Doug Rappaport: “Ozzy would be a dream gig”

By Rod DeGeorge
Photos by Greg Vorobiov
Republished from our “Doug Rappoport Issue”

I first heard of Doug Rappaport quite a few years ago while I was at NAMM in Anaheim, CA. He was performing at a booth and was just killing it! I thought to myself, “who is this?”. I was told that he tours with Edgar Winter, who I am also a fan of, so I just had to check out some live footage of his playing. What a treat! Tone, feel chops, the complete package. The more I dove in, the more I enjoyed it, including his solo material. It sure did not take long to become a fan of Doug’s playing. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to sit and chat with him and get some insight into his beginnings as a musician, as well as learn about some of his influences and inspirations.

Guitar Connoisseur: You were born in Britain but raised in America Is that correct?

Doug Rappoport: Yes, that is correct.

GC: How old were you when you moved to the States & did you find that to be a challenge for you?

DR: I think I was five or six years old, and it was a bit of a challenge, you know. I was just talking to somebody about it the other day, I remember that I had a few very vivid memories of arriving in this country, and it being made very clear to me that I was really different. I made a great effort to assimilate as quickly as possible. So I do remember that.

GC: Can you talk about how you first became involved in music? For example, was guitar your first instrument?

DR: It’s a tough memory to go back to, I’m not really sure. I know that I had an interest in music early on, and I know I wanted to do something in music. My first choice was what? I kind of don’t remember actually. I think I wanted to play guitar but my mom said that I had to learn piano first. Then my brother said he wanted to learn guitar, and she went ahead and bought him a guitar. I thought that was outrageous (laughs). I was like that’s not fair. Yeah so, we had lessons at the same time, my brother and I would. I would do my ten minute piano lesson and he will do his guitar lesson. Then when we got home, I played the guitar and did what he was taught, and ignored the piano entirely.

GC: What would you consider was your first big break career-wise?

DR: Getting the Edgar Winter gig, really that was it.

GC: What were you doing up to at that point?

DR: Well, at that point I was just tooling around LA like the other 25 million guitar players that were there. You know, I was in bands and stuff, plus I had a part-time job at an art gallery in Beverly Hills, and my job was driving a van, this is the time that I got Edgar Winter gig. I was working part-time at the art gallery when I got the gig.

GC: Can you give us some insight how the Edgar Winter gig came about? How did you hear about it and get an audition?

DR: Well, it was the owner of the auction house and he wanted to record an album of him singing old jazz standards. So, he hired an engineer and my job was, you know, for that week or two weeks, was to get into the van and go pick up the engineer and help haul his gear around and set it up. Basically, be his helper, and the engineer and I became pretty good friends. His name was Jeff Worrell. I gave him a disk that I had made and he really liked it and showed it to his kid, who I think at the time was 12 or 13 years old, and the kid really loved it. And it turned out that Jeff happened to be good buddies with Edgar, and he knew that Edgar was looking for a guitar player, so he called him and said, “You got to take a look at this guy!”.

So, it happened. Edgar agreed to give me a listen and invited to his house. I brought a little guitar amp and guitar and I sat with him for about an hour. He had actually already hired somebody, bought plane tickets and everything, but he liked what I brought, so he bought new tickets and hired me on, yeah, right then and there. I don’t think he was entirely sure, because I was a lot younger than everybody else in the band, and I didn’t have the experience that everyone in the band had, so he kind of took a chance.

GC: That’s a great story! How did you feel when you first stepped onstage with Edgar and this band of high-level musicians? Were you comfortable and confident, or were you feeling a bit nervous, being that you didn’t have the experience of these other guys?

DR: That’s a great question, a little bit of both. Well, I could preface this a little bit by just saying that you know, I was just talking with somebody in my high school who wrote a paper on this. What I had going for me at that time, even though I was entirely unconnected in the music business, and was just trying to make a career out of it, as I have this really unrealistic belief in myself. I think a lot of us have experienced that, like when you’re young, you just think you are the shit. You think you’re the greatest thing ever and then you listen to a recording ten years later, and you go, “Oh my God”, I was awful back then. But you were so sure then that you were the absolute shit. I kind of had that going, and so I sort of had this really crazy self-confidence and total belief in myself.
So, when I got on stage with Edgar the first time, I was pretty confident but I was also equal parts nervous because I was playing with some real veterans. And so it was a little bit of both, you know, insanely confident and also nervous if that makes a sense.

GC: Yes, definitely. Now, how did you feel after some time on the road performing shows and festivals with a lot of other seasoned veterans and musical giants? Did it reinforce your confidence and you thought, yeah, I am where I am supposed to be or did you experience levels of musicianship that you may not have been aware of?

