I was the shyest kid, but I was pretty shy, pretty reserved. Especially in those days talking about feeling or whatever, just wasn’t socially as accepted as now we know how healthy and important it is. But the music was always there for me: It was consolation at sad times, it was great positive energy in happy times and so the more that I played the more I realised that this is my way of communication. I’ve grown certainly as a communicator verbally, I enjoy teaching very much.
I choose my words very carefully, but I also choose my notes and how I play my notes very-very specifically. Every dynamic, every note nuance, is of full of intention. As I am communicating to you now, I am choosing my words very carefully to hopefully make the most sense and speak my heart for you to hear me the way I want you to hear me. But as my song title says: “When Words Fail”, the spoken language is pretty finite. There are some artists that are better at putting words together in song and prose or communicating verbally but even then, it’s up to your interpretation. My tone may lead you to believe that my intention was something else than what I intended. Only I know the intention, but then through the words, delivery and tone, it can be taken by you or any listener in a very different way. Instrumental music to me, circumvents some of that, where I am not constricted by the written language or the spoken word. We have very specific intent and our delivery of the notes and the tone and the inflection of the dynamic which they are communicated, sometimes they can go deeper than the spoken word. Even thinking about these things, wouldn’t have been anywhere near on my awareness growing up.
I just wanted to participate in the sound that I love, listening to Kiss and Rush and being inspired by Ace Frehley, Alex Lifeson and then hear Steve Lukather and say: “Oh, my Gosh! That’s even more amazing” and then Pat Metheny, Mike Stern, Larry Carlton and then Barney Kessel, Wes Montgomery and keep going and then Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, going back to Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I mean, there are just so many of these great players that of course you wanna learn from and you want to strive to get somewhere in their world. You may never get past knocking on the door, but that’s ok because eventually through all that, we become us. We become our genuine musician, we start to create our voice, because all those guys I mentioned, they all had their heroes and they were trying to get these bits of all these players and it comes up being very much them, they can’t help it. The same with us, the more that we can realise: “Ok, I am not gonna be Allan Holdsworth, I am not gonna be Eddie Van Halen, I can’t be Pat Matheny. I love these things about them so much, but let me learn what I can” and then how we collect that and how it comes to our instrument.
It’s a lifetime’s process. You may never get there, but if you can enjoy the journey along the way, that’s something that I really learned later in life, even after the age of 50: Not to be too depressed when you are hearing such an amazing musician where you say: “Oh man, I can never do that”. Well, you don’t have to. Love it and be inspired by, but don’t feel lesser because that’s not what you are doing. Be the best version of yourself you can be. Take that to heart and to really feel that on a deep level as how we continue to evolve and be ok with being just me (laughs). I know it’s a kind word to say but it’s extremely honest. I hope if somebody hears that, it maybe means something to them. I know it’s a very broad question you asked: “How my playing changed?” Hopefully, immensely. There will be certain threads and elements of what I do that are coming throughout it, but I hope it’s growing and to strive to get to a higher and deeper level of emotional communication. That’s why I feel the guitar is scratching the surface. I think Jeff Beck was one of the prime examples of what’s possible; somebody that really got there at a very deep level. But let’s keep going and that’s kind of my goal. I will never be Jeff and what he does but I am hoping to carry the torch a little bit, in my own way, and finding more ways to really get to that basic thing where you, the listener, you feel something from it, not just: “Gosh, I’m gonna transcribe that lick or that solo”, that’s cool, but I ‘m looking at a much bigger, long term picture.
Did you have a good time jamming with Eric Johnson at the 2023 Dallas International Guitar Festival. I watched his whole set on Youtube. It was amazing!
Look again, Eric is one of my biggest heroes and I’ve got to know him over the years and so, we ‘ve had a handful of experiences as when he is inviting me to come play, which is just the most humbling and satisfying thing for me as a player to know that he thinks well enough of me to invite me on stage for their show. We ‘ve had some really great jams. One of my favourite ones was one night when Mike Stern and Eric Johnson were playing at the Granada Theater in Dallas and they invited me up to come play. We did “Red House” (ed: Jimi Hendrix) and a bit of “Jean-Pierre” which is a Miles Davis tune that I heard Mike Stern play. The first time I heard Mike Stern was on American television, on “Saturday Night Live”, this programme, I didn’t know who Mike Stern was and there he was, playing the song (ed: “Jean-Pierre”) striding, playing that in that Hendrix tone but playing these bebop lines. It was like such an epiphany. So, to get on stage with both of those guys at the same time was just mind-blowing. Eric is a beautiful soul and he plays how he is. The highest level of maturing of a musician is when they are just really playing themselves, when they ‘ve really come to the instrument. Hendrix was that way, Stevie was that way, Jeff Beck was that way, Metheny I think too, to a degree. So, it was wonderful that I’ve got to know him a little bit and be around his magic. He just sets the bar for me sonically and his level of playing skills in so many different styles, is truly mind-boggling. But he is a true treasure and much love for Eric, you know.
