Perfect Sound Forever

Randy Holden

Photo: Blue Cheer home page

Interview by Richie Unterberger
Part Two

Q: How did you get involved with Blue Cheer?

R: I used to plug all the amps in onstage with the Other Half. The band would take a break, and I would just go wild for a while and have fun, attempt to do something different and interesting. And the audience loved it. So that was just all the more energizing for me. I just hated that damn guitar {I was using in the Other Half].

 But Blue Cheer was a six-piece band playing around local clubs, and then they reduced to a three-piece band and came out and was using about eight Fender Dual Showmans. Four on the bass, and four on the guitar. I used to use about six of them on the guitar when I'd do my thing. So everybody kept prodding me that I knew--"this is the band you should be with." And that was kind of--I was listening with one ear, because I knew the band that I was with, I shouldn't be with. And there were just some linkups that seemed to be shoo-in types of fits. When I listened to Blue Cheer, I didn't really like Blue Cheer. I thought that band could really be made into something, because it got the basic ideas. The musicianship in it just seemed young, just learning.

 By the standard of that time, it was like, I was old for that band. And back [then], the two-three-four-year differences made all the differences in the world, with how long you'd been playing and how intense you had been playing, and things like that. So, unbeknownst to me, according to Paul Whaley, who I recorded with a couple years ago, he told me for the first time that the band was looking at me to replace Leigh [Stephens]. And other people were telling me that "you should play with that band." So, by whatever strange happenstance, it came together.

 I wanted Paul to play in my band. I heard him play, and I loved the way Paul played. And I was getting back together [with] Mike Port of the Sons of Adam, because he was a good bass player. So we actually did a rehearsal, the three of us, but jeez, Mike and Paul just could not play together. I mean, it was like trying to mix oil and water without a blender. And it didn't work. And so Paul wanted me to join Blue Cheer, and they were going to let Leigh go. Leigh was a sweetheart, I always liked him. Didn't like the way he played very much, but I liked him as a person. But they had a unique sound of their own before I came along. They were like the original punk band.

Q: You only played on one LP side with Blue Cheer. Why did you leave?

R: Their minds, as far as human beings, were off somewhere else. Paul would communicate with me musically on stage quite well. But I always had very serious despondencies with the band, because it never rehearsed. It was never allowed to rehearse. It was never allowed to play together, except for when we got onstage. So there was no time to communicate musically, and develop and create. So that was always a big frustration for me. There was never any money, even though we were making just thousands and thousands and gobs of dollars. I'd be thrown some change that might buy a shirt if I was lucky. And I thought, man, this is just outrageous.

 Then they wanted me to record--there was allegedly a contract to record a new album, which I was never put on the contract. I was never shown the contract. I'm just told I have to do all these things. And I wanted to know what I was going to be--where's the compensation for this? We're touring, now we're supposed to record, we've never even rehearsed--what the hell, is there some kind of accounting organization at all? And there wasn't. Basically, I didn't even have enough money to buy food. And I was in the middle of recording this album, and I said to myself, why am I doing this? And I just said, I'm not doing it anymore. Can't do it. I just left.

 There was a serious drug problem [for someone else in the band], too, that just wouldn't resolve itself. And that was the other reason. But I think that was very uniquely tied to the disappearance of the money problem, and why no one wanted to get a clear accounting, and there was allegedly no money.

Q: Were you more satisfied with your guitar playing than you had been in the Other Half?

R: I thought that the sound was pretty good. For the first time, I was pretty much pleased with the sound that I was getting with my guitar. It seemed to me to be a pretty good representation. The band was well-rehearsed in the sense of we played onstage every night, or darn near for almost a year, touring all over the US and Europe. So it was easy to record the ones that we had originally learned. When I joined the band, I contributed songs. They had their songs, and I contributed some of my ones. We had four hours to rehearse to do all this before we went on tour. So that's what we did. And I wrote several new songs on tour. But there wasn't once when Dickie [Peterson] and I would create together, or collaborate, because everybody was off doing something else. We could never get in the showplace where we were going to play, and have the whole day before to create or do whatever we wanted, invent music. We never had that. So we never did anything.

 So in essence, when it came time to record the new album, the only new songs the band had were the ones that I showed them when I joined the band. So that's what I recorded. And I sang them, and I did everything. And Dickie played bass, whereas [he was] previously more involved with the writing, but there was no more writing after that.

