Ryan Roxie - Alice Cooper, Manchester Arena 3rd November 2015

Ryan Roxie with Nita Strauss

The concept of a ‘solo artist’ is something that deserves debate. The term ‘solo’ suggests that an artist is doing something on their own. Whilst they my individually have a vision they are working towards, the fact is that they rarely achieve this on their own. There are lots of people they will need to work with if they are to realise their ambitions: managers, PR, producers and above all the right musicians. And it's with this in mind that we move on to discuss the concept of a ‘hired gun’, a musician brought in to work on and support a specific project, whether this be a record, gig, tour or perhaps something more substantial. There are some fantastic, gifted musicians out there, and it's with the greatest of pleasures that we bring you this feature on one of the very best in the business: Ryan Roxie. Amongst many other projects, Ryan has played lead guitar for Alice Cooper for the best part of 20 years. Currently touring with Alice as part of Motley Crue’s last ever tour, we catch up with Ryan ahead of the Manchester Arena show to learn all about his rock ‘n’ roll journey.


You've had an amazing career in rock for more than 30 years but I’d like to take a moment to go right back to the beginning. What was it like growing up in California and how did you discover the guitar?


I was born in Sacramento but grew up in the Bay Area, right outside of Oakland, a little town called Pleasantan, California and back in those days there wasn't as much distraction as there is now. Having my own kids I know that learning how to play guitar was much easier back then because there weren't so many other choices. Now, once you plan on learning the guitar, I think if you have committed yourself to learning the guitar, there’s a lot more tools there, whether it's You Tube or some of the other electronics they have to make learning guitar easier. For example,  one of my Gibson’s has a self tuning system. All those things make it easier insofar as tools but back in those days, the actual choices you had were limited. There was no alternative of  video games and there wasn't as many alternatives that you have on the net now. Playing guitar for me was like the only option and I think that's  what kept me in my room practising for a lot of those years.


What was the environment like?


Suburbia. I grew up in the ultimate middle-class, suburbia house and sort of grew up on AM radio. The local station that I would listen to up in the Bay Area was this station called KFRC and they would play a mixture of like really guitar orientated bands that I love like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick and then they would play disco. This was right around the 70s when disco was starting to happen when I discovered the guitar. So there was this really cool combination of disco and guitar-driven rock at that time and that sort of inspired me always in terms of my songwriting style. To this day I still prefer melodic songs as opposed to just guitar riffs.


You've mentioned a few bands: Aerosmith, Cheap Trick.  Who were your early influences? 


My ‘Beatles’, so to speak, were the actual Beatles. It's pretty nice to have a direct connection with a band as influential as that. I grew up listening to the White album and Abbey Road and the later Beatles album. The bands they directly influenced became my sort of heroes, bands like Cheap Trick. Even Alice Cooper to a certain extent has a lot of Beatles influence in his music as well. 

Ryan Roxie with Alice Cooper

It’s also been cited that Keith Partridge was an influence of yours. What was it about this character that connected you?


Well, when I say ‘Keith’ as an influence I don’t have to say the last name. People immediately assume I mean Keith Richards but in reality, growing up in suburbia, watching the TV show from the 70s called The Partridge Family – a family that had their own tour bus, albeit a school bus, a broken down school bus at that – that played rock shows from town to town just seemed very appealing because it didn't seem like they ever really went to school. Once in a while they went to school but it seemed like mostly they were doing rock shows. That kind of seemed like a really cool job to have and Keith Partridge always seemed to get the cute girls in every episode so why not look at him as sort of a role model!


Within your career you have played in some great bands including Roxie 77, Slash’s Snakepit, Alice Cooper of course and with artists such as Gilby Clarke and James Michael (Sixx AM) and many others.  At what point in your career did you feel like you'd ‘made it’?


I don't know if I ever have felt that yet! And that's a good feeling to have whether you have made it. I feel like I've been able to hang in there for a long time and make a living at it, and I still am making a living at it, but I think all those days for being retrospective should be when you really decide to move on to another type of career, and I am really blessed to be able to still be doing this after so many years. So until I decide to really change and take another career path, I don't really feel as though I have ‘made it’ so to speak. I feel like I have been able to be in the trenches and be a part of a lot of special projects and a lot of special bands and the simple fact that I'm making it is more satisfying.


You first joined Alice Cooper in 1996 after Gilby Clarke put in a good word.


Yeah there were a few people who were really cool and gave me a lot of support. To be honest, the original idea was that Gilby and I were both going to be the guitar players for Alice putting this new band together for a ‘one year tour’. In 1996 that's all I was ever promised. I was promised there would be one tour with Alice Cooper and it was up to Alice whether he wanted to continue touring or not. Well obviously that tour went well enough so that he's been able to continue touring every year since 1996. He has never taken a year off. Even the times that I was not in the band, whether I was playing with Slash’s Snakepit or was living in Sweden, he's toured consistently since 1996 so that was a good sign. The fact was that Gilby had some record company obligations to his own label and he wasn't able to do it but he gave me full support to audition for Alice’s band which was really cool of him. He put in a good word and I went down there and had a good audition. Something about when Alice and I played together, even on the first time for that audition, was cool. I felt a connection. It's been growing ever since and it feels so natural to be looking over my shoulder and look up there in centre stage and see him being the lead singer. And I love being able to call him my lead singer, just hopefully as much as he likes to call me his lead guitar player.

