The Rick Derringer Interview
May, 2009

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In the early Seventies, many a teenage boy fantasized about being able to play guitar just like their favorite guitar hero.  When they’re favorite guitar song would come on the radio or while listening to it in their room, they would imagine that was THEM playing that song.

One such song during those innocent times was a song that helped define the music of the Seventies.  That song is "Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo".  The guitar virtuoso wailing on the guitar on that song was a 26 year old man by the name of Rick Derringer. 

By the time that song was rocking the airwaves, Derringer was already an 8 year veteran of the rock scene.  He recorded his first huge hit, Hang On Sloopy, at the tender age of 17, with his band, The McCoys.  He also performed the guitar solo on Alice Cooper’s 1971 album, Killer.  Soon after “Hoochie Koo”, Derringer had a follow-up hit with Teenage Love Affair.  With those hits under his belt, Rick worked with Johnny Winter and his brother, Edgar, as well as the jazz rock band, Steely Dan. 

In the Eighties and Nineties, Derringer has been involved in a plethora of projects and bands, including working with Weird Al Yankovic, Barbara Streisand, Kiss, and Cyndi Lauper, as well as work for the World Wrestling Federation.  This was all in addition to his continual touring and working on his own projects.

In recent years, he’s converted to Christianity but still tours and performs his past hits as well as his more recent work.  In 2006, he was featured in a Fidelity Investments television commercial.  In 2007, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” was featured in the Xbox 360 version of Guitar Hero 2, which will inspire another legion of teenage boys to fantasize about playing just like Rick.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Rick Derringer during his appearances at the 2009 Dallas International Guitar show.  We covered a wide range of topics that included his new CD, Knighted By The Blues, and his line of guitars. We also discussed his vintage guitar business and the market in general, as well as his faith and several other topics.

A scramble-brained rock star he is not.  Derringer is an affable man who can converse on almost any topic and smoothly segue from one topic to another.  His business finesse and command of current events and how he views it all through the lens of his faith is evident from the git-go.

I started off by asking Rick Derringer how the guitar show was going for him.  “Very good!  I mean, I come here, more than anything, to just do my concert, be a part of this great roster of guitar players and Jimmy Wallace, who runs the show, is also a good, strong Christian and I like to help him out.  One of my favorite parts of the show is Sunday morning, before the show starts, we have church over there.  So, I come here for a lot of other kind of reasons that aren’t necessarily connected to selling guitars. 

“On the other hand, I do work with Warrior Guitars.  We’ve created a Rick Derringer Signature Model guitar.  And, uh, I always spend a quite a bit of time at their booth showing people that guitar.” 

When asked how sales of his Signature Model guitar were, he enthusiastically responds, “They do pretty well!  It’s a custom guitar company.  They make them by hand.  You don’t see them in many music stores so it’s kind of a smaller number of sales than like a Paul Reed Smith or something like that.

Paul Reed Smith, I think, makes 70 a day at this point.  And we make about, I think, 30 in a month, which is still pretty good volume but – and there are all other (Warrior) guitars as well as the Rick Derringer model.  But people that play it enjoy it and because of that, most of them that are really ready to buy a guitar – after they play it, will buy that one! “

We then segued into a discussion about his vintage guitar business.  He describes it this way:  “Yeah, well, always in my life, I’ve been a lover of toys.  A new guitar, to me, is a toy.  And, so, I enjoy acquiring the NEW guitars.  So, what I usually do is, I take my old ones and I play them for awhile.  And they end up sitting somewhere in a vault or somewhere.  Eventually, I sell those old ones so that I can get more NEW ones!  And that has turned into being kind of a business over the years. I always have guitars in my collection and whenever I put a few up for sale, they seem to go pretty fast.  We always provide a certificate with them saying that they’re from my collection and that adds a little bit to the value, as well.”

However, Derringer acknowledges that the current economy is impacting his business.  “I think that it’s affecting everything!  Not just the vintage guitar business.  It definitely affects everything.  I mean, we’ve all heard that people thought that they had money.  They thought they had invested wisely in real estate and they looked at that equity as their nest egg.  And they looked at themselves as affluent!  As soon as that disappeared, as that nest egg became, apparently, gone, that affluence that they felt was gone, too.

“So, all of a sudden, when people felt that they had money that they could spend for whatever it was, they don’t feel like that anymore.  So, I think it’s definitely affected the vintage guitar business from one point of view. 

“Now, here’s the other side of the coin:  People are nervous about putting their money in real estate.  They’re nervous about putting it in stocks.  And there are some things that have intrinsic value that will not go away.  One of those things is rare instruments and from that point of view people that see that are still there and they’re actually looking to buy up instruments right now when they’re cheaper – a little cheaper.”