How helpful was the period you played with Olivia Newton-John for your later career?
So, that was a beautiful relationship. She is sadly gone now, she died, it’s been a couple of years now. But I worked with Olivia for 15 years. I was her musical director and the guitar player and it was really great on many levels. As a working musician, it was a great gig, meaning that she took very good care of us financially, but it was really a family. My motivation, especially later in my career, was never based on money. All the decisions that I made in my career weren’t necessary the right ones, but they weren’t based on “career, money, this will be good for me”. Those never tended to be the right things as opposed to what was in my heart, I want to be with people that I love and that was first and foremost my relationship with Olivia. I loved her very much. Obviously, the more we worked together, the more we got to know each other. But coming into it, I had respect for her and the music, whereas not many people maybe in my genre do, it would pegged as being an Olivia Newton-John feel and that is ok, but there lies my real part of me, that is just a fan of the great singer, songwriter and the great body of work. So, it was a joy just to do the first tour with her, when an all-Australian band came over with her to do this tour in 1999. It went so well and management recognised that I was a valuable piece to her puzzle, so they put me in charge of putting a new band together, a US-based group of many new people that I would choose.
It was perfect for me because she would work a certain amount of time, it wasn’t like going on tour for 8-9 months: It was just three weeks here, three weeks there, so spread across the year interspersed with my work at the time with Simon Phillips (ed: Toto, The Who, Jeff Beck –drums) and my own band. It was a nice combination of things that I can do -again- to make a living but also it was truly the people; the band that we had formed around her were very much kindred spirits. If somebody didn’t have the respect for the music or for her or each other, then it wouldn’t last (laughs). There would be a very short duration of the band. The core band we had was nothing but a bunch of people that I wanna be around the other 22 ½ hours, that’s the key: 90 minutes-2 hours on stage, but then you are living with these people all these other hours. So, I got to the point where I wanna never leave the house if I’m not truly with people I enjoy being around. But it started with Olivia and I can’t say enough great things about her. People would always ask me: “What was she like? She seems really sweet, but how was she really like?” I can only say: “It was better than you think”. She was just incredible wit, incredible joy of life and she gave a lot to everyone around her, meaning the other work she did for cancer awareness and various charities that she would be involved with raising a lot of health awareness. But she was a really sweet person. I miss her a lot, I think about her all the time, you know.
Why does your signature Ibanez guitar looks so much like a Stratocaster?
Because it’s a Stratocaster, why not? My first endorsement was Jean Larrivée, out of Canada. I played his electric guitar for a couple of years. Then, I end up with Kramer Guitars and I was with them for a couple of years and they went out of business very strangely, but I was in a good position because I was in a band on MTV, Danger Danger, back in the day. So, companies wanna work with you if you are getting that kind of exposure, but Ibanez seemed like the place I wanted to be because of Satriani , Vai and Reb Beach, some of my favourite rock virtuoso players that are playing that brand. Luckily, they wanted to work with me and they immediately said: “We wanna build you your ultimate guitar” and I have no idea what that is. I ‘ve always just played, I was a Les Paul kid growing up and then I had a Squire Strat. I didn’t really know, so we went to a process of trying all their guitars: The RG’s and the USA Custom’s and I played an RG style guitar with two humbuckers and a Floyd, that was kind of my late Danger Danger guitar. But there was a Guitar that Kramer had built for me that was the parts like; it might have been Warmoth parts or one of those parts-making companies. It was a put together Strat, we tried to replicate it in a very bad way, but the neck was very special. There was no finish on it, it had a kind of a rounder shoulder, very not Ibanez type of neck. I said: “Make a guitar with this filling neck on” and that became the AT100. They took an RG body and I said: “Make it like Eric Johnson’s ‘54 Strat” with some tobacco burst. So, essentially is a Stratocaster but with very modern amenities, if you look at the bridge, it was being souped up, the bridge humbucker quite a bit, the locking tuners and the pickups are quite heavy on humbucker, that DiMarzio helped design the AT1 and the Cruiser pickups. So, it does a lot of things that a Stratocaster can’t do, but I still absolutely love the Stratocaster. I have a couple of vintage Strats that I really love. I’ve got a white ’65 that I play quite a bit and there is nothing against my Ibanez. These two, the AT300 which is lost, is discontinued now, but this is a mahogany body version of that basic idea in a rosewood board. Decidedly bolder, cool, thick tone on. I love the vintage Strat but I can’t do on an old Strat what I do on the AT100’s. So, why not have the best of all worlds and swap things out when I need to. But I got a lot of shit right in 1954 (laughs). It’s amazing how everything comes from that era.
Do you have any memories from the Athens show with Andy Timmons Band in 2012?
Of course, yeah. I mean, the fans in Greece have always been great. I did a couple of shows with Simon Phillips (ed: in 2015) and then The Andy Timmons Band. Yeah, I just can’t wait to come back. Obviously, since Covid nobody has toured that much, but hopefully I‘ll get back down there. I would love to see everybody and see your beautiful country.
