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Andy Timmons: Dangerously Talented
by: Scott Kahn
    Andy Timmons
Andy Timmons Andy Timmons
Andy Timmons
  In the US, studio guitarist Andy Timmons almost became a household name in the late eighties as the guitar player for New York’s gold-record selling rock band Danger Danger. The band had a string of hits and popular videos for singles including “Bang Bang” and “Naughty Naughty,” incorporating a sound that would be best described as a hard rock version of Journey. Unfortunately, their record label derailed their efforts by refusing to release their third CD and, of course, they prevented the band from acquiring rights to it for several years. Andy returned to his home in the lone-star state to further his session career and to develop music with his own group, the Andy Timmons Band.

Over the last decade, Andy has been very busy both in the studio and on stage. He’s recorded or played with artists as diverse as Pink, Paula Abdul, LeAnn Rimes, and Kip Winger. He’s played alongside your G3 heros including Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, and Joe Satriani, and he’s been Olivia Newton-John’s musical director on numerous US tours.

Sadly, those of us here in the US haven’t had the chance to get to know Andy’s instrumental work. Despite multiple CDs released abroad, none received distribution in the US until recently. Now signed to Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label, May 2 saw the release of Resolution from the Andy Timmons Band. Fans of driving, grooving, rocking, sometimes Texas-blues-infused, instrumental rock will want to race out and pick up a copy of Resolution right away.

We spent a couple of hours talking with Andy about the new CD, some of his previous adventures and misadventures in the world of rock and roll and, of course, his outstanding tone!

History Lesson

MPc: You’ve played on numerous albums for various rock, pop, jazz, and country artists, and recorded a few instrumental albums for foreign distribution. Why has it taken so long to release a solo album domestically?

AT: There are a wide range of reasons. Even during the time when I was in Danger Danger, 1989-93, when I was living in the Dallas area, I had already formed the Andy Timmons Band. Those were the original demos that got me notoriety in some other circles, like with Kramer Guitars, back in the day. They had a connection with Danger Danger, so that’s how the Danger Danger thing came along.
During that time, when Danger Danger would have a break, I’d come back to Texas and record with my original band. We were putting songs together over time, figuring that at some point, I’d get a solo deal after Danger Danger, and we’d go back and re-record everything and have a proper record.

The longer I was in Danger Danger and the more I learned about the music industry, especially in the US, I was less and less encouraged that I could find a label that would understand what I was doing musically, meaning that it wasn’t going to be one specific musical genre. I thought that labels, through my experience with Danger Danger, wanted you to be one specific thing, and that’s cool, and I enjoyed being in Danger Danger, but I was also a little stifled because I had all this other music I wanted to explore.

So when that band in the original lineup sort of came to an end [after their label failed to release the third CD, Cockroach], I moved back to Texas. I didn’t want to be in another situation where I was being controlled by another party, whether it was band members or a record label.

At the time, I already had a few recordings in the can – what I thought would be demos for my next record. Along the way I’d run into guys like Reb Beach [session player and eighties guitar hero from the band Winger], and give them my demo tapes. I was talking to Reb one day about how I was going to try to get my solo record out and he said “Andy, what are you talking about? This is your record.” Really, most of the songs on Ear X-tacy are in the exact form.

I had what I thought was a finished record after I recorded a few more songs, but I was down on the industry, seeing how low on the totem pole a musician can be (and generally was), so I didn’t even send the record to anybody in the US. I just put it out on my own little label and sold it through mail order, etc., way before anybody had web sites in 1995 or so.

The first overseas deal I had was through Sony, a label called Double-O, and the very first advertising of any kind that I had for Ear X-tacy was through Hughes & Kettner. There was a studio preamp I was endorsing called the Tubeman, which I actually still use on studio session work occasionally, and they had a full-page ad of me with this piece of gear, with the agreement that they’d put a little advertisement for my record down in the corner. They were gracious and printed my PO box – $10 or $15 gets you a record.