Q: Blue Cheer were known for using more amplification than almost anyone else. Did that suit you?

R: Cream was just breaking, and had the Marshalls before anyone knew anything about Marshalls. Hendrix was just forming with the Experience, and seeing what the Marshalls were doing for Cream, jumped on them like a dog on a wild goose. The Fender Dual Showmans were all there was in the US at the time. When Cream broke, and I heard those Marshalls, of course I wanted them, but I didn't have a clue how or where to get them, or even have a hope of finding money to get them. I was stuck with the Fenders until something could change.

 When I hooked up with Blue Cheer after Cream, and Hendrix had already gone to the top, I finally got a pair of the Marshalls with Blue Cheer. I didn't like the distortion of the Marshall speakers. So in an attempt to illuminate that problem I changed out the Marshall speakers, and replaced them with JB Lansings, that were much clearer, and more solid, and punching. I had thought when I hooked up with Blue Cheer I would have access to all the amps I wanted to use. I wanted four stacks of the Marshalls, but management told me they were cutting back, and I couldn't have them, and that the music shop they dealt [with] couldn't even get them even if it were otherwise possible. That was kind of a disappointing blow. It meant I wasn't going to be able to push it over the top yet.

 So instead of the four stacks I wanted, I was only allowed two. They sounded pretty good, but it was not where I wanted to go. It was laidback to what I had in mind, and even as good as the Marshalls were, they still didn't pack the whole wallop the half dozen Fender Showmans had in terms of expansion that I was after. As well it seemed counter to the aim [of] the Blue Cheer image and reputation for volume, and pretty silly to strap me down, as well. When that is where I was going, and where Blue Cheer initially headed off, and were inspired watching what I was doing with half dozen Duel Showmans in the San Francisco shows. The management position was in direct conflict with the entire show business aspect of what made Blue Cheer famous, and in conflict with my own personal vision. So I didn't get to amp up until after the Blue Cheer tenure, even though the sound was pretty good. It wasn't good enough, yet. Worse though, it kept things in a state of staying in a secondary position.

 The truth of the matter, regardless what anyone attempts to say differently, anyone who is serious about rising to the top in music with the best, or newest sound, is always looking for another momentous way to do it. It's competition. Guitarists would always try to look to see what my amp settings were, and I would always wind them to zero to keep it undisclosed. I had a device that was a small silver box foot pedal button that increased the volume by 50% with no distortion. You wouldn't believe how many guitarists tried to heist that thing. I had to keep my eye on it like a hawk.

 Once in Boston on tour with Blue Cheer, I left the stage for a few minutes as ordinary when closing the show, and would return as soon as the lights went out to retrieve my silver box. It was gone. I freaked, as it was the only one of its kind, only a few ever made, and I didn't even know who made it anymore. The name was worn off, and I'd had it for years since Sons of Adam days. It was great for the extra edge on solos riffs. I was frantic to find whoever took it. I also just received my new Black SG Standard right before that show back stage, and didn't even have time to tune it to use it. (It was the first Black SG).

 When my silver box disappeared from stage, I went looking for our equipment guys to find it, only to find someone had stolen the brand new Black SG. It was totally amazing. The silver box was gone too, but I decided to look under the stage just for the heck of it, and bingo, there it was. Whoever had their sights on it grabbed it, threw it under the stage quick like, planning to come back later to get it. It was an animal world out there. Anybody and everybody wanted to know and have whatever you had that got you a great sound, Nothing was safe. No different than corporate espionage. I even knew an amp manufacturer who sent a spy up to Sunn in the pretext of job seeking so he could get inside Sunn's R&D department and steal the circuitry secrets, and any other state of the art research Sunn was doing. So the "Sound Stealing Game" was a big big issue.

 The fact was - the equipment sound always made the music of the band, if the band knew how to use it. The state of art of the equipment always preceded the advancement of the music. That was the fact, and nothing has changed that fact.

Q: It's kind of weird that you're most famous for being in Blue Cheer, since you only played on half an album, and because it only represents a small portion of your overall career.