Ryan Roxie with Tommy Henriksen

 

Alice has a reputation for working with the very best in the business which has included collaborations with Slash, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani. What does it mean to be part of the Alice Cooper band?


To be part of the legacy is something that's obviously very humbling. It feels like you're a little bit a part of a club, a little bit part of a sort of guitar players Mafia that have been able to be associated with the Alice Cooper organisation. It's one of those things where you wear it proudly, whether you have ever played with him for one tour or many, many tours. I think you get to carry a certain sort of sense of accomplishment being able to play and be part of so many bands that he has put together that have that level of musicianship. Trust me, I'm very conscious to know whose been in the band prior to me and whose been in since I've been playing. I’m just always proud to be able to play these guys’ parts and play with this level of musicianship.


Over the years, the term ‘hired gun’ has been used by the rock press alongside your name. How comfortable are you with this term when your contributions have represented those consistent with a full band partnership, for example, writing, recording and live performances as part of world tours over extended periods?


Well I think the key word in that ‘hired gun’ is ‘hired’ because you're employed and we all know as musicians that the hardest part of being a musician is getting paid for it, and the fact that I have been able to be in the trenches of rock ‘n’ roll for as long as I have and consistently make a living out of it and file my tax return as a musician every year, it makes the ‘hired gun’ term not have any negative connotations. I think years ago it might have because just being able to have the longevity of it holds something that people can respect. People can look at a hired gun as ‘oh, he's not in his own band’ but I've been in my own bands, I have my own band and I'm proud to say I am part of every sort of situation that arises with music. I know what it's like to be in band, I know what it's like to be a hired gun and sometimes the two intertwine all the time. Yes, Alice Cooper is my boss but every night on stage and playing with the guys that I play with, I really feel like I'm in a band and I really feel the band sort of camaraderie.


You're currently on the road with Alice Cooper sharing a stage with Motley Crüe as they make their way through their last ever tour. Alice Cooper and Motley Crüe on the same bill is a rock fan’s dream. What's it like being part of the most high profile rock tour of the year? 


If I wasn't playing guitar for Alice I would have bought a ticket to this show! Motley Crüe was one of those bands who had a lot of influence on me as well, and now it's so cool to have the guys in the dressing room and see the guys in the hallways backstage. There’s a genuine fellowship between the bands, and there is a good chemistry on this whole tour with the two bands - it's a great pairing. So just on the bill it looks good and sounds good but there's a good vibe on stage and off stage with this tour. It feels very special to be part of something that will hopefully go down in the rock ‘n’ roll history books.


Recent years have seen women – vey beautiful women – join the Alice Cooper band (Orianthi and Nita Strauss). How has that changed the band dynamic? Do you now have to start behaving and clearing up after yourself or are they actually a bad influence? 


Well it's pretty obvious I'm not the hot blonde anymore (laughs)! Maybe in 2001 with my blonde dreadlocks I may have thought of myself as that but it's painfully obvious I am not that hot blonde anymore! But that being said, I am one hundred percent comfortable in my role and position in the Alice Cooper band because I think Alice gives all his musicians, male of female, so much credit and so much room to shine. We've been really fortunate to have 2 great guitar players that happen to be female. It's not that we have ‘girl guitar players’, we have ‘guitar players who happen to be girls’ and that happen to have amazing showmanship. Two different styles between Orianthi and Nita Strauss but both very entertaining individuals and great to play off of. I think that I've had a really good chemistry with all the guitar players that I've played with over the years but really good onstage chemistry with both Nita and Orianthi. And the fact that Nita’s in the band now, we're just really happy to have her as band member because she evolved playing in bands and around most predominantly male bands so she's no stranger to being in this position. When she comes on stage, she's ready to perform and gives it one hundred percent. That just makes us want to push ourselves as well. At the end of the day, it comes from the top. It comes from Alice. You see him give as much energy and enthusiasm in the songs he's sung for 40 plus years. You have to take your hat off and you have to actually push yourself to match that level of showmanship that Alice has.


It's only a few weeks until the 1st December. What rock ‘n’ roll plans do you have to celebrate your 50th birthday?


(Laughs!) I am leaving those plans entirely up to my girlfriend! Just the mere fact that I am going to be able to be not on the road this year, in Sweden where I live, and be able to have time with the family is going to be a blessing. We’ll see what happens. I am trying not to look at it as a milestone, but it's pretty cool to be a 50 year old rock ‘n’ roller living his dream and doing what he said he was going to do when he was 15. So from 15 to 50 I've managed to make that dream a reality and hopefully it inspires other people to know that that's possible for them no matter what age you are.


As we leave the tour bus, it is with huge excitement that we look forward to tonight's show. And we think Ryan is right: this is absolutely one for the rock 'n' roll history books!


To find out more about Ryan Roxie, head over to www.ryanroxie.com. Also check out video below from the Brutal Planet tour in 2001. Not only will you be able to enjoy Ryan's performance but you will also be able to check out those blonde dreadlocks!