You are also a very generous man. How emotional was it for you to play with a kid (Jonatha Bastos) who was born without arms in Sao Paolo in 2015?
I can’t put it into words. So, for those who don’t know, Jonatha Bastos is a wonderful musician. I met him in Sao Paolo, I was there for a music convention called The Music Expo, which is like the NAMM Show of Brazil. I had a pedal that I endorse by a company called GNI, it’s the Octa Fuzz, it is a great Octavia sound. See if I can (ed: he plays). It started in La (Ed: A). Anyway, I went to shout out to my GNI folks there. So, I was going to be doing a presentation the following day, but I was at the convention and I was introduced to Jonatha. Just the sweetest soul you could meet, but it was very clear when we were meeting him, he has no arms, just some knobs where the arms should be and I was told that he plays guitar. “Wow!”, I was just immediately impressed like: “I have to witness this”. Again, couldn’t be a sweeter, more generous, kind human being to interact with. I went to my hotel that night and typed on the Youtube: “Jonatha Bastos” and I just witnessed some incredible guitar playing. He is playing with his feet. So, not only it was: “Wow, he plays guitar with his feet!”, but the tone was good and the playing. It wasn’t: “Oh, this is a novelty. How cool! Good on you, Jonatha”. He was making killer music and sounding great. So, a couple of tears fall: “Oh my God! This is amazing!”
That next day, I think he was playing before or after me in this demo room that the GNI had, maybe it held 50-75 people. So, I asked him if he wanted to play with me and he said: “Yes, of course”. Recently, I had done a lesson programme, and I was gonna be teaching “Cry for You” (ed: from “Ear X-Tacy” album -1994), so I just had the chords of “Cry for You” (ed: he plays again). Just this D minor to B flat over and over. I thought I could give him the chord progression, but I said: “Cry for You” and he said: “Oh, I know ‘Cry for You’”. I asked: “Oh, you know the song?” (Ed: Jonatha replies) :“Yeah, I know the song. Let’s play it”. And that’s what you see in the video . There is no rehearsal, there is no like: “He would better go practice this tune”. I hit “play” on the playback and we start playing and in the first thing he goes: Tiiing (ed: he plays a single chord with too much sustain) and the whole room falls over (laughs). And you see me, I about fall over and I was: “Oh my God, he knows the song so well”. It was a really magic moment to witness this interaction between the two of us, we had just barely met, but he knows a song of mine, which was humbling, that he knows the song that well. But to witness this human being and to understand what he has gone through in life to get to the point where he plays this music better than many that don’t have that limitation, is hugely inspiring, you know, what he must go through not having all these normal functions that we have and that we take for granted, having all our facilities and we’re blessed to have that.
So, I use him as an example. “What’s holding you back?” Not to say: “What’s your excuse like?” (laughs) Let’s honour this life that we have and do the best we can. Jonatha is the shining light of what’s possible. We can overcome so much. Your limitations may not be physical, they may be emotional, they may be circumstantial, they may be financial. We all have obstacles. It’s just what meaning we choose to attach to those obstacles. Do we become a victim? Or do we say: “Ok, this is the situation. What can I do to make it better?” That’s what Jonatha has done. He could be easily: “Not me”, “oh, man”, “poor me”. I couldn’t have met a more positive and upbeat human being but that’s how he’s managed to do what he is managing to do. It’s the meaning that he attached to: “Oh, man”, “poor me”, “I’m born without arms”. It is horrible. It is an incredibly unthinkable obstacle for more of us, but that’s reality, that’s what he has to do with: “Ok, I am gonna do the best I can”. So, we can all do that whatever our situation is. We can get through in more positive light if we let go of the need to be a victim and just say: “Ok, what do I need to make this situation better?” So, he is a very wonderful and fond interaction that I’ve had and I look forward to playing in Brazil again with him. I hope so.
In 2011 you released “Andy Timmons Band Plays Sgt. Pepper”. Were you afraid of the inevitable comparison between your interpretation and the original album by The Beatles?
Well, of course. I mean, the record nearly didn’t happen multiple times, meaning that I am lifelong Beatles fan, but I am not always a fan of reinterpretations and cover versions. Sometimes that’s nice, but I don’t take it lightly. I had done one song, I had done “Strawberry Fields” and I was playing it live with my band and as I’ve told this story many times, it was my promoter in Italy that suggested to me: “Why don’t you do a whole set of Beatles?” It’s clearly that people really resonate with that particular Beatles tune and that’s what got me thinking, even though my first instinct was: “I can never do that. That’s not possible”, but I just started working on different arrangements to see what might be fun to play. I think the next one that I really came up with was (ed: he plays a line on the guitar from “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). So, at some point I had the idea: “What if I can play the whole ‘Sgt. Pepper’ record?” I didn’t even show it to my band, just to be in the room and play the music that I love became very much a hobby of mine; just trying to come up with chords, melody, arrangements, so I was representing the entire song in one linear performance. How can I represent the chords, the singing melody, whatever production might be happening? It just had become a funny little hobby of mine and I messed with it for a couple of years just working on each tune.