DR: Great question! Well, having grown up in L.A, I was at the very least, exposed to, and able to witness some of the greatest guitar players in the world. So, in that regard, I could give a realistic measure of myself. Even though on looking back, it was a pretty unrealistic measure of myself (laughs). However, I was eager to learn, I knew when I went in there that I was inexperienced and Edgar was taking a chance on me. So, I was extremely eager to learn and I would have talks with Edgar all the time asking “How am I doing?”. “What can you see?”. “Is there some improvement happening for me?”. And then, he was really excited to sort of have somebody under his wing, and someone to sort of teach things to. Plus, early on in touring, and throughout my years with Edgar, we did a lot of work with Rick Derringer. And I was really amazed by Rick and just how well rounded he was, and how broad his talent as a guitar player is. I don’t know if a lot of people understand or appreciate that, but he’s an unbelievable guitar player. And Edgar said to me, you know, all I could really suggest you do, is listen to Rick and you know, talk to him. And while Rick was never particularly forthcoming with information (laughing), he was available for me to at least watch and listen to, and so I grew a lot as a musician just by getting to tour with these guys. You know, Pat Travers and Johnny Winter and a plethora of other amazing, legendary guitarists.
So even though I was confident, I knew I could learn more and I was humbled by getting to play with these luminaries of the guitar world and I was eager to learn a total open book.

GC: That had to be an amazing opportunity! Do you think that your confidence helped keep you in a good mental state while playing with these legendary guitarists? Because being a young, and relatively inexperienced player, at least compared to the guys you were touring with, you could either be intimidated and end up focusing on things that you have yet to learn, or you could use that experience as an opportunity to see what is possible and what you could personally achieve.

DR: Yeah, I felt I had enough early victories coming up on guitar that I knew I could accomplish anything that I wanted to. Like for example, when I was a kid and I was listening Yngwie Malmsteen, I used to go and moan to my mother, “I’ll never be able to do that, there’s just no way! I doubt I’ll ever be able to do that”. And she’d say, “Yes you can! Yes, you can!”, and so I was able to win little, small victories, here and there, doing things that I initially believed to be impossible. So at that point, I was confident that I can learn and grow and if nothing else, completely determined to.

GC: Yeah, that’s great! I believe that is really important, especially for young players, when they reach difficulties, to have that determination to see it through and to realize that the potential is inside of you. It has definitely paid off for you, that’s for sure!

DR: Well, thank you, man.

GC: What type of projects do you enjoy being involved with when you’re not on the road with Edgar Winter? I know you released a solo album and have done some shows with you fronting your own band, will we see any touring or new releases as a solo artist coming up?

DR: I have been sort of progressively breaking into, or moving into do product demos which is a lot of fun for me. I love doing them, it’s very creative you know, plus, you earn some extra money which is nice. I also play with a band called the Supersonic Blues Machine which I’ve gotten to do some tour dates with them. That’s kind of an on and off thing, it’s like whenever they need me type of thing. What else do I do? I just moved to Oregon last year and I met a bunch of dudes that I jam with, which is cool.

GC: Speaking of product demos, I was enjoying some of your videos, and I noticed that you always get great guitar tones, I think I had the urge to buy every product I’ve seen you demo (laughter). Do you do all the engineering and producing for those videos and can you share some of your secrets on tone?

DR: Well, that’s a great question. It’s such a personal journey. It’s tough to say, I think for starters, you need to understand a little bit about pickups and what different outputs do for tone, and how they interact with certain kinds of amplifier circuits. It’s not a major or huge thing, it’s just sort of an understanding of certain amplifiers working better with certain pickups and so on. There are some amp/pickup combinations that sound really good and some that really don’t sound that great, and are a little bit more of a challenge to get good tones out of them. I suggest people take the time to read about Marshall and read about circuits and how they got brighter or darker and how that was time coincident with pickups being made to be overwound and warmer as the circuits got brighter. Just being able to identify if it is a vintage sounding, warmer amp or a top end, sizzley type of amp, and then matching that up with your guitar. For example, knowing that your Les Paul has lower output pickups etc. So, starting with a rudimentary knowledge of electronics is a good jumping off point for dialing in tone.

GC: That’s great advice. So many guitar players may have a basic knowledge of what the bass, mid, treble and presence knobs may do, but if they aren’t responding the way they would like them to, they may not realize that the guitar/amp combination is not conducive to the tone they are looking for. So, I’m sure a basic understanding of the circuitry can be a great help.