The girl that had been Danger Danger’s promotion person in Japan saw it, called me and said, “Why didn’t you send me this record?” and I was like “Um… I didn’t think you’d be interested.” She told me, “We’d love to play that.” So that kind of got the international ball rolling for me. I shouldn’t have discounted how well Danger Danger had done in Japan.

The Steve Vai thing came along in 2000. Every time G3 would come through Dallas, Steve and Joe would invite me to come out and sit in, which was extremely gracious. I’m really thankful for that friendship and that camaraderie. I got to know them through my endorsement with Ibanez over the years, and Steve started talking with me about his new label. He said, “You’d be the perfect kind of guy to be on it, maybe you could do a compilation from your first couple of records.”

When Steve talked with me about how he was planning to structure the label, he said, “We’re realistic. We know we’re not a big label, but we know our demographic, our genre, and what people are looking for.” It just made sense – it was more of a partnership between the label and artist [distribution deals, whereby the artist finances their own recordings and the label distributes them]. If you’re selling records, you’re both benefiting from it, whereas with a major label, they’re in control and making a much larger piece of the pie.

That led me to the point where I had maybe eight or nine solo records. They may not be widely known, but they’ve allowed me to do what I want to do musically, enough that I can keep on doing it, and I’m so happy with that. I didn’t get in this to be a famous musician or person like that. A lot of people say that anyone playing guitar in rock is just in it to get chicks, but I take exception to that. I just absolutely love the music and what music means to me. To be able to have that freedom is something I’ll never let go of.

The New CD, Resolution

MPc: In listening to Resolution, you focused on capturing the live sound of a rock trio with virtually no overdubbed guitar parts like backing rhythm tracks. Was it hard to focus your efforts on this one particular style of music for this record when it seems that you could have gone in so many different directions?

AT: What was nice about this record, and I should point out that it’s the first official Andy Timmons Band record, was that there was no preconception about it. When we started getting together, this was the first record with Mitch [Marine, drums] and Mike [Daane, bass] from start to finish. It was really my first solo band effort, and Mike co-produced with me for the first time, and that made a big difference as well. But there was never a preconceived notion of us keeping things tight stylistically. What is cool is that it is basically three guys playing together the way we really play together.

Some of the songs happened very naturally; some I had written beforehand and brought in. There are a few different flavors there. There’s a hidden track at the end – it didn’t really fit style-wise, whereas there’s a kind of theme running throughout the other tracks. There’s a certain mood and tone, post 9/11, to the record. That last tune didn’t really fit that, but we couldn’t not put it on, so we just kind of tucked it in there at the end, which is kind of nice because there’s a serious tone to most of the record, but we got to top it off with something that says, “Yeah, but we still have a lot of fun and like to play other stuff.”

Something that Steve Vai said to me on the last record, a compilation of earlier material plus some new songs… on the new songs, there were sections that were just one guitar, bass and drums and he mentioned how he just loved hearing the fingers on the frets and I thought, “You know, there is something to that,” and I said [to myself], let’s just see if I can capture some of that.

Once that decision was made, it just made sense to keep it in that vintage rock trio format, but also it was to see if I could pull off an entire record [without overdubs] and keep the listener’s interest. That proved to be extremely challenging because if you need chordal work, you have to incorporate that into your melodic work, which in the jazz field is a little easier to do because you’re not dealing with a rock tone and distortions, and it really inspired me to reinvent some things about my playing… even my tuning.

What would Eric Johnson do?

AT: The guitar is an extremely imperfect instrument and you’re basically going to be out of tune somewhere on the neck depending on where you’re playing and what’s going on – it’s a series of compromises, especially when you’re the only chordal instrument and melodic instrument. In the past, you’d have a rhythm track, and you’d stack that, which takes care of some tuning problems, and then I’d double or triple some melodies, which gets some great sounds, but by being a solo voice, it really revealed a lot of things to me. I’ve always had a decent ear, but I think my ear unfortunately got a little better during this recording, and it’s a bit torturous at times.

