When it comes to folk rock guitarists, there’s usually only one name crops up, but there’s another player who replaced you-know-whom in FAIRPORT CONVENTION – and that’s just an episode in Jerry Donahue’s illustrious career. No, there’s been no scandals in his tracks, it’s his melodies that paint wonderful aural pictures. Always busy and zigzagging his way between continents and genres – though never losing his own style – Jerry never lets go of the love of his life, the Telecaster, and this speaks volumes – sometimes up to eleven – of his dedication. So lets take a peek into the master’s world.
– Telecaster is the guitar for you. When did you start using it and what did fascinate you in the model in the first place?
Though my first electric was a Jazzmaster, I traded it for a Strat after moving to the UK at the age of fifteen; as I became a huge SHADOWS fan. During the eighteen-month period I worked at “Selmer’s Musical Instruments” in London until I was twenty-two, I got into Telecasters, too! In bands I would play with in during the coming years – FOTHERINGAY, FAIRPORT CONVENTION, Chris Rea, Joan Armatrading, Gerry Rafferty, Warren Zevon, etcetera – I used to switch between the two most of the time. It really wasn’t until the early Nineties with the release of my signature Tele by Fender, and the advent of THE HELLECASTERS that I began to play the Tele more exclusively. It has, without a doubt, a far superior bridge / pickup assembly that suits my needs much more satisfactorily. By the way, Peavey and I have designed a guitar that takes what I’ve always loved to an even higher level. It’s called the Peavey Omniac and was featured at the January NAMM show in Anaheim California as well as the Frankfurt Musikmesse in March and April. Peavey are sending me to the Musik Produktiv Show in November.
– In your eyes, who’s the most prominent – not the best but the most famous – Tele player? Keith Richards, eh?
I would actually say Bruce Springsteen – from all the pictures I’ve seen of him throughout the years, I think the Tele must have been a fixture since his birth!
– What kind of music WONDERWHEEL, a precursor to SPOOKY TOOTH, played? Why did you leave the band?
It was a rock band that primarily played material written by Gary Wright. Initially it was Gary, myself, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway. We got together within weeks of FOTHERINGAY’s demise. Great session guitarist from New York, Hugh McCracken, also joined us when he was in the country. That line-up, minus Hugh, also went into the studio to do an album for French rock hero, Johnny Hallyday, who also had his guitarist, Mick Jones, over with him – we recorded at Olympic Studios in London. Not too long thereafter, Mick and I swapped jobs and Pat and I went to France to join Johnny and his band, doing a further two LPs in that year, 1971. Micky joined WONDERWHEEL, which I believe was his last gig before he co-formed FOREIGNER.
– There’s been a string of groups you’ve been in together with Pat Donaldson. Are you still in touch with Pat?
Yes, he lived in Montreal, Canada for many years, but finally came back to Europe about six or seven years ago. He now lives in France, as a neighbor to record producer Glyn Johns.
– Both you and Pat worked with Sandy Denny. Do you remember the first time you met Sandy?
Yes, at the very beginning of 1970 when I came along to audition for FOTHERINGAY – that was a momentous day for me!
– What do you think was the main difference between FOTHERINGAY and FAIRPORT CONVENTION?
As Sandy did most of the writing in FOTHERINGAY, the material was, for the most part, more subdued than much of FAIRPORTS’ stuff. There were also many more instrumentals, dance tunes and so on with FAIRPORTS. The other thing that might stand out is that there were countless line-up changes with FAIRPORTS, whereas FOTHERINGAY had just the one line-up.
– Some years ago you wrote about the time you left FAIRPORTS that the band had been “working so hard and achieved so little in return”. Do you still think so now that albums like “Nine” are considered classics?
I always loved the albums and the music – still do. I was referring to the fact that the business end of it was very disappointing. We had been through several management changes during my tenure and we never found the one who knew what to do with us – we just never seemed to rise to a level that I thought the band deserved.
– Your guitar contribution to the band was great but how come there’s only one track that you co-wrote on those albums, “Dawn”? As I know, you did it even before you came into the fold…
I wrote mostly instrumentals in those days. Most of them were not in the sort of folk rock style that most of the fans would have expected from us. “Tokyo”, which I wrote for the “Nine” album, may have been an exception but it was an acquired taste for many at the time.
– How did you hook up with Tony Ashton and Jon Lord and how did you, the guitarist, feel in the two-keyboards situation?
I had done a few other sessions for Tony, who knew of me through FOTHERINGAY, including one for Yvonne Elliman at Air Studios, and though we were very happy during all of them at the time, I’ve never been able to find any of those releases since.