DR: Yeah it really does help, I mean, you know, you could take a Charvel, with a really hot, heavy metal pickup, and if you go plug into a Plexi, it is going to sound like absolute shit because it’s just not made to work with that. Then you can grab a Les Paul that has got a really low output PAF, plug it in and go, “There you go!”. You know, it’s a pretty easy demonstration to do.

GC: You have an abundance of both technique and feel, and one of the things that stand out to me is your use and accuracy of your bends. You can create phrases that have a similar quality to a Blues vocalist. Can you talk about how you developed that and do you have any tips for players who want to incorporate that into their playing?

DR: First of all, thank you very much. Let’s see, it’s tough to say, man, I don’t really think in terms of being vocal, You know, when I used to teach a lot more than I do now, I used to explain to people that bends were an expression tool. So, it’s critical to keep in mind that you are using that technique to be expressive. So, if you think about it that way, it can maybe help someone try to do it in such a way that you’re not just bending because “Oh, it’s time to bend”, but now you’re bending because you’re actually going somewhere, and you’re being expressive. All bending is, is moving from one note to another and doing it in a sexier, more expressive way than just sliding up to it, or just hammering on to it. You know, I mean, just another way, an artful way to get to another note, and you have to keep that in mind. As far as my approach, I’m just ripping off all the guys, all my heroes from the eighty’s. It’s really all I’m doing. I’m just trying to sound like Warren DeMartini and George Lynch, that’s all I’m trying to do. It just kind of comes out.

GC: Now with your bends, did you ever get into the analytical side of it, where if you play a minor third and bend up a microtone, not quite to what the fretted major third would be, how that has a different feel than when you bend completely up to the major third? Or, do you just play what you hear and interchange them where you see fit?

DR: Yeah I’m possibly one of the least analytical players you will meet. I really don’t think things through that much and I think that because of my approach to learning guitar, in the beginning, is different than a lot of guys in my generation. A lot of the guys were into Yngwie and Eddie and all these amazing players from that era, and they were just trying to learn those licks. I didn’t have the patience or the focus to learn those note-for-note, but what I did love about those players, was the other stuff they were doing, that inside stuff. You know, the way they were making the strings squawk, or the way they shook the string, or the way they do vibrato and slide off right away and how that created a sound. That was the stuff that I absorbed, the more expressive aspects of those guys’ playing. So, it just sort of became a part of what I do.

GC: That leads me to my next question. Although you do have an abundance of technique and at times incorporate flash into your playing, you always seem to keep it musical and away from what some may consider “mindless shredding”? Would you say that it is because of the fact that you gravitated more towards the personalized and expressive phrasings & techniques of some of the guys from the ’80s, or do you feel it is more of your blues phrasings and sensibilities?

DR: It’s both. The foundation of my playing is Blues. When I first wanted to play guitar I just wanted to sound like Angus Young. So, the very beginning, at the foundation of my guitar playing, is AC/DC and all those killer blues licks. So, it comes back to that. As far as the other stuff, the shred guys, well, I know, I said I’m the least analytical person, but I’ll backpedal a little bit and tell you that I do have this a little bit of analysis for myself. It is that shredders are a dime a dozen, especially with the advent of the internet, I mean they’re from all walks of life every corner of the globe, there are people who can absolutely shred. Shred has been going on for, I don’t know, 40 years now? It’s all been done, the fast picking, playing with ten fingers etc. I see guys out there playing with their toes. I think it’s all been done. So, the name of the game, as far as I’m concerned now, is how are you going to find your expression as a player? Shredding? Okay, it can be done. I know of a lot of shredders out there, and playing fast is great, but I think what’s going to make us all separate from one another, or make a stamp in music, is if we are seeking out how we are going to express these notes? How are we going to express ourselves in the playing, and that’s what’s going to separate us all. Shred? It’s nice and it’s fun, and it makes things exciting, but everyone can do it now.

GC: Can you talk about some of your earliest influences and then some of your “later” discoveries. For example, your admiration and appreciation for Hendrix and Johnny Winter came a bit later for you, is that correct?