I think I need to spend about five years with Eric Johnson and learn how to tune the guitar, and I’m dead serious about that (serious, yet laughing). He’s the one guy who’s got it really figured out. He is just largely “in tune,” and it drives me nuts. Almost on any front in the guitar world, you should just go, “What would Eric Johnson do?” His name was invoked many times during the making of Resolution.

MPc: I definitely heard his influence in a couple of spots.

AT: Yeah, he’s a dangerous guy to listen to, so I try not to listen to him too much. I really hold him as an influence sonically. I think what he’s achieved sonically is to me the most inspiring. His playing is absolutely gorgeous but, sonically, he sets the benchmark where we go, “We gotta’ get close to that if we can.” And the more you listen to him; you start doing those intervallic leads, phrasing a certain way. I have to be careful not to listen to him too much, but he’s crept into some of my playing after the last ten years or so. He’s one of the greatest virtuosos of all time.

The Band

MPc: Obviously, your ability to carry songs melodically without overdubbed rhythm tracks relies a lot on the foundation laid by bassist Mike Daane and drummer Mitch Marine.

AT: Mike is a wonderfully unique bass player. If you really focus on the lines that he’s playing and how he’s playing them, there’s nothing really traditional about anything that he does. He gets a great fat warm tone, and a growl when it needs to be there. He’ll usually go off in a different direction just when you think you know where things are headed. But it always makes sense how it supports what’s going on with the drums and the guitar.

And Mitch is wonderfully unique to play with. He’s literally my favorite drummer that I’ve ever worked with. With Mitch, we come from a similar background – a complete understanding and love of The Beatles and the Dave Clark Five. To me, Ringo Starr is the greatest thing that ever picked up sticks. I know some musicians are going to kind of laugh at that, but I’m dead serious. When it comes to feel and what’s right for a song, there’s been nobody better. I’ll stand by that forever.

But Mitch has a great knowledge of jazz. He’s played every kind of world music, and he’s now the drummer with Dwight Yokam. He’s got that rockabilly country edge thing happening. Conversely, this other drummer I’ve worked with, Dan Wojciechowski – also one of the greatest drummers I’ve played with – he’s all about pocket. He’s really the closest thing I’ll ever come to playing with Jeff Porcaro. Jeff was also one of my favorite players. The way Jeff and Steve Lukather played together… if you listen to the out solo on “White Sister” from the Hydra album, there’s never been a guitar player and drummer so locked in as hard and as groovin’ as those two guys at that moment. That recording in particular – I just get chills every time I hear it. I’ve been lucky enough to hang with Steve a few times, and he really is my biggest influence overall. I said to him, “Man, that solo in the end of ‘White Sister,’” and he said to me, “That was first take,” and I was like, “Oh man!”

Tone Monster

MPc: You have a great tone on Resolution. Tell us about your guitar sounds on this record.

AT: Almost everything in the studio was vintage Marshall. But now with the Mesa/Boogie amps I’m playing, I’m able to recreate everything I did in the studio spot-on with the Stiletto and the Lone Star. The record was mainly a ‘68 Plexi on one side and a ‘79 JMP on the other. I was mainly using them as clean amps with a Tube Driver in front of them.

My Boogie stuff is great because the sound of those Marshalls in the studio, I can absolutely never get those sounds live. I’ve been friends with Steve Mueller at Mesa/Boogie for years. My favorite amp of theirs for years was the Maverick. It was the closest thing that would let me get my sound. I love the Rectifier and those types of amps but they really weren’t what I was going for. They came out with the Lone Star a few years ago and that’s when I really went, “Okay, now that’s something that’s me.”

I had been working with Laney amps for a few years before that, and they make good amps, and we tried a little bit to create a signature amp for me, and we got close a couple of times but it never really got off the ground. So I let my endorsement with them lapse, thinking that I didn’t want an endorsement to get in the way of me being happy with what I’m playing through.