– Where did the idea of three-guitar band that THE HELLECASTERS are come from?
It came from a whim of mine – I spotted Will Ray at a club in LA and asked him if he would like to do a one-off showcase set in that very club, “The Palomino”, where they did that sort of thing with local bands every Tuesday night. The idea I had was that with his ring slide style and my bendy style harmonizing together as brass sections do, we could come up with something quite interesting that no band that I’d seen was doing. We’d bring in about six tunes, give them the special arrangement and then do the gig. Well, he liked the idea so much that he took it one notch further, suggesting that a three part harmony would be even better, and John Jorgenson was who he had in mind. A week later when John got off the road with THE DESERT ROSE BAND, Will put the idea to him and he was all for it. It was that third entry, John who instantly thought of the name: THE HELLECASTERS. Our first gig was in June of 1990. Ronnie Mack, the show’s host, had us headline the evening and it was such a success that they persuaded us to do another. With our own separate projects taking up so much time, we were next able to do a show in December of that year, when we were all back for the holidays – we all lived in LA then – and it kept going on like that: the next show we did for them was in April of 1991, where Michael Nesmith saw us and signed us to his new record label! That’s how it all began.
– Getting to the blues with THE YARDBIRDS now: how refreshing is that after playing more complicated stuff for many years?
I had teamed up with THE YARDBIRDS for the first six months of 2005. It was a great deal of fun but I couldn’t continue to commit to them – at least to the degree they needed – due to a number of scheduling clashes with other assignments that had occurred during my brief tenure with them. We mutually and amicably agreed to a parting of ways to avoid the inevitable repeat of the problem. They have since found a young talented player who’s not as tied into other projects as I have been, so that works out best for all. I’ve just seen their show at the Downtown Blues Club in Hamburg and it was a wonderful gig – Ben [King] is a great player and fits in beautifully!
– What does the future hold for you?
A few new projects for the future: I’m hoping to team up with Gary Fletcher of THE BLUES BAND. We’ll probably do some duo gigs to start off but the two of us will also be joining up later this summer with Linda Gail Lewis, Jerry Lee’s younger sister, with Clive Bunker on drums. In September I will be doing a three week tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland with the renouned German guitarist, Thomas Blug. We will each perform sets of our own and then do one together at the end of each night.
Not sure if you know, but I produced an ANIMALS’ CD that ended up taking two years to complete! We finally had it finished for release at the end of last year to meet the deadline: it was a 40th anniversary CD. Titled “Instinct”, it took so long due to the efforts in getting as many musicians, prominent during their era, to lend their talents to the project. The performers included Rick Wakeman, Aziz Ibrahim, Graham Oliver, Eric Bell of THIN LIZZY, Don Airey of RAINBOW, WHITESNAKE and DEEP PURPLE, Gerry Conway, Clive Bunker from JETHRO TULL, Alan Silson and Peter Spencer of SMOKIE, Noel Redding, Paul Jones, ex-MANFRED MANN and longtime frontman of THE BLUES BAND, Bev Bevan and Mik Kaminski of ELO, Aynsley Dunbar, Jim Rodford of ARGENT and THE KINKS, and yours truly.
We recorded mainly at Lisa Stanfield’s studio, “Gracieland”, which was often unavailable at the time we were able to get performers, in between their tour commitments, and it became a bit of a scheduling nightmare, to say the least. Very rewarding, though, in the end. So far it has been released in the UK only. Europe will come next and a suitable Stateside deal is being organized after I remix a few of the tracks that had been done hurriedly to make the UK deadline.
I will be joining Big Brother And The Holding Company for their summer tour of the UK and Sweden. That will take me right up to the beginning of the German tour with Thomas Blug. Further details are available at www.bbhc.com and www.guitarplayer.de.
I’m currently producing and playing guitars on the debut solo CD for THE ANIMALS’ new lead singer, Peter Barton, co-producer and writer of all the songs, and am working on another solo one myself, but hoping also to do more live work soon with the aforementioned, as well as with a trio called DONAHUE, MORTER, FALCK – see www.dougmorter.com for further info – in the UK and around Europe. Guitarist Will Ray, also from THE HELLECASTERS, and I’ll probably go to Australia again next year. The two of us opened during a tour with Eric Johnson a few years ago and the promoter is working now to get us back. They put together a very good rhythm section last time so we’re really looking forward to it! For upcoming tour dates and other happenings, check in from time to time at my webpage.