DR: That is correct, yeah. I guess I’d have to start with Queen, and not just Brian May, but the whole band. When we moved to the states, you know, all the kids were into KISS. And at the time, I didn’t know any KISS because I don’t think they were in Britain and my Mom certainly wasn’t listening to KISS. But she was listening to Queen quite a bit. So Queen was sort of the earliest thing, and I loved it! I loved Queen. I just loved it. That was my music. it was Queen and I have to say, Paul McCartney too, the Wings stuff. But it really didn’t hit me about guitar until AC/DC. Now, my mother is a piano player, and she had a piano in the house, so, I would hear AC/DC and I would tool around on the piano, and then I found fifths on the piano, I’d bang on it ‘bang’, ‘bang’ like this. I was like “God, that’s sounds like a guitar”, that was the coolest thing ever, and it was at that point, I asked my mom, you know since I was so into AC/DC, I just had to play like Angus. I just wanted to play guitar, playing on my tennis racquet etc., and it just occurred to me, “Hey, I could actually learn this for real”, so, that was it. It was Angus and I taught myself how to play. You know, I was taking lessons at the time, but my teacher was too slow. So, I think once I’ve learned E A and D, and I was able to get a good chunk of Back in Black pretty well learned, and so, I just taught myself really. That led to Van Halen. Yeah, I heard eruption I just I couldn’t believe it and like so many of us, yeah, so Van Halen and I got into Def Leppard too.

GC: Now, were you into Def Leppard’s earlier stuff, like the first two albums, or was it Pyromania that drew you to them?

DR: Yeah, well, when I became aware of them it was already well into Pyromania, so, I didn’t discover the older stuff till way later. And then you know after that, it was someone turning me onto Malmsteen and you know, Jake E. Lee, I got into Jake E. Lee and, oh, then I discovered Ratt, and that was it man, when I heard Warren DeMartini, that was it, completely.

I guess Satriani also, I kind of had an epiphany with Satriani, not really an epiphany, but sort of like, I remember being in the car when I was a kid, and I had just started playing guitar and Satch Boogie came on the radio, and it just hit me, it was like a light. Like this is what I want to do and that’s it, that’s what I wanted to do right there. Satriani was really big for me and then Steve Vai, but when I heard Ratt and Warren DeMartini, that was it. That was just the ultimate, and to this day I just think Warren DeMartini is just the greatest.

GC: I also hear a little nod to Eric Johnson at times in your playing.

DR: Yes, of course. I sort of discovered Eric Johnson about the same time I discovered Hendrix. I was one of these guys that just thought Hendrix was bullshit. People thought he was the greatest thing ever, I just thought… all I heard was a guy who did not know how to tune his guitar, I was like “God, tune your guitar”.
Actually, no when I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan, that was another guy who I just did not get and then you know, he was kind of becoming big in the guitar world and then he died, and he was on the cover of a magazine that I was subscribing to and I was like, I should really give this an honest listen and I did. It sort of brought me back full circle, because I realized then, that what would turn me on about Angus Young was his blues. It was those blues licks, so when I thought about all this stuff, what I liked best about Yngwie Malmsteen, were those brief moments when he would rip off a blues lick, and those were my favorite licks. Plus, the stuff that Eddie Van Halen did, it was really just killer blues licks, and I just sort of realized “my God, it’s all been about the blues for me”. Yeah, and so all of a sudden Stevie Ray Vaughan made sense to me and once he made sense to me, all of a sudden, boom! Hendrix made sense to me. And once I understood that “oh, I get it Hendrix is not Heavy Metal, as he was being sold to me, he’s a bluesman. He’s just a bluesman”. And as soon as I got it, I just became completely obsessed with Hendrix, and about that time I was also discovering Eric Johnson and those killer pentatonic runs, which just completely blew me away.

GC: As I understand, you discovered Johnny Winters a little later as well, is that correct?

DR: Yeah, Johnny Winters, I didn’t really know or appreciate him until Edgar was saying to me that I’d better go back and listen to some of that old stuff. Because he was saying to me “Oh, Stevie Ray Vaughan totally ripped off my brother”. I mean, he said in a friendly way and didn’t sound bitter at all, just jokingly, “Oh man. there’s so much Johnny Winters in Stevie Ray Vaughan it’s unbelievable”. I was like “that’s bullshit”, because the only stuff I ever heard of Johnny Winter was him on that little shitty guitar playing with a lot of chorus and this awful tone.
Edgar sent me back home and I had a listen. Oh boy, unbelievable stuff! I mean timeless, brilliant authentic real deal bluesman!

GC: Well, it’s great to hear you fuse all those influences together, making for an exciting and very musical style. Such a pleasure to listen to.

DR: Ah, thank you, Rod, that’s really cool. Thank you, man.

GC: What would your ideal gig or band be?

DR: Ozzy. would be a dream gig. That would be it for me.

GC: Not a bad gig at all (laughter). Can you discuss your collaboration with Knaggs, how it came about and what was your first impression of them?

