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In the past you've expressed many regrets about the second album. Is there anything good you can say about Don't Look Back?
It's got my favorite song, which is "The Journey." On all three albums that's still my favorite cut. I wish it was longer, because it's over so fast. It took me about three days to do that. I spent six months working on a single piece and that took three days. I just love the feeling it gives me and it just fell together. It came out just the way I wanted it. If I listen to that song I'm floating through space, cruising in an airplane over the clouds. If I'm having trouble going to sleep at night I think about that song. It puts me in a state of mind that I really like.
Do you feel the second album is unfinished business that you want to finish or would you just let it lie as is?
It's not something that bothers me night and day. I like side one and where it went The performances were the best I was capable of at the time. I wasn't happy with the overall sound which was primarily a mastering problem. There was no mastering. It was almost to the point where the tape was hauled oft and printed onto the plastic and that was it. There was no listening at all. Compare that to Third Stage where it was mastered four or five times and it changed after it was mastered. The second million sound different from the first. And the CD is different from the disc. I don't think you'd be able to hear it unless I showed you what to listen for. I'll keep that a secret.
You said you were at the edge of your abilities for the first album. Did you feel the same with Third Stage?
I felt confident. Even though I had very little opportunity to rehearse or practice on the guitar, especially during the later years of that project. I was extremely rusty and I'm extremely rusty right now. I was rusty while I was doing a lot of those parts and I still didn't feel like it was difficult, so I feel very comfortable with it. I don't think I'm going to have any problem with that. The hardest thing about Third Stage live is the enormous number of different sound changes. That was all done primarily with one guitar. But there are enormous differences in the way it sounds from track to track and even from chorus to verse. Also there's lots of acoustic work and piano keyboard work. That will be the hard thing for us to do.
Were you as meticulous on the first album as you were on Third Stage?
I pushed myself as hard. At that point I didn't know nearly as much about making the record or music in general. Certainly the Rockman helped a lot.
Did you have a clear vision of what you wanted to develop?
There were lots of things that were ideas. Some were patented, some weren't. Some were attempted and we got to the drawmg or even hardware stages. The Rockman is one which went well. It was first envisioned as a device that you could use to write songs with, that would give you a real good guitar sound with all of the production qualities that you would get in a studio situation. That went so well and was so close to the guitar sound I wanted for recording that I decided to go a few steps further with it. A year or so later I came up with the Rockman X-100 which I used for better than half of the Third Stage album. That little pocket amplifier went straight into the board. I used one of those ten band equalizers in front of it for changing sounds. The first song that I did that totally with the Rockman was "Can't Cha Say." That was done with an older model. The X-100 was used on all the songs on side two. "To Be a Man" is a good example because the guitars stick out by themselves. That was what I was after. In "The Launch," the electric piano that hammers away and keeps the time was played through the very first model one prototype Rock-man using the clean sound.
The first ad for the Rockman had a lot of famous players endorsing it. You had players like Neal Schon, Steve Morse, Joe Walsh and Santana on there. Did they give you good input?
The input we got was that they really liked it. That encouraged me. That's when we decided to refine it and improve it and make it into something more than it was ever intended for. The fact that it was embraced by all these people made me realize that I was close to something. These guys all know great guitar sounds. That's when I really went to work and produced what finally evolved into the professional modular series. You had the same Rockman sounds but with the whole gamut from clean to just a little bit dirt to totally raunched out and with all the adjustments you need.
What speakers did you use for your cabinets?
For the stage monitors we use the standard Celestions 75 watt speakers because they don't blow out and you can get them anyplace. The power amp is a plain old typical power amp. Our end of it is in turning the guitar signal into that sound before it gets to the amplification stage. That's the only way you can do it and have total control. That's what lets us have a device on there that enables you to go from a clean sound to a distorted sound without ever touching a button, but by turning the volume up and down on your guitar. You can put it in stereo or mono or change the mix. You can only do that stuff if you have all your distortion stage prior to your power amp stage.
As I understand it, SR&D will be putting out new products like the Octopus and the Sustainor which were developed to get the sounds you needed for putting Third Stage on the road. Are you still in on the designing aspects of these new devices?
I'm always in the thick of it. We're just getting done with some major revisions on the Sustainor. It won't be out ebony porn for a while but it will eventually provide an even better clean sustain sound and an even better lead sound. I'm always working on those things.
Is completing a Rock Module as big a high as completing a record?
Better and a lot less hassle. There's something about doing something like that that nobody else does. Lots of people make music. Nobody else recorded Third Stage, but there is something intrinsically exciting to me about developing these products. That's what the guys feel who are on the design team. They are all musicians too.
In hindsight, if you were happier with the second album, do you suppose you might not have come out with the SR&D products like the Rockman?
That's right. I wanted to avoid all the things that happened with that record. I didn't want to be a writer who was writing as a job ever again, because I can't do that and make good music. So I started the company. I'm sure it was in the back of my mind as I worked on this last album too. There was no way I was going to compromise that baby. Once I got "Amanda" down on tape that was all I needed. I liked the way it came out and I was determined I was going to do the rest of the album to its maximum potential. It wasn't going to get shortchanged.
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