Fast forward to the time we were in the studio with the Andy Timmons Band to record what became the “Theme from a Perfect World” (2016) record and some extra studio time became available and the engineer asked me: “Where are the songs you ‘ve got?” I didn’t have any other original songs but the drummer, Mitch Marine, had heard me talk about playing these arrangements. “What about that ‘Sgt. Pepper” stuff you are working on, though?” “Alright”, so we literally tracked the entire record as far as the guitar, drums and some bass in 2 ½ days, because I had these arrangements really fine-tuned. But over the course of the next year, I kept about half the tracks I did that I had to really keep working on how I was gonna play. Some tunes because very difficult because of the voicings and the intonations, but through the whole process, sometimes I would be enthusiastic that most of the arrangements were really working: “I love this” and sometimes I thought: “This isn’t going to work. People are gonna hate this”. But the underlying thing in all the music that I’ve ever released, is I have to love it first, I have to really believe in it and I finally got the point where I really thought it was working and really not for any grand designs and commercial success or whatever.
I just knew in my heart that the people that know that record like I do, on a very deep level, it’s part of my our lives if you were born at a certain time, especially players that are my age and older, I thought they would enjoy it. My older brothers for one and then of course my heroes: Lukather and whoever else might hear it and that was my success with it. I was hoping for everybody responded to it: “Would they resonate?’ and they really did, they understood the detail that I had imbued in the arrangements and things I was pulling out, without overdubs, meaning that it was all one guitar performance with the bass and drums supporting. So, it was a wonderful challenge but I would have never been able to go down that path, hadn’t done the “Resolution” record, which was what it led me down the path of trying to see if I can record tunes as we just do with the trio, with no overdubs. That isn’t an easy thing to do, to make sure that all the harmonies represent a core melody type of things in a rock context, which can get a bit messy. But having gone down that path and really working hard on the “Resolution” style of playing and arranging, I set up what I was able to do with “Pepper”. I had to go through that maturation process and that huge, painful growth that took to do that (laughs), but with good results.
People still talk about that record as something that they love and it means so much to me, because Mike (ed: Daane –bass), Mitch (ed: Marine –drums) and I, we all worked so hard to make that what it is. So, yeah, I was less afraid of the comparison with The Beatles, because, you know, that’s a pointless thing. I was more concerned with Jeff Beck who had already recorded “A Day in the Life” (ed: on George Martin’s “In My Life” album -1998) and I learned his version, I used to play that in a band called The Pawn Kings, we used to play every once in a while down in Deep Ellum, Dallas and I learned that version because it’s one of the great guitar recordings of all time. And as I started to go down the path of: “Oh, I’m gonna put all these ‘Pepper’ tunes together and now I am gonna release it”, that was the fear, it was like: “Oh shit, Jeff has already done the ultimate version”. So, I had to kind of forget and put away what I had learned from Jeff’s version, which was a nice arrangement, but it wasn’t just like the record. I was keeping the basic form of the songs, the basic feel of the songs. I kept those intact. I wanted to be The Beatles feel and essential arrangements and then we would replicate everything else on the guitar.
I had to let go what I loved about Jeff’s recording and I loved everything about it and I had to just go back to John Lennon’s vocals and go back to how I know that, as it was originally recorded. So, that’s the comparison I don’t want (laughs). I’m not trying to be Jeff Beck by any stretch, but hopefully it holds up. I am deeply proud of the record. For me, firstly, I love the way it turned out, but also the response that I got. I said, I was hoping that people that really know the record would resonate with it, but there were a lot of emails that I was getting at the time saying: “Hey, you know, I’m not really a Beatles fan, but I love this record”. I had to understand it, it was foreign concept initially that not everybody is a huge Beatles fan. It’s such a part of my life, it’s hard for me to imagine my life without The Beatles, but not everybody grows up living the same thing. But it was gratifying on a different level, so I thought at that point: “Oh, maybe I’m turning people on to something they miraculously don’t know”, but I got to understand that not everybody had the same upbringing and influences, as people around who might say: “Hey, check this out” or maybe they just didn’t dig it for whatever reason at the time. So, in that regard, if I am a small ambassador, in a way, that’s cool too. But it was just a lot of fun to do and I really loved that process a lot.
You are also the owner of Timstone Records. Does the business aspect distract you from creating more music?
