By Andrew Catania
John Roth has a varied pedigree of guitar playing. John was the guitarist for the band Giant, who had a successful run during the late eighties. John has been with Winger since their 1993 record, Pull, complementing Reb Beach. He’s also the guitarist for Starship. His current project, Roth/Brock Project, has a new record out. I spoke with John and we discussed his new record, his playing, guitars, rigs, and the state of the music industry.
How’s your album coming along there? It sounds very good
Thank you man! Thank you!! We’ve got a decent amount of pre-sales and all the response you know the feed that we’ve gotten so far, it’s been really good
It sounds like the good old days of Giant
Man it’s that 80’s arena rock & roll. Yes, that’s it man. I had a few other people say some of the songs had that Giant vibe so yes man it’s fun stuff. We had a lot of fun making that album
Yes because Giant still rules on Hair Nation on Sirius.com. It’s probably once every 3 albums.
That’s cool! Awesome! That’s good to know. I’ve had some other people say they heard Giant a lot on Sirius. That was some of the better 80’s rock and that was right around 1990 I believe
Yes it was right before the polyester invasion came in the next year
Exactly! Right when the whole climate changed right their man
How did you get fit together with your partner there? How did this formation come with Frontiers
Well Serafino, his label Frontiers had approached me on making a record on my own aside from Winger. I’ve done 3 with Winger on Frontiers and I did the Giant record with Terry so that’s how I met with Terry was from when I was working on the 2010 Giant Promised Land record. So, Terry and I hit it off good on that. We co-wrote a couple of songs I wrote 3 on that record two which I co-wrote with Terry and man we just hit it off song writing wise. As far as friends it’s always cool when you can find someone to send a song to and they send it back to you and it’s twice as good you know what I mean? We just had some good chemistry. Terry and I met back in Giant land and we kept in touch over all these years and we did a moronic rock festival in Chicago. I was playing with Winger and Terry was playing and he got up and set in with us so we kept in touch over the years and when Serafino approached me about making a record for him Terry was the first guy I thought of
Oh Ok. Do you guys still have that chemistry when you guys went to record this?
Yes, absolutely! Absolutely man. Like I said it’s always great when you work with someone who thinks like you do. Especially when you’re trying to make a record. He lives in Panama City and I live in Mississippi which is right outside of Memphis so you know when you’re working long distance like that and I tour with Starship and Winger so I’m on the road for 140 days of the year and Terry sings in a band called LeRoux and does another project that he’s on the road with so you know time is of the essence. So, it’s always great when you have that kind of chemistry and I could make a record with Terry, make a good record with Terry with good songs and us not have to struggle over our schedules and everything. So, we worked as efficiently as we could and we made it happen
You have a lot of Giant on here, I can hear some Winger on here. To you what does this record sound like?
It’s 80’s kind of style arena rock & roll with a little punchier and drier of a sound you know. Part of what I didn’t like about the sound of the 80’s to me was a lot of the drums and the plate reverbs you know it seems like they tried to make the record sound like you were in a hall so you know it wasn’t as in your face. I like raw, a little drier. To me it’s kind of sounds like an 80’s arena rock record.
Going back to your youth, when did you pick up the guitar? At what age?
Let’s see I was 10 so that was 1978 and my cousins all played guitar and sang. I remember hearing them rehearse once in the basement. It was loud I was probably about 7 – 8 years old and the music it just shook me so you know it was kind of scary and I liked it was in my face, something I liked about it and my parents always listened to a lot of music so it was just kind of in my genes I think. So, I was 10 and my first real guitar hero was Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, it had to be
Wow! Billy Gibbons OK! There’s one I have not heard said except a couple people.
What was your first guitar? Just a cheap acoustic?
Teisco del rey. I think I remember reading in an interview with Eddie Van Halen years ago that he said he had one of those things. Man, it was you know just a cheap guitar bought in like a pawn shop type store. It was like a Harold’s everything store (laughter) something like that you know. It was a Strat guitar.
When you were in your teens did you have any bands you played with?