R: Well, there's two elements to that. I was actually with the band about a year, which was a considerable amount of time back then. I think the Other Half was together a year and a half. So not a whole lot of difference. But things happened very fast then. That was one element. The other element is, Blue Cheer had a hit with "Summertime Blues." So we had a tour book because of that hit, and we played all the major cities in the US and Europe. So the band had all that much more exposure than the other bands that I had been with. So when you have the exposure, then people are going to have some kind of identity association relationship. That's really what that's about.

Q: How did your sound change when you left Blue Cheer and did the Population II solo album?

R: I think I would say that it was more representative of the guitar sound that I was trying to get than anything else. It was not necessarily representative of the song authorship that I wanted to. That almost became an animal all of itself, just because of the nature of it being two-piece, and trying to construct an arrangement within the framework of the ability to play within it, very weightily influenced the actual song concept.

 Live, it sounded like a huge band with a half dozen members, just because of the awesome power it was. We were ten times louder than Blue Cheer ever dreamt of being.

Q: And Blue Cheer was really loud...

R: Oh, no it wasn't. It was quiet. It was placid and peaceful. It was what you listen to when you're eighty years old in your rocking chair. Population II, now, that was another matter. That was nuclear. But I had sponsorship from Sunn amplifiers. They were designing this new amp for me--200 watts in every cabinet. And they gave me all of them I wanted. And I would cart these things on the airplane as excess baggage in those days. When I would show up at the airport, the guy would just freak out and see 20 huge cases coming out of this old black and white police bus. It was quite funny, really.

Q: There was hardly anyone else around then with a two-man band setup. I can only think of Lee Michaels, who played with a two-man setup for a while with his drummer Frosty.

R: There was quite a difference between what Lee did and what I was doing. Lee would carry the bass with his foot pedals on the organ, and he would carry the melodic leads and rhythm section with the organ. And Frosty would play the drums. They had this very interesting power thing going with it. Lee was kind of an interesting guy. Whereas with Chris [Lockheed] and I, Chris first searched me out after Blue Cheer. He heard Blue Cheer play up in Stockton, and he heard I left the band and wanted to play. So when he had a meeting with me, he said that he also played keyboards. And loving sensationalism as I do, I asked him, I said, "Can you play both at once, drums and keyboards?," posing a question. He said, "Yeah." I thought okay, if this guy's got the confidence and the nerve to do that, he's gotta be able to do it. But it was really laborious for him to try to do that. It was very numerical and mathematical and calculated. It was very difficult to do.

 And I realized that the job that he faced sucked. To me, it would have been no fun at all. Because you're totally restricted. On one side you have to have this soft touch on keyboards, and the other side, you have to be slamming. So your personality divided right down the middle. It's amazing that he didn't overdose on schizophrenia, just trying to do that. So our rehearsals were intense, just to try to pull it off. Because the whole point was to pull it off live. So we rehearsed and rehearsed, ten hours a day, every day, just to be able to accomplish it. And when it worked, it was pretty amazing. It was quite amazing.

 We would jam here and there. Every once in a while there would be some fun stuff. But most of it was inventing, constructing the songs. I mean, down to note for note. Every solo, every guitar part, every bass part, everything was note for note. The object was to reproduce the album live note for note. Trying to convey the concept of that sound and a duo to the public on a record--where you're using 1600 watts of power, which was unheard of back then, when everybody, the most they would use was two or three hundred max--nobody would understand it. Whereas if you performed it live, it was so overwhelming, the absence of overdubs wouldn't even be missed. I found that very interesting.

Q: With Population II were you able to get closer to the heavy amplification you wanted, but couldn't get, with Blue Cheer? I had no amps when I departed company with BC. I thought I would go Marshall again, then Sunn came in the picture.

 When I ran into the Sunn amps, I plugged in my SG Standard and the sound was very mushy, flat and distorted. So much so that fast runs were a blur with no distinction between the notes. The SG/Sunn configuration was just as uninspiring as the Strat had been in the Marshall. That was another sound surprise. It confirmed I wouldn't go with Gibson if I did the Sunns.

 I took the Strat and plugged it into the Sunns, and whammo, it was amazing, light years bigger, surprisingly good, quite a bit better than the previous SG and Marshall configuration. I noticed the Sunns had a mid-range frequency response, and my Gibson midrange turned the sound into mud. When I switched back to the Fender Strat its top and bottom frequency response coupled right up to the Sunns. When the 16 or so Sunns arrived, that was a rig. Although I could not get high end whirlwind fast passages out of it, as the notes would blur, I kept speed to a minimum. (Speed was never on my list of high priorities in music, except where appropriate to a musical passage itself. I used speed judiciously. I saw too many guitarists trying to be speed fanatics, and lose the sense of music, becoming technicians instead of musicians).