Only in that is something else, just another thing you have to take care. It’s label in name, mostly, it’s not like I’m some executive at an office running a label. Obviously, I spend more time trying to handle my Facebook and Instagram pages (laughs) than I do that. It’s part of the process that has become what is the music industry for most of us artists. There are some still on major labels with lots of money involved, I had enough experience of major labels in the ‘80s and ‘90s with Danger Danger to realise that’s not why I do what I do or this is not what I want. I thought it was the holy grail, at some point, I thought I will be on a major label, maybe at the time it was, in a way. You thought to be on a major label was the ultimate goal. After I had been in that part of the industry for a while, we know it’s just another corporate thing. The art and artists are low on the totem pole of importance and it was a good thing for me to see that and realise that money and fame is not why I do this. Of course, I have to make a living. I’m fine, I’m happy when other guitar players or people know my music. Again, that is very gratifying and I’m very thankful for all that. As far as fame being, somebody they can say: “You are gross” or whatever. I don’t wish that on anybody (laughs). I don’t know who actually wants that; they may think they want that. Once achieved, then ask them again. So, I feel fortunate that I’ve got a little niche and a fanbase that is extremely supportive and I’ll not take any of that for granted, but it all starts with me just pursuing, making better music and better playing and that’s truly what drives me. Somehow, Timstone Records or however the music is getting out there that provides some income, yeah, we are gonna keep the lights on, but for me, as a musician, it was always about diversification. It was why I said “yes” to an Olivia Newton-John gig, I said “yes” to a Simon Phillips gig. Couldn’t be more polar opposite, equally as challenging, in their own ways, equally as gratifying on a musical level and I have to make a living. I’m absolutely happy creating my own music and now obviously with the advent of all the digital distribution, with DistroKid and CD Baby and all that, being a record label is basically hitting a button to send it to those people (laughs) to put it out there and you ‘ve got some administration to do with and all that. I mean, there are people who take it far more seriously than I do. I am aware of business, but I don’t like to deal with it too much.
Was it a big challenge for you to cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
I saw that movie with my wife. When that movie came out, whatever year that was, I don’t remember the year (ed: 2018), but I remember the date because it was November 2nd and I know that because it’s my wedding anniversary. Add to that that I was leaving on November 3rd for Europe to do a clinic for either Mesa or Ibanez. See, now you are married with a woman and you are leaving the country the next day and on your wedding anniversary you are sitting in a movie theatre watching “Bohemian Rhapsody” at 11:00 in the morning, the very first showing. So, we went to see this movie because we had heard so much about it, being a Queen fan of course and I didn’t expect the movie to affect me as emotionally as it did. If you ‘ve seen the movie, it’s about the band, but it’s very much about father-son relationship as well. It’s just a very emotional film. So, after that, throughout the day I’m packing, when I pick up a guitar, I am starting to noodle around on arrangements of Queen songs, like what I’ve done with Beatles songs. I do that a lot with all kinds of music, I haven’t released a lot of it, but it’s something that I love to do, which is fun to do and I noodle on “Bohemian Rhapsody” for just one second (ed: he plays some notes on guitar). I messed around for a minute and thought: “Oh, that’s too hard. There is no way I can do that” and I put it down and I got to Europe. During the clinic tour I remember, I had found a couple of coins -Brian May very famously played with an old sixpence- and I was playing with a coin trying to replicate some of his tones and talking about them in my workshops, because I was so inspired by seeing the movie and I was revisiting all the Queen material. So, I would call my family at least once or twice a day when I am on the road, especially internationally. I am talking with my wife and she never comments on any music project I’m working on.
If I’m writing a song in the house, she is gonna hear it a lot, because I’m always going over and over, redoing things. She kind of stays out of it, she lets me do my thing and when it’s all done she would dig it or wouldn’t say anything, but this is a rare occasion. I’m over in Europe and he says: “I can’t wait to hear you doing that blimey ‘Rhapsody’ arrangement” and I thought: “Oh my God, shit! I ‘ve got to finish it now”. She ‘d never comment on stuff that I’m doing. “Oh, fuck!” I could talk to myself out of it like: “Ok, I can’t do that”. But of course if you tell yourself you can’t do something, you are right. But luckily she brought it back and that’s actually what inspired me to keep working on it. It took weeks trying to figure out how I was gonna do it. In the video that I got posted that’s me playing live. I did five takes of it that day. We had done a couple of that that was pretty good; I wasn’t ready to set out for pretty good. That take, maybe it might be the fourth or fifth take, but I knew I had to get it all in once. I did play with a sixpence, well, I had found it in interviews, but on Ebay I was able to find them. He plays with a British sixpence coin from 1947, because that’s his birthday, but I think on 1956 they changed the material of what the coin is made out of, as they did with a lot of coins, to make them cheaper or whatever, so it has to be from ’56 or before to have the right tone. Because Brian uses a ’47, that’s exactly what I am using in that video. That was a fun one and I did hear that he did hear and see that arrangement. He thought it was cool and I was very happy to hear that. This is more a labour of love. I’ve just been able to learn that song and to get into Freddie Mercury’s brain a little bit and to play a bit of Brian May, it was a lot of fun, you know.
Your version of “Little Wing” is unbelievable. How do you feel when you are playing this song live?