Oh yeah. I think I started gigging when I was about 12 and opening the guitar and I did the talent show. I was too young to play in the clubs but I had this band called Warning. We wanted all our songs to be like Rainbow and Dio and Judas Priest and all that kind of stuff and we had a gig opening for Eric Johnson in Memphis and I was 15 years old
Yeah! Yeah! So, that was my first gig in Memphis opening for Eric Johnson and we were playing like Van Halen, Ozzy, Grand Funk Railroad and I remember the club owner was freaking that I was 15 and he said your mother must be here with you or I can get fired and lose my liquor license and it was a great moment for me because of course I got to hear Eric Johnson which is phenomenal experience and I got to meet Shawn Lane. I don’t know if you know who Shawn Lane is.
Shawn is one of my favorites
Shawn was from another planet. I love him and I miss Shawn. I grew up around Shawn Lane and another amazing musician from Memphis Jack Holder who doesn’t get a lot of credit. He’s another great guitar player. He played in Cobra with Jimi Jamison and Survivor who I spent a lot of time on the road with. But yes, I did play in bands. I’ve always played in bands and that led to me playing in Black Oak Arkansas which Shawn played in Black Oak. So, I followed Shawn into Black Oak. I didn’t even follow Shawn because there were a lot of guitar players with that band but Jim Dandy, the singer is credited with having a huge influence on David Lee Roth. They were like a southern boogie band so my first bands were always original bands. I went from that to playing with Black Oak to Jimi Jamison, Survivor and Winger, Starship and all these other 80’s rock bands. But I was always playing and I couldn’t wait until I graduated so I could go on the road. That’s what you did, you couldn’t wait to get out of high school so you could go on the road
So, with all these 80’s bands that you’ve been with you’ve been with Winger where you paired up with Reb Beach during your time with them?
Yeah! I’m still in Winger. I still play with Winger. I just played with them last week no that was two weeks ago so I played with Starship last weekend. So, I’m playing in both bands now and yeah I joined Winger in ’93 after the Pull record was recorded and yeah so with Reb, Reb’s an old friend as all the guy’s in Winger we’re growing old together. When I joined that band, I was 26 and I still get to play with Winger and Reb’s a sweetheart man and a phenomenal player and he’s just a great guy to hang with to play licks with and learn from and to spend time with. When you’re on the road you hang out a hell of a lot more than you play. You know it’s all about you’re in the airport, you’re in a shuttle, you’re at the hotel. So yeah, Reb’s awesome!
That is fantastic.
Your current guitars, are you endorsed by anybody now?
You know I don’t have any kind of endorsement deal signed. I like to play whatever I want to play you know. Forever I was into Les Pauls then it was Strats and Les Pauls and then it was Tele’s. You know I haven’t signed any kind of an endorsement deal. I’ve had some offers from different pickup people it’s just you know I like being able to play what I want when I want. It’s flattering to be of an endorsement deal I’ve just kind of strayed away from that because I had a thing with Gibson.
What are you currently playing?
I’m playing a Suhr Standard Pro. We started doing these gigs probably about 10 years ago Winger and Starship. A lot of these 80’s bands they fly to all these gigs we don’t tour on a bus like we used to. Probably the last time I was on a bus was 2008 so your flying Les Paul’s the necks of them end up getting cracked or any kind of guitar whose neck would probably snip. I mean I got back from a run with Winger and one of my favorite Les Paul’s had a crack in the neck and of course I owned a Les Paul where his stock was cracked and they glued it back on. You know how that works with Paul’s a lot so I started playing with guitars so I started playing beefy Strats with humbuckers and a bridge and I picked up Reb’s. You know Reb’s got a bolt on Strat he’s that guitar plays awesome. He’s like dude anytime you want one I’ll get you the hook up you’ll get an artist deal at least and they’ll build it for you custom. So, I’m playing a custom Suhr Standard Pro right now and I still play my Strat some. On my record that I just put out I played a Charvel, SoCal, a Fender American Strat and this custom Suhr. They’re all great guitars man. I love them. I love the Suhr. It plays amazing.
They’re nice guitars. What’s your rig consist of? Has it changed over the years or are you pretty much the same?