 I was still puzzled why I couldn't get a good sound out of a Strat and Marshall combo, when Hendrix made that set up sing like a dove. Then one day, out of the blue, a friend of Hendrix (who was interested in managing my new band) borrowed Jimi's Strat and brought it over to my house for me to try out. Since I had only met Jimi once, and casually at that, he wasn't someone I knew intimately enough that he should let me check out his ax, so I had a question over exactly how this had come about. The guy bringing me the guitar was the one who introduced me to Jimi. That introduction was pretty uneventful, and was backstage in the dressing room before his last live show at the L.A. forum. Jimi seemed detached, not particularly interested in meeting anyone. Different than the previous extrovert exuberant image portrayed in the media. So it wasn't like I meant anything special to him, enough for him to have any memory of me to give someone his guitar to play, and let me in on the secret wiring trick. As irony would have it, a few weeks later Jimi died, and I hadn't thought about the incident again. I never forgot how beautiful that guitar of his given to me sounded, and played. Never had one like it before or since.

Q: Why do you think he came over with Hendrix's guitar?

R: It wasn't customary to give away your trade secrets to anyone. So what was the deal - who wanted something that I had, and why? What I had were the new Sunn amps that were secret, no one had or could get. It wasn't clear to me at the time, but there was more to it than met the eye.

 This guy who hung around with Jimi began hanging around us quite a bit, coming to rehearsals, bringing his friends to our house, knew what I was doing, and was really into us. I didn't really know anything about him though, except he did introduce me to Hendrix, so he had established some credibility. I just didn't know where he was going with things. At the time he made the introduction, I have a recollection of him suggesting getting together and jamming, but I didn't see much meaning to it.

 In retrospect, if he wanted to give me Jimi's guitar and sound secret to check out, and then set it up to bring Jimi around to check out my Sunn amps set up secret, he'd be doing something for both of us. But I didn't get what he'd get out of it, or how it would all shake out in the end.

 What didn't feel right about that idea is what role Jimi would have had in the idea. My feeling tells me Jimi didn't have any idea what this guy was doing, and this guy was just working both ends, doing favors for both of us, with an objective of something in return for him down the line somewhere. That's as far as it's made any kind of sense to me. That's what seemed to be implied going on behind the scenes. What did not make any sense to me would be Jimi having any personal interest in anything I was doing, unless and except he had been told about me, and wanted the inside info on what I was doing, and what I had, from a competitor point of view. But that seemed a little cynical, unless somehow he was led to imagine I posed a threat to his crown, and he wanted what I had before I could use it, and to get close to me, and get my secret from me, I was given a secret of Jimi's as a pretty dramatic bait favor.

 Regardless, he continued to tell me how Jimi's road technician came up with the idea of placing a resistor in Jimi]s guitars, in line between the pickups and the volume control that reduced the output, reducing the overdrive of the guitar, allowing the individual notes to come through, letting the overdriven amp produce the sustain. It made perfect sense. I never considered anything like that. But I plugged it in, and incredible, there was Jimi's exact sound, and everything he played was suddenly so easy to play it was magical, and effortless. It was totally beautiful. I was really taken aback by that. More yet, that particular sound made playing the guitar so easy, and effortless, with no struggle. It permitted playing anything I could imagine, as quickly as imagined. It was the dream sound. It was beautiful, and fun/enjoyable to use. There is nothing more enjoyable to a musician than a sound that allows them to play with ease anything they can imagine. Jimi had that sound.

 The really amazing part to me was how on earth it was arrived at. I was told by the guy who knew him, who brought me that guitar, that it was an experiment done by tech guy who handled Jimi's equipment. I've always been curious at what point in time the idea became reality, since the sound is on Hendrix's first as well as future albums, and what thinking and circumstances led to it. From the explanation given to me, it took all of two minutes to cut the wire, and soder a resister in line. It was a really inventive piece of thinking, and solution. Like most things of that nature it was an experiment, but an experiment that worked. At first I thought my leg was being pulled. Until I plugged it in, and I never had a Strat either before or after that produced that sound. It was only that Strat of Hendrix given to me to mess around with, that had that sound. It was really amazing. I never was given the exact information of where the resistor was placed, or what load the resistor itself was. For that matter I can't remember if it was a resistor or a condenser, only that it was one of those items, and the explanation to me of why it was done.