It ‘s how I ‘d ground it, in a way, because it starts with Jimi Hendrix. It’s such a signature piece. But it has really become a springboard for a lot of players for improvisation. So, obviously I was very aware of Hendrix’s version, but Stevie Ray had a wonderful version that got released posthumously on “The Sky is Crying” (1991) record and it was a version that Lukather did with Los Lobotomys from the Baked Potato, so I enjoyed everybody’s interpretation and there is a bit more swing in the way that Stevie and Luke played it. I am gonna hear all those versions and then over time, I just love the harmony of it, I love where you can go melodically with that. It’s not an easy piece to play well improvisationally, I would often, just because you can play blues over it all, but it’s not all gonna work when you do, to a degree. I like the potential of it. I love exploring that and you ‘d see me if I do a version with my own band, I usually have everybody drop out at a certain point and just play single notes through the chord structure and on a good night you are really hearing that harmony, even though it’s just me playing single notes. You will hear the intent of how the voice is leading though those things. It’s a wonderful thing, it can still be very spiritual. It’s been played a lot, so you have to be careful (laughs). I had some wonderful jam moments with that song with Eric Gales and Monte Montgomery. There are some players that play on a very high level, Eric and Monte, are really two guys that really understand that song. I can’t say that for everybody, because it’s not an easy piece. But when you find somebody that really is into it and understand it, it’s a lot of fun, there can be a lot of wonderful music that can happen spontaneously.
How much impact did the Jeff Beck show you watched in 1999 have on you?
It was deep. I’ve told this story a few times. This would be in 1999. I know that because he signed my “Wired” (1976) album and he signed: “To Andy, Best Wishes from Jeff Beck, 1999”. Hanging in my office, it’s a very prized thing for me, I love to see it. It’s that album cover, he is playing that white Strat. It just looks so cool and that record is a big one for me. But to see him live and I had heard throughout my life: “All you ‘ve got to see is Jeff Beck live” and I was a fan of the records, because my older brothers bought everything from Yardbirds to Jeff Beck Group. I heard all of it growing up and I liked it, it was cool, but I was getting more influence from guys like Lukather, that might have been the first generation after Jeff. So, when I finally did see him, I was given free tickets. I was listening to a lot of guitar music in general, but I wasn’t inspired to go to a guitar-centric show, but I did go and I had never been that moved by a guitar performance before. Just because of the intent and the authenticity that I mentioned in the earlier part of the interview, is something indelible that the listener feels and sometimes may not be aware of: “That’s what that is”, but they feel it on a very deep, gut level, when something is coming from such a deep emotional and authentic place. That’s what I felt with Jeff that night. Every note seemed to have a wit and a purpose behind it and nothing was safe. It was a very wait and see kind of thing. Maybe things didn’t always land as he would have intended, I can imagine. But man, that didn’t matter. You will hear a lot of stuff in my playing that maybe doesn’t connect. I know that from going for on a level that I perceive that Jeff was going for. This is something I do like to do.
I heard him playing, on such a high and deep level, I was moved to tears several times. The ballads of course were incredibly emotional and it made a lasting impression, he reinvigorated my belief in the instrument and the potential of the instrument. Because it’s very normal, I think, in anybody’s trajectory that there’ll be moments of incredible inspiration and valleys of a little burn out. It’s healthy to go in other directions. At that time, I would have rather gone and seen Elvis Costello or anything pop that I loved, more the songwriting of that nature. But that’s me, I like going down these different paths. For the last few years, in the pandemic, I was listening to nothing but Chopin. Take a break from whatever your main diet might be. There is so much other beauty out there that there is not just this rabbit hole of what we do on the guitar. That’s a deep hole that you could have been in -I am not saying is shallow-, but there is much and so, I go in these different directions, but I always get pulled back, to where my true love is: That’s the sound of the guitar and what the potential is. Jeff is just the ultimate expression of that potential and was to very end. Absolutely, he kept growing and that’s the inspiration for all of us: We should always keep striving. The moment you feel: “Eep, I’m fucking great!” (laughs) then, I like knowing that I’m not even close. So, I like knowing that I’ve got a long way to go and therefore I’ve got a lot of work to do. That to me is the juice of life, that to me is the happy place of “let’s get to work” (laughs). That’s what growth is in life.
Was Jeff Beck’s death a big shock for you?
It really was. I think we all thought he was gonna go another 20 years. In fact, the last time he came through Dallas, I had a conflict: When the tickets put on sale, I happened to be online. I saw them going on sale, I clicked on the button and I got front row tickets online somehow! I thought it was unthinkable. ZZ Top/ Jeff Beck, I bought four tickets; “I’ll find the people to go with me, but I got the tickets!” What I didn’t realise was the date of the show, I had already signed a contract for a gig in Houston. It had been a local gig, so I could have probably rescheduled it, but I was stuck. I thought: “Oh shit, I’ve bought these tickets, I can’t go. I can’t not do this gig”. So, I made some other friends of mine very happy by giving them the tickets, but I thought: “I’ll see him next time”. Well, obviously there wasn’t to be next time. It was January or whatever it was of the next year (ed: when Jeff Beck died -10 January 2023). It’s so sad because I still don’t fully understand what the infection that he had was, something like spinal meningitis or something; some infection where your brain swells. He was in a coma for several weeks, but we didn’t find that out until he was gone. But you know, like everything, you have to take it as we are blessed to have the body of work that he did while he was with us. The last time I saw him was in 2018, so since 1999 maybe I saw him five times and I got to meet him several times.