I’ve always played Marshalls and Boogies. This record that I made I used a Mesa Roadster. It’s a mesa dual rectifier roadster and I love that amp. I love the punch units in the mid-range of that amp. I got one of the dual rectifiers when I went out on the road with Winger and I’m just kind of a big Boogie fan man and I just like the punch units on the low end and mid-range those amps are amazing. You know I prefer the roadster over all of them and we have back line companies. I play on a different amp every night since we’ve played at all our gigs. I’ve played at least 70 fly dates a year somewhere between 55 and 70 fly gigs a year or something like and we don’t carry our heads you know we carry our pedal boards and our guitars of course stuff like that. So, on the road because they’re so consistent I use Marshalls JCM 2000 DSL
Oh very nice
Yeah man, I asked for three of them you know their very consistent. Out of three of them, two of them sound good. Normally I use one head, two cabs I either stack them or side by side and I use a mic each cabinet. I think the mic on the other cabinet is a Sennheiser 609. I also have a radial jdx drive. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that box. Have you heard of it?
I’ve heard of it yes
It’s a direct box you know and it’s a cabinet and it sounds so… Bass guys like that because they can poke sounds through the mix without having to turn up the cabs which when you turn up the cabs, you know the mics it starts bringing out the sounds of the drums and everything else, the rumble on the stage and so I’m sending the front house guys three signals 2 mics and a radial jdx box
Nice, nice! Are you endorsed by Marshall or do you just use their products?
No, I’m not endorsed by Marshall. I just use them and it’s kind of funny how I started playing Marshalls again it’s from going on the road and doing all these fly dates and not being able to get the amp that I dig playing on. But I’ve really become a really big fan of Marshall again I’ve got a real old Marshall but a ’76 it’s a 76 J&P it’s got two inputs on the front but it’s got a fairly good amount of gain it’s not hot rodded so it kind of sounds like AC/DC and I love my old Marshall man. I love my old Marshall but it’s a one channel amp. With Starship, I go clean to dirty kind of a bit. With Winger, not so much because it’s mainly a dirty crunchy sound. But it’s important to me on the road to get a good clean sound. The old Marshall’s they’re one channel basically. So, that’s why I like the DLS it’s got two channels and they’re damn consistent
Who were some of your influences when you played the guitar?
Man, you know Billy Gibbons was one of the first guys just a huge influence on me, yeah sure Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. Those are the big 4 to me and then of course Eddie Van Halen as much rhythmically than soloing because I love his style of rhythm playing its phenomenal all the muted 16th sand cool cord voicings. You know Eddie’s a phenomenal guitar player and we know he’s an amazing lead player not that we don’t know he’s an amazing lead player and rhythm guitar player but big influence on my rhythm playing. And there’s a few of other guitarists that blow me away. I think you know when you talk about influences after a while once your ear gets good enough you’ll channel a guitar player that you didn’t listen to a lot just because you may have heard him play something cool or the show or on the radio. Neal Schon is one of those guys, you know I love Neal Schon but I never sat down and learned all the Journey solo’s. You know what I mean? I’ve never been in a band that played Journey and I think a lot the way, a lot of people if you got your ears out there, you get influences by osmosis in a way
Going back to 1989 your Survivor friend there, Jimi Jamison, you recorded on his first solo album?
And your single which you co-wrote it was featured on Baywatch
How did that come about? Did they pick it up? Did they call you? Did you call them?
Jimi sang the theme song to Baywatch and that was at the time may still be the most television show watched of all time. But my song that ended up on Baywatch was the first single off that record When Love Comes Down I co-wrote with Jimi and the drummer Scott Trammell. Scott Trammell is the drummer on my Roth Brock Project Album and he co-wrote one of the songs on it. So, I think what happened was Jimi was on their radar, the Baywatch camp, because he sang that theme song and so they started looking at songs on his record and they want to put Rock Hard the song that I had co-written with Jimi on Baywatch. So, that’s how that happened
You’ve been in the 80’s you’re in the bands that have gone through there. What do you think of the state of the music industry is today? I mean do you think it’s hard for guy’s like you and everybody else like you and everybody else that came up through the 80’s to be successful in whatever this current climate is of the music industry?
