Interview with Geoff Whitehorn

(PROCOL HARUM)

October 2004

Not that Geoff Whitehorn’s name is a talk of many a music lover yet, strangely, it’s alright by him. Those interested know Geoff – and interested are both classic rock aficionados and classic bands’ leaders, who know who to turn to when their music needs some blues poured in. Whitehorn won’t play more than it takes and won’t play less: won’t do more because he’s not bent on grabbing the attention, and won’t do less because he’s a master of the trade. Enough to want to ask Geoff to speak – this time not with a guitar.

- You certainly belong to the British blues school. What, in your eyes, is the main difference between American and British blues guitar schools?

The British guys use ‘Marshall’ amps, Americans use ‘Fenders’.

- Your first professional band was IF. Was it a sort of baptism by fire, to plunge headlong into such a jazzy thing?

Yes, and it was a real education. I probably learnt more in fifteen months from Dick Morrissey, the sax player, than everything I’ve learnt since.

- What memories do you have of playing with Maggie Bell? A female version of Paul Rodgers, ain’t she?

Maggie was a great singer and a great person. She’s a bit more raw than Rodgers – bigger balls! (Laughs.)

- CRAWLER were quite a different band from BACK STREET CRAWLER, but did you have a feeling that you were filling Paul Kossoff’s shoes?

I was apprehensive at first, but only until I’d done the first gig, and then it seemed the fans were pretty OK with my take on it.

- Was it Rabbit who introduced you to THE WHO camp?

Yes. [Roger] Daltrey was doing a solo tour, and Rabbit put my name forward – nice of him.

- Whatever different were BAD COMPANY you got to know in the Seventies to the band you became a member of?

There was no Rodgers nor Boz [Burrell] – that’s a big difference. Brian Howe was a good enough singer but the style of the band’s newer material was a lot less rootsy, sort of AOR orientated, big pop-rock. There were some good songs, but it could have been anybody. Thank God, we still played a lot of the original classic material, though, otherwise I’m not sure I would have been particularly interested in doing the gig.

- Did touring with BAD CO prepare you to working with Paul Rodgers – or you hit it off in the Seventies already?

Obviously I met Rodgers in the Seventies when I toured with Maggie supporting BAD CO, but I didn’t get to know him that well at the time. It was handy having played a lot of the BAD COMPANY songs previously, though.

- You co-wrote “Saving Grace” with Paul Rodgers and Neal Schon. What do you think of BAD COMPANY’s take on it? I see no big difference, really…

I’ve never heard BAD CO’s version, and I’ve certainly not seen any money from it!

- How did you get to record with Paul McCartney?

Can’t remember. It was just another session in the days when we all did lots of ‘em. Nice working with McCartney and George Martin, though – and Dave Mattacks on drums. I remember Linda and the kids being in the studio, and she gave me a copy of her well-known book of photographs – y’know, of Hendrix, etcetera. I was so surprised, I forgot to ask her to sign it for me. A bit late now…

- Was it your late Seventies’ work with Chris Thompson that resulted in you playing on MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND’s albums?

A kind of. I was in Chris’s FILTHY McNASTY band for a while, playing pubs in London when CRAWLER wasn’t working, but I think it was John Lingwood, Manfred‘s drummer, who suggested me.

- What was so special in working with Roger Chapman that you spent with Chappo so many years? There’s not much blues in his music, it seems…

We got on really well, and wrote quite a bit of material together. He’s a very creative guy who doesn’t like to stand still musically for too long. No two gigs were ever the same – there was always space for plenty of improvisation, and the music would evolve from gig to gig. When the concerts were good, they were extraordinary events. The guy has so much energy, it can be quite frightening! As for there being not much blues in his music, you’ve obviously never been to one of his gigs. To me it all sounds like blues, just with a few – oh, OK, a lot of – different chords, maybe. Much like PROCOL, in fact. And I am currently doing some gigs with Roger again, in the UK and Germany.

- Have you, analyzing classic guitar pieces for the magazines, learnt anything new for yourself?

Yeah, how to play all the stuff that I grew up on properly!

- Does playing in a musical demand much discipline of a rock guitarist?

I assume you’re referring to “125th St”, the one I did in the West End two years ago. The music was great, all Sixties’ Stax and Atlantic hits, y’know, Aretha, Sam & Dave, James Brown etcetera [in fact, Brown The Godfather never worked neither for Stax, nor Atlantic, – DME], so I basically did the Steve Cropper thing, which I love. Why play six notes when two will do nicely? The discipline is in getting it spot on every night, and not getting too drunk in-between shows on a matinee day.

- Is there some kind of discipline, then, in classical-leaning PROCOL HARUM?

Yes and no. Some of the arrangements are fairly complex, and dynamically the band can go from a whisper to a scream in a heartbeat, but guitar-wise I just get to play the blues, really. If I played following the chords too closely PROCOL would just sound too prog, too English, and that’s not the idea. Referring to what I said about Chappo, I always see PROCOL HARUM as a blues band that just happens to use a few posh chords.

- Always playing in someone else’s band, which of those gave you the most freedom to do what you wanted to do?

I’ve never felt restricted in any of the bands I’ve played with. Obviously with something like BAD COMPANY there are certain solos and so on that need to be played note for note. Bar bands the world over, you heard it here first! The same applies to the FREE songs we used to do with Rodgers. No-one should ever attempt their own interpretation of the solo in “All Right Now”. It ain’t gonna happen – many have tried and they’ve all failed – miserably! It just goes like it goes!

- And what about having a band of your own? Or did you ever have an urge to pursue a ‘guitar hero’ thing?

I’ve got my couple of solo albums and that does me, thank you very much. If I could write songs as good as “Salty Dog”, “All Right Now” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” it might be a different story. So – no!

Many thanks to Ms Lucy Piller of www.allrightnow.com for helping us get in touch.

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