Every time he was always incredibly humble, incredibly sweet and that’s how he played. He could grab you by the throat, but then he could also just bring you to tears in the most beautiful way. So, it was very-very sad and my heart goes out to this family, of course. I was in touch a lot with Jennifer Batten, she and I, are friends and we’ve toured together. She spent a lot of time with Jeff and she was in the band when I saw him in 1999, that’s how I got to meet him that night because of my friendship with her and she invited me backstage. I chatted with her because I knew he had affected her on a very deep level and then, even though they only had worked together those few years, they stayed in touch and they were close. I got some great stories from her about their time together and just some of the funny stuff. He just seemed that he was such a sweet guy. The last time that I got to visit with him, it was backstage after the gig in Arizona in 2018, my two older brothers were with me. Seeing him and Johnny Depp -who was a guest of his that night, obviously later on they went to record some music together- hanging out together they were just like school boys, they were just like little kids, being silly and it was great that Jeff had a bro like that with him on the road. Not just be this guitar god that everybody was like (ed: he mimics fans shouting) : “Oooh Jeff!!” It’s just this little kid, but that’s the spirit, that’s the humanity of his being. It was such a wide spectrum of colours that came through his guitar, man. So, it’s sad as it is. We just have to remember him every day and treasure what we have.
Do you think inadvertently Eddie Van Halen made guitar playing a sport, a competition? Afterwards everybody tried to play as fast as he could.
Well, that’s the thing: He didn’t do that, everybody else did that. He just played. He played in a very unique, wonderful way. Same with Yngwie (ed: Malmsteen). They both inspired huge amounts of players that came from what they had done. They didn’t turn it into that. They were just making music that they wanted to make. Competition comes from somebody else. I don’t think Eddie was competing with anybody. “Inadvertently” is a good word, you are right. I don’t know that it was specifically Eddie, because what he did certainly was dexterous and there was plenty of technique and trumps, but it was also about great rhythm guitar and memorable parts. That’s a good point because you are correct in suggesting that it was “inadvertently”, because the guitar became more technical, but it has to grow, you have to find new ways. Hendrix’s influence carries to this day obviously, but where he might have gone? Because there is this evolution and with that becomes… Look at your Instagram feed now that the level of technique is astonishing as we continue to explore this instrument. I think it’s all natural. If you look at my first release “Ear X-Tacy” (1994), I ‘m shredding to the best of ability there and part of that might have been feeling like: “That’s what I need to do”. I enjoyed hearing it, I certainly enjoyed attempting to play it and l still like elements of that in my playing. I still work on stuff that is pushing my technique and but it’s never my goal, certainly not to be competitive and certainly not to just make it a sporting event.
“Groove or Die” (ed: from “Ear X-Tacy 2” -1997) might have been my best example of something in that, where in my early Andy Timmons Band gigs people were requesting Yngwie, because we were already doing Vai, Satriani, Eric Johnson, Cream and Hendrix. But I couldn’t sweep, I didn’t ever get the technique that Yngwie developed. I figured out my own way of doing some arpeggiated, fast stuff and it’s a blast! 2 ½ minutes is fun, you know. A whole record or a concert of that, I think is gonna be a little tiresome. I want to say, I finally saw Yngwie. I had never actually seen him in concert until 10 years ago. I know that because we are the same age and he was 50 when I saw him. I’m 60 now, so it was 10 years ago. It was easily one of the best guitar shows that I have ever seen. Not unlike the Jeff Beck thing, in a very different way, but equally I was witnessing two of the greatest guitarists ever, but my perspective level may be for different reasons right. Yngwie’s performance was just absolutely stellar and it was a really fun thing to witness. I had been around him a couple of times in just another situations and it wasn’t the best situation, it wasn’t the best interaction or lack of interaction (laughs) -maybe it’s a better word- but that gets down to the social stuff. When it gets down to music and ability, man, not a higher respect I could have for a musician. He is just incredible, absolutely incredible.
You watched Peter Frampton live three times during the last year. How inspiring were these concerts for you both as a person and a musician?