Well you know with things like that and now it’s great, things are good. There’s a lot of people that want to hear this music and I think you know maybe when the grunge period came through it stunted everything for a while and it was just time for something different. The 80’s had a good long run because the 80’s era really started in the late 70’s. Like my favorite 80’s bands are Aerosmith and Van Halen. You know bands that made it big in the 80’s they were 70’s bands. When you look at the span of the 80’s bands it kind of went from the late 70’s to the early 90’s so at that time it was just time for something different you know. Grunge came in and it kind of took the focal point away from all that music. And so now it seems you know Foreigner is out touring man yeah Foreigner and REO Speedwagon. I do bunches of gigs with Winger. We play with Warrant, Ratt , Skid Row and all these cool 80’s bands. You know I’ve worked with Mike Reno of Loverboy with Starship we every now and then will do a gig we’ll back up a bunch of singers and some of them end of being in the 80’s you know. Loverboy’s out there doing it there’s bands out there playing so I feel very fortunate to have gotten the gig’s I’ve got and being able to hold on to them. Now I’m able to play in both Starship and Winger so I feel very blessed to be able to pull it off and it’s tough for the new bands. I mean it’s tough for all musicians it’s a hard business to make it in. But you know now like you said with the climate of the industry changing, basically everyone has the technology to make a record in their home if they have good ears and could write good songs and the same technology that has allowed everyone else to download for free and not pay for it. So, things are very different now in a way the playing field is leveled to where everyone else has a lot of the same promotional materials but at the same time it creates a big noise and a big fray you must figure out how to rise above to get yourself noticed. So, it’s a tough business. It’s been interesting to watch how things have evolved over the last few years. So, if you want to be a musician and want to do this for a living you’ve got to have a plan
That is certainly true! With the bands that are out today are there any that catches your eye?
One of the best guys to come out lately I must say he came out 10 or 12 years ago I must say is John Mayer. John Mayer is a fine guitar player and he snuck in there with his poppy kind of chick friendly stuff and he slapped everybody in the face with his trio stuff. I don’t know if you know if you watched a John Mayer trio. I saw him at he does a gig with the company, it was a while back it was a trio of John Mayer playing with Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan.
He’s a great guitar player but he came out a while back. Joe Bonamassa he’s amazing! You know what I mean?
Yes, I do!
He’s a great player. So, when you say bands I don’t know who you’re talking about because I don’t know that there are any bands coming out, a lot of it, I know there are as far as those who have guitar players up front. I mean if you want to hear a good guitar solo you need to listen to country radio because that’s the only radio you’re going to turn on that you’re going to hear a guitar solo. A lot of it to me, I know there are a lot of new bands out there but they’re just not breaking above the fray like I said before to where I notice them. I mean who do you hear that’s kicking your ass?
Yeah that is unfortunate because there is a good group of newer players who aren’t just getting any attention or any air play and that because of social media and try to get their name out there and they’ve got to use the Twitter, the Instagram they’ve got to use you know Facebook and it’s working
Social media man!!
There’s that, then they’ve got to sign an electronical music agreement to get their stuff on Spotify and Apple. You’ve got to be into corporate now it’s an industry that has changed from when I used to tape my penny to a paper and get my 12 cd’s for a penny! (laughter)
Yeah man! I mean times have changed, haven’t they? When you mentioned what you just said it reminded me of the Darkness, you know. I must say that Darkness album was a lot of fun, Permission to Land, do you remember them?
Yeah so like that music, man this is cool, so that rock music the guitar playing was cool and it was memorable and I always liked people that played lyrical lines that I can sing and remember and of course amazing technique is awesome and it’s always good to hear technical players. It’s the solo’s and the melodies and stuff that kind of grab you and make you remember the song. Nine times out of ten if a song on a radio it’s not going to have a shredding guitar solo because those kinds of solo’s unfortunately it’s kind of become a lost art.
I agree! You’re right. To kind of perspective things with your new album are we going to see a tour with you guys anytime in 2017 or do you have your plate full with Winger and Starship?
