Interview: Doogie White of Alcatrazz | “I am very proud of what we have done”

With Alcatrazz being busy working on a new album and the first tour dates getting nearer, Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with the band’s new vocalist Doogie White for a chat about stepping into existing bands, the sound of the new Alcatrazz material, what we can expect from the new setlist and memories from past Japan tours. In the current line-up of Alcatrazz, Doogie is joined by Gary Shea (bass), Jimmy Waldo (keyboards), drummer Mark Benquechea and guitarist Joe Stump.

Over the years, you have been drafted in to join established acts such as Rainbow, Michael Schenker, Yngwie Malmsteen, Praying Mantis and Tank. Clearly, you have a reputation for being a reliable vocalist that can step in and deliver. What do you think are your biggest strengths as a vocalist and frontman? “That’s not a question I can answer definitively. You would have to ask those who have asked me to join them on the great adventures we shared together. And we ALL had adventures. What I do know is that I learn my lines. I come in best prepared. I leave my ego at home as I am aware it’s not my name on the billboard or the ticket. I am actually quite good at what I do and do it with enthusiasm and respect, for the band, the music and for the fans. When I joined Rainbow my second thought was ‘Okay, you are a fan of the band and as a fan what would you like to see and hear?’ I think I got the balance correct. With Yngwie Malmsteen, I knew what my role was and just delivered the best I could. With Michael Schenker, we were writing partners and band mates. We wrote some great songs together and played some amazing shows and festivals. But as with all these guitar players, they keep things fresh by changing the players and its usually the vocalist who is first to go as it was with Yngwie. With Ritchie Blackmore I had to quit as his management would not talk to me or the band and it was all untenable. I gave him six songs the night of the last show for the next album as he had asked me to do. Of course, it all ended as the lights went down that night but the songs thankfully ended as Cornerstone’s second album ‘Human Stain’ which was glorious. Steen Mogensen did a sterling job for Cornerstone over five albums. Michael and I still talk every so often but his record company wanted a new line-up of MSG after nine years of Temple of Rock and the Michael Schenker Fest. Maybe we will do another Temple of Rock album somewhere down the line. It’s all in the lap of the gods.”

As you have done in the past with a number of famous acts, you have now joined Alcatrazz as its new vocalist. Was it an immediate “Yes, I’d love to take on this challenge!” when you got the question? “I was just finishing writing and recording an album for Frontiers. The project is Long Shadows Dawn and the album is ‘Isle of Wrath’ with Emil Norberg as co-writer, guitarist, producer. It’s super-hot and exciting. Then Alcatrazz contacted me. Musically we hit it off right away. That’s when I knew it was gonna be great. Graham Bonnet is a dear friend of mine and he was the one who asked me to meet him and have a coffee where he told me he hated the music he was playing with Alcatrazz and wanted to go back to the Graham Bonnet Band where he could play music he sometimes liked. I suggested he should do just that. ‘At 73 and being a legend, go out and play what you want to, maybe that will make you happy’. I did not think he would quit the band and I certainly did not think I would be asked to step up to the microphone. Life can be funny sometimes. But he and I have been friends for 20 something years and remain so.”

The five new Alcatrazz tracks I have heard sound terrific. How have you found writing songs with the other members of Alcatrazz in these strange times where band members are spread out geographically? “Well, it’s been years since budgets allowed five players to gather in a room and jam out ideas. I have not done it since the 90s. All I ask from anyone I work with is a killer riff and an under-produced backing track that I can weave my melodies through, then the other guys can work their magic and at some point, it’s ‘abracadabra’ and a song is magically pulled out of the rawk hat.”

The new Alcatrazz music is a bit more hard rock and power metal than some of the earlier lighter Alcatrazz material. Is this a deliberate musical move? “I think so. The early sound is of its time. This new stuff is hopefully of now. Of course, it pulls from the past but also has a bold view of where we want to go. I am very proud of what we have done. It will be hugely interesting to hear what the fans think. I know they will love it.”

Alcatrazz has announced some tour dates later this year and there’s more to come. Are there any past Alcatrazz songs that you will shy away from singing live? “I have not listened to anything yet. I will sing what I am asked to by the band as they know their audience. I will suggest others. For now, I am doing press and promotion, videos and phone ins. I will look at what needs to be done in mid-June and start work finding my voice for the old songs. Interesting times ahead I think.”

In the Alcatrazz live shows, do you think you will perform any material from your past in addition to old and new Alcatrazz songs? “I have a solo band called White Noise. My rule of thumb is that I only play songs that I wrote or heavily contributed to, as in ‘Ariel’, as an example. But we will probably dig out some tunes to replace the non-Alcatrazz songs that are someone else’s. We are kicking around songs from Rainbow and Schenker. I am all for playing as many new songs as is comfortable. However it goes, it will be a killer show whatever we choose to do.”

Now that Dan McCafferty of Nazareth has more or less retired, you are my favourite Scottish singer. Are there any other hidden gems among your fellow Scottish singers that the world should pay attention to? “I will offer up four. The living: Phil Campbell of The Temperance Movement, I do prefer him solo, and Paul Buchanan of Blue Nile. The dead: John Martyn and Jimmy Dewar.”

You have toured Japan many times since you first came here with Praying Mantis in the early 1990s. What’s your best Japanese tour memory? “When in Japan you will find me wandering before and after the show. Wandering is what I do best. I used to go to The Lexington Queen and Rock Rock, but I don’t know if they are still there. I have nothing but great memories of every time I have had the privilege to be in Japan. Just wandering makes it all great for me. I gave master classes at a few music colleges some years back where I sang with a number of promising Japanese musicians and visited the ESP Guitars factory which was fun. I have eaten amazing food and yet still get surprised by what Japan as a nation can throw up and leave me breathless. Hiroshima, early morning, was hugely haunting for me. Standing under the neon at night when the jetlag is at its worst is a beautiful sight whether in Tokyo or Osaka or somewhere else. I love walking through the train stations with the fans seeing us off on the train and then welcoming us at the other end. Amazing. See you soon Japan with Alcatrazz.”