With the help of a weak dollar, Rick is seeing continued purchases not only domestically but from overseas, especially Japan.  “It’s a world-wide business. Certainly the Japanese like to come over and take the guitars back over there.  But it’s a worldwide business.” 

We turn the discussion to Derringer’s touring.  “Touring this year is less.  This year, I decided to just really tell my agent that I was retiring from concerts.  He chose that as a opportunity to say, ‘Well, if I got you ‘this much’ money, would that mean that we could still get you out there?’  And, I said, ‘Yeah’.  But it was quite a bit more than I have previously charged.  So, I didn’t expect to get any gigs, frankly.  I just said, ‘Okay, I will put in the hands of the Lord and He will provide.’ 

"And what has happened is He has!  Just by not having as much of my time tied up travelling, I’ve been able to work on a lot of other kinds of projects.  Albums, CD’s and things like that.  And, also, then just devoting time to properly focusing on our business.  We also manage other artists and produce other records and things like that, too.”

Derringer has a new CD out entitled, Knighted By The Blues.  I asked him to tell me about it.

“Yeah! ‘Knighted By The Blues’, it’s called.  It’s on Blues Bureau International Records.  I’ve done – this will be the fifth one for them.  And each time – in some ways – they’ve given me a little more freedom.  But Mike Varney, the president of the company, really is a very strong president.  He has his definite ideas.  He’s a guitar player himself.  He wants to make records for guitar players.  And he wants, somehow, to make sure his interests are protected.  He helps you choose songs for the records and things like that.  And this is the first one where he’s actually allowed me to just ahead and do it without his – I did it in the studio where I like to record as opposed to his turf.  I used the musicians that I like as opposed to the ones HE likes.  I chose the material myself as opposed to him having any input.  And from that point of view, it certainly reflects more what I look at as a blues CD.  And that is not necessarily the strict, old-timey, kind of blues that – it’s a different kind of blues CD.

“It’s a little more current.  The songs are more relevant to subjects that I think are current.  It doesn’t rely as much on just old songs, too.  There are not as many covers there.  And the covers that I have done, I am personally fond of as opposed to somebody saying, ‘Well I think everybody else is going to like this song.’ 

“I’ve done Jimi Hendrix’s, “If Six Was Nine”, which is a song that I always enjoyed.  We changed the lyrics just enough to make them reflective of my Christianity.  And it’s not one that a lot of people have covered.  So, it’s one that people will find refreshing. 

“I did a very rare Ray Charles song that I don’t know – I think only one other person has ever even recorded it as far as I know.  Diana, uh, not Krall. Ah, it doesn’t matter.  At any rate, only one other cover that I know of, of the song.  It’s called, “Funny, But I Still Love You” and I LOVE that song.  We closed the album with that one.

“So, most of it, though, is brand new original stuff.  And it expands the gamut from the slow, what we call “gut bucket blues” all the way to – one which seems to be finding acceptance with rock radio.  I can’t believe it!  I never would’ve expected it!”

Later in the conversation, Derringer glows as he describes his wife’s contributions to the CD.  “She’s written about – we wrote seven songs – original songs.  And I think one or two of them I wrote.  One of them, she wrote. And the rest we wrote together.  She’s right there all the time!

“One of the songs – the one that rock radio likes – she didn’t even present that lyric to me.  She said, ‘Here’s some stuff that might be good for the blues album.’ But that’s not one of them.  I actually was able to go into her computer and pull up her song file and go through things.  And I found that one that she hadn’t even taken that much of an interest in, frankly.  But I said that this could be really cool!  So I took that one myself without even asking her and took it to the studio and turned it into a song, which she was pleasantly surprised!”

Later, when asked about the rest of his family, Derringer’s eyes light up again, telling me that he has a 16 year old and a 17 year old.  I comment that “they’ve obviously got to think that it’s pretty cool that their dad is a rock ‘n roller and can show them a thing or two.” 

He shoots back, “They do! They do!  My daughter really sings well as does my wife.  And my son, he’s turned in to more of a writer.  He’s turned into a lyricist, so he’s writing words for songs.  And that’s cool.  So, we’re just – whatever they want to do, is pretty much up to them.  I try not to be the boss too much.”

One of the questions I like to ask those that I interview is how, if they were starting today instead of when they did, would they be able to start the same way?  I asked Derringer this question.  His reply surprised me.

“It wouldn’t be a lot different.  I mean, we were out there in the grass roots, just trying to be a good band.  And that doesn’t change.  You’re not going to get anywhere if the band isn’t good enough.  So, the first thing you concentrate on is on being a really good little band.  And we then went out, using that.  (We) got local gigs – as many as we could and tried to find gigs with radio stations and things like that, that would give us a little more visibility.  And that’s no different.  Everybody has to do the same kind of thing in that respect.  And, obviously, the end result is that somebody will find YOU.  The music business will find YOU. 

