ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 22, 1999
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.”