 I know for a fact that had I been able to keep his guitar I would have wreaked literal havoc on the rock guitar scene with it in conjunction with my Sunns. That would have been seriously damaging. I also know that had Jimi been able to get hold of my Sunns, and use his guitar through them, he would have cleaned my clock before I had the chance, and I would have stood to be accused of mimicking him.

 Whatever that whole scene was about, the one thing I can say with direct certainty is my entire style of playing would have changed had I had that guitar, or mine wired like that one. It was completely different sound than what I had, even though what I had was completely different. That guitar was more musical - it bled music. Those are few and far between. There have been only two or three occasions in my life I picked up a guitar that just made music that wouldn't stop, and that was one of them.

 But Jimi's Strat really had an incredible sound. The Strat I had, I hand picked direct from the Fender plant, and it was a good one as they go. I wasn't real interested in any risky experimenting with that one, since I couldn't replace it that easy if anything went wrong, if I did any wiring experiment not knowing exactly what I was doing, nor knowing anyone else who would know enough to understand it. Basically I forgot about it and kept doing what I was already into.

 That guitar sure was a pretty singing bird though. Its secret passed into history with it's inventors. At the time it was in my hands, I really wanted to put it through the paces with my whole Sunn setup. It would have been a completely different sound than I was getting, but also would have been very different from Hendrix because of the amps. I really wanted to trot with that thing.

Q: How was the Population II material received?

R: I think I probably scared everybody with what I was doing. Nobody really understood it. Chris was into country music. So how can you expect somebody to come from that to do what I was trying to do? He came from Stockton, he was wearing cowboy boots with spurs on him, and a cowboy hat and a plaid shirt. And he's up there trying to play this extreme heavy metal dark music... I mean, it must have been so bizarre for him to even conceive of that, you know, he was probably more of a mathematical robot than anything else.

 I wasn't happy with the rhythm side of what I was doing. And it was slow because Chris had to go slow. Some of it was slow intentionally, though. Like the "Fruit and Iceberg" thing, it had these beautiful atomic chords that were just so dark and were deep and painful. But beautiful at the same time. So it was very interesting. But there were other things where the beat was supposed to be up, and moving. But Chris wasn't--to no fault of his own, I don't think anybody could have done it--he wasn't able to play the rhythms of both the bass and the drum at the same time. So they were slowed down as like you were learning something--okay, A goes here and B goes here and tick on this beat.

Q: The album has a real slowed-down, grungy feel, almost like it was hard rock at half speed.

R: It wasn't designed to do that, except on the one song, or maybe two of them. Of course, how many songs does the album, three or four? But they would wind up getting extended. It kind of took on a life of its own. And I was having so many different concepts, and trying to put it all together. It was kind of interesting. It never fully came together in my mind. But it was interesting, I suppose. There were some things about it that I really liked.

 I found myself--when did this happen? I guess somewhere in 1990, somehow or other somebody gave me a tape of the album. And I listened to it. I really didn't want to. I really didn't want to. It depressed me to think about it. But I permitted it. When I heard it, I went, wow. That's pretty fascinating. It has its own kind of thing that draws you into it. It's almost like quicksand, in a sense. It's like it almost pulls you into it. And when you get pulled into it, it's very enjoyable. In a very unusual kind of way, so I found that very fascinating. But then it's difficult to get back out of it, and see anything else. It's like it doesn't relate, unless you're in it.

 I rented this opera house. It would seat about 1200 people, and it had a huge stage. It was the only place we could rehearse that would carry all the amplification. But whenever I would invite people to a rehearsal, they would sit there and stare like they did not have a clue what was going on! It wasn't bobby sox time and rock'n'roll. But I thought it would move people once it happened, once we got the album released and got a tour going and all of that. I thought it would start to really move people. We just never got that far. The record company didn't release it.

Q: How do you think it would have been received if it had been released and you had been able to tour with it?

