Guitar legend Rick Derringer has soloed for everyone from Alice Cooper to Air Supply



By Steve Newton

When most people hear the name Rick Derringer, they probably think of his ’70s hit “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”, which typified the randy guitar-boogie of the free-love era. Others may remember him for “Hang On Sloopy”, the 1965 sing-along number Derringer did with his first group, the McCoys. (That song, recorded when Derringer was 16, was officially declared the state of Ohio’s rock ’n’ roll anthem.)

But the veteran guitar-slinger also has scads of credits as a session musician and producer, enough to fill up three pages of his current bio. I didn’t know, for example, that Derringer produced both of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Grammy-winning Michael Jackson parodies, “Eat It” and “Fat”.

Or that he played all the guitars on Alice Cooper’s 1971 hit “Under My Wheels”. And I sure didn’t suspect that he performed on two singles by the Osmond Brothers in 1967.

Since then he’s been all over the musical map, but he finds it hard to pinpoint which session work he’s most proud of.

“Oh, everything, really,” says the upbeat, 51-year-old rocker from his home in Sarasota, Florida. “I loved playing with Cyndi Lauper; I loved playing all the guitars on that Bonnie Tyler album, Total Eclipse of the Heart. I play on all the Steely Dan albums except for three, I believe, and that’s always cool—I really enjoyed playin’ with them a lot.

“I love the stuff I did over the years with all kinds of different people, from Alice Cooper to Barbra Streisand, and a lotta stuff in between. One of my favourite solos I ever played is on an Air Supply record, called ‘Making Love Out of Nothing at All’.”

Uh-oh. That last credit might not be one that Derringer’s guitar-rock fans even want to know about. The open-minded artist isn’t fazed by that prejudice, however. “Oh, who cares!” he counters. “You know, music is music, and it’s either good or bad. Two categories: good or bad.”

There may be a place in his big musical heart for Air Supply’s super-sappy stylings, but Derringer himself is better-known for rowdier material, like that of his ’70s hard-rock group, Derringer. He is also noted for his playing, writing, and production on early-’70s albums by Johnny Winter (Still Alive and Well) and his brother Edgar Winter (They Only Come Out at Night).

I remember seeing a sweat-soaked Derringer perform with the Edgar Winter Group at the Pacific Coliseum back in ’73, around the time of the hits “Free Ride” and “Frankenstein”. On that tour the EWG included bassist-vocalist-songwriter Dan Hartman, who would go on to solo-artist fame with the ’80s pop hit “I Can Dream About You”. Guitarist Ronnie Montrose was also in the lineup, and a year later he would recruit vocalist Sammy Hagar and unleash the pioneering hard-rock album Montrose.

“That was just a great, great period,” recalls Derringer of his Winter days, “and Edgar and I still do shows together. And I have a show comin’ up in Las Vegas with Ronnie Montrose, as a matter of fact. We’re both on the same bill, which means I’m gonna listen to Ronnie and he’s gonna listen to me.”

Apart from being a fret-burner par excellence, Derringer has proven himself a great listener, hence his status as an in-demand producer who can get the most out of artists. But would he rather be riffing out on-stage or twiddling knobs behind a recording console?

“The good thing about the music business is you can do it all,” he relates, “so I really don’t have to make that kind of decision. I enjoy getting out and playing shows in front of a live audience, but I also like recording, and lately I’ve been doing a lot more songwriting again. All those things are still fun for me to do.”

Right now, though, Derringer is happy just to sing and play, which is what he’ll do when he brings his power trio—including drummer Tom Curiale (Pat Travers) and bassist Eddie Felph (the Johnny Van Zant Band)—to the Yale on Wednesday (July 28). He’ll be turning back the clock and cranking up the amp.

“I have so many songs that I can’t really do them all in one night,” he says, “but we try to hit all the great stuff from the beginning, like ‘Hang On Sloopy’—we have to do that. We play some of the stuff from my solo albums, the All American Boy record, a coupla things from that period.

“We do ‘Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo’, of course, and ‘Still Alive and Well’, ‘Beyond the Universe’. We do some stuff from the blues albums that are out, and we also do a few of the new things that people haven’t heard at all yet.”

To hear the full audio of my interview with Rick Derringer from 1999 subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one interviews with:

Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
Jeff Healey, 1988
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joe Satriani, 1990
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
Dickey Betts, 2001

….with hundreds more to come

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