DR: Sure, it was through Kelcey (Alonzo) actually. I forget when or how I met Kelcey, it might have been at NAMM or something. But, you know I was a Les Paul player and a die-hard one man, Gibson all the way, and Les Paul all the way. I remember that Kelcey said “I’m going to make you put down that Les Paul” and I was like “No way!”. So, he arranged, through different guitar companies, to send me stuff and I’d try them out and go like “okay yeah, that’s pretty cool but you know it’s not comparing, it’s just not anything like my Les Paul”, and so I’d send them back. And you know, he did the same thing with Knaggs, he said “I’d like to send you a Knaggs and see what you think”, and I just sort of I looked at it online, I was like, “Well, it’s a beautiful guitar, alright go ahead”, so, they sent it to me. And man, I sort of just played it, and it played so well, and then I plugged it in, and it just sort of had that sweet mid-range, a sweet Mahogany, like a Mahogany kind of sweetness to it. And it sustained, it really had a sustain and overtone to it. I mean I was really taken with it really quickly and I just couldn’t put the damn thing down, really.

GC: Can you talk about Knaggs in comparison to other guitars on the market, what makes them stand out to you from both major and boutique companies?

DR: Gosh, that’s a good question. I haven’t really played tons of different guitars, I mean I have other guitars but I haven’t like really run the gamut of everything that’s out there.
Guitar builders are like amp builders, they are all sort of, you know, they’re like amp companies. They’re all pretty much coming from either the Fender school or the Marshall school, and each builder tries to hone in on a frequency that they particularly like, and sort of add to that Marshall thing with their own signature frequency. I think guitar builders are kind of the same way. And those are the ones like, I gravitate towards the ones who aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. You know what I mean? I’m not a guy who’s into making guitars out of car bumpers or you know, old mufflers or something.

I think we know tried-and-true, you’ve got two schools: you’ve got the longer scale Fender school, you’ve got the short scale mahogany maple combination, and different variations in there. And I just like to find somebody who’s putting their own voice, or innovation, into a tried-and-true concept. That’s what Knaggs does. They’re not doing a huge departure, at least with the Kanai series, from the traditional thing that we’re used to. But they are also pushing innovation. Particularly, I don’t know what the secrets are, but the bridge on the Kenai is a really unique and fascinating innovation. I think that has a lot to do with the sustain that it gets and that midrange that it gets. I think that something that will stand out to someone who’s going to look for a guitar. Plus, also it’s still a small enough of a company that they really pay attention to detail. You know, Joe (Knaggs) puts his hands on every guitar, and they really care about it being a really high quality, which is cool.

GC: Knaggs just launched the Doug Rappoport signature model, can you talk a little about the model itself and the design process with the Knaggs team?

DR: Yeah, they wanted to do a signature and I was like, “Well, I mean, I just love the Kanai. I mean that’s it. I don’t know what we can do, but the Kenai is just the guitar.” What do you want to do? You know? Put my name on it? So, really the Doug Rappaport model is just a Kenai that’s got the pearl inlays, you know, and you could get binding on it, which I really wanted. I think that may be an upcharge, you don’t have to have binding, the pickups that I like, and there’s a particular pickup wiring that I like, and that’s pretty much it. It’s a Kenai. I did want it to be more of a player than a collector, you know what I’m saying? Knaggs not only makes great guitars, but they are art pieces man. Really pieces of art. And I was a little more interested in making a player than a collector you know what I’m saying? Mine is a plain top, it doesn’t have a super-fancy top on, however, you can order a Doug Rappaport with a fancy top if you want.
My personal taste, you know is down and dirty, just a plain top. There’s an old-school lemon burst on it and, you know, that’s it.

GC: What are your plans for future? What do you have coming up in the next year or two?

DR: The rest of this year, Edgar Winter is going on tour August through September with Deep Purple and Alice Cooper, which will be really fun.

GC: Very cool! That’ll be great!

DR: Yeah, and then in October, I’m going to Japan to play for a guy there named Eikichi Yazawa, and I’ll be there from October through December.

GC: That’s great! Do you have any plans for another solo album anytime soon?

DR: Man, I’ve had a plan for a solo album for a long time. It’s just finding the time to get it done, you know? I’d love to get one done this year, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. So, hopefully, next year I’ll be able to get it done. This Japan gig will afford me a bit of a cushion to be able to put in some more elbow grease and get an album out.

GC: Alright! Let’s hope so. We will definitely be looking forward to that! Well, I’d like to thank you for being so gracious with your time and giving us some insight into your life and career, it’s been a great pleasure for us.

DR: Ah, thank you, Rod, the pleasure is mine.

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