“People have it a lot easier in some ways now.  They can supply their music to download sources, iTunes just being one of them.  But they – without a record company – can get their music out there and, theoretically, grow and become more well-known.  So that’s the only thing that’s really changed is the way – the ease – which you can get into the music business.  In some ways, it’s easier now than it even was then.

“The music business still loves young people – the young artists.  From that point of view, that hasn’t changed, either.  It’s easier for a young person to get a contract or record deal – or even a place on American Idol than it is for an older person.  That hasn’t changed.  So, uh, in some ways, I’m giving a message of hope and blessing because it’s just – all they have to do is be good.  Practice enough to be good.  The rest will come pretty easy.”

“So, is there a guitarist today – new – that really commands your attention?  I don’t want to put you on the spot!”

After pausing for just a moment, Rick answers, “Nobody in particular.  I was going to say a couple of names but – nobody in particular.  In fact, the lead guitar has kind of been downplayed, and it’s just more about the music and the songs than ever.  That hasn’t changed.

“But, you know, people are starting to find – I understand that the vinyl records has gone up over 30% last year.  And a lot of that is specifically college kids – people in dorms.  And they found that they don’t just have to have ear buds and only be by themselves.  They can actually put a turntable in their room, with speakers, and play music and other people can come in the room and all of them hang out at the same time!” 

“Interaction, imagine that!”

“Yeah!  So, from that point of view, it seems to be growing more and more all the time. 

Bringing the discussion back to the theoretical “then and now” discussion, I asked, “If you were 16 today and starting a band, would you be doing the kind of music you’re doing now?  Do you feel that was just what you were cut out to do?”

“ Yeah, music has to be reflective – every kid will find the kid of music he likes.  But they are finding, like I said – through the LP’s and stuff – they’re finding those guitar players.  They’re finding me and they’re finding Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  All the music from the era that we’re from is being found, whether it’s by young kids or college kids. 

“Guitar Hero (Xbox 360) used “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” in its very second incarnation, Guitar Hero 2.  So I was only one of the first 20 songs that were out there and that is giving us a world-wide presence again, too.  So, that kind of stuff is making – in fact, they accounted for 1/3 of the world wide music business in the last few years - Guitar Hero alone!  It’s incredible.  Everybody has one now.  The family has one.  Some families have several!  But it’s amazing what that has done for music, too.”

I add, “Our generation of music, it just spans.  It can stand on its own.  And people reach back to it as a foundation.”

“Well, it meant something special to us as a generation of – I don’t think that it holds the same place.  Music is viable, certainly, and kids will always go there.  Music is always going to be something that helps people.  Music is a different language – language of our soul, in some ways, (the) language of our heart.  And that’s not going to change.  We are humans.  As long as we have souls and hearts, then music will be viable.  And that hasn’t changed at all.  Like we said, kids will find the music they feel is important to them.  And that’s the stuff they’ll do!”

Derringer is not the least bit shy in letting it be known that he is a Christian.  Since he brought it up a couple of times, I drilled into how his faith has impacted his relationships within the music business and with his fan base.

“It hasn’t hurt anything!  It hasn’t hurt at all!  As a matter of fact, the idea is for some of ‘me’ to rub off on them!  And that’s what we’re really most excited about.  THAT’s the idea.  I mean, if all of a sudden I changed as a person and I – my music started sucking – uh, they’d all have a pretty bad image of it.

“They’d blame it all on it (his faith), huh?”, I added.

“Yeah, but, in reality, what happens is, you know, you’re still the same person you always were.  Where the Lord loves us THEN, He loves us NOW!  And music doesn’t have to get worse.  The fact of the matter just have to have ear buds and only be by themselves.  They can actually put a turntable in their room, with speakers, and play music and other people can come in the room and all of them hang out at the same time!” 

“Interaction, imagine that!”

“Yeah!  So, from that point of view, it seems to be growing more and more all the time. 

Bringing the discussion back to the theoretical “then and now” discussion, I asked, “If you were 16 today and starting a band, would you be doing the kind of music you’re doing now?  Do you feel that was just what you were cut out to do?”

“ Yeah, music has to be reflective – every kid will find the kid of music he likes.  But they are finding, like I said – through the LP’s and stuff – they’re finding those guitar players.  They’re finding me and they’re finding Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  All the music from the era that we’re from is being found, whether it’s by young kids or college kids. 

“Guitar Hero (Xbox 360) used “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” in its very second incarnation, Guitar Hero 2.  So I was only one of the first 20 songs that were out there and that is giving us a world-wide presence again, too.  So, that kind of stuff is making – in fact, they accounted for 1/3 of the world wide music business in the last few years - Guitar Hero alone!  It’s incredible.  Everybody has one now.  The family has one.  Some families have several!  But it’s amazing what that has done for music, too.”