Steve Mueller from Mesa/Boogie came to hear the tracks we were working on for the new record and he was blown away with the tone, wanting to know what we were using, and I sheepishly told him that it was the vintage Marshall stuff. He was like, “Wow, that just really sounds amazing. We’re working on the Stiletto and we’d love to get your ears involved, because we’re trying to capture some of this and then some.” Obviously, they’re going to do their own thing, and when Steve came to me with a later version of the Stiletto I was absolutely blown away because Mesa/Boogie absolutely nailed that sound – especially my 1979 JMP sound.

Now, I can get that recorded sound live, which I’ve never been able to do before, plus with those vintage Marshalls, you really don’t want to take those things on the road. They’re so valuable now. And Boogie was like, “We want you to have an amp where you can get that sound live,” and they really, really nailed it. I’m so thrilled that between those two amps – I have a switching system going – they nailed every tone that I could need. It’s fantastic!

MPc: Any tips on how you set your Mesa/Boogie amps to capture the vintage sound of your record?

AT: Absolutely. The tone I get from the Lone Star really had nothing to do with trying to replicate the tone of the record. I just plugged into the amp and it sounded great to start with. On the lead setting, I have the drive kicked in on the lead channel up about three quarters. With that amp, there’s so much low end, you have to dial back the bass to only about two or three.

MPc: That’s funny. We recently interviewed Dream Theater’s John Petrucci and he commented that in his Mesa/Boogie amps, he has to dial down the bass in his Road Kings!

AT: Also, I love an amp where I can put treble in instead of taking it out. With Marshall amps and Laney amps, the treble’s always just off. It’s so bright you’re just like, “Turn it off.” With the Lone Star, I’ve probably got it dialed in about twelve o’ clock.

I always have the effect loop kicked in, whether there’s anything connected to it or not because it does add an extra stage of gain, and the return knob on the back of the amp needs to be a little past twelve o’clock, maybe around one. It really changes the tone. I’ve never been happier with an amp than I have been with the Lone Star, and two different instances exemplify this:

I’ve never gotten as many compliments about my sound as I get with that amp. There were a few Eric Johnson instances where we opened for him at the last Dallas Guitar Show, maybe about a year ago, and though we’ve met a few times, and he may have heard one of my records, I don’t think he had ever really heard me play. Generally, when we’ve opened for him, there’s usually thirty to forty-five minutes between acts, so he might not even be there [when we’re on]. But this time, I looked over to the side of the stage half-way through the set and there’s Eric over there giving me the “thumbs up” and going “yeah” and… my hands froze! (laughing) He’s really the last guy I wanted to see standing at the side of the stage because he’s “Mr. Ears” over there and I’m thinking, “Oh man, he’s going to hear every little imperfection.” But I got off the stage and the first thing he said to me was, “Man, that was awesome tone.”

The next time he came through Dallas, he played two nights, and the second night, he invited me to come out and sit in, which was a huge honor, because I know he doesn’t really do that very often when he’s doing his own show. So I brought my Lone Star, and from the first note I played – you know it’s coming through Eric’s monitor – it was one of the best tones I got in my life. It sounded amazing, and we had a really musical jam. We played Alien Love Child tunes and “Spanish Castle Magic” together and, afterwards, he was like, “Man, your tone was better than mine,” and I was like, “I don’t think so” (laughing), but I knew that I was on the right track with the amp that I was playing. When you get a thumbs-up like that from one of your heroes, it makes you feel pretty good.

MPc: Which guitars did you use on this record?

AT: There were only three different guitars on the whole record. Eighty percent of the record is the Ibanez AT300 [Andy’s current signature model].

MPc: Is yours stock, or is it custom just for you?

AT: That one is the final prototype for what the factory model is except that, on my prototype, we moved the input jack from the heel of the guitar where it usually is to the front. That’s the only difference. It’s got all the same hardware. It’s just the one that I happened to start playing with.

MPc: Pickups?

AT: On that one, the neck and middle are DiMarzio Cruisers – those are stock – but the humbucker is exclusive to that guitar. AT Classic or something like that. It’s not extremely high output, but has a really fat, warm tone and clear top end that matches really well with the Cruisers. That was important because I do quite a bit of switching from pickup to pickup between phrases. I’m just so pleased with that guitar.