R: I'll tell you what. If the thing would have been released and we would have toured, that thing would have been so big it would have scared you to death. Because it was so much fun, in its own right. And it was ahead of what was happening. But the record companies--they can keep things from happening. And that's what happened. I have no doubt in my mind it would have taken off. No doubt. But there just was not the resources to keep pursuing it.

 The record company, they were so oblivious to what we were doing. I was up at the office trying to get some release date information on the album. And he said to me, "You know, you young guys, you young kids just amaze me. How you can spend all your time at the beach just having fun." And the guy was, he blew me away so bad, how clueless he was. So I went into a state of deep intense shock. I worked my butt off for twenty hours a day rehearsing, writing, just total devotion, seven days a week, and this clown is sitting there with some illusion that I'm going the beach. I'm in such utter shock, the only thing I could do was scream or go blind or both at the same time, and grab him by the neck and slam his head on the floor and say, wake up!

Q: You say the album wasn't released, but copies of it appeared many years later, once on a European label.

R: I've heard that this particular album had changed hands several times for substantial dollars. It's been produced and reproduced and reproduced. Somebody put out the master, I heard, too. I have my own ideas what might be going on there. It's under investigation. I just won a major suit against a major label, who was black-marketing my records. According to the settlement agreement, I'm not permitted to disclose the terms of settlement.

Q: So it was the album's non-release, and then your equipment getting sold by your equipment manager, that led you to give up music?

R: I had several guitars at that time, and I had drums and other amplifiers and everything and it just... all gone. It was very emotionally traumatic. It freaked me out so bad I couldn't even play guitar any more. When I left music, I was away for 25 years. I mean, I just locked the door on it. It became such an ugly thing to me, such a harmful part of life. Basically I went bankrupt after the record for Population II didn't get released. And I found myself on the street with no money, no amplifiers, all my equipment stolen, no friends, and I said, this sucks! This doesn't work at all. I'm not doing this anymore.

 I had another equipment manager that took all my guitars. It's a human nature thing. When people lose confidence and think that you're going down, because things aren't happening, they grab what they can and run. It's every man for himself. It's a protectionist concept.

 My departure from music was as much forced as decided when the bankruptcy folded the show. Had I been able to get some funding, and kept control of the amps, no doubt I would have continued to play, even if it was forming a new band. But without any gear, band and resource of money, or my own place to live... I moved in temporarily with some female fans who became so possessive and competitive amongst themselves to become chaos.

 The moral of that story was... living with too many women at once, all taking care of you, under the same roof, while sounding like a dream to most, was too chaotically imprisoning to do anything. Not coming up with a new record deal interest, or finding anyone able to play with me, caused the whole world to change. Had I gotten a new band, and new record label interest, I could have gotten my amps back from the music store through Sunn cutting them off any further product - Sunn was still backing me. But my own resources depleted to zero, unable to do anything.

Q: Then you got back into playing in the 1990's. Has it been satisfying, being able to play and record again, with more sophisticated technology and with total control over the production?

R: Incredibly. Incredibly. Probably among the most enjoyable experiences I've had in my life. I get in the studio and I turn into something else, and I just can't stop playing and working and putting it together, and people start passing out cold on their instruments, and after 24 hours, the engineer's passed out, and I'm still raring to go. "What's the matter with you guys? Life is short. Let's have fun!" And nobody can. I just have a love affair with it.

 I know what I want, and I do what I want. I don't do what somebody else wants me to do now. I'll listen to recommendations, but usually, very often, it doesn't make any sense. So I just do what I want.

 On the initial record, the Guitar God album, I recorded in '94. I used the old equipment. I recorded in New York, and this fellow named Randy Pratt put it together, because he knew what I liked. He's the one that got me back into music, in any case. They put it together, then got me a couple of the old original Marshall tube 100 watt amps. And I had a Hammer guitar that had some modern-day Seymour Duncan hot pickups on it. And it sounded great. What an incredible sound! It was so big in the studio, and live. It was really fun.

 Two Christmases ago, my wife, who is just an adorable sweetheart, she had my dream guitar that I invented in mind back in 1970, she had it made for me. And it is just--this thing was made in heaven. It is beautiful. I always wanted a glass neck on a guitar, because I like very slick, fast action, so I can move when I want to. This thing is phenomenal. It is just such a beautiful playing instrument. I couldn't be more happy. Oh, probably I could.