Well, it’s the same as when I talked about Jonatha Bastos. I’m a lifelong Peter fan, as Jeff Beck was always in the household, so was Peter Frampton. My brother, John, bought everything from Humble Pie, “Frampton’s Camel” (1973) forward all through the “Frampton Comes Alive” (1976) era, so I loved that music. Peter has a very unique voice on the instrument, has voice in his songwriting, of course, he’s got a wonderful singing voice as well. But when I say “voice” I mean, just where his ear goes. His songwriting and melodic instincts are very unique to him and I’ve always loved it. It turns out that the drummer of one of my versions of the Andy Timmons Band, Dan Wojciechowski, started playing with him 2016-17, so I’ve been able to see Peter several times and I’ve got to know him. He is with my buddy Dan in the band and we ‘d go and visit. But now like Jonatha, Peter has something that’s an obstacle for him, it’s a disease called myositis. It’s basically a degenerative muscular disease, so he is having trouble about walking, he sits when he plays now and it’ll eventually affect his playing. He is still playing at a very high level, but he loves music so much. I had this conversation with him, of course you ‘ve seen him saying in interviews: “I’ll keep doing it as long as I can do it well” and the fact that he has to push through pain and this physical thing, that’s very troubling for a human being to do with, but to still get out there and play; he is singing so great, he is playing great. It’s like: “See our heroes while we can”. Hopefully they will keep going for years, but like I thought I’d see Jeff Beck again. The very good news is that I recorded a track “The Boy from Beckenham” and it’s a song I wrote with Peter in mind, he is from Beckenham, England. I wrote an instrumental piece that kind of has some of his flavour in it and I recorded that track, I hadn’t released it and then when I saw him last July, it was my birthday, I flew up to New York because he was playing in Long Island on my birthday. My wife and I went out and while I was there, I just asked him: “Would you entertain the idea of playing a solo on this track? I wrote it for you” and he really was enthusiastic about that. He said: “Yes, let’s do. Absolutely! Send me the track”. So, he took his time and really worked on it and sent it to me. So, we are gonna put it out as a single in the next month, as Andy Timmons with Peter Frampton. Just the fact that he loves my playing and has respect for what I do, which is humbling and gratifying coming from one of your heroes, of course. The fact that now we are on a track together, I can’t wait for people to hear it; he plays so great on it.
Keith Emerson told me : “In the ’60 and ‘70s the music was more important to people. It was a huge event when The Beatles had a new album out: You should listen to John Lennon’s lyrics, you should listen to Paul McCartney’s bass, you should listen to George Harrison’s guitar. Nowadays, nobody gives a shit about who the guitar soloist is on a Lady Gaga album”. Do you agree with this?
No, of course not. I don’t like to deal in generalisations. I know what Keith is saying and I understand that because it’s true. Maybe music did mean more to a larger group of people at that point. I think overall we are all very deluded. We are bombarded with so much information, but there are people like me, there are people like you and there are a lot of us that we really give a shit, that care on a very deep level. So, it’s why I do what I do. It’s why a lot of artists do what they do. If you worry about what the general public thinks, then you are fucked, because maybe the general public doesn’t care about the guitar playing, why should they? (laughs) It depends on: Is it moving them or not? But the people that really pay attention and that does mean something to, that’s who you are hoping to find. That’s who I am hoping to find. Yeah, I would love to be on a huge pop hit record, but at the end of the day I understand that it doesn’t matter. If I just keep on my path and create the music that I really wanna create, not worrying about what anybody thinks. Of course, I want to be loved and accepted -that’s great- but it has to start with just the realness of what I wanna do. So, I can’t control what Keith was talking about and maybe that’s a real thing. I think it’s just hard to quantify, again, I would rather avoid that kind of generality and empirical statement of that, but I still care very much about John Lennon’s lyrics and Paul McCartney’s bass. I’ll tell you that “Now and Then” to me, the new Beatles single, is a deep-deep-deep thing. That music and those people still mean an awful lot to me and to a lot of other people. I see videos of young people in tears hearing John Lennon’s voice again. It’s beautiful. There are people that do care.
Is it flattering that you are respected by great musicians such as Steve Vai?
I mean, of course, it’s hugely gratifying. It’s just kind of unimaginable, but in my mind, in my being, I know who I am. I know there are good things that I have to offer, but I’m also hugely insecure. I know the things that I need to do better, that I want to do better, that I don’t like about what I do. So, as grateful and thankful as I am to call some of these people “my friends”, much less that they even know who I am; so many of my heroes that I’ve got to know them, that I love as friends. To me, is like the way I always felt growing up, I am the youngest of four brothers, all four years apart. My older brothers are 12 years older, 8 years older, 4 years older. Getting their acceptance and their approval on any level meant everything to me. Still does, on a very deep level. So, the guys like Mike Stern, Eric Johnson, Joe (ed: Satriani) and Steve (ed: Vai), the fact that they know me and respect my playing on any level, it’s like my older brothers’ approval. I treasure it, I really treasure it, but in my heart I also think: “Are you sure about that?” (laughs). No, I know there are good things about what I do, but I just know it can be so much better. I keep it in my heart, but also I don’t get an inflating ego from that, by any means.
A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr. Andy Timmons for his time.
Main photo: Teresa Jolie
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