When we first came up with it, I was still playing the older AT100, a maple neck, alder body guitar, whereas this is rosewood with a mahogany body. I wanted that thicker, warmer tone, but I had played the other guitar for so many years that I was really identified with it. In making this record and finding a guitar that could carry my tone, the AT300 won. Those guitars were on all the tracks except one. I have a 1968 Telecaster for a lot of the session work that I do. Some producers just need to see the guitar. You may have the sounds [in your other guitars], but they look and say, “I want a tele. That looks like a tele.” The guitar does have its own tone to it, though. No doubt about it, but it’s an absolute bitch to play. It’s a vintage instrument, and it has its quirks. But I used that on the “Headed for a Ditch” song [the bonus track].

The Songs

MPc: On the lead track “Deliver Us,” you immediately demonstrate great technical proficiency. Other than some reverb on the opening melody line, your tone is pretty dry, and with such clean, non-delayed soloing, the precision in your playing is obvious. What effects do you like to use in general, and what gear supplies those effects?

AT: To my knowledge, there’s actually no reverb anywhere on the record. It’s all done with echo. When I tracked the record, I pretty much always had a tape delay in-line and printed the tape echo. I have the new Fulltone Tube Tape echo, which sounds pretty good, and we also used a Maestro Echoplex EP3, not the tube one, but the solid state one, which had a great sound to it, too.

On some tracks I also used a Chandler unit. They made a digital rack echo probably in the mid-eighties, and that’s one of the best digital echoes I’ve ever heard. You can dial in some modulation on the echoes themselves – that tape wow and flutter kind of vibe – so it could have been any one of those three. But any ambience you hear on the record was probably tape echo.

MPc: Great use of wah in the solo section of “Deliver Us.”

AT: : I’ve found that you can get ten different wahs from the same manufacturer and they all sound a little bit different, though I’m not sure why. You really have to try a lot of different ones, even if you find a model that you like. That one was probably a reissue Vox from the early nineties. I’ve played a lot of wahs, but this one just really seems to fit in the right EQ range for me, and of course it’s going to matter what kind of guitar and amps you’re playing it through.

MPc: “Ghost of You” has this amazing blend of styles that go from Led Zeppelin to Eric Johnson at the flip of a switch, and I love the cool tapping pattern in the solo section. While most runs like that are locked to an 8th note or 16th note metronome, which you do at times in a few other tracks, you play what I’d have to describe as “slow groove tapping.” Where did that come from?

AT: I don’t think I did any tapping on this record. That figure in “Ghost of You” is actually just pull-offs on the D and G strings moving up and down from the octave in minor thirds, always pulling off the G string. And, if you notice, the tone changes throughout the section. I didn’t just play it but changed the tone with my pick as it went along, varying how much of my pick or my fingernail was used. You can hear the tone shift just before it goes into the next section.

MPc: Listening to songs like “Helipad” and my personal favorite track, “Move On” (which reminds me a little bit of Joe Satriani’s “Summer Song” and could definitely be a radio hit), you showcase the pop songwriting sensibilities that figured heavily in your playing with Danger Danger. How hard was it to restrain yourself from going in a vocal direction with some of these songs?

AT: It’s funny you say that because “Move On” was intended to be a vocal song. When I first wrote that I had a vocal melody but then I realized that we really needed to keep this as an instrumental record. That created a challenge – how do I make this song interesting without the vocal. It took a little bit of work for me to figure out what was right in terms of what the guitar part needed to be since I originally heard it as a vocal song. It wasn’t easy to get away from that. “Helipad” was one of the songs that just started out as a groove with Mitch and Mike. No matter what I do, whether instrumental or not, the melody is the most important thing.

MPc: I was listening to some old Danger Danger CDs and one track that stood out for me was your live instrumental piece “Groove or Die” from the rare Down and Dirty Live CD. Your style of soloing back then was more influenced by neo-classical styles as popularized by the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and George Lynch. I really didn’t notice any of that influence in your approach to soloing on Resolution.