Man, our plates both Terry’s and mine are both full with touring with the bands. We’d love to be able to tour and support this record like that. We jammed together once. We got Terry up on a Winger gig and I have a local band that I play with and while we were working the record Terry came with us and sang so we’ve only jammed on staged performing other people’s songs. We would love to be able to do that but finding the time and looking at the calendar and figuring it out, I would have to get subs for both of my Winger and Starship gigs if it landed in a spot where both bands were touring and that’s how I can play in Starship and Winger right now is I’ve got a sub who’s playing for me tonight actually. I’ve got to be on a plane tomorrow to play a gig with Starship and that’s why I’ve got my sub working with Winger tonight and I’ve got a sub that works for me for Starship when I’m out with Winger so right now that’s my livelihood and that’s keeping me what I’m doing on the road. Terry’s the same way ideally for us to both get up a spot on the calendar where we can both put out a tour just a couple dates would be tough. Not that we wouldn’t do it if we could but mainly we’re hoping just to get this music out to enough people where we need people to hear this music. I think Terry’s a phenomenal singer and one of the reasons I produced this record is I want people to hear Terry sing you know I want people to hear our songs and get off on our music. I think that there’s still a market for this kind of music and not enough bands are doing it anymore you know
Well it certainly seems like Frontiers has signed just about every band that I grew up with. You just go to Frontiers and everybody’s there
I’m glad. Hey Serafino and Mario they’ve done a tremendous job carrying the torch and helping all these 80’s rock bands continue to put out records man because there’s still a market for it out there and a lot of it, the market seems to be more in Europe you know.
Yes!! Do you think that, and I’ve asked plenty of people this question, Europe seems to be more embracing of the old 80’s metal? Because you go out there you see Wacken you see all these big festivals 100,000 – 150,000 people
Those bands out there, they come to the US they play in clubs. I mean I believe Europe is more that’s where a lot of you guys will go, will be more profitable out there because it seems like our European counterparts will embrace this music more than American people where they want to listen to you know the latest Brittney Spears or something
Yeah, you know what, you would think that. You would think that but man I’m seeing Winger and Starship and not just us but Warrant and Ratt and all these other bands I’m hearing, I can’t say I’m hearing Warrant and Ratt because I haven’t seen them play and what kind of crowd they draw in Europe but mainly when the bands of this genre go to Europe it’s to play those big festivals but here in the states these bands still draw good at a casino or a theater like with Starship we play a lot of theaters. We do theaters and casino’s and we do festivals and the same with Winger. It’s a little bit different venues. Winger probably does more rock clubs then Starship would and Ratt does the same stuff. Same kind of gigs man and I haven’t heard anybody say man we had a great three month run in Europe you know because basically the big gigs over there to be played are the big festivals. That’s the draw and I don’t know, I’m sure there’s a market to be tapped over there which is interesting because it’s like these bands are selling more records over there. But still I think the music is just as alive as far as seeing these bands performing live over here.
Face it man, no one is selling a lot of records right now unless you’re Taylor Swift or Beyoncé you know even some of the country singers that were selling these massive amounts of records, they’re not selling records because people can download them for free you know.
There is hope! When you’ve got music like that is coming out that’s going with that true 80’s sound that it had it’s an era that will never be replaced. People don’t understand it. Younger kids are like oh you seem old. I’m like no, that’s what music was when you had actual musicians you had people that could sing and could sell 2,3,4 million albums and Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Ratt would always be on the MTV top 20
Yeah man with good players. Guys who worked hard at their instrument you know and guys who could sing a note over a G you know what I mean like when Grunge came through it was like where’d the vocal range go? Where’d the guitar solos go you know? All that became passé it seems like. I appreciate your support taking the time to help get our music out their man. You know where in it for the music. Terry and I, we’re musicians and we didn’t start doing this because we thought we were going to be famous and make a lot of money you know. We did this because we love it and we can’t not play music you know and that’s why we made this record man. We just want people to enjoy our music and we feel like what we do is an ability to give people to get away from their troubles and if you think you can give someone a great record to listen to that reminds them of their past or play a show and take people’s minds off the election and all this other shit you know we’ve done our job so we’re happy to be able to do it
John, thank you for your time, and best of luck with your new record!