I add, “Our generation of music, it just spans.  It can stand on its own.  And people reach back to it as a foundation.”

“Well, it meant something special to us as a generation of – I don’t think that it holds the same place.  Music is viable, certainly, and kids will always go there.  Music is always going to be something that helps people.  Music is a different language – language of our soul, in some ways, (the) language of our heart.  And that’s not going to change.  We are humans.  As long as we have souls and hearts, then music will be viable.  And that hasn’t changed at all.  Like we said, kids will find the music they feel is important to them.  And that’s the stuff they’ll do!”

Derringer is not the least bit shy in letting it be known that he is a Christian.  Since he brought it up a couple of times, I drilled into how his faith has impacted his relationships within the music business and with his fan base.

“It hasn’t hurt anything!  It hasn’t hurt at all!  As a matter of fact, the idea is for some of ‘me’ to rub off on them!  And that’s what we’re really most excited about.  THAT’s the idea.  I mean, if all of a sudden I changed as a person and I – my music started sucking – uh, they’d all have a pretty bad image of it.

“They’d blame it all on it (his faith), huh?”, I added.

“Yeah, but, in reality, what happens is, you know, you’re still the same person you always were.  Where the Lord loves us THEN, He loves us NOW!  And music doesn’t have to get worse.  The fact of the matter is, your conscience being freed up just lightens your load so that your creativity and music can soar!  That’s what I’ve found and people are excited about hearing that. 

“So it hasn’t turned anybody off and, as a matter of fact, I have people telling me all the time that they appreciate seeing my testimony on the website.  And we’re actually spreading that more all the time, rather than less.  And that helps people see that they can, you know - they’re not alone!  The Lord can help ME.  He can help them!  And that’s the message that we have!”

Rick becomes even more animated at this point.  “Amazing!  Yeah!  Yeah!  You just put your – live by faith!  LIVE-BY-FAITH!  Because HE will provide!  “I will take care!” Like this year, for instance, like I said, I raised my price pretty drastically.  And, all of a sudden, I was turning down some shows because they were for less than what I was asking for.

 “And my road manager called me up and he was a little concerned, you know?  “You’re turning down this show!  This is a good concert!”  And I explained to him, ‘You know? Look. I put it in the hands of the Lord.  I told the Lord that I have FAITH that He will PROVIDE what we see as necessary.  If all of a sudden we take the first gig that comes along that is way less than what I asked the Lord for, what kind of faith is that?’  What kind of faith does that show?!  You HAVE to have the faith!  I mean, you just can’t pretend.  It has to be real!  As long as you put your faith in the Lord, He will provide!”

Curious how the church world was receiving him, I asked, “Are you getting any interest from church circles for your work?”

“Uh, well, we haven’t really tried to go out there and, uh, shoot for that.   But slowly –“

“You’re a different kind of gig than that.”

“Yeah, and I do have more churches and stuff, though, that are coming around, asking me to perform, and things like that.  But here’s what happened.  When I first started doing more Christian based music and changing some of my songs to reflect that standing, I was a little concerned about the kind of shows – we’d play for biker events.  And I don’t play anymore - we were playing bars and those kinds of venues.  And I was a little concerned so I asked my pastor at that time for their advice.  And what they told me was that, really look at it as the opportunity that the Lord has given me!  If I go into a church, playing for a bunch of believers . . .”

“You’re preaching to the choir!”

“Yeah, it certainly reinforces THEIR belief.  Once again, their saved!  You’re preaching to the choir! 

“On the other hand, the places that I just mentioned where I play, they don’t necessarily ever invite a Christian artist to play those places.  So, I’m able to go in there – totally with their approval – and they’re even paying me – and play my concert and throw in a few songs that have now been changed to reflect that Christian standpoint.  I’m given that opportunity that nobody else has!  So I’m able to go in there and just do what Jesus said to do!  Be that light in the real world and, uh, deliver that message.  And even if some people don’t hear the lyrics, if they just – if I’m reflecting Jesus to that audience and they should be able to feel that and see it . . . and it works!  They said, ‘You should be doing THAT! That’s a responsibility that you’ve been given and you should honor it!’ And that’s what we do!” 

Later, when mentioning other rockers who have also proclaimed their faith, Derringer interjects, “We call ourselves, ‘Double agents for the Lord!  We’re working behind the enemy lines!”

We wrapped up our chat with what he’s got coming up, which includes some dates with Edgar and Johnny Winter in September.  Rick Derringer’s appearances are listed on his website, www.rickderringer.com

This article written by Randy Patterson.  All rights reserved and cannot not be used without written permission, which can be obtained by writing info@boomerocity.com .



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