AT: It’s funny. That song started off as a joke, to be honest. Yngwie was at the peak of his popularity at that point when people were coming to hear my Andy Timmons Band, which back then played stuff like Cream, Hendrix, Satriani and Vai, and Eric Johnson, and people would yell out, “Play some Yngwie!” I can’t sweep pick to save my life (laughing). I just don’t feel it that way. I admire people who do it, so I decided that I would try to come up with my own Yngwie-like piece so I could go, “Okay, here’s your f’ing Yngwie.” I love his abilities and that style of music for maybe a song or two, so it was fun to come up with a song where I could pick and slide and get some chops going. We did record that at the time and the early version made it out on the Anthology double-disc, and I also released it on the Ear X-tacy Two CD, a popular recorded version of it. When I joined Danger Danger, they were very supportive of me as a “musician type” in the live setting, so they said, “Okay, you get a solo section. What do you want to do?” So that’s how “Groove or Die” entered into the ranks of Danger Danger, with Kasey Smith on keyboards adding that gothic neo-classical thing. It was a blast to play – it was a chops showcase. It wasn’t intended to be great songwriting or anything like that, and ironically it quickly became a favorite requested song live. Even though it was meant to totally poke fun at something, people totally get off on it because it’s just this two and a half minute burst of energy. Any show we do, it’s usually going to end up in the set somewhere.

Playing Nicely With Others

MPc: If I go back to 1996, you played on one of my favorite rock CDs, Kip Winger’s solo record This Conversation Seems Like a Dream, on which you showcased an amazing range of cool guitar sounds that had lots of interesting processing on them.

AT: Let me start off by saying that that is probably my favorite record I’ve ever played on. I think Kip is one of the most maligned, misunderstood people in the music industry. He’s absolutely the deepest musical soul I’ve ever been in a room with.

MPc: People wrote him off because he looked good.

AT: Absolutely. There’s no doubt about it. And, Beavis & Butthead and Lars Ulrich really didn’t do a thing to help that out. (laugh) Long story short – the guy is an amazing talent. That record is an amazingly fond, yet bittersweet memory for me. Everything on that record is so fresh and improvised. There were three or four sessions where he would fly me out to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he lives, and a lot of times I wouldn’t have even heard the song yet. We’d get a sound together, roll tape, and he’d say, “Just play what you hear.” There were so many tracks that he kept like that. He’d take a part I improvised, or a vocal part, and he’d write a string line to my solo… he was just so creative. He’d say, “Andy, I just want any weird sound you got.” He just wanted something different.

Kip lived on the top of a mountain way outside of Santa Fe. It’s real peaceful, and his wife Beatrice was there throughout the recording. That’s the bittersweet part because she [passed away] not long after we finished the record. I love listening to that record, but sometimes it’s a bit emotional. Some of my prouder musical moments are on there, though, because it was a different soundscape than I’d had the opportunity to play on.

Things sounded so great by the time I got there. All the drums were finished [played by Rod Morgenstein], and bass and keyboards, and some guitars that Kip had done, and another session guy. Kip played all the acoustic guitars on there, which are absolutely brilliant. His acoustic playing is stellar. But the spirit in which it was recorded, in that I could really be myself, but on someone else’s record, was great, whereas sometimes you’re steered a certain way. There were never really any preconceptions coming from Kip. He just wanted for me to be me and to play what I felt at the moment, and that’s honestly what happened.

Every Great Guitarist Needs an Instructional Video

MPc: Have you considered releasing an instructional video like so many of your guitar guru contemporaries?

AT: Absolutely. I have plans for one. It’s just a matter of finding the time and the right company to work with on it, or I’ll do it on my own if nothing else pans out. But it’s definitely going to happen. I’m pretty sure I know how I’m going to structure things – it’s just a matter of getting it done in all my spare time (laughing). I get a lot of requests for one through my web site, so I look forward to getting one out.

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