 Since that time, my wife has kept surprising me each Christmas. Three years ago, she got me this DG8 device from Roland that came out. It's a sound modeler for guitar. That thing is like the ultimate solution. If you can take time to figure out what it does, which really doesn't take that much, for me, basically, I've had an upgrade and whatnot. It has something like 264 program sounds, something like that.

 But I've taken two essential sounds that I liked out of the whole bunch, and tweaked them around so they're nothing like they are in the device. And I constructed the sound for the amplification I like, and the guitar that I've got. And that thing just sings. I mean, if ever there were a flock of hummingbirds as wide as the world, that's how this thing sounds to me. I have so much fun creating with it. The sound I'm getting out of the new technological equipment, that's just awesome.

Q: What was it like playing with Paul Whaley again, on the Guitar God album?

R: It was a very warm, fun reunion. We had a great time. An unusual thing happened to me. I was so absent from music. I did all kinds of other things. I had no connection with music. I did a lot of traveling around the world, I had a sailboat, and I was sailing the Pacific and the Caribbean, and the only music I would listen to was indigenous cultural music. After not playing all that time, when I was finally seduced into taking a guitar and doing it again, I had great objection and resistance. And it finally showed itself to me as a beautiful woman again. Picking up and playing, it was like something magical happened. It was like all of the tarnishment, all of the influence, everything that could have affected my playing had I stayed playing didn't happen. So it was brand new and refreshing and alive. And I kind of blew myself away, because I can play things like I was in another world, that I could not have even come close to trying to accomplish at the height of my playing before I quit.

 So I came back playing chords that I had never even conceived of, and I'd just invent them out of nowhere, because this was what belongs here, and it would just come in place. It was like I was in another realm. I played passages at rapid-fire succession and speeds I wouldn't conceive of playing of before. It was like whatever I could think, my hands would do. And I would go into a state of, which to me is a euphoric existence. It's my own personal heaven. I'm there, and I love it.

Q: Did it come as a surprise to you that you had a substantial cult following around the world, when you re-entered musicmaking in the 1990's?

R: Yeah, I didn't have a clue. I thought nobody liked what I did. I went through a very--people in the business have this way of taking an emotionally vulnerable musician, who's young, and making them feel like they're garbage and worthless. When you're that emotionally vulnerable, you believe. Even though you know it's not true, you start believing it. Especially when you're doing something that's on the cutting edge that nobody's really done I went through great emotional extremes of "it's really great" to "god, it's so bad! It's so embarrassing and humiliating," back over to, "it's wonderful! It's outrageous, it's so great!" Then flip-flop over to, oh, this is so horrible, I can't live with myself. And then it just takes one person to say, who needs you? And you're just shattered, unless you have something in life to give you strength to get above it, like a few dollars (laughs). I'm sorry, I just had to say that.

Q: Are you going to be putting out more records?

R: I'm getting ready to release a new album. Newer than Guitar God. Guitar God, I guess, is sold out from the license agreement that I had issued to Captain Trip on it. I was very pleased with that. It's gotten a lot of good reviews, and people have liked it, and it was fun to play, and the last album, the album I've pretty much finished, was really fun. I've got a 23-minute guitar instrumental that is just incredible. It's so fun to play. I think it can be enjoyed by a wide cross-section of people. I do a very varied mixture on it. I probably have four or five other albums in the works. I just can't stop creating. Life is short, and I'm on fire, and I love it. I'm obsessed with, I can't think and do anything else, although everything I'm doing about it is contributing to things that are important.

 On the recording side of things - the only time I began achieving results I could live with was after I started taking matters in my own hands. Any time it left my control for whatever reason, when it came back it always left me dissatisfied, and often furious, and embarrassed for not being what it was meant to be. As a result I produce myself, and take a control role in engineering and mixing. That in turn makes it quite difficult for a lot of people to work with me, except for the very best, who comprehend their job is to obtain what the artist wants, instead of invading the artist creative territory and telling the artist what they want the artist to have. There are a couple of engineers I work with who are just incredible in their focus, and attention, and ability to communicate and interpret. Pure joy to work with those guys.

See some of Randy Holden's favorite music

Also see Richie Unterberger's web site
(which has many more interviews)

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER